TALES OF COURAGE: I chose life in the streets over a home

Tuesday July 04 2017

Little John* pays Sh50 to his ‘master’ as protection fees against being sexually abused by older men at the Mbaraki grounds in Mombasa. PHOTO| WACHIRA MWANGI

Sodomy is the bane of the existence of any street boy. Little John* pays Sh50 daily to his "master" as protection fees against being sexually abused by older men at the Mbaraki grounds in Mombasa.

The cash is part of his daily collection from begging in the streets of the city.

The 12-year-old boy came from Nyahururu, boarding a bus in search of a better life in the tourism hub.

“I dropped out of school in Standard Three when my parents died. My relatives took me in but they were cruel to me and so I ran away from home,” says Little John. 

He shows me a scar he got after being beaten and burnt by his aunt when he begged her to pay his school fees.



When the misery became unbearable, he boarded a bus and hid under the seat. He ‘hitchhiked’ all the way to Mombasa, where he was confident he would have a better life.

“I would rather live in the streets than live with people who treat me like an animal,” he adds resolutely.

If his parents were alive today, he would be in Standard Five.

“I loved Mathematics and English. I used to work like a donkey when my relatives took me in. Then they stopped paying my school fees and started treating me like a maid. I decided to run away,” he says.

On a good day he manages to collect up to Sh400 from begging. He uses Sh100 for food, Sh100 for accommodation, Sh50 for protection and saves the rest.


“I dug a hole where I keep the money. Begging is like a job, so on a bad day, when I don’t get more than Sh100, I go back to my hole and get the protection charges. It is the most important thing I must have lest I am sodomised,” he added.

He said he started saving his cash in a hole after he witnessed someone stealing money from the pockets of one of his friends while he slept.

He started saving when he saw his friends being sodomised by the older street boys when they failed to pay the fee.

“One day, as I was sleeping, I felt a hand caressing me, but thank God, my protector was around, so I shouted and he came to my rescue, and since then I have been sleeping beside my defender, where we are safe.”


Little John and his friends bath on the shores of the Indian Ocean at 5am every day.

“Once in a while, we use soap but it is dangerous due to the sharks. This county does not have public bathrooms like Nairobi. We wake up early to bath since we don’t want people to see us.

"Our life has a timetable — at lunch time we are at the hotels getting our food, in the evening we go begging, targeting people from work, and at night, around 9pm, we go to sleep.”

But he confesses to abusing drugs like bhang and sometimes heroine.

“You can’t live in the streets without using these things,” he says matter-of-factly as he sniffs glue.

The street families are lucky, because they get meals and leftovers at subsidized prices from some nice hotels in the city centre.


“They range between Sh50 to Sh100. We feed very well — surprisingly, we never become sick. God has a way of protecting people like me. Look at you, you might sleep in a beautiful house but often fall sick. But we never fall sick easily and if we do, we die peacefully.”

They eat delicacies such as pilau, biryani, chapati and fried meat.

As we talk, he is joined by his friend and they run to a man walking with his family and begging for handouts. They are lucky, as they are given Sh20, which they divide among themselves.

He says they live like brothers though they are sometimes scared of the older guys.

John says he is not a thief, adding that he does odd jobs to make ends meet when he is tired of begging.

“We collect and sell bottles. We go to dumpsites and get clothes, we wash them and use them as our own. But this life is better than at home.”