Fascinating Lives of ‘Men of God’ On the Street

JACINTA KABUCHU chronicles his observations on ‘men of God’ living on Nairobi streets and says they are one of us as they present a landmark, but wonders whether medical authorities need to investigate how they are able to go on with their daily business, laughing to themselves, without getting sick. Could it be wrong to conclude that they do not get stressed and, as we all know, ‘laughter is the best medicine’?
WITH one barefooted, dirty leg crossed over the other: he sits on the wooden bench outside a shop building with a faraway look. At intervals, he shakes his head and murmurs softly in an inaudible monologue.
People walk past him as they rush to work and once in a while someone will buy him a loaf of bread.
My son calls him ‘Mtoto wa Mungu’, (i.e. ‘Child of God’) a name he was told by my former house girl.
It is the appropriate name for people with his type of disability. For more than a decade this ‘Child of God’ has been mentally disturbed and somehow chose the building as his safe place.
He is not violent in any way, but can be heard screaming in an anguished voice if someone should cross him or try to eject him from the bench.
He takes a leisurely walk during the day, oblivious to the cars zooming past him on the busy Jogoo road. When he tires he will lie down on the roadside near the bus stop, on his back, facing the sky.
His clothing is always the same: tattered brown rags, the colour of which resembles his skin color and the dusty ground so much that one might miss seeing him lying there and step on him. Though we have learned to ignore him, I know it worries many people when he disappears for a few days.
You see, Mtoto Wa Mungu is one of us and is a landmark of our road. In our own way the residents of Jekima Building on Jogoo Road have all adopted him in our hearts, even though he doesn’t know it.
He no longer spends the nights on the cold slab outside the shop, as he was chased by the owners some years back, but he will always be seated on the bench in the mornings.
Recently, in commemoration of 50 years of Kenya’s independence, there was a celebration of Nairobi neighbourhoods dubbed ‘Nai Ni Who’. Activities were organised at several old estates and buildings in Nairobi, with pamphlets placed in the weekend Nation newspaper giving a brief history of them. Unfortunately they did not feature Jogoo Road, one of the oldest roads in Nairobi.
My neighborhood has remarkable landmarks including the Anglican St Stephens Church, Trufoods Limited (the oldest Kenyan factory making jam and tomato sauce), the Church Army School, and Carlile College and residential houses.
We have a saying that goes ‘Each market has its madman’. If that is the case, then this part of Jogoo Road, which once had part of the Kenyan railway line passing through it, must also have been a very big market.
A few feet from where Mtoto Wa Mungu sits, another man staggers around every day at around 11.30 in the morning, on the middle pavement of Jogoo Road.
Occasionally, he can be heard screaming, with saliva drooling from his lips and his head shaking vigorously.
He will then stop and pick up a huge stone, struggle with it for a short distance and then throw it away.
He then carries on walking and laughing gaily. Exactly at around five in the evening he will walk back from the direction he came from earlier in the day, pick another stone and repeat the same routine of throwing it away after a short distance.
I have noticed he has a preference for wearing tattered white shirts.
People often run off when they see him, but he is always in his own world and does not seem to notice anything apart from his stone. I have never seen him crossing the road, and considering he is always in the middle of this pavement of this busy Jogoo Road, I always wonder how he gets there.
He has been at it for years and those of us who have lived here for long do not get shaken when we encounter him. Judging by his agile strut and physical strength, I think he might have once been a boxer or a weightlifter.
He is quite obsessed with big stones and each time his stones are moved away by the city council workers, he manages to eventually get another one.
Another notable sight on Jogoo road is a man who reminds me of our Kenyan freedom fighters, the Mau Mau, because of his fat long dirty dreadlocks.
He is a barefooted, stout, medium height man who hovers around the bus stops at peak hours.
With a half cigarette in his hand or sometimes on his ear he will slowly creep behind you and touch the tip of your ear lightly.
Most people always turn smiling, thinking it is a friend and then run off hurriedly when they see it’s him.
Though his looks are scary, he is harmless. After touching the ear he will poke his hand near your chest, and wait, with a small smirk on his lips that could only be described as his attempt at a friendly smile. He does not speak, but grunts softly and just thrusts his hand repeatedly, waiting.
He will most times move on, disappointedly, to the next victim, when you ignore him.
Mau Mau is not the kind of person anyone wants to meet at night.
He has eyes that are permanently bloodshot and his attire, which includes a dirty pair of trousers with slits on the sides, is very repulsive.
His eyes twinkle a little when he sees he has startled people and I must admit I get amused (I have been told I have a queer sense of humor) when I see him creeping on unsuspecting people.
He has been known to clear a bus stop within seconds, sending people running off in different directions and boarding the nearest matatu once they see him.
After observing him for a long time, I deduced he is always looking for cigarettes, as he turns to collecting the thrown away stumps from the ground when all the people have dispersed.
We have guest ‘Children of God’ on our road too, who pass by occasionally. There is the young girl in her twenties, slim and not too shabbily dressed, who walks very fast like she is very late for an appointment.
She might look normal, until one realises that she is having a very intense conversation with herself, and laughs softly as she dashes past with hands gesturing aimlessly. She always walks on one side of the road and can, hours later, be seen walking back with the same energy as earlier on.
The same goes for the middle aged man who has similar characteristics of our girl. I have sometimes wondered what would happen if they both headed the same route at the same time. Would they perhaps strike a conversation and understand each other?
From my observations it is not surprising that all these ‘Children of God’ have several things in common.
For one, they never ever grow old. They all look the same as they did years ago when they started patrolling Jogoo Road.
Secondly, apart from the Mau Mau fellow, they are all very physically fit, slim, and light on their feet.
They seem to walk long distances daily without breaking into a sweat.
The government should perhaps think of enlisting them in the next Olympic Games walking team. Thirdly, they do not seem to be affected by the Nairobi weather.
Come rain or shine they will always adorn the same clothing and are always barefooted.
While we struggle to cover ourselves with heavy coats, scarves and boots during the cold season, and caps and sunscreen when the sun is shining, they just don’t seem to notice the difference.
I have never at one time seen any one of them looking sickly, carrying an umbrella or wearing a cap.
It is probable that they have a rare gene that the researchers at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) need to investigate.
From the way they are able to go on with their daily business, laughing to themselves, it could hardly be thought wrong to conclude that they do not get stressed and as we all know ‘laughter is the best medicine’.
Isn’t it only right to assume that this part of Jogoo Road must have been a very big market? The organizers of the ‘Nai Ni Who’ campaign should enlighten us.– World City Sories
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Source : The Times of Zambia

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