The woman sporting a short crop on her head approached me and asked whether I could share the story of my life on the streets. I didn’t know what she was talking about, or what she meant when she said “my life on the streets”.
It is hard for me to separate the street from my life, and so I told her that I’d just tell her the story of my life. Period. I will just speak, and she will do the writing later on, joining the strands of my barely incomprehensible narrative to make something out of it.
Some people call me Emma, others Mary. I don’t mind either name. I am aged 24, I live in the streets of Eldoret, I am four months pregnant with my fourth baby, and I am HIV-positive.
These streets are chockfull of many like me. We are used to the stares, but, honestly, I can’t stand them.
My days are like those of any other street child; I scavenge to eat, slug it out for a place to put my head at night, and, because I am a woman, spend the better part of the night fighting off loonies trying to rape me.
I have lived that life for nearly eight years now. I came here together with my siblings from Turkana in search of a better life. We did not have anything worth living for at home, and so we embarked on the long journey here, spending nights in the cold and enduring the elements for days on end.
We went our separate ways soon after we arrived in Eldoret after realising — a bit late — that life in the streets is no respecter of family bonds.
I used to look far much better than I do now. Life, really, has been a merciless journey for me. Just as the sheen of youth gradually disappeared from my face, a rapist, also from the streets, knocked off a couple of my teeth as I tried, unsuccessfully, to defend myself one night.
And then the glue I sniffed affected by speech, turning what was once a fluent tongue into a slurring mess.
I am used to the mess, though. I could have turned out better, I know, but the stars did not align well for me. Some people call it fate. I call it life.
Some people have asked me before why I keep getting pregnant when I know too well I cannot provide for the offspring. I wish I had an easy answer, or a way for me, a young street mother, to rationalise my expanding family.
So I will just tell you this: I do not have a healthy, normal sex life. I do not desire a man, but I am often raped on the streets. My worst nightmare is going to the river to take a bath in the cover of darkness, when there are no prying eyes.
That cover of darkness also provides the perfect blanket for rapists, and so, as sure as the sun will rise from the east tomorrow, I know I will be raped if I make my way to the river to take a bath.
They attack me in groups, laughing and high-fiving each other in pitiful glee. Some cover my eyes and others my mouth to stifle my screams, and then they take turns on me.
When I beg enough money I go to the public washrooms to shower there. They are much safer, but not always affordable.
One of the street men calls me his wife, and while he protects me from yobs during the day, he does not raise a finger against his friends when they attack me at night. Instead, he tells them they can have their way with me as long as the do not beat me up, or in any other way harm me physically.
They do not know that I am sick; that I have HIV. And I don’t think I’ll tell them, because their brand of violent sexual perversion leaves no room for dialogue.
I am on medication though, and I have taken my antiretrovirals religiously for the last seven months. I am also taking other drugs that the doctors told me would prevent me from spreading the virus to my unborn child. When I fall ill, I am treated in the referral or district hospitals free of charge.
Sometimes the challenges in these streets make me desperate for food as I cannot take my ARVs without eating. When I don’t get enough money from my begging rounds, I get desperate and hawk my body to the street kids for whatever morsels they can spare me.
My three children were born at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital under a social programme. They now live in a children’s home because I do not want this street life for them, and I think when the one I am carrying arrives, I’ll take him or her to the same home.
I visit them after every three months, and always tell them that I love them, and that, no matter what, I will remain their mother.
I am not on any family planning method but some of my friends have implants. I am aware of condoms and pills, courtesy of community health workers in Eldoret. Some of the girls on the streets keep removing the implants though, saying they make them sickly.
It breaks my heart when I see young street girls — some as young as eight — come to the streets to find a new life. Because I know that, like me, they will have it rough.