The Street Children

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When I was very young, or perhaps older than I am willing to admit, during any craft session at school I would inevitably end up covered in glue. My hands would be a mess of PVA which I would delight in peeling off, somewhere between horrific skin condition and reptile.

I cannot doubt that this stuff could have been eaten straight from the pot and done me no serious harm. Since it barely stuck one sheet of paper to another I think it unlikely to have bound my throat up or congested my organs. If nothing else the Nanny state saved me from that.

Later in school, I remember a distinctly second rate book unsubtly written with “TEEN ISSUES” in mind, and glue addiction being one of those issues being so crudely drawn. It seemed so naïve. Young people will get high through any means available, and frankly superglue held safely behind the counter would have been less available than other substances. In Middle England, there are better ways to self-destruct than with glue.

Not so on the streets of Nairobi. For reasons which I find hard to grapple with there is a vast and tragic crisis, not just in homelessness but in youth homelessness, particularly. Though when I say youth, what I mean is children and young children. They are to be found everywhere in the city, thinly and thickly spread.

The central parks are densest with those who have been cast out. It is impossible to sit and not be approached by these lost souls begging for sustenance. Those that approach are the least consumed by the crisis. Elsewhere lie others dazing in the heat, concerned neither for shade nor light. Others yet still wander aimlessly and wraithlike with a bottle of cobblers glue.

The least addicted hold it to their nose and inhale occasionally. The more dedicated have sticks with which to provoke the vapours. These will secret the glue, or store it at least, in their waistband, hidden under the grimy layers of tattered clothing. Those in the heights, or depths, of this search for oblivion will forgo the secrecy and clasp the bottle permanently under their nose.

Unable to maintain a consistent grip with their hands, the glue having numbed the muscles, the bottle is held by the teeth. The vapours are inhaled with every breath. The glue also works to provoke mucus production, which in this state is not wiped away but collects in a foul stream and into that bottle. Nor is the mucus alone: the saliva glands are also stimulated and the subsequent juice also collects endlessly.

These addicts stagger and stumble and shuffle, pretty much unaware of their surroundings. They are passed by and passed over. They are ignored by too many people who should know better.

Professor Wangari Maathai fought for Uhuru Park against the advances of a corrupt state, she fought for it to be a lasting monument to the freedom of her people, a place to breathe the free air. This park stands beside Nairobi and the buildings of state turn away. It is under these trees that these children breathe the least free air, the fumes not just of solvents, but of apathy.

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