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La Famiglia di Kamau – Kamau’s Family

The other day one of the kids in Ndugu Mdogo (Kibera), let’s call him Kamau, tells me”my dad asked me to thank you because when he was in Kamithi prison, many years ago, you brought as a gift many copies of New People and for a few weeks the prisoners were able to relax and learn many new things. ” I try to remember. I am sure to have entered Kamithi, which is the maximum security prison, only once, when I celebrated Mass on the Christmas morning of 2006 or 2007. The celebration was held in a big stinking room with no ventilation, surrounded by the cells of death row inmates and people crowded around the table that served as an altar. In Kenya, the death sentence is not executed since 1987, and is in fact changed to life imprisonment. When leaving, I could not help wondering for how long life could last for those poor people massed in such terrible conditions. But I am sure that that day I had not been allowed to bring any magazine. How could the father of Kamau had received copies of New People?
Then I recall that in 93 or 94, Father Arnold Grol, the Dutch who was the first priest to take care of street children in Nairobi, and had free access to all prisons in the country, had asked me to give him old copies of New People for distribution to prisoners. Perhaps while distributing them he mentioned me, or perhaps the father of Kamau did a of confusion. But that he remembered with gratitude so small a gesture after all this time amazes me.
There are other people listening to my conversation with Kamau, and do not ask why his dad was in prison and how it is that he is now is out, but to keep the conversation going and try to understand a little more, I ask him how old his dad. “Thirty four” is the prompt answer. So at that time his dad had just turned 18, because Kamithi is for adults, and I know that Kamau will turn eighteen years in March next year, because I recently read his story prepared by Jack, our “street social worker”. I reflect that going at this rate, I, having just turned sixty-eight, could be the great-grandfather of Kamau, with a good chance of becoming great-great grandfather in a short time. I keep asking, cautiously, because I know of venturing into the minefield, and risk touching raw nerves: And how old is your mama? And how many brothers and sisters do you have? “Mum has perhaps 35 years, but she has left the father a long time ago, and it was the sister of my mum who raised me up to twelve years, then I went to the street because at home there was not enough to eat.” Counting the brothers and sisters is very laborious, because there are four from the same mum and dad, but then they both had children by other partners, and in the end it seems that the total is eleven, but Kamau is not so sure.
It is not surprising that Kenya has increased from around 22 million inhabitants in 1988, the year I arrived in Nairobi, to nearly forty today, and continues to grow at a rate of one million people a year. The surprise is that a guy like Kamau, with such a family history, three years of life on the street, still has an optimistic outlook, and after returning to stay with his aunt, he has restarted schooling and comes to Ndugu Mdogo once a week to report his progress and to take advice from Jack, along with two simple but hearty meals.

One Comment

  1. Antonio Portioli says:

    il racconto di Kamau, fra i tanti spunti che offre, mi fa pensare che i gesti che facciamo nel corso della nostra vita lasciano, spesso a nostra insaputa, una traccia positiva o negativa, che non verrà dimenticata e che magari incroceremo ancora nel corso della nostra vita.

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