MAMA JANE’S TOOTH FAIRY
When you give Judy a whole day to come face to face with, not one, but several dentists, you give her a day in paradise. And here’s the thing, she can handle pain, and she has suffered, so it is not so much about the pain she endures in her life. No. It is about her humanity. When you get her into a bus and bring her to St. Brigit’s Hospital, she wonders what this is all about. So, you not only want to give her food, but you also want her dental issues to be sorted? Oh…are you a saint?
You can see the awe on everyone’s face and one boy asks me: “Kuna harusi huku?” – Is there a wedding going on? They wonder how in the world; these people of Rotary can just have a day dedicated to them. They, People of the Street, who the world kicks around as if they did not matter?
So, when you (Rotarian) organized, donated and made the Dental Camp happen, please know, it was not about the teeth. It was about giving back dignity and human-ness that has been eroded for far too long. It was like placing a mirror before this section of us living in the streets and saying: “Look, you are my brother. I see you. You see me. We are the same, me and you.”
Sometime we forget this brotherhood, because we sit in our tinted cars and pass judgement. We sit on a high horse and call them thieves. We roll up our windows out of fear when they beg for money. We curl our noses and look away when they beg for food. Granted, most of us have had mishaps on these streets and the fear is not misplaced. And because of this severe imbalance, the dental camp came right in time. It was a day to mend the fence and reinstate our brotherhood with street families in the Starehe neighbourhood.
Oh, I was telling you about Judy. She is 40, but it is impossible to tell her age because life in the streets has taken its toll, and also, she has a bare gum where her teeth used to be, and so she somehow looks like a child.
She tells me about a bicycle accident where she got run over and lost her teeth, without much detail though. The important thing today is, she gets to talk to madaktari (doctors) about her teeth. You should hear the way she says that word Madaktari; with so much reverence. She waits her turn patiently and you can see the joy welling on her face. She is cheerful, and talkative. I wait for her outside as she gets screened.
A dentist checks her teeth and finds that she needs several extractions because when her teeth broke, the roots became in-grown in her gum. So, the docs have to extract those roots before they rot up her gum. She is then sent to the extraction booth and she flashes me a smile as she goes in. I wave back, and walk away because I do not have the heart to watch the process.
I catch up with her later in the makeshift recovery Centre under a tent. Her jaw still hurts, so she cannot eat just yet. She takes her packet of milk and stashes it into her gunia. We sit quietly until she tells me, “Mzee wangu ako hapa, nitakuonyesha.” …my husband is here, I will point him to you.
Wait a minute. Hus-who? Yes, she tells me that she is married and has six children and another one coming. I hadn’t even discovered that she was expectant.
She lifts her shirt and shows me her slightly heavy tummy. She likes me, I can tell, because she just showed me her naked tummy, her baby-in-waiting, her secret joy. And forgive me for being shocked here. One, because she has a husband and two, that she was excited about her seventh baby. It is the high horse syndrome, thinking that perhaps the joys of marriage, companionship, sex and the creation of life are somehow beyond the people living in the streets. How foolish of me?
Ok, so I was saying, she has six children, two in high school and the others are married off or in children’s homes in Nairobi. She is extremely proud of her children and names all of them to me. She says: “Call me mama Jane.” My eyes well up.
So, I sit with mama Jane for a bit as she cheerfully tells me the story of her life. She likes to talk about herself and I listen. She tells me that she conceived Jane when she was in Class 8 and then ran away with the baby-daddy to start a life in a Nairobi slum. She started begging outside a supermarket and that is how she makes ends meet to date.
As she was settling into the city, baby number two came and Judy grew unhappy. The baby-daddy had too many women and was not there for Judy and her two babies. So, they split up. She must have moved on because she had four other children, but she does not disclose the details of the in-betweens.
She tells me about her current husband, James. They live together in Mlango Kubwa slum and they split the rent. She tells me James is not as successful as she is, and so she supports him. She buys bangi (weed) and cigarettes for him. She is also in charge of finding food, and there is trouble with James on the days when she does not make enough to buy food.
She tells me about a certain bad fight where James beat her up and threw her into Nairobi river for failing to get them food. She tells me that she was luckily rescued by Muthaiga Police officers. So, to avoid fights, she works extra hard, begging outside a supermarket. They are at peace with James now, but when he gets angry about food, she runs away and stays the night with Boi. Who is Boi? He is the side kick; and Judy says he is nice. He treats her well.
I ask why she hasn’t left James for Boi, and she shrugs and looks away. I don’t probe. Only a fool would probe into the bedroom affairs of another woman. She turns back and looks at me squarely. She tells me that, if push came to shove with the two guys in her life right now, baba Jane would be the fall back plan. Yes, the same player boy she eloped with in class eight.
I ask about the jaw and she says it doesn’t hurt as much now. It is lunch time and I get her some food, which she again stashes away into her bag. We sit in silence as we watch the boys happily take their packed lunch and water.
When she starts talking again, I do not interrupt. She tells me that she was born here, in Huruma slums, and her father strangled and killed her mother. That is how she tells her stories, she starts at the end without a preamble. One night, her father came home very drunk. He stood outside their shanty making a scene, and then he asked Judy’s mum to come out. Nobody interfered because they were known in the slum as that family that fought every night. And so, the neighbors let it be what it was, a family affair. That is how Judy’s father strangled her mother, and the world moved on.
She stops abruptly and goes to the supply tent to get her tooth brush and tooth paste. Again, she stashes these in her bag and secures it with two knots. She then retrieves the lesso on her waist and makes a carrier with it. She thrusts her gunia into the lesso, makes a final tie and throws the heavy thing on her back. She checks her pockets and retrieves her medication. She inspects it, and puts it back into her pocket. She is ready to leave and bids me good bye and I am a little sad to watch her go.
She walks away lagging her stuff and I need to grab a sandwich. She turns back suddenly, and I wonder whether she forgot something. She joyfully shouts at me: “Si mutakuja muniweke meno ingine iyo Saturday ingine?” –-will you come back and give me other teeth? Ok, I might have lost something in the translation. But the message is clear, she wants new teeth to cover her blank gum.
Yours in Rotary, Jaki Munyaka — 13th April 2019