Fridah Odongo has seen it all. At just 32 years of age, she has seen both the ugly and cruel side of life. That however was not the life she had envisaged when she was growing up in crime-ridden Korogocho slums.
Fridah was forced into a hustler’s life early, even before she had identified herself.
“There were 11 of us in the family. I was the eldest. The entire family squeezed itself into a single room. That was what we called home. My father was employed, forcing my mother to take up the daunting role of feeding the family,” recalls Faridah, adding: “ I had to drop out of school in Class Four to take care of my siblings.”
There was barely enough food to feed the whole family. Sleep became their treasured companion in times of hunger.
She would later meet a man and fall in love. It was not long before she realised she was pregnant.
Unfortunately, the man took off when he got wind he had put her in the family way.
News of her pregnancy tore her already struggling family apart. She had brought shame to her family.
“I never got the support I needed throughout my pregnancy,” says Fridah.
The world had turned against her, forcing her to learn to survive, at least for her unborn child. She would go on to deliver her child, and that is when trouble started.
“I met this friend of mine, a former schoolmate. He asked if I wanted to make some quick money, Sh500 to be exact,” says Fridah.
This to a broke Fridah sounded like a million shillings. All she needed to do was move a package from Mathare to Umoja.
“I was desperate for the money, and so I agreed.” His friend was candid enough to tell her that he needed a woman to deliver the package given police rarely suspected them for crime.
At the time, she had no idea that she was carrying a gun. She would later learn that her friend was a criminal, and a member of a gang. But it was already too late to back out. Besides, the money was good.
“I acted as a courier often transporting sealed boxes. In the beginning, I didn’t know what was contained in the boxes, but eventually I learned that I was ferrying stolen goods and sometimes rifles. I would move electronic goods that were stolen, including rifles. There would be a man standing at the drop-off point where I would leave the package. We never spoke. I was not to ask questions. After the deliveries, I would be paid Sh500,” says Fridah.
Her joy was however short-lived after a mob waylaid her and demanded to see what she was carrying.
“I was doing my usual trips when a woman stopped me on the road. She demanded that I show her the contents of the package. She claimed the bag I was carrying resembled hers.
I was not supposed to show anyone what was in the parcels, so we got into a heated argument. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by a crowd of people who also demanded to see what I was carrying,” says Fridah.
As the crowd grew bigger, so did the restlessness, who started calling her a thief. One woman got hold of the bag and tore it. Several electronic devices fell off and scattered on the ground. The mob was convinced that she was a thief, and so pelted her with stones.
“They hit me without a care in the world, shouting that I was a thief. I knew right then that I was going to die. I thought about my five-month old baby at home. I was scared,” recalls Fridah.
This was however not her day to meet her maker. A police officer patrolling the estate heard the commotion and ran to the scene. The officer saved her from death.
“I was taken straight to the police station. They did not even take me to hospital. When I got to the police station, I sent word home. Interestingly, all my family did was send my young daughter to the police station,” says Faridah, adding that she was taken straight to Lang’ata Women’s Remand Prison without being accorded any medical attention.
At the remand, Fridah was kept separate from her daughter during the day, and would only see her during feeding hours and at night when they went to bed. She was kept in the Capital Ward with inmates accused of robbery. Here she stayed with her daughter for three years, during which time her daughter suffered convulsions. Her condition worsened and she later developed meningitis and eventually cerebral palsy.
Faridah was released after serving three years in prison.
“I had nowhere to go. My daughter had cerebral palsy and I had to resort to begging on the streets to make a living.
Street life pushed her into drugs and it was not long before she got hooked to heroine.
“Life on the streets with my disabled child was not a cakewalk. I got high most of the time to forget my woes. I would however wake up from my stupor only to find the problem waiting for me,” she told The Nairobian.
Faridah is currently undergoing rehabilitation after Teen Challenge came to her rescue. Her daughter is being taken care of at a home for children with special needs.
“All I want is a good life for my daughter. I hope that the steps I am taking to get my health back will give me just that,” says Fridah.