By GARDY CHACHA
Komu Mwati deserves applause. His condom lobby group in Korogocho slums not only advocates for condom use to arrest sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but also calls for proper disposal for a healthier living environment.
His is a story of sex, condoms and the absurdity of children, especially in slums, finding pleasure (no pun intended) in blowing up the ‘big’ balloons, which they access at dumpsites.
This writer visited Kibera and Korogocho slums where Komu’s community based organisation, Condi Kenya, exists. At Kibera, together with his guide Odhiambo, he is greeted by a good omen (that’s how he preferred looking at it). The visit was early in the morning and the ground was under siege from thousands of feet making way either to work, or returning home from a long night of money making. In that 24-hour economy, this writer sees a group of small boys heading to school on foot. One stops to pick something. He beams a smile as his friends fritter over his precious cargo. It is hard to fathom why they are all ecstatic, but Odhiambo reveals that they have picked a condom.
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“They will clean it up at the school tap and play around with it later. Actually, they like it more because it stretches beyond the elastic limit of conventional balloons you find at shops,” Mwati offers.
About a kilometre’s walk to a dumpsite located right at the edge of Kibera River, the theatre of life in this murky environment unravels deeply. It is a pile of everything — pieces of rotting ugali, vegetables, polythene bags, papers, tattered clothes, plastic bottles — just about everything under the sun.
Odhiambo warns this writer to walk carefully to avoid little mountains of human excreta. Before long, this writer’s eye catches a spectacle; a pile of condoms oozing the unimaginable. It’s a painful and appalling eureka moment.
“Here is what you are looking for sir,” Odhiambo motions to this writer. “These have just been dumped here from a brothel nearby. Business must have been good overnight,” he quips.
As the morning train snakes through the slum, a seemingly glue-inebriated street boy salutes it with chants as he waves a blown up condom. No doubt, like Komu had intimated to this writer, sex, condoms and life appear to be finally shaping up.
On our way to Korogocho, the matatu we board has condom stickers. One carries an all-important message: “Ukiwa na condom, uko sorted” — ghetto slang for ‘with a condom, you are ready to go.’ The shuttle is literally blowing up with deafening music.
The din is too great to put up with, but an old school jam on a famous radio station catches our attention.
The song spots the lyrics: “Manyake, all sizes, manyake kama prizes, manyake, ka-balloon zina maji, juala ndio wahitaji (we have women of all shapes and sizes, and all fleshy like blown-up balloons, all you need is a condom to have fun).” Precisely, the song implies that a condom is all you would need to enjoy the pleasures of meat — never mind what that really means.
The dumpsite at Korogocho proves the song right.
It’s a ‘condomised’ world out there. We just never pay attention to see it. At one outlet of an established and famed supermarket, Njeri Munyutha*, a cashier, informs this writer that condoms sell like precious stones.
“It’s a mine of value,” she states. “In every ten adults who pass by my counter, one or two will pick several packs. Even women have broken the glass veil of shame. Nairobians are on a sexual carnival and I too get affected: sitting here and packing condoms for people gets my mojo scale tilting towards a crescendo. It’s infectious.”
In his book The Politics of Betrayal, former MP Joe Khamisi spilt beans by revealing how the drainage system of Continental House, which houses offices belonging to MPs, occasionally got blocked by, hold your breathe, used condoms.
A forensic probe into who exactly flushed the used rubber down toilets might be the best way to unravel the truth, but it is a safe bet that only people with offices in that building, MPs if you may, flushed condoms down the toilet bowls to ‘protect classified information’.
Grace Muasya* who works with a leading and prominent hotel frequented by VIPs and the blessed souls of Nairobi, confides that collecting condoms, forgotten or unused Viagra, energy drink cans and related paraphernalia has become a familiar routine for her. The crème de la crème of the city spend nights at the hotel.
“Some think that we can’t identify them, but we know them from watching news. When I see them attending functions with their wives and remember the used condoms, I get overcome with laughter,” she states.
The story gets sweeter; one night, I take to Koinange Street to meet prostitutes. On realising that I’m not there to cut business deals, many of the lusciously looking girls — tempting enough to cause a tear or muscle sprain on a man’s salivary glands — didn’t want to talk to me. But after flashing a bank note, one of them, who refuses to reveal her name, opens up and shows a cache of condoms stashed in her handbag.
“I am here for the money. All of us are here for the money. However, I think of my family back home and I know that I have a life after this.
I have to protect myself because acquiring HIV is not part of my agenda. I have to carry many conditions because some nights I service up to five clients,” one twilight girl explains.
Once a client is done, she says, “the condom remains in the hotel room or wherever we’ll do the transaction.”
Jane Wairimu*, a city council worker, confirms that she and her colleagues see used condoms on the streets every morning. She adds that more show up when they are emptying the street dustbins. Each job has downside to it, and Jane tells me she has learnt to live with hers.
She says: “It’s only that they are small in size and much lighter than other garbage. However, in numbers, condoms rank among the most collected litter. ”
Carnal urges are like a renegade train out of control. Komu and his group Condi Kenya, took cognizance of this fact years ago.
Today, while they commend the good job the rubber sheath has done preventing possible infections, they have noticed an unhealthy trend of condom disposal and are up in arms against this dangerous form of environmental degradation in Korogocho.
“Children blow these condoms; they play with them and no one can tell what danger is concealed in there. From the nature of their use, we can only tell that infections are possible. Some children in the slums develop untreatable illnesses and the littering of condoms is a notable culprit. What we advocate for is either burying or burning them (used condoms),” Komu comments.
Indeed Komu and his colleagues at Condi Kenya are justified in their quest to promote healthy disposal of condoms. As Dr John Ong’ech points out, used condom could be harbouring dangerous bacteria and viruses.
“Some of these pathogens can form biofilms or spores, which are their long lasting versions, just waiting for a favourable environment to sprout back to life,” offers the medic. “If it is possible that they come into contact with an open wound on a person’s skin then they can cause deadly trouble.
The danger is as real as it sounds,” he concludes.
It is a stark irony when rubber sheaths designed to prevent infections and save lives become a source of virulent disease.