Shortly after Nancy Wanjiru completed her high school education in 1984, her motherhood journey began.
Her parents agreed to help her raise the child as she attended college. Her sights were set on joining a nursing school. On the day she was to go for an interview at Kenyatta Nursing School, she went into labour. With a small baby to nurse and a caesarean section wound to heal, her nursing dream was shattered.
“For the first three years of Hinga’s life, we lived in Kabete with my parents. I was doing odd jobs. My father was a driver in Nairobi, and would come home over the weekends, but he also had a drinking problem and one day he just sold our land. We were evicted without warning and the case is still under dispute to date,” she recalls.
Working as a waitress in the city by that time, Nancy rented out a house with a friend in Mugoya and left Hinga with his grandmother in Kabete where they were also renting. She visited every weekend for about a year. Hinga attended primary school without any troubles until class 8.
Nancy met her current husband and they moved to Kayole. Hinga joined Uthiru High School. In the second year, the school summoned them. They were told that he had started running with the wrong crowd and had picked up a habit of smoking bhang.
They suggested that he be moved to a school closer to home so that the parents would monitor him. At the time, he was still living with his grandmother, who defended him against the claims. Nancy then decided to move him to Kayole from Wangige and to enroll him to Twilight Day School.
“By the time he reached Form Two, he was a totally different child. I couldn’t even speak to him on my own because he would get aggressive. Whenever I got any reports from school or otherwise I always waited for my husband to come home so we could ask him together.”
Tears rolling down her cheeks, Nancy recalls a time she came home earlier than usual and found him smoking bhang with a group of boys outside the house. When she tried to confront him, he almost got violent.
“In Form Three he became strange, he wasn’t eating at all and started displaying antisocial behaviours. We would find him sitting alone in front of a switched off TV laughing. When we asked him about it, he would say; can’t you see these funny people?”
The school also reported a worrying trend; he was no longer taking his studies seriousy. “He wouldn’t even write his name when asked to, he didn’t respond verbally or otherwise to his teachers— he would just sit there.” The school recommended they take him for a medical evaluation. The first hospital they visited in Kayole said he was displaying withdrawal symptoms and referred them to Mbagathi Hospital where they were referred to Mathari Hospital, and their ordeal began.
At Mathari, they said the bhang had affected his brain and admitted him. Nancy says they mostly injected him. They also prescribed medication to Hinga. She particularly remembers medication they used to refer as ‘stoppers’ which cooled him down a bit.
“We have been in and out of the hospital almost 8 times and he is even quite well known in ward five. They would discharge him, and he would be alright for a week. Other times he would simply run away from the hospital because he knew it well enough.”
Despite being told her son was getting counselling services, Nancy never met any of the counsellors.
“He complained a lot and said all they did was give him medication and treat him like a mental patient and yet he was not mentally ill and that is why he kept running away. But when he was out of the hospital, he would walk around the neighbourhood completely naked, or he would rummage through garbage.
People were always calling me whenever he was spotted; he would disappear from the house for periods of time. That’s why I kept taking him back because I thought they could at least help him,” Nancy says. “I found out that while at Mathari, he discovered a drug called Attain. It isn’t supposed to be used daily, but because it got him high, he got addicted. It was only Sh2 per tablet. He even stole prescription papers and got them from chemists.”
Nancy had to go around all the chemists he visited to ask them not to sell him the drug to the boy. When he was home, Nancy tearfully admits they were always in fear if her husband wasn’t around. He would demand money or take things to sell so he could buy these drugs. They would lock him out when the father was away and he would bang the door, scaring neighbours.
One time as they took him back to Mathari Hospital, he threatened to run away from forever. At this point, he went back to his grandmother in Wangige. “She loved him so much and wouldn’t refuse him whatever he asked.”
After his grandmother died, they repeatedly tried to force him back to Kayole, but he always ran away to Wangige. “He would ask people for money so that he buys drugs. I grew up in Wangige so people who saw him around the shopping centre would call me. I kept telling them not to give him money.”
“In 2015, we were evicted by the landlord from our Kayole house because of his behaviour and the way he physically looked (dirty, dishevelled) made other tenants fear him even though he wasn’t harmful to people. We had also accumulated so much debt trying to look after him and get professional help. All my money went towards his treatments and care.”
The family tried to get him to live with them at their current home in Ruai, Nairobi, but he kept running away to Wangige. He would sometimes go back to Kayole, and people repeatedly called Nancy asking her why she abandoned her son.
“We went to get him from Kayole and had to use force this time because his fear was that we were taking him to the mental hospital which he hated so much.”
They tried to relocate him to Kinangop after his discharge from Mathari Hospital but then he relapsed and once again went back to Wangige.
“No matter what I did, he wouldn’t come home,” Nancy says, completely breaking down. “Every month without fail I would go to Wangige to look for him, take him to a butchery or hotel and eat with him. I even paid a local hotel a standing fee so that whenever they saw him, they would give him either tea and mandazi or a meal so at least I would know he had eaten.
Sometimes he would run and hide away thinking I want to take him to the hospital. People would ask me; are you eating with him? And I would say, yes, he is my son put the food on one plate. We were always a spectacle; people would call each other to come and stare, laugh and point at us as we ate. I was known as Mama wa wazimu (the madman’s mother).
In 2017, Nancy was travelling in a matatu when she saw an image on Facebook of her son posted by another young man who knew their family. “I screamed inside that matatu when I saw that picture. I wondered why he decided to post it. Was it his intention to mock me as many had done before? And so many people were commenting.”
It was then that Wanja Mwaura called Nancy. She wanted to know what had happened, and why they had allowed Hinga to reach such a condition.
“Would a mother let her son get to such a point without trying everything?” she says, amid sobs. “I have cried for many years over my son. People have said he is bewitched, I have visited many prophets. I have prayed asking God to save him. I would wait for the children and my husband to sleep and cry alone in the sitting room for many hours. Without my husband’s support over these years I don’t know what I would have done.”
After Wanja got involved, the story took a different and positive turn. Wanja was able to rally support via social media, successfully steering the public contributing towards Hinga’s rehabilitation cost as well as a shop for him to return to after his treatment.
Nancy visits Hinga every two weeks at the rehab centre, and is hopeful that this is the turning point she has been praying for in the last 18 years.
“It doesn’t matter what happened before. I am just praying that my son will finally be well and live a good life after rehab.”