Amid the laughter of small children in the dark alleys of Korogocho slum are the silent cries of a woman in bondage.
From the time she first laid her eyes and lips on chang’aa, known as ‘ng’ats’ in Korogocho, Agnes Wahu found herself locked in a disastrous love affair with the harsh liquor.
In an area with more chang’aa dens than shops, quitting the bottle is a truly uphill task. Her favourite drink is readily available for as low as Sh10 or surety of clothes, watches, phones, national identity card and even children.
Over the years, she has lost two children, her first marriage, career and almost her life, but she still finds herself knocking on the doors of the dens.
Wahu has been to a rehabilitation centre, but with very little to show for it. The desire to quit is real, but it seems there is no way out for her.
“I haven’t visited the bad church (local bar) the whole month and interestingly, I do not feel thirsty,” she told Metropolitan.
Dressed in a slack pair of blue jeans and a grey dress top designed for a fuller figure, Wahu walks through the slum alleys in the company of her two children, aged 10 and nine.
The children are not in school — one has been sent home for losing school books and the other badly needs a haircut.
While the haircut can be easily sorted out, it will be a while before money is found to buy the books.
Even though her face shows the ravages of her addiction, Wahu looks better today except for the faint smell of alcohol on her breath.
The children live with their grandmother. They are not the only ones she has had. One died some time ago and another was taken away by the Government. Thanks to alcohol, her mourning period was a brief one.
“Nothing made me fit in among my peers more than my glass of chang’aa. I woke up to it and went to bed well-filled,” said Wahu.
The State moved in and took away her child when he was only two months old. The police officer in charge of the police post in Korogocho, popularly referred to as ‘Gonga Njaa’, took the child to a social services centre.
Isaiah Koome, who is based at the police post, said the child was brought to the station by the chief after his mother ‘threw’ him aside to fight her husband inside a bar where both of them were drinking.
“She and her husband would take the child to the bar where they would drink until late into the night,” said Mr Koome.
“On the day the child was brought here, Wahu dropped the child on the ground as she tried to strap him to her back. She was too drunk to support herself.”
This story was corroborated by neighbours who watched the fight between the couple, which they claimed was a normal occurrence.
“They are always together. They work, drink and fight together all the time. But Wahu is feared so the people who fight her do so only when she is drunk and mostly carrying her baby,” said a neighbour.
Wahu however said she placed the child on a bench to protect him from getting hit, and he fell off.
“The chief, who was in the area, took him to the police station. I was drunk but I followed them and was locked up when I insisted on taking my child,” she said.
When she was released the next day, the 32-year-old realised she would have to live without her child until she sobered up. That was what the police officers promised.
When Wahu met her first husband, who was strong and loved to work out, she stopped drinking and started training as a boxer in Eastleigh.
“Just when I got so close to graduating, my husband left and I immediately turned back to alcohol without thinking,” she said.
She gave up on her boxing career and took odd jobs to sustain her drinking. All the while, her mother was taking care of her two children.
Wahu married again — this time an inveterate drunkard — and it was during a domestic fight that the neighbours claim the couple fell on her fourth child, who died on the spot.
But Wahu denied the allegations, saying the child slipped from her hands and fell to the floor and died.
She also said her firstborn, whose name she can no longer remember, died when she had gone to fetch water, leaving him with a neighbour’s child.
“All my life, I have been drinking. I cannot remember a day when the sun went down without a sip of chang’aa except the three months I was in rehab and nine months training as a boxer,” she recalled.
But the pain of losing a child to the Government seems to hurt a lot. Wahu now stays clear of the ‘bad church’, if only to try and get her son back.
“At night I dream that I am holding him in my hands. Usually, I would drink these thoughts away but today, I only want to do whatever it is that will bring him back,” she said.
“That child almost killed me. During birth, he started coming out legs first and I had to be rushed to Pumwani Hospital, where he was turned around. That was the greatest (physical) pain I have ever experienced in my life.”
Wahu has been diagnosed with tuberculosis and while she would like to get well, there is a bigger desire in her heart to break free from the alcohol monster that has held her trapped for years.