- My mother had no voice to protect herself leave alone our interests as children.
- By the time I sat for my KCSE, I had been in and out of seven primary schools because my father could not hold down a teaching job in one school and kept changing them in search for the elusive greener pastures.
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Eric ‘RixPoet' Otieno , 29, spoke to Millicent Mwololo about how his poetry helped him deal with a difficult childhood.
Memories of my childhood are blood-stained. Blood-stained because my father was an alcoholic who would often come home drunk and beat my mother to a pulp. We too, did not escape his wrath. I became a bitter and fearful child.
AN EMBITTERED MAN
My father, too, was an embittered man. He beat his frustrations into our bodies. It was the only way he knew how to assert his authority and control. My mother had no voice to protect herself leave alone our interests as children. By the time I sat for my KCSE, I had been in and out of seven primary schools because my father could not hold down a teaching job in one school and kept changing them in search for the elusive greener pastures.
Countless times, friends and family have intervened but my father has never admitted his role in the violence. At one point he said “ni mashetani” (It’s the devil) that made him violent. When hard-pressed by his relatives, he would scold them.
I found it really hard to express myself self at home because I did not want to be rejected. Whenever I needed help at home, it was hard to open up. I had to fight that fear when I needed to express myself elsewhere. This saw me grow up a bitter introverted, overwhelmed by trust issues. It was hard to trust other people when the father who was entrusted to protect me saw me go through so much harm. I ran away from home countless times. Homelessness, at the time, was a much better prospect than the violence at home.
When I was in Form Two in April 2004, I had been expelled from St Joseph Rapogi Secondary School in Migori County. I ran away from home in Mlolongo to Kitengela where I was traced three days later. That June, I again walked from home to Nairobi town and found myself at Koinange Street where I spent a week. At night, the prostitutes would tell me their stories about why they were in the trade. They also protected me from the guards. At daytime, I would shop-lift snacks from the supermarkets and that is how I survived that entire week.
WENT BACK HOME
Life as s street boy was not incident-free. I remember June, 20, 2004 very way because it was the day I was caught stealing and beaten thoroughly for it. I was incredibly thirsty after going for days without drinking water. I went to an Ukwala Supermarket that was then at OTC and shoplifted a Nivea petroleum jelly for my lips and a packet of milk. I realised that I needed more milk. I went to the Naivas supermarket on Ronald Ngala for more milk. It was at 7pm and they were about to close. At the milk section, a shop attendant spotted me and suspected that I was shop-lifting. When he saw the milk and Nivea jelly from my jacket, he immediately slapped me. He removed a chain that was on my neck and beat me with it. Shoppers joined in and in a few minutes, my body was swollen. The supermarket manager came for me and saw the items I had shoplifted from the other supermarket, and a notebook and pen in my pocket. I kept on journaling anything that I noted in the streets. The notebook also had my father’s number. He called him. My father arrived in less than five minutes. He had just left Kamukunji police station to report that I was missing. When he came, he paid for the items and he asked me if that was life that I wanted for myself. He then hired a taxi and instructed the driver to lock me in the boot. The driver said that he could not do that, and I sat on the back seat.
On getting home, we got into the house and my father fished out a new nyaunyo that he had bout to beat me up. I resisted and ran outside to the bathrooms. He later softened and came for me from the washrooms. We talked about why I had ran away. He seemed to understand and we left it at that. I later took a shower and we had dinner together. The incident just ended like that.
Later, I joined Pumwani secondary school in Nairobi. But towards the end of November, I again ran away from home to Malindi where I was stayed with the family of a classmate. I had a very low self-esteem and the bitterness was just too much. That is when I started writing poetry, to just let out the pain within me. After Form Four, I was enrolled in Bugema Adventist Secondary School in Uganda where I did Form Five and Six from 2008 up to 2009.
FOUND SOLACE IN WRITING POETRY
In 2011, I joined Daystar University to pursue Bachelor of Arts mass Communication degree but I had to drop out in the first year, because of lack of school fees. Staying at home was difficult since I found myself idle, and with no space to express myself. In addition, my friends were in school and I had no company.
So I went back to the university to pass time and would frequent the computer laboratory while others are in class. It is here that I found solace writing poetry, letting out the pain that I had been through.
I never enrolled back in school after that first semester. My father couldn’t raise the school fees.
Every other day, I blogged these poems and people would read them and give their feedback. I searched online for poets to connect with and I found the Kenya Poets Lounge. It was a big online community where we would post our own poems every single day. This is where I connected with Chris Mukasa and together we later co-founded Fatuma’s Voice, a platform where young people meet and voice out their issues through poetry, story-telling and music.