Celebrating East African Writing!

The war in my mind by David Mbuthia

When your dream dies don’t bury it, it will rise up again.

That is what I believe in and it has been an encouraging phrase in my life for a long time. Moreover, I still know that an ending is also the beginning of something new, and this life has offered me a second chance of being alive and discovering who I am and what kind of a symbol I can be in the society.

The opinions I get from my friends and from professional counselors who were and still are concerned about me have convinced me that the process I have undergone can be a mirror to very many in the world who could be living in the kind of miseries I have undergone.

It all began in the late nineties when a certain organization visited our slum[Mathare North] and found many of us youths who knew nothing about life or the future. The organization had very good news for the us, for its main objective was to upgrade the future life of the growing youth in the less fortunate areas. As a young person I was enrolled in the organization due to my good discipline and the potential and talent I had in different fields. I was encouraged to persuade more youths to join the organization as long as one had a talent and discipline.

So I was there as a crusader for the organization and I managed to make a big catch for them including my brothers and sister. Life started changing and days went, our trust with the group continued to grow bigger and many more joined the crew for it had already started showing that it was there to take us to very brigh.

Many people joined different programs in different fields which the organization offered, most of which involved sporting activities. I personally joined the football team and later I went for coaching lessons. Later on a young lady also joined the organization but this time she was part of the organization’s pioneer project which went by the name Shootback.

I joined the project because I believed that anything is a possibility. Many did not believe when they saw me excel in a field that none of us had ever tried earlier before. No one in the slums had ever seen a camera close up or ever held one let alone knowing how it worked. As time went on I turned to be one of the best Shootback photographers; my pictures were the best.

In 1998, I was elected as a coach, to train of youth under the age of twelve who were supposed to compete in the annual Norway Cup. I trained the youth with all my effort. When competition finals were very close I was sacked from my coaching job by the management. I was in disbelief, especially because the reasons they gave were not understandable to me.The simple answer they gave was that I was too young and did not or could not even understand a word in any of the languages used in Norway.

As a humble youth, I did not give up or show any kind of discontentment, as I saw my team which I had trained for more than six months being taken over by somebody I did not know. Fortunately, they went on to win the competition with the coach who was introduced to the team the during the last five days of training just before they traveled. Truly I could not believe that all my efforts were transferred to someone else as I watched just because I was young. For quite sometime after that I continuously asked myself why they had appointed me as a coach for that team, if they knew I was too young.

To my surprise, when the team brought the trophy home, I was re-appointed coach of that same team again. I could not reject the offer since I believed that this organization was there to make a bright future for me and many other youths. I carried on my duties as before and tried all that I could to forget what had happened before. This time I did it with a lot of extra effort for I was sure that I was the one who would go with the team come the next competition.

Challenges in will never fail to challenge you in life as long as you keep on challenging it. I was left wordless at the airport when I realized that I was not traveling with the team just twelve hours to the flight. I felt a kind of pain that I can not explain for I could not believe that this was happening again to me again for a second time. That is when I decided to quit the organization.

Two years later, I decided to go and take my passport from them and it’s at that time that I realized that my passport did not have a Dutch traveling stamp. They had never even applied for my visa!

After that I decided to withdraw my membership with the organization and pursue life elsewhere. It did not take long for me to compose myself and restart life afresh. This time as a talented artist. I decided to express my feelings through art by drawings. The little money I had saved is what I used to buy drawing materials. Later on, a friend saw my paintings and encouraged me to go for professional drawing. I joined an arts college but before I was through another misfortune struck. I had no money to pay for my exams and the remaining fee balances and had no other option but to drop out.

I went back to ordinary drawing. I spent most of the time drawing or painting and this drew a certain concern to people who were around me. As time went by, rumor started spreading in the neighborhood that I was going crazy. But this did not stop me from achieving my goal for I did not believe in losing, failure or giving up. Little did I know that the more I tried to express myself to them through the drawings and painting and sometime dialogue, the more I was misunderstood and my perspective misinterpreted. I could not believe a close friend of my mine referring to me as the mad guy.

Things went from bad to worse when my colleagues who had enrolled with me in the organization were expelled. I tried to avoid them but they concluded that I was avoiding them because I had misled them by convincing them to enroll in an organization that did nothing for them except to waste their precious time and exploit them to achieve their own personal goals through the efforts and dedication of the members.
Things went on, but eventually I found myself in a mental hospital. I was, they claim, “beyond reasonable doubt, crazy. After a period of about six months in the mental medical centre, I met a certain doctor who used to counsel us and I tried to explain myself to him. I kept encouraging myself with the inspirational counseling advice I got from the doctors within the facility, from visiting doctors and more still from a few friends back in the slums.

I stayed in that facility for twenty three months, but fortunately one day there came a female counseling psychiatrist who took more time with me. Like a mother she listened to my story and promised to help me as quickly as she could to secure my release from mental medical centre. A few days later she came to me and informed me that time to go home was ripe, but there was a big problem. My medical bill had been piling up in the two years I was there. The bill had reached a terrifying height that she chose not to tell me because she knew my family could not afford to pay it. She told me not to worry or give up.

After a few days she came to see me accompanied by several other people who I came to realize were community workers. Their advice to me was something that gave me a second chance at living. I called it a turning point. As we approached the end of our sitting, to my surprise they told me that they would be going home with me for they had cleared my bills. For a minute I lacked words to say to them. What a happy day it was for me!

After three weeks I had fully deleted my past from my mind and especially the lonely days at the mental facility which I hate to mention or see its name. I started my painting work this time excluding the society from what I was doing. After I did several paintings, I decided to put them up in public but little did I know how negatively they would take my work. It did not take long before rumours started spreading that I had gone crazy again. This to me was a kind of discrimination and elimination from the society. I pointed my finger to the very group that I had encouraged to join the organization in the slums.

As their rumors spread like fire in dry bush, the more I wanted to speak out and express myself. As an artists I spoke out what was in my mind and heart through paintings and drawings. This again saw me in that same place I called hell for another six to seven months. I managed to come out with a determination to restart my life afresh. I decided to have a very low profile in the society.

I am now a new person to myself and in the society. I started a laundry ironing service using a charcoal iron in a shed along one of the many streets in the slum. After a short time the business started giving me a little cash to cater for my basic needs. It is now running smoothly such that I have been able to bring in three other people to come and at least get their daily bread.

Although I have experienced a lot of changes in my life, I have determined to be strong. I would want all people to know that no matter how disappointing life is, they should not give up on life.
I have lately joined a group calling itself slum-TV which is basically trying to show the positive side of life in the slums, especially where I dwell in Mathare There are also happy moments in those slums because in those areas there is a lot of talent which can be nurtured. Slums could be History in a very short time. Slum-TV is a project I have preferred to many others that I have worked with and I fell comfortable in it. Hopefully I think it will push me further as I will do it.

Finally, here, I thank God a lot for all what He has done for me.


One comment on “The war in my mind by David Mbuthia

  1. roni
    February 7, 2009

    I think you are a good writer
    good luck


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