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How alcohol ruined my life

John Kagwe had it all; education, a well-paying job, got on well with colleagues and was always ready to share a joke.

Paying rent was not a big deal and he had plenty of friends. His was a life on the fast lane, so he thought. But what he did not realise was that the kind of lifestyle he had chosen would lead him from grace to grass. He loved the bottle so much.

Now a frail looking Kagwe sleeps on the streets, has no friends, and survives on handouts from passers-by and the little he earns from carrying luggage from Machakos ‘country’ bus stop to connection stages.

The former accountant who worked for a publishing firm in the city since 1993, earned a net of Sh30,000, a comfortable amount then, but never had time to start a family. Instead, he spent time with friends who like him, worshipped alcohol.

When he was sacked in 2002 due to heavy drinking, Kagwe moved to a single roomed house as he looked for another job but after failing to get one, he tried his hand at hawking. That failed too.

In 2011, life became unbearable and so he moved to Uhuru Estate to stay with his widowed mum and siblings. “The house was very small and they saw me as a burden because of my drinking. We quarrelled constantly,” said the 52-year-old.

“I used money meant for other purposes on drinks and couldn’t cease the habit no matter how hard my mum tried to stop me,” he added.

One day he got so angry that he beat up his mother resulting in his arrest and imprisonment.

Upon his release, he went back to his mum’s house but their relationship was too strained. He decided to move out and besides, he felt that he was too old to live with his mum in the small house.

“I left for town and  found myself at Uhuru Park reflecting at how alcohol had ruined my life,” he said.  Since that day, he swore never to drink again.  Although he had freed himself from the chains of alcohol, Kagwe was still shackled by poverty.

His only option was the streets. At night you will find him at his favourite spots; Ambassadeur Hotel, Kencom House, Kimathi House and the Old Mutual building.

“Where I sleep, there are about 80 people, among them hawkers, handcart pushers, street boys and pickpockets. The earliest we can sleep is at 1am after the streets are quiet,” said Kagwe.

Every street dweller has a territory and Kagwe said newcomers were usually harassed by the old guys. Some even drag clubgoers to their territories to rob them of their valuables.

“There are times when they used to beat me up and take my money but now they respect me.”

Life on the streets is hard, especially during the rainy season and there were constant arrests by county askaris.

“I have been arrested twice but since I did not have Sh500 to pay as fine, I was told to clean some streets for three days,” said Kagwe who prefers the remand to street life.

“In the remand you have a roof over your head and are assured of getting a meal.” He usually has a plate of githeri on  Kirinyaga Road where it is sold for between Sh10 and Sh20.