Insert dropped mouths and raised eyebrows.
Being a youth minister at the time I thought I had heard it all. All of the unorthodox ways and reasons youth "altered their state of mind". Kids taking other people's prescription drugs, sniffing aerosol can contents, crushing diet pills or whatever else and snorting it, and of course mixing cleaning supplies to make a concoction known as "meth".
But sniffing glue - getting high - so you don't feel your hunger pains?
That was out of the realm of my expertise.
If you think you are going to just swoop in and save these kids from the streets by offering them food and shelter, think again. Many of them were already hardened by life before they were on the streets. Street life made them even harder. They only trust one another. Adults are their enemies.
We were told that one of the things they do to see if they can trust you is to put a bug on you while you are conversing with them. If you don't swat the pest, you've taken one step closer to becoming their friend. "No big deal", some would say - until you find out it's lice or some other parasite that had taken up residence on their bodies.
I shuddered at the thought. I would have failed that test miserably. And when I failed that test, and I was told many do, the mapipa would have told me, "How can you say you want to be my friend if you can't even tolerate a little bit of the life I live?"
You will find the mapipa come to the big cities from all over. They don't stay in rural areas. If they have run away, they will eventually find themselves on city streets like the capital, Nairobi.
We were able to visit a ministry that exclusively ministers to the mapipa. The ministry aims to take them off of the streets, enroll them in school and help instill responsibility and work ethic, and if they can, they want to reconnect them with their family.
They had a prayer wall. On the walls they had pictures of the boys that had successfully been placed back into a family member's home or other desirable situation. Pictures of the boys that currently lived in the ministry's quarters, which held about 15 boys at a time. Then there were pictures of about 5 boys that had been in the program but had gone back onto the streets - I had seen one of them sniffing glue.
The boys were being taught how to perform acrobatic feats. It gave them a trade of sorts in a country whose economic health relies heavily on tourism. They were pretty good!
One of the rules of the ministry was that they weren't supposed to interact with their old life, lest they be lured or tempted back into their old ways. Even after they have food, shelter, and some semblance of their life turning around - the streets, sometimes an addiction to glue, or the uncertainty of a better life will call them back.
One boy had returned to the ministry after he succumbed to living on the streets again. He'd returned the day before our arrival. His foot had been injured when he was hit by a car. His name was Lazarus.
The street boys wanted to know why Lazarus hadn't been around, and where was he going with these foreigners. The ministry leaders kept a watchful eye on the exchange. They were careful not to seem unloving to the mapipa, but protective of Lazarus, he had risen from the streets once again. They didn't intend on losing him back to them so easily.
They asked us about what it was like living in America. We were all shy - perhaps ashamed to admit how very easy and even more glamorous our lives were. One asked me about the cost to come to Kenya. I was a bit hesitant but did the exchange rate and told him in Shillings the cost. He looked at me in disbelief. "That's the cost of a car!"
I felt bad.
Was he thinking about the food, supplies and clothing that could have been bought instead?
Then he said in a whisper, "You all spent that much money just to come be with us?" I gave him a hug and said, "Absolutely, and we would all do it again."
We said our final good-bye and left the ex-mapipa, the boys who used to live on the streets, sniff glue and eat from trash cans.
I physically left their presence, but they never left my heart.
Just Around The Corner,