Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Beyond broke: Dark side of ‘American dream’-Needs to work extra hard

Beyond broke: Dark side of ‘American dream’-Needs to work extra hard
Beyond broke: Dark side of ‘American dream’-Needs to work extra hard Mr Justus Kebabe and his wife, Bilha Omare, at their residence in Minneapolis. Mr Kebabe pleaded guilty in court to killing his wife and their two children in 2011. Incidents of violence, suicide and destitution among Kenyans in the US remain a cause for concern. FILE PHOTO

When Maggie Marikah, a Kenyan living in Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States, first read in the press that a homeless Kenyan had been admitted to a hospital in her neighbourhood with a lung infection, and that doctors were looking for the patient’s family, her curiosity was piqued.

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Considering that Kenyans living in the area are a close-knit community, she wondered how it was that the Kenyan had no known family or friends in Atlanta.

Ms Marikah reasoned it was unlikely that though there were cases of penury, one would get to the stage of being sick and destitute without the knowledge of the Kenyan community.

“Usually, there is a consistent progression to such cases. Either one loses a job and is out of work for a period of time, one loses direction and engages in anti-social behaviour like drug abuse, domestic violence or just runs afoul of the law. In all these cases, the community is always aware and tries to help,” she says.

But Ms Marikah’s curiosity quickly turned into shock when she realised that the so-called homeless Kenyan was Alfred Mugo, an information technology graduate she knew a few years back.

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“I was shocked because when I knew him, he didn’t appear to me as a candidate for homelessness,” says Ms Marikah. “But, hey, this is America, where all it takes for you to find yourself in the streets is missing two pay cheques.”

One and a half weeks ago, the Daily Nation quoted a spokeswoman for Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, Georgia, saying Mr Mugo “is critically ill and we must speak to a close relative as a matter of urgency”.

A former college-mate, who did not want to be named, said Mr Mugo was living on the streets with another homeless Kenyan.

“It is no secret that he became destitute after losing his job at Apple, and lived on Franklin Road in Marietta with other homeless persons,” said the source.

After the story was published, Mr Mugo’s mother in Kenya called the hospital and said she would be travelling to the US. It was, however, too late as her son died last Sunday.

In August, it was reported that friends and relatives of Mr Elam Mburu, a homeless Kenyan who drowned in Boston, were struggling to raise money for his funeral.

And last month, another homeless Kenyan in Atlanta, Mr Timothy Majanja, 67, publicly pleaded to be assisted to return to Kenya, citing lost dreams and dashed hopes after living for 46 years in Canada and the US.

The reports have renewed debate on an issue that reveals the dark side of life in America.

“I wouldn’t characterise homelessness among Kenyans in the US as having reached alarming proportions, though the cases have definitely increased in the recent past. It is, however, important to do more research to ascertain just how many Kenyans are living on the streets,” says Ms Muthoni Mpuria, a Kenyan resident of Kennesaw, Atlanta.


While cautioning that such reports could create the wrong impression that life in the US is all doom and gloom, Ms Mpuria argues that a majority of Kenyans living in the US are doing well.

Ms Ann Kariuki, a Kenyan lawyer living in Springfield, Pennsylvania, disagrees, noting that the number of homeless Kenyans in America is more than the community cares to admit.

“The fact that we are reluctant to openly talk about this issue doesn’t mean it does not exist. I am aware there are many homeless Kenyans, especially in the big cities like Washington, DC, New York and Atlanta,” she says.

Ms Kariuki partly attributes this to the recent recession and the tightening of immigration rules since the September 11, 2001 terror attack in New York.

While agreeing with Ms Kariuki that Kenyans in the US are reluctant to discuss issues such as homelessness, Dr Joe Karogi of Raleigh, North Carolina, believes there are structures and facilities to assist Kenyans who may find themselves out of employment.

“We have a good number of Kenyans who are being taken care of by some of our institutions such as churches. The problem is that many young Kenyans in America disregard these groups and associations, and only remember them when something goes wrong,” says Dr Karogi, founding chair of the Kenya Christian Fellowship in America.

Beyond homelessness, the Kenyan diaspora in the US seems to be grappling with other pressures that sometimes turn tragic.

One of the most shocking incidents occurred in 2011 when Kenyan-born Minneapolis resident Justus Kebabe admitted to killing his wife and their two children at home. He is serving a minimum of 51 years in jail.

Another Kenyan living in Maryland, Alexander Kinyua, killed a man and ate his heart and brain. He pleaded guilty but was found not criminally responsible, as he was diagnosed with stress-related psychological issues.

Incidents of violence, suicide and destitution among Kenyans in the US remain a cause for concern. But many fear to openly discuss them for fear that they might expose the Kenyan community abroad to judgment and social ridicule.

“Having lived here for a while, gone through the system, and knowing what they go through, there are many reasons for one to either give up or turn violent,” says Mr Isaac Kariuki of Maryland.

“There is the notion back home that America is a land flowing with milk and honey, so more Kenyans want to come. But that is not always the case,” he said, adding that often one needs to work extra hard to succeed.

Beyond broke: Dark side of ‘American dream’-Needs to work extra hard 

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