The torture chamber that is Nairobi

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BY KUI WAGACHA

So I’m walking in downtown Nairobi (not idly, for I never do anything idly) but the writer that I am takes the time to look around the people who are around me, all going somewhere, acting like the confusing computer programs that they are…angry faces and placid ones, cheerful and expectant faces with a hand to an ear, listening to whatever whoever is telling them from the other end of a cell phone.

Anxious faces and feet running late for whatever appointment they are rushing to. Fed up faces and hopeful faces…

But above all, worried faces.

Worried faces above swelling bellies, the sight of which attacks me with a sudden pang – apparently, it’s about that time for me too! I’m beginning to brood and flashes of my two unborn children fodder my dreams. Naturally, they are gorgeous, and I can’t wait to see them! And yet a thought of the nine-month ordeal dampens my desire almost instantly. Still, I can gaze upon expecting women –and it’s so strange that just now, I can identify them every where, even entire roads ahead! Hmmmmmh. Is this normal, doctor?

Kenyans’ faces aren’t warm at all. They aren’t inviting; in fact, they are quite hostile. Girls give other girls a quick, disdainful once-over; a look from hair to shoes in a flash, followed by a dismissive toss of the head that makes me want to say: “What did I ever do to you? You don’t even know me!” Evidently competition begins the second you step out of your house, and every woman you look better than scores you a point…I’m not sure in what game, though.

Men are men – a quick flash of appreciation, even a tentative smile, or an insolent one that makes you feel like an instant shower.

Nice shoes, ‘where-on-earth-did-you-get-those’ shoes, and even no shoes, are all in Nairobi. African slip-ons or European peep toes exposing an extra long painted big toenail with the others hopefully aligned obediently by, their ends regular.

Decent tops and those with boobs spilling over, burn-those-pants and perfect fits, all are here in Nairobi. Clothes that scream ‘student’ and those that scream ‘cheap thrill’ –and endearingly, those that scream ‘harried mother’, instantly recognisable by the unmarriageable choice of colours (sunset orange blouse and full red skirt, not forgetting the unforgivable slip that peeps out from a slit with every laboured step) which informs the world that they did not look in the mirror before dashing out of their house.

The men? There are those in too-short trousers and bright socks and men who look like they’ve just stepped out of GQ magazine…

A woman clacks past me glaring, furious that I’m wearing the shoes she’s apparently been searching for all her life. A young man semi-smiles in recognition at my dreadlocked head, his own locks flowing splendidly behind him.

I sigh in delight upon reaching my destination, grinning so hard at the mean-faced security guard that he surprises himself by smiling back. As I send myself up in the elevator, my thoughts unguardedly fleet back to my walk.

Worried faces in Nairobi.

Worried about financial security, political stability, about family stability. Worried about themselves, their family, neighbours, friends and their government.

Worried, not only about today, but about tomorrow. What a tiring way to live.

(Ms Wagacha is a Content Editor, Capital Digital Media Division)

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