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Nairobi: “The War Zone”

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A man bumps into me and I nearly lose my balance. Before I can regain my footing a middle-aged woman who is wildly swinging her hands nearly destroys my future but luckily she misses my ‘fundamentals’ and hits my mid-section. She barely breaks her stride. A few meters ahead a man is being yelled at for stepping on tomatoes that were laid on the pavement. I try to duck the commotion but a motorbike that was on the wrong side of the road nearly crashes into me. I decide to cross the road and I do so just in time before a matatu comes precariously close to running me over.

Walking along Tom Mboya Street feels like wading through a minefield. Any wrong move and you may ‘explode.’ If you approach from Koja stage you are immediately faced with a predicament. Do you walk on the pavement that in an ideal city is meant for human traffic or do you walk on the main road? Your trepidation is compounded by the fact that the pavements are full of hawkers peddling their wares, and you have to move very nimbly as you avoid stepping on them. The road, on the other hand, is full of Matatus which have transformed the street into a parking bay.

Having painstakingly navigated Tom Mboya, I finally reach Archives which is near Mr. Price Open air market. At least that is what it appears to be nowadays. I decide to use Moi Avenue instead. It’s better but the stretch between Archives and Railways is also a challenge. From hawkers to bus conductors trying to forcefully push me into buses going to the airport, I’m left breathless. By the time I get to Railways all my energy is depleted, my clothes are ruffled and my shoes are scruffy.

Once at Railways I try to get a matatu to Rongai. This is a revolving stage and if you have seen the revolving doors at Integrity Center then you can relate. The buses do not stop for passengers to board. They come in from Haile Selassie into the Railways stage and passengers hop, jump and jostle into the bus as it makes its way around the bus stop. Utter madness and it’s open season for all. Women, men, young ladies and gents all squirm their way into the bus. I think every ‘Nairobian’ is born with an inherent ability to be a turn boy because the skills I witnessed were impressive. Who was I to swim against the tide? I promptly summoned my inner turn boy spirit and did the necessary.

For the first time, I relax as I sink into the seat. Music is playing at a decent volume and I try to get some shut-eye. I’m jolted awake by a sudden exponential increase in volume. My God! The windows are rattling as the speakers blare the unbelievable high decibels. My eardrums are straining, my head throbbing and my insides are literally churning! I dare not ask them to turn it a notch lower lest I receive a thorough verbal lashing from the conductors.

Thank God for Uber and Taxify. I managed to have a semblance of tranquillity on my way back to town when I use one of them. I alight somewhere along Kenyatta Avenue which is more or less organized. I proceed to scour around for a particular commodity and my search takes me to Kimathi Steet, Wabera Street, and Koinange Street. There is definitely more order here and I can let my guard down a little. If only the whole city was like this! A cold sweat breaks down my brow when it’s time to venture back to Tom Mboya where my matatus back home are. I take a deep breath.

Dusk in the city is characterized by pure unmitigated chaos. Woe unto you if it rains and because anything that can go wrong usually does, the heavens decide to open up on this particular day. On a normal day the city is crazy enough, but when it pours, it’s crazy on steroids. Traffic does not move, the streets are literally flooded and everybody is in a foul mood. I have two choices; I can either wait out the rain in a joint in town or I can claw my way to the stage and hope to find some transport. I chose the latter and on a wing and a prayer I set forth.

When I finally get home three hours later I’m drenched and my teeth are clattering due to the cold. My soggy boots and dripping clothes are quickly discarded. Too tired to fix a meal, I quickly make some hot coffee and retire to bed. Battered and bruised, this gallant soldier needs some rest to venture out into the battlefield again tomorrow. A Luta Continua.

 

This article was written by Fred Kiarie.

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