There is a certain routine of life and I’m willing to blur the lines at the end of it, because as I get older, I have learned that I could be quite rigid, but I understand there are such shades of grey in life as in fiction. For instance, having dreadlocks and running in town constitutes a crime. It only takes one overzealous fella to shout “Mwizi!” and tyres will be sourced, and a bonfire lit hapo Latema Rd at the expense of your life. Kama mbaya mbaya.
So I walk. Not because my cardiologist recommended walking as good for my heart nor because someone’s daughter told me to take a walk (presumably out of her life, hence my cardio’s recommendation) but it’s the only sensible thing to do.
Walking in Nai is not enjoyable. It’s a silenced plea for distraction, in a city quite generous to offer you so—wherever you look, someone has something going on.
Thus I walk, on a personal my-kind-of-town quest, past the grasshopper-looking Citi Hoppas, the not-so-lofty lophas and everyone’s favourite, Super Metros. I meander to Odeon, briskly make my way to Koja, past the Jonsagas and rickety Killetons all the way to the Nazigi Saccos.
Walking in Nairobi is John Wick searching for his dog. Walking in Nairobi is realising someone killed John Wick’s dog, and thus everyone has to die. No town can been more loved or more hated. Depending on who you ask, Nai either “brings it all together,” or it is a sunlit mortuary where “you can rot without feeling it.”
Worse than walking in Nairobi is running in Nairobi. It is almost the pulse of the city, an unwritten pact that anyone who runs in Nairobi is a criminal. But everyone is a criminal. See that one over there. What is he doing? “Usikojoe hapa” seems like a good place to pee, and so there he goes, whipping out his nini and unleashing a torrent of pale yellow stream—that any doctor worth his salt would tell you our exhibitionist needs to drink more clean water—as he does his part to give Nairobi its chief attribute: the smell of urine. Kama mbaya mbaya.
You need to buy a self-help book to walk in this town. Because along River Road, as I head to Tea Room, subaru ya mambaru have accosted me once. Maybe twice. “Kijana umeficha bangi!” For some reason, anyone with dreadlocks happens to partake in the holy herb—even when they don’t. Kijana parts with five sock the first time, then two sock next time, because economy. That’s Nairobi’s tax. It is here too that a prostitute, pardon my manners, a sex worker eyes my balls, na haiitishi ruhusa kuguza, what Dj Afro calls kugutha uroro.
I keep wandering in Nairobi, and I am not sure where to, or why, wondering what is it I am searching for. Meaning? Validation? Acceptance? All? I still get lost along the city’s many alleys and avenues and lanes, but as long as I can look up and spot KICC, the Jesus of buildings, then I know I can be saved.
I have lived in Nairobi since 2003, pre-Thika Rd and post-Thika Superhighway, and now, Expressways—Nairobi changes but hardly shifts, the people constantly angrier, the sidewalks disappearing because a nduthi guy stakes more claim to the pedestrian path than a pedestrian. Nairobi is a nduthiverse.
The fall of mallets and hammers give the city its distinct soundtrack. Space is a luxury, so you protect yourself. For every new building, there is an unfinished one, maybe the proprietor ran out of money, but more likely hii inapiganiwa kwa court. Rome has ancient ruins, Nairobi just has ruins.
This is my urban bailiwick, the diurnal kaleidoscope of this pell-mell place that comprises, in its immense diversity and Sisyphean tragedy, the constantly changing face of Kenya. Nairobi represents the financialization of urban space. If the numbers don’t work, tear it down. This is not a real city, it is a financial rent machine. Nairobi quickly shows you that it the home of the throwaway—buildings, appliances, animals and, people. This is what Kanairo does best— tear down its past, leaving no trace of its history.
Shakespeare said it first, but Tosh Gitonga said it best: we are all actors in this Nairobi half-life never ending film. Your role today: Just another man going to a so-and-so’s office in tao.
Like a snake, the more you walk, the more Nairobi sheds parts of itself. West of Uhuru Highway’s glamour and glitz. Turn East, and kijana, leta hiyo simu because kibuguduguboom my guy hii si toy. Look South and hold up, you are in South C, and brudda, where is your boat? What do you think the C stands for?
So I walk. And as I move with the city, it also moves with, and beside me. Kama mbaya mbaya.