My estate is what you would call a gated community. The estate consists of a dozen apartments and mansionettes, a small shopping center, roughly ten square meters, just a two-story building (in the original plan it was supposed to be a nursery for the estate, but that is a story for another day). The story building, still unfinished has like four bars, one big one, where we catch the weekend football matches, and those small bars (the size of a stall) that serve a specific clientele. There are like 3 barbershops. Two or more salons (they keep opening new ones and they close within a month). Then there are two adjacent mini-supermarkets (really, your corner shops). There is an open urinal that stinks from the place to hell, in the building and that is what you will remember should you ever visit me and I take you to my local.
Outside the story building, there are some shanty-like structures that house three butcheries (one was opened only last week, and frankly, those are three butcheries too many considering not far away, there is another butchery). They all have nyama choma firewire skewers, there is mama mboga and a few other miscellaneous businesses. Due to poor drainage and hygiene, the place gives our estate some slum appeal.
Throughout the estate, there are other shops, sporadically spread so that there is always a kiosk, or a vegetable vendor, nearby, not far away from your apartment.
Most of the vendors, have erected makeshift structures on the undeveloped pieces of land; the estate is about 95 per cent developed. So, some of the remaining spots are used by mostly women to sell vegetables, and some helpfully do boil githeri and beans to help the ‘middle-class’ save on gas.
In one of the undeveloped plots near our informal shopping center is a young, light-skinned, slender woman, probably a Luhyia. She probably is a mother of one or two kids. That kind of devotion is common with single mothers, or mothers from low-income households. Just saying. Her kiosk is minimalist. It stocks only the essentials, and quite overpriced, more to do with the class of the people in the neighbourhood. There is a price you pay for laziness. She stocks those small, wrinkly tomatoes, even smaller, malnourished onions, has some jiko that she prepares githeri and beans on alternating days of the week. She also stocks those stones so beloved by women. Why do women eat them so much?
About two months ago, the owner of the plot kicked her out. OK, kicked sounds like s/he was being inhumane. But really, time had come, after four years (or more, been living there for four years now), for the owner to build his mansionette. I was just passing by and I noticed the two kiosks had been uprooted. I wondered what happened to her.
She settled in a different part of the estate. I passed by and I could see the hastily built shanty, and the poor stock stuff on small basins on the ground. She was using a candle, and the whole thing stood isolated, amidst the sea of apartments and mansionettes; she was there alone. Her clientele probably didn’t know that she had moved there.
I looked at her. She looked worried. I knew she would not last in new spot. She knew that too. And the following day, the owner of the plot she had moved to, decided to fence the place and just like that our poor (in the hapless sense of the word) had no place to go.
I wondered what options she had. Where would she go to start all over again. The remaining undeveloped pieces are either occupied, or the owners are developing them or on the verge of starting to develop them. That made me sad.
Some time back one such woman had to move from a spot she occupied. Her spot was on my way home and one day while passing through, I saw her entire enterprise in a disarray: Her polythene umbrellas, sufurias, pots, jikos, utensils, sacks and all thrown around and she stood there, confused but stoic. There was a resilience about her. She moved to the next empty space, and erected a small wooden stand and continued to supply us with vegetables; and food to the construction workers working on the building where she had vacated from. A benevolent Kenyan probably gave her the space to keep using until he or she can build his house. But after that initial displacement, things were never the same again. She lived with the burden of uncertainty.
Earlier in the year, I was passing by the nearby shop when I saw her photo on top of the book and I hoped it was merely nothing. But it was. She had died. She gave birth and started bleeding afterwards, profusely, and by the time the ambulance could get her to a medical facility she had died. That made me sad. I never met a Kenyan with so much hope and will to live.
There was another woman with a shop who this week had to move from her prime spot to another hidden spot when the owner came knocking. But at least she has an option.
What of those without options. What about those without choices. Like our lady earlier. What becomes of her. I know she is resourceful and whatever got her the spot in the first place will get her another one.
I have always been sympathetic of those people without choices. Personally, anytime I’m stuck without a choice, I feel powerless. There is a powerlessness that comes when you don’t have a choice. Ever stayed with a mean aunt, or relation and you have to put with their issues, because you have nowhere else to go?
Ever left the club early before matatus that ply your route close business because you can’t afford a taxi. Ever stuck in an abusive relationship because you have no choice (maybe you are a woman, he has given you four children, and you have no means of raising them and you have to stick with him, until further notice). Ever ate Sukuma wiki for so long until the site of the terrible vegetable just gives you hiccups. Think of those who live in Rongai and use public means and they must use those terrible matatus driven at maddening speeds. I can’t even mention our politics.
Speaking of politics, as we head to silly season, some people are justifiably apprehensive of the outcome of the elections.
Wars are not funny, are totally avoidable, but inevitable. The rhetoric that preceded the 2007 and 2013, has become a recurrent theme. The opposition does not trust IEBC, and with reason. Those in government are now tired of the recurring mistrust by Mr Odinga. Again, we are stuck. The opposition believes they will win, and there are pointers to the same. But the government too can put up a show, and its supporters are justified to believe that they will win. That is a recipe for disaster.
But what if things go wrong again? In 2007, I saw my clansmen and Kikuyus especially who had invested their whole lives in the Rift Valley being rendered homeless. To see your house going up in fire… To see your property destroyed can be demoralizing.
Many who came back to their ancestral home seemed lost, displaced;physically and mentally and what a pity that was. Few had the mental wherewithal to be resilient when they saw their loved ones die.
Thing with war is that you have politicians who can’t see beyond their greed, and young men with nothing to lose, nothing to live for, and ready to die for anything. I see these young men in betting shops. I see these young men riding boda bodas. I see them walking to work. I see them in political rallies. I see them in drinking dens. And they terrify me.
All they need is to be told go ahead. On other hand you have a hardworking Kenya who will lose his life, or property because he or she supports the opponent (even when you have no basis, skin colour or the name can determine such.)
On elections day, what choices do we have? Do you live in a place where you have to think about your safety should things go wrong?