Dusty. Tired, hungry and in the dark. That is Kahawa Wendani and I right now.
Since my bachelor pad is less than a minutes walk from Thika Road, I tend to exist without really exploring my neighborhood but today, the universe conspired against me. Bogged down with writing contracts, deadlines and no inspiration at all, I called one of the few people who know me well enough to know that a ‘writer’s block’ is a code red state for me. She offered several solutions, the most striking of which was something I used to do some years back, walking. I did not think it was a good idea at the time, but when KPLC decided that I have been paying the bill for too long and they want to help me save some money (scoundrels!) I decided to walk to Nakumatt Wendani and window shop (and maybe buy a pack of Tic Tacs). If you have ever been to Kahawa, then you know that the paved road ends just at the turn to get to Nakumatt. Beyond that is what looks like, and probably is, the dustiest road in Kenya (I thought that for a time, but I have had a change of mind). In a moment of randomness, I ventured towards that stretch of dust, walking with the pace my old man taught me-Which reminds me, it is his 65th Birthday today, and am sure he is doing what he does every evening, walking-the dust was unbearable at first, but a faint heart never found new shores.
The only aim of taking the walk today was to explore and get inspired, and that I did. I now know I live in a cocoon of apartments and well-developed residences. I found the real Kahawa Wendani as I ventured further and further inside. I also know why the boda boda guys at the stage are increasing by the day; there are people who live far from the road, dusty, dusty far. It reminded me of Kiambu, where I was born on bred, the serene atmosphere, the simplicity of the neighborhood, the bougainvillea fences and mabati gates, the incomplete houses and unfenced-interconnected homesteads. I knew it was only time before I found a river, and after following the road for sometime, I found the bridge, but that’s not exactly my idea of a river, it looks green and slimy. So one mark off for this place being all-natural….
When am walking with no direction except where the road leads, I adhere to a few rules. You could call it my guide to safe random walking, but it has worked for me so far. These are the five simple things to remember:
- Blend in! It does not matter whether you are walking in your estate or your shags; try to look like you belong.
- Dress simply-There are two reasons for this, one, unless you are walking in a posh estate, a simple jeans-t-shirt-jumper-rubbers will do. Two, refer to Rule 1 above.
- Walk confidently-Not necessarily fast, confidently. Thieves and con artists, and wayside Jehovah Witnesses, can tell a sucker from miles away. If you walk as if you are lost, you will be. Even if you are lost, try to walk like you know where you are going. Ask for directions from shopkeepers or guards in uniform, preferably those who are alone, and preferably women ( I know the last part is stereotypic and a shot in the dark because women are blessed with many things but direction-telling abilities, but it is less likely that a woman will screw you up)
- Follow the road: Keep to the center of the road if it is deserted, or to the walkways. A road will always lead somewhere, of that you can be sure. Where a road exists, people have made it going to a place of importance to them. If you follow the road, even when you are lost, you will find a feeder road, or something that will get you back on track.
- Be paranoid: You are walking randomly, note, not aimlessly, and the natives of the place can tell you are headed nowhere. If you think you are being followed, walk fast, and follow rule 4 above. If your instincts tell you to run, and you are fit enough to do so, then for Heaven’s sake SPRINT! You might look like a lunatic or a budding marathoner, but it is better to be safe.
but I digress….
Then I saw a guy in his shamba in gumboots, digging so hard you could tell he is being paid for it. Mind you, it was five in the evening, which tells you he might have been doing this all day, or it is his idea of a side gig. Then I passed the village goons, okay, I think I overrated them, they were teenage boys in Arsenal T-shirts trying to look tough. I walked past them, and found the residential ‘bridge’ between Wendani and Sukari (I wonder what pervert named this places). On one side are the posh houses, with well-maintained lush lawns and gleaming walls, telling stories or upper middle class people trying to outdo each other, and on the other, the simple houses of people who have been watching the world change around them, without them. I eavesdropped on two old women discussing ‘tights’, the new fashion in town, they were 70 years old at the least, and they were sited about ten meters from the road. One said something about ‘airitu’ and ‘thuruari’ ( Girls and pants) and I pieced the rest together because I doubt they were talking about boycuts.
As all good roads go, the one I had been on for about forty-five minutes turned out to be a feeder road for another one. This is where you learn to tell whether you are decisive or not, you get to a bigger road and you have to decide whether to go right or left, the former will lead somewhere to Githurai, and the latter will lead to Sukari. I chose the former, not because am mad or I wanted mbogas from Githurai 45 (forte fae) but because I have always wondered how far inside it stretches. Turning to Sukari would have led me to the boring posh estates, somehow a part of me wishes I had taken that option…
I passed a church, then a school, then another church, then a deserted homestead, or so it seemed until a girl emerged pushing a wheelbarrow with three mitungis of water. Right behind her was her younger brother, he could not have been anything older than 13, with three on his wheelbarrow too. Water is an issue in this sides, and by the look of things, so are clothes. This story sounds familiar, where life is so hard that when you get home from your primary school, you must do all your chores in your school uniform. It is no easy task, looking for water, and seeing that young boy so determined to outdo his younger his sister was quite something…anyway, I digress.
I got to Kimbo, which is basically the shags of Githurai 45. If you have seen those old matatus with number plates issued a decade ago, with broken windscreens replaced with clear-but-now-dusty-as-hell paper bags somewhere in Githurai 45, then they go past here, and its far. I have not encountered such a health hazard in the recent past, but any one raising their kids in this place is signing a waiver for their child’s health. The road is so dusty it is impossible to see five meters around you. Since it is busy enough, you can bet that a car will pass every minute, and with it, raise even more and thicker clouds of dust. Then you see the four year olds minding their own business, playing and jumping onto the road before they disappear into their homes, and you know asthma and a million other respiratory diseases have a future. That, and the fact that for the entire stretch of the road until I emerged in Githurai 45, the drainage trench on my left was full of sewage, greed, weird-looking, smelly sewage. It looks like it has been building for quite some time, a year maybe, and yet a few kilometers away, we boast of a 30 billion shilling road.
I could have stopped one of those creaky matatus and saved myself from the dust outside for the dust inside, but that is not fair to the art of walking randomly. I chose to walk, but I got one disposable hanky from my pocket and held it to my nose for the entire four kilometers. I doubt any description of the amount of dust I encountered would do it justice but suffice to say that if I had not followed my Rule 1 on blending in when I started, then by the time I was halfway to wherever t was that I was headed, I was as dusty as the next guy, if not dustier, because the damned dust seemed to be picking on me.
Girls? I did see one, she was busty! I think I saw them first and then I saw her, but I could tell she was underage because she was looking at me ( And statutory rape is not really in my bucket list). So I ignored her, or rather I turned to steal a glance on whether in a few years, I should make the walk again. I should…
Pregnant women? One, and she looked moody as hell, or she is in a sneering competition…
I wish I had carried a camera since my phone was dead ( no thanks to KPLC again). I saw a sign saying VUNDI WA VIATU and I cringed, like you just have…and then there was End Hours Revival Ministry, MABOYZ KEG, MABROSE ENTERPRISES….
Anyway, two hours after starting my journey, I emerged under the flyover on Thika Road. I was dusty as hell (I think hell is more of smoky, but it must be dusty too), tired, hungry and now extremely paranoid because it was 7 in the evening and I was in what is perhaps the most insecure place in this lairs. I found nothing that qualified to find its way back as a trophy, but the blue jeans I am going to scrub in a few hours will probably tell the dusty tale for years to come.