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LIFE BY LOUIS: Lost in the city

Tuesday November 26 2019

A painter removes graffiti from a minibus at a garage in Buruburu, Nairobi on November 11, 2018.  When we broke for holidays, matatus from Buruburu would drive all the way to our school to pick the students from that estate. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL

A painter removes graffiti from a minibus at a garage in Buruburu, Nairobi on November 11, 2018. When we broke for holidays, matatus from Buruburu would drive all the way to our school to pick the students from that estate. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL  

LOUIS MUIRURI
By LOUIS MUIRURI
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I first visited Nairobi when I reported for my undergraduate studies in the institution of higher learning that is located in the city. Before then, I had only heard of Nairobi from fellow high schoolmates who hailed from in Buruburu and Umoja.

Those were the residential estates that commanded respect, especially if you added salt and said you hailed from Buruburu Phase 2 or Umoja Innercore.

When we broke for holidays, matatus from Buruburu would drive all the way to our school to pick the students from that estate. We, the sons of African peasants, were not even allowed to go near where they were parked. Not that we would have dared to.

I was afraid that if I went near the vehicles and somehow their self-closing doors would shut me inside, I would end up somewhere in Umoja. I was sure that I would be lost forever and probably end up being declared as a missing person.

SHOPPING SPREE

My fears of getting lost in this city were not entirely unfounded.

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After I arrived in the college and checked into the prefabricated timber hostels, I realized that things on the ground were very different. My wardrobe still betrayed me as a former arrowroots farmer from Matimbei.

Apart from a few faded Chicago Bulls t-shirts and a handful of trousers that tapered at the bottom like a funnel, I had nothing else to show that I was ready to be assimilated into the city life.

The following morning I decided to go to Gikomba to spruce up my wardrobe in readiness for town life. I had heard about the big open air market where clothes that had been enjoyed in Europe were sold at affordable prices.

My shopping spree was uneventful. I was however mesmerized by the sheer size of the open air market and I was spoilt for choice.

Everything looked new and lovely, and although I was not allowed to touch the first lot called ‘camera’ that is reserved for wholesale buyers, I was contented with what was available to retail buyers.

I only left the market after I had spent my last coin on a colourful pair of socks that looked like it had been worn by a budding movie star. I was already planning on how to rock in it with a pair of shorts and a flowery t-shirt that had a photo of a prominent rap music star at the front.

I walked back towards the hostels which were on the opposite side of town going by my little geography of the metropolis. After walking for about an hour, I realized that I could not trace my way back to the hostels.

I remember going round Odeon Cinema area and it was getting to 6pm. As dusk settled in the city and the magnificent street lights started coming on, I was sure I was lost forever.

I could see myself being dragged to the backstreets by thugs at night when everyone had gone to sleep and no one was ever going to know about it. My valuable cargo of second hand clothes also bothered me a lot, and I clutched onto the bag firmly.

HORROR STORIES

I would pick a street and walk it from end to end trying to look for a familiar sight, but the more I looked, the more everything looked the same. Maybe it was because I was just moving up and down the same street that I suspect must have been Tom Mboya Street.

Everyone was busy walking home and I was sure it was just a matter of time before the whole city was deserted.

I was afraid to ask for directions because I didn’t know who my enemy was.

The polite looking gentleman in a starched suit could end up misleading me into an abandoned building and harvesting my internal organs. The matronly looking lady at the corner shop could end up holding me in her basement car park and keeping me as a slave.

The police may end up taking me to a juvenile home and I would have a difficult time explaining that I was not a street boy. Most importantly, I was afraid of losing my cargo to matatu touts who kept pulling me to enter into the next moving matatu.

I had read so many horror stories about the city and I was not going to take any risks.

My prayers were fervent and I promised God that if He pulled me out of the current predicament, I would be more careful next time. I also swore that I would always help old men and women to cross busy roads as penance.

In my last attempt before declaring myself officially lost, I spotted Jevanjee Gardens. I remembered having passed by the gardens the previous day as I went for registration. In less than five turns I found my way back to the hostels.

I was sweating profusely from what I considered a lucky escape. When I look at it now, I just shake my head and wonder what was so hard in locating an institution that is built on tens of acres of land.

Today if anyone genuinely asks me for directions in town, I get out of my way to escort them to their exact destination. I would not wish anyone to suffer the same fate.

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