Karibu (noun): Welcome.
My cousin, his better half, and I walk into the Nairobi Arboretum with a laxity that complements the sereneness of the place. I make a small joke about the little house standing next to the gate because of the “Donated by” sign. My cousin says donors usually do not ask to be credited. The plaques are really just a sign of appreciation from the organization but I call bluff on that.
The Nairobi Arboretum: convenient and cheap–it is only three kilometres from the city center; 300 species of exotic and indigenous trees; over 100 species of resident and migrant bird species; Sykes and vervet monkeys; and, young couples picnicking and enjoying a moment alone. My cousin and his girlfriend find a place to be alone and lose themselves in whatever couples do when they are left to themselves.
I wander off alone to take in the evening. I have only one reason for being here: peace.
Auralgraph: Arboretum, Nairobi, Kenya, 2020. © Ndegwa Nguru.
A typical Nairobian’s one-stop shop for second-hand clothes locally known as mitumba. Haggling is the way of life here. Gikomba’s poor infrastructure prevails despite its growth since it was created in 1952. Dangers, most especially the frequent fires, bedevil the community. Some are accidental, the kinds of fires that will occur in such close and desperate environments. Others claim insurance claim-motivated arson. There have been deaths. Sadly, countless of them. Gikomba is no closer to finding sustainable solutions.
Auralgraph: Gikomba Market, Nairobi, Kenya, 2020. © Ndegwa Nguru.
A classmate of mine, also a resident, says she knows where to get the best deep-fried fish balls. I do not say no: I am hungry. My friend looks for Mama Odidi. They exchange pleasantries. My friend orders ten fish balls. Mama Odidi nets them from the hot oil and dabs them with some salt. Delicious relief.
Githurai is crowded with roadside food and clothes vendors. There are many banks too. It makes sense: go where the money is being spent. With a solid transportation system and a vast array of vendors, from art to furniture, Githurai is akin to one large mall. Anything and everything can be found here.
There are the resident pickpockets, that common feature of city life, from Nairobi to Charles Dickens’ London. As usual, here and everywhere, awareness remains the best form of security.
Auralgraph: Githurai, Nairobi, Kenya, 2020. © Ndegwa Nguru.
A melting pot encompassing a people—warm, but antagonized by the general public and unending activity: Kibera, a place of unflinchingly determined survival. Local music reverberates all around as I brush past people hurriedly making their way to unknown destinations.
The sight of a road being constructed: perhaps Kibera residents can look forward to improved infrastructure.
Then the sad fact: houses were torn down to pave the way for this road’s extension.
I hear Lingala music from a bar. Chips and smokies are being sold in plenty amongst other foodstuffs such as mhogo, mahindi choma, and mandazi almost everywhere.
I cross a narrow, tottering wooden bridge. Frappuccino coloured water with the slum’s detritus floats below me.
Sauti Sol’s Midnight Train plays in my head as we rush through Kisumu Ndogo’s train tracks. Kibera is haunting. Vivid.
A young man scrutinizes old and broken chargers, adapters, and extensions on sale.
I head back to the bus stop.
My highlight: Kibera’s children, of all ages, running and playing, ignorant of what ails Kibera. They simply live, making the most of each passing moment.
Auralgraph: Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, 2020. © Ndegwa Nguru.
Nairobi CBD, Moi Avenue, 08h47
Nairobi’s CBD: the hub of eternal movement. The Kenya National Archives are the de facto meeting point for anyone looking to link up.
As one walks towards Ambassedeur, a string of buses stretches from Moi Avenue all the way down to Bus Station (or B.S.—ha!). The bus’s conductors are jovial at bus stops. They resort to theatrical antics: rhythmic announcing of bus destinations, clapping and dancing—all efforts to get the most passengers.
As early as eight in the morning there are traffic jams in Moi Avenue. There is trash on the streets, too. There are, also, many litter bins. Speeding cars, dust, smoke, the burning sun, the Hilton Hotel, lines of eateries, fashion boutiques, the occasional game parlor, and buildings housing all sorts of hustles: this is Nairobi’s Central Business District.
Auralgraph: Moi Avenue, Nairobi, Kenya, 2020. © Ndegwa Nguru.
Ndegwa Nguru is a Kenyan writer and a student of film and theatre arts .