After inquiring from my caretaker and confirming that they are responsible for any repairs during the first three months of residence – in their apartment – the wafundi started coming in. One after the other.
The fundi wa maji came in, replaced the toilet’s tank system, asked for any other work he could do, found none, and said his goodbye.
The fundi wa mbawo knocked, was welcomed in, exchanged salutations, fixed the cabinet – better than the last had done – happily engaged in small talk, and left. Other than waiting for them to get done, both did their work at, thankfully, no monetary cost, at least on my end. Without them, my life wouldn’t have gotten as comfortable as they made it.
On my way to school, I asked the fundi wa kiato to add a thread that would help fasten a part of my shoe that had, due to a deplorable terrain, started to open up. That was before a makanga persuaded me pay for a seat in his matatu.
It was on my way back from town later that day that I, for the first time, witnessed something worth note. A tower with floodlights that projected light onto an informal settlement. A slum.
Being held up in traffic jam, I had enough time to reflect on why there was need for one, especially at the edge of a town that is growing quite fast enough to accommodate an ever emerging middle class.
The light shone on the iron sheet shacks and mud and wattle houses so well that it left me astounded, shaking my head, and bellowing an OMG, to the amusement of my taxi-mates.
From the perspective of their inhabitants, we cannot do without slums. And the authorities have knowingly enabled that by erecting an indicator of their presence in it; floodlights. This is because they are aware that without its residents, the town(s) would not develop further.
It is where the workers who have travelled from wherever can ably stay since it is the only form of housing they can afford. It is in them – the slums – where the wafundi wa nyumba and watu wa mkono derive the only comfort they savour after a long day of constructing houses which they cannot afford to even rent.
They – the dwellers – are humans just like the rest of us. I could see children playing in the dust, with no care and oblivious of the real world they were born and will be bred in. There is a church which, I believe, is frequented quite often by its neighbours with the hope that their profound prayers can pass through the clouds that hover over them. When people are well fed and comfortable, they do not have time for such. They may even opt to become atheists. However, when they are beaten, weak, hungry, and poor they will turn to God.
And, I was under the uninformed impression that it is where the poorly paid askaris, polisi, the hawkers, the entertainers whose talents are exposed on the top of promotion vehicles, the men who sell mutula, the women we see through restaurant window panes queuing up for mafuta ya ta at petrol stations, the duka owners, the mkokoteni riders and pushers, the mamas selling airtime, the drunkards, and the ladies of the night that I see, meet or talk to every other day reside. If they ever make it out of their doldrums, each will have a perfect rags to riches story. The best opportunities are in the dirtiest places.
It is, undoubtedly, in such residences that the unfortunate ones of our world live. Those who are so broke that they have no expectation of any money. It would not be surprising if that man in Kakamega who failed to pay a KSH 900 debt and gave up his wife instead stays in such a place. Those who are so sick that they have no expectation of any medication. It is in such places that stories of cholera outbreaks in Ongata Rongai are made. And, of course, that the people who rejected government constructed flats to help them transit from Africa’s second biggest slum, Kibra – formerly Kibera – stay in a similar environment. Indeed, before you take someones physical form out of a slum, you need to take their mind out of it first. To them, the government constructed houses are not better residences, they are a source of income.
It was when the traffic moved forward into and through several KSH 3000 a night hotels, branches of almost every bank in the country, malls supermarkets and more that it occurred to me that since the days of Jesus Christ (Matthew 6:24-34), two thousand years ago, there have always been two halves. One with vast wealth and another with nothing. That we all pursue different things at our own expenses. Things that only satisfy our interests, most characterised by greed. That four fifths of the world’s wealth is with one fifth of the world’s population. An unfair statistic. In my neighbourhood, the one fifth is definitely made up by the people behind the wheels of the Range Rovers, the Mercedes’, the Daimler Chryslers, the Bentleys and the BMWs that I see.
Later, while at the balcony of a more comfortable house – thanks to the other half – enjoying a rolex and a cup of coffee, I wondered whether a boy or girl of my age and kind of ambitions was having the same? Whether the people who make up the half with vast wealth are aware the other half exists? Whether they are aware it is on the shoulders of the other half that their successes rest? Whether we all do care for, and share with one another? Whether once in a while, we do onto others good for its own sake and not reward or gratitude from them?
Yes, we all cannot be the same but if we were comfortable in our different situations maybe we would be happier and hope for better. If those in the good half called those in the other other who they really are, mkubwas, they will do their jobs with a sense of belonging and satisfaction. If the better half became genuinely generous, it will not long for their ears to be tickled by expressions of gratitude.
Ongata Rongai, Kajiado.
Sunday, March 2, 2014.