I was inspired by my friend Elder Gitonga through his piece on Redesigning Nairobi Road Network. I share his experiences of Thika Road and what he did with it. Abode
At the turn of the millennium (AKA 2000) my family moved to Kasarani. Having my single mum finally have her own home was the epitome of “self actualization”. I cannot even describe the joy we had and what a better time to do so than at the start of a new century. It was exhilarating and symbolic in all fronts.
However, none of us was ever ready for the new life.
I grew up in eastlands and life there was a total contrast to what we found in Kasarani. We lived in a flat and the excitement of having our own compound was beyond what words could describe. So awesome was it that we forgot to put up a fence and for a long while, anyone passing by the roadside could see our home and all our doings. We were also so excited about being in our place that we forgot to think about the two most important things in a home; water and electricity. And so it was until we landed there that it dawned on us that our taps would not be producing anything and we would have to take delight in the comfort of a pit latrine since the area had no piped water. Similarly, we would not be pressing on wall switches for light as those were the days when one pole of “stima” costed Kshs 65,000 and when you imagined how many poles you would need to see the light in your homestead, you accepted your dark fate and moved on.
Anyhow, we discovered a new way of life. You listened to radio until you knew all the channels and what program aired at what time. You knew how to recycle batteries so you get your daily evening dose of sundowner. We took delight in watching the Ruiru train wave its way to Githurai from a distance. I kept fit through the countless wheelbarrow trips to source for water and recharge the battery that we used to watch television. Afternoons were spent moving from one house to anther beating stories and playing “skracho” (basketball) in a rough unmarked plot. Saturday afternoons were spent washing the church (it was really splashing water on earth ground) whilst Sunday afternoon was the day you had a date with that awesome “Pasi ya Makaa” to iron all your week’s clothing.
Now to the story of Thika road.
In the beginning, the Mwiki road was a bed of red dry dust. This dust collected underneath vehicles and when the matatu ran down Roasters, the dust it had gathered rose up to meet you in your seats. For this reason, mascara was a thing you heard about because the Mwiki dust had a way of settling on your eye brows. There were days when the shoe shiner in town could tell you were either from Kiambu, Ndederu or Mwiki because it was only in those areas where the mud on your shoes was red brown.
Then the road construction began.
One way lanes would suddenly convert to five lanes as the big boys: paradise, mwisacco and` 44 matatus fought their supremacy battles. Most homesteads were converted into bed and breakfast lodgings because the time spent on the road was crazy. In-fact, I remember we would sometimes make a pact with my family members or any neighbor not to talk to each other in the matatu just so we could catch up on sleep in the morning. This practice was so well understood that even conductors would gladly wake us up once the bus got to OTC with a kind shout of “Amkeni Mumefika Nairobi”. And with that, you would hurriedly wipe the watery liquid that had found its way from your mouth to your chin, straighten your face and clothes, take a long hard stretch and majestically if not wobbly walk out into Kenya’s capital city. Later in the evenings, you would find yourself seated on the pavement of Mang Hotel at 9.00pm without a care, for you knew that regardless of the time, you would eventually get home.
And just like Elder Gitonga, we discovered Thika Road University. It became my library where I read for CATS/Exams, did my assignment readings and even wrote my draft copy projects. I was a “shelf stocker”, the guy who arranges milk and bread on the supermarket shelves (working whilst standing all day) so there was no office to read my notes except on that road. Silence was almost always guaranteed because people were busy catching up on their dreams, or too tired with the journey to chat. What I loved most was that unlike a library where you enter and spend another one hour “forcing or motivating “yourself to read because that is the reason you went there; you didn’t have to do it. You knew you only had between 1.5 to 2 hours of study time and so you used them well.
But life like you know is always a paradox of things. Majority of those in the matatu are always longingly looking at the cars on the side and long for the day they will own theirs. Those in the cars look at the sleeping guy in the matatu and wish they were there catching on sleep instead of having to navigate through traffic; the irony of life! I on the other hand, enjoy “javing” because I can just sit and enjoy traffic without dealing with the probox owners or the amazing matatus drivers who can make you throw a curse word in the midst of praise with Don Moen.
In fact, there is a lot you can do in traffic, including reading books (I am the type that enjoys reading hard copy), listening to podcasts or audio messages. However, I also believe there are better ways to improve our efficiency as a country and reducing traffic should have been one of the objectives of Vision 2030. But that aside, what experiences are you currently going through and what joys can be found there?