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2002 -- Yesterday we walked into town on maybe the last shopping trip before
we leave. I can tell you that going to the mall back home will seem very tame
We leave the house early while it is still cool and step cautiously across the road, watching for careening boda bodas who swerve everywhere to avoid the ruts and potholes.
The street is lined with "kiosks" made of branches, tar paper and sacking. The vendors sell small packages of commonly used goods, charcoal and some basic vegetables. Potatoes and tomatoes are displayed in neat little piles of four or five. Each pile is worth ten or twenty shillings depending on the size. Old soup cans of varying sizes give the measure for loose beans and lentils. Maize and sweet potatoes have a place on sacks on the ground.
Nodding a "habari" (How are you?) as we pass, we receive a big smile and "nzuri" (Fine). We usually run the gauntlet of the little ones who rush out with sticky hands outstretched (usually stained with charcoal, too) to shake hands and practice "How are you?" in English. Often this is as far as we go, but if we want different vegetables or other goods, we must go on into town. We step around the discarded wrappings, picked clean by the wandering chickens, one very tough turkey and the family of pigs.
On the left of the main road is the finished cycle path which is used in both directions. It is usually safer to stay on the right where you only have to watch for the odd cyclist amongst the pedestrians. Women pass us, carrying bags of maize, piles of firewood and fruit on their heads.
The kiosks and small "dukas" (shops) of the Lurambi area grow fewer as we move towards the location of the new market. There is a covered market place in town that was recently renovated, during which time all the stall holders were moved into kiosks outside. When the market was ready, the rents were increased and everyone refused to go back inside. About a month ago, the authorities decided to clear everyone out of the (now unsanctioned) area and transfer them to the grounds around the stadium halfway between town and Lurambi. There are many bitter complaints and an increase in accidents since access to the new area is very limited.
We pass the old show ground where the literacy class that Miriam attended is housed. The class now has thirty-five children and we stop off to admire their exercise books and hear them recite ABC. The teacher tells us they also have some 17 and 18 year old boys who are illiterate and cannot work. They come in the afternoon to learn the basics.
Now we are into the market area where kiosks sell everything imaginable. It is hot and dusty. There are many invitations to ‘look at my potatoes’, ‘do you need mangos?’ ‘I have pineapple.’
After the market are the "jua kali" sellers. This means "hot sun" and as you can imagine, they spread their wares on the ground and have little shade. Amongst these are the vendors of second-hand shoes. Consignments of shoes come in large bundles and are then washed and scrubbed in soapy water early in the morning. Then they are touched up with dye and polished to death. Relatively few people buy new shoes, or new clothes when the large bundles of second-hand goods come from Europe and North America.
Another family of pigs live near the boda boda headquarters and we step carefully around the waiting bicycles, the piles of garbage, the broken pavement, and watch for matatus revving up for their next trip. The touts pounce on us, offering rides to other towns. Newspaper vendors thrust "The Nation" at us. "Iko nyumbani" we say: we have it at home.
The town is a wonderful mixture of kiosks, hawkers, larger stores and small dukas. Tailors sit on the sidewalks with treadle sewing machines, new cloth hung behind them. A new pair of men’s trousers will cost you about $14C to have made, including the material. Workmen spill out of some of the buildings, welding bars to fit over windows, and on a couple of corners carpenters are smoothing the wood of fresh coffins. Women from outside town sit on the pavement with baskets of the tiny, sweet bananas.
Most of the permanent shops are owned by members of the Asian (East Indian) community. The bright saris mingle with the colourful kangas that the African women wear round their waist. Occasionally you see a Muslim girl with her long scarf which might be magnificently embroidered. Outside a "hotel" you can always find a small group of Maasai who sell their herbal remedies.
In a store of any size, all the goods are behind a counter which often is screened by metal bars. You describe what you want and a clerk will find it for you on the shelves behind. It’s usually the owner who handles the money. In supermarkets you must leave your bags at the door with the askari.
The stores, the shopkeepers, the moving streams of people are so familiar to us now. We know where the sidewalk ends in a two foot drop, we know where to keep a wary eye for matatus ricocheting round a corner, we know where the lady usually is with large, ripe avocados for five shillings (10c). The taxi drivers see us coming with our bags of purchases and vie with each other to be the first to offer their beaten up vehicle to take us home under the midday sun. We have ridden in more unroadworthy vehicles than I would ever have thought possible. Everyone wants to take time to say goodbye. "Why are you leaving us?" they ask. "When will you come back?" What can we say? "We really don’t know."
©2002 Patricia Crossley
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