Monday, August 17, 2015

This Town, Nairobi

“Tomorrow your mother and I are going to Nairobi,” my dad said to us one night as we were having supper. I was excited and saddened by this news; excited because someone close to me was finally going to Nairobi; saddened because I wasn’t part of this heavenly trip. 

You see, Nairobi to me then was like what The Maldives is to me today; a heaven on earth city. In my little (unknown) village if you had a relative (especially if it was one of your parents or siblings) living in Nairobi you automatically became one of the village celebrities.  Men, women and children alike worshipped the ground you walked on. In school you were a member of the ‘cool kids of the village club’. All kids wanted to be around you. It didn’t matter if your mum or dad or sibling was working as a house help, a pastor or a bank manager; the keyword Nairobi was all that mattered.

If you have lived in the village you definitely know that everyone knows everyone and what goat belongs to whom. Also, everyone knows who traveled on what day, the reason for traveling and the destination. This kind of news would spread fast especially if there was only one or two matatus in your village. In my village there was only one matatu to Nairobi; you missed it and you kissed the idea of seeing Nairobi on that day good bye. In my school the news of who traveled to Nairobi spread fast than a hashtag on twitter. And the kids whose parents were in the list of Nairobi travelers would enjoy the cool kids of the village club membership for the 5 seconds their parents were there; all benefits inclusive. (I’ll tell you about the benefits some day). 

Hence to sit there and hear my dad say these words I was beyond myself with excitement. I glanced at my brothers to see their faces; blank. Well, if they were excited they didn’t show it. I later came to know that they were putting on an act; they were excited yes, but not for the same silly reason as mine. Their excitement was because this meant freedom and authority for them; freedom to do whatever they wished and authority over me (I was the youngest). They didn’t show it because they knew my mother would have read their minds and invited my great grandmother to look after us. 

The following day my parents left and everybody won; my brothers enjoyed their freedom and exercising their authority as men of the house over me and I on the other hand enjoyed my celebrity status in school for the 3 days my parents were gone. 

I was born in Nairobi according to my mum although my birth certificate states otherwise. She says we left the city before I could learn to walk and take a photo in front of KICC for #tbt purposes. How could my mum do this to me! I have nothing to show on instagram of my toddler days in Nairobi. I couldn’t even tell kids in school that I was born there because the next questions they would ask would be too hard for me to answer. 

“OMG! So you have been to KICC and Uhuru Park? How tall is KICC? Can you touch the sky while standing on top of KICC? Did you sail in the boats at Uhuru Park? Are there ferries too? ” 

In high school things were different. Those from Nairobi or those who had been to Nairobi were not the news makers. Those who had only seen Nairobi on their black and white great wall TVs were the newsmakers. This was so because apparently almost everyone lived in Nairobi and those who didn’t live there had been there for countless number of times. Everyone except me. Well, plus many others who lied for the sake of looking cool and not wanting to be in the news items list. It was an awful thing not to know anything about Nairobi except what you saw on TV and heard from people. You felt like an outsider. There was no room for you in discussions especially when the topics involved stuff like Nakumatt Lifestyle, Java, Yaya Centre, Tea room, F2 jam sessions, stage ya Githu and other names I couldn’t comprehend. 
And so when one day in church I was asked what my greatest fear was it dawned on me that my greatest fear was dying before going to Nairobi. I couldn’t give that answer though and so I said death instead; which was not a lie anyway only that it left out a few details.  

I wanted nothing more than travel to Nairobi after completing high school. One year later, the opportunity presented itself. And so after 18 freaking years of waiting and anticipation I made it to Nairobi! 

Unfortunately, this day that I had eagerly and impatiently waited for was nothing near what I had anticipated. It was one shocking day and I got lost. Yes! I was lost in Nairobi! 

PS: I have a problem with 'keeping it short' and upon finishing the whole story I realized it was more than 2,000 words. hence I decided to split it into 2 parts. This was part I. Part II will be up next week. Hope you enjoyed part I! Cheers!
Image- Samir Dave