Sights and Sounds of Nairobbery

The only seat available was the one at the back. Both seats next to the windows on either side were occupied and I was left to sit in the middle of two ‘Gentlemen’ – or so i thought. As the matatu I had boarded joined the rest of the Nairobi traffic, music blared off its speakers and the conductor whistled to the reggae beats. He shared his small seat with a lady who was evidently quite uncomfortable. I wished she would have had the patience to wait for another vehicle instead of subjecting herself to such discomfort.

A few minutes later, the man sitted to my right quickly asked the conductor to stop the vehicle as he had to alight. The conductor dutifully banged the sides of the matatu with a coin, to signal the driver to stop. ‘My guy’ then hurriedly got up and while stepping on me as he jumped over my legs, he squeezed himself through the spaces between the seats as if his bum was on fire. I moved to take the seat he had occupied next to the window. When he was out and we were back on the road, I reached inside my pocket to get out my phone in order to contact the person I was to meet in town. Lo and behold, my mobile phone was gone! Now it made sense why he had to alight so fast – that goodfornothing had taken my phone!

That, ladies and gentlemen, is how I lost the first phone I ever owned; a humble Motorola. I was a student at the time, and mobile phones were all the rage. I felt the loss. How dare he steal from me? How dare he take what didn’t belong to him? 

Then there was this other time I was pickpocketed. It had rained and getting a matatu from town was close to impossible. The stage was full of people anxious to get home and when a vehicle came I tried to get in with everyone else. I should have known better not to put money in my pocket after the phone incident, but no. As I clambered to get in, I could feel someone putting their hand inside my pocket. There were so many people around me, my hands were suspended in the air and as much as I tried to get them down to stop the thief from roving inside my jeans, I couldn’t. I came to realise later that as one guy was picking from me, another’s job was to ensure my hands would stay up! 

I finally got a seat in the matatu of course, escaped the pouring rain even, but a pocket less eight hundred shillings was the price I had to pay. If I had learnt a lesson the first time, it was driven home this time round. NEVER put your valuables in your pocket, capisce?

That is the face of Nairobi now, innit? System ya majambazi, Mashifta called it. Everybody has a tale to tell as far as robbery on the streets of Nairobi is concerned. If you are still in denial, the movie Nairobi Half Life tries to smack your senses to this reality. 

To walk the streets of Nairobi without incident, every woman’s got to have some thuggish senses. These senses are instilled in you after years of walking the streets and having your handbag jerked away from your arms, your phone yanked from your ears in the middle of a conversation and all your valuables solicited from you with the threat of a smear of fresh human waste should you prove to be stubborn.

The years I have lived in Nairobi have opened my eyes and I strive to always be aware of the goings on around me. I witnessed two phony characters trying to rob people just recently. When a vehicle arrived on stage, they rushed as if to board it, only to withdraw when a crowd gathered around the entrance and in the process, their hands found themselves in people’s handbags and pockets. To imagine that a few years back, I did not have this third eye to notice such. 

It is a disconcerting feeling when your security is threatened. As a lady, what do you do; challenge the brawny male robbers to a fight? Scream your lungs out and hope that the ever-increasingly aloof Nairobi population will give a rat’s ass? What?

You could try not answering your phone in a matatu, or on the streets. Don’t shake hands with people you don’t know – whether they look familiar or not. Avoid the alleys – be it day or night. Always be on the look out for the Mwas’ and Oti’s of Nairobi; you can spot them after a while for even if they don suits, their body language will betray them. 

Ladies, I know it goes without saying that while out clubbing, you should never leave your drinks unattended. Follow your instincts and should you find yourself in any setting that makes you feel unsafe, leave immediately! It also wouldn’t hurt to have each other’s back every once in a while. Really.

It’s indeed a jungle out there, stay safe and enjoy your weekend.


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