enter your email to know about new posts

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Last Monday I went to my father’s shags. Shags (for all those who may not be familiar with this Kenyan term) is a word of longing. It’s a name for a home that is no longer a home. It’s what comes about because of rural urban migration and this feeling our parents had that no city is home. They believe that home is where you grew up, where your parents grew up, where your family has a place of deepest connections. That place of memory, of childhood is called ushago or shags. I think this means home because to hear them tell it, “Nairobi is noone’s home.” I call it my father’s shags because it doesn’t feel like home to me, I grew up right here in Nairobi and a place of fresh air, plenty of milk and no traffic jam lives as much in my dreams as in my memories.

My father’s shags is in Nyanza. In the southern tip of the province at the western end of the country. It’s a district called Suba after the tribe of people found there. You see we aren’t really Luo there’s some Bantu blood flowing in our veins but we were so thoroughly assimilated and conquered by them that there is almost nothing left of our original culture. The shags itself is close to the lake, its hugged by it on every border, you wake up to it, the sun sets behind it, the main economic activity is fishing and Migingo of a now bygone fame can be seen from almost anywhere near there. Anyone from here needing an i.d. is treated like an immigrant with requests for at least 3 other sets of corroborating evidence of your kenyannes.

Nyanza is much bigger than Nairobi but then again almost anything is. Nairobi is the province of the small man syndrome, smaller in size than all its counterparts it overcompensates in aggression and speed, in wit and low blows because we could never land them any higher. As a result of this not every bus from Nairobi to Nyanza gets you where you want to go as opposed to a bus from anywhere to Nairobi which would leave you at the steroid affected apex of our city centre. To go to Suba you have to take a special bus, and you have to take it from Machakos.

Machakos is the other bus station in Nairobi. The first one is called bus station(I told you we city dwellers overcompensate with wit.) the other one is called Machakos, it’s found near gikomba where all your clothing dreams can come true and going there at night is an adventure all its own. It has been raining in Nairobi recently and when it rains it muds near Machakos. Add to this the fact that all the light provided is from the bus headlights, torches and various smokers in different stages of lung inhalation and it becomes surreal. At night everything is cast in reds and yellows and the slick browns of slippery mud. You get in with a bag and you are accosted by people who are ready to drag it away from you, people who yell, yo! whenever they see somebody on a trip. (Ok they don’t actually say yo!) What is true is that they see you, they spot you and they know almost immediately what part of Kenya you are going to, of course this may be because all buses leaving at that time are on their way to Nyanza but how am I to know such things?

The buses are splayed haphazardly. It looks like a child’s playground right after  they are called away, toys parked in no order just here, just lounging there, diagonal or almost, horizontal or not at all. A supreme attitude of not-give-a-fuckery about order. And just because someone may use this stage once upon a time, a public service announcement is that they have the worst run council toilets I have ever paid to use. They are dirty, they smell, you almost don’t want to put your foot down and maybe that’s why they are in this mess, no one ever did. You still get some tissue for your ten bob though.

One bus company holds the monopoly for travel to Suba, its called Otange. This name for some reason sounds old in my mind. Am not sure what it means but it feels rustic or just rusty and was it. The seats are too tiny you sit hunched over and the only reason you can fall asleep is because the bus left Nairobi at 11 am. They have the most amazing method of booking seats, a guy ties a rope between one seat and the next so that nobody can go in. when the reserved-for’s come in the rope is simply taken off. And they have this smell. The smell of old sweat. For some reason I recently read books where people were forced to eat their horses because they had run out of food(ok because those books were great, seriously read A Song of Ice and Fire) there is a description of the horse meat itself, the way sweat had worked itself into the muscles of the horses. Because if you think of it war horses are bred for endurance. They have no fat just muscle and they run and run the whole day until they are eaten. The sweat on their skin begins to soak in and the meat is smelly, tough and salty. This is how the bus smelled. It hadn’t been cleaned for a while obviously and there was the smell of stale sweat in the air. Sweat that had not been wiped away for a long time. The sweat that leaks off our pores when we sleep at night or boil in the day and then gets trapped in a hot box of even more sweat. The kind of smell that sticks right up our nostrils and seems to burrow in making a home there, a home we are sure cannot be undone but soon is because we get used to everything. My verdict, fuck monopolies.

While almost there, in Kisii actually a commotion arose in the bus and the driver stopped it. Apparently a man and a woman had been having sex in the bus. While public copulation is something we have all aspired to at one time or another, I just don’t understand, I had barely enough room to sit. My knees were hunched over, my back bent. How the hell did they do it? Missionary is out of the question, too much commotion. The only thing that makes sense with a chair is girl on boy, but there’s no space. Alternatively they could have been getting some sideways action but everything seems to require a little stretching out and there was no space for it! Any ideas?

Anyway they wanted to throw them out of the bus and the man obliged, he just ran out of there. Like one of those dogs caught shagging in the playground when you were a child. Remember the way the dog would just begin to run from the bitch and then get stuck and be pulled back. This was his first instinct. Fuck this, am out. Except where the hell too? Kisii isn’t really a place you want to get caught in the dark of the night. I just say this because this wasn’t his final destination and no one wants to get caught out in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere.

Cooler heads prevailed, cooler than those two though they got a thorough tongue lashing(it strikes me that a tongue lashing could have worked as a  form of sexual intercourse but there was a condom or so someone shouted.) and for a while they were treated to such delicious entendres like,

“She was just shifting the gear for the driver.”
“He was just filling the pothole in the road.”
And on and on and on.


  1. I read a Song of Ice and fire recently, can't wait for Book 6. And 7. Re: Nairobi wit, I have an American friend and often amuse myself with imagined directions when he visits. You know, like explaining to him that if he ever gets lost, he should ask a trustworthy-looking-mother-figure to show him the way to Bus Station, and the expression on his face when I insist that he has to say 'Bus Station' and not THE Bus Station or he'll end up even more lost *cheeky grin*.

  2. ah nairobi, though i usually stick to the watchmen cos they can't leave their buildings and follow you down those alleys right