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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

street mutura

Before the post begins i would like to say that all the beautiful photos are courtesy of japho1.wordpress.com  and his beautiful photography especially this post about mutura.

Hands up if you know what mutura is. Ok that’s good we can all put our hands down now. For those who did not lift their hands a short explanation is in order. I’m thinking of doing this like one of those meals where you eat it first and then you are told what’s in it. Mutura is an African sausage. It gets that translation for two reasons; the first is how it looks. It’s long and cylindrical like a sausage but much much bigger than any sausage out of Europe I ever saw. It’s roasted mostly on hot sunny days and  packed with more flavour than anything I can imagine. Usually it is accompanied with kachumbari, a mixture of tomatoes and onions and chillies sprinkled with another taste like lemon juice. When you bite into it the meat particles start disintegrating immediately because while they are packed into this sausage like sac they are also still distinct, small globes of taste. Another reason I believe it tastes so good is because mutura is usually made with a lot of love. Heaps and spoonfuls and buckets of love. A lot of kikuyus eat mutura at their family functions and these are times of happiness and celebration, homecomings and graduations and stolen elections(this is a joke people), generally times of happiness. It is prepared by the young boys in the family and to my eyes it seems almost like a rite of passage a way to make the older people proud of you. Even when sold it its sold by the jolliest people you will ever meet(pun so intended.) they will engage you in conversation and ask about your day and make sure you get more than meat, you also get the feeling that this is not a purely mercenary exercise, there are also people who care about you. Let’s just say I love it and it is the only contribution of kikuyu culinary culture that ranks right up there in ingenuity and taste with the best meals in the world.

The other reason it is called the African sausage. This explanation is going to be meandering so bear with me as it goes off on tangents. You know how they say there are two things you should never let anyone see you make and those two things are sausages and laws? Well let’s start with laws. In Kenya there are all these new laws dealing with land introduced because when a new constitution is passed we need to make the laws more in line with it. Also because the old land law regime was shit, there were four different statutes governing land and all the title deeds governing these laws had special ways of dealing with them. It was important as fuck to know whether this was an RLA, a GLA, an RTA because borrowing using these different titles, selling property, bequeathing it was all different. So now we have only one land regime. However a holdover from that old regime is the land control board. This is a bunch of fat black guys who decide whether any transaction regarding land outside of an urban area will go through. A mortgage, a sale, anything. It was a useless board that drew hefty allowances as they found out if the new owner had any skill in animal husbandry and other nice sounding agricultural competencies. They were not supposed to be held over; in fact their existence was extinguished by one line in the new law. One line being powerful enough to do this because laws are the shit. As the bill was moving from parliament to the government printers someone was bribed and applied whitewash. The law that was passed was missing this and so they still exist.

As for sausages (as I come to the end of my meander) they throw just about everything in there. Mutura is much the same. The sac is the intestines of a cow, a goat, a sheep or a donkey if you believe the stories. Into this sac is stuffed all the meat that is not usually used by the cooks. Tiny, grinded particles and sometime blood. This mixture is tied with grass, rope, a piece of metal and slowly roasted over a fire until ready. Then it is devoured. Mutura is never eaten, it is devoured with relish and abandon as if we really are a country of refugees(#someonetellcnn.)

I’m coming home one day and as usual I have missed mutura. On this day I stop to have some. It’s about 5 in the pm so it’s not been roasting for too long. One thing I know about buying mutura is that it’s best to decide how much money you are going to spend and then buy it in increments of 10 shillings. As you eat it you and the guy selling become better and better friends and by the time you have spent 50 you will get another piece for free. So I order my first ten. I compliment him on his mutura because it is amazing. As I’m eating a guy and his 5 year old daughter stop by for some. She likes it so much he gets her one for 20. He packs it up and goes on. Soon another guy stops by and asks if the hard one is available. At this time what I was eating was not hard, it was still soft and fluidy, as ready to fall apart in your hands as in your mouth, kind of like my sausage when I was younger(yesterday, it’s still ready to do that if any of you ladies wants to try it out and get a free confidence boost.) Some people however like it cooked until it’s perfectly hard. The guy buying says hard is better and walks off saying he’ll be back. But he won’t, we both know this. I ask him if it’s true that hard is better.

“Apana, you know they say the customer is always right.”

Yeah, I agree with him and say that this version is much more superior. He agrees with me and I’m just realising that maybe I was the one being humoured. Before I leave he tells me that if I Google street mutura I will find his name, his photo, his place of work on the internet. As soon as I remember the next day I Google him and sure enough it is. It’s on this blog with these amazing pictures. My words don’t do justice to the insanity of taste that is mutura. Go check out the blog, here’sa link. Look at the sizzling mutura, look at the rainbow of kachumbari. Look at the happiness there and then go and have some.

A month later I stop by his place of business again. It’s been a month! And according to the blog he sells 30 kilograms of mutura a day. That’s a shit load(though with intestines it’s always a shit load.) anyway he sees me and asks me how I have been. That was one of the most flattering things that has happened to me in a long time. I spent 50 shillings there. With the amount of product he moves that is a mere drop in the ocean and a month later he remembered me. I promptly told him(seeing that the love was not one sided) that I had googled him. And he thanked me for doing that. I begin eating and there was none of the awkwardness of destroyed friendships, we rapped, we got along.

Soon I am asking him about blood and he says he doesn’t put blood in his meat. He shares his philosophy on blood with me. He tells me the way blood is the thing that carries life in animals. And come to think of it it is. He’s sold mutura for nearly two decades, in that time he has thought about meat. It’s his bread and butter, his livelihood and he has come to respect animals. To think about their life force. It’s wrong to eat a life force, to eat something that’s still alive but as long as there is no blood it’s just meat and you can’t really claim that it’s alive. He tells me that he can’t believe that  you can eat something that carries life and not be affected by it. Life changes things, there is blood in life and so blood changes people. He starts talking about the protest that happened a couple of months ago in parliament when in the middle of the protest someone brought in litres and litres of pigs blood.

Maybe it’s what I have read about it but that was not cool. Blood being spilled on the streets in the name of activism(woefully out of context this sentence and yet completely true) is not cool. He tells me that this seemed like a sacrifice of some kind. Stop being a sceptic for a little while and think about it. How far is our community removed from the power of blood. We are Christian, we believe that nothing saves except the blood of the Son of God. I feel sure our ancestors did animal sacrifice. These things happened and whenever blood was spilled a god was satisfied. H.G. Billinger while writing Friday night lights has this beautiful passage where he talks about the high school football players and how they resemble an army more than a sports team. An army that is off to be sacrificed to appease some strange and powerful god. All cultures in the world have a version of this strange and powerful god, he who will give dominion in the world to those who worship him and praise his name and glorify him with the blood of those they vanquished. Who is Yahweh if not the Hebrew warrior God who promised them a land of milk and honey and then proceeded to kill off all the Canaanites who would stand in their way. Saul lost favour with him not because he killed the women and children, nope he was asked to do this and he did, but because he wanted to sacrifice the cows instead of killing them. Human beings have believed in some blood thirsty gods and all of them demanded blood on the ground. So when blood is spilled on the streets is it hard to connect this with the old sacrifices that we made?

He tells me there will be consequences to this. A little while after this he has me doubled over in laughter as he tells me about this Japanese tourist who came to try some mutura. This man found the mutura using his smart phone. He orders some and enjoys it and then asks that the end of it be lifted. He does this because he’s sure that what he’s eating is a snake. He can’t believe how our main man caught so many snakes. He points to the trees that make up a decimated ngong forest as the place where all these snakes must have come from. Then asks for another lift as he looks for the head.

I leave there satisfied. I had a great meal, a deep conversation and genuine laughter. This is my idea of a good day and really if you ever near the nakumatt junction go and try him out. He’s amazing.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

birthday peace

I have a tradition, every year on my birthday at exactly 9:30 a.m. which is the time written on my birth certificate as my entry into this world I go out and I look at the sun. It’s been a year so the sun god is at exactly  the same place as the last time I gave him a nod. I let him know that I am still down here and that I appreciate the fact that he is still up there steering his steeds like the world depends on it. Well, at least I lie about it. Except for this year, this year I did it.

This year I managed to do a lot of things that I really wanted to do. I also managed to fail at a lot of other things that I thought would make me happy. I am nowhere near the place I was last year which was halfway around the world in so many ways and yet I feel strangely at ease. I know I shouldn’t and I know I shouldn’t because my faith in the world is shaken to the core with each passing day. My relationship with truth and memory and especially the reality of things that have already happened or are said to have happened is shifting all the time. Case in point today is my birthday but it wasn’t always this way. For the first 14 years of my life my birthday was on the 21st of June. That’s when I ate cake, that’s when I felt entitled and as is the wont of every middle child in the world when I felt neglected. Then I had to produce my birth certificate to register for KCPE and there in cold, hard print was the date printed, 22nd June.

That I guess is the first time I made the choice to trust an anonymous stranger because he had the power to write words on paper rather than my gut feeling and the words of those who nurtured and loved me. An anonymous stranger who I later found out also made a spelling mistake when writing my name down. Why did I think without questioning it that my parents were wrong and random hospital staff number 67382 was right about my birthday? I have no idea but then we have the ability all our lives to trust anything as long as its black on white page, I mean look at the bible.

If this wasn’t true though how much is. If my whole life started as a series of mistakes where what my parents wanted as my name isn’t what I got and what they remembered as my birthday isn’t what I celebrate can you imagine how much more of the things that I took for granted and believed aren’t real. By all accounts 25 was a very bad year. There is a litany of sorrows that followed me around. There was the time I cracked my tooth and the times that the girls I cared about left me in such unceremonious ways that the doom I knew was coming still shook me and left me unsteady. There was the bag that was stolen from me unceremoniously 2 nights ago and the horrible cough that’s shaking my body now. There was a time I woke up in a sewer convinced that someone had tried to kill me and there was a death and the periods of depression that went with these two that were some of the worst ways I have ever felt. But, hey I can go for walks now, long, long walks around Nairobi. Walks that I have come to love and represent a major part of what I do just to do. I can still read wonderful books and, hopefully, my writing is getting better. I can still get excited about women in a way that seems high school but feels wonderful and I daily realise the beauty that can be found in a simple conversation. So I’m happy. Bad things happened but I can’t say that it was a bad year.

I am getting older though and more and more my thoughts turn to death and what comes afterwards if anything at all. A lot of people avoid it but I can’t it’s just not in me anymore to deny the truth of this inevitability. In Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie wrote that we all owe death a life. We do. This week I dropped off before I got to the stage at night because Kileleshwa changes so much if you don’t walk around it you can never hope to know it. There is this road that’s crowned by trees on both sides. Some of the lights are on and the milk of the stars was dripping into it. There was just enough light to pierce the darkness and I remember thinking that this is what eternity must be like. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, just a tunnel. A long, long tunnel with enough illumination that you can pick your way through it and enough light that you can see there is still a long, long way down it. You begin walking and you walk and you walk and you walk and still nothing. You keep walking because all of us are cursed with the worst thing to get out of Pandora’s Box, hope. With this you tell yourself that in just a few more kilometres, another century, a million millennia you will come to the end of this and so you trudge on. Your shoes wear out and the stones begin to prick your feet. Every step is a hobble of incredible pain but you are at a point where you welcome the pain. You like it because it takes your mind off of the crushing loneliness that envelops you at this point, a loneliness born of regret and sadness and the loss of all you loved. That’s one version of hell, the other is the place we live in I can be happy in it but there is a part of me that know is I shouldn’t be.

On less philosophical things I have become more Kenyan this year than I have ever been in my life. This comes with all the good things and the bad things that this means. It means when I buy a packet of crisps it feels better to eat 5 of them and give 5 other people 4 each than to wolf down the whole packet. It means, at least for me that feelings of patriotism are being stirred within me, feelings of wholesale love for a country that might finally begin taking shape. It means that I have the ability to laugh at the absurdity of what’s going on in the world. It also means that I am losing more and more my faith in change. I always knew that MPs would get that pay rise. Well, not really but I saw it as different battle lines than most people did. It was not a war between the leaders and their people but between the executive and their legislature and the executive was neutered.

It also means that I can forget what happens. I can say with a fierceness that sometimes shocks me that my president is not going to the ICC, not my deputy president. The symbols and office of power have cloaked then with an immensity that is huge, too big to get over and it is now possible for me to forget that they are people. That the ones who died were people too and that maybe justice is deserved more than peace. But it means that I still walk around with the scars of what happened last time. Scars so deep that we all think it was our fault and to make sure we don’t go back down that road we will sacrifice anything. We will forget justice and we will forget truth as long as we have peace. I don’t know what the best of these is but we’ve never really had justice in this country. When we had truth without peace I felt like I was being torn apart. As a result when Raila lost and it destroyed me I didn’t give myself a mourning period. What I did instead was what I wished the whole country would do, put the whole thing behind me and face the future. The truth was I thought that a mourning period would be a bad thing and it’s upon all of us to act as we wish others would so I did. A few months later and now we can return to truth. We can say that the election had all of these irregularities and that maybe Uhuru shouldn’t have won. But with the clarity of distance from emotion I feel that he should be president.

And I lost faith in Obama, him with his drones and foreign policy and assassinations and spying. I think a lot of people my age were defined by their faith in this guy and then he went and sold us down the river. But that’s life. You live, you learn and you learn to live with disappointment. The story of everyone’s life is one of heartbreaks and we lurch from one to the next so convincingly, so sure that the last time was the last time because we never learn. Memory becomes something else and as long as we can ascribe it with meaning our lives won’t be purposeless. I love being born on the 22nd because it means I am a child of the summer solstice. That longest day of the year in some places. Its strange this date change because as long as I listened to love I was cloaked with anonymity but when I took the hard print of strangers into my life it suddenly became powerful.

This has been a weird rambling post I know. Nothing about the future and where that will take me. I have no idea. All I do know is I‘ll be doing something different next year and the year after that. That’s enough for me. I don’t need to pierce the fog I can live with it. I love uncertainty and roads that end up in places you never though they would. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

it's cold

It’s cold now. We can admit that much. Just how cold? It’s get out of meetings by pretending you’re sick cold, it’s forget being a gentleman and fight for women’s lib by never taking off your jacket for a girl cold, it’s rub your nipples because they need it cold. It’s cold. Very cold.

I know some things about myself one of which is that I don’t like the cold. I don’t like the way it hangs in the air and waits to snuggle in between your clothes and your skin, I don’t like how it makes things in the daytime grey and washed out and hides the sun behind its curtains, I do like how it makes things misty and mysterious at night when the fog encapsulates the light from a street lamp and it seems as if you are walking through another world where magic is possible, that I like. Not the rest though.

I don’t like that I never have enough clothes on, that a t-shirt and shirt and a half sweater still leaves me shivering. I don’t like getting out of bed in the morning when it’s cold, you know what’s waiting for you out there and you wonder whether you left the windows in your room open. It couldn’t possibly be this cold if the windows are closed could it? No, I must have fucked up and left them open. Wow they are open, let me close them. Now they are closed. It’s about to get warm up in this muther…and…then…it…does…not. That, that I hate.

I’m more tired now. I want to let the alarm ring and ring and never get up. I just want to feel warm in my bed and I suspect it’s the absence of the sun. Vitamin d does a lot of things and they say you can’t get anything good for free. For example it makes sure you can’t get rickets, rickets. That sounds like a bad disease. It sounds like crickets and you know that annoying sound that crickets make as they chirp and chirp and chirp? That sounds just like bones breaking. And that’s what rickets does it makes bones brittle and ready to snap.

I go to the shower and I stand in that stream of hot water. Except it’s not a stream. A stream sounds like something that should engulf you this barely does. I’m not a big guy but when I stand in the water both my arms are outside it just chilling in the steamy, misty, cold air. Goosebumps form. Little craters poking out of my skin like I am about to give birth to a thousand thousand aliens. They’re trying to crawl out and the only way I can kill them is by letting hot water flow on them so I do. As soon as I do some of my chest is out so I have to move back in or, and this I can do, I can hug myself so I take up the least possible surface area. This means I’m not bathing anymore but it means I’m warm which is the best thing to be at this time. Then I realise I’ve been in the shower for way too long and I need to go outside. But, its cold outside. Very, very cold. No part of me wants to go. And this little drop of water has been coiling in the rubber insulated wires of the shower. It’s been collecting more and more water. Biding its time and cooing down until it drops on me like batman and it sends a shiver down all the way to my shoes that I haven’t worn yet. I hate that.

Though when I’m outside I feel better. The air tastes so much better in my nose, or it would if my nose didn’t immediately block up. Still I walk faster and with more purpose, the purpose being finding somewhere warm where I don’t need to walk any more. No more dust on my shoes which is a great advantage. But then no more dust on my shoes which means I have to polish them now otherwise people will now I’m just too lazy to be bothered with such things.

There’s a threat of rain. Its heavy, its constant and I can’t be bothered to heed it. If it actually rained though I’m imagining those drops would be icy, cold and cutting. I’m imagining they would cut right through my clothes, right through my skin, right to my nerves and make homes there. Homes so big ice princesses would live there. Homes so cold that instead of letting down her hair for the prince the ice princess would just cry and cry and cry until there was a rope if ice he could climb up. This is how that rain would feel. It would carry the cold of all the known world past all my defences and I can’t be bothered with the threat of it.

This is because before today I wasn’t even bothered with the actuality of the cold. I would put on a shirt and fold up the sleeves like no big thing. I would walk around the city without a whiskey flask. Of this I am most ashamed. There are times when a well-timed gulp of potato juice does more for you than the warmest elk-based coat and here I am pretending like I don’t need it.

It’s cold now, it will not be cold forever I keep telling myself. Past behaviour is an indicator of future behaviour isn’t it. Global warming cannot hope to keep its second name if it makes things this much colder. The problem is though that if it heads for a divorce things could be worse, the bitterness of the first marriage leaking into the union with Mr Climate change may be the worst thing for us and then it could be this cold forever.

Well, no. cold just makes me mellow-dramatic.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

misery and guests at weddings

Massive spoilers for game of thrones

So the red wedding, yeah that happened. For about four minutes there was carnage, there was blood, there was betrayal and people felt things they shouldn’t have to for fictional characters. I remember reading this scene 2 years ago. It was at a time when I had gotten plunged into the world created by George RR Martin. Westeros really was my first foreign destination after finishing university. I can still remember sitting in front of a computer screen and scrolling down and down and down and down for hours. I would sit there from 10 in the am to 3 in the am and then get to sleep and repeat over and over again. I had dreams about those books. It was quite simply the most addictive reading experience I have ever gone through in my life.

Somewhere in the middle of this the Red Wedding happened. In the books they made a big deal of guest right, much more than they did in the show. It’s basically a rule of honour that says once someone eats your food and drinks your wine or water you have extended the protection of your house over them and so I was sure nothing would happen to Robb. In the book you are inside Catelyn Stark’s mind as she sees her last surviving son being killed, she kills her hostage and goes crazy. She laughs as she claws herself with her nails and as blood as red as death finds its way down her cheeks one of the Frey banner men kills her like you would put down a wounded horse. In the book you later find out that they cut the head off of Robb’s direwolf and sew it on his neck. But in the show everything starts with stabs to the stomach of a pregnant woman. I thought I was ready for this thing to happen but that minor alteration took me back into that world and reminded me exactly what that betrayal was.

It’s been on my mind all week. I feel like that season ended because there is no topping that, I haven’t watched the last episode yet but even if the Man of Steel battled the Dark Knight for the Iron Throne it could not match up.

I remember reading that scene and not knowing anyone else who had, walking around like someone I knew had died and then having to keep the secret for 2 years now. I, like everyone who had read them, tried to convince our friends to read just until the third book. Just get that far we would telegraph into their minds. The day anyone did you would know. Are you in the third book? And if they had gotten there you would see this haunted look come into their faces. Lost. Destroyed. Then finally there would be someone you could talk to about this death.

Why do we care about fictional characters?

I wonder about this a lot. A lot. It makes no sense why we care about characters that we know not to be real. Why does the love of Romeo and Juliet move us when we know that neither of them died because neither of them lived? Why has every one of us being moved to tears by the death on screen, page or stage of someone who never was? How can we feel so strongly in our imaginings that these things matter? How can we make a connection with a place that came out of somebody’s mind? How can it feel so much more real to you than the place you actually are. There are different theories about parallel universes floating around in the theoretical and murky depths of science but we experience them all the time when art does its job well, when it takes us to a place that we have never seen. A place that didn’t exist until right then, to meet people who were never born before we read that first word and never died until we came to the point that they did. People who are living their lives in words.

Then those lives stop. This episode of the show got me thinking about how misery loves company. Every single person who had already read those books knew what was happening in episode 9 of season 3. They knew it before episode 9 of season 2 aired. There was a vast conspiracy of silence, a web so thick the fact that these books have sold millions and millions in an increasingly virtual and connected world where people don’t have to think before they say anything because of anonymity, a web so thick that despite that you would have to try in order to find spoilers. You would beg the friend of yours who knew to tell you and they would refuse.

It’s because people wanted this. All these reaction videos were taken by people who knew what was going to happen. People who months, years, some even over a decade ago had come across this passage in the squiggly lines on a dead tree or the blinking lights of a glass screen. People who bided their time because they wanted to see this happen. They wanted the reaction. They wanted to see the shock, the horror, the sadness, and the feelings of futility play on a much larger audience.

So we waited. To be honest I went around looking for reactions. Quizzing people about how they felt. Giving them that one thing I didn’t have all those years ago. A listening ear. To be honest I enjoyed it. I loved seeing those YouTube videos. I loved hearing how destroyed people were by what happened. I loved how the deaths affected them. I loved that finally I was not alone in this misery. I liked that other people were sad. In fact I loved it, their looks of devastation, their hopelessness in that other world, their visceral reactions. Literature apparently makes us moreempathetic. Apparently.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

my recent travels

I was walking down the bypass that connects Lavington and Kileleshwa at 5:30 p.m. and I looked to my left. I saw a little road that I had never seen before. The road looked interesting because of the way you had to turn into it to get in which was forty degrees and into it. Since I looked at the photos showcased in a Time magazine Article about the best alleys in the world I have been going down roads that I’ve never been. As long as I have the time I follow the rabbit down its hole and as long as its day there’s no reason not to. I figured(subconsciously I think I’m only just realising why I do this so much now) that the photographer found these places by wandering, they aren’t tourist stops but the magic in finding places like these is the proprietary way you feel about them.

I walked down this alley way and at first it looked like the lost suburbs of kileleshwa. There were trees in every middle distance and the houses had these huge compounds with half acres of manicured lawns and a pant-inducing sprint to the front door. It was instantly quieter. Somehow the sound didn’t flow down this way. The road looked like it was potholed but not completely. You see, on the edges of the road it was tarmacked but that was just on the edge. As soon as you looked towards the middle you saw stones stuck in the ground everywhere. Stones stuck so uniformly, so geometrically it looked like this was how it was mean to be. I asked a guy on the road if it ever hooked up with the main road and he said he didn’t. I hesitated for a moment because walking back instead of out is not as magical but I figured I could at least go to the end. As I got closer to the end there were these pine trees. Well I’m not sure if they are pine and I could easily find out but I’m not sure how to find out what they are if I’m wrong. They were these trees with white wood. White, smooth wood, not a branch wasted until feet and feet up where the leaves stuck on there could catch the sun. They were the kind of trees that look like sentries guarding the Garden of Eden from the rest of us.

The person I had asked for directions pushed a gate and walked into a compound. Except it didn’t look like a compound. The gate looked worn and rusted, the watchman’s house didn’t look like it was ever used and there was a footpath. I walked in because there are some places where you know it’s not exactly private property. It looked like there had been right of way rights given to pedestrians here for a long, long time and I have been learning that this kind of thing can be lawfully enforced.

I walk in and everything changes again. One of the reasons I knew this was a place I could walk in without trespassing was the huge amounts of foliage. There was green everywhere, trees and trees of it. The footpath was just big enough for foot traffic but it looked like  it had been built by the application of shoes and weight. Steps following steps pressing the grass into the ground, grinding them into the dust and turning this into a road. Proving that sometimes persistence works just as well as ingenuity.

I walked on for a bit and suddenly I felt a breath of fresh air. I had just walked in between this especially leafy area, bushes to my left and huge trees to my right. In that moment ,or in that place forever, they had just expelled a burst of fresh, cool, clean air. This was not what I had been breathing mere moments before instead I was in another province. When I looked over to the right there was a valley leading to what most surely was a river, higher up there was all that makes kileleshwa what it is now; the spectre of construction of an apartment building, the sound of snarling traffic angry that it has been held up, plumes of grey and brown dust mixing with exhaust to sully the air. Where I was though all that faded away. To my left there were the beginnings of a forest and a dirt road.

On my way to the dead end I was overcome by the nature of the place, looking around and not noticing the people. Amazed at the smell of fresh air taking away what I smell in the city every day. On the way back I looked around at the people and the houses. I remember thinking that if I was a businessman I would wonder why so much land was being wasted on green, that what I needed to do was buy it up and make some green myself.

Then I noticed the people and the houses that were there. I asked this group if there was a shortcut to the road and one of them told me that I looked like a visitor and I should have asked for directions earlier.  As I looked around I saw these modest one story maybe two room houses. The kind you would find in shags. In the first one I came to there were children playing in the compound and I looked at them for a minute because I hadn’t heard the happy sounds of children playing for a while. Then I realised what was different, I could see into compounds over here. They had hedges for walls and in the hedge there was a space that anyone could walk into at any time. Further on I noticed the farms; there were farms of maize and sugarcane. They looked healthy and all available land in the compounds seemed used for them. Some of the houses didn’t even have front doors; instead they had a muslin net covering the entrance. A white sheet billowing in welcome.

Finally I got back to the door into this place and I saw that there was no space for a car to pass through. Everyone who lived in this neighbourhood had made a social contract that basically said you can’t own a car unless you want to change it. I walked back up the road to hear a conversation between two people. One of them had spotted a paper bag beside the road and was beside himself to see that what was inside was the goat food that cucu had lost. Which cucu ? The one who sells over there.

When I finally got back to the main road it was like this whole episode hadn’t happened. As if just in Nairobi, close to all these industrialised places, I hadn’t visited what felt like shags to me more than anything else.

You don’t have to leave in order to travel.