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.