There is something about Nairobi that I dearly miss, that is specifically, of Nairobi.
Perhaps it is that welcoming call at the airport; or the zebras, lions and giraffes that definitely say you are in the land of Savannah.
Perhaps it is the congested Mombasa road, beautifully leading to the CBD, or the diversion you make to the Nairobi National Park right in the heart of the city, or the potholed road leading to your estate where children are learning to roller skate.
Perhaps it is the loud matatus with graffiti playing local gospel, genge, kapuka or the latest song by Wiz Khalifa, with conductors beckoning passengers to choose theirs, over their competitors, as they bang on it so as to urge the driver not to leave.
Nairobi calls to you. On Saturdays, it defines who’s who, and who wants to be who. Either you are attending a friend’s wedding, or a friend of a classmate, or the friend of the neighbour’s child wedding. Either you go for a road trip to Naivasha, or hang out at the shopping mall, or watching football matches between Arsenal and Manchester United at a local pub with a large tv screen. And on Sunday, you either go to church, or nurse your hangover. Or both.
Nairobi also calls to you. It calls from the sprawling slums, where a 40-year old grandma is selling mandazi from outside her house, to children horning their soccer skills at a dusty field and a large crowd of casual labourers walking back home from kibarua.
Nairobi calls to you. From the happy faces in the street where the ‘blind’ street beggar sings at Kencom stage and a hustler is trying to sell a ‘gold’ chain, perfume or second-hand phone to you at bei ya jioni.
Nairobi calls to you. From the protest marches, championing the rights of mwananchi or the sound of the siren by the ambulance or chase car of a mheshimiwa.
Nairobi calls to you. From the well-manicured neighbourhoods where there is a mbwa kali sign at the gate, to the fancy cars being driven by rich-folk kids, and ‘idle’ housewives meeting at the club for a cup of tea and muchene.
Nairobi calls to you. Whether it is the middle class citizens engaged in their side hustle jobs so as to afford a Vitz, or the tenderpreneur in their Prado looking for the next job.
Perhaps it is the friends who invite you to their wedding committee meetings or chamas expecting you to contribute in as much as you are trying to make ends meet.
Perhaps it is the friends who ‘flash’ you; and when you call back, they just wanted to say hi.
Perhaps it is those friends who drop by your house uninvited and you end up chatting for hours, enjoying the minor ‘disruption’.
Perhaps it is those friends who pass by your house as they pass by the neighbourhood and be like, “I’m hungry! Do you have food?”
Perhaps it is the many harambee cards passed on in offices to raise school fees, or medical fees for a neighbour or friend or even a stranger.
Perhaps it is the girls who always carry huge handbags to work and in them are high heels and an umbrella – high heels that are only worn in the office and removed when going home.
Perhaps it is your hair dresser who insists on giving you extra service, never mind she has no idea if you have the money to pay for it.
Perhaps it is buying a dress from the lady who hawks them in the office and paying on credit over months, yet she still sells you more clothes.
or the competition of who has the nicest pedicures and manicures among office mates,
or the experience of someone complimenting your dress, then saying ‘I want’ and then, ‘where did you buy it?’, all in a single breathe and quite rhetorically.
Perhaps it is the sometime meaningless phrases that catch on like fire and often used and misused in every sentence a Nairobian speaks to you; ‘the struggle is real’ ‘catch ma feelings’ ‘sponsor’ ‘bonoko’ ‘sonko’ ‘Hakuna mbrrrrucha’.
There is something about Nairobi that I miss.
Nairobi calls to you. Full of life, vibrant, diverse, and with a piece for everyone. This is …
All photography by Mutua Matheka, taken in Nairobi
Find his work on https://mutuamatheka.wordpress.com/