It has been many a month since I was in Kiambu. Kiambu, the land of my people; the motherland. So last week, finding the need to wean myself to reality; to set the pace for my re-engagement with the hoi polloi, I set out for Kiambu.
Kiambu, being the most affluent of the Kikuyu districts, is without a doubt Kenya's least poverty struck region. But therein lies an irony because Kiambu is easily one of the most unsafe places, in Kenya, to live in. Kiambu is the birthplace of the scum that runs Nairobi nights. Long before robbers graduate into gun-totting killers and take over Nairobi, they are schooled in blood-thirst and impunity; a callous approach to human life, in the dark village paths and muddy cattle tracks of Kiambu.
Kiambu the land of my birth. Let me take you there...
Imagine you were a made gangster. It is about mid-day and you are about to rob a bank or a Forex Bureau on Kenyatta Avenue. At this hour, you know that the exit routes towards a westerly direction are your best bet. The traffic is low and the roads are less pot-holed. But most importantly, they all lead towards home: Kiambu.
So, 1215hrs. Grab the money and shoot your way out of the banking hall. Saunter towards the white Toyota Corolla, it is your getaway car. (You idiot of course you didn't come here in it, but it is your GETAWAY car now, so shot the driver and get in). You are the one driving and you should concentrate on just that but at the back of your head you should be listening out for a single shot. That is one of your accomplices putting a bullet in the head of a random woman across the street. (Just in case people get the despicable notion that you are packing toy guns like village petty thieves.)
Step on the clutch and accelerator simultaneously. Good for effect. Then let go of the clutch and push the accelerator to the floor. Take a right at Kenyatta and Uhuru (fuck, isn't that a father and son from Kiambu, lucky bastards who robbed not just one bloody bank but a whole country without firing a single shot?) and brace yourself for aburst of rifle fire close by. It is the accomplice riding shot gun and he is either celebrating or nervous. Ignore him and keep driving.
This route out of Nairobi is on a dual carriageway and runs through the upmarket shopping centre of Westlands, and its leafy environs, on and on into the most affluent constituency in the country: Kikuyu. Government statistics say that only sixteen per cent of the population here lives below the poverty line. (Fuck, so how come all the people you grew up knowing were poor? But that gun, that posse... will change all that. Well, maybe you will just die trying to change that!)
'Welcome to Kiambu,' a billboard used to say. Urutaguo Mwiruti (It is taught to the self taught). Such is life.
As you drive past, your attention is drawn to a clutter of peeling paint and dust streaked shopping centres interspersed with incomplete yet fully occupied apartment blocks sharing the same gated and well manicured compound as posh bungalows, rows of one-roomed rental shacks made of corrugated iron sheets and small holder farms, (a successful one- with four fat cows lolling in a pen and hundreds of chickens fluttering about a storied run- nested against a desolate one with a mangy dog chasing a gangly and featherless-necked hen around a wooden cabin with a massive column of smoke pushing out of a window-shaped hole in the wall). This, as I said, is Kikuyu constituency of Kiambu District in the Central Province of Kenya.
I was born here. In one of the desolate farms. I was born here, not in an actual sense, but in the way that a Kenyan national ID puts it. I was born here because no one, as I grew up being told, is from Nairobi. I have lived in too many places; too many woe-begotten shacks, but this farm- this has the saddest memories. This place is real, the others are just dream places, spaces that I occupied in other lives that I cannot really return to. But this one, this one there will never be an escaping it. It feels so strange to be back.
Now if someone could just get that cow to shut up, I could finish this story....