There are those people who went to one primary school from Class One to Class Eight. Then the same high school from Form One to Form Four. The same with university. Those ones will not understand what I am talking about today. But if you ever switched schools, then you remember what it was like to be the new kid in school; you do not know what the hell happens in this strange new place. You do not want to offend anyone, even though you do not know the rules yet. You will apologize even for stepping on someone’s shadow. You want to keep to yourself, but you also need help learning the ropes. Sometimes you run into a bully; and even though you feel like you could take him – like you could easily whisk him like an egg – you let him push you around. Until one day you do not.
Moving into a new neighborhood is a lot like changing schools.
Last year in June I moved houses to where I live now. I hate moving houses. I am one of those people who’d rather live in one place for almost a decade. Like watchies will come and go and leave me there. I will watch my neighbour’s kids grow from when they are this high and until they turn into towering hirsutes with voices deeper than Warsan Shire’s poetry.
Yet for someone who likes sticking in one spot, I found myself moving from my old house within months. It was close to the road, so dust trickled in even with windows closed. And because I had to keep windows closed, the house was always stuffy. Getting matatus past 9pm from tao was as easy as cracking a coconut with your teeth. And parking was a nightmare – you had to stash your car away in a squeezed lot, like it is made of weed. In the morning if you needed to leave, you had better luck finding the remote when it disappeared.
I moved the moment I could afford to. Found a place in these sides of Nairobi whose roads are not named after dead politicians. It was perfect, this house. Wooden floors, big spaces, the rent was a steal, and the landlady has the gentlest heart. I wish the kitchen was bigger and it wasn’t so close to a busier road, but that is nothing I cannot live without.
Only problem around here are the neighbors.
The old house was a shithole, but at least the neighbors were human beings. They said a hello when you met on the stairs. Nobody stole your shit, or said shit about you. They kept to their side and I kept to mine. We’d interchange cleaning the stairs, especially on rainy days, and most importantly, there was no drama.
This new place, on the other hand, is Gaza.
So, as I came to realize, these apartments were built by GOK kitaaaaambo. If you look at them from outside, you will notice how run down they are. They have never seen a fresh coat of paint since the scramble and partition of Africa, there is a section of the (live) fence that is holding on to dear life by the grace of God, and the gate opens like it has rickets. A couple of my friends live here too (part of the reason I moved), and when I asked why this place is not well maintained I was told that the people who live here are basically sworn enemies. Getting them to do anything together is damn near impossible.
My friend – let’s call her Waithera – is like the neighborhood prefect. You know, she has been here for more than a decade. She is the chairlady emeritus; collects money for security, organizes for cleaners to slash and burn trash, and manages the estate whatsapp group. Every month, she has to beg people to pay for security. She has a text – I think she either has crammed it ama it is in her drafts somewhere – that says: Hello guys, security money is due. Between the 1st and 10th of every month she sends that message to the group.
Every time, she has to ask at least four times for people to send her that 500 bob. When asking does not work, she resorts to shaming the defaulters with passive aggression. Naming all the houses that have contributed; thus highlighting those who haven’t. Even then there are people who do not pay. Not even when they are mulikwad on the estate WhatsApp.
For the most part, this was the biggest problem. People refusing to contribute for security and maintenance. Then we started having issues with water and electricity. Remember I said these houses were built by a GOK parastatal for their employees? They were given the option to buy their units. Some did, some didn’t. When the parastatal went broke, it wanted to sell the property to private investors and the employees went to court. Or something like that. Now this place is entangled in court cases.
Now, you find there are people here who do not pay rent. But on top of that, they still won’t pay for their elec and water. The water problems began when now some of them started stealing water at the meter. They wait for the days when kanjo water comes, then go switch pipes from your meter and fill their tank and then reconnect yours. Problem is, they do this at night and they do a shit job of reconnecting yours back.
Because I was new here, the first time it happened to me, I complained on the group and only got woishe responses. It happened again. I complained. I did not want to ruffle feathers, because I am the lastborn of the estate; if you raise your voice you will make unnecessary enemies. Every time it happened I had to pay a water fundi to fix it. But then it gets to a point when humility is mistaken for an invitation to zoeana – I went berserk kwa WhatsApp group and swore to make a motherfucker bleed if I ever find someone at the meter.
Sijasumbuliwa since. I hope it stays that way.
Alafu there is the mess with the electricity. Water is cheap, but elec is not. These chaps refused to pay for electricity, and when they got disconnected, they found ways to reconnect themselves. Either from the main line, or stealing from your meter. And they won’t steal ati with decorum. They tap your electricity and then they decide to heat water with it. And I do not mean ati using a water heater. I told you, these are old houses that still have those big boilers that eat stima the way photographers eat women in this Nairobi. Saa hizo wewe you are using instant shower; them they are soaking themselves in the bathtub.
Yaani one day you wake up and get an electricity bill and you wonder whether you opened a welding shop in your bedroom.
This one time elec disappeared. It was not raining, so of course it was a strange blackout. When it rains and we rush to unhang clothes from the washing lines so that they don’t get wet, Kenya Power also unhangs electricity so that it is not rained on. But on this day, there was not a single drop of a shower. It was drier than Gufy’s inbox. So when elec disappeared for more than an hour, I did what we all do when there is a strange blackout. I went to Kenya Power’s Twitter to check if we were scheduled for maintenance. We weren’t. I decided to give it time. Another hour when it wasn’t back, I called Kenya Power to ask if there was a problem with a transformer near us. The lady on the other side said there wasn’t. I asked whether I had been disconnected for non-payment. Of course I hadn’t.
They said they’d send someone.
When that someone arrived, we found another fundi at the meter box down there. We asked him what he was doing there, he said he had been sent by one of the neighbors. Sent by who? He wouldn’t say. To fix whose stima? He wouldn’t say. Why was he holding the fuse to my meter? Words escaped him, he returned it, I magically got my stima back and then he slipped away. The Kenya Power dude said those are the guys that steal people’s electricity for one of our neighbors.
That evening the WhatsApp group caught my smoke. I was fuming, chimney ber ber. It was my next door neighbor who had sent that dude to do sijui what at the meter. This time, I did not care about being the new guy on the block. Now it was time to pee around my home and mark my territory.
A month or something later, Kenya Power would decide to cut electricity from the whole compound because they realized there are people here who owed them upto KES. 90,000. We were livid. I wanted to pour out someone like dishwater. The next day, at first light, someone went to Kenya Power and got documents to show who owed what, and do you want to guess who also owed KP those tens of thousands? My next door neighbor. They were all mulikwad kwa group; names, door numbers, and amount owed.
You know, I really do not give a fuck if you steal from the government. If anything, I encourage it. The Kenyan Government would deserve it. Just do not let it affect me. Do not steal from me and do not make me spend a night in the dark because you won’t pay your bills.
A lot more has happened; I do not have the word count to recite them all. That WhatsApp group is always a battlefield. My next door neighbor, again, broke a window, the glasses fell on the downstairs neighbor and she got hurt. That morning she woke up and put the bloodied. pieces of glass infront of his door. In response to that, he came to the group to say how those people downstairs have no hearts – souls blackened like soot from an exhaust pipe – and that even their dead mother was like that. Yaani you brought someone’s dead mother to a fight? Downstairs neighbor gave him a jaw locking; threw a fusillade of insults that I would not even call a pig when drunk.
When Corona came, do you know whose kid was also kwa that famous Red Cross ambulance? Man, when that story finally broke into the estate WhatsApp Group, the jamaa simply exited without saying a word. And he never said a word to me on the stairs again. Just cold stares.
I thought I had seen it all with this neighborhood. What more could surprise me? Turns out there was something more, and that is the reason I even decided to write this blogpost. The other day, as I was helping a visitor put her stuff inside a cab that had come to pick her up, a Mercedes came and stood in front of the cab and started honking. Dude wanted to get into his parking spot now now. He didn’t want to wait a second for my visitor to get into the taxi. He didn’t want to go round kiasi as the cab pulled away. He kept leaning on his horn and flashing lights and throwing hands and talking smack we couldn’t really hear over the sound of all his hooting.
Some chaps who were nearby looked around to see what was going on. I walked over and told him to calm down. It is not as if he was rushing to pick a pregnant wife whose water just broke. Or a child whose fever wouldn’t go down. He had no emergency. He was just in a hurry to get into his parking spot.
I told him he was being unnecessary. But he didn’t hear me well. How could he with that ego blocking his ears? So the old man – kitu 48ish, has white hair on his chin and head and his face needs ironing – decided that he would get out of his car to come square up with me.
“Kijana, wotayu seying?” Dholuo laced his accent, “Are you talking to me? Are you saying something to me?”
“Yes. What did you hear?” I said.
“Who is this?” He was now not talking to me, but to the shopkeeper who was there. “Omera, who is this? Which house is he in? Is he from here?”
“Why are you asking him? Si I am right here. I would gladly introduce myself to you if you want,” I responded a fist clenched, hoping an idiot would.
The ondiek went back to his car saying, “Let me park, I come back you tell me who you think you are.”
My Lakwan was there with me and I could hear her say, “George, leave it. George…” I mean, there is no honour in beating up a mzee, but you know what, if they ask for it, I would have no choice but to give it to them. Lakwan would think low of me for it, and if my coach realized that I punched someone outside of a ring, he’d drop me with a quickness. But at that point maybe I would have risked it all. I do not know how to be the bigger man. I grew up in a place where, when pushed you push back harder, and scores were settled at Pab Remo (field of blood), and it did not matter age, size, class or whatever.
That ondiek did not come back, not to me. He walked right past me and went to that shopkeeper. That evening, I thought he’d come to my house for that formal introduction. When he didn’t, I called Waithera.
“Do you know that Mercedes from Block A? The one that is always being repaired every Saturday morning? It is driven by some Luo man…unamjua?”
“Yes,” she said, “what has he done?”
I told her everything, and she confirmed that he does have the personality of candle wax. He does not even pay security money. This one time, he slapped Waithera’s child because they were playing in the compound and the kids hit his Mercedes. Waithera didn’t do anything, lakini Nyasachiel me I would have stabbed someone in the buttocks. This mzee clearly needs to be taught to pick on someone his own size.
I called another lady from Block A (we have become friends since I went berserk in the group over water), and she said he is one of those city lawyers. Same story. Turns out the only good thing there is to say about him is his car – when it is even running, that is. He is the lawyer who is embroiled in this court case with GOK and some of the employees. And there is a sex scandal with a neighbor’s offspring, or something like that.
When you hear all the telenovelas that have happened here since I arrived, you’d think I have been here for a while. I haven’t. I have only been here for a year and two months, and yet it is driving me insane. I love my house. I love my landlady – she even gave me a 10k discount when Corona came. This is the kind of place I would want to stay until my second born comes. It would be a shame to leave, but these neighbors can drive you to murder.
I am no longer cowering because I am the new kid on the block. But these guys are testing my limits, and I am also curious to see how far I can stretch. If bad, I will just have to move again.