Thursday, May 7, 2009

Some wide thinking...

Is it Khayega or is it Nairobi? In Kangemi Luhya is the "official" language

By Godfrey Miheso,
Nairobi July 17 2008
Women and kids feel the pain to the borns, this photo best describes concern for the cry of oppressed in Africa. (photo/courtesy)

As the Matatu cruises along the trimly tarmacked road towards Nairobi’s Kawangware area 46, in contrast, a dilapidated five minutes drive stretch of land unfolds, linking to the next estate. Here, unexpected armies of people progressively surface, and continue to build up further the same road into the slum as numerous rundown wooden shacks complete with rusted corrugated iron sheets for roofs come to full view.
The infrastructure therein is way below average with narrow dusty paths as roads. The region is Kawangware area 56, inhabited predominantly by a people with a common ancestry. Incidentally, most of them hail from Western Kenya. Not surprising, at the entrance to village, conspicuously stands an information centre that acquaints you with the culture of the Luhya community. ‘Orie, mbwena’ (Luhya for hallo, how are you), a middle-aged man salutes a neighbour, mounting his bike in readiness for another day of hard labour.
It is a common greeting, we learn later, since it is presumed that every one here speaks the language. Indeed not even strangers are spared this. Interestingly, the activity between area 56 and area 46 is no different from what you will find along the Shinyalu-Khayega Road. In both cases, scores of idle men and youth laze by the roadside, awaiting any passers-by in need of their services. On a good day, they might just land some few coins to meet their basic needs for the day.
“Ukiwa na bahati, waeza kupata kazi kama ya useremala, kutengeza sakafu, ama kazi yoyote tu ya mkono.” (If you are lucky, you land an offer on handy work such as woodwork, floor repairing or any other manual work),” says another resident. Economic activities are limited to such ventures since majority of the pioneers of the pioneer inhabitants lack professional skills to be absorbed in worthwhile employment..
A considerable number sell bricks, scrap metals or wood for a living while others trade in window and door frames. The women engage in less laborious tasks. They gather together in tow, at the shopping centres selling a variety of indigenous foods including a mixture of boiled maize and beans (githeri) and mandazi to supplement the family income. Mzee Hezbon Shiamala, a small-scale carpenter has been in the wood trade since the late 1960s when he, like his peers left the village for the city.
“We heard of tales of the first-rate life in the city and did not want to be left behind,” he confesses. Since he had some relatives living in the area, he moved in with them. But life had its twists and turns and it was not long before he was forced to fend for himself, many times straining too hard to make ends meet.
“I have been at this spot for about 41 years,” he confesses, as he carves out a piece of wood for seat.“ I am comfortable living here and have every reason to feel like I am back in the village.” Even though he has lived here for several years, Mzee Hezbon makes occasional visits to the village when he can. “ Christmas holidays are the best because I am sure to meet many of my long time friends and family.”
Meanwhile, he keeps in touch with his relatives via radio. Perhaps over the alleged obsession for radio amongst the Luhya speaking tribe, this well manifested here with the favourite radio stations either Mulembe FM or Kenya Broadcasting Cooperation radio. “This way we are able to keep in touch through the salaams programme,” Hezbon admits.
Residents say that laying a meal on the table is a challenge that far outweighs rent charges. The highest cost for instance, is Sh 500 for a single iron sheet mud house and Sh 250 for a single room and scrape pieces of iron sheets. A 24 year old Stanley Khayumbi is married and with two Children and admits that his greatest challenge is laying a meal on the table for his family “At least I can afford house rent”
Like a typical Luhya homestead, virtually each home boasts of at least two chicken. But for the lack of adequate space they share them with their masters. “ Mine sleep under my bed” says mama boi, as she is famously referred to . Like Hezbon’s story above, Pilot Yakahama a celebrated medicine man has lived in the region for decades and is reputed for his accomplishment in the treatment of a variety of diseases among them Asthma, Tuberculosis and various Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
He is particularly known for the dramatic manner he conducts his sessions which involve tones of unfathomable rituals. Over the years, a rare bond has developed in which residents pledge their undivided loyalty to pilot and believe his treatment is far more effective compared to the sparsely distributed dispensaries, not too different from the Shinyalu setting.
One kilometre from Khayega market a small village Called Museno, and recently christened Tusker, stands out. Here, a carefree drinking lifestyle dominates in which villagers drench themselves in local illicit brews. They say they do it to escape the frustrations occasioned by the chronic unemployment levels. Unfortunately, the youth like their parents have not been fortunate enough in securing worthwhile employment despite the fact that some of them pride in impressive credential from reputable colleges.
Like in Tusker, an estimated 50 percent of the men in area 56 consume cheap brews uncontrollably, with the youth, born and bred in the region hard hit. And with the prospects of further education appearing only as a mirage, most of them (youth ) have resigned to early marriages, alcoholism/ drug addiction their economic abilities notwithstanding. Consequently, the region’s Zebra pub is continually a beehive of activity where patrons imbibe cheap liquor, famously referred to as busaa.
‘Mbe malua malulu’ (give me well brewed chang’aa ) is a common phrase as the freely flowing drink exchanges hands . Dan Shikoli a graduate of the Maseno University in Political Sciences and also a regular customer at the Zebra pub says even university graduates who lack employment seek solace at this pub. Once a gardener at the nearby Lavington Estate, he was able to carry home at least Sh 4,000. “With this, only cheap liquor is affordable as one struggles to cater for his family”
Today, he is lucky to be working at a friend’s Cyber CafĂ© in area 46, proceeds from which are channelled to family use. Even so, he is grateful for the education he has acquired for he believes it has given an edge over the other youth in the region. Unlike Shikoli, Augustine Lumalas did not pursue further education after completing his O level, and now strains too hard to raise his a three-year-old daughter.
On this, Shikoli says, “ It is unfortunate since with minimal education and the circumstances at hand, it is quite difficult to foster the way forward.” Cristabela Ayisi now in her mid fourties, has been a bar hostess for over a decade and works long hours, her age not withstanding. She is grateful for the recent government legalisation on the consumption of local brew. “It is my sole source of income and without busaa, where will I go, and where will my children go to?,” She poses.
However, Kevin Shikokoti a patron in the pub laments that the government should not have done so since many youth are likely to loose their lives in the liquor at the expense of the countrys development. But the picture of life as a youth is not grim in its entirety. Those who care to do so are free to participate in one of a variety of worthwhile ventures. Kakamega United, a local football team is a preserve of the strong, and skilled youth was established to represent the area 56 village in both major and minor football tournaments within the city.
“It has also fostered good relations with the neighbouring youth,” says Shikokoti. Besides the close knit unity these residents have endeavoured to foster, Unfortunately the area they have called home for the last couple of decades may be no more since they face a possible eviction. It is alleged that the over 550,000 people are to be evicted by the end of the year and their homes demolished. The residents are adamant about this. “They will have to take us in handcuffs,” says Augustine Lumala an elderly man. “This is our land and we have no where else to go" says he. The residents are unanimous that area 56 remains their home, as long as they need to be in the City. ==== source: Kenya Times

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