Age of Zinc is proud to present the fifth installment in a new memoir from the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.
One thing my mother could not shield us from was moving from low income housing in Kariobangi to Korogocho slum. The feeling of moving into Korogocho was sickening and scary. Very frightening indeed.
We had lived close enough to Korogocho to understand that our moving meant life had taken a turn for the worst. Yet, for my mother, it meant she did not need to pay rent. It also meant we would have a piece of land in the city of Nairobi.
As a single mother struggling to raise children without any assured job it must have been a most liberating thing. So as a strategy of raising us, my mother religiously maintained most of her rural culture and traditions. Looking back, this contributed greatly to our character and behavior.
Today, in comparison to most of the children we grew up around, my mother’s strategy worked. Even as children we knew that the other children in Korogocho were urban kids and mainly ghetto. This is how it happened:
My mother maintained a very strong link with her rural folks. Every school holiday we would be sent home to our relatives. The visits played a major part in molding our values and character. As urban dwellers we were humbled by the harsh life our rural peers lived. They walked long distances to fetch water, firewood and to school, to church and occasionally to the shops. They tilled the land, took care of livestock. They had no electricity, ate very plain food, dressed in near-rugs. Yet they had enough time to study and were quite disciplined.
At the time our relatives were not rich. The didn’t have much, but our cousins, nephews, nieces and some of my step brothers and sisters inspired us, they influenced how we thought. My mother ensured the connection to our rural links remained strong.
While in the city my mother adopted an attitude of doing anything or any job for the sake of her children. In time the family had grown to include nine children. She engaged in many manual jobs besides her main one of raising us and ensuring we go to school every day.
Some of her jobs included providing unskilled labor in construction sites, as well as painting houses in the posh estates that were being constructed in city like Outer-Ring and Buruburu. Of all the jobs she did I have always admired her for two: urban farming and local alcohol brewing.