Age of Zinc is proud to begin a new year with the fourth installment in a new memoir from the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.
I recall my early life with somberness. This was a time when my mother, a single mother, had just migrated into the city of Nairobi.
Our first rental house in Kariobangi was made of mud lumped onto a frame of wattle poles, and had a tin sheet roof. The room we, the children, occupied was divided into two sections: one side for the nine of us and on the other side we had space for our family’s goats.
Later, when I was eleven, going on to class four, my mother managed to get a piece of land to construct her own house in Korogocho slum. She did this through her ‘Nyakinyua’ group. Nyakinyua women dancing groups were formed purposely to perform during government functions or other gatherings that required entertainment.
Though our house was built under the high voltage power line, we lived there for over 20 years oblivious of the danger. We, and all the goats and some chicken, lived in that house without threat from the power company or the government. The construction of our first house involved us all. It did not require a lot of expertise in the construction as I recall vividly the activities. All we needed were wattle poles that were plenty in Korogocho. With the poles we mixed grass and mud and covered the walls. For the roof, it was improved later, we only used sheets of polythene. There was plenty of waste polythene and PVC in the city’s dumping site that shares a fence with Korogocho.
Later the house was improved as we continued staying there. It never got to the stage where it required an architect nor a design approved by the City Council. To this day the quality of houses in Korogocho remain largely unchanged. However, the slum now has a good tarmac road network and better electricity and water supply.
It was much later, when we were older, that we fully understood how tough life was and how wise my mother was in shielding us from the full impact of our situation. Many evenings, the pot would be set to boil for the evening meal. After sometime my mother would say that firewood had ran out and send us out to get any flammable material outside. We would come back and the fire would be started again and the food would continue bubbling.
Occasionally my mother would stir the food or add fuel to the fire. Eventually we would get drowsy and nod off in the comfort that when the food was ready we would be woken up to eat. Our young minds never suspected that all that the pot had was boiling water. We all thought that we kept falling asleep before the evening meal was ready. Today, I understand the power that hope brings.