I arrived in Nairobi in the early hours of the morning. I had made sure to sit next to the driver so that I could get the best view of Nairobi. The city turned out just as I had imagined and much more; beautiful, rich, modern, scenic and overcrowded! I swear even the air was different. It was fresher and had a scent; a very beautiful scent that’s still stuck in my nostrils to date. For reals.
When I made plans a week before on what to wear, I realized that none of my clothes was Nairobi material. I decided to buy myself one. It was a black strappy dress that hit just below the knees. Trying it in front of a mirror at the eve of my traveling day, I knew I didn’t need a bolero coat to cover up the exposed back and chest. Neither did I feel like I needed to wear any stockings. I was elegant. After all I was going to the heart of fashion and I needed to look like a commoner. But in the morning I changed my mind; I felt like I was too exposed; too sexy and slutty. I felt like Nairobi girls would be jealous of me because I would be the only attractive and attention grabbing lady around. I decided it wasn’t right to make such a banging entrance into Nairobi on a first day visit. Being the considerate lady I am I wore stockings, a pull neck and a bolero on top! I looked perfect; I wasn’t underdressed. Someone should have warned me though; you are never underdressed in Nairobi; you are only overdressed. I was overdressed. (By the way I wasn’t sure about that ‘bolero’ name. I thought it was a mtumba dialect but I just ‘googled’ it and realized it’s a real name).
The moment I alighted I could tell that I didn’t belong. Even my first look (minus the bolero and the others) would have had nothing on what the Nairobi girls were wearing. I could see people throwing alarmed glances at me; no makeup, a 70s weave, granny shoes, the pencil brow (eyebrows for who?) and totally overdressed. The ladies were looking at me with their wingy eyelashes flapping as if to ask, “Girl! Didn’t you get the memo?” And right then I knew that my greatest fear was not to die before visiting Nairobi but visiting a heavenly town for the first time.
This was the longest day of my life; remember I was attending a college graduation and you know how college girls dress. I felt like a misplaced cabbage in a sack of potatoes.
In the evening I left Thika for Nairobi and arrived at around 7:30 pm. Nairobi at night is confusing. Everything was identical; from the buildings to the buses and the roads. I wasn’t worried though because I knew the matatu would drop me at the same spot I bordered one in the morning. From there I would find my way to Nyamakima which I had perfectly mastered as the morning driver escorted me to the terminal.
Shock on me! How was I to know that Nairobi has 1001 terminals for the same destination? Back in Nyahururu there was only one main terminal for all destinations. The mat stopped and everyone alighted. I held my handbag in my hands and looked around; people and buildings everywhere; nothing familiar. I took about 10 steps and stopped in front of this huge building where I took my phone out and dialed my friend’s number. She was my only hope of ever making it to Nyamakima. Mteja! I looked at the time; 23 minutes to 8 PM.
“The only way to not look lost in Nairobi is to walk confidently with your head high as if you know where you are headed to. Never ask anyone for directions but if you must, walk into an M-Pesa shop,” my aunt with whom I lived with had said these words to me the previous night not knowing that I would need them. After walking for a few minutes I decided to call my friend again. My phone was dead! We can just say bad luck and his family was holding my hand.
I decided I wasn’t going to ask any stranger or M-Pesa attendant for directions. I continued walking with my head high and after what seemed like two hours I stood in front of a building to analyze my fate. The only money between me and poverty was KShs500. I knew there was no decent lodge I could get with 500 shillings. And if I did, it would mean getting a place to sleep and skipping supper. I only had two options for the night; get a room and sleep hungry or sleep on the streets and get me a decent supper. I chose the latter. It sounded like a great idea since I would still have some few coins left after buying supper. At this juncture I started sobbing. The thoughts of becoming a street girl flooded my mind.
Up until this moment I hadn’t remembered God. Somehow I had forgotten about Him in my lostness. It’s while sobbing that I remembered Him.
“Please God, show me the way. I don’t want to become a street girl,” I murmured.
I wiped my tears and as luck would have it I realized that I was standing in front of the same huge building. I had only done a 360 degrees walk. I decided to walk in the opposite direction. After walking for a while I decided it was time I asked for directions. After all, what God had in store for me would eventually happen whether I asked anyone or not. I walked to a roadside seller (a mama selling vegetables) and asked her for directions to Nyamakima. From her I learnt that there was no way I would get there on my own since I was deeply lost. But she encouraged me to give it a try anyway.
I asked directions from 3 other roadside sellers and each time making a different turn from the one instructed. You know, just in case they were cold blooded murderers and were following me. None of the directions ever got me to Nyamakima. With tears in my eyes I concluded I had tried my best and it was time I gave up any hope of ever making it to the terminal that night. I came up with a plan to look for a watchman, sit with him through the night and find my way the following day. I had no appetite for food. As I looked for a watchman I came across a young guy selling smokies. Something about him drew me towards him. I had a feeling that he would be my savior. I walked over to him. I was his only customer although there were other people on the road.
“Nifungie smokie mbili,” I said to him and handed him a hundred bob. As he prepared the smokie I continued, “Nimepotea. Natafuta stage ya Nyamakima. Aki na usipoint na mkono, nielezee vile nitafika Nyamakima. Please nakuomba. Na usipoint watu wasijue nauliza directions.”
All this time he didn’t look at me. He had stopped wrapping the smokie. For a moment I thought he was going to shout- mwizi! Mwizi! I was about to walk away when he finally spoke. He told me I was like 5 minutes from the terminal. That I should continue walking ahead and take the first left turn I find. I would see a red building ahead of me and that’s where the terminal would be. I thanked him quickly and told him to keep the smokies plus the money.
About 5 minutes later I found Nyamakima and as luck would have it there was only one matatu left and required only one passenger to leave.
“My name is Naomi and I have a testimony,” I felt like blurting out once I took my seat. Instead I whispered a ‘Thank you God’ as the matatu left. The passenger next to me told me that the time was 9:32 PM. I was lost in Nairobi for almost 2 hours.
I was too tired from walking and decided to take off my shoes. I eventually made it to Nyahururu. As the matatu came to a halt I looked for my shoes but only found one; my left shoe. My right shoe was nowhere in sight. How it disappeared I couldn’t tell. The driver had an explanation though; it had found its way out of the matatu in one of the stops we had made as some passengers alighted. I didn’t care though. What was a shoe to worry about when I had finally made it home! I alighted and limped across the road with one shoe on and hopped onto a bodaboda which took me home.
Image: Samir Dave
Image: Samir Dave