The changing face of Nairobi’s Eastlands
Did you ever sashay to the beat of that cheerful song ‘Mos Mos Mama Milka’, dear Ciku, as Kabare Girls volleyball team slayed their opponents?
Did you, at any time, dear Wepukhulu, dance your feet sore to the rhythm of ‘Sisi Nike! Hao Akala!’ when Kakamega High School’s Green Commandos pummelled the opposition into submission in the national secondary schools’ soccer tournaments?
And did you ever wonder where the songs originated from?
Now, as with many tales passed down from one generation to the next, the details are a bit hazy but what I know is that back in the day, at the Kenya Railways Senior Staff Quarters on Park Road, there was an old Peugeot 404 van with the name ‘Mos Mos Mama Milka Obori’ emblazoned on the back.
I’m not quite sure whether the song predated the van or vice versa. A story of the chicken and the egg.
What I know is that this was one of our finest exports to the rest of the country, as far as high school cheering-squad songs go.
By ‘our’ I mean those of us who called the city home back then. I recently took a drive around the hoods that defined our teenage years and saying I was dazed would be an understatement.
I am sure those from our generation who migrated (kwenda majuu, as we used to say) or those who left for the hereafter would be lost if they were to come back to the estates where they grew up; especially on that stretch of land starting from Ngara through Eastleigh to the areas generally referred to as Eastlando (Eastlands).
Right near the estate where the ‘Mama Milka’ song sprung from was the famous Brilliant Hotel, or simply Brilly to the card-carrying buffs of the pulsating reggae beats with which the Amunga brothers – the late Papa Leftie and his kid brother Puppa Charley – used to bewitch us.
As Leftie or his brother Charley, aka Kalulu (a story for another day but if you ever read the famous Juha Kalulu cartoon strip in Taifa Leo you get the drift) yelled ‘Rudisha Hiyo’, meaning play the song again, the faithful would be on the dance floor, dancing themselves lame, sweat pouring from their faces.
Of course, you cannot talk about this area without talking of the Thika Superhighway, another marvel. The Thika Road of yore were two thin strips of tarmac that reminded one of the blankets used by inmates at the Kamiti Prison.
In their place today is a world-class autobahn with interchanges, underpasses and flyovers to boot. Things we only saw on TV and the open-air cinemas we religiously attended.
Heading towards Juja Road – and the place is not what it used to be. Garissa Lodge, which began as a real lodge, is now one huge souk selling anything and everything you might ever need.
Mathare slums has refused to change with the times and, although a few spirited individuals have tried their best to throw in a modern apartment block here and there, the ghetto we knew when we were young still stands strong, as if snarling, ‘gusa uone!’ (You dare touch me and see!)
I headed further down the road and Kariobangi Light Industries near the area known as Roundabout is now a real manufacturing hub, looking like it is daring Industrial Area to a duel. What used to look like a village bridge connecting Roundabout and Dandora Phase One is now an engineering marvel.
Wamwari’s stage is still going strong. The chips from this place was something to die for back in the day. Although haphazard building seems to be the new normal, if you know what you are looking for you will get it.
I know many would burn me at the stake if I dare mention that back in our day Dandora had functioning street lights, paved roads and garbage bins supplied by the Nairobi City Council or simply ‘Kanjo’. Did I mention that every Saturday a garbage truck – courtesy of our fathers at City Hall – would collect the garbage. ‘Kamero’ was the name of the trucks and I am still hard-pressed to tell the origin of that word.
Deep inside you get to Dandora Phase Two and there proudly stands the ageless Dandora Cinema building, which is now a church. Funny to think that that is where I watched the movie ‘The Day of the Jackal’ at the princely sum of Sh2.50. OK, it might appear like nothing at the current market value but, just as a guide, the fare from Dandora to the city centre was Sh2.50. Do the maths.
If you take the route back you will get to Civil Servants Estate or ‘Civoo’. In place of the well-planned estate I knew now stand eyesores in the shape of ugly buildings looking like they were erected by fundis (contractors) in a hurry to go home. Those in the know tell me a former area MP was responsible for allocating his supporters every inch of land he could lay his hands on, leading to the current mess.
It is here that I acquired the refined tastes of good rhumba music, especially Franco and the lot. My initiator-in-chief into this rarefied class was this mountain of a man who was living in one of the extensions. His name was Joshua, although Kenyans later came to know him as Orwa Ojode, the former Ndhiwa MP and an assistant minister in the Office of the President who perished alongside his good friend Prof George Saitoti in a chopper crash around Ngong Hills seven years ago.