Is it just I or have you noticed that there seems to be a national space-allergic gene that harbors in the anatomy of nearly every other Kenyan? It is evident in the cities, in our homes, churches, schools, villages, morgues, mosques, cemeteries, libraries, parks… I bet it is even present somewhere at State House, some legally-erected Kibandaski or Kempinski.
For some reason, any time Kenyans spot a space, anxiety grips them and throats dry as if space is not supposed to have its own space. The first thought of how beautiful the space is, lasts no longer than a blink. It is replaced by another thought of operation occupy space. That thought becomes a loud expression and on and on it burgeons until the space is invaded…occupied. I will attempt to analyze some places that most of you can relate with and where the symptoms of the space-allergic gene manifest. And hey, I will dare not speak of Southend and/or the deafening felling of the mighty Taj; enough has been said and I doubt anyone’s or anything’s demise has been spoken of or celebrated as much as the “murder” of the “riberian” space occupants.
Let’s start with the typical Kenyan house – not those Kilimani furnished apartments where the “owners” mainly reside in Kilimani Moms in Mûkuru Kwa Zuckerberg. Let’s talk about that typical house where you are complaining about a certain VAT that you understand no better than how the handshake has caused you more problems than a fist-fight. In this typical house, your 10×10-foot sitting room has been cramped with a swollen woolen carpet, two expandable coffee table sets (by sets I mean they each have no less than two matching stools), a wall unit besieged by the usual Sudanese-height home theater that you are still working to Lipia Pole Pole, a router and several photos that have managed to hang around in slum-like congestion. Your kitchen has a fridge, 3+1 gas cooker, blender, microwave, mixer, two dish racks, three bowls that never leave the counter due to lack of space, a mini-mama-mboga-matt, an overhead cereal shop and the mgeni 32-piece chinaware dinner-set that your mother introduced you to – these always tend to reproduce when you say, “I do”. Bedroom doors do not open fully and the master looks like a slave. If you are a plus-size, you normally assume an isosceles academic angle, as you literally stuff yourself in and the hinges congratulate you with a strained, creek of a choral performance. Your mosquito net is the first thing you step on as you enter because you have a king-size bed that you bought at a Jumia flash-sale. Your ready-to-move suitcases dangle precariously, as your mia tsano tsano shoes compete to be noticed and the denominators you adorn to conceal Eden’s apple are right above your makeup kit next to your man’s few essentials and label-plucked Bilsan suits to conceal that they are not Marks & Spencer.
Let’s go to church now, shall we? You all started very well and agreed that you would only build the Lord’s house and leave out the rest of the space for, you know, watoto kuchezea, putting up tents, and, of course, some area to contribute to the never-increasing national forest cover. Years down the line, you have decided that the Church land is prime and, although your offertory and tithes have been increasing incredibly, the walking sheep need another grander guzzler for the shepherd and this requires a high-rise investment. So you put up a multi-complex storey hall next to the church school’s field that you had left after you built the institution because Roho (never mind whether it was mtakatifu or mtakakitu) had instructed your shepherd that your children were not being taught according to the precepts of Roho. You haven’t subsidised fees for your congregants who contributed their entire poverty in a harambee amid hymns with lyrics like, “give all you have been given and the Lord shall multiply it tenfold” (You forget multiplication of nothing with nothing is still nothing). Before you know it, your Church’s cross, which used to stand out like the Tower of David, now hangs betwixt “holy” skyscrapers like the towel of Uriah’s wife from David’s windowsill as she bathes and weakens the King with every stroke of her bathing rag leaving him looking like the WhatsApp tongue emoji.
In our cities, I still don’t understand how a newly-completed highway immediately becomes a soko overnight. The same space-allergic gene accounts for the conversion of the pre-Kidero Westlands’ round about into a taxi stand, breakdown services shop, “ask for transport” stands, and occasional parking lot.
This is still the gene that has you building Milk-ATM-tucshops right around the Moi Girls’ perimeter wall. It is why our twilight sisters convert river road into liver load every evening next to our mia-so mia-so brothers. It is the same gene that has you – a fully grown man who has more hair on places I shouldn’t mention in keeping with Ezekiel Mutua’s moral standards, than on the head – enters a matatu and asks for a “saucer” to bridge a space left intentionally as an aisle for commuters.
The prevalence of the Space-allergic Kenyan Gene is not a reserve for grownups alone. Our takeaway tubabaas and tumamiis (takeaway because you literally wrap them and carry them with you nearly everywhere) are also taking up this gene and we are helping them all the way. You buy them toys every other day and imagine or deceive yourself that their many toys will compensate for your shop-toyless childhood. They now have a junkyard of toys they detest with all their infantry lung power. Since your house is already too crowded and your landlord has parked 3-jiko-worthy scraps of ex-quarry-bedfords, the only way you will know that kababaa and kamamii have Charles-Darwined from fours to stable twos is when you visit the countryside for the burial of that great-grandfather who passed on after suffering a cavity from his only remaining molar.
Altogether, amongst us are/have been people that have successfully suppressed the Kenyan space-allergic gene. l I don’t need to remind you why some uniformed kirimino (criminal) harvested Wangarî’s synthetic braid when she protested the occupation of the space that Uhuru Park is. Perhaps you are more conversant with green-SANY’s operator who is probably only second to SGR in space reclamation during the taxing times of the tano-tena guys. I don’t know many others, which explains why a man by the roadside competes for space with an “usikojoe hapa” notice, to which a vandal added, “nikojoe wapi?” Elsewhere, an Arap Mashamba licks his fingers, gluttoniously at the thought of a space left following a mass relocation of Internally Displaced Persons from a temporary site meant to be a cemetery.