As the senile century turned nineties, a host of Chinese citizens pounced upon Nairobi with tenacious teeth that clenched tight to concrete dreams. The toothless city received this invasion much easier than the wallahs of India who had laid her foundation a century earlier. Their wills laboured in her underbelly until she birthed colossal skyscrapers and superhighways, cultural centres and tiny pagodas nourished by three-star restaurants, simmering Chinese dishes and exclusive cuisines, Buddhist temples and monkish clubs and Confucius schools. The metropolitan seeds stirred; nurturing, bearing fruits in her concrete jungles, extending a ripened reward to everyone according to their work.
With tyranny of numbers, they settled down to their ‘tiny empires’ in strongly built uptowns—surrounded by Walls of China, fortified by baked brick, reinforced by electric fence—and leafy suburbs watched by CCTV cameras. Big Brother Securicor patrolled their terrazzo-paved boulevards, escorted by dogs, and with clockwork precision, the county council collected their trash bins, greedily sucking up all sewage and excessive wastes, in dead of night, anonymous and in oblivious obscurity. For the Far Eastern Asian denizens, a yearning had been awakened and conquered. Theirs was a satiated city, a sleepy suburb; theirs were bellies bursting with pleasant belches. Theirs was peopled with yellow envoys, peeping with diplomatic eyeballs.
Inviting themselves too, to relish in the ‘green city under the sun’ were swarms of slum hustlers who subsisted hassling in unlisted estates bearing such Sheng-coded names of Isiich Base, Dandoch Massive, Bangla Kona Biad, and all other odds and ends of trashopolistan of Eastlands. Survived strapping, these restless but unwelcome cockroaches, were accorded cold reception by the impassive city under the vigilant makarau wa gava, and as if sprayed, they scurried backwards downtown, preferring riverbanks residence, and along under-construction Chinese bypasses in dilapidated polythene tents. There, they lived in village hovels drying out their dreams as raisins under the sun, as a people battered, in a shanty town, in the ghetto Golgotha, the unsightly town for sacrificial scapegoats, a universal visual evil, an abysmal symbol for the city.
There, the riffraff gawked into the city’s skyline, rising and rising with smog into the ozone-layered sphere as their thousand chimneys blackened their azure sky with smoke. There, they subsisted in a ‘dark city under green-house gases’ and added odds, by multiplying as a mice populace with litters of hustlers; for those who could afford, packed their tired limbs in bed-sitter apartments, high-rise buildings, single rooms, living on top of each other, in plots grabbed by rook or crook, stealing and staring at one another with contaminated collected countenances; a crooked look, of men living and loving their crooked neighbours with crooked hearts—for a friend you could choose; not a neighbour!
Those who wouldn’t afford honest homes, collected rags and tarpaper to build their nests under unfinished concrete jungles and gathered firewood to keep warm their indecent decadence. Though they followed faithfully the scriptures that said, ‘thou shalt eat thy bread in the sweat of thy brow,’ the sad reality was to peasants, a bloated bread that tasted their own sweat, yet totally tasteless, sickened them until the pangs of hunger blurred their prayer into a twisted swearing ‘thou shalt starve ere I starve!’ But since man couldn’t live on bread alone, they toasted too to air burgers polished with leftover oil, hovering in shapes of dreams, airs of dreams floating into their city, realism dreams. The rising dream to escape the reality of peeping poverty staring. The dream to be landlords, demanding a lease of life until they fulfilled their will, become free and great; and moved on to the greener pastures of the city as millionaires.
Life proposing no such promise, instead these squatters of shanty town, crouched eking on their knees, in the sea of mud and scum of earth; that when they walk to work, their second-hand shoes exposed filthy feet and tired toes wallowing in the dirty potholes of Eastlands. Trading their brute force and sinewy hands for food, cleaning Chinese roads, washing Chinese houses, scouring, picking up garbage cans, keeping expired food, unseen, selling useless things hardly thought about, polishing their opportunities and in menacing silence and offended pride, they desired, longing for their own dream; hoping they could live in liberty, finally, and rise to welcome life with vigour and valour or such like values, their ghetto could accord.
Like the Chinese, they too tasted triumphs in the bitter battles to stir up Kenya’s industrial muscle. Open opportunities were grabbed before they exited through the back window with new energies that nurtured on determined wills as its force. Life again became promising, bursting, and blooming, blowing as a soft gale the Y2K bug further into the unfamiliar millennium of unchartered century, for the industries would not only revolutionise Kenya’s economy, but also pollute the environment; and the smooth superhighways speed up global warming!
As expected, a Sino-bourgeoisie class sprang—swelling as if competing to replace the Made in China wares—in uptown; pseudo-technocrats, and former foremen who filled every spare space, supervising with an iron hand African hands, building this or fixing that. China became a poem with a rhyme scheme so enticing as a social statement, and so contemporary as a betrayal even worse as the suffering children of communism who as successful adults, journeyed West and, ironically, kept alive similar capitalism against which they had protested in the first place.
A Chinese scheme, it seem, had been conspired to scatter Maoist seeds into African soils. It seem, of their exploding population, that photocopied pieces of China had been copied and pasted, and forwarded with attachments into the city, and the city ‘owners started noticing’ how many Made in China wares decorated their households; as if they had brought all their China overseas and left none back there. And being all day building bridges, streets, roads, and at night mingling with and singling out the oldest profession, it can be imagined, the results after nine months: Wanjiru wa Wu and Ngugi wa Nging Ngong –the mottled conjugation of Afro-Sino cultures.
One such conjugated union was Murder Shiro, the socialite of Urusi; a juicy story that buzzed across both social and unsocial media. The fecund fruit, Wangui wa Wangdu, was sold away for many pieces of Chinese silver, and went on to live in the custody of his father in Guangdong and with such a drama that’d inspire a Chinese Chalk Circle. Yet, such was the amicable but distant pact that contented the socialite Shiro; for it established her ‘Merde She-Wrote’ notoriety and ensured her daughter’s success.
The Shiro stain had rusted in peace; well, as the Y2K wore on, until we got a call from the most unlikely quarters. Through a referral, a Mr. Wangdu who sent his PA to our Westlands Tuition Centre and required me to personally attend to his child’s private studies after a place had already been secured at the prestigious ISK for an AS Level. The student wanted help taking an IB before proceeding to the States to study architecture like the father.
‘Mr. Busy Wangdu want sree monss for perfect American English.’ He said.
‘Yeah, Busy.’ And he spelled B-i X-i when he saw my confusion, pronouncing it in his Mandarin monosyllables, asking for only three months, for me to tutor her daughter, polish her accent until she spoke like an American.
‘She finish English grammar school in Guangdong only teacher teach English in Chinese.’ The PA struggled in his sluggish Chinglish, giving me the only Learner Info ‘record’ that she had already had her grammar polished by a local English teacher back in her rural China. ‘You come Brook Highs Leakey Crescent Sunday sewen sharp?’ He directed, handing me his master’s card, and after putting down a generous down payment, hastily left.