My name is Mwikali, most people look at me now and think that I have had a very easy life. I am not complaining or anything, in fact, quite the opposite. I recently read my friend’s story here and she had taken a walk down memory lane and it took me way back I just had to share my own. It really inspired me to reflect on how far I have come and to marvel at what sheer determination can do. Looking back, my childhood was really fun and nothing bothered us as much. MLANGO KUBWA, A.K.A LANGO was our humble abode. We of course did not have the luxury of owning a car so our preferred (and honestly only) mode of transport was ‘matatus’. The matatu touts were very loud and maybe that was just because it is in their job description as they must announce very loudly every stop along the journey to keep passengers on their toes so that they do not miss their bus stop. The touts back then were more polite than they are now for sure, but I digress…back to LANGO.
We lived in a “flat” if you can call it that I mean the construction was something straight out of a comic book. I still believe that a child architect drew the plan of that building because there was no way a professional drew the building. Once you got into the gate, you were welcomed by raw sewage water. The small space between the gate and the staircase was always flooded and so it was paved with oddly shaped stones that were so imbalanced it was a guarantee that you would fall at some point more often than not. It’s not that I was a clumsy child but I fell a lot on those stones and the water was very smelly and my Mum (God rest her soul) gave me a thorough beating each time and soaked me in hot water and almost a whole bottle of disinfectant whenever I fell. Our building had the darkest staircase, I mean you literally had to hold on to the wall when going upstairs otherwise you would topple and fall over. I know you may be asking yourself why we did not simply put a bulb to light the way. We tried that severally but this disappeared with the speed of lightning so we just resigned ourselves to fate. Everyone suspected the bulb thief was Baba Kamesh but without sufficient proof we could not say for sure. Baba Kamesh was this abnormally tall weird looking guy who never spoke to nor made eye contact with anyone. His room was just under the staircase and people generally just kept their distance as we were not sure what he was up to under there and we were not very keen on finding out. Suffice to say, no one confronted him about the missing bulbs either.
We had another neighbor who we referred to as Baba olololo due to the fact that he always came drunk and sang olololo in a very loud voice and inevitably he would wake everyone up whenever he got in. As if on cue, he started quarrelling with his wife right from the time he stepped foot inside the gate. He would then proceed to very loudly wake her up and start carrying all the cooking pots from his house, with food inside them and he would pour the contents of the pots in the communal toilets and leave the pots there. I often wondered why the wife put up with him as he did this every week. I guess those were the days women had no right to protest about anything, or maybe she really had no place to go so she had to put up with his shenanigans. The toilets, were horrible, they stank worse than the raw sewage water. It was a slimy grim room that serviced 20 houses and no one was willing to wash it as water was a rare and expensive commodity. One of our neighbors actually fell and broke her leg in the slippery toilets and when I tried to ask my mum why we could not just wash it she gave me a look that said just mind your own damn business. We had to carry water in a bucket when going for a number 2 and when people saw you heading in that direction with a bucket, they just knew you meant business.
Right behind our flat was the slum area where they had as we call them “mabati houses”. The slum was comprised of rows upon rows of “mabati houses”. It was a hub of pickpockets and all manner of petty thieves. It was not unusual to see people running in there and disappearing before our eyes while clutching a hand bag which we only assumed had been illegally “acquired”. My nanny at the time always took me to visit her friend who lived there. The friend lived in a very small room which had mud walls and it was even smellier situation than our communal toilet. To get to the house required you to be very good at hop, skip and jump!
One time, my mum and dad were working as usual and my older sister was in school. My nanny decided to go for an escapade in the slums that she liked so much and this time she left me behind. I was asleep when she left so she had decided to lock me in the house. When I woke up, I was alone and extremely bored. I tried calling out for her but there was no response. There wasn’t really much to do in terms of entertainment but there were candles and matches within my reach. Out of boredom, I started playing with the matches and eventually I lit the candles and started blowing on them. Did I mention that the house we lived in was a single room? The house just exploded in flames before my eyes! The fire spread very rapidly and to this day, I remember the smell of mattresses burning and huddling in a corner crying as neighbors fought to rescue me. It was a very scary situation that I would not wish upon my worst enemy.
I made up my mind growing up that I would work my behind off to get my family out of the poverty that I experienced in my childhood. As an adult and a mother I never leave my kids unattended and all lighters/match sticks are always kept as far away from sight as possible. All in all I thank God I came out of that fire without a scratch and my dad still calls me the lucky one. ….Also, I managed to move my folks from “Lango”