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Thika Road Market

May 2011 | Back in Nairobi for a week. It’s Sunday, and I have rented a car. Driving towards the downtown area, I can hardly recognize the city I lived in for a year. There are constructions everywhere. The Chinese are moving in heavily, just as in Congo. Huge concrete pillars for bridges and by-passes and half-finished roads are interrupting the ways I am used to.

The bananas on a stand on Tikha road look good. We did not have lunch yet and are hungry. Parking at the side of the road, we find ourselves immersed in the busy dealings of the small market. Matatus come and go, spitting out people and taking others with them who were patiently waiting on the remainders of the sidewalk.

From closer, the bananas actually only look half as nice I had imagined them. We nevertheless buy 6, it seems inappropriate to ask for only two, and stroll slowly back to the car. Right behind the few stands and a huge puddle is the local dumping place, and white birds on long legs (herons?) are stalking in the garbage while hawks – quite big ones – are browsing over the market and trying a pick from time to time.

Every other person seems to be playing with a cell phone. Which reminds me: Had a conversation with the guy that took me from the airport to the hotel, Stanton was his name. He was from a village close to Kisumu and the traffic on the way from the airport was accordingly “vely vely bad”.His family is still living in Kisumu, his wife working for the natural preservation trust and making good money. He was laid off by a local flower farm and decided to try his luck in Nairobi. “How can I stay home and eat from my wife?”

On his old dusty cell phone and full of delight Stanton showed my all the functionalities of Mpesa. Had not seen it in practice before, and am indeed quite impressed. You can send money to any person that has a cell, can withdraw or deposit up to 2000 shillings at a time from your account, turn some of your money into phone credit, etc. And the Safaricom vendor network is apparently well spread all over the country. This is how Stanton sends money home from time to time, from what is left once he has paid his expensive rent for a small room in Embekasi. Not that his wife really needs it, but that is not the point. Got it. Totally empathize.

A small girl on the market offers us a timid smile, but two women who are looking through some colorful underwear exhibited on a wooden stand roughly nailed together send us very annoyed gazes. Time to move on.

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