For some Nairobians, River Road is home

River Road in Nairobi. {PHOTO DAVID NJAAGA/STANDARD}

 

orirpsvmd9zsrwz59359e07ad9cf For some Nairobians, River Road is home
River Road in Nairobi. {PHOTO DAVID NJAAGA/STANDARD}

A few years ago, the thought of setting up a business or seeking decent accommodation in the River Road area would have been considered a big joke or a recipe for disaster. It is a part of the city regarded as one of the most dangerous, with daylight muggings and burglaries being the order of the day.

This is captured in ‘Nairobi Half Life’, a Kenyan film directed by David Gitonga in 2012. His portrayal of the eastern side of Tom Mboya Street depicts daylight muggings in the hub of counterfeit goods and fraudsters; a place where liquor and prostitutes can be acquired cheaply round the clock.

Yet for some people, River Road is home. They live in rented houses all the way from Kirinyaga Road through Charles Rubia Road to Machakos Bus Station.

Caroline Wang’ombe, a single mother of one, lives in a rented bedsitter where she pays Sh10,000. Ms Wang’ombe has lived around River Road with her three-year-old son for three years now and says she has no intention of moving out anytime soon.

Even though she agrees that the area is insecure, she says the situation is no different for people who live in the city’s estates.

Many friends

“Of course, if you carry your phone carelessly in these parts, the muggers will take off with it, day or night. If you bring many friends to your house, they will turn back and steal your stuff. This is normal everywhere,” she says.

According to Wang’ombe, the convenience of living in the central business district outweighs any insecurity fears; she claims she has never been a victim of robbery and adds that every day at dawn, she escorts her son onto the streets and waits until his school van picks him up.

“Nothing happens to me. I even go to the bus station at 4am to pick my guests arriving by bus and walk around without any fear,” she asserts.

Wang’ombe, a food vendor on River Road, emphasises that to live anywhere in Nairobi, one must be very vigilant and reduce what she calls “excessive familiarity” with people.

“I have been here for some time and I have never lost any of my property. In fact, I always leave my ‘githeri’ cooking outside at night while I sleep. In Utawala where my ex-husband lives, you would find the cooking pot and its contents together with your charcoal stove gone,” she says, laughing.

Regular water

The comfort and convenience of River Road for her business, plus the regular supply of water and electricity, are reasons enough to keep her there.

“The business is booming around here; we sell food to many people who own businesses and people who work in offices too,” says Wang’ombe.

Her next door neighbour is a 60-year-old woman who swears she will never move unless her children build her a house.

Foreigners – mostly students – have also found this place conducive.

Fatuma Abdallah and Shafikha Muhammad from the Comoros are students in the local colleges and share a room. Although they have varying views on the level of insecurity in the area, they both admit that the place is generally unsafe.

“The place is insecure, but not so much; we have learned to be very careful, especially around strangers, says Ms Abdallah.

House overturned

Ms Muhammad on the other hand informs us that their neighbour had his house overturned and everything stolen while he was away at work.

They cite close proximity to their school as the major reason why they chose to live in the area, which was recommended to them by friends.

David Gichuru, who lives in Woodley estate, says his rural home is located at the Machakos Bus Station.

“During the holidays, we all meet at my grandparents’ home near Machakos Bus Station. It is usually fun and we love the idea that almost everything is accessible,” he says.

Mr Gichuru says it rarely hits them that the place could be insecure as they always walk in crowds and could offer adequate defence if they were attacked. 

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