Energetic and enterprising hawkers sell any and everything – fresh produce, used clothing, shoes, hand-carved key holders, windshield wipers, handmade greeting cards, fresh-cut flowers, and dvds (one disc contains no less than two dozen pirated movies). Some are stationary; others roam around with their wares, acting as a sort of human mobile display case. They work hard, day after day, trying to earn their daily bread. One eye is keen for prospective customers, while the other one instinctively scans the horizon for NCC (Nairobi City Council) workers, on the prowl to fine or arrest them if they haven’t paid their daily fee.
Able-bodied, grown men unashamedly beg for coins. Truckloads of tourists grab last-minute supplies before heading into the “bush” on safari. One more than one occasion, I’ve seen big-shot politicians in the mix – their big fancy cars bearing a small Kenyan flag mounted on a front fender. Another car or two follows close by, with beefy body guards.
Short-term missionaries hunt for unique souvenirs at one of dozens of curio shops. Uniformed security guards laze away their 12-hour shifts, not doing much more than reading a newspaper or giving directions to newcomers to the area. It’s not unusual to see several nuns doing errands in their matching habits and dresses; they come from one of the many Catholic institutions in the surrounding area. A few times I’ve seen monks dressed in heavy black robes.
Of course, there’s the normal everyday mixture of black Kenyans. And to complete the mix… a hodge-podge of expats, like me.
At the end of the day, all these people that interact and do business together each retreat to their various homes – homes that span the spectrum. Some walk home to dingy mud and dung manyattas in rural settings. Their cattle, goats, children, and flies all mill around in the dust. Others bicycle home to sleep in 10x10-foot iron sheet hovels in densely-populated slums.
Many wearily squeeze into a matatu and take their evening meal (possibly only the second meal of the day) with their families in a hot, stuffy flat. A lucky few abide on vast manicured compounds. Pausing at their guarded gates, their drivers escort them down a tree-lined driveway. Once they step inside their beautiful multi-storied mansion, numerous other uniformed servants are at their beck and call.
To be sure, a cross-section of the depressing disparity seen all across Kenya congregates at Karen dukas.