Karen “dukas” (shops) is a congested cluster of both large and small businesses of all sorts. The area -roughly only four square city blocks – literally bustles with activity. There’s nowhere near enough parking; far too many taxis squeeze in wherever they can. People on foot must be ever on the lookout for cars or delivery trucks coming and going in all directions.
Up to a dozen noisy matatus congregate on one side of the road, the conductors manhandling any potential passengers that come their way. It’s a rude and over-zealous attempt to be the first one to fill their vehicle. Twenty or more cattle slowly stroll alongside the road, herded by a nonchalant Maasai guy, his arms draped over his walking stick as it rests on the back of his neck. His dirty feet would most likely be clad in funny-looking sandals made from the rubber of an old tire. He’s draped in two or three red, orange, purple, or pink shukas (plaid blankets). What a contrasting sight to the noisy, modern-day hubbub going on around them.
In this small space are four banks, six ATM machines (one is bound to be working), two Western Union outlets, a couple of foreign exchange bureaus, and numerous M-pesa agents (where you can send money through your cell phone). There are 8-10 eateries – something to suit anyone’s taste – plus one bar and one ice cream shop. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to overhear people discussing such things as hiring new house-help or their latest golf score while sipping a latté outside, at trendy Dorman’s.
You’ll find a post office and two hardware stores. One is small enough to purchase a single nut and bolt; the other one is much larger and features a computerized paint-tinting machine. Amazingly, a fourth petrol station is under construction, while another one is embroiled in a huge scandal.
A person can check their email at one of two cyber cafés or fill a prescription at one of three “chemists” (pharmacies). You can shop at three grocery stores of disproportionate size; there’s also a fresh produce shop and a grocery wholesaler. Your children can entertain themselves at a fun play area while you get your eyes checked and choose your frames.
Here, a driving school, a shoe store, and several gift shops can be found. There’s a bicycle fundi, a Rasta guy selling roasted maize, and a lady in a white coat selling cooked sausages.
With one-stop shopping, you can visit a dentist, hire a plumber, buy a used book, rent movies, book an international flight, get your radio fixed, develop film, order a custom picture frame or cake, get your vehicle repaired, buy imported silk, get a hand-painted sign while you wait, or rent a house.
You can buy an elegant ladies’ dress or a tailored man’s suit. Football (soccer) fans have their pick of premier league jerseys and accessories. Numerous crude kiosks sell warm sodas, phone credit, chewing gum, and sweets.
The legendary Horseman restaurant was recently demolished. The flamboyant German owner sold the property, although he can still be seen driving around in his bright yellow Hummer. Not a thing remains of the original buildings, which were once the place to ‘see and be seen’. Rumor has it that a shopping mall is to replace it.
Karen dukas attracts quite the eclectic crowd. One would be hard-pressed to find more diversity in such a small setting. Virtually every social-economic level, along with numerous ethnic groups, is represented here.
White Kenyans, whose families have lived in Kenya three or more generations, strut around. With many of them keeping horses, they often wear riding boots with a matching attitude. Maasai women, fully decked-out in their traditional garb, sit on red plaid blankets with their legs straight out in front of them. While attempting to sell their beautiful handmade beaded trinkets, they work at stringing yet another belt or necklace under the hot sun. As is the case in virtually all of Kenya’s cities, many of the shops are owned by East Indians.