Urban survival: Sh50 enough to get you bath, roof over your head

Boarding houses in the city break the norm to provide shelter at a pocket-friendly cost and a place to clean up in the morning

In Summary

• Businesspeople, stranded travellers and prostitutes, all find a home

• The cleanest place has a common bathroom where people queue and shower openly. It is noisy and the water is rationed

A customer conducts a mobile money transfer /REUTERS
A customer conducts a mobile money transfer /REUTERS

So much could be added to the list of things Sh50 can get you, but, certainly, for many, a shelter making it to this list is unbelievable.

Some boarding houses in the city have, however, broken the norm to provide the shelter at a pocket-friendly cost and a place to clean up in the morning.

Businesspeople, stranded travellers, prostitutes, couples who have disagreed, the homeless, and people staying longer than they had planned, all find a home in these boarding facilities.

The residents said each of the houses has its shortcomings. The cleanest place has a common bathroom where the women queue and shower openly. It is noisy and the water is always rationed.

The cheapest place that allows for both day and night accommodation is infested with bedbugs. It's stuffy and noisy too. 

At 5pm on Tuesday last week, The Star visited three of such places in Muthurwa and Gikomba and met a woman only identified as Njeri.

After handing her Sh50, she handed over a five-litre jerrycan half filled with water and a receipt, which was my pass into the common room.

A security guard stands at the entrance to usher you in and show you where to sleep if you are a newcomer. 

Inside, thin mattresses made a long queue from the edge of the wall — each about half a metre apart. In the middle of the rows, the mattresses were made from big sacks stacked in rugs.

A few women were chatting frantically in a corner facing the window, two held small babies on their laps while some sat quietly on their mattresses.

"You want to take a bath now? What will you do in the morning? Or are you not spending over?" one Penina Awuor asked.

When I told her I wouldn't be spending the night, Peninah volunteered to give me a lecture on how wasteful paying Sh50 for a bath only is.

"You could have used the many public bathrooms out there. A bath cost Sh20 and it is private, unlike here. Across the building, there is a place that charges Sh40, the bathrooms there are clean and also private," she said.

Peninah went on, pointing at two heavily married women, "I don't go to that place because it is infested with bedbugs, insects and human bedbugs. Not that this place is clean but when the lights go off there, bedbugs begin to feast. On Sunday, one lady gave birth inside here."

The other guestroom was similar to the first one, but with two common rooms separated by a wall. Peninah informs me that men sleep in the other room.

"This is a full boarding house for day and night spending, unlike our place, which opens only in the evening," she says.

Peninah, 24, does house chores in the neighbourhood for a living. Many of her friends do not have permanent jobs. In the morning, they move around in apartments washing clothes and helping in restaurants in the area. 

The local people said there were many such places in the area, with different guesthouses offering different packages at different prices.

Pauline Wanjiru, a businesswoman based in Nyeri, said she spends the night there to be able to wake up early for shopping at Gikomba.

"I wake up by 5am to get the best clothes as the sellers open before other people select. I resell the clothes at my shop in Nyeri," she said.

Pauline, who knows the other place, says she opts to spend the nights at the other guesthouse because the air is cleaner and circulation better.

"It is nicer there, television, fresh air, and no men intruding or drunkards insulting each other. But the owner of this place owes me some cash and won't pay back, so I sleep free until it is settled," she said.