Tales of Lent from the fringes of Nairobi

Tough economy is taking a toll on the sex lives of ordinary Kenyans

In Summary

• From maids to drivers to booksellers, the roadside of Githurai is lit

One of the completed Bus Rapid Transit stations on Thika Superhighway
One of the completed Bus Rapid Transit stations on Thika Superhighway

It is one of the Sundays of the holy season of Lent here in Nairobi. A maid of chocolate colour and voluptuous but brief body has lost her job the immediate Thursday. She is the star of a rather excited gathering of her fellow Ugandan girls this Sunday.

 This is how they sit always. They sit tightly in circles upon circles inside the circular roundabout of Githurai 45, up the Thika Superhighway, each Sunday. A trench runs parallel to the perimeter of the eye of the roundabout. Usually when it is rainy, the trench drains the running waters off the superhighway. Valves made of hard grey plastic run from the flyover above to this ring of the humongous trench. 

It is the dry season now. January. The month of tighter and tight belts around the emaciated waists of complaining and irritable Kenyans. Most abstain from coitus in this month. Energy levels are at an all-time low.

The shake of beds in hovels of slums that surround this old roundabout is weak. Very weak. Many live January as a kind of purgatory, where you spend time scorching in hunger and short temper after wanton Xmas enjoyment with upcountry folks who shall bury you one day. 

Back to the circular trench. The circumference of this vast, old market is the size of Kigali. The cacophonous noise in the air is severe here and there. The market is abuzz with Pentecostal shouts and profit yodels. A jamboree of street kids with charcoal chalk dust on their faces and butts does acrobatic feats to the shouted approvals of all and none.

In this dry season, the roundabout trench is dry and filled with cuds from chewed sugarcanes. Banned plastic bags allegedly from China choke the trench also with used condoms. It is under the shade of the flyover above that the girls of labour sit shoulder to shoulder on Sundays in a ring around this roundabout.

They get the time to do so once a week because for six days, they are horses of work in the homes of Kenyans. The girls from Uganda are a sinewy lot. Each one has arms twisted into veins of healthy exercise. They are healthy.

Whenever a dusty whirlwind hits Githurai and market women curse as their wares swirl upwards, only Kenyans cough and sneeze. Ugandans laugh it out, and the chest is where their laughter hails from. Their laughter is sweet because it is clear.

It resembles good health. The work they do for six days a week to clean homes of Nairobians is massive exercise that makes a mockery of middle-class gyms, available above estate brothels.

The plump girl who has lost a job is sitting there. She is in the ring of a small crowd of sympathetic comrades, listening to her narrative of tribulations. They curse from time to time and click their fingers in solidarity.

One shows the sign of coitus using her finger as she rolls out of control angrily next to the sacked girl. I inch closer. To harvest stories, I work the Nairobi streets as a phone fixer over the weekends.

Now I am squatting, I have finished fixing a phone with a cheap cover from River Road that I charge thrice its original price to give your phone. The Mpesa has brought a Kenyan name: Jedidiah Xxxxx Waruguru. The sender is the skinniest Ugandan maid, who keeps shifting her weight from one behind to the other. I inch closer. My heart beats interchangeably with two words: lent and repent.


The girl with a sad face and a new scar of burning on her neck wears a rainbow T-shirt. It has the bold words in Times New Roman font 44: I am Not gay. She has a lost look found inside her waterless eyes. Her tale has ended on a high note.

On the distant opposite side, drivers without passengers chew sugarcane bitterly as they grimace with economic bitterness. The steps next to their bus stop, made of old timber, descend dangerously to the alley where cheap sex is sold in bulk. One of the drivers has finished narrating a story with a sob. He is single again.

He was caught by his wife stealing sex with the maid again. She had arrived abruptly from upcountry, where he sent her and the kids to live due to the terrible state of the economy today. The other drivers take turns to hug him.

One tells him that another plump Ugandan will appear soon enough. Their economy is worse. I inch closer. My heart beats interchangeably with two words: repent and lent.


Booksellers thrive in squads of five hither and thither on one side of the old Githurai Roundabout. Many do not read even a single title of the hundreds of books they peddle. Yet they know each book by its title, colour and level of audience.

They all love wheat flour. It is the one thing that unites all of them. Some are tycoon dropouts who now run thriving secondhand bookstores, where their former teachers jostle to cheaply buy textbooks for their own kids in academies with yellow vans.

Wheat flour is king here. No. Not for the chapatis or mandazis it produces, at times boiled in oil stolen from government electricity boosters; no. Wheat flour is mixed into a paste of glue with water bottled out of open sewers or bootleg pipes of estates without name.

The glue is a lifeline for books that are dead or dying or in ICU. They are thus glued together, paper by paper, cover by page into wellness. Millions of Nairobians grew up into doctors, engineers, cops, politicians, swindlers or bishops because of these bandaged books.

As Lent unfolds, each day brings new trials and tribulations, but also opportunities for growth and resilience in the face of adversity. On the fringes of Nairobi, hearts beat and beat with only two words this season: Repent. Lent.

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