Homelessness & a Budalangi Encounter.

“Hi Chris,”
“How is the holiday?”
“Can’t really say it is alright but I am coping. How about yours?”
“Mine is great. Now, this issue about the rent… You know we want to start the year on a fresh note…”
“Yes, I am working on it.”
“Today is 31st; you know I have been very friendly…”
That is how I packed in 20 minutes, took a shower and left my house. Thank you very much 2015. A perfect way to welcome 2016. Quasi homeless.
                 I traveled home and the parents were surprised to see me since they expected me to be working on the New Year’s Eve and the week after. Fast forward to a month later when I could “afford to live in Nairobi” again.
                 I arrived at my city home around 2 pm. It was a hot afternoon and was tired from the luggage that I had. My heavy bag, which is my mobile office, and the groceries and related supplies from upcountry. As I was walking towards my door, I noticed something weird on the walls. There was this irregular waveform of wetness & traces of a white powdery and somewhat cotton candy looking stuff on the wall. It was three courses up, on some parts and two courses on others. I did not speculate about it in those split seconds that were between the door and me at that moment. I placed my luggage on the veranda & repositioned my bag to allow me to reach for my keys which I had stashed in my side bag a month or so ago. I removed the new garbage bags that had been slotted in the padlock hold. I inserted my hand into the padlock hold and was shocked to find a second padlock.
                 I was surprised because I had talked with the property owner. Who had agreed to let me access the house since I needed an “Operation area” if at all I was to raise the money I owed them. However, I had also promised to deposit money into their account. Which I had done before leaving Kerugoya. I had called her but she had not picked my phone. She is usually busy during the day and only picks calls after eight in the PM. That is the number I had. I had a feeling there was another line. At that moment my worry was, I would be stuck outside until 8 pm or later when I had managed to call her, for her to direct the caretaker to open the house for me. Where, would I be all this time? What if they never opened the house and I had to return upcountry? I had already started distributing my luggage to my friends in my mind. There was no way I would be taking the supplies back to Kirinyaga.
                 With one foot on the rails, I watched at all the activity below on the road. Why did everyone seem so calm and collected? Am I the only one who could not handle their life’s drama? I noticed that the women passing time at the tailor shop below were staring at me. Turning my head slightly left and the guys and one lady drinking at the wines and spirits vendor downstairs were looking up at me. The voice in my head shouted to them “Mind your own business! Haven’t you seen a person locked out of his house again?” At least, that stupid and angry voice in my head gave me a solution of sorts. I decided to try talking the caretaker into opening the door for me. I left my things on my doorstep and walked downstairs to the caretaker. He owns and operates a grocery and a dairy opposite the building we live in. I told him my story.
                 He was busy preparing kales for a familiar lady who stood at the end of the veggie stall. At some point, I was wondering how I would raise the issue. The lady in the scene also tangled my thoughts for a while. She was pretty, enough for me to forget what had taken me there in the first place. Again, I did not want to be attracted to the point that I felt the need to talk to her. So there I was standing like an idiot. I also did not want to sound like I was unable to sustain another person in the case that I engaged this lady in a conversation, considering I was here to negotiate an “access to my house” deal. I said hi and she responded shyly. Or, what sounded like a “So you also talk to people” tone. Luckily, the wife of our caretaker who handles the dairy part of the family business saw me and shouted my name. So here I was responding to “Habari ya mwaka mpya” in February and related small talk. But it was better since she came over and we talked for a while as the hubby was winding up the job for the pretty lady. I was stealing glances as she picked her tomatoes and onions. I must admit that she has some nice fingers… and nails too.
                 The caretaker’s wife asked where I have been and what I have been up to. I told her “Si unajua tu vile kulienda?” I told her how I had decided to go upcountry as I sorted my issues out. She was encouraging and had some kind and reassuring words about the vagaries of life. In a way, they were also in the loop about the few crumbling plans I had in the last half of 2015 that never worked out. I took the banking slip from my pocket and gave it to the caretaker. I also told him that I had talked to the landlady who we refer to as “Mathee” and the landlord “Mzee” and that she had agreed to let me into the house. He mentioned that they had talked and she had said it was okay for me to get back to my house only that he had not found time to open the second padlock. He gave me the key and I told him we would talk. It has become very common a closing phrase. “Tutaogea…”

                 I went back to the house and opened the first padlock, then opened mine. There was an unusual resistance. It took me a while to register what had happened! I stepped inside as instinctively as usual without looking down and splash! Went my first foot. The whole shoe was submerged into the pool that was the living room. “Oh God No!!!” I gasped. With the big oar that was my door at that point, I pushed it open as ripples moved from the door towards the other parts of the house. How did I leave the taps open! Which tap was that in the first place! I looked at what was left of the living room. All the “tables” were on the floor. “Tables” in quotes because they were makeshift tables. You know those hard carton boxes that street vendors assemble on Tom Mboya Street in a minute and disassemble in seconds when city council askari’sappear? Those ones. Apparently, they could not take in all the water they had and still handle the load on them. Luckily, my bookshelf was still intact because the particular box I had placed them on still had a full load of dead stock handbags that supported the weight of the books. I could have lost some good books if it had succumbed like the others. My first instinct was to take pictures as I always do because I have a feeling my children would not believe me when I told them my house looked like a deserted paper factory at that point. It was so bad that the pulp that had formed of the cartons had disintegrated and was scattered in irregular lumps all over the floor and pieces of carton floating around like parts of a wrecked ship.

                 I looked at my Zuku modem that has its place on the floor and I pitied myself. I waded my way through the house and direct to the kitchen, this was better since most of the water that could drain had flowed via the back door into the drain at the balcony. I placed the large yellow paper bag on the kitchen table and proceeded with my ‘inspection walk’. I dreaded to think of the situation in the bedrooms. I cannot even remember what was on my mind at that point. I was not in a rush to open my bedroom. I opened my sister’s bedroom first. Her shoes were all over. Those that could float were all over the place and displaced from the rest at the corner they usually stay. Her dirty clothes basket was another story. Everything in there was in a wet mess. Having absorbed all that they could. Shoes bobbed on the water from the mini waves created by the door and my steps.
Man with head in hands, desperate, thinking man
Desperate Man. Source: http://www.clker.com/
                 My bedroom was the real disaster. My mattress is on the floor. I dismantled my bed at some point last year and stashed it on the balcony at the back for reasons I will uncover later in the blog. I was almost laughing. Clearly, these were not difficulties I was facing. They were not even challenges.  It was another adventure. Life was just playing practical jokes on me. Just like the life, at the Recruits Training School in Eldoret during my army training. Here I am a fresh homelessness graduate, but with no place to sleep because of my Budalangi situation. I have friends but I could not crash at their place either because they were freshly dating, had new families, others were busy, others I had already overdrawn my “can I stay at your place for a while as I figure things out” account in some of the others. Others had become busy the moment I told them “I am in a situation” and I needed help of some sort. I do not have a dirty clothes basket myself and my dirty clothes are placed in those box like nylon gunia like bags. The kind you buy in Gikomba to place your new bunch of mitumba or the type house helps are moving with from one boss to another. Somehow, I had neglected that and on those last days, I decided to be placing them at a corner with the intent to wash them ‘soon’ – unfortunately soon never was because I had to run, those many weeks ago. My shoes were at another corner because I had replaced them with my “cleared for take-off” suitcase. I think this was my luckiest aspect of the whole flood affair. This suitcase was not even a year old and it had been packed ready for a trip that I was to take in August last year, with new clothes (Kirinyaga Road Designers). When the trip backfired, I never cared to unpack it.
                 I quivered at the thought of the situation of the ceiling of my neighbour on the floor below ours. I changed into a pair of shorts and a tee shirt ready for action. Have you ever tried lifting a wet Mattress? I really struggled to get that thing on its side. As I dragged the mattress across the floor, I could not help imagine the scene that I would be creating for the idlers below.  I struggled with it to the door and pushed it outside. I tried to push it against the wall in an act to wring the water and maybe accelerate drying. I was attempting to mix oil and water at that point. I left it outside and let it dry at its own pace. Next, I took to the carpet. I tried to scrap the pulp that was left of the cartons to one corner so that I could take the carpet outside to dry as well. It was heavy and troublesome to manage in its state. I still made it to the balcony and hung it on the rail. Next came my sister’s shoes, which lined up almost ¾ of the entire balcony, then mine. I pulled a plastic chair and sat on it while I contemplated the next course of action. I looked around the house and almost laughed at myself. Part of me wanted to find someone or something I could blame for the chain of events that led to this. I could not handle it because each theory pointed at me. I decided to plan how to extract that water.
                 I took one bucket and two empty ice-cream tubs from the kitchen. These I would later demote to sanitary services. I then used them to fetch water from the floor while emptying them into the bucket and when it got full; I went and poured it into the toilet. I got 12 buckets from the sitting room, my bedroom filled 7 buckets and a quarter or so and from my sister’s bedroom, I fetched 9 buckets and a half. I listened to an audiobook while at it. I was listening to The Confidence Code at the time – from my phone. The power was still off from the mains, just as I had left it when I travelled upcountry. I finished drying the house a few minutes after 7.00pm. I felt like crumbling to the same floor. Turns out the cotton candy like waveforms on the walls outside was the effect of water rising through the wall from the lake that was inside, capillarity? Again all the taps but the utility sink’s at the corridor were closed. Probably left open before I left in a hurry. The sink could drain water, but the splashing from the impact of high-pressure water hitting the sink and its deflecting nature was enough to cause the damage it had. The part of Eastlandsthat I live, we receive water on weekends. Four weeks with the tap running two days non-stop & was enough to create the lake that was in that house.
Flooded house, flooded floor, man drying a house
Source: New York Times
                 As I sat down to think of the next course of action, what to eat, where to sleep, and the laundry job awaiting the following day, there was a knock on the door. It was the garbage company guy.

“Niko salama, pengine yako,”
“Mimi niko ivi tu unavyoniona…” I was stressed, tired and hungry…
“Sasa mimi, niliwangonjea January hadi nikachoka,” Si angalau mngeachia neighbour pesa ya garbage?”
“Sasa mzee, ningependa sana kuwaachia lakini, hatukuwa.” Infact, Tulikuwa tumefungiwa nyumba, so unaona hata kama ni takataka hakuna vile tungekuwa nayo…” Wacha tu nikulipe ya February, na tena si leo, kesho juu sina pesa leo…”
                 The part of the house being closed kind of touched him… he went on to ask how “unfair” it was for the owners of the house to do that, and I told him I was the bad one. Nobody in his right senses would have allowed the rent to accrue to such levels. All this was done in Swahili. He did not seem convinced, so he recommended moving to a “nyumba ndogo”, size yetu. I was not ready to explain much about it (not only to him in this scenario but everyone else in my circle with the same concern) but I told him I live with my sister. I understood his confusion because whenever he came around when I was absent, my sister would tell him “Mzee hajafika”. After the brother-sister relationship had hit home, he asked a weird question. “Na hamna sponsor?” the question was clear and legit. The problem was my perilously corrupted mind. So I sighed for a moment but I answered him. Told him that we had sponsors yes and only that things came up and things took the course they took. He looked at the mattress and the carpet and I could tell another question was warming up in his mind. I decided to counter it before it could come forth.
“Sasa, tutafanya hivi, usiniwachie karatasi za taka hii mwezi,” but nitakulipa kesho.
“Sawa sawa”
                 I could tell his reluctance to leave was not because I had not paid him, but because he was concerned about our welfare. He was almost my dad’s age & so it was the father in him that was worried about his clients that much. After he had left, I switched off the lights, got into my plastic chair, placed my legs on the damp couch and engaged myself in deep thought… For starters, a dry house was the biggest achievement so far. Also, darkness is a good thing.
“There is one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings” Dostoevski
Homelessness & a Budalangi Encounter.

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