Nairobi Sidewalk rants

Of Saints and Sidewalks

Karen Blixen, popularly known by her nom de plume, Isak Dinesen, had this to say about the Somali town that existed in Nairobi in her day:

Europeans, who live for a long time, even for several generations, in the same place, cannot reconcile themselves to the complete indifference to the surroundings of their homes, of the nomadic races.

She sometimes made sweeping generalisations in Out of Africa that can be considered borderline racist; the above quote, however, may well be applied to Nairobians today.

Whenever it rains, the roads are flooded because a majority of them are devoid of any drainage system. The sidewalks abutting most of our roads (where I traverse, at least) are embedded with large rocks that are the offal of building projects long completed. Roadsides and roundabouts are strewn with plastic bags and bottles, and some commuters do not think twice about chucking breakfast leftovers out of the windows of their moving vehicles. Such is the city I live in. And it seems like no one thinks twice about it.

There has been, it seems to me, a dulling of sorts where our senses are concerned. We accept the muck. The funky-smelling temporary dumpsite adjacent to our walkways? We put up with it. The ankle-high rust-coloured puddle water (let’s not forget the crater-sized puddle itself) that fills our shoes and sullies our clothes? All in a rainy day’s commute. No bother. We’ll just wash it off and hope we don’t catch typhoid. The recyclable bottles and bubble gum wrappers wedged in a corner? Not my problem, no sir. And then we meet for coffee and complain about the mess that is the green city in the sun, conveniently forgetting the primary school mantra that was drilled into our – well, my – head: “leave the place better than you found it.” We’re guilty of the bystander effect.

It can be argued (and supported by statistics – on paper, anyway) that Kenya is a majority Christian nation. Maybe that’s why we care so little for our environment. After all, this world is temporary, right? We’re just a-passin’ thru. No need for concern about the ephemeral, right? Wrong. “Occupy till I come.”

We should not – ever – underestimate the impact our physical surroundings have on our senses, and on our productivity, even. Consider the smell of eucalyptus on a drizzly morning walk in a quiet neighbourhood. Free morning meditation on God’s wonders before the workday begins. Think about the terra firma – that solid, stable feeling – of walking on a surface that you know will not conspire against your ankle bones. The mental awareness that you can get ready for work knowing that you will not have to worry about a motorist and a giant puddle colluding to make your day memorable. The feeling that well-drained, smell-free roadways await you.

We must care. Further, we must do something about that care. Put it into action. Demand better. Poorly-drained potholed roads with equally poor sidewalks should not be the status quo; neither should littered streets. To Karen Blixen, Nairobi said, “Make the most of me and of time…” May it say the same to you – at least where environmental regard is concerned.

1 thought on “Of Saints and Sidewalks”

  1. Care is actually not much without whatever action one has within one’s reach. So yes. We must care, and we must act.

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