A men’s clothing store in Nairobi has an interesting new product for sale: chastity belts with an iron padlock for $20 each.
The product was designed to help men to protect themselves from being sexually harassed by their wives, after a woman was charged in court for chopping off her husband’s penis because of a quarrel over money.
Maendeleo ya Wanaume, a men’s lobby group, wants women who chop off man’s genitals to be sentenced to life imprisonment or to the death penalty.
Can you make a film from scratch in two days? Contestants in the 48 Hour Film Project recently held in Nairobi did just that. On Friday November 29, 200 budding filmmakers from across the capital were put into teams, made to choose a genre out of a hat, and got to work writing scripts, shooting and editing. They were also given a prop, a character, and a line of dialogue that had to be included in their film.
All of the films that were submitted on Sunday night screened to sold-out audiences at Century Cinemax, The Junction on December 11 and 12. With genres ranging from horror to thriller and romance, audience members were spoilt for choice as they got to cast their vote for “Best Film – Audience Choice”. That honour went to Dead Wrong.
It used to be a common joke in Nairobi’s bars, salons and taxis: the fastest way to get rich in Kenya is to start your own church. Now the joke has matured – the surest way to make a quick buck (and dodge taxes) in Kenya today is to open your own creche.
Infant day care schools are springing up at such an alarming rate in Nairobi that they may soon outnumber bars and butcheries in some townships.
During colonial days and many years after Kenya’s independence, it was not common to find black African kids attending preschools in droves. Africans – “natives” – were expected to jump straight into primary school with over-size uniform shorts, rusty brogues and peak caps. The expectation was for one to attain an education fit for the colonial economy (bricklayers, trolley pushers, coffee graders, veranda painters). Creche was a fancy foreign concept reserved for kids of local bankers, lawyers, European expatriates, diplomats and cushy industrialists who had a fond nostalgia of daycare centres back home in London, Berlin or Paris.
This is no more. With the tie-down of education standards and generally relaxed rules, anyone can now open a creche in Kenya without much financial investment. The most sensible requirement is to have to have kids nearby, lots of them. Hence, creches are flourishing in Kibera slum, farming settlements and cluster towns.
A proper classroom is far from being a requirement. Livestock sheds, ancient grinding rooms and derelict garages are being torn down in Nairobi to make way for new creches. Infant meals or proper desks are not necessary either. With stressed and short-on-time parents willing to cough up to 3066 Kenyan shillings ($US35) per child per month, there’s no shortage of cheeky entrepreneurs willing to “renovate” their homes into creches.
“Mine is a creche in the morning, paint room in the afternoon and a bar at night,” says Hakem, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who has 30 kids enrolled at his Thanks Tidings Day Centre in Kibera.
“I retire my furniture, sofas, television, table suites to a kitchen during the day to make way for kids attending creche in my house,” says Sofia Wanari, another creche owner. “At night it’s a proper home again when the kids are gone.” When pressed about how much of revenue she makes, she smiles. “The earnings are pretty juicy. In a month where all parents pay fees I collect about 105 010 Kenyan shillings ( $1200).”
Unlike registered and affluent creches in leafy parts of Nairobi, many springing up in the townships have little regulation. Teachers are not trained or qualified – that’ll be expecting way too much. With steely will, a former kitchen maid, a tobacco clerk or a retired bus driver can turn into a creche school teacher anytime. Curriculums or timetables are neither designed nor followed. One only needs to spend the whole day yelling at infants, minding their general silly tantrums, enforcing sleep times, rehearsing Mau-Mau-era songs and chaperoning them when they stray close to a broken pool or busy road. Not that many parents care: urban Kenyans are tied down in booming factory jobs, office chores and green fruit market stalls, so anyone willing to take care of kids during the day readily finds willing parents.
It’s not entirely unsurprising to see a burger or pizza shop in the evening being dusted and scrubbed to make way for a creche in the morning. An advert on the wall will read: “Sally’s pizza 5pm to 8pm; infant preschool 8am to 3pm”.
A suitable, safe location is a not a priority for creche owners. It’s not unthinkable to see a creche opening up next to a strip bar, a gamblers’ saloon or a railway crossing. “Greedy entrepreneurs don’t necessarily care about kids’ safety. It’s a mighty shame one way or another,” explained Michelle Gaziki, a special needs education facilitator with the Kenyan education ministry.
Of course these creche owners live with a permanent fear of authorities who often inspect creches for health facilities, licences and building safety. Like in any part of East Africa, an under-the-table ‘gift’ to a government inspector will help take care of any problems.
However, for entrepreneurs like Wanari this business is a win-win scenario. “No one wants to be saddled with a weeing infant during the day when there are jobs to chase in the economy. Those who say unlicensed creches are menacing are simply grumpy middle-class Kenyans used to seeing their children in gated preschools years before primary. It has changed.”
David Gianti is a Kenyan student studying towards a master’s degree in education at the University of Nairobi. Connect with him on Facebook.
Human traffic flows into Nairobi’s traffic department every morning from 4am, well before the sun is out. The compound is vast. It has cells, a restaurant, a police station, the police doctor’s office and a huge parking lot.
I stood in the freezing weather with my friend Mike behind a queue of people who seemed to be in different stages of pain and healing. We were here for the all-important P3 form, a medical examination report. The police doctor has to complete and sign this form before victims of crime can report to the local police station and press charges. It is produced in court as evidence.
A guy called Jontes stood behind Mike, twitching like a leaf in the cold weather in a faded T-shirt. The day before, Mike had arrived late – 7am. He was number 66 in line so he never made it into the office of Kenya’s only police doctor, Dr Zephaniah Mwangi Kamau.
Mike was assaulted by his ex-wife. She punched and scratched his face at a bus stand, and verbally tormented the poor guy until he left her and moved out with his kids. She continued to stalk him so Mike wanted an end to this. I was here to give him moral support.
At 6am, a woman selling tea, uji (porridge) and mandazis (fried buns) walked in. We bought some for ourselves and for Jontes, who had a bulging black paper bag filled with humongous cabbages. We turned down his offer to buy, but he did manage to sell some to a woman with a bandage around her head.
We rushed back to the waiting lines, where some guys in smart suits were lurking. They looked like police officers but they were brokers – for a fee of R10 to R20, they would arrange for latecomers to cut in line ahead of those of us already waiting. Jontes advised us to ignore them; no one would be planted in front of us.
As we waited, rumour spread that Dr Kamau had gone to his father’s funeral but Jontes, a hustler who changes professions wherever opportunity knocks, told us to sit tight. He’d been here many times before and he knew the doctor might appear at any moment.
Today Jontes was here because he’d recently been beaten by five guys in a drunken bar brawl. His face and hands were scarred with numerous dents. Jontes could be described as … deliberately belligerent. Once someone had beaten him in a drunken brawl. When he got his hands on a P3 form, his assailant paid him R8 000 as an out-of-court settlement. In three previous incidents, Jontes was paid amounts of R3 000, R4 000 and R2 500 to drop assault charges against his attackers. This time Jontes was anticipating a big cheque: five guys, R3 000 each.
When news that the Dr Zephania was attending his father’s funeral spread, some people dispersed. One of the brokers who had been pocketing twenties ran away so he wouldn’t have to do refunds. Twenty minutes later he removed his coat and tie and came back to the lines, looking for new arrivals. A disgruntled ‘customer’ shouted, pointing him out, and soon he was at the receiving end of some harsh slaps.
Meanwhile the crowds continued streaming in. The rich came in their Benzes and BMWs and the poor arrived on foot, some adults being held like babies. There were victims of road accidents, domestic violence, street fights, robberies, arson, sexual violence and other kinds of violent attacks that made my stomach queasy. Young children clad in school uniform were here too, but the majority of people were women.
There was a spirit of equality and justice at the station. This is one place where Kenyans, despite being politically divided, can share common troubles. The rich and the poor queued as equals as they shared their life stories. It was a form of while-we-wait therapy: a poor guy who’d survived a brutal assault would chat and laugh with a rich guy who had endured a harrowing robbery ordeal. Some people had travelled hundreds of kilometres from the arid Turkana county near the border; Nakuru, famous for its flamingos; and the semi-arid Maasai land of Narok in the Rift Valley province.
The doctor finally arrived around 9am from his father’s burial. He asked who had been unattended to the previous day. Mike’s card showed he had been number 66, but after the brokers added more people to the lines, the prospect of waiting yet another day seemed very real. There were loud protests from the crowd. The good doc shushed us, smiled and asked if there was anyone among us who had ever lost someone close.
Mike raised his hand. Doctor Kamau asked him which ethnic community he came from. Then he asked how long it took for him to get back to work after grieving.
“A week,” Mike said.
“I have just buried my father two hours ago and I’m back at work,” the doctor said, still smiling.
He listened to us and recommended our names be written down for faster dispensation of our case. Eventually, Mike went into the old colonial office for his medical check-up. I waited for him outside. Five minutes later, he came out with the all-important P3 form. He told me that the doc had asked him, behind plumes of cigarette smoke, why he did not hit his ex-wife back. They had both laughed at the awkward question. Now Mike was ready to go to the local police station to file his case and have his attackers summoned for a date in court.
Jontes was next to see the doc. He asked us to wait for him as he went in with his paper bag of vegetables. A little while later, he came out holding his P3 form like it was a lottery cheque. He had a spring in his step as he told us how he was going to make at least R10 000. He was certain he would win his case because there had been many witnesses , and his attackers – office workers – would have to pay him off to avoid losing their jobs.
Having got what we came for, it was time to head our separate ways. We gave Jontes 200 bob for transport. He jumped onto a moving bus, shouting promises of buying us more beer and nyama choma (braai meat) than we had ever seen in our lives – once he’d been paid out, that is.