In February 2014, we got onto a motorbike and chased a Mash Cool bus down Mombasa road from River rd to Bellevue. That’s how our life in Mombasa started – fast and furious. When we arrived, we went to one of the houses we had secured, took one look at it and decided, “I’m never living here.”
We went back to house hunting at 5 PM with an impatient pick-up driver running the meter on our charges. We finally settled for a bedsitter the size of a shoe – I was literally the woman who lived in a shoe – minus the kids. It was so hot in that bedsitter that you couldn’t cook and breathe at the same time; you ran the risk of scalding your lung tissue.
We stayed there for a month and moved to a one-bedroom house that was shaped like a trapezoid. We didn’t even know how and where we’d put seats in that house, so we never bought any. (We were also stray dog broke, we couldn’t afford it, so we blamed the house.)
The house rent was also above our depth; we were amateurs swimming in the deep end here, so one fine Saturday morning, K left and came back after a few hours with fantastic news – he had found us a new house! This was our second month there, and we were already onto house number 3!
We moved immediately and forgave the fact that it was right in the middle of a village where I had to jump over duckling and baby goats on my way to work. Also, the house was painted green; it nauseatingly reminded me of the amoeba pills – Flagyl. I’d get a stomachache just sitting in the living room with the green walls. To be fair to the house, I was in my first trimester and averse to almost everything. But that shade of green gave me retches.
Four months later, some good friends of ours who lived in a two-bedroomed house with a master ensuite were moving countries. They asked if we wanted to inherit their house. They had paid the rent for the month anyway, and it wasn’t being refunded regardless, so we moved. It was bigger, much bigger than any house I had ever lived in. And it had a bathroom in the bedroom. People! The rent was twice what we were paying in the Flagyl house.
I had just found a job, and in my calculations, we’d make the rent with my new money. (Chop my moneeeey) We did. Until I quit one Wednesday morning in the middle of August, I couldn’t even wait for the month to end; my mental health was at stake. Toxic team leaders can drive you nuts faster than it takes Carl Tundo to win the safari rally. (Did he win? Who won? I just It wasn’t a Subaru guy)
I comforted myself that I would start writing, it’d make me some money, and we’d be swimming in cash before cockcrow. Writers don’t tell you that it can take years before your words on paper make you a coin. I made nothing. By the end of the month, it was clear – I needed to help K with the bills, or we would have to eat ash. He was working very hard for us, paying all the bills, saving a lot and financing insurance policies for us and the baby.
When there was so much more month at the end of the money than we’d have desired, we sat down again. We needed to downscale. It pained me to lose the bathroom in the bedroom, but we eventually moved out to a one-bedroom house. At least this one was in a shape I had seen in my high school class, and the seats could fit. My next-door neighbour was a call girl who left for work at 10 PM and came back at 6 AM drunk and spewing cuss words like she swallowed a toilet. She also had a little girl who she’d leave alone in the house the whole night.
It was within our means, and we loved that we could sustain ourselves very well from there. As fate would have it, a few weeks into that house, someone wanted K to tutor their child after school. The pay was good and a welcome augments to our income. On the week they started learning, she asked where we lived.
“Really? I have houses in Mtwapa; you can move in for free and keep tutoring my kid!”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we ended up in an apartment with a swimming pool! It wasn’t free because it was paid for by tutoring, but the money was way less than the rent, so we held the long end of this stick. We lived there until they sold the houses, and “a new king who didn’t know Joseph came to power.” We moved out. But by now, we could have paid rent anywhere we wanted. (Ok, not anywhere, but I could afford a bathroom in my bedroom.)
In February 2020, we made heavy investments in the transport industry. As per our calculations, we’d be swapping business cards with Ariko Dangote in a few months. Ok. That’s a little far-fetched, but we were hopeful. Then March 2020 came, and the transport was grounded. We had not even been inspected when NTSA announced that they would be closing their offices indefinitely.
I saw that, and I felt my heart fall inside my large intestines. My pancreas shifted, and I swear I heard the mitochondria in my body conversing in Spanish. If I didn’t get a cardiac arrest in 2020, nothing will ever arrest me. We watched as no money came in, yet we had poured lots of ours into this business. Nothing was happening for months, and I began to fear I’d have to leave my house with a bathroom in the bedroom again.
Things got thicker than yesterday’s porridge. At one point, we had a conversation with the landlady to look upon us with mercy like the blind Bartimaeus. I think she reads the gospel according to St. Mark because she listened and gave us a slight reprieve for a little while. It didn’t last long, but it saved us from sleeping on Ugali and salt.
We’re still not where our 2019 vision board projected, but we’re holding on. Every time I see the prices of commodities go up, I can feel the blood sugar barometer teetering. When I see celebs crying on social media because they were given less than they thought they should have; or they got ringworms and are now crying about how they have a hospital bill of 2 Million that we should help pay, I ask myself, “Is their blood also comprised of 55% plasma and 45% platelets like the rest of us?”
That person walking in town with a shoe bent at the heels, and hidden holes in his pocket is battling things they can’t even begin to write about. Most of us don’t have the fans and the following to ask for bail-outs; we just crouch and trudge on until we emerge from the sewers. These ordinary Kenyans who know it’s God for us all are the real celebs. You are the real OG.
Today I just want to say to you who’s just deleting items from the budget: “Salut, GOAT!” Things will get better, believe me.