A tale about Garissa is a tale of two cities. Like most famous cities, Garissa has this chimeric nature that even the most casual passersby can’t miss.She is both and cold, outgoing and reserved. And like all items of endearment, I will use ‘she’ to refer to Garissa.
Like most of the towns up North, Garissa is unbearably hot during the day. She is also very modest and during the day-what with men in ultra-white kanzus and ladies clad in ultra-black buibuis painting the picture of piety. But if you want to get the real feel of Garissa, wait till the day blinks and night falls and people say and do things they wouldn’t say and do during the day.
When night falls in Garissa, things spread out. The moral veil over the town gets lifted. Men bring out mats and spread out khat to chew and chat. The clubs in Madogo and Mororo come alive with beats of Ohangla and Mugithi and Oromo music. And call girls-those priestess of illicit ecstasies- bloom like night roses from dark alleys.
Talking of night girls, there was this friend of mine who was posted to this town by some NGO on a HIV/AIDS program. You know those Nairobi types who think that people here still live on trees like Neanderthals and grenades are sold in the market like yams? Such type.
So my friend hit the ground running. Engaging stakeholders in sensitization meetings. Holding Focused Group Discussions and engaging community gatekeepers .And doing all those normal things people do which NGOs give fanciful names to bamboozle their donors. And then filling progress reports to Nairobi.
After working for several months, the guys in Nairobi sent him a pickup load of prophylactics (I prefer that word to condoms since my daughter reads this blog) to give out to the youth. Imagine, a whole pickup full of a yearlong supply of those pleasure seals. Once again, our man hit the ground running hoping to save the youths from themselves with rubbers.
For a start, he chose a bad day to distribute the things-Friday. Friday is the prayer day for the dominant Muslim faith and so a Friday in Garissa looks like Sunday in Kiambu. Everybody in white kanzus and all business closed for prayers. Even government desks are rarely manned on Fridays after 11 am.
He had hardly distributed a packet or two when a phone call was made and another and another and an in irate sheikh and his men appeared before him in big Landcruiser.Amongst the Somali, information travels at the speed of light.
Waria kitu gani wewe nabatia vijana yetu? The Sheikh roared, his beard dyed the colour or Royco shaking with anger.
Nawapatia vitu ya kujikinga .My friend replied,his NGO heart in his mouth.
Sisi habana taka wewe patia vijana wetu vitu haram! Thundered an imam.
But we are trying to increase youth’s capacity to take charge of their reproductive safety, my friend charged on, borrowing from the wording of his projects main objective. The Sheikh wasn’t impressed with our chaps NGO-speak. Neither were the imams.
Haba habana iko malaya! Hio kitu peleka Kenya! The sheikh said with finality. It’s interesting how residents of Northern Kenya do not consider their places Kenya.
With that, he swung his bakora and climbed into the Landcruiser.His fellow religious leaders with their beards dyed the colour of Royco followed him triumphantly.
That night, my friend didn’t sleep. If he didn’t dish out that pickup of protectives, then his job was cooked. So one day he waited till it was nightfall and the stars started winking and peeping from up above. He went on to the Tana bridge ready to throw the pickup load to the river for crocodiles to do whatever they want with them.
For a while, he watched the mighty Tana flow languidly on its way to the ocean, its dark murky waters hiding all the souls it has swallowed. However, he soon realized that there was no way he would throw all that consignment away into river Tana without being noticed. Unlike the day which dominates us with one eye like a mono-eyed ogre, the night has a thousand eyes. The Tana bridge at Garissa town is a bustling place at night with cops and buses and passengers and the town’s miscreants all raising a noisy din.
Two, there was that bit about him documenting who he had given the condoms to. He couldn’t record that he dished out the condoms to crocodile since they don’t have names and you know what else. I can now use the c-word liberally because I believe that even if my daughter was to read this post, she can’t come this far. Millenials don’t read a post beyond 400 words. See I am a smart dad? Anyway, back to our guy and his rubbery consignment.
When he realized he couldn’t toss a million condoms into river Tana without raising eyebrows, he wandered to a place called Madogo for a drink. Now, Madogo is the heart and armpit of Garissa. Heart because like a home, it’s the only place a weary traveller can get choma and a place to sleep at 2.00 am. Armpit because that’s where all the town’s flotsam and jetsam hides at night. In Madogo, its always festive season after dark-with music blaring from the night clubs in dangerous decibels all night.
As he nursed a drink waiting for it to get darker so that he could hurl a million condoms to River Tana, a jolly chap who was chewing khat chatted him up. One of those community renegades who drink beer where it’s considered haram. By the time they left each other, my friend had a gotten plan to dispose the condoms. All at the price of some few leaves of muguka and quarter of Bluemoon spirit. Sometimes one get help from the most unlikely sources but they don’t teach you such thing in college.
The following day he organized a stakeholder’s forum where he invited mostly religious leaders and elders. There were few gatecrashers. In any training you do in Northern Kenya, there will always be some uninvited fellows who will say that there were sent to the training by the area MP, the Governor, some little known MCA etc. If you chase them away they threaten to call their benefactor. Interesting fellows.
After the training, there was a group activity in the evening. There was a field visit to the town after dark. Our NGO guy hired three sleek taxis and took the trainees round the town and parked outside one of the famous nightclubs-DRC.It was a beautiful night, with stars strewn across the sky like diamonds on the hijab of a wife of a rich sheikh. A languid breeze was blowing from the riverine region of river Tana, filling the town with this musky oriental scent. Nights in Northern Kenya are pure beauty- a balm for some wounded soul.
But this beauty was spoilt almost immedietly.Out of the moonlight alleys, ladies of the night scrambled to the cars, thinking they were usual customers looking for some illicit pleasure. The girls came in all sizes, hoping to cater for corresponding varied sizes. Some were in buibui, peeping coquettishly behind the veils. Some were in skirts that revealed more than they hid. Others were dressed in what one can call air. There was a Wambui and a Mwikali and a Habiba and an Atieno-the face of Kenya.
Before the sheikhs could compose themselves and tell the drivers to drive them from this hell, a petit lady of the night sashayed to them, placing her greasy buxom on the car window. For a few minutes she glittered like a cinema hall entrance, bringing all her dismal sensuality out. Before the sheikhs could tell her that they hadn’t come for a late dinner at café flesh, she had already outlined to them what she had on her menu and her corresponding prices. She even added that her outlet (don’t get your mind twisted now) accepted both cash and Mpesa.
Beleka sisi nyumbani! Thundered one of the sheikhs to the driver-waving a brutal bakora to him. The driver powered the car out of that hell, like a place he would never come back to again. As they drove home, the sheikhs silently held on to their prayer beads, too shocked to talk. But the message was home. There are some truths about a town that one can see only when it’s dark. And this was one of them.
The following day, my friend was given an express charter to distribute his million condoms to the youth of Garissa.