14 Chapters
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5. “I ask myself, why did I have my children?”

Berida Ndambuki Indiana University Press ePub

In Nairobi my day begins when I get up at sunrise at about 6 A.M. I wake up because the neighbors make noise with loud radios, and there is a bell that rings at the Shauri Moyo police station. I can also hear the Muslims praying. Then I know it is time. I heat water on my paraffin stove and bathe. I make tea and put it in a thermos. I have to buy the water by the can at Ksh.1, 1.50 a jerry can [four gallons] or more.1 It comes from a tap at Kinyago, which is not far from my room [about a half a block]. There is no toilet at my place and no electricity. We go to other people and ask to use theirs, like where Jane stays; she has one. We also don’t have a shower so I bathe in a basin in my room. Even without all those things I still pay Ksh.800 for the room. By the time I have finished bathing and made tea it is usually 6:30. I take my tea and then I leave my room to go to Gikomba. Or I might do the laundry before I go. If I am not feeling well I may not get up until 7:00 A.M. and then I wouldn’t get to Gikomba until 8:30 or 9:00 A.M. I take a matatu or I walk to Gikomba.

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VIII. Trouble Showed the Way; Conclusion: Empowerment?

Claire Cone Robertson Indiana University Press ePub

If it is not appropriate for women, it is not appropriate.2

A 1987 incident on a Nairobi matatu indicated a direction of change in self-esteem among urban women. The Daily Nation article describing it was ostensibly about the career of a musician, Julius Kang’ethe (a.k.a. By-law), who failed to find a job when he first came to Nairobi in 1979 and hawked at Machakos Bus Stop while he composed his first song, “a prayer to God asking for help for jobless young men.” He then went on to compose another song called “Ithe wa Kiune” (Kikuyu=Father of Calamity), which prescribed severely deferential behavior for married women and justified abuse by husbands if wives were not deferential enough. A matatu driver annoyed many of his women passengers by repeatedly playing it until most of the women on the bus demanded that he stop and let them off, whereupon they “accused those who were left behind of being half-women who enjoy hearing and seeing their lot being ridiculed by male chauvinists.”3 This incident invites comparison with Mary Muthoni Nyanjiru’s exhortations at the Thuku demonstration in 1922, and indicates a fundamental change that urbanization, along with women’s growing involvement in trade, has encouraged. Whereas Mary urged men on to do their duty and take action, these women were pushing other women to join in a protest action intended to boost their self-esteem. To protest male dominance was seen as incumbent upon women; not to do so as insufficiently womanly. The resonances here are both with the precolonial gender system and its checks on male abuse fostered through the ndundu ya atomia and with new forms of gender relations in which male abuse is countered by a female solidarity engendered by urban solidary groups and peer efforts.

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V. Here We Come Only to Struggle: Changes in Trade, 1964 to 1990

Claire Cone Robertson Indiana University Press ePub

In the 1960s Nairobi began to take on the aspect of a big city; the population’s annual growth rate was 7.9% from 1948 to 1962, 5.8% from 1962 to 1969 and 5% from 1969 to 1979. In 1990 the population was pushing two million, with a projection that by the year 2000 25% of Kenya’s population would be urbanized. Despite punitive population density, the supply of legal housing grew, if anything, at a slower rate than in the latter years of colonialism. From 1964 to 1971 urban land values inflated by 300% in Nairobi. In 1972 there was a shortfall of about 60,000 housing units, while by one estimate over 70% of families could not afford even the cheapest two room conventional housing. In 1977 there were 30,000 names on a waiting list for 1000 NCC public housing units. The city government came under stricter central government control, and very little money was allotted for the maintenance of infrastructure and services. But immigration continued, with an increasing proportion of women joining the stream, many of whom took up trade as an occupation.2 In 1973-74 the female migration rate to Nairobi was twice that of men. From 1973 to 1982 the Central Bureau of Statistics estimated that the informal sector in Nairobi grew from employing 41,415 persons to 172,214, more than a 400% increase, and by 1987 it was thought to be generating employment at a rate three times faster than the formal sector. In 1984 the NCC estimate of 30,000 hawkers in Nairobi was regarded as too low by the press, who added another 15,000 to it.3 There were also the perpetual migrants; the insecurity of life in Nairobi, heightened by ongoing squatter settlement clearances carried out by authorities, confirmed for many women the wisdom of living elsewhere and trading to Nairobi, a commute facilitated by better transportation.

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I. Introduction

Claire Cone Robertson Indiana University Press ePub

African woman I want to praise you
the way you work in this world.
Oh bless you!

Translation of Kiswahili song composed by Elliot Ngubane1

Should the new markets of eastern and southern Africa develop lines of sex division in buying and selling comparable to those which characterize the markets of the western and central parts of the continent, it seems likely that not only the economic position of women, but their place in the social order in general may undergo change.

M. J. Herskovits2

Central Kenyan women traders and farmers were and are key actors in the development of the trading and market gardening system that feeds Nairobi. Their accomplishments represent an unheralded achievement that remains hidden partly because government persecution has pursued some of their activities. While women supported their families and took pride in their capabilities, their work was also essential to the transformation of the economy to fill the needs of the large Nairobi urban agglomeration to such effect that their lives--their relationship to their bodies, to relatives and children, and to other women involved in organizational attempts, were also transformed. Their efforts belong to the economic, social and cultural history of Africa as much as, for instance, those of Gold Coast cocoa farmers, but this history has been ignored, disclaimed or discounted as unimportant. And yet, their achievements were grand in sum, durable, transformational, and intentional. In effect, central Kenyan women reclaimed themselves by pursuing trade. This book chronicles those efforts, but also the ambivalent implications of some transformations for the women who furthered or instigated them. The increasingly convoluted world capitalist economy, race, class, ethnicity, and gender all were imbricated in the processes that caused their problems. However, they used links welded most solidly out of gender-shaped experiences in efforts to overcome the trouble that showed them the way to Nairobi.

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Update and Analysis: 1999

Berida Ndambuki Indiana University Press ePub

In July 1999 I returned to Nairobi and found that, like Nairobi itself, whose skyline changes constantly with the addition of glossy skyscrapers built by corrupt government officials, Berida’s life and family had also experienced a number of changes, generally not for the good. In Domitila’s house in eastern Nairobi the conversation centered on the financial plight of Kenya and of the family, while a collection of nephews and sons were erecting a wall outside to improve security, an ever-increasing concern. The sudden death of Dominic in December 1998 had shocked everyone, including Ndambuki, who stopped drinking. Berida felt this was permanent, a change for the better but not a compensation for Dominic’s death. However, Muthama had lost his job as a matatu conductor; his wife’s teaching job now supports the family. Martin Wambua was in Mombasa looking for work. Angelina Ndinda had recovered physically from the severe beating by her (ex-?) husband but had gone into a severe mental depression verging on insanity. She moved back to Kathonzweni, leaving her three children to be cared for by Maggie in Nairobi, with the assistance of Mwenye, Monica’s daughter. Maggie also recovered but then required surgery to remove a lump in her breast. The Kenyatta Hospital surgeon missed the lump on the first try so another surgery may be required, which she is putting off because she cannot afford it or the time away from her beauty salon job. Maggie is overwhelmed by the support of Angelina’s children and Mwenye, and with helping Dominic’s family. Dominic’s wife earns no cash and his four children require school fees. Therefore, of Berida’s nine surviving children, all adults, only two are helping the family with their earnings in 1999, Martha1 and Maggie, no sons. In 1998 there were five earners.

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