14 Chapters
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3. “Now I was in business”

Berida Ndambuki Indiana University Press ePub

When Ndambuki and I first married we worked together at home and on the farm. We worked together in union. Even if it was just eating, after I had cooked I would bring the food and we would eat together. If it was going to the farm he would lead the cows and I would hold the plow. When it was time to eat he would take the cows to water while I would go home to look for what to eat. I was not selling then. We had four oxen for plowing. If we wanted to build a granary he would go and cut the poles and I would cut the grass for thatching. Men were in charge of cutting the poles for building and doing the walls and women did the thatching. I would hand him the poles as he worked and he would throw the grass up to me as I thatched. We tried to find help with the planting. One person would lead the oxen while the other held the plow. You drop the seed into a furrow and cutting the next furrow covers the seed in that furrow. Ndambuki would put the seeds in his pockets and drop them into the furrow just before the next furrow was cut. We also used the oxen to weed, cutting furrows between the rows. We put a kind of net over the oxen’s mouths so that they would not eat the crops as we plowed. We weeded by hand between the plants. Both men and women did that and even children. On Saturdays when they were not in school you gave them hoes and they went to weed. People who don’t have oxen use jembes [short-handled hoes] to make holes for putting the seeds in. Now things are much the same but people might weed millet using a plow by leaving a furrow free between each row.

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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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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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