Why Nyumba Kumi makes me curious about my neighbours

By Kimathi bin Mutegi

In the spirit of Nyumba Kumi, I have decided to let you in my living quarters because who knows, some day, you might be called as a witness and save me from a hanging line, simply because you knew me personally, sort of. So, after a day’s work, which mostly involves a cocktail of loads of hazardous stuff – depending on the specific JD – I like to get to my small room which I like to call ‘the cave’ in the evening, lay about and recollect on the day’s happenings.

It is not a place I would call decent, though, but nevertheless I’m glad I do get entertained a lot despite only owning a thin sponge that you people normally call a mattress and a single blanket. The cave has no cooking place and my utensils consist of one cup, a plate, two spoons and a fork. This last gadget, I have never used for the years I have lived here, I mean what could I possibly eat with a fork in this place? None of the delicacies enjoyed and transported to the mouth using a fork has ever found its way in the cave.

But matters of the food are a rare guest so let’s just assume that I am kept fed, not necessarily from within the walls. I am also properly entertained. Let me explain. To start with is my immediate neighbour, who is a really generous one. He lets me watch his TV, though he doesn’t know that I do. He is also the richest in the neighbourhood, though nobody knows exactly what he does. The partitioning of the cave is done with iron sheets which means that I get to know almost everything going on at my neighbour’s.

I know that he has a radio, a TV set, a metallic bed, a charcoal stove, another that uses paraffin and utensils. You are probably thinking I did a Nyumba Kumi on him to find out about all this and you are probably right though my investigations are greatly aided by these tiny holes I drilled on the tin partition one day. Through these holes, I get to view free television and sometimes, I am able to witness some x-rated action, which I will leave for another day.

There, however, exists a problem with the partitioning allowing every detail about what’s going on next door without necessarily going there. You see, as I listen to the evening programmes on my neighbour’s stereo, he also happens to be cooking. We do not call him rich for nothing because every once or twice a month, I smell meat simmering in a pot coming from his house and this is not something very pleasant for a suffering bloke whose last piece of meat was probably a tumbukiza that was as hard as a boiled army boot and perhaps tasted the same.

Whenever he cooks meat, he is rich enough to buy paraffin and use his stove. I know this because immediately he is done with cooking, he turns it off and a bitter smoke almost similar to the one used to disperse crowds by police officers fills the entire block. You are probably thinking the guy is selfish and does not use his head properly because he turns off his stove inside the house, but you are wrong. In this place, if for once you decide to take the stove outside to avoid the smoke, well, be prepared to forget about it for good.

I think this place has ghosts, things vanish in record time and paraffin stoves are no exception. Besides, there is a belief that mosquitoes can’t stand the smoke, and there are plenty of those annoying biters in the area. A few weeks ago, I came home as usual and there were several voices coming from this guys’ house, I reckon there were four. I could smell ugali cooking and as time progressed sukuma wiki was soon ready. When they were about to eat, a problem arose, with the host claiming his utensils can only serve three.

They argued for a while and then went silent and I figured that a solution had been found by one person eating from the sufuria. This is after I heard the sound of a spoon and metal colliding, an indication that the last bits of food were being cleared. There are other neighbours I cannot tell you exactly what they do. They are three, two ladies and a gentleman, but I can tell you that as I come back home in the evening, I meet with them moving in the opposite direction wearing tight clothing which at times is too short.

I have vowed that when I get rich, I will get them fitting clothing which is long enough and a daytime job because I assume they work in a late night café in town, or maybe I should petition their boss to get them fitting clothing… I am kidding of course. The other person who lives in this ‘plot’ is a matatu tout. He is as typical as they come. I mostly find him at a local joint where they sell my kind of alcohol and the ‘pointing’ type of meat. This, if you are from America, is the type where you point at the piece you want and immediately it is chopped into pieces for you.

If you have never tried, you should, it’s a delicacy, especially after imbibing into some lethal concoctions that can make a bomb. The only problem is that with no butchery in the vicinity, you are never sure what kind of animal you are chewing. There is a day I pointed at a piece of ear I was savouring and while I could have sworn that it was goat, the seller claimed it was beef, a very small cow. Very confusing.

Owing to the recent insecurity threat and purely in the spirit of knowing your neighbour, I will one of these days coincide a visit to my neighbours, one by one. For the rich one, it has to be the day he is cooking meat for supper, for the two ladies I think I will do so when they are in the house and for the drunk conductor, well, I still do not know whether I will visit him, after all it might be difficult to know everybody!


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