Planning to shop on Nairobi streets? Here are the rules

You have to be ready to sprint away immediately you spot oncoming kanjo, otherwise you might just end up in one of those rickety vans.

When I completed college and got my first job as a dental assistant earning Sh3, 000 a month, I quickly realised that the money, (the most I’d ever touched or held at that point in my life) could not afford me new clothes or shoes.

Or anything new for that matter, so I became a monthly visitor in the back streets of Nairobi’s CBD, where secondhand clothes and other previously owned items are sold.

That period taught me many dos and don’ts regarding secondhand items, the first, and most important, being never buy in the evening. It is true what they say about things, (and people) looking more attractive than they really are in poor lighting.

And you all know how poorly lit our streets are. In the case of secondhand clothes, you will not really be able to tell the exact colour of, say, a jacket, at 7.35pm on Tom Mboya Street, as a result, in the morning you will realise that you are the proud owner of a grossly faded red jacket when what you thought you were buying was a pink one to go with that black skirt that you love so much.

Wear and tear

Another reason not to buy in the evening is the fact that you may not realise that what you’re buying may be coming off at the seams, or that the trendy patch sewn where your knees will occupy is hiding serious wear and tear.

Shopping off the streets is also akin to courting danger. Danger in the form of city council askaris, better known as kanjo. These people have a habit of springing out of nowhere, they are like magicians, though badly dressed, and will appear from thin air and pounce on the hawker helping you fit the doll shoes off the pavement and drag him, (or her) into their waiting van. Why is it that all those kanjo vans look like write-offs? Like they belong to a scrap yard?

Anyway, woe unto you if you get caught up in the melee because you might just end up in one of those rusty vans. A friend of mine was once mistaken for a hawker and hauled head-fast into that tetanus-infested vehicle. It is an experience that she does not like reliving, and the only thing that saved her that day was the fact that she was wearing high heels.

Hard-working hawkers

Even the askaris had to agree with her that she would have been a very stupid hawker to wake up in the morning and head to work wearing such foot wear. She was eventually released from the mobile prison and though she had been in there for only a few minutes, it was enough to traumatise her for life.

What I am saying is that if you decide to shop from our hard-working hawkers who display their wares on the pavements of the city centre, you have to be constantly on high alert. You have to be ready to sprint away immediately you spot oncoming kanjo, otherwise you might just end up in one of those rickety vans.

Also, never, ever, put your handbag or other belongings down, whether you’re fitting clothes or shoes, because they might also just end up in that van, never to be seen again.

Or you might find yourself barefoot in town, if you were about to fit a pair of shoes and were caught unawares by a swoop, your shoes bundled together with the hawker’s wares. I cannot stress enough just how important it is to be vigilant on these streets.

Now that you’re armed with this information, I think you’re ready to go shopping.

The writer is editor, Society & Magazines, Daily Nation. Email: [email protected]

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