Rain, rain, go away, come again another day, in Nairobi it is only the rich who can play

Wednesday August 14 2019

A woman crosses a flooded area by heavy rain in

A woman crosses a flooded area by heavy rain in Kibera slum, Nairobi, on March 3, 2018. PHOTO | BRIAN OTIENO | AFP 

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There is something about the rain. Especially the early morning when it rains in the city. I am not going to mention the smell of the soil. Or the sound of light rain on your windows and how therapeutic it is.

The feeling that rain brings that makes you want to have thoughts such as, “If only I did not have to go to work and could just stay in bed.”

This has nothing to do with any poetry; we have no time for that. There is something about the rain in Nairobi that is a resounding reminder of classism. Most people who live in the city, live below the poverty line. Many live in slums right next to lavish residential areas.

Nairobi is known for having a national park that is technically within the central business district. But one other thing the city should be known for is that it is a place where we live in clusters, such that the poor neighbour the rich.

Every prime neighbourhood is bordered by a slum. Sure, we do not have a history of being a socialist country, we have never entertained the idea compared with our neighbours.

Our approach tends to lean heavily on capitalism, and because of that there is bound to be a gap between the rich and poor. This gap is widening by the day, especially with the youth bulge currently being experienced and limited employment opportunities.


It is a predicted trajectory that people living in slums will continue to increase as the cost of living continues to rise. With that gruelling truth, does the rain always have to remind us of the divide?

When it rains early morning in Nairobi, there are those who wake up and have no idea it rained during the night. Especially if you are a heavy sleeper, you are surprised to see the wet tarmac outside your window as you peer through the sheer curtains of your lovely residence. The morning routine continues and you leave the house, jump into your car feeling that the traffic will be difficult today.

But for those who live in dilapidated housing, as soon as it rains, the roof will leak. They have to set basins in particular areas in the corner-to-corner space.

Most of these structures are made of iron sheets and patched up with anything that can hold off water. Then as soon as they step out, there is the overflowing water trying to seep its way into your house, with some remnants of sewage and garbage.

Then the real athletics begins, wondering where to step. Looking for the unofficial security of the area and signalling to him to bring a brick or to create a makeshift bridge for you. When he puts down the brick, you play hopscotch to avoid falling into the mud that will ruin your outfit for work.

As soon as you get to the safer side, you hand over a few shillings because he has done a good job this morning, and you have avoided going back into the house and changing into a new dress.

On this day, shoe shiners make a killing. Most Nairobi dwellers use public transport to get into the city. Most of them have homes that are surrounded by mud due to the showers early morning. So they will stop by the high chair.

There are some who stop by a puddle and, using their hands, scoop some muddy water to clean their shoes. Others will wait until they get to the office, and use the restroom to clean themselves up.

From the soles of their shoes to the spatters of mud on their clothes they got when speeding cars zoomed by sending up water sitting in puddles due to the terrible drainage systems. Getting to work on a rainy morning can be a feat for some, an unnecessary one.

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is executive director, Siasa Place. Twitter: @NerimaW