Kenya, Rants

Fifty Three Dollars

The monthly rent for my two-bedroom flat in Westlands is 45,000 Kenyan shillings (600 US dollars) per month. Taking into account that the three-bedroom flats cost a considerable amount more, and that everyone’s rental agreements hike their rent by 10% annually, it’s safe to say that the average rent is around 60,000 shillings per month here. With fifteen or so apartments in the complex, whoever owns this place is looking at close to 1,000,000 shillings per month. Why, then, do we pay three askaris (security guards) 4,000 shillings each per month to protect our fancy asses? That’s fifty three dollars!

The security guards work in shifts. One mzee (old man), Musa, works from 6 am to 6 pm, and then two younger guys come for the graveyard shift. They have the mind-numbing job of opening and closing the gate all day and protecting all of us and our fancy stuff. I doubt there has ever been an incident, but the electric fence ain’t there for looks, man. Inside these walls live families with BMWs, big-screen TVs, and children. You’d think those things would be worth more than a couple hundred bucks a month to protect. This is Nairobbery, after all!

It’s not much, but I do what I can to help by giving them hand-me-down clothes and food every once in awhile. Also, I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that I might be the only one who gives them anything more than the time of day. I’m slightly comforted by the fact that, even if I all I say when I come home is, “Mambo vipi?” (how’s it going), at least I’m not zipping in and out in a fancy car, honking impatiently at the gate, and giving some plastic smile.

Maisha ni ngumu (life is hard)…. be nice to your askaris.

5 Comments to “Fifty Three Dollars”

  1. Thaths

    Do you think you are much more empathetic to the askari’s situation having been a volunteer out in the boondocks?

    I remember once I told one of my friends in Nguluni that I will meet him at Nairobi outside the Hilton hotel. He was running a few minutes late (you know how time is in Kenya) and I was hanging outside the hotel. When he finally arrived one of the doormen at the Hilton was rude to my friend and when he learned that I knew this guy from the sticks he asked “Is he your driver?”

    “No, he is my friend,” I said.

    1. Alan Author

      Haha, maybe. I probably wasn’t always sensitive to it. Now that you mention it, I was walking around the second hand market in Nairobi (Kikomba) with a buddy from Tala and someone asked him if he was my tour guide (I mentioned this here). I am meeting another buddy in town tonight and I should see if he wants to go get a cup of coffee with all the swanky people in the Hilton. Haha!

  2. Only in Kenya will you find a USD 5 padlock protecting a case with USD 50k content.

    it is saddening to drive from the highway to my home because the car gets worn more in that 30m drive, than the 18 km home-streach from town to home.

    Same thing for G4S. Paid USD 200 per month to transport USD 1M every day? Ha!

    Kenya, i tell you!

  3. sam 22

    man its africa, crazy n upright, taunting n helping, harsh n caring, helpless n hopeful, but above all its enchanting. TIA- Ths’ africa. just bumped onto ur blog man iko sawa kabisa. sijakuwa home tymes kiasi but reminds me bigtym.

  4. mandingo

    it’s a jungle out here. having a heart in Kenya is to be weak and the weak get robbed, conned etc. at least that’s the idea. people find it easier to live insular lives, but you’ll meet the odd nice guy once in a while.

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