A memorable night at Pangani Police Station-Part 1

One Friday night, below the dark skies of Nairobi, Hannington (Hanni) and I are sitting on the doorsteps of gate 72C skylarking and talking about the things that usually occupy teenagers.

Our peers had been summoned back to their houses at the end of daylight. Unlike most of the other kids in the neighborhood, the two of us grew up in laissez-faire households.

As such, for us, curfews were in effect when frequent yawning interrupted our conversations and retirement to slumber was the only alternative.

It must have been past ten o’clock since the local shop located opposite from where we were sitting had closed for the night.

It was not too long before we were confronted by the Maasai watchmen who were hired to protect the Railway quarters where we resided. The watchmen were quite ruthless with those who they deemed to be thugs.

During the day, the watchmen would interact with the residents with profound humility. “Habari mkubwa” was their customary greeting phrase irrespective of one’s age. They knew us and we knew them well. At night, they were not as courteous and would often have selective amnesia, especially when dealing with young men.

Once the neighborhood shops closed, to the Maasai guards, it signified that the presence of young men was a nuisance thereafter.

They had little to no tolerance for us. God forbid if you were a male figure below the age of forty walking around aimlessly past midnight. If the male reeked of alcohol, one would be subjected to a beating that can only be reserved for a stray pig that had wandered into a mosque on a Friday afternoon during Ramadhan.

The guards’ interrogation techniques were rudimentary combined with the impatience of a toddler at a playground and a limited language skillset. They did not have an established medium of knowing one’s intentions.

Therefore, flogging young men with whips beyond recognition was expected and accepted if one could not coherently comply with their incoherent demands satisfactorily. One of them in particular, named Sungura/Rabbit had an insatiable thirst for blood that would rival that of a pack of demented hyenas tracking a menstruating zebra across the grasslands of Serengeti.

Nonetheless, they were infamously credited with reestablishing some peace in the neighborhood after a spree of petty thefts had become far too common for anyone’s comfort. Eventually, the guards were dismissed after the leaders found out that they were in cahoots with local thugs to burglarize houses.

It was discovered that they were day traders peddling stolen goods in a local market. Moreover, there were rumors that the guards would often go to bed around two in the morning. For what valid reason would a guard buy mosquito coils every night from the local shop? –a habit that troubled most of us.

Like many adolescents, we thrived in mischief and enjoyed to play pranks then laugh about them later. Thugs we were not however. Thugs were known idlers who thrived on leeching the blood of their neighbors and pinching the hard earned salt of others.

Those were endeavors that did not interest us. The Maasai guards had told us to retreat back inside the house compounds and that did not sit well with us. After little thought, Hanni suggested that we walk to Park Road which was less that two hundred meters away.

A walk to Park Road meant that we had several activities at our disposal to engage in. Hanni had fifty shillings and I had eighty which combined was roughly two U.S dollars. Back then, Kenya’s shilling had not sunk into the depths of the pit latrine that it is currently collecting feces in. I did not object to Hanni’s suggestion as I always held his insight in high regard.

Hanni is one of the brightest kids that I have ever known to this date. He was a natural sage whose intellect radiated around devoid of much effort. He lived in 72B which was adjacent to our house.

I looked up to him even though we were the same age. When most of my peers were learning about local history in elementary school, Hanni was submerged into world history.

He had a particular affinity for Germany and its history which he would recount to me on the many nights that we sat on the doorsteps. He loved and followed the Bundesliga religiously. His dream was to move to Germany where he would pursue engineering and build machines. Hanni had led Riverbank Primary School in the national examinations two seasons before this fateful night.

Park Road was a boisterous strip with innumerable bars on each block. In fact, it was considered to have the most taverns and alcohol outlets per capita in the nation, only secondary to Nairobi West. Park Road was constantly noisy and animated with numerous activities and persons that ranged from the most nefarious to the seemingly noble –prostitution rings, police cars, drug dealers, conmen, gambling shacks, taxis, churches, clinics, pharmacies etc.

Hanni and I settled for some delicacies for starters. We bought mturaa (barbecued cow intestines that resemble Italian sausages) and goat soup.

Such snacks were not uncommon to be sold by the roadside of any Eastlands’ region, usually by some shifty-looking individuals whose services did not consider hygiene as priority.

The same hands that were preparing and cutting mturaa handled money that had circulated among the hands of people engaged in the aforementioned nefarious activities. Our stomachs were as tenacious as the rusty knife presumably sharpened on the tarmac that we walked on.

With only seventy shillings left between us and the mysterious miseries of poverty, we decided to check out the local pool shack where gambling was the modus operandi. The frequent customers were usually; taxi drivers, car washers, matatu touts some of whom belonged to infamous Mungiki sect known for their butchering skills, shop keepers, truant high school students, deviant hustlers and once in a while depressed middle-class husbands who had to drink and/or gamble after work to escape the inevitable nagging that awaited them in their gated estates.

Hanni was learning how to play pool and did not fancy gambling. Contrastingly, I was somewhat above average at the game, but my proficiency was in the art of gambling. I won the first game and tripled our earnings within forty minutes.

The game was rigged and my win was illegitimate unbeknownst to the other gamblers. This was neither the place nor the time for one to have a moral compass or a code of ethics.

No sooner had we started the second game than I saw four dark men with AK47’s enter the shack followed by the distinct accent that defined Kiganjo’s finest “Kila mtu chini/everyone on the floor” growled a gruff voice. “Kijana ebu kaa chini ni kama ume simama!” rattled another raspy voice pointing at Hanni which loosely translates to “young man can you sit down as if you are standing up!” Hanni looked puzzled and before he could ask for clarification, he was roughed to the ground the youngest of the four officers. I now know that the deviant officer was asking Hanni to squat. Similar to the Maasai guards, police officers in Kenya were equally as malnourished in mastering Swahili and/or English. All of us were hand-cuffed and frog-matched to the navy blue pick-up that was already packed with wide-eyed fellows like a carton of Mexican oranges on a hot humid summer day.

Watch this space for Part II of the story!