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Woodvale Grove

An obituary for the hustler’s paradise

Westlands, or Kirungii as it was formerly known, was the place to be in Nairobi until it was overtaken by Upper Hill. But in our minds, it remains a place for the affluent, with new office blocks, fine hotels, restaurants and entertainment joints patronised by the who’s who.

If you tell someone you live in Westlands, they quickly elevate you to a higher socio-economic class; it doesn’t matter if you’ve rented or own your residence.

Westlands is home to malls, leading supermarkets, exotic eateries and international brands. Lots of buildings are changing the suburb’s skyline. But within that sea of affluence lay a hustlers’ paradise: the Westlands market that was brought down by the police on Thursday last week. If you were in a hurry, you wouldn’t have noticed it – most motorists along that road are preoccupied with avoid the pedestrians crossing the busy road.

The market was at the corner of Woodvale Grove and Ringroad; opposite Sankara Hotel across the road.

It was enclosed, not by a wall, but a layer of kiosks that hid the rest of the market. I recently visited the market looking for a ‘small item’.

Inside the market, the alleys were narrow – no space was left to waste. There were also so many alleys that you weren’t sure which one to take. But whichever one you end up on, you’d quickly be convinced you’re in a hustlers’ paradise.

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There were tailors with their sewing machines, reminding one of the good old days in the countryside when tailors made our uniforms and patched our clothes.

Just before schools opened, we underwent the ritual of ‘taking measurements’.

There were nyama choma joints, with smoke billowing over the roofs and the scent making one salivate. It was not clear where one would sit to eat the meat, so it was most likely take-away.

There were fruits and fresh juices on sale. There were eateries, barbers at work, cobblers hard at work, watch repairers, plumbers and their wares, and other hustlers.

Everyone getting into the market seemed to know everyone else well, and they’d converse in their local language.

The market was very relaxed despite being in one of Nairobi‘s most affluent suburbs.

Westlands market’s activities compare favourably to any village in Kenya, from Shamakhokho to Kimbimbi. The big question is, who patronised this market?

It’s not hard to explain. Lots of hustlers pass through Westlands from Kangemi and adjoining low-income residencies. There’s always a mass of people crossing Waiyaki Way near the Westlands roundabout.

There are also lots of affluent Nairobians who miss the simplicity of the countryside or want to save some money by avoiding ‘professional services’. The paradise also had hard-to-find services like watch repair.

The market showed that despite all our class consciousness, we need one another. We can co-exist harmoniously.

Yet, as was the case last week, we often see such structures as a nuisance that deserve to be pulled down for ‘development’. But contrary to this view, such markets are seedbeds that nurture hustlers into sonkos.

After all, except for the few who inherit their wealth or steal by stealth, most of Kenya‘s affluent were once innocent hustlers. It is sad to have to say goodbye to this paradise.

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