I partly grew up in Dandora before we were abruptly ‘deported’ back to the village when my father married a second wife. However much it was viewed as a low-class estate, I built many fond memories in that place. Life was easy.

We did not carry the weight of expectations on our shoulders except to behave well, take a shower and stay clean. We would walk and head off to Ngomongo, a faraway ghetto in search of fun. We would cross the shaky wooden Korogocho Bridge hanging a few meters in the air with the sewage flowing down along the mighty Nairobi River.

It was a scary experience but we totally loved the experience.

We were young and wild.

The stalled cars that were and still are dumped near Nairobi River at the Kariobangi light Industries Bridge just before you join rounda was one of our favourites hang out joints. The afternoons we adored most were the days we spent time turning the hard steering wheels, stepping on the stalled brakes & clutch. Though the cars were moribund, we still extracted fun and joy from them and the layers of dust that covered the seats didn’t bother us one bit.

Life was tough, hope was precious but because we didn’t know otherwise, we were content.

We had grounds to play at, running water, tarmac roads, proper working sewerage systems and other amenities. Houses were built in an orderly manner. A city council truck did garbage collection weekly and we were given proper bins.

Then we got exposed to other people (Buru folks) who lived better lives. While we asked ourselves, “When will we eat, they asked, “what shall we eat?”

What they considered as waste is what we would scavenge near the dumpsite. Not because we were so poor but it was a fun thing to do with the boys and to complement the predictable diet of skuma wiki and cabbages we had at home. We called it Kudhora.

Gangs like the dreaded Mungiki sect were ‘chilling’ near our hood and it didn’t bother us much. We didn’t know otherwise because the hood was generally full of young unemployed people.

Garbage collection

Ten years later, we decided to venture into the business of collecting garbage in the neighbourhood. By that time, my family had moved a few meters from Dandora to a place called Kariobangi South. We had broken the social strata barrier: a two-bedroom self-contained house. That meant we had our own toilet, a kitchen, and sink.

A group of us, three to be specific, came together to start a business venture. All of us had just finished high school and because transition levels to campus or college were low in Kariobangi, we decided to venture into business.

The easiest one was to sort the problem that was right before us, the garbage menace. We also wanted to give our estate a better look even as we made money.

To professionalize the trade of garbage was also our hidden goal.

The groups that were doing the job weren’t efficient. Garbage would lie out for days and the stench was unbearable. So we printed business cards and name tags. Then we went and distributed collection paper bags. But when we knocked on the doors of our prospective clients, we introduced ourselves in a professional manner by stating our intentions, showing nametags and handing out business cards.

We became an instant hit in the estate and our trade spread like bush fire. Young responsible, clean, Christian men who had also gone to school replaced the glue smelling, arrogant and sometimes scary garbage collectors.

We went on doing the business but what we didn’t know was that we were stepping on a live wire. Our destruction was like a ticking time bomb. The people we were messing up with their trade were a famous gang whose atrocities and exploits of chopping off heads of their enemies were well known.

One Saturday we woke up as usual with the same zeal to collect garbage. What we did not know was that after studying us, they had hatched a diabolical plan to excruciatingly bring to a painful end our competition. On the fateful Saturday, these goons who rounded us off to some abandoned houses surrounded us.

We didn’t even attempt to fight back because while were just young men, the people who surrounded us were angry mean looking, stench smelling grown bearded men who had clubs and crude weapons at their disposal. If we dared fight them, maybe our bodies would have been recovered from the dumpsite having been feasted on by dogs.

They gave us a long lecture and placed two options on the table. We all fight and whoever wins retains the region or we walk away from the business with a vow never to interrupt it again.

We decided to play their game so we handed over the money we had collected and we promised to never do the business ever again. That’s how our dream of a successful and sustainable career in garbage collection was thrown to the dogs.

Decomposing Dandora

If you Google Dandora right now, the images that will come are able to script, shoot and sell a horror movie just by themselves. Pigs, guns, filth etc are now synonymous with the place we once loved.

Going back to Dandora is always a scary experience because of what the place has degenerated into. It’s almost looking like a pit of hell. The Dandora I once knew now looks like a war zone where a cocktail of grenades and other explosives were dropped.

The people who didn’t know the cleaner Dandora might not understand why it pains us to see it in that state: From heaps of garbage on the roadside, flowing sewer, dust, potholes on the roads and just pure madness. Shanties by the roadside dirty buildings and contingents of young people who look beaten by life now what characterizes Dandora.

Either the people there have accepted the inevitable or they feel hopeless and forgotten that they don’t see any need to fight. The promises that were made to them have since turned into broken dreams. The gangs that run the place find an easy place for recruitment because of the disillusioned youths.

The Dandora I knew in the early 90’s was very organized. After years of neglect, the place now looks like a bad joke.

But the systems have since been abused. From where I stand, leaders only see the people from Dandora as voting tools. In the eyes of our politicians, the people of that part of the world are not human enough to enjoy such amenities. The luxury of working systems is too a lofty reality for them.

More annoying is this reality; how many Dandoras are in Nairobi county? For how long will we wait as the county degenerates into a heap of a mess? What will it take to turn this county around and make it a truly habitable city? When will we rise up and demand that our taxes be used appropriately to provide what’s really basic to the humans of Nairobi? How long will we allow politicians to hawk false hope, which we swallow even as we fall into their own traps?

The good thing is that we always have every five years to make a choice on the kind of leader we want. We can choose the best or we can continue with tribal arithmetic as policy discussions suffer.

The next leader of this county must drastically change the lives of our people.

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Author: Dannish Odongo

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