Monday, November 30

The unlikely heroes of COVID-19 Nairobi lockdown: These guys offer the most basic of services and were a lifeline to the city

Meet the unlikely heroes of COVID-19 Nairobi lockdown (April 6th of 2020 to 7th of July 2020). But first, our utmost gratitude to health and other front line workers who continue to battle the pandemic. Sadly so, tragically losing their lives to the virus. You are our heroes. Your sacrifice is untold, especially in light of allegations of the disease of corruption (See Twitter trend #Covid19millionaires) thriving alongside the pandemic. Unforgivable it is that those with the utmost responsibility have chosen greed and personal gain over life.


In my earlier blog on life as a mum with two toddlers in Nairobi during the COVID-19 lockdown I explained why people like myself, adopted Nairobians, find the city a strange place. So much so that when the lockdown of Nairobi to stem the spread of COVID-19 was announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta, it felt like I suddenly had found self locked down in a foreign land.

All along I had never taken notice of the lives around me and how the emergent behavior of their interaction, served as capillaries nourishing the city.

You know how it is. A rented house part of a storied apartment with circa 20 units -itself a unit in a forest of concrete trees; all sixty or so of you living there afflicted with the bad manners of city life. Of not knowing, leave alone greeting, your neighbor? Well my first unlikely hero of the COVID-19 Nairobi lockdown changed all this.

A view of typical buildings and street of Nairobi the where a sizable number of Nairobians call home. Image by BrianTomm/Pixabay

Getting to know my neighbors

My nature of work did not allow me to meet my neighbors because of my schedules. Before the lockdown period, I would come home at 8:00am from the graveyard shift when everyone else would have left for work.

I must admit that I was that neighbor who nobody personally knows – the hermit who pops in and out. In spite of living at my current residence for well over a year, I didn’t know which face came from which house.

But when we finally found ourselves together in lockdown, I started noticing patterns and assigning faces to the names I saw in the neighborhood WhatsApp group chat.

For once, having kids made things easier. During our morning walks, my children would see other kids and call them out by name. And if I hang around long enough answering questions from my little ones and their friends, one was likely to see baba nani or mama nani emerge from their hole in our storied concrete jungle and apologetically call nani home.

Mastering this pattern made my life easy. I would simply greet the caretaker of the other child, take note of that face and from there on make sure I would be greeting them.

Needless to say, by the time the lockdown was being lifted, I had become neighborly with quite a few, spending lazy afternoons consoling each other to overcome the morbid uncertainty of the times from the safety of our balconies.

Unlikely heroes of COVID-19 Nairobi lockdown: Msee wa visu

I also go to know of the important people who patronized our apartments offering an assortment of essential services. First up is Msee wa visu – the guy of knives.

There is this guy who rides a bike contraption that he’s modified to run a large round grinding stone that he uses to sharpen kitchen knives. I had suffered for months with blunt knives in the kitchen.

Whenever this guy visited, he ring his bicycle’s bell. Shortly, you’d hear a crescendo of steel doors noisily opening, and thereafter spot people walking to him with their knives. He does it for a mere 20 bob (approx $0.2) a knife.

Boda guy aka Mthii wa nduthi aka Msee wa boda – The independent motorcycle rider

During the COVID-19 Nairobi lockdown period, I also came to know of the saving grace of a handy boda guy. This man can run any errand armed only with his motorcycle.

a male boda boda rider taken from behind at street level. also known as nduthi guy in Nairobi they are one of my heroes of COVID-19 Nairobi lockdown
A motorcycle rider in Uganda. Boda boda as they are known in Kenya and Uganda or Okada in Nigeria, make Africa move. Image by bazanye/Pixabay

He once brought me bought goods that I had forgotten at the supermarket. All I needed to do was to hand him the receipt.

The guy buys groceries, drinking water, alcohol, fags, pick and drop guests.

He can organize for your car, carpet, whatever to get washed clean.

At short notice, he can mobilize for muscle to lift heavy stuff in your house, all at a nominal fee. He’s everything, especially to single mums like myself.

Mama mboga – The neighborhood grocer

When I first moved Nairobi, I noticed women head out of their homes with bowls or small basins. This sighting was almost always around lunch time and early evenings. I always wondered to myself what the kitchen basins and bowls were for.

Mama Mboga, neighborhood grocer woman, one of my heroes of COVID-19 Nairobi lockdown
A woman selling fruits in a market. The setting for mama mboga is often at a smaller scale to this. Image by David Mark/ Pixabay

Then I came to learn that unlike the peri-urban neighborhood I had emigrated from, in Nairobi’s estates people purchase everything ready made. This includes green vegetables that have been chopped ready for cooking.

As a customer, you just need to carry your bowl, order your veges and wait for mama mboga to chop whatever you’ve purchased. When you get home, you will be ready to fry your freshly cut vegetables. How convenient can life be? It’s about the simple pleasures they say, and I agree.

There are two mama mbogas just outside our gate who do a wonderful job. With two toddlers on my hands, no house-help and with chores to do, their services were a blessing many a time. God bless their souls. 

Unlikely heroes of COVID-19 Nairobi lockdown: Msee wa Duka – The local shopkeeper

Of all the unlikely heroes of COVID-19 lockdown, the most important I got to meet was the shopkeeper, one mama Mato. Mama Mato is a must know as she runs the local kiosk.

And with movement restricted, her service became the more important. With incomes strained or irregular thanks to COVID-19 economic effects, her credit services were a godsend.

Mama Mato advances credit to everyone in the hood. She has no book of creditors, but accurately knows sum total owed at all times. God bless her soul. Wonderful neighborhood buddy.

That’s it, those are my unlikely heroes COVID-19 Nairobi lockdown. They risked their lives to make our lives just the little better.


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