As a primer for my impending trip to Somalia, my friend, an attorney, picked me at Muthaiga club this Sunday to stroll the “streets” of Eastleigh, an ad hoc city within Nairobi that first sprouted as a refugee camp of sorts after wore broke out in Somalia in the early 90’s. It has since mushroomed into a full-fledged sized city – albeit not officially recognized as such. As far as I know it lacks a proper post office, schools, and
elected or appointed officials who represent the area. It’s believed that %99 of Somalis living live here illegally. Police routinely arrest random Somalis, who within hours, bribe their way out of jail.
Chaos prevails and young men carrying several pounds of clothing or charcoal on their backs have right of way, often bumping us into the streets.
And yet, in Eastleigh, you can buy almost anything — the Louis Vuitton might be fake but the grenades and handguns are not. My friend and I were looking for computer bags. We found a “maradadi” (nice-looking) one made of green canvas. But a zipper broke immediately.
It’s no accident that the larger complexes — essentially multi-story malls — are dubbed “Bangkok” and “Hong Kong” for the acres of smuggled goods, mostly cheap and they all looked the same. Mercifully, I didn’t see any animals for sale. I kept losing sight of Adeel, who wore khaki safari-type clothes.
I felt safe and soon realized you didn’t have to be alert as much for pick-pockets as cars that race through streets, consisting of three foot standing waves of dirt. Drivers seemed to have no qualms of running anyone over. Every car seemed to be backing up looking for a parking space. A pair of shoes lay strewn and abandoned on the sidewalk. How did they get there? Adeel explained that the owner of the shoes was likely run over.
We looked at cheap “cotton” shirts and shiny jackets with Marks and Spencer labels sewn inside. Each suq or kiosk seemed to be peddling the same less than desirable quality goods. We resisted the urge to buy because it was inexpensive.
My friend was particularly interested in buying gold bricks. Somali men and woman selling gold-plaited jewelry had no clue, but an Ethiopian clothes salesman said he could find us “black rocks” – green, yellow and pink inside.
Let’s go, I said. He promised to organize a viewing the next day. He warned us to be wary of salesman. Most are “faruidsters”. What? Ah, fraudsters.
But we had no intention of returning.
We left empty-handed.