• Caleb Atemi

I closed my eyes. My scrawny body was paralysed to the bone. I could not move an inch.


Once or twice a week, in the thick of the night, I would accompany Kimani on the long lonely trek to Fari. Armed with a jembe and a panga each, we would make our way to the main sewerage plant located next to the Nakuru National Park.

Fari, as the place was known, was where we were told all our human waste went. Indeed to a child’s eye, this made sense. There were numerous mini-lakes here. Large rectangular dams filled with sewerage whose stench permeated every crack and crevice of our lives.

These dams sat at the bottom of Gioto hill and it is on their banks that we always landed with our rolling tyres from atop the hill of pain.

It is in Fari that the Nakuru Municipal Council treated the town’s sewerage turning some of the solid waste into manure. The “cleaned” water would then be allowed to flow into the Lake Nakuru, the home to millions of flamingos.

Scores of families used this “treated” water to grow different types of vegetables on hundreds of tiny plots. Each family paid some monthly commission to the municipal authorities for “use of space”. It is these vegetables that fed most of the families in Nakuru.

Here, many families from Kivumbini, grew Sukuma Wiki (Kale) and spinach both for domestic consumption and sale. Almost all the families I knew educated their children from either the sale of these vegetables or illicit brew; chang’aa and busaa. The vegetables at Fari were irrigated day and night using the raw sewerage water that flowed freely around the plant. I never knew why our family never acquired a plot here. I never asked because my father, a tall, muscular man with a balding head, referred to by his peers as Mzee Kipara (the bald headed old man), never entertained questions. Mzee Oyieli was so fierce, harsh and unfriendly to his children that we learnt to coax favours out of him only when he was tipsy or drunk. We only saw his smile in his drunken state. I believe he believed that being warm with children would spoil them and make them soft.

Papa showed his love to us, especially the boys through violence. He had extreme forms of punishment for childhood misdeeds.

Fari therefore remained other people’s place. Nevertheless, as early as the age of six, I would accompany many neighbours to Fari to tender, dig or water the vegetables. I would earn a few coins of benefit from vegetables to boost our family diet. Such errands were run mainly during the weekends or school holidays. Kimani’s family was my favourite since apart from the monetary benefits, they allowed me to pluck some vegetables for our own domestic use, something my mother truly appreciated.

The toughest Fari assignment however, was that of keeping or scaring away buffalos and other animals from the national park that would invade the plots to chew away peoples sweat. We learnt to make noises, light fires and set up traps in trenches to capture the bigger animals. I remember one time we set trap to catch the fierce and powerful buffalos. Days turned to weeks without any luck.

One evening however, Kimani and I were crawling on our fours near one of the trenches after we noticed a huge buffalo chewing away only a few metres from us. Both fear and apprehension gripped me. I knew that if the animal got agitated and gave chase we had no chance of outrunning it. We had been told severally by elders that the only way to survive an angry buffalo was to play dead, but even then you would survive with lifelong injuries.

The beast suddenly stopped grazing. It raised its head up and snorting agitatedly made a dash towards our direction. I closed my eyes. My scrawny body was paralysed to the bones. I could not move an inch. I only recall what followed. A loud thud and mournful groans of an animal in grave pain. What I did not know was that between us and the buffalo lay the deep trench that the adults had dug to trap these night thieves.

Buffalos were known to wipe away a whole family’s investment and sweat from only one nights visit. They would eat an entire acre of sukuma wiki and other vegetables leaving poor families in tears and pain.

On this night of terror, the huge animal stumbled and fell into the trap. We were elated. I picked my tiny frame up. Kimani, who was older, bigger and taller than me had disappeared in a flash. However, word spread fast and soon adults were all over with sharp pangas, swords and knives to attack the beast. Immobilised and injured animal had broken its legs in the fall. After countless blows from the men, it gave up the fight and was slaughtered. We all benefited from free meat. In those days the park askaris moved at a snails pace. They arrived at the scene days later. The meat had been consumed. The skin and hooves had vanished. The only evidence of an animal slaughter was the muddied blood.

Today, am told what used to be Fari is a sprawling human settlement. Our footprints disappeared in the muddied treks of time.

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