I know this topic is a bit confusing because the name Syokimau belongs to a kamba woman. I am married to a Luo man. Please don’t jump into conclusions, I will explain. Needless to say, the mention of ‘Syokimau’ brings back memories of gigantic caterpillars pulling down multi-million shilling investments and tearing apart people’s dreams and hopes of ever owning a home. I am not talking about this either. Let me give you a brief history.
In the latter part of the 19th century, the Akamba community’s resistance to colonial “pacification” was mostly non-violent in nature. Some of the best known Akamba resistance leaders to colonialism were: Syokimau, Syotune wa Kathukye, Muindi Mbingu, and later Paul Ngei, JD Kali, and Malu of Kilungu. Ngei and Kali were imprisoned by the colonial government for their anti-colonial protests. Syotune wa Kathukye led a peaceful protest to recover cattle confiscated by the British colonial government during one of their raiding expeditions on the local populations. Muindi Mbingu was arrested for leading another protest march to recover stolen land and cattle around the Mua Hills in Masaku district, which the British settlers eventually appropriated for themselves. JD Kali, along with Paul Ngei, joined the Mau Mau movement to recover Kenya for the Kenyan people. He was imprisoned in Kapenguria during the fighting between the then government and the freedom fighters. History is beautiful! Isn’t it?
Last but not least was Syokimau. History has it that this name refers to an ancient Kamba medicine woman, witch and prophetess who lived in the1800s. Syokimau made a name for herself: she endeared herself to the warriors as she could predict an attack by the Maasai long before they came, giving the Akamba ample time to prepare for defense. Besides predicting the attacks, Syokimau would also pray and offer sacrifices on behalf of the Akamba warriors whenever they were about to go to war with their neighbors. She is credited with the prediction of the coming of the colonialists and the railway, saying she had foreseen and forewarned her people about the coming of the white man. She told her people that foreigners would come travelling in the bowels of birds (aeroplanes) and would speak like birds (in English) Tihihihi. While on land, they would ride on a snake with many legs (a train). In Athi River, a local prophetess, Syonguu, was so impressed by Syokimau that she named a village in her territory after her. To date, Syokimau in Athi River where the colonialists had constructed a railway station still bears the prophetess’s name. This gave birth to the inauguration of Kenya’s first commuter train in Nov 2012- The Syokimau Railway Station along Mombasa Road. This train came as a savior to many of us commuters who have over the years dreaded the long morning jam on Mombasa road.
The thought of having to leave the house at 7am and still be in Nairobi town centre by 7.35am was a dream come true to many of us city dwellers. We embraced and welcomed the idea to the comfort and consequence of having to sleep a little longer in the morning, completely avoid the jam and keep a few coins in your pocket a little longer than they would have been there.
The ride from my station to town centre usually takes exactly 24minutes! No more, no less, this is how time conscious the train cockpit is. The story does not end here, its not all good news.
I am usually woken up by the hooting of the train at 6.10am as it heads to Syokimau Railway station from town centre. The morning train picks the first commuters at syokimau and leaves at exactly 6.55am. This is the group of people live in Syokimau, Mlolongo, Kitengela and its environs. Most of these people averagely age between mid thirties to late forties. Most of them would pass as middle class employees with a number who are home owners in Syokimau. The clout and ambiance around them explains why they are so collected, talk less or don’t talk at all. They usually fill all the seats in the train with a few of them having to stand.
The next stop to this train is the Imara Daima railway station. Just like syokimau, the commuters at this stop are equally organized. The train reaches the station at 7.05am and we have exactly 4mins to board the train before it leaves at 7.09am. This is ample time for an organized group of people to board the train one by one, secure a standing point and silently wait for the train to leave. These people are mostly young in their late twenties to early thirties, a few older folks who own homes around this area. Most of them being city dwellers- i. e the rent payers. The maiden ride to the town centre continues with loud clinking of the train against the rail, breaking the obvious silence in the train. Most of these people are clung to their iphones, ipads and whatever phones to catch something in the net or simply Facebook. No one bothers to look at or talk to the person standing next to them since they obviously have their earphones on.
The next stop is the Makadara railways station where the train picks the last lot of commuters before heading to the town centre. It takes exactly 13mins from Imara Daima to Makadara, that is to say the train stops at Makadara at exactly 7.22am. A few minutes before the dreaded stop, those in the train adjust their positions. The phones are slipped into pockets or bags, not for fear of losing them but the train is about to get so packed, you will not have the comfort of accessing the net. You grab the nearest rail to confirm your stability.
The moment the door yanks open at Makadara, you see a huge lot of agile people waiting to board this already packed train. They are mostly in their late twenties to early forties. Average middle class kenyans who are definitely dreading the jam on Jogoo road. The first lot of them is thrust into the train in a bundle of 5 or 6 people at a time. A door that usually accommodates one or two people at a time, throws in 6 people all at once. They literally land on those already in the train not due to the centrifugal force from underneath the train but by the determination of those pushing from outside. All this does not happen in silence. Someone from in the midst of the crowd is already shouting, “train si kama matatu, haiwezi jaa. Hebu skuma hao watu”. Another one adds, “Wanajifanya ati hii train ni yao, kwani ni private jet?” This is the only time you get to gaze at the person standing next to you and your eyes meet acknowledging that you both heard the statement. A few of these people get in and remain collected and are grateful for the fact that they secured some vacuum in the train. It doesn’t matter if you are hanging in the air supported by those squeezing you, the important thing is, you are inside. The other group is a lot of marauders, Kenyans who are angry for one reason or the other. They have decided to carry the predicament of the whole nation in their shoulders by spitting malice and hating on people they hardly know. They shove their way in and push you away, at other times displacing you. It’s worse when this person probably had to take a jog for a good couple of minutes to catch the dear train. They are obviously sweating and the next thing you feel is a cold arm landing on your neck and shoving you away, almost strangling you in the process. You are a peace loving Kenyan, you oblige and silently in your heart you say, “This too shall come to pass”. All this time, you are praying and hoping that no one has hepatitis, a cough, a flue, tuberculosis or anything airborne. The train is packed beyond capacity. People are literally pushed in so that the door can finally be closed. It has only been 4mins, its 7.26am and the train leaves for town centre. This ride usually takes 9mins, but these are usually the longest nine minutes of our lives.
At this point am reminded of the slave trade era when Africans would be stuffed in ships like cargo and exported elsewhere to be sold as slaves. We are equally that packed, the only difference is, we are slaves to our own country. The gap between you and the next person is approximately negative infinity. You can feel someone’s full body contour rubbing against yours, this is happening from all directions and its worse if you are a woman and surrounded by a race of the opposite sex. This is pure fornication! Pray Christ doesn’t come and find you in that position. My friend you will miss heaven. Another one is literally breathing in the air you just breathed out, this obviously means you too are doing the same. Believe you me, you can’t hold your breath for 9 mins, you will DIE!!. It is worse when someone decided it was not their day to shower in the morning or it was their day to rewind that Sunday best. They obviously have no appreciation for the inventions of roll-ons, colgate or Gillette! It gets worser when they decide to complain all the way to the town centre. They complain about random things, from why the railway cannot add additional wagons to why it is raining today and maybe why they are alive. (I think).
The train finally stops at the Nairobi railway station. Niga if you stayed alive all the way, you deserve a trophy. Yes there is a trophy, its getting to the exit before everyone flocks there and jams the biometric systems that were not designed to accommodate hundreds of you. You are literally thrust out of the train by the same force that thrust people into the train at Makadara. As long as you can feel every part of your body, you are clearly alive and all you need to do is join in the rat race to the exit. The probability that you will be pushed out is zero since you have to queue and use the ticket you bought to buy your way out. This is the only experience of civilization.
Now you are out, if you did a mistake of wearing mascara, it will have smeared all over your sorry face. That eyeliner you smeared on your eyebrows half remained on someone’s shirt. If your blouse or shirt is still intact, you are lucky. You didn’t comb your hair, don’t lie! .You now look like “Khal drogo” from “Game of thrones”. A warrior ready to face the day’s cares. It’s another day, another dollar. You swear how that is the LAST EVER time you ever used that train. The next morning you find yourself with the same undumpable husband – The Syokimau train. Peace out!