It’s amazing how long childhood friendships can last. Honestly, what title do you give to a person whose been in your life longer than you can even care to remember?
Today I hand over the reins to someone who I have known for as long as I have lived but more importantly, a competent and proficient writer.
Growing up, we didn’t have much nor did we have less.
It was the middle class life.
We grew up in Komarocks; an estate in the suburbs.
Everything was different in the suburbs. Life moved slowly in the suburbs. Things rarely changed. Apart from a few, most people placed little or no effort to their progress. People were content with their simple lives away from the city rush.
But to our discomfort we were engulfed in an endless stream of petty crimes. These crimes were committed by people who felt that the estate belonged to them. It was their turf and they believed that anything and everything that came through or lived in the estate ought to be under their control. These people ran the streets. In America they call them gang bangers. In our small neighborhood we used to refer to them as rende or mbogi.
Understanding the social life of our neighborhood is crucial in knowing how and why such groups existed.
Believe me, I didn’t live in the ghetto; though most of you uppity folks might consider it to be so, but it’s definitely not. I lived in a nice, clean, gated estate with ample security and parking space for all residents. Residents lived together in harmony and only argued when their children clashed. The place was peaceful and quiet but was ruined and corrupted by its neighbors; the ghetto.
People often went to the neighboring ghetto to purchase items at lower prices. Plus, the closest supermarket was in the ghetto. Therefore, interaction with the ghetto was inevitable. This led to a string of thefts and brutal mishandling of residents living in the ‘luxurious’ estate by the thugs living in the ghetto. This mishandling and constant abuse mainly affected the youth who were harassed and made to feel lesser of themselves.
As time went by, the youth in the residential area decided enough is enough so they came together so as to fight off their oppressors. As Henry Rollins said, ‘Nothing brings people together more, than mutual hatred.’ This unity made them stronger. Komarock youth residents were able to go to the ghetto and do their businesses and shop together and in peace. The unified group was a well-oiled machine.
As time went by, the original group started disintegrating into smaller ones. People felt that they could lead their own separate and distinct lives. These differences in opinion and the emergence of different generations led to formation of so many groups.
For the groups to earn and keep their respect they engaged in the abuse of marijuana and alcohol. These were kids still in high school but the peer influence was beyond reproach. It came to be known as the bad boy lifestyle. It was known that girls dig bad boys. Thus, all boys wanted to be bad boys, ultimately fueling the growth of these groups.
Everybody wanted to join a group. Not just any group, but a group they felt was stronger. A stronger group meant that boys from other turfs would respect you and avoid provoking you out of fear of retaliation. Stronger groups had more manpower and that meant retribution would be hard and painful for all those who crossed their line. The gang wars were so many at times that the night would be filled with sounds of screams and breaking glasses.
People always knew the members of stronger groups. Even the induction of a new member was known by all. That’s how their vines worked. Such intricate and disciplined communication helped greatly in the maintenance of ‘peace’ and ‘cohesion’.
If you owned anything fancy, then it would be in your best interest to leave it at home. People were being hazed and robbed from every corner of the estate. Once you crossed paths with any gang, you were given two options: surrender the items peacefully or get a beating from a mob and still lose the item. I think the choice was pretty crystal.
If you weren’t part of any crew then they’d easily sniff you out. After which, you’d be marked as easy prey. If one felt that the gangs considered them to be easy pickings they would pray; pray that they only be robbed. Because, with the gang, there were worse things than getting robbed.
I never joined any gangs. I never saw the reason to do so. I had never been robbed or hazed before and did not really understand why. Was I special? I don’t think so. Or maybe it was my height? I was pretty tall for someone my age – I like to think my proverbial NBA height is all thanks to my strong Luo and Luhya genes. Maybe they found it intimidating.
All my friends got robbed off their petty jewelry. It was painful since we always assumed ornaments like shamballa bracelets and bling bling made us look more trendy and appealing to the fairer sex.
The gangs made sure they stripped everyone off of any valuables they had. I once heard a story of a friend who claimed that they had robbed him off his new kicks. I didn’t believe him naturally since I had never heard anyone robbed off their shoes. But then, as time passed by, he showed me another gang member donning the shoes proudly in the open. He couldn’t do anything but watch his brand new shoes getting appraisals from other people. I could tell it was painful for him but the wisest thing he did was to let go.
These gangs went to the extent of carrying shanks to intimidate anyone who refused to comply. Therefore, staying clear of them and being cooperative when confronted was in your best interest.
I always believed that it was luck that I never got robbed. Or hazed. All my friends had been robbed so many times that they preferred walking with me to rub off on my supposed luck. When walking with me, it seemed you were immune to the hazing. It had come down to hazing since they had already stolen every other valuable item my friends had.
Due to the over compliance of people, the gangs missed the violence so they resorted to new methods to light up fires. Once they spot a target, they’d send the youngest and smallest member of their group to go and ‘peacefully’ ask you to surrender your valuables.
Obviously, if you are larger than the unarmed and tiny thief you’d result in shoving him aside and even throw in a verbal insult to make you feel better about yourself. The gang members would then emerge from the shadows and beat you senselessly and steal all your merchandise. It was an endless vicious cycle of violence, and they loved it.
All my friends went through this and were even subjected to more humiliation like squatting in public or being pissed on only to try and spark any sort of resistance. Not only were they robbing people off their valuables but also their dignity.
There were places in the estate we just heard of and never went to. These places were out of bounds. Not by word of mouth but from belief. The belief that getting to those alleys of the estate warranted a beating. If you owned a bicycle, it was only wise to cycle around your neighborhood so that if you spot any gang affiliated person or just a whole gang you can quickly and easily dash back home.
Funny thing about bicycles, they’d never take them forcefully, you’d find yourself giving it to them. If you refused to comply, then they’d mark you as you cycled away. If you were slow they’d quickly catch up and you’d end up surrendering it still.
While stealing a bike they’d use the same line over and over again. I never knew why and yet the person offering them the ride always knew that it’s the last time that they’d see it.
They’d always say, “Just give me your bicycle I cycle to that point and back,” while pointing to a nearby packed vehicle. You’d hand it over to them and watch as they glide past the vehicle and disappear into the distance while his friends disperse laughing at you.