Radio Avenue

By Sylvester Oluoch

The complexities of poetry are destroyed by the media. In the theater, spoken language can be defended and expanded. – Howard Barker – British playwright.


Keep me company as I take bus ride through this popular street. In the process, I want you to draw conclusions of your own, to make criticisms of your own and, where deserved, give any earned praise.

We are to pick a matatu from our usual bus-stop. Being on a weekday morning, a number of people are already there, waiting to be ferried to their destinations. Within a few minutes, a matatu arrives and we elbow our way to the inside. We find ourselves seat near the window with a good view of the outside. It soon speeds off and after a few minutes turns onto Radio Avenue. Our journey has begun.

But before we go any further, let me give you a brief description of Radio Avenue: It is a single street, long and winding and goes wherever you want to go. It reminds one of the proverbial all roads lead to Rome, but this time the saying is inverted. Its sides are dotted with a number of bus stops, where it seems a passenger or two always has to drop off and others picked up. At some of these places you will always find two or three people chatting and laughing and cracking jokes at the top of their voices, trying to entice other people to join them. Unfortunately some passengers and pedestrians forget what they were waiting for at the bus stop or where they were heading to and end up joining in the chit-chat.

This explanation has taken up quite a bit of time and I can see we are already approaching the first of several bus stops.

This stop is called Classicway. No one knows how it got its name because it is hard to link it to any of the nine definitions of the word ‘classic’ given in the Collins English Dictionary. Here, both in the morning and in evening, you will always find some two young men whom everyone fondly refers to as MK2.

They are famed for their ability to command a large following of listeners while talking about the most depraved of topics and playing everyone’s favorite music in the interludes of their conversation. People cluster around them at the bus stop, passengers lean out of their windows just to catch a word of what they are saying, and drivers delay their stops just to listen to them…

Anyone in his right senses would ask himself why people would waste their time filling their heads with such trash, and sometimes contributing to it; or why no one ever comes up to condemn such ignoble public discussions. Once, the matatu I was in delayed there. I became impatient and asked the driver what the problem was. His reply was simple: “The people want to listen to these mad men.” I found it hard to believe this. I hope that the next time you pass by there you will give these two men a piece of your mind.

After dropping off two passengers and picking up a new one, the vehicle zooms off again at a high speed. Looking at your face, I can see the creases forming on your brow. Evidently, you are still pondering what you have just heard the people speaking about at Classicway. For now, I advise you to keep these thoughts aside as our road is still long.

After about 5 minutes of an uneventful journey we come to the second stop: Idhaa.

This stop is plain and obviously not the favorite for persons who consider themselves progressive. The people who are gathered here are mostly old men and women talking about the problems Kenya is facing today, or about a certain old musician who has passed away, or reading the obituaries, or exchanging messages they have received from their loved ones… Beside them, there is a small transistor radio playing Swahili and Lingala songs, the likes of which the so-called progressive would be unable to identify who sang them or when they were sung.

I remember the days when I was young. I used to come to Idhaa with my father. Here I learnt many things about life, spoken by people who had been through it; I learnt what it means to be a true patriot from the people who had practiced patriotism; I learnt about other peoples’ cultures, and how to appreciate them, from the cultured… It is hard to enumerate the richness of the cumulative hours spent waiting for matatus at Idhaa. I would bore you to death if I started documenting them all here.

One wonders why young people are no longer seen at Idhaa soaking in the wisdom from the sages. Maybe the old men themselves are to blame for not trying hard enough to keep up with the younger generation… or maybe the younger generation is moving too fast, avoiding being kept up with by the older generation. I do not know. You judge for yourself.

We do not stay there for long and soon we are off again leaving the old men to lament about what only they can understand.

I am already feeling tired and I am sure that you have enough to think about for the present. I hope that one day we will travel the entire stretch of the road and see the remaining bus stops. We will see Jamboni and Kata Kiu; Kissima and Familia. If we have time, we will even go as far as Kona Mbaya. For now we will alight at Easylab and take the next bus back to the comfort of home.

Sylvester is a 3rd year Bachelor of Quantity Surveying student at the University of Nairobi.

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