Eastleigh, the Shopping District of Nairobi
It reached a point where I was getting envious, envious of the Nairobi beggars , the ones who are disabled, mostly amputees. I was not envious of their begging, but more of their begging while dressed in pretty cool garments, more so designer jeans. You see, you cannot beg in designer jeans and expect people to listen to your plight when they are dressed in garments that are almost wearing thin.
So after been approached by several beggars who I felt were better dressed than I was, I decided that it was time to upgrade my wardrobe. The first place to look was my dirt-cheap stockist in downtown Nairobi, but I found that when it came to jeans, the stock reminded me of some jeans that I once saw when I was in primary school, popularly known as Savco.
Remembering a story I had been told about Eastleigh having a large enough stock of textiles sold at a subsidized price(apparently)by pirates, I decided to pay the place a visit. The place, might be the source of the billions of dollars in hard foreign currency that the Government of Kenya cannot account for.
Eastleigh is less than 20 minutes from the city centre on Matatu route 9, one of the fancy matatu routes characterised by colourful matatus with loud music, lights at night and probably in-flighttravel video. I got myself a back seat which I realized is not the best of seats. The reason that the back seat is not the best of seats was evident as I alighted the matatu with an upturned stomach. The upturned stomach had nothing to do with the strong perfumes characteristic of Somalis, but was a direct result of the number of speed bumps on a approximately 2Km stretch of road between Kariokor on Ring Road Ngara and First Avenue Eastleigh, otherwise known as General Waruinge Street.
General Waruinge street habours about 3 high schools, 2 primary schools, a clinic and a maternity hospital. The street , best of all, proudly boasts of not less than 11 standard sized speed-bumps, probably making it the road with the highest density of bumps in Kenya. Apparently, such drastic measures had to be taken to guarantee the safety of school children crossing the street given the driving skills of Kenyan drivers, which are nothing to write about here.
Ignoring the tummy turning bumps, Eastleigh also boasts of high human density with more than 10 malls around or off Eastleigh First Avenue. First Avenue itself is a street which was once tarmacked , but now reduced to potholes filled with either mud or murky water. Worse of all, the road has remained at 2 lanes despite the growth of the area, and thus there is always a traffic jam and it can take almost half an hour to an hour to navigate up/down First Avenue.
The Malls capitalize on available real estate, and have not spared the road, road reserve and are built next to each other. Even before you get to the malls, the street is filled up with hawkers who have lined their wares along the side of the road, such that if a bus is passing by, the wares have to be dragged out of the road to give space. From these hawkers, you can get new mens jeans for only Kshs. 300 ($4).
The front shops of most malls deal with electronics, with a wide array of phones, television sets at bargain prices. However, I was more interested in the garments. The malls, as I came to find out, are somehow organised either into sections dealing with several items like handbags, jeans or shirts or into whole malls dealing with particular items like beddings or jeans.
When it comes to graments, jeans in the malls will retail averagely at kshs. 500 - 700, with top of the range one going as from kshs. 900. At the same time, one will realize that range of items stocked in the malls is of a wider range than what is stocked at shops at the city centre or downtown Nairobi. In fact, some of the so called "designer" stockists in the city centre stock a selection of items that you can find at Eastleigh, and also charge almost double or more for the same items. In fact, you are better off shopping for textiles including ladies' handbags and men's wallets at Eastleigh than in town. The range of items is wider and prices are fairer. From what I saw, most of the shops in the City Centre seem to be sourcing their stock from Eastleigh rather than importing them, as they claim.
Ventilation in the malls is poor , with some of them been quite stuffy. some of the staircases also seem to be unplanned , especially been steep and metallic. As for the buildings, they look solidly built and we hope they are. Security in the area is good, but you still have to be wary of pick pockets as is the norm in crowded places. Some of the shop attendants do not understand Kiswahili and speak halting English. As for their nationality, that shall remain disputed, but the voter registration queues were empty despite it been a weekend.
Eastleigh can do well if the developers in the area took account of pedestrians and motorists. First of all, there is need for wider pavements and drainage. The streets will also need to be wider and tarmacked, otherwise the malls my suffocate themselves or find themselves disadvantaged if an alternative shopping area with better amenities was developed.
If you can stand the people and the poor drainage/ventilation, Eastleigh will offer a wide variety of your shopping needs at bargain prices.