By COSMAS MARUKO
In many communities in Kenya, a graveyard is feared. Mere mention of the word sends shivers down the spine.
But this does not scare some daring residents of Nyambera village in Kisii town.
Here, the phrase ‘as quiet as a graveyard’ has lost meaning. The public cemetery — opposite Kisii Level Five Hospital Mortuary — is instead a chang’aa den where selling and drinking of local liquor goes on unabated.
As you walk along the road separating the mortuary and the cemetery, you see people milling around two huge blue gum trees next to the river. You may think it is a group of bereaved relatives preparing to give last respects to a beloved one, but ha! Those are business people selling chang’aa to touts from the nearby bus park.
Two women sell the hooch from five-litre jerricans hidden in bags to conceal the contraband. The smallest ‘tot’ goes for as little as five shillings. The spot is popular with boda boda operators, touts and shoe shiners.
Asked why they use the cemetery, one of the customers said, “We are simply evading the police who harass us in the villages. Here we are safe. They cannot come to the cemetery. They fear the place.”
One of the women selling avered that they moved from the village to hawk in the cemetery for ‘security’ reasons: “The police used to arrest us and demand bribes, so we decided to beat them at their own game.”
The ‘business’ has been going on for the last one year. Some of the inebriated customers even sleep in the cemetery without much thought to the possibility of annoying the dead.
Most travellers who use motorcycle taxis in town complain of the alcoholic stench emanating from the riders’ heavy clothing without knowing where the hooch comes from.
It is the same thing with matatu passengers who complain about drunken touts who harass and hurl obscenities at them.
One of the touts, however, said that shouting the whole day for customers is a difficult job that requires some kind of ‘fuel’ to keep them going.
“We start our job from as early as 4am. Just like matatus fuel for every trip they make, we also have to ‘refuel’ to remain in business the whole day,” he said.
That is when they walk down to their ‘fuel station’ inhabited by the dead to top up before taking a snooze in empty matatus.