Days teachers on bicycles painted Kakamega town red

Niko Atswenje is currently the owner of Karumaindo restaurant at Lurambi in Kakamega town on September 2, 2022. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Bicycles outside Kakamega’s popular entertainment joints in the 1970s through to 1990s meant only one thing: payday for teachers. Back then, bicycles were a status symbol and most of the people who owned them were senior teachers and civil servants.

Some of them cycled after work to Karumaindo bar or to Lurambi on the outskirts of town to eat roast meat. The bar has withstood the test of time, 60 years later.

A lot has changed since, so much so that someone who last visited Kakamega town 15 years ago would hardly recognise the town today. Paved roads, pedestrian walkways, tree-lined streets, and a clean taxi park, among other improvements, proclaim the fruits of devolution.

The wide, well-lit road between Amalemba and Lurambi estates is a tremendous improvement of the former single-lane and narrow road. It is the first indicator to a visitor that they are entering town.

Muliro Gardens, which gained notoriety after obscene pictures taken at the recreational park emerged in 2011, has had a facelift. There are no more bamboo thickets and benches on which immorality thrived, turning the gardens into a contemporary Sodom and Gomorrah. Today, people relax there as hawkers conduct their business.

But despite the transformation, some landmarks such as Karumaindo bar are still the same.

“Except for the usual challenges in any business, we are doing relatively well. Ownership of the bar has changed several times, but the location and name have endured. New entertainment joints have come up all around us, especially with the increase in population and the expansion of Masinde Muliro University. However, our clients are special,” says Niko Musundi, the proprietor of Karumaindo bar. 

He adds: “Most of those who frequent Karumaindo bar, established in 1964, belong to the older generation. They have maintained loyalty to the establishment and would rather have their beer here than anywhere else.” 

“We tried changing the name of the bar to ‘Mundenjekhero’ in 2019 but patrons would have none of it. We had to revert after only a few weeks,” Musundi recalls with a smile.

In the local dialect, Mundenjekhero is a place where elders used to congregate and drink beer from a communal pot using long wooden straws.  

Musundi says: “We purposefully do not sell keg beer to keep the rowdy younger generation away. Neither do we play loud music. We only play rhumba because that is how our clientele wants it. Karumaindo is more like a members’ club. Most of them are retirees, teachers and civil servants.” 

Besides Karumaindo, there were other famous social meeting places such as Wayside hotel and bar, Buhando bar, Bunyore bar, Green bar, and Bendera hotel, bar and restaurant. Wayside hotel, bar, and restaurant was situated in town, a few metres from the Kakamega County Government headquarters.

Bendera hotel, bar and restaurant faced the entrance to Muliro gardens. Much later, it gave way to one of the main banks in Kakamega town while Wayside died. Buhando bar, on the western edge of the town, was the most famous roast goat meat joint in town for years until it ceased operations a few months ago to allow renovations. 

“Wayside was classy and the place to be in the 1980s through to the 1990s. It was the most popular bar in town where the who–is -who at the time used to meet and share banter over a bottle of beer,” James Chibole reminisces. A businessman in town, he was one of the patrons of the club.

“I met a district officer who later became a close friend at Wayside in 1987. We often took drinks alternately between Karumaindo bar in Lurambi and Wayside as the most popular drink joints in town then,” Patrick Kisuya says.

He adds: “Whenever one needed some quiet environment outside the town, we would go to Karumaindo in Lurambi. As it were, we shuffled between the two bars on a good day.”

Across the road from Wayside bar, the few taxis that operated at the time used to park there.

“Those days, taxis were mainly ramshackles. A car had to have seen better days to qualify as a taxi. They rattled so loudly, it was hard to converse normally. Many did not have ignition keys and were either kicked into life using exposed wires or pushed. The brakes required constant pumping to work,” Songoi Mathew recalls.

Then, as opposed to now, bicycles were a rarity. Most of the people who owned bicycles were teachers, and they only came out on paydays. It was therefore easy to tell when teachers had earned.

Today, however, bicycles are no longer a status symbol. They have become ubiquitous and a means through which many earn a living ferrying people.

“Any day many bicycles were seen in town, it was a signal that teachers had earned and many were out watering their throats after days of shouting and inhaling chalk dust. The other sign was seeing people walk around town carrying kerosene in five-litre jerricans. Many of them were teachers who had just earned,” Songoi recalls.

Most schools were rural-based, but services were domiciled in towns. It was not possible to find a bar or filling station anywhere close to the villages. That was why teachers took advantage of the day they went to town to get their pay to party, buy kerosene and do some shopping.

Unfortunately, most of the teachers also lost their money and bicycles on payday. Criminals easily tracked them. The inebriated teachers never stood a chance once thugs attacked them in secluded places on their way home after taking one too many.