Congested pipeline estate in Embakasi South,Nairobi County on Saturday 4th 2015 Bringing up a child may not be so easy in search environment. [Photo: Jame Wanzala]

If you live in some parts of Nairobi, you will have to sit and watch - with your naked eyes - as your wet laundry dries. Or else it will change ownership faster than you can say “Handshake.”

The petty thievery of clothes from the hang lines is notorious in Eastlands, with areas like Mathare North, Dandora, Baba Dogo and Githurai taking the trophy.

The Nairobian has established that wet laundry is a ‘hot cake’ - and is often stolen alongside your karai, pegs, bathroom slippers and shoes. Towels, duvets and bedsheets are also sought after by petty thieves who make quick money offloading them to individuals and road sidesecond hand merchants who don’t ask stupid questions.

The situation is worse during school holidays as the number of idle youth in need of pocket money goes up - and unplucking wet clothes becomes the easiest way of earning extra cash.

Joan Nyambura, a Mathare resident, once went to pick her crying baby in the house only to come back and find her new duvet gone.

“It took me three minutes to pick my baby, but on returning to the balcony, it was gone from the clothing line,” she says.

Moses Wafula - a security guard who often works at night - says he lost everything including underwear, uniform and boots.

“They stole all my inner pants until I was left with one - and that’s because I was wearing it that day. Often, I have had to sit and watch them dry whenever I do my laundry,” says Wafula adding that perpetrators are mostly idle youth, high school drop outs and students on holiday.

Wafula adds that the petty thieves also steal food cooking on balconies - and that most people “have lost their stoves together with whatever they were cooking. I was personally forced to buy githeriafter my stove with oiling matumbowas stolen.”

Sections of Pipeline Estate [Photo: Wilberforce Okwiri]

Mathare area Assistant Chief John Kithinji confirmed handling several cases per week with the most notorious places being Mathare Area B, Mathare 4B and Mlango Kubwa along Juja Road in Nairobi. He adds that perpetrators are residents working in cahoots with crooked outsiders.    

Mathare Area community chairperson Christopher Ongweny told The Nairobian that young couples are also notorious.

He says a woman was caught red-handed by a neighbour stealing her stove with beef boiling on a sufuria. And when Ongweny searched her house, “we established that three-quarters of her inner garments, bed sheets and clothes belonged to neighbours.”

Ongweny says residents had resolved to only rent houses to tenants bearing copies of their ID cards and a letter from their previous residence to curb the situation, but this has never been taken seriously.

Anne Nyambura - a tomato vender and resident of Githurai in Nairobi - says her two kids always keep an eye on her laundry most weekends. She adds that thievery happens in populated residential plots.   

Residents of Baba Dogo and Dandora claim stealing of wet clothes happens during garbage collection. That garbage bags are used to ferry wet clothes from lines and other valuables on balconies. Other items stolen include pegs, towels and in the case of Pipeline and some parts of Embakasi, shoes left at doorsteps.

Rufton Ng’iela a first year student at JKUAT and her friends lost five pairs of shoes while visiting her cousin in Embakasi. She was forced to borrow bathroom slippers - which is what she wore to campus. Even though no cases have been reported to police, caretakers of most flats in Pipeline confirm the vice is now rampant even in gated flats.

Sam Nyakundi, a caretaker, blames the vice on sale of second hand shoes along the railway line. He singles out the Kware area where Evans Otieno, who had lost his shoes in Pipeline, later traced them there but did not find the trader, as one of the most notorious markets for stolen goods.

Nyakundi says, “It is the same residents who buy these stolen items and this encourages the thieves.”

Other areas where second hand shoes are sold include; Tassia, Caltex near Donholm and Taj Mall.