My sojourn in Johannesburg, the city of gold, took a dramatic tilt this week. By drama I don’t mean a drastic action, but slow-moving, but devastating developments. Having committed to taking up a craft in plumbing, my skills were tested sooner than later.
I had taken the morning run - as do middle-aged men intent on ridding off their beer bellies - and soak in vitamin D from the sun. I was in that blissful morning mood as I ambled back to the apartment when I encountered the free-flowing water, just under the stairs.
I paused for a moment and thought: “That can’t be what I’m thinking…” See, when you come from Nairobi, the green city in the sun, any free-flowing water elicits a certain suspicion because the taps long ran dry, and any water coursing on the surface tends to be from “other” sources.
Was there a burst water pipe, I asked one of the workmen I saw glancing fearfully towards the source of the flow. “No, Sir,” he said. “It’s the sewer.”
Before I could say Mfuko wa Yohana, I mobilised the clan and declared they start packing their bags. We had to leave town before the air soured. If open sewers had followed me to Joburg then that was beyond my burgeoning plumbing skills.
Why, even the most skilled plumbers cannot get to close to the mess; they use an assemblage of pipes to prod and probe from afar and do so with multiple layers of protective gear.
The decay and decadence surrounding my environment was more than I could handle, so I have been on the move. The evacuation proved smoother than expected; no doubt buoyed by the visions of new lands and new visions.
Then came the discoveries about the astonishing amount of junk accumulated over the past few weeks, including bottles of a particular juice that the youngest man in the family has been beaming to his friends on video as proof that he’s living large as a Joburg tourist.
“I’m in Mombasa,” his buddy retorted. The previous day, the lad had claimed he was in Brazil, so he must use a special vessel that travels at supersonic speed, on air and in water.
The pain of evacuating from a building besieged by a sea of “toilet” stuff rankled long after our departure. I’m using the euphemism “toilet” to prevent soiling your mood at breakfast.
It is the taxi driver who helped clarify for me what could be the challenge besetting the city of gold. “The builds are old and they are not maintained. And people are just lazy… They are taking advantage of our independence.”
People must be free to do their “toilet” business all they want, but why ruin the air we breathe?
I was told the sewer flow had been running uninterrupted since the previous day, perhaps because folks hadn’t stopped flushing their loos, and the long-piped plumbers were waiting for them to finish.
But before I poke my nose in other people’s loos, I reckon Nairobi, our accidental city, has many “toilet” problems. These days, it’s increasingly difficult to wander within a block without encountering the unmistakably offensive smell that comes from blocked sewers.
Here, I am not talking about mickey mouse establishments but swanky, so-called ultra-modern buildings that use electronic keys to open and light up. One such place hosts a popular hospital, while another hosts a popular eatery.
It could that these strange aromas that draw in the crowds, or that the sick recover from adequate doses of contaminated air, else how do you explain the continued flourishing of their business?
Perhaps this is another manifestation of long Covid: either our sense of smell has been dulled by long periods of mask-wearing, or that our smell sense was altered permanently, so that we cannot smell what’s foul in the air.