Starting new life as a Joburg plumber and other short stories


When the Inspector General of Police Japhet Koome claims the opposition is hiring corpses to join in anti-government protests—probably because the Kenya Kwanza administration is intent on taxing the dead—and a gallant girl from Uasin Gishu has hurled words at the waheshimiwa, this hekaya from Johannesburg seems inordinately mundane.

See, it’s not about saving lives, whether dead or living, or restoring lives destroyed after a calamitous heist; it’s about the chaos that pervade in a seemingly innocuous setting of order and sophistication in Johannesburg.

Take, for instance, the Sandton Mall debacle. We’re all in queue, waiting for service, when a hulk of a white man—his racial identity is vital here, as apartheid was the principle around which this society was organised from 1948 to 1994— hurled an epithet at the black attendants because their service is reportedly shoddy.

The youngest man of the house retorted: “Huyo mtu anataka maandamano!” I think I need similarly precise analysis to navigate Joburg, also known as Egoli, the place of gold, especially when the most mundane challenges gain gargantuan proportions.

South Africa is in the thick of winter; well, that’s an exaggeration, the sun still shines through, though it does get frosty sometimes, as on that first night of arrival.

But we had more pressing problems. The oldest man of the family is now a towering young man standing over six feet, found the mini-bed assigned to him to be inadequate. My other immediate challenge was to have a shower after a couple hours of travel.

Yet, I couldn’t get a hot shower. The water was freezing. So, I figured since this is a very advanced economy, there must be something I wasn’t doing right. I couldn’t grasp their water taps.

The following morning, I was assured by my host that showering technologies haven’t changed that much; even in Joburg, the water still coursed through the taps, one cold and the other hot. And since Joburg has been experiencing water rationing, I was assured the water was heated as power was on. It’s my unit’s shower that had been off.

But now it was on and it was a matter of time before the water was heated enough for a shower. As a practical man who relishes a good shower, I decided to run some errands and return to a well-earned shower.

The long and the short of this is that on the second day, the water was as cold as hell (I imagine hell as cold, not hot), which when I received a lengthy explanation about electric switches tripping in the water geyser.

Mark this word “geyser,” as its import will grow as the days progress. By this stage, I had complained to the highest authority that I did not come to Joburg to work as plumber, and running a hot shower shouldn’t be rocket science.

Or perhaps it is. My shower was ultimately fixed and the young men who couldn’t fit in mini-beds were sequestered to a nearby room, so their trips to my unit was only to eat, not to cook or clean.

This blissful, though unhealthy arrangement was disrupted by that geyser once more when we woke to a flooded kitchen floor. The water was trickling in from the ceiling!

So, I’m considering a career change to plumbing, for good plumbers are in short supply. We might not have the most advanced military hardware in Kenya, but we have some damn good plumbers who work the showers and ensure that geysers never use the ceiling to as a formal water route.

And Jozi’s façade of sophistication has fallen through to reveal it’s just another jua kali operation that relies on past glory.

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