Mali Safi


By Eddy Ashioya

Christ’s birthday is sneering around the corner. If he was alive (he is?), there is a gender that would have already been clamouring to buy him a pair of socks, which would be a waste (and sad) because he loves operating in open sandals or donning camel leather open shoes, like The G that he is.

Christ is not a fan of immediate gratification, and He would insist on seeing where you got your shoes from. I mean, he can’t just wear anything. That Hebrew bloke is the most influential figure in history.

Christ is ‘Big’ this season, and everyone wants to shop around him. But Christ is also choosy and having seen the revolution he would demand for a very specific shoe, with 100% frankincense wool (get it?), with the laces strewn with a crucifix. It takes a little bit of élan to impress a man who can walk on water.

You wouldn’t know where to get them. Unless you go to Gikomba, the well, err, saviour for the marketplace. Shopping in Gikomba is the equivalent of finding Nemo. There is something for everyone here. Suits? Yes. Shoes? Definitely. Dresses with pockets? You bet. Boxers with pockets? Damn right! Can you imagine a boxer with pockets? Jesus Christ (can I use Him here?) imagine that!

Here you can dress cheap without coming off as a cheapskate. You just need to know where to look. And because you are a novice, you should look for a plug for your stooge, an artist-in-residence who knows all the nooks and crannies of Gikomba’s inner workings, preferably one with the intensity of a surgeon and the focus of a glassblower. He will also serve as your bodyguard, escort and shoulder to lean on in the unforgiving sun, when as the temperatures rise so do the prices. This is what we mean when we say, ‘You should have connections.’

You’re in a big, intimidating city, and, when life starts to get hard you can always turn to the healing powers of retail therapy. And so Gikomba it is, a city within a city – for those with the audacity to live in expensive places despite not being rich.

The sultriness of Gikomba lies in its defiance of social etiquette: they do things differently here, taking life with zeal. It is a city that makes you feel alive, that occasionally feels like it will lead you to an early grave. Roaming the streets of Gikomba, drooping bags hunching on your shoulders, that old feeling of strolling and touching things, impulse-purchasing on affordable mugs and crockery, splurging on shoes (remember wearing shoes?) and happy socks. 

It’s a human cesspool, but there is a method to the madness. You have to dress appropriately, and by appropriately we mean like a hobo.

The first time you step into Gikomba you are greeted by its sheer massive size. It is a market that swallows people, its appetite satiated by the ravenous hunger to pull one over each other, feeding on the ignorance of those who do not know better.  

Everything is everywhere.

Your plug would ideally let you know when ‘mali safi’ – the hottest items have arrived. Here, the true definition of early worms rings true. The earlier you arrive the better-looking worms you’d carry home. Speaking of birds, Gikomba hawkers are ruthless. And fearless. I don’t know what it is about hawkers, whether they go to a hawking school, but they all sound the same. The trick with hawkers is that you should never appear to be needy, even when you are. It’s like a relationship, a delicate dance between ‘I-must-have-this’ and ‘I-will-die-if-I-don’t-have-this.’ To win, you must play the long game, at times even dismissing the items on display as old-fashioned or unnecessary.

And boy can they make you buy things you don’t want.

 “Bro! Ukinunua hii, kesho ni promotion pap!”

“Mom, hii ndio inatrend. Kim Kardashian pekee ndio ako na hii design,”

With the extravagant flourish of a showboating matador in front of a baying crowd, these silver-tongued snake charmers are endowed in the gift of gab, the kind of guys who can sell sunglasses to a blind man. Glazing their words with honey, they will whisper all the sweet things your boyfriend doesn’t say, and before you know it, you have Fulizad to buy a denim waist-trainer for your best friend’s ruracio. If the phrase ‘yawning chasm’ didn’t exist, this place would necessitate its invention.

This shopping soap opera can hit a crescendo fast, and things can get pretty heated real-quick, so you have to always carry a cool head.  Everyone wants to whip up your emotions, but what would Jesus do?  Shopping here is an exercise in composure, only men of valour and women of Biblical patience have been known to leave with a tinge of self-esteem intact.

It’s a ruckus out here, a man-eat-man society, survival for the fittest and fastest. They keep telling you to try on items. “Kuona ni bure, kujaribu ni bure,” they will urge you. It’s a bait. Once you bite it, they will tell you they have never seen something fit so perfectly, even when you both know it’s a little tight at the edges – but that’s the logic of the bank robber who insists he’s only emptying the safe to help the bank improve its security.

So you up the ante.

Looking for stuff in Gikomba is like searching for life’s meaning. Once you get it, you see something better — and cheaper — throwing you into an existential crisis.

There is a guy shouting camera! Camera! Camera! Which sounds like he is a photographer, but he isn’t. It is street parlance for the sullied which I could tell you what it means, but I won’t.

You keep hopping from stall-to-stall, and you discover if you had put just a little more effort in school, you’d be an FBI negotiator by the way you are bargaining. You feel guilt going to the next stand without buying anything. But what would Jesus do? It’s nothing personal, it’s just business. Urban foraging at its absolute finest.

You casually (not desperately) walk in and give the stall owner a noncommittal wave. You must seem to have options, because this is Gikomba, either you’re laughing, or you are the joke. It’s very important that you hold their gaze for several seconds, right before it turns awkward —you must establish yourself as the dominant. Act like you forgot why you even came in. They cannot know how badly you need this. Whichever price she asks for, always counter with the classic, “Aiiiiii, na si last week nimenunua tu hii mia mbili.” Then keep quiet and watch the dominoes fall in place.

She will size you up, but do not back down. She will attempt intimidation tactics by appealing to your basic core – your selfish, unrequited love for trends – but do not cave in.

Her mouth will be telling you one thing but look at her eyes. That’s where it’s at. That’s her hand. Follow the disco, this delicate tango of emotions. She’ll stare back, dismissing you, her eyes falling on your body, almost as if wanting to implore you. Do you really believe that these items will just lie around, waiting for you? Well, let me tell you: these tops wait for no one! These tops deserve to be wanted. Same day delivery, even. Hordes of women are begging to wear these tops. Busy women. Beautiful women. Women who go on “weekend getaways.” These tops are out there living their best lives, with or without you.

And in the absolute power move, take out your wallet, appear as if you’ve caved in. Stare at it for a while, then close it. Threaten to leave.

“Mrembo, tunaweza elewana, usiende,”


Or you can avoid all that and just do online shopping. It’s like Gikomba, but you have more time and the prices don’t flip from 2000 to 200 depending on how you are dressed.

Since the pandemic rearranged the world, you don’t have to mingle with crowds – safety first! – you can just lay your feet up on your couch, scroll through the madness while making scandalous use of the zoom tool. And because every good shopper needs a plug, with your Stanchart card you can now pay for your goods fast and first.

These tops aren’t going to buy themselves! (That wouldn’t even make sense, ha ha.)




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Eddy and words… Same Wozzap

    “With the extravagant flourish of a showboating matador in front of a baying crowd, these silver-tongued snake charmers are endowed in the gift of gab, the kind of guys who can sell sunglasses to a blind man. Glazing their words with honey, they will whisper all the sweet things your boyfriend doesn’t say, and before you know it, you have Fulizad to buy a denim waist-trainer for your best friend’s ruracio. If the phrase ‘yawning chasm’ didn’t exist, this place would necessitate its invention”…

  2. From the moment I saw that it was Eddy’s post today,I knew he wouldn’t disappoint. Boy can write.I love him already,from Jesus not wearing socks to gikomba and stanchart card,you’ve described it so well that that it fits so perfectly.

  3. For a minute I was a little confused on what day today was. A post on Monday? Yaaay!
    Look at you Eddy, exciting us with words like Biko does. We love to see it. I saw what you did there with the Stanchart card. Clean.

    The other day I was trying on a dress and a lady walked in and told me how beautiful I looked ( I didn’t think so. I thought it was kinda big) I thought she was a regular customer who had also come to shop like I had. Turns out she was the owner. I think that people in the clothes industry should just tell you the truth. Kama nguo inakaa vibaya wakwambie tu. But then again, they also have bills to pay.

  4. Eddy to the world..all these beautifully crafted words just for Standard Chartered…
    A true Bikozulu protege. I am excited for what the world holds for you.

  5. My experience with Gikomba is two-sided. One day I went into the market, dressed just like an ordinary Nairobi woman. I discovered that as you walk around, brokers size you up based on how you are dressed. If you are donning jeans and a top, you will be followed by hordes of brokers showing you all manner of jeans and tops. If you have a dress, brokers be falling on each other trying to woo you to the dresses at hand. Then there’s the “kujaribu ni bure” and as you try on stuff, brokers rush off to bring more stuff of the same genre….and before you know it, you have a pile of stuff, you are overwhelmed and you have no idea how to proceed. Then you find yourself getting irritated cos many people are in your ear about this and that. On one such occasion, I ended up just getting up and leaving without buying anything.
    Then another time, I tied my head in a scarf, had on some old dress and rubber shoes. No one followed me seriously…after a few paces…they would give up on whatever they wanted me to buy. I roamed around looking at stuff aimlessly and resisting all manner of “reduced prices”. I looked like I was shopping for my teenage children and would even ask “Unaona kama msichana wangu atapenda hii?” lamenting that I might even buy and the kids wont like it.
    I bought a couple of things…which I really liked and went home happy.

  6. Yes. Feigned disintrest has always worked and just like that a drastic change in price from 2000-200,I’m a habitual beneficiary for this kind of economic tricks

  7. Funny but, ‘mali safi iende chain’ applies perfectly here…you know…second hand items have literally gone through chain of owners…

  8. Great piece. You have learnt from the best.
    You should try Githurai market. Only miracles take place there: you buy peeled sugarcane while in a matatu only to bite and realize they’re peeled potatoes!! Those hawkers are something else…
    Looking forward to more of your work. Keep shining. Kijana mali safi.

  9. haha..Good one!.Just ask ‘bei ya mwisho?’ as you pretend to walk away, and you’ll have your item at your price not theirs.
    Nice how the Stanchart card got slid in, like a gatecrasher using the backdoor of a party he’s not invited to.
    I sometimes wonder how Christ would dress if He walked amongst us in 2020…Brogues in the place of sandals perhaps? Would He be in a suit or would He want zero attention called to Himself and just walk about in ordinary slacks. These are things I sometimes think about. Though it is likely His dressing would be country specific? He wore robes at that time because of His geographical location..some middle easterners dress that way because of the heat.

  10. Hello Biko,
    This is the best article I have read.Very well written.Talk of creativity.Now I want to join your class.How does it happen?

  11. What!!! Beautiful. Thank you Eddy. I didn’t see that Stanchart coming.. Hahaha. Boy!!

    And when you say, “when athe temperatures rise so do the prices”. Aaaaaaaah, Umeweza.

    Mali safi bro

  12. Wueeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh the vocabulary in here got me…nice read Eddy
    2.Elan-Energy,style and ethusiasm
    3.Nemo-No one/nobody
    4.Chapestake-person unwilling to spend money
    5.Novice-someone who is not experienced in a job or situation
    6.Stooge-surbodinate used to do unpleasant routine work
    7.Nooke and crannies-small or remote place
    8.Sultrines-oppresively hot and humid weather
    9.Cesspool-underground container for temporary storage
    10.Hobo-migrant worker or homeless vagrant
    11.Matador-bullfighter with an aim to kill a bull
    12.Crescendo-gradual increase in loudness
    13.Ruckus-noisy fight or disturbance

  13. My first visit to Gikomba market was 31 years ago.With time, it has never dissapointed. My best was to buy clothes, take them straight to Grand Regency(yes,not Laico) laundry on a Saturday and pick the items the next Thursday. Probably the best fabric this side of the universe at an affordable price.

  14. The student has turned out just like the teacher. Only a Biko protege would use words like “existential crisis”, “noncommittal wave” etc.
    A great read as always.

  15. A nice piece of article,
    Been to Gokosh on several occasions, this one time this folks jus place those jeans pant on your shoulder and assume that you gonna stand their and wait for them to remove it, but to their surprise i jus keep going …a story for another day

  16. Don’t know about you all, but the commentary about Christ turned me off. Couldn’t get myself to read the rest