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Growing up in Meru, Kenya

Growing up in Meru, Kenya

The new house was 3 Bedroom with Hall and Kitchen which was very luxurious for our needs at that period. Our house was made up of corrugated iron sheets lined with timber. The advantage of lining the corrugated sheets with timber was it would maintain the temperature in the house. It only  had one shared toilet..
The only source of running water supply was from the river which ran behind the house, While remembering his childhood, Sobhag told us that as there  was no running water all had to be collected from the river in on a daily basis having to use a 20-litre metal tin Box with handles on each side for help in hold the large tin container  (The metal container was made by removing the top of the tin and attaching handles on the side to lift the container) to fetch water from the river) The family had a system to use 10 litres for bathing. For heating or boiling the water, they had to use three stones. The stones were composed of charcoal and timber to heat the water.

During the winter season in Meru (June – July), to keep the house warm, they collected cow dung, mixed it with charcoal to make a ball shape for easy handling and put it into a jiko (African stove) to warm the house for the night. As due to no electricity during those days, they used cotton wool attached to a metal tin with kerosene at the bottom to use as a light source to make a Lantern. His father had 2 American cars, a Chevrolet (black colour) and Plymouth (turquoise blue) which were used for transporting goods and passengers. He had to visit the city Nairobi (154 miles from Meru) 3 to 4 times in a month to purchase new goods for the shop. For the long-distance travelling, it required a lot of planning those days as there were several obstacles on the way. In the rainy season, they would get stranded along Karathina due to a slop in their way. They had to wait until the land becomes dry to continue the trip. Extra supplies were needed to be packed along, such as a sack of potatoes to plan for such a situation. They had to keep timber in the car to cook the potatoes. They always had to carry all the tyre mending equipment with them for the punctures due to uneven roads. To fix the puncture, first, the tube is removed and filled with water to identify the hole/leakage. The surface of the tyre needs to be rough to patch the leak hence a file is used on the tube to make it rough. The patch is heated with a match stick to seal the leakage. The tube is then put back and uses a manual foot pump to fill the air on the tyre. A small stick was used to identify the amount of air filled in the tyre and the pressure applied.

His father, Mr Raichand Virji Shah had a reputation as a good pay master within the Nairobi city as he never bought goods on credit and always made payments in full. There were no banks, Credit or cheques in that period and the payments were done person to person. The wholesalers in the market wanted to trade their goods to him due to his full payment on the spot reputation. His father was very hard working and his business requirements never allowed him any holidays but fortunately in that period social gatherings were very common. Whenever the shop was closed, due to no surveillance cameras in those days, the family would tie empty metal tins on the inside of the door, so if the doors moved, the tins would make a noise and the family would realise someone was trying to enter the property. This was an old trick used in that period instead of modern day alarm systems.

For meeting their relatives, they used to travel to Nairobi (his elder sister lived there) Nanyuki, Nyeri (his father’s cousin brother lived there) and Karatina (his father’s sister who lived there). They used to have a stopover and leave early in the morning to continue the journey. Family socialising was very important in those days where coming altogether and spending good time was very common. Unless like nowadays, socialising doesn’t happen anymore.

Mr Shah sold fabrics in his shop. The sheets of fabric they sold were called Marikan and Blankets. They also had a sewing machine outside of the shop to make the alterations on the clothes. Mr Shah treated his shop’s employees as a family. The employees were provided with fresh food, blankets and accommodation. His priority was to provide proper basic requirements to the people in need. His employees were always content and happy and always went the extra mile in their duties.

During those days, people had a very simple living. People use to wrap a white or cream colour sheet (8 x 4) around their body. In that period, animal skin was very commonly used as clothing.

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