Get your hair braided
The hair braiders of Kenyatta Market wait at the bus stop and entry to the market like odd sentries that are only armed with colourful samples of their work.
These women will sweet talk and bully you into their salons. At Divine Beauty Salon, stall 381, I cave to two maroon braids that hang oddly from my nape.
As many as five women will crowd your head, making fast work of a hairstyle that can take half a day to do in a neighbourhood salon.
Do not be surprised when one of them lifts an exposed thigh to come level with your head. Braids that have been twisted tight against a thigh, I am told, hold faster than anything done with just mere hands.
Take your time to haggle, and give as good as you get with the backhanded compliments.
Ask Vinyl Man to dance with you
He wouldn’t dance with me but he shared an extra cigarette.
And even after I let the cigarette die, Jimmy, the Vinyl Man, endured my inexpert exploration of what is perhaps East Africa’s best vinyl record collection. Although Jimmy has stubbornly refused to give his shop a name, it is not hard to find.
The collection is housed in stalls 569 and 570, the only shops in Kenyatta Market’s butchery corner that are more likely to issue the sound of jazz than that of sizzling meat.
The organising logic of Jimmy’s collection is price but this lends itself to discovery. In my explorations, I find Gladys Knight and Bob Marley keeping each other company.
These records have been scrounged all over East Africa— as far away as Lubumbashi and as close as the nearby Kibera slums.
Eat like a president
Before President Uhuru Kenyatta spent Ksh21,000 on nyama choma in Kenyatta Market, B6 used to be called Hai Hai. After Uhuru’s visit, it has been rechristened Ikulu Ndogo (Little State House).
The owners have not let fame go to their heads. The place still retains all the elements of any self-respecting nyama choma joint.
Above narrow tables and cheap plastic chairs, flies buzz, sometimes landing on a poster of the President and his right-hand men tearing apart their meat.
Your order will be delivered still sizzling on a chopping board with a side of kachumbari and ugali. Tasting is free but Gerald, one of the butchers, assures me that once their choma touches my tongue, I will be unable to stop.
Don’t waste your time asking them to shave off the layers of creamy fat.
Get a pair of bespoke shoes
The cobblers of Kenyatta Market sit in a row just beyond the butcheries. Their corner of the market smells of leather and melting glue.
Their wares are on display – stilettoes made colourful by yellow Ankara fabric, loafers with accents of Kitenge or Kikoy and a surprisingly beautiful pair of ballet flats covered with hessian fabric.
Some of these shoes are made from scratch, original designs crafted with rescued leather and sought-out fabric.
But you can also bring your old, dull shoes and they will make them into something new and exciting.
Oduor, who has been working in this spot for 18 years, tells me that many of his customers comprise brides looking for something unique for their big day or something terrifying for their bridesmaids.
Go mad for fabric
Kenyatta Market hums with tailors. Many of the sewing machines, I am told, hum well into the night. So buy some fabric (or bring some with you) and realise any textile-based fantasy you might have.
Sidoni Fashions, stall 395, specialises in embroidering Christian iconography on bed-covers and table cloths.
I find head tailor Francis sewing an angel’s wings onto a tablecloth and for a moment I am tempted to buy a blue duvet cover decorated with a pink Madonna.
Not interested in embroidered duvet covers? You can get a dira, a casual cotton dress, tailored in under an hour at stall 72, design your own quilted handbag at stall 18, get yourself measured for a new Kaunda suit (the short-sleeved jacket tailored for a more casual look) at stall 136 or even argue about wedding-dress designs at stall 182.
Some tilapia for the road
Nyangi halves 20 Tilapia at frightening speed, dashes across to Migingo Hotel to scoop deep-fried fish from a bubbling vat of oil only to rush back to the front of her shop in time to joke with a regular customer. She is queen of her domain.
Migingo Hotel is a small, unassuming place just outside Kenyatta Market but its customers swear that the fish sold under its taupe shade is perhaps the best this side of the Rift Valley.
“It’s the freshness that keeps me coming back,” says Ken, who’s driven up in a Mercedes to stock up on a month’s supply of fish.
For the last 20 years, Nyangi has received fresh fish from Kisumu every day at 4am. You can get your fish to go or you can sit at the back of Nyangi’s shed and enjoy her cooking with a side of ugali.