Long before the car in front of you became a Toyota, there was the Peugeot 504; the unofficial emblem of Kenya’s 80’s bourgeoisie.
It was right there with the 80’s Housing Estates, where kids played on the tarmacked paths in front of their homes while the maid watched from the kitchen as she consulted the meal roster Mama had posted in the corridor of the 2 bedroom house she was proud to be Mama of. Baba would roar in at dusk, park his car in front of the house, and likely it would still be there in the morning.
It was right there on the front of the farm house that Baba Wes lived in with his family. Baba Wes was a civil servant with a business on the side. And his mama (the wife, not his mother) was doing a great job of supplementing the family income with the shamba she was running very efficiently. Baba Wes would park his 504 on weekends, and wait for his friends to come over so he could show them ‘his’ shamba, and then they would be off with their 504’s, VW’s, Chevrolet’s and Toyota’s to go kula nyama at the Roadside Bar & Restaurant.
It was right there… if it wasn’t your baba’s 504, it was your next door neighbour’s, or your Uncle Pete’s. Even if it had to be pushed 10 metres to start it was still a 504 and something to be proud of. ‘Sisi tuna gari.’
My mum’s 504 was second hand 1970 Injection 4-door saloon brought from John Boyce’s second cousin. It was quite temperamental. I think it cost her more to keep and repair it than if she’d used public transport, or bought that light blue beetle she eventually bought in ‘88. But before then, our 504 had made us late to school, stalled on a hill, sometimes gotten us to the family get-togethers on time but tired and hungry and crabby, but a few other times not anywhere close to our destinations.
My mum was an independent DIY girl courtesy of 4 brothers and an engineer dad. So a lot of the times when her 504 had issues on the road, she would try to fix it first before calling for help. I mean, it wasn’t exactly the mobile era, so calling for help meant walking 2 kilometres to the next Petrol Station anyway.
Her precious 504’s carburettor wasn’t working too good; it used the mechanical fuel pump that was standard in all 504’s made before 1987. So mum decided she would give it some help, she used the classic jua-kali trick which involved sucking on the pump’s pipe to get the petrol going. Unfortunately, my mum was breast feeding my six month old brother at the time. Poor little tyke came up from being excited to have mummy home finally to the instant decision not ever to breast feed, ever, ever again.
That was before the 504’s engine finally caught fire. Mum and her ‘people’ put the fire out with soil from her shamba, and after this she moved on to that light blue Volkswagen Beetle, finally!
Not that my step-dad’s Corolla E30 gave him less trouble, but the 504 was right up there on the hilarious frustrations of my family’s 1980’s.
So that’s my 504 story. What’s yours? Let’s see.
Into the Horizon: He detested being squeezed into the matatus with people who did not have any common courtesy. They sneezed right into your face, refused to use their handkerchiefs to blow their noses but took to picking their noses. The conductors forever wanted to extort you of your hard earned money, always raising the fare when they felt a drop of rain on their face. These were the days when Maina missed his Peugeot 504.
Cabaret: It was the old Peugeot 504 that first drew her to the man she was leaving behind. Of course there were the stories about his past that she heard among her friends but it was the way he looked inside the old vehicle which made him her centurion. He took care of her the way a man ought to.
A Carousal Ride around Nairobi: A dusty, navy-blue Peugeot 504 stops and asks for passengers. Being Nairobians, none is willing to board. After all, what if they are serious thieves? And the two women lounging at the back could be the driver’s accomplices. Yet again, why is the said driver sitting all alone?
MP504: It was amazingly familiar, not even familiar but dear; the envy of his friends who used to see him dropped by the driver at school. The car that had brought his little sister from the hospital the day it rained. The car that took them to picnics as a child before dad got richer. The car he wanted to buy when he grew up. The car that got his father nicknamed “MP 504”.
Hit and Run: Silently calm, he roared the car to life as she continued to straighten and spruce herself up. He cast another glance at her and the Peugeot 504 sped up the feeder road towards Kiplombe all the way leading to Eldoret town. “This is where we part ways, the spirit is calling on me somewhere around here.”
Take me Home: The radio’s volume was turned low; playing a Benga tune, that distinct music genre that developed in Kenya in the 1960s, but became overly popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Abdi, the lone occupant of the cream Peugeot 504 had been sent back to his youth. Somehow, what you love in your youth becomes a life long passion.
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