The Laare Community Centre was founded in 2005 by MIT graduate Eric Mibauri. Since then, the Centre has grown in major ways and is tremendously impacting the community. Please use this site to learn more about the Centre and to see how you can get involved.


Learn More About Laare

Laare is a small town 200 miles north of Nairobi. A town is perhaps not the right word to use. It’s more of a market, mostly serving commercial purposes but also some administrative functions. It is the divisional headquarters so there are a few government offices; the divisional school inspectorate and education office, a forestry department and a registrar’s office where people obtain national IDs and undergo voter registration. Then there is the social hall. The social hall put up 12 years ago is still a magnificent building although it has been run down over the last few years. The public uses it for public meetings, seminars, fundraisers and weddings. There’s also a police post and tiny holding cell nearby where the local drunkards, petty thieves and other criminals are sometimes held overnight awaiting some form of justice. There are three or four all-terrain government vehicles that serve all the ministries as well as half a dozen old broken ones wasting away with overgrown weeds sprouting through their gaping bonnets. Sometimes the police station head makes the bad people uproot the weeds. Slightly further away there’s an old post office outside which stand the only two functional telephone booths anywhere around. There are two public and one private primary schools nearby. If more than thirty percent of school age kids attended school we would need four times the number of schools there currently are.

The market is the geographic centre and perhaps the nucleus of the town’s activities. A 4-acre rectangle surrounded on all four sides by little wooden kiosks encloses peddlers of all sorts. Women spread sisal and polythene mats on the brown earth and arrange farm produce in little heaps. A kilo of beans goes for 15 shillings. It’s not actually a kilogram. An old cooking oil tin is accepted as the measure of a kilo and the vendors dip into bulging sacks of maize, black beans, peas, millet, sorghum and scoop with the tin as the patient customers wait. The women gossip and sometimes break into laughter or giggles. A young lady produces a dirty fifty-shilling note and hands it to the vendor. The vendor crumples it into a small ball and ties a knot at the hem of her leso adroitly concealing her money. She carries no purse or wallet. The older vendors sometimes shove their hands beneath their blouse and after a little fumble (with what I think are bra straps, dress seams and fabric of some kind) the money has been safely “banked”. She produces an equally dirty and worn twenty-shilling note and some coins and hands back change.

A little distance away is a row of open stalls. Nylon lines run from one end to another and cheap clothes (second hand American jerseys and t-shirts, locally made - poorly dyed dresses and sometimes really crappy fabrics from Asia) are pegged onto the line. An old man will hold up a worn t-shirt with “Boston Red Sox” or “Chicago Bulls” or “Spice Girls Euro Tour-1996 ” inscribed across the chest and ask “ii ni mbeca igana?” The owner of the stall will be busy attending to another customer and will shout back without looking in the old man’s directions “Fifty shillings…but we can talk.” Other stalls have everything from steel pans and pots, gardening tools, locks and mirrors, plastic utensils and even stainless steel cutlery. You can negotiate the price of anything and there are no receipts.

The little kiosks surrounding the market have not always been here. The view of the market used to be open from the streets surrounding it. The kiosks stock consumer goods and here the prices are fixed. They sell Kimbo cooking oil and Lux soap made by Unilever industries. They also have Cadbury’s cocoa and “drinking chocolate” and Johnson and Johnson baby powder. Some specialize in groceries. A sack of cabbages leans against the outside wall of the kiosk while a tray of tomatoes and seasonal fruits hangs from a hook near the counter. There’s no refrigerator however and the kiosk owner will try as hard as he can to sell the perishable stock he has bought by the end of the day and latest by tomorrow. On the other side of the streets run rows of shops. Most are strong stone buildings but some are old wooden structures that will be torn down soon by the effective decomposing effects of relief rainfall and tropical temperatures. They mostly stock basic consumer goods; bread and margarine, some have electronics (radios and watches), soft drinks, notebooks, pens and pencils, sweets and such. Each row of fourty or fifty shops runs from one end of the town to the other. Most of the shops sell the same things. One can not help wondering how they attract their clientele. Every half a dozen regular shops or so is a tailor’s shop or “Radio & TV Repair” shop or a clothes shop. These clothes shops sell better quality and higher prices. They have semi-woolen suits and Manhattan shirts. Even Tommy Hilfiger jeans. But they also sell sports clothes with names like Nice and Adidos.

Outside, the streets are either dusty or sandy in very dry and hot months of August and September, February and March or wet and muddy during rainy November and December, April and May. Vehicles get stuck in the mud and have to be pushed out. There are no breakdown services anywhere within a 50-kilometre radius. Rickshaw pushers and cyclists have better luck transporting goods around the market.

On market days like Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday there are a lot of people on the streets. Many bring produce from their farms to sell in the markets. The women carry huge baskets of bananas on their backs and young men have bundles of miraa* atop their heads or strapped to the backseat of cheap Chinese bicycles with brand names like Phoenix, Atlas and Avon. The miraa sells well and is widely consumed in the large urban centers and the cities. Most of it ends up in Nairobi and Mombasa. Some of it is exported to the Dubai, Mogadishu, London and Amsterdam. But none of these young men have any idea how that happens. They are content with receiving one thousand shillings for a “bunda”- roughly 2 kilograms of it and during the dry season as much as three thousand shillings. I don’t know if they are aware that the same amount of miraa fetches as much as 200 sterling pounds (22, 000 shillings) in the streets of London. I don’t know what they think if they know it.

Most people at the market live on small two or three acre farms stretching in five or so mile radius around the market. Beyond that there might be another small town. Many have little wooden poorly constructed houses. A few have semi-permanent houses. Most have walked thirty minutes or one hour or two hours to come to the market. Vehicle transport is uncommon and public taxis only run routes between the major markets. Only the very rich (and they are very few) own cars. Only one street in the whole town is paved. This is an 18 feet wide “highway” that passes through Laare and goes to the district headquarters, Maua, 10 miles away. In the other direction the road passes through even more remote markets and villages and after15 miles the tarmac paving comes to and end. I have not been to this end myself but beyond that people either walk or ride donkeys. On your way out of Laare towards Maua is an old run down public dispensary. A motley of sick people lie around on the grass waiting for medical attention. If they are lucky there might be a visiting doctor. Otherwise on any regular visit they will be treated for minor ailments and injuries by a nurse or some other type of junior health worker. Their diseases range from malaria to typhoid, diarrhea and flu. Some have TB and may be HIV- Aids but no one talks about that.

Across the street from the public dispensary is a huge Catholic church. The high church pier and bell tower are visible above the top of the tall gravellier trees that Father Biribo (Philip) planted a few years ago. Every Sunday people walk from homes near and not so near Laare and come to listen to the word of God. A priest will read one of the more content filled of Jesus’ parables and admonish laziness, drunkenness, adultery and greed all in one lengthy sermon. After the sermon most of the women walk home to cook and tend to their children, cattle and chicken. Some of them will be left behind for a while to give their weekly contributions to the women’s church co-operative or perhaps hold a meeting.

A good number of the men will also linger for a while around the church. They will stand in little groups talking politics or simply catching up on each other. Others are members of the church council and need to discuss important things. Some will sit on the grass and share out pages of the “Sunday Nation”. Momentarily someone will stop reading, say something and a heated debate will range over the next five minutes. Then one by one they’ll go back to reading the newspaper. Others will march to eateries in Laare for a meal of Nyama choma and Ugali and if times are good a bottle of Tusker, Guinness or Pilsner. The young men will meet their friends and either head to Laare to watch soccer on TV or play a match at the grounds of the public school nearby or go to a friend’s place for lunch. The younger women will meet with their friends and compare fashions and hairstyles. Those that are regarded as the most stylish will swagger out of the compound of the church and may be attract sneers of disapproval from the elders of the church council. The children will run out of the church compound to spend their offertory shillings on candy and balloons.

At night nearly everything stops. The shops close one by one and most people walk home. The fire of the maize roaster by the roadside slowly turns into timid red embers and finally into a cold grey lifeless ash. The conductors of the public taxis - matatus shout “Maua...Maua...gari ya mwisho!” and panicky visitors from Maua jump in lest they spend the night in dirty lodgings or walk home in the dark. Small electric light bulbs appear here and there. People walk carefully and slowly; there are no street lamps. Some of the shops that have electricity switch on their lights and business goes on for about 2 more hours. If you walk home way from the town and stand on one of the many hills that surround Laare and look down the way you came, Laare looks like a small island of lights in a sea of incredible darkness. Only the town has electricity but very few people live there. By midnight it’s a ghost town. Only the very brave or the very drunk are to be found on the cold quiet streets. The good people sleep until the sun comes up.


* Miraa (also called khat) is a mild narcotic widely consumed in Eastern African urban centers, the Middle East (especially in countries near the gulf of Yemen) and major cities in Western Europe (especially London and Amsterdam). The botanical name is catha edulis. Some of it is produced in parts of Ethiopia. However the largest production anywhere is based in this town.