Kenya, a land of plenty, you may say milk and honey – and nutella and oreos. Manicured, undulating pastures, the green; people you would fall in love with in a heartbeat, the black; and a patriotism that is so rich you can taste it – the red. Or at least that is how we sound on paper. Not to sound politically incorrect, but reality is far much stranger than fiction.
It is the Hunger Games out there, and if you aren’t lucky to be Catniss in this story, you just would get catnipped. Things change so fast out there, you can say that the only constant thing is Kenyans’ grumbling. Yes. We complain about everything – then we blame the government. The rain, the sun, being pregnant, not being pregnant, excellence, failure, home – work – the trip there, friends, enemies… you get the point. We complain a lot. It is in our DNA – Decidedly NegativeAttitude. But because I am a happy-go-lucky kind of person, I will not dwell on that. Rather, I will stick to the glue that holds us together.
So, this is how to know you are Kenyan:
1. Lost in translation
Kenyans talk, but never communicate. Or if they do, it is done telepathically. For instance, you board a Public Service Vehicle, famously referred to as Nganya or Matatu. The conductor tells you that the fare is fifty-fifty tao. You jump in with your loose 50 shilling note and joyously slap it into his hand. He frowns a bit. Asks you if you are mad. You are baffled and don’t know how what he is talking about. Everybody else has a pockerface – none flinching. Just you. The fare was a hundred shillings. Apparently he, the conductor had told you this. You heard, only didn’t listen. He said, fifty-fifty. Two fifties, A hundred bob. Basically he handed you a pop quiz on arithmetic, only that you missed the point. And since you had wrung your wallet like a wet cloth to squeeze the last remaining bit of cash that was on you, you now are left with no option but to calculate the median of your trip so as to expend your 50 bob and walk the rest of the way.
Even our National Anthem says two totally different things when you recite the first line of the first verse. Perhaps the only thing that doesn’t lose meaning is a lonely K with a period. Everybody knows what that means. Especially the married. Tonight you are sleeping in the doghouse.
2. Expert Analysis
All Kenyans have an ‘Expert on Everything’ description on their Resumé. You don’t know something? Over your dead body. You will talk yourself hoarse before you admit that you don’t actually know what it is all about. Politics – fine, sports – sure, religion – you bet, quantum mechanics – just got my PhD, Rocket Science – I am friends with Buzz Aldrin. From Figure Skating to American Politics. We have it all in the bag. And unlike professionals who are always very fluid and rational, we tend to take hardline stances on everything. That is why the most over-used Cliches in any Kenyan conversation would be ‘I will tell you this for free‘ or ‘you can take that to the bank‘. And you can take that point to the bank.
3. Don’t hold your breath
Kenyans lose money faster than the rate they breathe. But who can blame us. We are big spenders. Especially when it has to do with get-money-quick schemes. Most Kenyans, with the exemption of a few (such as I) are in a steamy toxic relationship either with gambling or pyramid schemes. Gambling is the monster wife, pyramid schemes are the seductive mistresses. With gambling, it is bliss and butterflies during the honeymoon, just before reality sets in. You start off with a winning streak, before you lose – hard. That is when you realize that gambling has needs. Always nagging that you don’t give her time or money to make her hair. So you splash all your salary on it. And it is gone. She is still not satisfied. You mortgage your house, sell that office space you rented, take out a loan to try make her happy. She only grows fat and grumpy. Until you go for counselling. Doesn’t work out. So you agree to pay for the alimony – join an Anonymous. She was your first love but right now you can’t stand her. But you are interested in her best friend – pyramid scheme. She seduces you promising to make you set for life. You end up becoming her sponsor as she siphons you dry. To bare bones. Long story short, avoid Filipinos on Facebook. Nothing good can come from friending them. They only want to aim global.
4. Breaking the bank
Everybody knows that no one breaks banks like Kenyan Ladies, a.k.a Nai-baes. When they go for a shopping spree, they tend to let themselves go. I mean, a whole truck-load worth of shopping. Only for a thousand bob. Nobody bargains like our girls here on the East side. If it was an international Sport, we would take all positions on the podium. And they love Gikomba Market! Gikosh is bae, they would say. But they would always want to meet up outside Mr Price. It sounds posh that way. And it would be a taboo to mention Tom Mboya statue in the same breath as Mr Price. It would be deserving of death. Or a hefty penance at Galito’s or KFC. Or a libation made to the ancestors at Creamy Inn followed by an appeasement sacrifice at Subways. Ka-ching! Your credit score just went to zero.
5. Schrödinger’s Paradox
Only Quantum Mechanics can explain this Kenyan behaviour. We are never at the expected place at the expected time. Always late for meetings and having cockamamie excuses just to blend the cocktail and make it a hot mess. And when someone asks us where we are, we tell them that we are right around the corner. When they check that bend, we are nowhere to be seen. When they ask us why we lied to them, we blame them for checking. Real life Schrödinger cats, we are. Google it!
And at the same time, we live in a totally different plane of the space-time continuum. I am sure Einstein would have had a field day trying to crack this cosmic cypher. Where a day has 25 hours and a week has 8 days. The extra hour is referred to as ‘in the next hour’ and the extra day is called ‘someday’. In the next hour, I will stop watching this movie and finish my assignments. I want to be a billionaire CEO, someday. Scientists are still trying to figure out the elusiveness of these metaphysical phenomena till this day.
6. Job descriptions
You can never know for certain, what A Kenyan does for a living until you meet them – working. Every business card has an elaborate bonanzoically flamboyant job address to it. House Keepers these days are Interior Decor and Inventory Managers, masons are known to be Associated Stratified Aggregate Assemblers. The better known ‘Bunge La Wananchi‘ members outside City Hall refer to themselves as Ex-officio Parliamentarians. Plus the Opposition calls itself the ‘Government in Waiting‘. Even thieves these days call themselves pastors. They ‘relieve’ you of your burdens and possessions. Shout out to the true keepers of the flock.
PS: just so I don’t forget mentioning this, there is no such thing as a Multi-Level Marketing Executive. That is utter non-recyclable rubbish. The true term is Pyramid Scheme peddler. Now you know.
Nothing surprises us as Kenyans. Especially if it has to do with looting and corruption. We stopped being mortified a long time ago and these days, we rarely batter an eyelid whenever any new case comes up. I mean, they have been so many, one can have a whole encyclopedia complete in alphabetical order. Just off the top of my head, Anglo-leasing, Black Hat Hackers, Chickengate, Devolution, Eurobond. A-Z of all gate scandals. But as Kenyans, we find a way to move past it. It is either that, or our spirit of resilience is so strong, it might be thought of as feigning ignorance. Like that irritating mole that the doctor says cannot be surgically removed for five years. But I digress. It is San Andreas out there. Grand Theft Auto.
8. It takes a village
What is it about these pesky relatives who always show up unannounced? We love our families as Kenyans, but surely, just because you are the friendly neighbourhood villager, does not mean you always barge in, especially at odd hours. First and foremost, how did they even know where you stay?. They just showed up – and expecting tea. And more importantly, hailing from the same geographical locality doesn’t make you related. But they always insist that you are. Because your mother met the brother, who sired the sister, who learnt with the cousin, who was betrothed to the uncle whose aunt’s brother delivered the alleged relative’s cow. And if you did not know that, then shame on you. You should know better.
9. Road rage
Nothing beats Kenyan traffic. The gridlock always makes the Kenyan experience very tasty. I mean, drivers end up having salted nerves, and passengers develop a very sour attitude. And the commuter experience – to die for. If you have been exposed to the well known matatu culture, you will understand that this probably defines your status as a person and identity in urban circles. So, Kenyans travel by Nganyas or journey with Mbukinyas. There is a difference. Nganyas are mechanical beasts; their engines hiss and roar. They have banging loud music and free wi-fi which attracts a very young and vibrant patronage. More importantly, they are always en route to Rongai. Mbukinyas on the other hand, have a boxy feel, with a winch that is used to wind the engine to life right at the front. They cough and sneeze as they trudge along, with their invisible walkers. They have seen better days, and that explains why there is always a sticker at the door which says ‘See your Life!’ and casette stereos that play Rose Muhando’s Nibebe. Call them a blast from the past, literally. They were used in World War II and also to ferry the Kapenguria Six. They got to be driven by Mr. Kamau from Hallo Children. But they get you there, because unlike Nganyas which are driven like they are about to fall, Mbukinyas only look like they are about to fall. Oh, and they take people to faraway places like Ruai. No love lost.
This is the Kenyan empire state of mind, and now that you know the circumstances that unite us, choose life and may the odds be forever in your favour.