the not-so-shocking status of marriage in Kenya

divorceimagesOne of our family friends is separated from his wife, barely a year after they exchanged vows.

I heard from the grapevine about a guy who married a girl, and the moment they arrived at their honeymoon destination, he bid her adieu, saying that he gave her the wedding she was harping on about but he was jumping ship on the marriage.

In this same grapevine, I heard of a guy who was working abroad while his wife lived in Kenya, and the guy is now so stressed about seeking legal separation from his wife after he caught her cheating.

We’re at that stage in our lives where most of everyone around me seems to have a husband/wife/baby/fiancé. I’m glad for them…but it makes me wonder whether they took that decision seriously.

Perhaps my cynicism is shining through, but I am not against marriage. I am all for it, when both parties are going into it with both eyes open, both of them understanding every nuance behind ‘til death do us part’, both of them mature enough to care about their SO’s (Significant Other’s) needs as they do their own.

Human beings are hopeful creatures – how else would we explain the number of children born every day when the world is in its current bad shape? So the notion of divorce hardly comes up during an engagements or on the honeymoon: the future is known, but it’s going to be great with your best friend/love of your life by your side. Absolutely nothing will go wrong when he/she has your back. There are no what ifs when you have hope.

Then something goes wrong. There are a lot of heated arguments. Someone cheats. Someone declares that they don’t love you anymore. Someone declares that they would rather be single than share personal space.

Suddenly, you’re seriously thinking about the D-word, and for purposes of this post, the D-word in Kenya.

Kenya’s Marriage Bill recognizes these marriages:
· Religious: Christian, Islamic, Hindu, and marriages “conducted in accordance with any other faith or other group as may be gazetted”
· Civil: monogamous, conducted by the Director or a Marriage officer
· Customary: potentially polygamous, conducted in accordance with the rites of any of the Kenyan communities

When the rites have been celebrated with family and friends, the hard part begins. When those hard times are too much to bear, marriages fall apart. It would be easy, except that the law can leave you caught up in legal wrangles for years. Some give up on legally demolishing their marriages, going on ahead to have domestic partnerships/customary marriages with other spouses, and creating families with them.

I don’t know whether to berate Kenyans for not being profoundly in the know about the consequences of a broken marriage, or to simply applaud them for being hopeful human beings.

I’m no lawyer, so I’ve had to do my research on the marriage laws in Kenya before writing this post. I wasn’t surprised that they are not easily accommodating about divorce.

The bottom line after reading the local legal websites mentioning divorce: Kenyans should quit thinking that marriage Kenya’s marriage laws are similar to those they see on movies and TV shows.

They are not, nowhere close, and you will suffer greatly trying to seek a way out. U.S. marriage laws are way, way, way above and beyond where ours currently are. Annul a marriage after 14 hours? Why not? Divorce after 46 years of marriage? Find the nearest lawyer!

In Kenya, you may just be haunted by your divorce proceedings for years to come. Some have carried the burden to their grave.

Firstly, a marriage is void – treated as if there was no marriage at all – if:
· one of you is underage;
· it’s a prohibited marriage relationship;
· either party is already married;
· by court order;
· consent parties not been freely given (fraud, coercion, mental disorder, influence of drugs, intoxication);
· either party is absent from the ceremony;
· parties permit unqualified person to celebrate the union;
· parties are mistaken about the identity of the other party; or
· parties enter the marriage for fraudulent purposes.

Partners in a marriage can declare it void if:
· marriage was not consummated;
· recurrent attacks of insanity;
· no notice was given;
· notice of objection not yet withdrawn;
· marriage conducted by an unlicensed person;
· minor procedural errors; or
· failure to register the marriage

I was surprised to learn that in Kenya you can enter into a prenuptial agreement. I applaud prenups; marriage is a contract in itself, and why not protect your assets even if you love your soulmate to death? So if you have property that you no want to share, without a prenup that clearly states the stipulations and consequences of a breakup, you could get screwed out of your hard-earned money and property.

Which brings me to the Matrimonial Property Act. The amended Act ascertains the distribution of matrimonial property come the dissolution of a marriage, the highlights relaying that:
· Property acquired or inherited before marriage is not part of matrimonial property,
· Property acquired jointly during the marriage is split two-ways,
· Property in polygamous marriages can be held separate from that of the other wives.

What baffles me is that men with multiple wives still overlook the necessity of writing a will, the widows and their children left fighting over property and inheritance.

Coming to the reasons for seeking divorce, you cannot cite “irreconcilable differences” as grounds for divorce like you’ve seen on U.S. television shows or read about in gossip rags dedicated to celebrities.

In Kenya, you can’t tell the judge that you simply fell out of love and can’t stand to see the stupid face your SO makes while they chew. Slashing all the legalese, the grounds for divorce in KE are:
· Insanity (politely put, of “unsound mind”)
· Adultery (and you may need diehard proof, because your SO may just stick to “it wasn’t me” and that may get you nowhere)
· Desertion
· Cruelty…
· …and the icing on the cake: except for super special cases, Kenyan law “prohibits the presentation of a divorce petition to a court of law before three years after the marriage”.
The law literally forces you to be married for three years before you can present a petition for divorce. Perhaps the courts understand that calling it quits after the hard first year doesn’t give a marriage enough time to build up…?

I think I lost my point in all this because now I’m suddenly thinking about polygamy.

Polygamy is not a new concept in Kenya, especially in customary marriages. Last month, Parliament passed a bill allowing men to marry multiple wives, without the consent of their first wife. As one Member of Parliament eloquently put it, [paraphrased], the first wife should assume that any woman the man brings home is the second wife, or the third wife, or the fourth wife.

Kenya’s Parliamentarians: dragging back the women’s movement to pre-independence.

That paraphrased nugget of wisdom is what led me to write this post. It was so disrespectful that it made me seriously consider what the light is at the end of this marriage tunnel if this is the kind of shit people have to put up with.

What started with hope and getting your happily ever after is condemned to you ending up bound by the law, hanging on to your marriage by the skin of your teeth due to unaffordable high legal costs, or the kids, or keeping up appearances, or a dozen other things that disagreeing couples can’t let go of.

Yay for Kenya’s marriages.

traveling to Kenya: a few tips to make your trip less stressful

maasai-braceletsThis is one of my random posts about Kenya, inspired by a recent trip I took. It had me thinking about the readers of this blog who would want to visit Kenya and would like some tips on how to move around.

Firstly, some important things to know about Kenya:
· Currency – Kenyan shilling, abbreviated as KSh or /=
· Time zone – GMT+3
· Electricity plug – 3 point square. Plug adaptors are available for sale.
· Mobile phone service carriers – Safaricom, Airtel, Orange, Yu
· Major credit cards are accepted in most establishments.

Secondly……

Language
Off the bat, contrary to what you may have heard about Kenya, “jambo” is not a greeting you’ll hear while going around the country on your holiday. Perhaps in tourist-y spots, but in places where locals are, ‘jambo’ is not even in our radar. It will make you stand out a tourist.

Kenyans greet each other casually with “habari”, “sema”, “vipi”, “mambo”. Or even “hello”, “hi” and “hey”.

But if you would want to use official Kiswahili, you can say:

“Habari yako?” – How are you?

English and Kiswahili are the official languages. A majority of Kenyans speak English, and you’ll have an easy time getting around.

Keep left!
As a former British colony, some of Kenya’s system has been influenced by Britain: we use the shilling like Britain did before they changed to the pound, we use British-English, and football (American soccer) is a very popular sport.

So if you’re planning to drive on Kenyan roads, remember that the rule of law is to “keep left”.

And we also have roundabouts.

Dating system
Calendar dates, I mean, not in terms of pursuing a girl.

We use the day-month-year dating format, unlike in the U.S. where it’s month-day-year.

11-12-2015 is 11th December to us, whereas in U.S. territories it’s November 12th. Make it clear in a business contract or else things will get messy!

Kenyan tea and coffee
During your visit, you may notice that Kenyans prefer tea to coffee, despite the country being a global producer of coffee. Perhaps it’s the colonial influence from tea-drinking Britons, but Kenyans are a tea-drinking people. We like it in the morning, at ten o’clock and at four o’clock. Sometimes even before bed. Kenyans in the diaspora are constantly asking relatives to ship them boxes!

Sales pitch: Pass by a supermarket and purchase high-grade, locally-produced tea and coffee. Java, Dormans and Savannah coffee shops also stock their branded Kenyan coffee and tea.

Matatus!
You’ll seee them on the streets and highways and probably sidewalks – 14-seater Nissans or 25-seater buses with yellow lines running across the middle of the body.

Matatus are a part of the Kenyan culture, since their introduction in the 1970s. The minivans are artistically decorated, play loud music, and are plastered with very interesting bumper stickers in the interior (and exterior, too).

I honestly think that matatu drivers should be included in the world’s list of “craziest drivers”.

Food
Over 40 tribes in Kenya, each with its own staple food, but nyama choma is a national dish.

From rũracios and weddings, to kamwerethos and get-togethers, to company retreats and festivals, nyama choma (roasted meat) is a Kenyan must-have during festivities.

Chicken, beef, lamb, goat…we love our nyamchom, with a side of kachumbari and ugali,

For a taste of traditional Kenyan meals, there are many eateries offering a local menu.

If you’re a beer drinker, order a cold Tusker or Pilsner to wash down your meal. If you’re more into international liquor like Guinness and Smirnoff, we have those, too.

Mitumba-wear
We love our mtush: secondhand clothes, shoes and bags. They’re cheaper in comparison to the pretty shilling it would set us back if we bought things brand new from exhibition stalls.

Toi Market (Ngong Rd), Gikomba and Ngara are just some of the popular mitumba “shopping centres” in Nairobi. Practice your bargaining power!

Traditional villages
If your trip has been organized by a tour company, be sure to ask them if you can take a trip to a local village. Ask your tour guide whether in your next stop you’ll be able to interact with the local communities.

The Samburu, Maasai and Turkana still live traditional lives, and they often allow visitors a peek into their communities. Some practice eco-tourism!

If you’re unable to travel the distance to the villages, the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi has setups of traditional homes of different Kenyan communities.

Do something touristy: sightsee!
So you’re here for a day:-

· Kenya National Archives: Located along Tom Mboya Street in Nairobi and next to the Ambassadeur Hotel, the National Archives carries a documented history of our nation from before the arrival of missionaries and colonialists, to the struggle for independence.

· Museums: The country is dotted with small and large museums, from the Lamu Museum in the island of Lamu to the Nairobi National Museum in Kenya’s capital.

If you’re here for longer, book a travel package:-

· Take a wilderness safari or a beach vacation – or combine both! – and marvel at Kenya’s beauty; it’s not the world’s leading safari destination for naught (World Travel Awards, 2013).

· Tour guides are highly knowledgeable, and depending on where your travels take you, you will have an unforgettable safari experience.

Lake Nakuru has an incredible variety of wildlife, with the largest gathering of pink flamingoes in the world. Mombasa, Malindi and Nyali have exemplary beaches, and still at the coast, the island of Lamu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a rich history in Swahili architecture and settlement.

· National parks: Best game viewing in Africa starts in Kenya.

From the Nairobi National Park in the vicinity of the CBD, to the Samburu National Park in the northern arid part of Kenya, to the world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve, a visit to our national parks will introduce to wildlife’s “Big Five”– lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, rhino

· From July to October, you can watch one of the world’s wonders in the Maasai Mara: the annual Great Migration of thousands of wildebeest, antelopes and zebras in search of pasture, crossing over to the Mara from the bordering Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

PS: Do. Not. Forget. Your. Camera.

Be aware of “African timers”
Kenyans don’t seem to be conscious about being on time and in time.

Is it that we underestimate traffic on our roads, thinking that an hour will be plenty to make it to a meeting?

Don’t get too annoyed about our horrible timing.

Curios!
Seriously, you have to buy some of the trinkets sold around in Kenya.

I’m a sucker for cute things, and as a local, I can’t resist pawing through bowls of beaded rings just to find something charming.

Looking for locally made Kenyan crafts to take back home? Bookends, jewelry boxes, soapstone carvings, sandals, Maasai blankets, paintings are available in curio shops wherever your destination takes you.

In Nairobi, the open-air Maasai Market is where you need to go if you want Kenyan artifacts; paintings, soapstone carvings, wooden figurines and fabrics. City Market in the CBD also has curio stalls, and vendors also sell, meat, fish, vegetables and flowers.

The Maasai Market shifts around different parts of Nairobi over the week – Tuesdays at the Prestige Plaza, Wednesdays at Westgate Mall, Thursdays at The Junction Mall (“Musical Maasai Market” with live traditional music and dance performances), Sundays at Yaya Centre. The biggest day is on Saturday at the High Court car park in the CBD.

Beforehand, learn the power of bargaining!

If you would want to buy something for your wife/partner/mother/sister that is not a curio, why not a leso? A leso is a staple in every Kenyan woman’s wardrobe, and you can adorn your favourite girl with this truly Kenyan fabric.

My favourite pieces are by Mombasa’s Mali ya Abdullah – they’re bigger, and made of better material than the lesos from Tanzania/Zanzibar. No hating.

Lastly: be careful
Like in all parts of the world, exercise caution when moving around.

If you’re uncomfortable about asking directions from a civilian, every building has a security guard(s) posted either outside or inside.

Keep your valuables close and keep a watchful eye on them.

Jambo, and karibu Kenya!

12 things I don’t like about public transport

KBS-KenyaPublic transportation is rarely (or never) a pleasant experience.

When I was a kid, I thought it would be cool to use public transport. My first time on a public bus, I chased it down when it took off without me, my older sister on it, and me…not. Those were the days when KBS buses had front and rear doors, so I caught up fast.

I didn’t come to become a regular user of public service vehicles (herein referred to as “PSVs”) until much later in my life, and I am still not five fingers in searching for the beauty in using public transport: cheaper than maintaining a car, cheaper than taking a cab, overhear conversations about people’s interesting lives…

As humans are wont to do, I have more grievances than attributes when it comes to PSVs.

The crushing bodies
This overloading is in the case of matatus, particularly those going short distances.

When you’re the one forcefully squeezing yourself in, you will not be comfortable; your back aches, your butt aches, your knee caps ache.

Some matatus have interior stickers that tell passengers to sit “four by four like Orbit [gum]”.

Being a big girl comes in handy sometimes, especially when we’re three voluptuous women in the three-person-seat behind the driver. It would be hard for a conductor to ask three women to accommodate a fourth person, skinny or not, when it’s clearly not feasible.

The odours
There are people who smell terrific, and then there are those who don’t.

Whether it’s their B.O. or just horrible perfume, it can be gross.

I especially hate it when someone’s awful perfume/cologne rubs off on me, and I’m not even halfway to my destination.

The weird
My jeans have been ripped – not once or twice – because of a loose screw on a seat.

Someone with muddy shoes may accidentally step on you.

The required First Aid kit in the matatu is actually empty and you’ve torn your skin on a loose spike.

A drunk man beside you will be making conversation, and you can’t understand a thing he’s saying.

The seat you’re on is unstable, and whenever there’s a turn, you’re afraid it will break under your weight.

Singapore: reminds me of Mombasa Road

Singapore: reminds me of Mombasa Road

The (can be) rude staff
To be fair, conductors rear their ugly horns when you become difficult. But to also be fair to the passengers, conductors are prone to changing their minds, especially when they’ve switched shifts between destinations.

Once, half the matatu I was in cleared out when the conductor stated a price that no one had agreed to before we got in. Guy had to suck it up and agree to the payment as previously stated.

The embarrassing conversations
As much as you hear the fascinating/crazy/shocking lives people are living through their conversations, there are moments where you’re struck by embarrassment on behalf of a fellow traveler.

Phone conversations, in particular.

You hear someone arguing with his baby mama about not putting to proper use the money he sent her, you hear a woman yelling at someone in a language you can’t understand, you see that woman’s daughter slinking in her seat from humiliation…Everyone’s ears are perked up and everyone’s exchanging “yikes!” glances.

People should just save some conversations for home.

The seat hoggers
Men are honestly the biggest culprits of this.

PSVs are not personal cars, and we should not treat them as our personal kingdoms – you’re sharing space. It’s impolite to spread your legs and knees like you’re in your favourite chair at home, whereas your neighbour is balanced uncomfortably from your seat-hogging.

That they may not get you to your destination
Buses are legitimate about their last stop. Matatus, however, can be cheeky.

Matatus in my route are fond of exaggerating where they’re headed, and we’ve learnt how to read the signs. No matter what they say, we’ve known how to distinguish between a matatu genuinely going the whole way or a short distance.

How FAR the bus stop can be!
I believe that there’s an inner Olympic champion in every – most – Kenyans. Pedestrians, especially.

The shit we go through sometimes because of public transport has made us resilient.

Like your matatu dropping you off at Railways and you work on Kenyatta Avenue. Or Jevanjee. That’s a daily workout that no one should hassle you for eating chips every damn day if you wanted.

At my first job, the office was located a kilometre away from the main road. Back then, the motorcycle (boda boda) craze had not really hit Kenya. My colleagues and I were forced to walk a kilometre in each morning from the main road and a kilometre back in the evening.

It wasn’t helpful that the sun roasted the hell out of our faces on those evenings as it set, so we had to wait until about 5 or 6PM.

Also not helpful was the dusty road, where residents gave their motoring skills carte blanche, uncaring that we were breathing in the dust from their epic Safari Rally moves.

I did lose some weight before our offices moved, though…And gained it all back eventually.

The hawking and preaching
On a hot afternoon, I would really not want to listen to anyone yelling about a promotion on new biscuit-chocolate combos. I just want to sit, listen to my music if I feel like it, without the disturbance of hearing buy-one-get-one-free offers from the front of the bus.

It’s funny that some buses have stickers that forbid hawking and preaching, yet it still goes on.

Where’s the fresh air?!
There are people who are allergic to opening windows.

A PSV may have a promotional sticker warning us of TB and telling us to open windows so as not to contract TB, but if you land a seatmate who is in the window seat and is reluctant to open the window, you’re forced to recycle air from 60+ people.

It’s nasty, it’s stuffy and it’s unsanitary.

Although sometimes it’s not their fault – the window simply doesn’t budge open.

The strikes
When PSVs are on strike, things seem to come at a standstill for ¾ of the population.

As much as it’s consolation knowing that millions of you are walking home, you don’t rejoice in the fact that you’re going to walk until your legs fall off.

Your life is in a stranger’s hands
Hired personal drivers are vetted. Before you even leave the house, you’d be able to tell whether he had a few too many last night.

And because they’re always on their toes to keep their boss happy, they can’t afford to smell like stale booze when driving the boss’s kids to school.

In public transport, you don’t know what kind of fellow your driver is. Is he high? Is he a thug? Has the miraa messed with his head a little too much?

I really liked what the government did over the December holidays: no night travel for PSVs. People bitched and complained about it, but hey, the government may have saved your life from a drunk driver.

if I could write a letter to me…

Vintage-mailbox_pinkDear Me-When-I-Was-17,

This is weird. Perhaps certifiable, but I don’t care. I want to write this.

I know you’re stressed right now about being in Fourth Form. All those volumes of notebooks and textbooks are giving you a headache, but worry not, it’ll be over in ten more months. Yikes. I don’t envy you.

If it makes you feel better, you’ll go to university. You may want to brace yourself for a wonderful shocker that will take you out of your comfort zone in your first semester…

I’ll try to make this quick so that you can get back to studying for the next CAT. For the record, that Maths booklet you use for past-paper practice tests will come in handy come KCSE.

Alright, so what’s up with me…us now? Well, let’s just say that KCSE is not the end of the world.

You were way off base about what you’d be in your twenties, and I’m seriously wondering how it all went so…weird and wrong.

First of all, you’re not rich. I know, I know, it’s not like you’re dreaming about having a plentiful bank account. You’re getting by, but it sucks that we don’t have a mental capacity to dream of being a doctor or a lawyer. Or a businessperson!

But you’re you. Don’t try to be anyone else. It probably doesn’t make all that much sense to you right now, but trust me: be yourself. You’ll be happier for it.

You’ve not seen much beyond finishing and passing your national exams, but I’ll tell you this, you’re a creative person. Don’t let anyone push you into doing something that doesn’t interest you.

I know sometimes you get scared of a teacher coming to call you out of class with bad news. It’s not going to happen, alright? Relax.

Speaking of worry, you’re still doing that thing where you worry and imagine, sometimes at the same time. I guess no matter how much we try to shake it off, that’s just the kind of person we are.

What amazes me is how shitty of a memory you have. You’re constantly writing things down or keying them into your phone just so you don’t forget. I’m not kidding.

You also really, really like music. You piss off people a lot when you have your headphones always plugged in. You have a collection that the 7-year-old us wouldn’t know what to do with. By the way, I figured out who sang “Donna”!

On a serious note, you are a procrastinator. Or you have a short attention span. I still don’t know which is which.

I’m not undermining your woes right now, but you think trying to keep your eyes open until 9.30PM to meet your study group is hard? Try having a deadline at 4PM and you’ve barely scratched the surface on research.

Maybe I am undermining your woes a little bit…

Remember how you wondered if you’d ever handle being an employee? Well, you’ve had an office job – several, even – and lately you’ve been freelancing instead of being tied down to a desk. Your mind is your factory and moneymaker, can you believe that?!

You may not like being in high school right now, but that place will leave you with memories to last the rest of your life. You’ll miss your roommates and classmates, and those moments you shared with them will sometimes creep up and make you smile.

You will part ways with some people, but understand that it doesn’t mean that those relationships were bogus – people just move on.

The waiting world is a crazy place; it will shock you by its cruelty, kindness, ugliness and beauty. Take it in stride: human beings are not built the same.

As for love? Our current beau is just that – current. The world has men who make him look like a little boy.

You’ll meet kind men and funny men (you’re a sucker for funny men!) and odd men and shy men and much cuter men than him.

Spoiler alert: you haven’t met a keeper. Sorry.

Anyway, you’ve really come into your own as I write this. You know more about yourself than you do at 17, but you have not figured it all out.

You’re still learning, so embrace those little things you discover about yourself, good or bad. Like the fact that you don’t sing in the shower despite your love of music.

You have a great mother, and you’re going to see why. Your dad, the complex man he is, really did something right that you’ll be crazy grateful for. Talk with him every chance you get.

One more thing: some days you’ll feel like crap, some days things won’t make any sense. Struggles will be there, but there are beautiful, perfect moments and silver linings in between. You’ll be fine.

In the words of the man who gave me this idea: I guess I’ll see you in the mirror.

Love,
~me

stuff Africans hate: those thoughtless questions we’re tired of answering

africa-is-bigA couple of years ago, I used to be a regular user of international online chat rooms. And by regular, I mean daily.

Other than those who were brazen enough to admit that they liked sniffing…er, socks, I also met people who have remained friends to today.

But to get to meet those cool gems, I had to sift through bullies and ill-informed people who asked really rude questions about Africa.

I have never lived outside of my country or continent, but my sister has, and so have several of my friends.

Africans abroad are often subjected to assumptions and stereotypes, despite the world being the global village it is presently. The most common ones are:

★“You’re from Africa? What part of the country are you from?”
Cue the jaw-dropping and mouth-gaping-open moment.

Africa must be the place where no one leaves, and an African in Europe or the U.S. is a unicorn, who must have snuck out of the continent by devious means.

It’s 2014, and there are still people who think that Africa is a country. Many also proceed to ask whether you’re really from “South Africa”, because South Africa is Africa and Africa has one president.

★“How did you get over here?”
When my sister lived overseas, this was the first question that her landlord asked her. She answered that she used a boat, swam halfway through and walked the rest of the trip. Landlord was pretty impressed by her tenacity.

★”Do you speak African?”
Africa is a continent, not a country. A continent with 54 separate states, every country having several languages spoken within its borders.

There is no United Language of Africa, and in each country, there are several official and national languages.

Including indigenous languages and mother tongues, Africa has over 2,000 recorded languages. And none of them is “African” or “Africanese”.

★”But your English is so good!”
Africans are illiterate, have AIDS, have flies buzzing around their faces, don’t know a computer from a block of wood, and they communicate using clicking sounds.

While there are southern African communities that have “clicky” languages, Africans are learned people.

They are doctorate degree holders, some teaching in international universities, some teachers and head teachers of schools in their communities, some starting businesses that win international awards, some knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re”.

I lost count of the number of times an online chat member asked me how I got the computer I was chatting from. Was it terribly mean of me to say it was my white neighbour’s computer and I was using it without his knowledge?

"Uh...."

“Uh….”

★“What’s life like in Africa?”
Africa: the second-largest and second-most-populous continent.

Africa: 54 countries, 54 different economies, cultures and subcultures.

Africa: 1 billion+ people.

That’s a pretty big box to ask about.

★”Did you wear clothes in Africa?”
Another assumption about Africa is that we all walk around baring our breasts and butt cheeks, and we have no clue about clothes.

True, there are tribes that are still rooted in the traditional life, but majority of Africans would be thoroughly shaken when a man walks down a street or through a mall naked. I’m certain that he would also be arrested for indecent exposure.

★”Did you live in trees in Africa?”
Like Tarzan.

I don’t know whether it’s genuine curiosity or complete ignorance that makes people ask some questions.

Beyond insinuating that Tarzan was your neighbour, they will also ask about your experience with amenities for the first time: how did you feel when you flushed the loo for the very first time? Do you know what Christmas is?

★”Did you have a pet lion when you were growing up?
Or a monkey. Or an elephant.

Over the years, we’ve had dozens of dogs and cats in my homestead, but never a wild animal. The odd chameleon that scared the shit out of us, but no helpless hyena.

Africa’s wildlife is in reserves and national parks, and even us locals have to pay entrance fees to see The Big Five.

They don’t roam around in our backyards or cities, and our guard dogs are not lions.

It can be fun to mess with gullible people, though.

★“Wow, I love your tan!”
We’re perpetually ‘tanned’ all year round.

When you make Caucasian friends and they want to drag you along to the beach to “get a tan”, what can you say to that?

★All Africans know each other.
Apparently, this is quite a common misconception.

“Oh my God, you’re from Africa? I used to know a girl who was from Lesotho, Madeline Matsoso. Do you know her?”

Where do you even begin with that one?

so Nakumatt has been busy…

Chilli Lemon. Yum.

Chilli Lemon. Yum.

The competition between supermarkets in this country can be amusing.

I’ve been spending so much time in supermarkets this last week that my brain is compelling me to comment about their pattern (other than the reshuffling of shelves that they are constantly doing, which annoys the hell out of me).

A few years ago, Nakumatt bought up all the Woolmatt branches in the CBD, and recently, Tuskys has been on a spree acquiring Ukwala supermarkets.

Since last year, Nakumatt’s been selling their “own” branded merchandise with the Nakumatt Blue LabelTM logo that are noticeably cheaper than other brand name products.

From crisps, spices and water, to bleach, powder soap and tissue, Nakumatt has filled the shelves with their branded merchandise.

Tuskys, too, has their branded sugar, rice, TP….

The year is so new that I’m actually blogging about this. Lord.

a very Kenyan Christmas!

Christmas-BallI’ve written this post in a rush since tomorrow is Christmas, dedicated to my American friend over at Bishop and Warlord: it’s been quite a year reading your impressive posts and finding your comments in mine. Here’s to what’s coming in 2014!

Well, a Kenyan Christmas is both unlike what we see in Hollywood movies – no snow except at the peak of Mt. Kenya – and like what we see in Hollywood movies – celebrating with family.

So this is how Kenyans typically celebrate Christmas:

Décor: It’s not a big affair to get a Christmas tree for the house and decorate it with all kinds of Christmas bling. But when you do buy a tree, chances are it’s fake and made of plastic.

Shops and malls do decorate their premises, simply by painting “Merry Christmas and New Year” on the window, putting up a banner or decking up the place extravagantly with lights and fully decorated trees.

Malls, especially, take extra effort in creating a Christmas wonderland. Personally, I think it’s for the benefit of expats and foreigners because locals don’t really put much stock into Christmas trees, balls or lights. Awfully pretty to look at in nighttime, though…

Gifts: Gifts can be exchanged, but it’s not a staunch tradition here. You won’t find us running in and out of stores in search of the latest gadget for our kids or stressing about money you don’t have that you need to spend while referring to your child’s wish list.

However, to be more technical about it, gifts come in the form of clothes, especially for children – “nguo za Krisimasi” [clothes for Christmas].

Each year, you know you’ll have a brand new Christmas dress or a brand new pair of jeans courtesy of Mum and Dad. They take you to the shop with them or they pick up the purchase and come home with it.

You could go the extra mile for those you hold dear to you and buy them gifts individually.

Unlike Christmas greeting cards, sending wishes via SMS is popular.

Church: With Kenya being a predominantly Christian nation (83%), many people attend Christmas services around the country. The churches are usually decorated with balloons, crêpe paper and banners.

Family: One of the biggest Christmas ‘traditions’ in Kenya is traveling upcountry/ancestral home to be with family, especially for those living in the cities.

Men living and working in cities who have left their wives and children in the village farms, city dwellers with parents who are in the village, youngsters who want to visit their grandparents…they go home during this time.

It’s a family reunion of sorts when everyone gathers at Grandmother’s for the festivities, including those who live in the diaspora.

The tricky part about going back to the village is that relatives expect you city mice to bring them gifts. They think you’re living it up back there and expect you to show them kindness. It can be brutal.

Holiday: Some don’t find the necessity to go to the village, so they take holidays to the beach or enjoy a safari. It’s often warm in Kenya this time of year, and a beach holiday can be the ultimate Christmas celebration!

Food: Nyama choma is a must-have for a Christmas meal.

Another ‘tradition’ of a Kenyan Christmas is the slaughtering of a goat, chicken or cow, and then roasting it over a charcoal or wood fire. We’ll take the goat or chicken to the back and slaughter it ourselves over buying meat from the supermarket or butchery. And you don’t need a permit like I’m told you do abroad!

Other than the meat the goat provides, you can boil the head or bones for soup, make the “Kenyan sausage” out of the intestines (mutura) or cook the intestines as they are for another stew: matumbo. Yum!

Traditional food served will also depend on the community you’re from, but one of the national favourites is chapati, a flat bread that can be eaten with stew, plain as it is or with a cup of tea.

Clubbing: After sharing the day with family, some people like to end Christmas Day with a punch by spending the night clubbing and dancing.

Wherever you are, happy, happy Christmas from this girl in Kenya!