Some things about us Kenyans are amusing and laughable, some not so much. And I love my country so much that I’m going to talk about how peculiar her citizens can sometimes be.
When I set out to read what other Kenyan bloggers thought was peculiar about our countrymen and women, I could completely understand what would compel them to come up with their lists.
It’s been said that Kenyans have “peculiar calling habits”. The phrase is synonymous with former Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph, a phrase that has now been taken seriously by Safaricom and other mobile service operators into fitting their services to the mwananchi: we’re guilty of “flashing” (calling and hanging up at the first ring so that the callee can call you back – this requires you to have your thumb at the ready on the End button), calling at off-peak hours and jamming networks, sending “Please Call Me’s” like they’re going out of style….
As peculiar as our calling habits, our strangeness goes beyond that:–
Some Kenyans treat bank notes like foolscaps, using both sides to make brief and lengthy calculations.
It’s a good thing that such manhandled notes are still legal tender, or else we’d be claiming refunds at one point or another!
· jumping off a moving bus/matatu
Men are often guilty of this. It’s honestly a cringe-worthy thing to witness as you wonder whether the jumper will break his neck, legs or teeth in the process.
There’s physics in play here when one is jumping. Let me try to remember as much as I can from my high school physics classes…
A body in a moving vehicle moves at the same speed as the vehicle. That’s why when the driver suddenly applies the brakes, you are jerked forward – your body is still in the motion that the vehicle was in.
So for these men who jump off a still-in-motion bus or matatu, it’s tricky. They can’t just halt or else they’ll get really hurt. They have to keep their bodies moving, still be in that motion, until they can safely slow down.
The worst part of it is seeing one of them doing it backwards. I shudder at the thought.
· bus/matatu drivers who don’t wait for passengers to be seated before taking off
Nairobi is a speedy city, say, in comparison to Mombasa. Or so I’m told.
In Nairobi, matatu and bus drivers hit the gas pedal the moment a passenger’s foot is on the first step. Exceptions are made for the elderly and injured, but for commoners, once your foot is in the door, the vehicle is on the move.
As years-long passengers, Nairobians have learnt the mechanisms of the PSV industry – you’re constantly aware of where your hand needs to grip; should the driver take off like a shot, you’ll be bleeding in a matter of seconds, face down on the aisle. And I doubt those compulsory First Aid kits fitted in the vehicles actually have First Aid equipment.
· discounting rules
Kenyan pedestrians are chronic jaywalkers who cross the street/highway where they feel like it, car owners ignore zebra crossings, and matatus can use walk paths as main streets (and they can easily make it seem like you’re in the wrong).
We love matatus, and at the same time, we also dislike them. Think Italian or Asians are cray-cray drivers? You need to spend some time on Kenyan roads.
Matatus work on their own timetable. Drivers and conductors make their shilling by how much they will make in a day, and they have to make as many trips as possible. Oftentimes when there’s traffic, they veer away from the main road to take a shortcut through boonies and estates. They can get away with it, or they can get nabbed by cops.
When you’re in awe that you got to work on time, that’s when you’re quick to be amazed by matatus. When the matatu kisses bumpers with another car, you are super quick to be angry at their recklessness.
· 99 is WAY cheaper than 100, 49 isn’t technically 50, and 299 is a deal!
When I was in university, Cadbury’s Fudge was hiked from Ksh.10 to Ksh.12. For my friends and I, people with a sweet tooth who didn’t mind parting with 10 bob before class on the days we had a craving, 12 bob was a barrier to getting our sweet on.
I mean, when I handed the shopkeeper 20 shillings, I wanted a single 10 shilling coin as change, not eight one-shilling coins.
The kiosk owner kept up with that Ksh.12 price for close to two weeks before she reduced it back to 10. She must have realized that it was better making off 10 shillings from tons of university students who needed a cheap sugar boost than 12 shillings from the very few who didn’t mind all those coins jiggling in their pockets.
· shortage of 1-shilling coins in supermarkets
Speaking of coins, there always seems to be a shortage of 1 bob coins at supermarkets.
There are posters in supermarkets requesting customers to bring change in exchange for notes. The shortage was so bad that there was a nationwide campaign asking Kenyans to return those coins they’d stashed away at home.
It’s become a habit for checkout clerks to ask you if you would kindly take a few sweets because s/he doesn’t have coins. You just can’t scream at them and demand your shillings over those mucking sweets. Some cashiers don’t even ask if you want a bloody sweet; they just give them to you like it’s the acceptable currency.
Truthfully, I’m part of the problem with the load of coins stored away in an old cup that sits on my dresser.
Kenyans can be ruthless bargainers. If you know what you’re doing, you can slash a said price by half, say, buying a watch marked KSh.1,000 for KSh.400.
And when you’re shopping with a friend or friends, it’s double or triple the bargaining power.
We bargain before taking that first step into a matatu, we bargain when buying fresh produce at the market, and we bargain when shopping for “new” mtumba clothes.
You just need to know when to walk away from a vendor that it will have them calling you back as they begrudgingly sell you that dress you really want. Or else you’ll keep walking and walking and walking, and arrive home empty handed.
Especially when the ‘s’ is crisply said: ‘otherwissse?’. My friend once told me that we Kikuyus are often guilty of this! It’s just a really simple phrase to use in conversation instead of asking “how are things?”
Other common phrases we like to make use of:–
· “Eh?” or “Ati?” for “Pardon?”
· “Eh!” to answer back, say when your mother calls from another room
· “Si kwa ubaya”, a standard response when someone mentions that you’ve been MIA for a while, loosely translated to mean “no hard feelings”
· “Me I…” when beginning a sentence.
I hate hearing this word in news broadcasts as much as “allegedly”. To me, allegedly gives the connotation that you don’t really know what the muck it is you’re talking about, and you can’t be bothered to figure out whether it’s a fact or an allegation.
TV journalists/anchors are guilty of using “rather” a lot. From NTV to KTN to Citizen, they have a fondness for saying “rather” when they falter: it’s their way of saying “Beg your pardon”, or a more proper substitute for “I mean, eh…”
According to the dictionary, ‘rather’ has several meanings:–
1. More readily; preferably: I’d rather go to the movies.
2. With more reason, logic, wisdom, or other justification.
3. More exactly; more accurately: He’s my friend, or rather he was my friend.
4. To a certain extent; somewhat: rather cold.
5. On the contrary.
As English came by ship to this gorgeous nation, a native English speaker should tell me if ‘rather’ is used appropriately in “Mr. Peter has been accused of stealing a goat…rather, Mr. Anthony has been accused of stealing a goat”.
As Peter and Anthony are two different people, it doesn’t make sense to my ears to hear “Mr. Peter…rather, Mr. Anthony is the goat thief.”
Argh, English is hard!
Sheng’: [(S)wahili and (Eng)lish] is a “Swahili-based slang language spoken by predominantly the Kenyan urban youth” – theteamkenya.com
I wouldn’t term Sheng’ as peculiar – it’s just one of those gems about Nairobi I like, even though I don’t know much of it.
Kiswahili scholars are often complaining about how Sheng’ has corrupted the language. Kids speak Sheng’ in class and at home, and sometimes they even write inshas in Sheng’. It’s driving teachers nuts.
To keep us in line, my Kiswahili teacher in primary school did not tolerate Sheng’, and he would give us an oral quiz every day before the lesson began. My mother, on the other hand, gave us a talking down to years ago when we referred to her as ‘mathe’ amongst ourselves that we eventually stopped.
· picking up accents
Our oddness has even been included in local comedy shows, and we are always willing to laugh at how weird we can sometimes be.
On these comedy shows, it’s been questioned why we pick up an American accent within a week of landing in the U.S., yet we don’t have a hint of an Indian accent if you were in India for three years.
Back in campus, my friend Ash surprised me when we were conversing with an American exchange student. In a matter of minutes, her Kenyan accent (do we have an accent…?) began to fade. She was rolling those r’s and l’s and t’s, and it was just so weirdly fascinating to watch her diction change to a strange Kenyan-American-whatever the heck it was.
· church business
Church has become a big business in this country. Is it because it’s a non-profit and exempt from paying taxes? I don’t know how taxing churches really works, so I’ll stop flinging accusations.
But…thousands of churches are registered in Kenya yearly. Religion is a big deal here, as many were raised in homes where a certain faith was practiced.
On telly, some “pastors” use faith to “blackmail” people into paying for prayers (‘if you send KSh.10,000, I will personally pray for you’. In other words, your prayers won’t touch God’s ears if you send KSh.9,999). And desperate as we can be for a miracle, we send money for that personalized miracle.
“Pastors” start off in dilapidated premises, and the more attendees they get, the more money they rake in. In a year, in a few short years, the “pastor” has upgraded to a new location, s/he is driving a brand new car, and s/he is wearing sharper dresses/suits.
These days, some churches are allowing their patrons to pay tithe by credit card. I don’t even know what to say to that without being snarky….
Where I live, I don’t need to look at a calendar to know that it’s Sunday – the early morning off-key singing carried by microphone from metres away tells me that it’s Sunday.
· “African timers”
Why are we often late? Is it that we underestimate the amount of time it takes to get to our destination? Is it because of other things that are out of our control, like weather and traffic? Is it that our bodies are just tuned to taking things “mos mos”?
I’m no angel on this front – I’ve been known to be late on a few occasions, but most times, I am conscious of time and I would rather get somewhere earlier than later.
On two separate occasions, I have wound up waiting HOURS for a road trip that was meant to begin much earlier.
The first one, we were heading out of town for a hike. The specified meeting time was 7AM in town, and silly me, thinking that people would be self-conscious about getting to our meeting spot on time so that we would have a head start, arrived by 7AM. The buses left at 9.30AM.
I could not believe it. Late comers were hugged and welcomed, and no one punched their grinning faces. What did they think the rest of us were, monkeys willing to let them sleep in while freezing our butts off waiting for them?
The second instance was just recently. We were to be picked up at 6AM for an out-of-town trip. Admittedly, it took us an extra half hour to be done, but by 6.30, we were ready and waiting. When we called for our ride, he was not even awake. We left town at 10AM.
Kenyans are so bad at keeping time that Boomba Clan wrote a song in honour of our relaxed attitude: African Timer
· sometimes we never learn
A couple of years ago, a petrol tanker rolled over in Sachangwan. The tanker blew up, and hundreds of locals perished in a fire while siphoning petrol. To this day, people have not learnt from that Sachangwan incident, with so many cases reported of people burning to death while tapping petrol.
Appertaining to the chang’aa (illegal brew) problem in Kenya, we also don’t seem to learn. It has caused death and blindness, but that doesn’t stop people from drinking it.
Really, how many times do we have to be hit before we realize that our heads hurt?
· scented pads
Gah! My grievances on peculiar products is ceaseless when it comes to scented pads.
A few years ago, Always scented sanitary pads appeared in the market. The absolute horror of it.
Always were our go-to sanitary towels since our primary school days when we were shy about saying the word ‘menstruation’, when our teachers gave them to us for free. We were happy with them as they were, plain and practical, and it was rather puzzling as to what would compel Procter & Gamble to create scented pads.
Women are self-conscious as it is when they’re on their period. We feel icky, and any scent accompanying it just makes everything more revolting. It wasn’t a subtle scent – it was, is, such a horrible scent that anyone can tell you’re on your period.
Many of us found other brands to use over Always for that reason.
Always much later reintroduced unscented pads. You have to be careful, though, not to pick a scented pack because the writing is way too small to be read easily.
Polygamy/polygyny is frowned upon in the west (criminal, even), but in Africa, it’s not a shocker to hear that someone is from a polygamous home.
I was in school with several kids who were from the same household: same father but different mothers. I’ve known people whose fathers had two wives, others three, others four.
In Kenya, couples with marriage certificates can be separated for years, some starting new families, while the official divorce never took place.
Children of the same-father-different-mothers scenario will be carted off to school in one car, perhaps even live together, yet subjected to the quiet animosity between wives. Perhaps some polygamous homes are filled with rainbows and moonbeams, but those I know certainly don’t.