Kenya@50: 50 things that say you grew up in Kenya

Kenya at 50In honour of our 50th year of independence tomorrow, I’ve compiled a list of 50 things that tell you you’re Kenyan.

As always, thanks to the other Kenyan bloggers who I pilfered things from.

Happy, happy Jamhuri Day!

  1. When you were a kid, Christmas meant new clothes, chapatis and cousins. Who the hell cared about a Christmas tree?
  2. You were enrolled in a theology class right from Standard One: CRE (Christian Religious Education), IRE (Islamic Religious Education), depending on your faith. And there was no opting out. Is this why we primarily believe in the theory of creation?
  3. Your mum, at one point, bought your school uniform(s) a size bigger so that you would grow into it.
  4. Things are done by hand – laundry, dishes, fetching water, trimming the lawn (with slashers or pangas), cleaning the house…
  5. At your house, you have a drawer where you put away plastic paper bags for reuse when you go to the kiosk or market. It doesn’t even shame you to carry a paper bag with a “Merry Christmas” logo on it in June.
  6. You grew up believing that eating ugali will make you stronger than eating rice.
  7. You’ve called a house help “Auntie” and a guard/watchman “Soldier” or “Boss” at some point.
  8. You’re guilty of beginning sentences with “Me I…”
  9. You use Swanglish (Swahili/English) or multiple languages in a single sentence: “Si you check if that moto in the riko has wakaad.”
  10. Matatu is a subculture to you.
  11. You called a beauty salon a “saloon” for years, and despite learning the difference, sometimes you slip up.
  12. Your mother is known by her child’s name: Mama Alex, Mama Njoki, Mama Kiwinja.
  13. If your mum sent you to the kiosk, she would tell you to tell the shopkeeper that “Mama Njoki” sent you. You’re Njoki.
  14. Tahamaki was one of your favourite shows way-back-when. And it scared the shit out of you.
  15. Water rationing is not a shocker. What’s shocking is an endless supply of water four days in a row.
  16. Power cuts at the slightest rumble of thunder is also pretty normal.
  17. Electricity going off from 9AM to 5PM once in a while for ‘routine maintenance’ is pretty normal. Seeing the ad in the paper is not surprising, either.
  18. In the rainy season, you charge your phone and laptop “just in case”.
  19. Sometimes you buy things in bulk, like a 10kg gunia of rice or sugar.
  20. A get-together is not complete without nyama choma or some kind of meat. You feel cheated when there’s none.
  21. At least 99% of your music collection has been downloaded illegally.
  22. At least 99.9% of your DVD collection is pirated.
  23. It’s hard to find a genuine food storage container in your house. Using an old Tilly, Kasuku, Blueband or ice-cream container to store food is pretty normal.
  24. You hike or alight a matatu away from the designated stop. And you get pissed at the driver/conductor when they pitisha you.
  25. Chai ni lazima – tea is a must. Sometimes you can’t get work done without a cup by your side.
  26. You’re registered for M-Pesa or some other mobile money transfer service.
  27. The words “Bamba” and “Sambaza” make a hell of a lot sense to you as verbs. “Sambaza me!”
  28. You offer your wrist/arm for a ‘handshake’ if your hands are dirty or wet.
  29. Viewer warnings are kind of fuzzy to parents. Despite the warnings on TV programmes about mature content, kids watch telenovelas and will have gab sessions with their mother/friends about last night’s episode.
  30. You, your mother, your grandmother, your auntie, or your friends belong to a chama. Or several chamas at once.
  31. You purse your lips and jerk them to covertly point to someone or something.
  32. Panadol is the answer to every pain.
  33. When you were sick, your mother concluded that a spike in temperature must be malaria. Or pneumonia.
  34. Before 2002, you pledged your loyalty to the president and the nation of Kenya, your readiness and duty to defend…etc etc
  35. Harambee.
  36. At some point, you have used a bucket/basin for bathing/showering.
  37. Hearing a gospel track in a nightclub is no big deal.
  38. You have a tendency of not completing sentences for whoever you’re chatting with. It’s a conversation, so damn it, they should participate! So you just backtrack: “Nikamwambia aku…? Akuje. Halafu tukae…? Tukaenda. Halafu mathake aka…? Akashow.”
  39. Wedding committees.
  40. You pronounce hat, hut, heart and hurt the same way: hat.
  41. You have/had a VHS tape of “Sarafina” at your house.
  42. You bargain a lot.
  43. You shop mtumba [secondhand]. Like matatus, you recognize it as a subculture.
  44. You rationalize costs. And other people’s costs: “Why would she buy a brand new dress for 5,000 when she could get a ton of shit mtush?! It’s not even that good.”
  45. You owned a pair of Bata shoes during your school years, or knew someone who owned school shoes from Bata. Toughees!
  46. You could tie a tie at a young age, if your school required ties when you were in primary school. By at least age 14, you knew how to tie a tie like Kantai.
  47. You’ve seen any woman carrying a child on her back get first priority at the bank, despite you being in the queue for the last two hours.
  48. You call a swimsuit a “swimming costume”.
  49. Your favourite games included kati, bladder, bano, rounders, kalongo, shake, brikicho, bendings!
  50. This doesn’t shock you when you see it. It will spook you, but it won’t shock you.

3 thoughts on “Kenya@50: 50 things that say you grew up in Kenya

  1. I think your posts about Kenya are my favorite. I love learning about Kenyan culture.

    Also, I am guilty of numbers 5 and 38. Perhaps I have Kenyan blood somewhere in my lineage.

    As for 47, if that happened in America, the other people in line would come unglued and excoriate the bank teller who allowed it. It would get ugly and FAST. Maybe in rural areas it would be ok, but most people in all of California would NEVER allow it.

    • Hahaha! Perhaps you do have Kenyan blood – Kenya is said to be the cradle of mankind :)

      About the women with babies on their backs: it’s reasonable, but at a certain extent, people get frustrated. I’ve witnessed this at the bank when several mothers were told to wait for others to be served.
      Some of them take advantage. They seem to have the luxury of arriving when they want and receiving quick assistance.
      I don’t understand that special treatment, either. Sometimes they do this in matatus, the conductor asking you to move to the back for the sake of a mother. I flat out refuse. Kenya’s matatu system is hard to explain, and perhaps I can broaden this point in another post.

  2. Pingback: #Kenyaat 50: Kenyans Celebrations of 50 Years of Independence | The Diary of A Global Citizen

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