I have been born and bred in Nairobi. I love living here even though there are things that will drive you up the wall such as traffic jam, the high cost of living here and insecurity in some parts. But let’s face it those of us that have lived here cannot deny that there are things that we love about Nairobi. Here are some things that are unique to Nairobi.
1. The money exchange
We all know how it is when you are in a matatu and the fare is 50 shillings and your partner has 100 shillings. There is that silent exchange where he gives the conductor the money indicating that it’s for the two of you and you give your partner the 50 shillings. All that without words. Or that very confusing (for me at least) money conversation. Scenario: Fare is 70 shillings you have 100 shillings. The conductor does not have coins to add up to 30 shillings so he says “Uko na mbao nikupatie finje’(Do you have 20 shillings so that I give you 50 shillings for change?). So stay with me; it’s now 120 shillings minus 70 shillings which means you get 50 shillings back. That’s the simpler version. In supermarkets or bend over boutiques the numbers are a bit more complex but people here are smart with money math.
2. Classic 105
Buses and matatus in the mornings for the most part are usually quiet. Everyone is preoccupied with thoughts of getting to school or work and are for the most part trying to wake up. Then everyone’s favourite radio hosts Maina and King’ang’i who we love to hate come up with a hot topic of the day. I will never forget my sister telling me about one day when the hosts were talking about the wild parties that teens nowadays have and one caller who was actually a teen was giving his very riveting story ‘Maina let me tell you that’s nothing-’ then the caller’s credit ran out. Everyone in the matatu let out a cry of frustration because they were all waiting to hear the juicy details. There was also an incident where a caller was lamenting about his wife’s lack of concern for his wellbeing and he said ‘yaani Maina hajui ata kama nimekula hajali ata kama mtu amekufa amelala kwa mtaro, she doesn’t care’(Maina she doesn’t even care whether I have eaten or if I am lying dead in a ditch somewhere) . We really laughed at that poor man in that matatu.
3. Nairobi lingo
If you have had the opportunity to travel the African continent you will agree that Kenya has one of the best spoken English. However here in Nairobi thanks to the melting pot of cultures, social classes and outside influences we have come up with a language that helps us communicate. ‘Me I’ is a common way of starting a sentence that puts emphasis on you as the first person.’Me I like to listen to music’ for instance. Don’t flinch, just go with it. Another peculiar greeting after the usual pleasantries is the phrase ‘Otherwise?’ to which you should just continue with talking about how you are or how things are.’Kinda like’ is a phrase to describe something ‘It’s kinda like she was bored’. Then there are some things you can’t translate ‘ati’, ‘aii’, ‘wee’, ‘aki ya nani’. Like those. For money you should know the following terms ‘mbao’ is twenty shillings, ‘finje’ is fifty shillings ‘soo’ is 100 shillings, ‘rwabe’ is 200 shillings, ‘punch’ is 500 shillings, a ‘ G’ or a ‘K’ is 1000 shillings.
4.Dawa ya mende, fuko, kunguni et al
I know at one point we have all fallen victim to this. You are in the bus trying to just have some time with yourself when out of the blue someone who you thought was a passenger transforms into a salesman or preacher or someone asking for help. They are selling ‘dawa ya mende’( roach kill),medicine,socks, among other things. Some of the intros are hilarious. ‘Najua wengine wenu labda umekula chakula mbaya, ukaharibikiwa na tumbo, ukaanza kuhara, dawa hii itakusaidia.’( I know some of you have had food poisoning and then your stomach starts running, this medicine will help you). Another one told us how he had an accident and needed cash for his treatment. I nearly died when he showed us his wounds. A trick the salesmen employ after their sales pitch is look to the back of the bus and say ‘nimeona mkono yako, nakuja. Nani mwingine ananunua?’( I saw your hand at the back , I am coming. Who else is buying?’). Clever move. The biggest irony is that on most buses there is usually a sign that says “no hawking or preaching”.
5. Measure your height and weight
I do not know of any other place where people are so obsessed with having this information. Back in the day for a shilling you could get to know about your weight by stepping on a bathroom scale on the streets. If you are feeling confident about your recent workout and diet plan you can now measure your height and weight with these machines. Also if you are not paranoid about people you know suddenly appearing out of the blue to catch you standing on this machine then by all means go ahead and find out your height and weight.
My sister tells me that for 20 shillings you will have a receipt at the end of it all with that coveted information. If going to your local clinic to get this same information is too much of a hassle here is a solution. Plus I applaud this people for making a living the honest way.
6. Magic Umbrellas
We have all been there, walking in town without a care in the world and then as if the devil cast a spell on the skies comes rain so heavy that you are rendered immobile. Fear not though out of nowhere people selling ‘umbreras’ will appear. Never mind that they are getting drenched themselves they are there for your well being. I am not sure how durable these umbrellas are but if you want to avoid standing cheek to cheek under a shelter or for the ladies wearing a paperbag on your head this may be your best bet.
7. Political Analysts
There are those large groups of people in town mostly huddled in a circle giving conspiracy theories on who did what in the government. In the snatches of the speaker’s speech you will hear anger, distress, outright indignation at how the common mwananchi is being abused under the powers that be. If you are passionate about a certain politician this is also the place to go and freely express that. The groups are made up of men dressed in suits ( mostly broken suits) who carry folders and the ubiquitous brown envelopes and newspapers. I wonder often times if they have day jobs or if for some of them this is their day job. You will spot them at the Ambassadeur bus stop and at City Hall. I always give them a wide berth because I fear large groups of people and whenever chaos breaks out a stampede is not a situation I would like to experience.
8. Healthy living experts
Around Archives there are always those demonstrations given by some very passionate individuals about fruits and vegetables that will heal you of all your ailments, even those ones that have been proven to have no cure. What’s weird about them though is that these herbs and roots are placed in an almost witchcraft- ish arrangement, which is why I have never stopped to listen. ( If you have ever watched Nigerian movies you know what I am talking about). After the demonstrations there will be some testimonials of how the brown and green concoctions have worked miracles and you will be convinced to perhaps try one.By the way if you have ever partaken of the concoctions, do they work?
9. No phone etiquette
Back to public transport after asking for ‘dere reduce volume’ ( turn down the volume) you will be amazed at some of the things you will hear.Please do not go on to tell the whole world about your friend’s impending separation with a man who you never liked in the first place. I recall sitting in a bus and hearing some teenager plan for a house party. It needed to be invite only to control the chaos, it would be ideal if there was a pool but how sad that the only guy who had a pool was travelling to TZ ( Tanzania) for the weekend. She had called everyone to confirm their attendance and the party just had to work. There were so many details given away it was shocking. Also for those of you with phones whose screens are as big as mini TVs and the font is size 16 we at the back are all eavesdropping on your chat with your bae, him asking how your day was and you proceeding to type a whole composition of it while he replied with different emojis. Oh also from my view I can tell that you must really love him because your wallpaper is a picture of the two of you, how sweet. As the Swahili saying goes macho hayana pazia. ( literal translation eyes have no curtains).
10. Nairobi Proverbs
We have all heard them. ‘Tao ni mbao’ (to town is 20 shillings) but when you get in its 30 shillings. Or ‘I am on my way’ when the person in question is still in bed Facebooking. ‘Kwani leo unaenda wapi?’(where are you going today?) is a compliment in disguise. ‘Wacha niende nirudi’ which means ‘Let me go then I come’. That particular statement is a wild card because said person may go and never come back and when you try and call them you may get ‘Wacha nikupigie’( let me call you). You may end up waiting for a while because their phone may be dying and they are asking ‘nani akona charger ya pin ndogo?’
(who has a charger with the small pin). The call may come three days later or not at all. As we say here ‘usicatch’ ( don’t get offended) just move on, no harm was intended.
Peculiar habits I agree but that’s why I love Nairobi and will always hold it dear in my heart no matter what part of the world I am in.