Moving towns feels like getting an amputation. When you leave a town (or a country, but that is above my paygrade for now. I’ll let you know in a few years 🙂 ), you’re not just leaving your landlord that you probably hate and have been tolerating the parasitic relationship between the two of you — where each of you believe the other is the parasite.
You’re leaving the memories and the familiar – the mama mboga who you send a text when you’re stuck in traffic and you find your spinach well shredded into wormlike threads that are impossible to stir, they intertwine like overcooked spaghetti. When you eat them, one end arrives in the duodenum while the other one is still on the plate. But she’s your mama Shiro, you can’t trade her for any other Sukuma wiki shredder.
You’re leaving the butcher who likes you and gives you the best parts of the martyred bovine that is now saving the world with its flesh, blood, and fat. You leave the familiar sounds and smells; the corner guy who makes killer smokies with unwashed tomatoes that were never an issue before March 2020. Now he even wears gloves and marinates the tomatoes in methylated spirit. The things we’re eating in this era are worse than the disease, thanks to information overload.
You miss your salon lady, the one who knows everyone’s secret, and you don’t tell her quart about your relationships — or lack of them. Once a relationship’s status has reached the chambers of the salon with Shix the hair puller sitting as the presiding judge, your life will be as private as the flag post in a public primary school.
You’re leaving the shortcuts you know and can jump over the sewage pools with your eyes closed. You’re leaving the hood thugs who know to not bother you because you belong to the hood, you’re one of their own, they can’t just mug you for the fun of it. They only mug the strangers who walk around parading their iPhone 6 that are extinct in the USA but still flashed as a symbol of status and class on this side of the sun.
You don’t know the beauty of, “Niko hapa kwa gate, nifungulie” until you’re living miles and miles away from your day ones and ‘ride and die.’ When you stay for months without getting a visitor because everyone is busy shaking bushes, hunting, gathering, and storing for the moths to eat when they die, even a house gecko with its acne skin and compound eyes with no eyelashes is a welcome visitor.
And when you finally limp into the new town (or country for you, influencers. The day I’ll be a certified influencer, you’ll have to snooze my page because I will be all over you like red on tomatoes!) Where were ..?
When you finally limp into the new town with your imaginary transtibial prosthesis, you’re worse off than a camel in a swimming pool. You’re lost and confused and you reek of newness, which smells the same as boiling tripe. (Tripe ni matumbo, na wewe). You have to get a new mama mboga and earning their trust is like getting delisted from CRB. Utasweat. The new butcher is the type that throws in a kidney when you buy liver – and he looks like Snake from Makutano Junction.
The new boda guy quite never matches up to your former Kinuthia who knew all your secrets and has never spoken to anyone of your walks of shame and midnight escapades. You’re always secretly interviewing for a new boda guy like you’re recruiting for the secret service. Woe unto you if the new town has a language preference that you’re not familiar with. A deer in the headlights will be having a better time than you.
That was me when we moved to Mombasa in 2014. (Except the Kinuthia bit, of course). One thousand shillings is called Tenga, Five shillings is ‘dala’, to get off a matatu you say, ‘bwaga’ and dengu are called ‘pojo! At first, I was confused with the dala part and I once wondered if the bus had taken a detour and dropped me in Kisumu instead. When you’ve lived on the windward side of Mt. Kenya all your life and the largest water body you’ve ever seen was the pool under your bed after another wet night, you can’t tell an ocean from a muddy puddle.
And then the shops. The shop attendants made me want to cry and gnash my teeth. They. Were. So. Slow. The sloth from Rio is way faster than the shop attendants in Mombasa. The shops opened at 9 or 10 AM, if you hadn’t bought bread and milk before sunset, you’d have to do with chai rangi kavu – black tea with no accompaniment. And if you show up at the shop with the Nairobi attitude of knocking on the counter with a coin, you’ll be knocking until Zaccheus grows tall. To get the attendant’s attention, stand at the counter, put on your shrillest voice, and shout, “Mwenyewe?!” Someone will appear.
You’ve probably heard that greetings here are as important as folic acid to a pregnant woman. It’s true. You greet people for all the hours of the day:
“Habari ya asubuhi”
“Habari ya saa hizi?”
“Habari ya kushinda?”
“Habari ya jioni?”
Contrary to what you have heard, we don’t answer these, “Habari ya …” greetings with, “Utaziweza kweli?” People love to be greeted, it’s a crime akin to snatching a pacifier from a baby to not greet someone.
Sentences are too long, everything is shortened.
“Wauza pesa nga ..?
“Wenda wa ..?
Sha’kaa is supposed to be the good old ‘Shikamoo’ but even the kids are too lazy to say it in full. After a grueling day of munching on mabuyu and mashing and sucking viazi karai through the polythene paper, who has the energy to say, “Shikamoo” in full? Their little mandibles need a rest.
Carrefour ‘(Kare’foo or Ka’fuu, the choice is yours) is now in Mombasa. From their billboard, they have already settled in with ease, they clearly are having an easier time than me. Their billboard says, “Tum’fika.”
Karibu Pwani Carrefour, Fridge wauza pesa nga..?