Growing up, you heard so much about this magical city characterized by beautiful streets, tall buildings, and bright lights. A place whose paths were so dangerous that someone could steal money stashed in your socks without taking off your shoes. You were a child growing up in a small town where everyone knew everyone. Nairobi was this hub so far away. Anyone who went to there would return with lots of gifts and amazing tales. Apart from wanting to become a pilot when you grew up, your wildest dream was visiting Nairobi.
The very first time you set foot in this city was when your folks visited an aunt. Your eyes were glued to the window as the bus made its way into the land of opportunities. You couldn’t sleep for two straight days out of excitement. To your surprise, the aunt didn’t live right behind Times tower. You had to ride one of those pimped mini-buses to her place out of the city.
She took you and your little cousins to the animal orphanage, Museum and Uhuru Park. You rode a boat, had your face painted before proceeding to KICC and took pictures touching the top. This is your best childhood memory.
On returning to the village you started every sentence with manze and ended it with joh to the amazement of your peers. You threw in a few more random sheng words whose meaning you didn’t know to impress the clueless boys. A week in the city was enough to catapult you to the most traveled and sophisticated kid in school.
Enter high school, guys who came from Nairobi were so popular among girls in the sister schools. They brought in unfair competition to those of you from upcountry. You could tell msee wa Nai from their gait. They walked like they owned half the city. Everything about them exuded awesomeness. Although you hated their guts you couldn’t say it in their face lest they cut off your access to Insyder, the most coveted high school magazine back then. Strangely, they all came from either Lavington or Westlands.
Having passed your KCSE exams, you get admitted to a prestigious university located in the city. Your folks buy you a suit plus a few official clothes in preparation for your entry into the world of academia. They want you to look like an intellectual. You carry their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. You represent them fully by going to class in that shiny oversized suit and colorful tie.
However, most of your born-tao classmates are always in tight-fitting jeans, torn t-shirts, and rubber shoes. They don’t look a single bit like academicians.
The first few weeks are tough. The city feels cold and lonely. You are like a giraffe in a cold desert. In the evenings, you go hang around the main gate just to see the young suave college mates and their pretty companions heading out for the never ending parties. They are friends with so many stunning ladies unlike you. Most girls from your neighboring schools went to smaller colleges in the counties or got married.
This forces you to hang out exclusively with former high school buddies and village mates. They are focused individuals who spend most nights in the library. When not studying, they are in the hostels cooking or gossiping about prominent personalities back in the village. The only time they do something fun is when they attend those county prayer groups which often turn into heated political debates on whether the sitting MP has done enough for his people back at home.
Deep inside you thirst for adventure. You fell in love with Nairobi as a kid and you desperately want to reconnect with her.
Since the lecturers are more concerned about moonlighting and giving take-away assignments than actually attending classes, you spend most of your afternoons in town. Whenever you get lost, you walk with a straight face so nobody would know until you find a homely looking security guard who can direct you back to Ambassador. They would ask for ka chai but other times calling them soldier would do the trick.
One evening as you cross an alley on the lower side of Moi Avenue, two young men block your path. You step aside to let them pass. Out of nowhere, a third one lands a punch on your right cheek sending your flying to the pavement. When you try to stand up the short one kicks you in the stomach while the hairy guy grabs your neck from behind squeezing tight your air passage. You struggle to free yourself as they dig into your pockets and make away with all your valuables.
All this happens as people pass by nonchalantly while others stare from a distance without lifting a finger to your aid. This teaches you the most important rule about Nairobi. You are on your own. Nobody gives a rat’s ass about you.
Six months in the city and your mother tongue influence is gone. You can now confidently converse in Sheng and understand what the conductor means by tao chwani
You begin making new friends, mostly those from the city. One Friday night, they invite you for drinks at the local joint. That’s when you come face to face with women who take Guinness kubwa and expertly smoke a pack of cigarettes in a single sitting. Almost every pretty girl you meet in Nairobi can drink you under the table.
As you are nursing a cold Tusker, your friend fishes out some cookies and passes them around. You want to declare how back at home only kids eat cookies but you remember what they say about Rome. Each one of them takes half a cookie. You gobble down at least two as they watch in awe.
Forty-five minutes later your pulse shoots up. It feels like your heart is about to break out of its ribcage. The room starts to spin. Suddenly, loud gunshots and explosions pierce the still night. You quickly duck under the table. To your uttermost surprise, everyone else isn’t bothered by the imminent danger. You scream on top of your voice asking them to take cover. They just burst out laughing while pointing at you. Are you insane?
Edwin grabs you by the collar and leads you out of the joint.
He seems pissed off. Can’t he see that you are trying to save him?
He buys you a packet of milk and forces you drink to the very last drop. Once your metabolism goes back to normal he reveals that the cookies you had were laced with marijuana.
Even though the first taste of Nairobi nightlife evokes embarrassing memories, you start going out all weekends for the love of the rave.
A classmate introduces you to freelance writing. After a few unsuccessful attempts, you learn how to bid for gigs and complete the projects. It turns out to be a goldmine. You can easily make 2-5k a day by simply doing assignments for some lazy rich kids studying in America.
With money streaming into your bank, you move out of the hotels and rent a house a short distance from the campus. You furnish up your bachelor’s pad. Having equity in your pocket proves to be such a game changer. The girls who used to ignore you start laughing at your stale jokes.
One of your fashion conscious friends shows you the best places in Eastleigh and Gikomba where you get lots of new trendy clothes at ridiculously low prices. He also introduces you to a hairstylist who applies a variety of concoctions after shaving, giving you a dope hairstyle. The extreme makeover propels you to become one of the most sought after bachelors in campus.
You no longer have to chase the ladies. They come to you in droves. It’s like you are a completely new man. You get yourself a beautiful girlfriend. She doesn’t ask much except for some cash for her hair, regular trips to the malls, and out of town treats. You also get two side chicks. They know your girlfriend but that doesn’t stop them from jumping your bones.
Upon graduating you land a job in a well-established company. They pay enough to accord you some luxuries. You can afford to buy a car. The job also gives you an opportunity to fly to neighboring countries. You no longer travel to Mombasa, Eldoret or Kisumu by road.
Years later, you are on first name basis with every important person in this city. Regularly having beers and nyama choma with selected individuals keeps you in the loop of lucrative government tenders. You could call Kidero at 1 am and he would pick up.
Nairobi now runs in your veins. She took you in when you were green and transformed you into the sophisticated man you are today. You came, you saw and you conquered. Even cops know better than to mess with you. When a matatu driver attempts to cut you off, you roll down the window, stick your head out, flip the middle finger and throw a stream of insults at them.
You are a true Nairobian. Anyone who dares step on your toes is met with grave consequences. Most times you share revolutionary ideas on how to transform this country on Twitter. You are an expert on everything under the sun. Hell, you can even tell the exact street and location of any pothole in Nairobi from a picture.
This is where all your friends are. Every end month you get to put on checked shorts, loafers and race with your boys to Naivasha where you spend a third of your salary on bottles of Jameson. Other times you head down to Coasto.
You only visit the village over Christmas. Even then you are forced to carry bottled water and packed food lest you contract cholera. It is a miracle how you survived all those years before moving to the city. Nonetheless, people back there love you so much. Mothers pray and fast that you marry their daughters. Teachers cane kids so they can be like you. The village pastor uses you as an example of the kind of blessings tithing faithfully can attract never mind you hardly go to church.
Earlier today you received an email about a job interview you attended a couple of weeks ago. They have offered you the position which comes with a better pay package. However, you have to relocate to a smaller town. Until now you didn’t know just how attached you are to this city.
Do they even have Uber? What do guys living in small towns do over the weekends? Most importantly where will I get pancakes as good as Java’s?
Whenever you attend burials and weddings in the countryside, people from Nairobi always get preferential treatment plus the best tent and spoons. Are they still going to consider you mtu wa Nairobi?
Good thing you have 72 hours to respond to the job offer. Three days to decide whether leaving this city for a job is worth it when being Nairobian is your true calling. Only a fellow Nairobian can understand the dilemma you are facing right now.
Written By Mark Maish
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