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November 14, 2018

I am a Nairobian, mum

The Kings Court, Hotel,South C
The Kings Court, Hotel,South C

I am living in Nairobi, without having seen my mother for three or so weeks. She is fine and dandy but for the usual little niggles that people above the age of 25 must go through.

I am sitting in my apartment in Nairobi worrying about how I can tell her this. After all she grew up in the rural areas where she had to walk long distances to do everything; to fetch water, to go to school, to go to church.

Okay, maybe not to church but you get what I am talking about. Where she grew up everyone spoke the same language and everyone knew everyone's business.

The proposed 'nyumba kumi' security system was probably modeled from the village she grew up in as no information was kept in a home for very long. All visitors were screened by the residents of that part of the world and no one would dare try anything illegal.

 I am reminded that she came to the city when she was an adult and she had to integrate into the strange ways of the city. Even as she maintained her family contacts, she ensured that her children had options not limited to where she came from. As I sit in my room I am forced to contemplate how I will tell my mother that which I have never told her.

 “I am a Nairobian, Mum.

“I grew up understanding what you told me in the mother tongue but speak only the languages you encouraged me to speak in, English and Swahili. I was encouraged to try out this city which was all I knew even though everyone claimed that no one came from here.

 “I learnt that in conversation it was almost illegal to say that your shags was in Eastlands. You have to have come from somewhere; Kisumu, Kakamega, Kwale, Muranga, Marsabit. Everyone came from out of Nairobi while this is somewhere people just stayed as they marked time before returning to their ancestral home.

 “This is why the government decided that it would not allow me to designate Nairobi as home district when I went to apply for my national ID in the early 1990s. Even then being from Nairobi was not allowed. They only allowed me to get my ID when they scribbled the home village my father wrote on his ID which he had not lived in for over half a century. For the record, I have never been there.

 “Nairobi is not just a place to while away time but a home for people like me. A place with its own history, its own idiosyncrasies. Where residents judge one another just as much as those who claim they judge those who come from other towns. Where claiming to live in Runda or Mathare means more to the listener than claiming to come from Nyalgunga or Loiyangalani.

 “I have know that I was a Nairobian since I was five years old when my father took me to the village and ensured that I cut a sheep's neck. When I looked around for a tap to clean my hands or even a clean cloth or towel and found none; when I watched the rest of the children wipe their hands on the ground and couldn’t bring myself to do it… I knew my true identity.

 “This feeling has been coming over me since in waves. Sometimes I feel the need to have a snack and I feel okay about stopping by the roadside to eat roasted maize or mutura. Sometimes I eat a boiled egg in a matatu in the evening to try and hide the effects of excessive drinking to those at home. I also follow religiously reports on social media on where the police with the Alcoblow police are to avoid them.

“I have known I am a Nairobian since I realized that I always have a handy ten or twenty shillings to take a matatu to some nearby place. I know in other places, people take matatus only when traveling long distances.

 “I know that I am Nairobian since I have refused to speak my vernacular language since I didn’t speak it when I was growing up. I know I have disappointed people who have tried to force me to speak it just because it’s my parents’ native language.

 “It hit me how much Nairobian I am when the government announced that children in lower primary school will be taught in their vernacular and it made me furious. This is without considering that perhaps not everyone in a particular community can speak the local language.

 “I might disappoint you but I have to whisper it.

 “I am a Nairobian, mum.”

 

Venue review: The Kings Court Hotel, South C

The city of Nairobi is famous for its little shopping centres. These are a building or two housing a few shops; a butchery, a chemist, a bar, a video library and a little supermarket.

 Bars in such shopping centres aren’t usually the most attractive as they stick to the basics - selling beer at the best prices to customers who would often be watching a game.

 I encountered such a bar in South C last Sunday afternoon as I had a quiet drink with my significant other away from the noise of the apartment block we live in that is so loud on this alleged day of rest.

The little shopping centre is off the main road though a bit far away from well known landmarks like the Mama Ngina Children’s home and the South C mosque.

 The main attraction of the place was the large sign running across the front side. We walked out of the blazing Nairobi heat that could cook eggs on the open ground to the cool pub.

The place is clearly not designed for people in wheelchairs; even the ground floor area. At the back there was a sign announcing more seats upstairs which I followed and found a quiet area with low seats and high backs covered in brown material. It’s not exactly the kind of seating that you see a lot in this town but it was very comfortable and easy on the eye.

 By the door was a counter manned by two gentlemen in Nairobi’s most famous waiter uniforms; black trousers and white shirts.

 From a quick chat with the friendly barman who came to take my order I found out that the place gets really crowded when there’s live screening of a football match. I got my cold Tusker at Sh150 and was grateful that it made the afternoon heat bearable. I also appreciated the prices which were quite fair for a cold beer in town.

 Without the big game, the waiters watched a TV show called Offside screening on NTV which I found quite hilarious.

 A quick recap of the venue:

 Good: Great service and prices, European football fanatics can get their fix, decent décor, clean washrooms.

 Bad: Disability unfriendly, emergency exits not clearly marked.

My verdict: If you can find it, you are likely to have a very good time with friends.

 

You can follow the writer at @jamesmurua

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