Apparently, most Kenyans do not write people’s real names in their phone books, and prefer to use fancy pseudonyms and wild nicknames instead, claiming they are easy to remember.
On Sunday morning, Mama Jimmy’s phone rang when she was in the shower. I picked the gadget and realised she had two unanswered calls and a message.
The message was from a character named Mama Saimo, urging her to hurry up because they were getting late for the church service.
Then call was from someone named “Mama Njeri wa Mashuka”, followed by another call from a character named “Mama Kamau wa Mitumba.”
Taking advantage of Mama Jimmy’s absence, I took my sweet time exploring her phonebook, and a couple of funny listings caught my eye.
For instance, there was this character named Sonko, whom I presumed is her boss. Then there was Sarah wa Probox, Ndungu wa Makaa, Kioko wa Duka, Jamaa wa Chips and a whole slew of phony names.
Happily, she had saved me as “Sweetie”, which is a fancy title for the man who put a ring on her finger.
“Who is Mama Njeri wa Mashuka?” I asked her when she came out of the bathroom. She said Mama Njeri is her friend who sells duvets and bed sheets.
“And who is Mama Kamau wa Madeni?” I wondered.
“Ah, huyo ni mama fulani anapenda kukopakopa,” was the answer.
Having seen Mama Jimmy’s directory, I picked up my son’s phone and checked out the names in his phonebook.
Jimmy’s phonebook had characters such as Mato wa Chelsea, Leah Mtiaji, Jemo Mlevi, Suzie Maringo, Erico Msoto, Mollis wa Daro, Miriam Sumbua and Sarah Teketeke.
Some names sounded worse than curse words, and looking at them left me wondering how people save me on their phones.
“Who are these people?” I asked him.
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“Er... hao ni mabeste tu,” he replied with a grin. Mama Jimmy felt I was being ridiculous.
“Baba Jim, kwani wewe husave aje watu?” she asked while picking up my phone. As it turned out, my phonebook has Otis Mechanic, Ndauwo, Saimo wa Kariokor, Erico Fisi, Janet Mlevi, Mugambi wa Veve, Wambui Fala, Kiarie wa Keg among others.
Frankly, there are some names in my phonebook that could be used against me in a court of law.
After church that day, we hosted my friend Odhiambo, his wife Millicent and their three children. We had a splendid chat as we waited for lunch.
Odhiambo and I discussed the effects of El Nino, while the wives busied themselves with a lively discourse on cookery. Just before lunch, Odhiambo excused himself to visit the loo, leaving me with the two women.
His phone rang and his wife picked it. Her face lit up with amusement the minute she looked at the screen.
“Sasa huyu ni nani anaitwa KAY?” she quipped. She said hello, but there was no response. This was followed by another hello and yet another, with each growing louder, but the person on the other end remained mum.
Eventually, Millicent put the phone back on the table.
The caller had hung up without a word, and Millicent could not tell why.
But I knew better, as Odhiambo had once confessed to me that he uses aliases of other people in his phone book.
“Never save the real name of a side dish on your phone,” he advised. “Use a random name of a common item, such as the botanical name of a tree or the name of your favorite world leader. Ukitumia jina halisi itausa wewe.”
In other words, by saving your mpango wa kando’s cell using the registration number of a vehicle, your madam might never get to know.
On his return, Odhiambo’s wife simply told him about the call and said the caller had left no message. The way she said it would have made you think the call was from the power company!
Later that evening over a drink, Odhiambo informed me that “KAY” does not refer to any car’s registration number but to Anne, a bubbly intern in his office.