• City residents can’t wait for December to visit their rural homes or head for the coast
  • We look at why the capital city remains almost a ghost town during festive seasons

The average Kenyan who lives and works in an urban area, especially Nairobi, welcomes the festive season with a huge sigh of relief for all manner of odd reasons. The capital city is like a prison of sorts to many. Residents can’t wait for December to break free and visit their rural homes or the coast.

“Some of the companies we work for offer no leave. So you slave for the eleven months straight, anxiously waiting for December when you will get the only opportunity to be away from work when these organisations literally close shop,” says Steve Ndung’u, a city resident who can’t wait to travel upcountry to enjoy the festive season with his kin.

Coast-based Kenyans know this too well. “So it’s that time of the year when Nairobi friends turn us into travel agents, tour guides, and impromptu taxi drivers and sometimes pimps,” Sarah Halua, a nurse who lives and works at the Kenyan coast, joked last week on her Facebook page.

“Sarah would you recommend a good hotel?” “Sarah would you be a darling and go eye this and that hotel to see if their rooms are as good as they look on photos?” “Sarah would you pick me up from the airport? I have heavy luggage.”

“Sarah do you know where I can find friendly and affordable strippers?” she went on.

Break from concrete jungle

Besides coming off the longest electioneering period ever, most of us begin the year broke and drift through the twelve months living hand to mouth. We call it hustling. Politics made this year worse because it had far-reaching implications, including a prolonged cash flow problem.

“Throughout the year, jobs are hard to come by and the few who are employed have no job security. You can be fired any time. It’s even worse for some like myself who work for employers in Nairobi’s Industrial area who can fire you for the flimsiest of reasons. So getting to December when still employed is worth a celebration, which can only be afforded in the cheap village economy,” says Steve Okwaro, a slum dweller who adds that his life is always at the mercies of gangsters.

“People must travel to their rural homes to enjoy the festive season to the fullest. Most of us live in the most dangerous parts of Nairobi like my Dandora base where the year never ends before you are mugged. If you reach December before thugs kill you, it calls for celebration,” he laughs, urging urbanites to visit their villages this festive season to let off steam.

It is an open secret that Nairobi is a jungle in every sense of the word. Every person treats the other like a suspect. Strangers never feel safe. Nairobians are not as good as they used to be back in the day. When you, for instance, get stranded at night, most people you bump into in dark alleys are likely to rob, rape or even kill you.

Like in Nairobi, in the average Kenyan city or town, everything has a price.

“Going to the village around December to be with long-lost relatives and friends comes with a lot of relief from this cash-obsessed economy. Unlike in the village where virtually everything is free of charge or affordable, in Nairobi, we pay for everything. Water, vegetables and fruits, which villagers get almost free of charge, costs an arm and a leg here. Heck, we even pay to relieve ourselves; something villagers find strange,” says Robert Kimani, who hails December holidays and the reprieve they offer city dwellers.

Paradise that is our villages

Let’s face it, the village is paradise to most urbanites. The average Nairobian, for instance, lives in fear of many things. Relationships and marriages are shaky, with partners dodgy and sly like a fox. Throughout the year, you live worrying of being divorced, dumped or cheated on.

“Villagers have it easy. They enjoy the benefits of freebies, even on fun matters like sex, genuine or illicit. The festive season comes as a great opportunity for urban dwellers to exhale and feel free for once. The pressures of life are so real in Nairobi and no one has time for the other.

In matatus, people remain glued to their phones, wasting bundles, which they can hardly afford on gossip,” agonises Kimani, as he sighs, “Thank God the festive season to travel upcountry to enjoy peace and tranquillity is here”.

Kimani, however, says he can’t blame city dwellers for their antisocial behaviour. “I understand them. People in Nairobi are so suspicious of each other, starting a conversation with a stranger is hard, lest you get suspected for being a conman,” he laughs.

VIP treatment from villagers

Most of the Nairobians Crazy Monday talked to love the festive season because it offers them an opportunity to relax away from the year-long rat race.

“Most city souls have this huge empty voids in their hearts that only their rural folks can fill. There, virtually everyone, including neighbours’ domestic animals, knows us. The family cat excitedly meows and purrs upon our arrival. Neighbours’ dogs begin to wag their tails and welcome us when we arrive,” says Peter Wanyama, who can’t wait to be in his Bungoma rural home.

Wanyama says in the village, Nairobians are treated like royalty. They are celebs of sorts. Boda boda operators at the local bus stop knows, respects and celebrate Nairobians. The local church pastor loves visiting Nairobians, so much so that he acknowledges their presence before the sermon.

“You could be a ‘mere’ watchman or shamba boy in Nairobi, where all and sundry treat you like dirt, but upon arrival in the village, the local barmaid will give you VIP treatment. Village watchmen will salute for you. And if you use your Sh1,000 well to entertain drunks, you can easily get endorsements to be the MCA (Member of County Assembly) come next election,” chuckles Wanyama, adding that it is in the village where Nairobians get real love from locals.

We have Nairobians who don’t talk to their city neighbours. Save for a casual and offhand ‘hi’ and ‘bye’, some never have real and proper conversations at all, even at their work places.

This is partly due to individualism, which characterise urbane lifestyles. Most hate colleagues at work, or have grumpy and moody bosses, with whom they never have friendly conversations.

Smiles remain fake throughout the year. What’s more, Nairobians are always running up and down, looking for money. It is only in December when they get to have real conversations with real people- in the village.

Missed traditional foods

Due to their wretched lifestyles and poor dietary choices, majority of urban dwellers suffer from lifestyle diseases. Hustlers who can’t afford balanced diets and thus worry about food everyday remain skinny and even pray and fast hoping to gain some weight in vain. The rich have so much and battle weight issues all year.

Getting carjacked, conned, mugged is the order of the day in Nairobi. The poor live all year fearing that their houses can be broken into at any time of the day or night. The rich, many of whom engage in illegal activities like tax evasion and drug dealing, live in constant fear of getting busted.

“Everyone in Nairobi lives watching over their shoulders for one reason or the other. What’s more, almost everywhere you turn, there is always an agent of death. The hot barmaid, your own spouse, your house girl, matatu drivers, riot police, among others, can easily kill you,” says Cate Wachira, adding that only villagers and our kin in the rural areas seem real and have no ill motives.

When a Nairobian asks about your health, it has nothing to do with him or her being mindful of your health, he or she is most likely to be confirming a malicious rumour or using that as a common nicety before borrowing cash!

If you didn’t know, now you know why there is always an influx of Nairobians upcountry, turning Nairobi into a ghost town.