For the last 10 years, Christmas always finds me in Nairobi, alone and reflective of my life. Before the social media era and all the noise and endless sharing of pictures, Christmas used to be serene and Nairobi noble, deserted and dignified.
Nowadays, you can’t enjoy the quietude that comes with the desertion and smooth flow of traffic, because everyone and their girlfriend are always posting pictures doing everything in the village except may be using the pit latrines! And for the lonely guys, and isolated families, they must take it on the chin and act like it is not a big deal. I have noticed that increasingly, there are many people who stick around Nairobi for various reasons. Barring those born here and with families in Nairobi, there are those like me, who can’t travel to the countryside, because of exceptional reasons.
So many people come from broken families and others from single parents who don’t fit in the traditional family setup. Others are orphans with little connection to their ancestral homes upcountry. In some instances, it is married men who have failed to cultivate a close relationship with their village kinfolk, adopting a very snobbish approach to Christmas. Often, it is the wives who sneer at the idea of going to the village to visit folks. To this class, nothing good ever comes out of the village and if they can’t afford a vacation, they will stick around like Nairobi. Often the man goes to the village to save face. If your relationship is so soiled that only some funeral warrants travelling to the countryside, you need some soul-searching.
In some instances, people come from totally broken or dysfunctional families, where there is no cohesion and nobody really gives a damn about the other person in the family and each will have their unique Christmas in Nairobi. Then there are those who cannot afford to travel. Ever since we commercialised Christmas, there are so many people, poor and middle-class who cannot afford bus fare or repair their old cars to travel to the countryside. Going to the village means being Father Christmas to many in the village and it is not sustainable every year. Especially if in January you are faced with the prospect of school fees.
For some women, who are single and growing older, they are always afraid of the negativity from the family, where the toxic topic of marriage always surfaces. They stay away or go on vacation. Or stay in Nairobi, binge-watching movies and enjoying their glass of wine, because, freedom.
Whatever reasons that makes one stay behind, it is usually a liberating experience. At a personal level, I take this time to reflect on how the year has been and focus on the year ahead, making plans and resolutions that I have no desire of honouring absolutely. But it is also, a painful reality to people with family backgrounds such as mine. Indeed, a good friend early in the month lamented on Twitter how those raised in loving families sometimes don’t understand those who are raised in families that are less than perfect.
On the ensuing Twitter thread, there were a dozen confessions. For some, their families have been a source of so much pain (think of those hurt by incest, rejection, rape and such). To some, there is no love left, and to some, there is no happiness at home.
A lot has changed and Kenya as a country is undergoing tremendous transition. Divorce and separation are on the rise, even among younger couples. I’m meeting more and more young people with complicated family backgrounds, that I sympathise with them while admiring the fortitude with which they carry on with their lives. There are single parents who are not easily accommodated in their ancestral homes. And for some, they are just running from their monster fathers or guardians.
Ordinarily, it is a good thing to gather as a family over goat ribs and some good beer. But for some, it is not possible. So, every year, they withdraw and watch as others celebrate the love and passion in their families. Some watch movies, I binge-read and we all end up fine. The most important thing is that you do what makes you happy and accept how unfair life is, and always remember you can’t have it all.