It will be a dull Christmas in two days’ time courtesy of Covid-19. But it is unlikely that Nairobians will fail to visit the countryside. They will give lame excuses, like “I want to go see my cucu, my mum, relatives or to see how tall the trees I planted during El Niño have grown.” But there is often a hidden agenda behind why Nairobians flock to the village during the festive season: to intimidate villagers with their cars, attire, accents and ‘smart’ phones they spend more time with than their hosts.
Some say masks will make visits by Nairobians to the rural areas better; they will not need to hold their noses! The average Nairobian, even after leaving the village as an adult, is still ‘fascinated’ by anything and everything in the rural areas - by how cows are milked, how smoky the kitchen is, how food is hard, and how life is difficult for rural folk.
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Nairobians are careful not to disclose too much about their life in the city lest they burst the balloon of urban mystic. They are like Kenyans in the diaspora who are very cagey about what they do in countries where even coming home for a parent’s funeral is not guaranteed. After eating meat, traditional food and sleeping on hard beds for a few days, Nairobians easily get bored and are eager to get back to the city. By then, the villagers are tired of their theatrics, particularly talking on their phones all the time. They also show off by buying villagers mandazi or cheap liquor in local town centres.
They benefit from the fact that prices in the village are sticky, they rarely fluctuate like in Nairobi. In the same way, Kenyans in the diaspora benefit from the exchange rate when here - not by being wealthy. The first reason why rural folk should not be intimated by Nairobians is that they can live without the city dwellers. They have their food, fresh from known sources. In silence, rural folk keep Nairobians alive with food and even water.
Two, rural folk don’t pay rent or live in constant fear of the landlord. They enjoy real freedom. And their neighbours are always there for them. In the city, not knowing your neighbour’s name is heroic. There is another, better reason why rural folk should not be intimidated by Nairobians. Beyond food, they live a better and more fulfilling life. And they are richer than Nairobians want them to believe. Few owe anyone a debt. The most affluent and expensive suburbs of Nairobi, from Karen to Runda and Muthaiga, are ‘rural’, with trees and some occasional animals like monkeys and squirrels. Nairobians pay a fortune to get what rural folk already own, or have owned for generations.
Think about it: an acre of land in mythical Dundori or Shamakhokho could cost about Sh1 million. The same in an affluent suburb of Nairobi goes for about Sh150 million, when I last checked from an agent. A Nairobian pays Sh149 million more to get the same fresh air, and most of the time it is even less fresh than in the rural areas. Is paying such a fortune something to boast about or even intimidate rural folk with? Rural folk live a relaxed life in tune with nature, from the rising to the setting of the sun. They are not slaves of the clock. Yet, they are given the impression by Nairobians that they are inferior and poor.
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What I know for sure is that Nairobians admire rural folk, secretly. Many Nairobians live in crowded quarters, diplomatically called apartments. They live in treeless places, and the only animals likely to be found in their environs are bed bugs, roaches or rats. Their work is controlled by the clock and fear. The freedom rural folk enjoy is a dream to Nairobians. Think of the hills and the valleys, the rivers, the wind that blows, the sun and stars at night. As a Nairobian, when did you last admire a full moon? Add the domestic animals.
Rural folk live a life very close to the days of creation. Forget about the lack of money, it is a medium of exchange and no one needs it in reality. There is a more sober reason rural folk should not be intimidated by Nairobians. When this life is over, most Nairobians go ‘home’ to rural areas to be buried. The Nairobi they boasted about has no space for them, even in death.
A visit to Lang’ata cemetery will convince you why rural folk should not be intimidated by Nairobians, who compete even under the sod. While visiting the village during Christmas, Nairobians should treat rural folk with respect. They live a better and more fulfilling life than they do. But no one will say that in public.
The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi. [email protected]