The holiday season like the previous month of August was followed by a mandatory trip upcountry back in the day. It was a time for city families to bond with relatives, learn how to milk ‘nguno,’ the cow, besides the children being taught, through touch, the difference between a goat and a mongrel.
Holidays in shagz in that bygone age were not fraught with anxiety or dread of spending time with extended family.
How things have changed! Economic pressure, smaller rural households, intermarriages, relocations, increased urbanity, elitist socialization, individualism, changing world views, and altered idea of ‘home’ have all led to diminished stature of the extended family, and with it, going shagz.
The in-laws on either side of the family can negatively affect romantic relationships and Nairobi women more often choose to give shagz a wide berth. Here are their reasons:
1. Mother in-law from hell
Being a daughter-in-law can be tricky. Women have accused mothers-in-law of routinely ‘knowing best’ when it comes to parenting, judging their skills and undermining them in front of their husbands and children.
Almost a third of the women we sampled said they were made to feel like they were not good enough. To avoid this, most city wives would rather stay behind when their husbands are visiting ‘Ingo.’
“I hate going to my husband’s rural home because of my nosy and controlling mother-in-law. During our wedding, she stole a stack of our wedding invitations to send to her friends that we weren’t inviting. We wanted a small, intimate wedding with only people we knew. I hardly knew a soul there,” Betty Mulinya, a mother of two told us, adding that in the six years she has been married, she has only visited her in-laws once during her father in-law’s burial.
2. Rivalry with ‘co-wives’
While some wives are afraid of confrontations with the ‘monster-in-law,’ others can’t stand the wives married to the hubby’s brothers.
Sarah Ndung’u, a housewife and a mother of four, says she’s tired of her in-laws comparing her to her successful sister-in-law.
“My mother-in-law called me by her other son’s ex-wife’s name for the first three years I was married to her younger son. She also kept saying that I was too fat and ignoring the fact that I quit my job to take care of her when she was sick. All that time, her other daughters-in-law were not even visiting her,” Sarah said.
3. Needy in-laws
It’s one thing for your mother-in-law to call every night asking for money for her basic needs, and another for other in-laws to expect you to finance their kids’ Christmas plans.
Joyce Mutinda, a boutique owner and a mother of one, is a victim of ‘needy in-laws’ who consider her and her husband as money-minting machines.
“I last visited them in 2004 and I don’t see myself going back there. They wanted me to buy their children the same clothes my son wore. They also said that I should take up more responsibilities, like educating their children since I have only one child,” said a bitter Joyce, who has also banned most of them from visiting her.
4. The grandsons nag
No childless woman wants to be constantly reminded that she is missing out on motherhood. In-laws, on the other hand, have mastered the art of nagging for babies.
Loise Naisaie’s mother-in-law is a good example and the reason Loise stopped visiting her husband’s birthplace in Loitoktok.
“My mother-in-law told me, ‘I know you are waiting for children, but you’re getting old. I’m not even 35,” says Loise who also hails from Loitoktok, adding that, “I can’t even visit my parents because we come from the same neighborhood. My in-laws have extended the pressure to my family as well.”
5. Language barrier
Some in-laws take offence that their daughter-in-law has not learnt their mother tongue.
Tracy Njeri Mwaghadi’s husband is from Taita Taveta and her in-laws don’t understand why she has not learnt their language 15 years later.
“It gets worse because my son can speak Kikuyu but not Taita, and so, they are blaming me, claiming that I do not want him to learn about his father’s background,” Tracy, who skipped the family Christmas get-together last year, told us. She claims that her husband has not made any effort to speak Kitaita in the house.
6. Not before I am introduced
Due to the relaxed nature of come-we-stay relationships, some wives have never been officially introduced to in-laws, making it very hard for them to just show up when mzee is driving to Makohokoho village in rural Gatundu.
Maureen Odhiambo, a second wife is yet to meet her mother-in-law two babies later.
“My husband’s family and his other wife who lives in the village don’t even know of my existence. My husband and I live in the city where no one from Homa Bay visits. I hope one day he will gather the courage to let them know about me and my children,” a frustrated Maureen said.
7. Bathing in the river
It is a challenge for most ‘born tao’ wives to go down the stream to fetch water, let alone get bruised in the forest separating tree branches for firewood in mtumba high heels and cheap silk shawls.
Some mothers-in-law even demand that the city wife milk ‘nguno’ the cow, yet applying Arimis milking jelly on the tits is like sliding down a slippery staircase.
Lilian Mwilu almost asked her father to refund her dowry since her mother-in-law kept using it as a blackmail whenever she wanted her to undertake any chore.
“We finally agreed that I will never visit her since I was of no help anyway whenever I visited them in Kitui.”
8. Stima ‘onge!’
Some wives are just not ready to use a koroboi while changing their babies’ diapers.
Anastacia Kiptoo has made it clear to her husband that she will not be visiting his village in Toroplogon, Elgeyo Marakwet until their children are old enough to take care of themselves.
“Sometimes I’m even forced to use light from the fireplace when the paraffin on the smelly and unstable koroboi is over,” lamented Anastacia.
9. Kanyam-Kago village is too far
Unless you own a chopper, no one wants to sit in a vehicle for 24 hours while traveling from Lamu to visit in-laws in West Kanyam-Kago village, Migori County.
Most women dread these journeys and will come up with any excuse to avoid them.
“I don’t know whether my husband has noticed, but I always fall sick whenever he suggests that we should visit his family in Magadi. The journey is always tiring since we are squeezed in a smelly matatu with goats and chicken from traders in Kiserian,” Anna Leteipan, who has been married for 20 years said.
Anna only visits when it’s compulsory. “I only go when my father in-law summons us.”
10. I need my space
There is nothing as annoying as a nosy person, let alone an in-law. The thought of having your handbag and phone ransacked and your private life interfered with, can be discouraging.
Priscilla Makena is quite experienced when it comes to nosy in-laws.
“One time, while visiting my sister in-law, I wore my bra and panties, washed and returned them as if nothing had happened. She then went ahead and made phone calls using my phone until all the airtime was over,” she said.