This Christmas season has a weird bit - a bit of the usual joie de vivre has been missing. Some Kenyans say the rains have been to blame; others have blamed the early release of exam results. However, many feel the state of the economy is to blame with the common words this season being “hakuna pesa” (there is no money). The downside has been that many of us have had to scale back - opting for Uhuru Park excursions instead of heading to the Coast or Dubai. Even trips to the village have reduced significantly because going shags costs money. There are many young city wives not complaining about not having to go to shags. For them going to shags during the Christmas season is usually a torturous affair, which they endure silently because it comes with the marriage package. For the sake of clarity, shags is any destination more than four hours from the city - visiting relatives in peri-urban areas does not inflict the same amount of misery.
For married couples, the shags visit decision looms large way before festivities start. Traditions have led the man’s side of the family to expect that the wife will spend the Christmas holidays with them - other minor holidays are assigned to the wife’s side. Nowadays, modern brides have become vocal in making these decisions with many of them wanting to visit their side of the family and in some cases go to some fancy hotel or travel abroad. Boycotting the husband’s side of the family requires guts and means muddying family relationships. Couples therefore often tread carefully when it comes to choosing which shags to visit because favouring one side over another can have wide reaching ramifications.
Quite a challenge
Some women have been known to rue their marriage choices come Christmas time depending on the distance they have to travel to make the annual shags pilgrimage. Even on the best roads, travelling shags these days is a painful exercise. Those who want to avoid the maddening traffic or want to evade the ‘overzealous’ traffic cops must leave the city before the crack of dawn.
This can be quite a challenge if one has tiny tots or if one is generally not a morning person. To make matters worse, there are times when husbands are eager to carry favour with their kin so they offer lifts to other shags-bound relatives who want to avoid the usual exorbitant fares. This in itself is not bad, the problem is that most of these relatives end up being dictatorial chatterboxes who talk non-stop, offer opinions on everything and make many demands on what music or radio station plays in the car. Many wives get to shags badly in need of a holiday after having to put up with crying babies, traffic jams, nosy relatives and being cramped in the car.
The kind of welcome the wife gets in shags is dependent on many things - and all those things come to head over Christmas. If the wife was not the preferred choice of the mother and sisters-in-law, chances are her arrival will not be greeted with dance and ululations.
It is possible the ‘non-preferred’ choice might still be displaying manners that make her even more unlikeable to her in-laws - she might, for instance, still be decked in fake nails that are too long, or have horse hair that is too long or be wearing clothes that are too short or too tight.
The welcome can also move from tepid to frosty if the visiting wife has not done the right thing and produced offspring in the right quantity, in the right number and often in the right gender. There are many wives who have had miserable holidays as they suffer endless hostility and in some cases open warfare from in-laws who feel that their boy could have done better.
Other times of the year and especially during funerals and fundraisers, wageni kutoka Nairobi are accorded preferential treatment. They usually get the best seats at funerals, have special meals prepared for them and often eat in designated areas away from the masses. City wives during Christmas time do not receive any such treatment - most of them are seen as extra hands and in some cases slaves. It seems that there is an expectation that city wives must justify their worth by performing a whole range of tasks from the culinary ones that might often involve making tonnes of chapos or ugali, to the agricultural ones of feeding cows and goats. We all know that these tasks are often not compatible with the city wife look of acrylic nails and fake eyelashes. To make matters worse, husbands often leave their wives to fend for themselves as they disappear to the local shebeens to indulge in manly talk and activities.
If and when they return home, they are usually too pleased, plastered or oblivious to the fact that their spouses are not having that great a time. That is why they see no problem with dragging their families to shags every Christmas. At least 2019 spared some wives from this misery.