I’ve heard it said before that the village boy with his one-bedroom hut is much better placed in life than the Nairobi man renting a bedsitter. That village boy got married at 19, or to be more accurate, he got someone pregnant and allowed them to move into his house. Two years later, he has three children and is officially a family man. If someone were to press him into expanding his family, he would not be mad at them.
He has a couple of ‘machines’; a bicycle for making quick runs to the shop and a boda boda for going into town. Both are parked in his garage, which is to say they are leaned against the guava tree in front of his house. He is independently wealthy. You will not see him listed on any Forbes list, but he is not a hustler by any stretch of the imagination.
There is the shamba, for one. Passed down through the male family line, there are sprawling tracts of land that have fallen into his lap, the kind that are so expansive they cross over into the neighbouring county. He uses it to farm, of course, ekeing out a comfortable living from the maize and sugarcane he grows, and from the small patch of vegetables his wife pressed him into fencing off for her.
That village boy is also wealthier than his tao agemate because his money does not grow wings. He lives in his own house. He eats food from his farm. His kids go to the local school. Very rarely will he be forced to fork out crisp ones in the same manner his cousin from the city does. By all accounts, he has a better handle on adulting than his peer.
In Nairobi, the 20-something-year-old is on a constant chase. Life moves faster. He lives in a bedsitter or a miniature one-bedroom that swallows up 80 per cent of his earnings. And then he has to pay for internet, have money for fare and a little extra in case, as my mother likes to say, he steps on someone’s tomatoes. You can’t walk around this town without having ‘za macho’.
He is not married, but he has a baby mama, a meanspirited fellow 20-something-year-old whose demands are constant and unfailingly crippling. When he is not sending her ‘a loose ka-ten k’, he is sharing his pennies with the flighty young girls of the city, and those ones are hell on his wallet too. There is no property with his name on it. Not in the same Nairobi where one half protests the high cost of living while the other continues to import G-wagons.
Living on borrowed car
Not in the city where people always have money for liquor, and where people ate so much KFC they actually ran out of potatoes. In fact, the only things he proudly owns are an L-shaped couch, a platform bed with a high headboard and a 48-inch screen he yells at every weekend. But when these two fellas meet back home in the village, on the sad, sad occasion of shosho’s untimely passing, it is clear who feels more accomplished.
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The one with the borrowed car. The one with the chubby girlfriend taking selfies in the passenger seat. The one who bought two packets of sugar and five litres of oil as a gift to his mom. The one whose toddler has no idea what to do with himself once the phone runs out of power.
And what of the village woman? The one they refer to as ‘kienyeji’. Well, she lives a simple life. Home, then school, then church. Ducking into the farm once in a while. Dutifully contributing to her chama and buying new cushions when the roundabout gets to her. Shaking her shoulders to ‘Vaida’ in the back of the tent after a ceremony. She marries young, after scraping through a practical course at the local college. Something useful and applicable, like cracking skulls as a teacher or changing dressings an unsmiling nurse.
She is nothing like her former BFF who went to Nairobi and lost all her personality. And yet, just like her husband, she will be sneered at by wageni wa Nairobi when they come calling. We look down on them, but those village chaps may have cracked the life code.