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Hosting relatives is a costly generosity

By JOHN KARIUKI | July 9th 2014

Nairobi, Kenya: Many employed urbanites cannot admit that it hurts them to host relatives from upcountry, especially those who come unannounced and the job seekers whose visit is indefinite.

Some visiting relatives often think they are owed a favour by their town kin. They come with tall tales of fabulous investments, if only someone could get them a start-up. Chances are that they are aware that commercial banks are awash with credit waiting for people to borrow, but they don’t want it that way in case they default. Their kin may not have the kind of money they need, so they do the next best thing. They give them anything between Sh3,000 and Sh10,000 to go and “try something’, until the next visit. And the charade repeats itself.

But street and financial wisdom has it that if you give such bothersome kin all the Sh50,000 that they cost you in one year all at once, you may solve two problems at a go. They may just start a real business and stop criss-crossing the country. And more importantly, it will take many years before they bother you again once the money is gone.

Rachel Wanjiru, a Nairobi trader, has been hosting her extended kin whenever they are in the city. Like many urbanites, Wanjiru admits that she has never asked her guests about their financial position when they visit. She foots all their expenses such as bus fare to and from town and for their eventual journey back to the village.

But when she and added up the figures the last time, Wanjiru was shocked to realise that at least one-third of her earnings per year goes to hosting her relatives. On further reflection, she realised that her good nature had been abused.

“There are some relatives who have been visiting and carrying enough money for their use her and fare back home but keeping quiet about it, expecting me to pay for everything,” she says.

Having learnt the hard way, Wanjiru now asks her visitors when they are likely to go back home and if they have fare for the return journey.

“Naturally, my change of heart has spread throughout our extended family and I am now seen as antisocial. My relatives come to my place only as a last resort and I am happy about it,” she says.

Shaban Wandera, a city motor dealer, has been suffering greatly by hosting his relatives in town. Despite changing houses frequently, they still trace him.

“The tragedy is that some elderly visiting kin hold court in my house where people from my home village in town come to see them,” says Wandera. The cost implication of this is enormous. The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was when a distant relative was admitted in a city hospital with a terminal condition.

“Two of my distant relatives moved from upcountry into my house, which turned into a stop for all daily visits to see this sick person,” he says. “Over the weekends, these permanent guests would ask me for airtime to invite other kin scattered all over the city for weekly prayers.”

“I went through financial hell over the three months that his ordeal lasted,” says Wandera, who estimates that he spent at least Sh300,000 on his kin’s daily trips to hospital and the weekend crowd of worshippers at his house. Wandera asked his two younger brothers, who also live in town, to bail him out by taking in the two permanent guests for some time while he took a breather.

These are just a few examples of the daily struggles urban dwellers have undergo silently at the hands of their unforgiving and demanding kin.

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