Tips on Surviving the Christmas Holidays in Kenya for Diasporans

Many, many years ago, in the land of ‘My Village’, the villagers turned up in huge numbers, in the Nyayo spirit, to a harambee to help a neighbor’s son make his way to Boston. The harambee was a success, and within a week, the boy flew out. This was nothing new; in the yore, villagers were happy to chip in kidogo kidogo to help uplift their own, and assisting them to go to Boston was a popular way. What was strange about this case, however, was that three weeks later, the father of the ‘flown out young man’ bought a brand new car. That, predictably, did not go down well with fellow villagers, who were neither stupid nor blind. They were livid. Rightfully so…if you can afford a new car just a few weeks shy from a harambee, surely you could have afforded to not make villagers give up their tithe to help you. Anyway, it was too late, it’s not like anybody was going to ask for their money back. After that, the villagers used to bitterly whisper to each other, pointing at the ‘criminal’ with their mouths, whenever he drove by; ‘there goes the car we bought’ haha. It didn’t help that he never gave anyone a lift. Zero chills, I tell you.

The preamble above has no direct connection to this story, except that it is a Diaspora story, and I have always wanted to narrate it.

For years, many of my village mates have ended up in Boston. Solely because of my traveled village mates, Boston will be rather empty during the next few weeks. Why do I keep dropping in Boston? Well, almost all my village mates who end up in the US of A end up in Boston, yaani mpaka I used to think America is also known as USA and also known as Boston. ‘So and so is going to Boston’ is a frequently used phrase.

The season of giving is finally here, and the villagers in Boston are on the way to give us a few things including dollars and accents. Haki si we look forward to their arrival, kwanza here in the village – the season is so much more colourful because of them.

Anyhoo, a lot of adopted Bostonians will be coming home for Christmas, again, a very good thing. I however walk on eggshells on their behalf when I think of the financial expectations that random villagers have of them –  only somebody with Chris Kirubi’s bank balance would not blink at those expectations. Perhaps it is not such a good idea to fund-raise for a ticket because everybody feels like they hold shares of your money. 

The poor bunnies; you cannot blame them for avoiding to interact with the villagers too often. Some people may wrongly accuse them of having acquired ‘class’ while they were away, but I know it is because if they became regular at the village pub, they would use up their dollars in a day.

You see, when a summer bunny makes appearance at the local, several things are bound to happen; one, nobody around the table will manage to locate their wallets when it is time to settle the bill. Then all of a sudden people around will have a brainwave of business ideas, and the summer bunny becomes like Shark Tank. He has to sit there and listen to all sorts of stupid business ideas that apparently need only a few thousand Kenya shillings to make more money than Sportpesa. When the ideas are being pitched, the Bostonian will be getting those looks of ‘if you convert a few of your dollars into Kenya shillings and give them to me, my business idea will take off.’ How about the lot that randomly walks into the pub (of course grapevine already has it that there is a summer bunny in the local, and these appearances are anything but random) and they will all high five him, calling him classmate; forget the fact that he has never seen them in his life, but when somebody calls you classmate, it is a secret code of ‘thank me for not bashing your head when we were classmates. Now, give me some of your money.’ Poor things.

The summer bunnies may not be able to avoid dishing out money to random villagers who claim some kinship or the other, but there are a few tricks that can help them minimize pocket damage. I hereby present a few excerpts from the manual ‘How To Survive In The Village As A Summer Bunny’.

1.       Avoid staying in the village. Go on, rent one of those furnished apartments in the city and only make a village appearance once a week. The money you spend on rent in the expensive apartment will be much, much less than what you will spend if you stayed in the village. Remember, villagers are a shameless lot and they will just drop by your parents’ house unannounced, they will sit there, several of them, all day, holding their ground and following you with their eyes and legs even when you sneak out for a ciggie or to use the long drop toilet, eating your mother’s food and talking a lot of dribble, and they will not leave until you give them kitu kidogo, or until the night falls.

2.       Summer bunnies carry a lot of gifts from the Diaspora, courtesy of other villagers who do not make it to Kenya for the holidays. The gifts have to be personally delivered as well as it would be rude to send a gift from Boston through the village courier who happens to be the neighbor’s unkempt kid. Here is the trick; deliver them all on the same day. This way, you avoid spending too much time in one homestead as you will have the perfect excuse ‘I still have to deliver to ‘wa Kamau’ and ‘wa Saulu’ and ‘Rucia (Lucia). Half an hour maximum in each compound. The only problem with doing the deliveries on the same day is the copious amounts of tea you will have to consume. No villager worth her salt will let you, a visitor, especially from Boston, leave without having a drink of some sort; water does not count as a drink. Not many village homes have juice so that is not even on the choice list. You cannot ask for alcohol because…well, are you mad? That leaves tea, usually with too much milk straight from Jane the underfed cow… Jane will keep mooing while you are there, as if appealing to you to leave some nappier grass from Boston. By the time you make ten deliveries, you have downed ten cups of tea and you are using the toilet too much and you constantly feel like throwing up – too much fresh milk can do tricks on your digestive system. I suppose it is better to have ten cups of tea than ten plates of mukimo.

3.       On your chosen days to visit the village, borrow a leaf from politicians and ensure that you have enough 50 bob notes in your pocket. The mung’etho guys do not ask for much – in fact, they are usually happy with 20 bob but since you are from far, far away land and you have a reputation to maintain, 50 bob will have them telling you that you should be the next Governor and they will even volunteer to campaign for you.

4.       Slaughter a goat, or two, please. Invite your immediate neighbors. Every other summer bunny will be doing the same, you do not want people to conclude that you are suffering in Ulaya and that is why you cannot afford to slaughter a goat or two for them. The goat will earn you so many bonga points, they may not even float for you business ideas for a while. You will hear phrases like ‘we, Yule kijana wa nyina wa Nyambura si alitupatia nyama mpaka tukabeba’.

5.       Last but certainly not least, do not carry to Kenya anything you are not comfortable to part with. You see, when we see you, we will be checking you from head to toe, whether or not your shoe, belt, hat, shirt, handbag …everything you wear, can fit us…or fit somebody we know. Our intention is to technically strip you naked, to create enough space in your suitcase so that you can carry unga ya ugali, Roiko and Arimis back to Boston. We mean well. Remember, also, to keep away your iPhone and buy a local kabambe because we are going to ask you to ‘souv’ us the phone as well. ‘Haki si uniachie hiyo’, we like to say a lot, with a giggle, but do not mistake the giggle for a joke, we mean it.

Welcome y’all to the village


Written by Ciku Kimani-Mwaniki

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