Kenya, Rants

Mzungu Atalipa Mbao

Something is seriously wrong in Kenya. I rarely have problems with people over charging me or being abusive to me, but lately I’ve noticed that if I’m with black Kenyans those problems occur more often than when I’m by myself. A few examples…

There’s a great second-hand, open-air market just outside of Nairobi’s business district, Kikomba. You can get good shoes, shirts, bed sheets, pants, etc for really cheap in “Gikosh!” Remember the gay marriage hat I saw there one time? I spotted that when I was there with my Dutch friend Renske. I’ve been with all sorts of people, and the experience is always different:

  • With white girl: People generally impressed by our Swahili — a man even told me, “Swahili yako imenibamba” (your Swahili made me happy, or “jazzed” him)
  • With black girl: Someone yells, “Umeshika mzungu!” (you’ve “caught” a white guy) to my friend.
  • With black guy: Someone asked him if he was my tour guide…

Yesterday evening I was waiting for a matatu (minibus used for public transport) at City Stadium with some Kenyan friends. One makanga (conductor) for a particular matatu that had pulled up told us that the price to get to Nairobi city center was shillingi kumi (ten shillings), but that the mzungu (white person) had to pay mbao (slang for twenty). I just looked at him and told him, ““Nimesikia” (I heard that). We thought he was kidding, but he gave us our change minus ten, he reminded us that the mzungu pays twenty. We got our ten shillings back, but not without a lot of name calling and yelling. Come on… really? Ten shillings? That’s twelve US cents.

Next to police, matatu people have the worst manners of anyone I’ve met in Kenya — they’ll even harass old mamas carrying vegetables and a baby on her back. That always makes me feel so sad for the future of this country… where did we go wrong? How do we teach today’s youths to respect people?

15 Comments to “Mzungu Atalipa Mbao”

    1. Alan Author

      Yeah, tell me about it! It just so happened that that day another makanga was completely rude to me; charged me and two friends 30 bob from Uthiru to Westi! Alikuwa anasema “tao thirty” so how can Westi be 30? I told him he was behaving badly and he made some dirty hand motions at me… hahahaha.

  1. Roho Nono

    I am a Kenyan living in the states, i just stumbled into your blog and your swahili is fantastic, i cant believe how much slang you know. Most Kenyans expect foreigners to say the typical “Jambo” stuff but you know sheng Awesome..nitakutafuta tuongee siku moja sio, umenifurahisha sana. I love your blog.

    1. Alan Author

      Haha, thanks. I fear that I’m turning into some sort of hybrid, no longer a Californian and not nearly Kenyan. Lakini ukikuja Kenya unipigie and I can teach you some new sheng! I have a question, though, do Kenyans who move abroad stick with the sheng from when they left the motherland, or do you keep up somehow? Like, are you still using the sheng from 5 years ago? That could be disastrous if you ever come back… they’d be like, “Hey, huyu manze amezeeka!” :)

  2. Roho Nono

    Sheng evolves so if you’ve been gone for long and go back using old lingo pple might laugh at you. My sheng is definitely outdated as i wasnt speaking much of it to begin with but i can get by. I just love how you use the “mathree” “silipi mbao” “fasta fasta” kinda slang, at the rate you are going you will be a bonafide Kenyan in no time. Umekuwa msee wa Nai kabisa, hio ni poa sana!

    1. Alan Author

      Yeah, for instance, I use to say “msee wa mtaa“, but jana niliambiwa na beste yangu mtaani isn’t “streets” anymore… it now means shags. Hahah. You have to substitute tao for anywhere you used to say mtaani. Anyways, have a cool weekend!

  3. mwanafunzi


    haha, glad I saw that. I just had a confusing conversation in which I thought I was being cool, but was clearly not! Mtaani worked perfectly well a few weeks ago and I thought tao must mean jiji!

  4. sam 22

    sasa boss. your blog is great. moved to usa of all places ks but its kinda ok with school n all. man feels gud you took tym to know sheng na swa sanifu. am sure my sheng by now is out of date but i think when i get back to the city in the sun i will cope. by the way, if you havent noticed…since ur now fluent in sheng n english n swahili n know da streets, wewe ni hustler/rasta bro. keep it real.

  5. Diana Maina

    Umenibamba yangu yote i totally love your enthusiasim n your swahili, its hard to believe you are from Carlifornia but welcome to Kenya, hala

    1. Alan Author

      Thanks! Lakini siku hizi niko down, haha. Anyways, acha nikuambie: sheng ni tamu. ;) Nikiongea sheng naskia fiti…

  6. Wairimu

    As a Kenyan in CA thinking of relocating to KE, I suspect that there will be massive culture shock. Add to the fact that I was never good at sheng and the little I know is old as hell, though I despise the entire language, it will be quite an experience.

    Perhaps I’ll adapt and be throwing sheng words right and left like a pro.

    Pole about being hassled by the makangas. Some Kenyans penda pesa more than themselves. It’s rather sad.

  7. I sympathize with your situation but I assure you it extends beyond colors dude! I was once dropped 15km away from my destination because they didn’t want to hit traffic. I was surprised when the makanga alitoka akisema “mwisho! mwisho!” They are nasty I tell you.

    1. Alan Author

      They’re so cheeky, hahaahah. You’re bound to get a bad makanga at least once a week! That’s some shitty odds, my friend. :)

  8. Emie

    This blog is fabulous, and the fact that you converse in Swahili… impressive!
    Kwanza mpaka sheng! uko juu tu sana.

    Endelea vivyo hivyo!

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