Things I Say on the Streets of Nairobi

Sometimes I’m amazed how much random stuff comes out of my mouth when I’m walking around Nairobi. I’m terrible at conversational Swahili, but it seems like I always have a quip ready to throw back at someone who shouts at me on the street. Here are some I’ve used recently:

  • Jina langu si John” (my name ain’t John) to the guy who yells, “Johnny!” (I never understood why they call white guys “John”… I heard it might be related to the British troops stationed here. Maybe John is a common name for a white guy?)
  • Hakuna jua” (there’s no sun) to the guy who asks if I wanna buy some sunglasses on an overcast day.
  • Nimeshaziona” (I’ve already seen ’em) or “Niko nazo kwa nyumba” (I got those in the house) to the guy selling DVDs.
  • Huyu si bibi, ni dada” (she ain’t my girlfriend, she’s my sister) to the guy who asks if I wanna buy roses for the girl I’m walking with.
  • Mimi si mtalii” (I ain’t a tourist) to the guy who says, “Jambo
  • Si endi mbali” (I ain’t going far), “Nachukua route 11” (I’m taking route 11… my legs), or “Gari yako haina hewa” (your car doesn’t have any music) to the guy asking if I want a taxi.

I don’t even have to think about what to say most of the time. The words are rolling off my tongue before I even get a chance. I have no idea where it comes from; was I always like this or was it something I learned after living in Kenya for a few years? Maybe it’s the “mjanja” (hustler) Kenyan culture, or maybe I’m just a smart aleck. Luckily people don’t really get mad, they just laugh.

I think I’ve actually made a lot of friends (or at least friendly faces) this way. One DVD guy who stands outside Sarit center always says, “Simba!” (lion… it’s a Rastafari thing) when he sees me, and he knows I never buy. The other DVD guy always remembers that I prefer TV series to movies, and asks if I still want him to find me a copy of The Tudors.

Taxi drivers are the most fun to mess with, though. It’s just so easy! When they see you walking around the parking lot of The Mall in Westlands they immediately ask, “Taxi?” It’s terrible for them because there are like twenty taxis right there, and right next to the taxi rank is a matatu stage. Let me see, taxi for 300 shillings or in a bangin’ loud matatu for 20? Na muambia, “Wee, si tumiangi taxi. Naenda kwa mathree!” (I tell them, “Man, I don’t use taxis. I’m going in a matatu!”).

Karibu Kenya (welcome to Kenya)!

3 Comments to “Things I Say on the Streets of Nairobi”

  1. Wairimu

    LOL on the wise cracks. I did that a lot when I was back home, then I got to the States and realised some can be fatal if said int he wrong direction so I tamed the tongue quite a bit. Looking forward to street theatre.

    Johnny was the name they called the Brits, not sure if it was for random jamaas or troops but I’ve heard some of my older relatives sometimes refer to them such. Pole, hope it doesn’t offend.

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