So it turns out the refugees down the streetare refugees and they do sleep there on the side of the road. Call me naïve, but it wasn’t always obvious to me (and nobody has explained any of this to me). I’ve seen bunches of them come and go pretty regularly since I moved to this part of Nairobi a year ago—a handful cooking dinner here, a few in sleeping bags there, but never for more than a couple days at a time. The latest bunch has got to be at least twenty people, though, and they’ve been there for at least a month now.
In the last couple of days I’ve accidentally talked to a few of them… I’m just so used to bumbling along Church Road talking to everyone that it was bound to happen eventually. The first guy was from Burundi, and the second guy was from Congo. This would definitely explain why they speak Swahili. And whattaya know, I speak Swahili! Enough, at least, to figure out what’s going on.
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!”).
I had the good fortune to get hit head on in a friend’s car the other day (haha). We were driving down Church Road, right around the corner from my apartment. A car was approaching slowly but sloppily, and a bit into our lane. There wasn’t much we could do but just brace for impact. “Crap!” I now have a unique insight into the ingenuity of Kenyan car mechanics.
Kenyan mechanics work in “garages.” When you car breaks down or needs work, you take it to the garage. This is not the same concept as the garage that sits beside your suburban California house — the garage most Kenyan fundis (handy men) work in are completely outdoors! Notice it bears no semblance at all to the “garage” where your car sleeps at the end of the driveway.