This question is asked so many times by so many people in so many ways. I could go philosophical and talk about the love of the flag and the [not] knowing the words to the National Anthem…and by the way…I just realized that’s very Kenyan too. I was trying to teach princess the words, with the following results:
- She declared it boring. The TZ anthem is far more funky.
- She sang, with no prompting from me ‘And our home London Kenya’. It’s in the genes!
- I still –umpteen years later – mix up the lyrics to verse two and three.
I could also talk about the way before twitter, local news was more popular with diasporans. In Dar, I read the Nation religiously. At home, well, there’s always Gerry Loughran…but catch me dead surfing capitalfm.co.ke in a Nairobi cyber. Or actually watching the news. For what now? Or I could quote the famous Kenyan Chick.
Or I could retell my favourite story of how Suki, my nutty friend, smiled at the homeless beggars in New York so often saying ‘I’m from Africa people, all I can give you is a smile.’ After a few days, instead of begging from her, they were giving her money. Homeless people! In New York! This same Suki says how she saw some people in Disneyland who just HAD to be Kenyan so she tested in out. ‘Kss Kss’. Only one group of people in the entire Disneyland turned. 🙂
I forget what my point was. Oh yeah. Right. Being Kenyan. I always thought it was pretty wow that you can spot a Kenyan anywhere. I mean I’ll be walking in Dar and see someone, before they say a word or do a thing I just know they’re Kenyan, and it’s like that all over the world. I have watched movies where a crowd of extras was milling about, and I could spot a head that just had to be .ke, and sure enough, in the credits, they’d be some name to prove me right. I even watched Tellytubbies once, and saw these kids talking with a Jamaican accent, but I was like no way, hao wakenya. And sure enough, come mealtime, their grandmother was yelling ‘Kula nyinyi!’
But Kenya is so vast and wide. 42 tribes, 8 provinces, a million different backgrounds. At first I thought ‘kenyanness factor’ I can recognize so easily was just an urban thing, a slang or mindset among Nairobians. But now I see it even in pure shagmodoz abroad. So what is it that makes us so alike, and makes us stand out so much from everyone else?
Simple. KBC. Stop laughing, I’m dead serious. It’s the only thing we all have in common. We all grew up watching VOK/KBC/Channel1/Metro TV [select appropriate one based on your age]. The younger, funkier ones will claim they only do Capital sijui X Fm sijui whatwhat, and that some channels are sooo shao/shady [fill in appropriate to mark yourself as a baabi/odinari hehehe …and do people still say that?] But keep in mind all the original Capital DJs that weren’t imported and Kenyanized were weaned on Voice of Kenya, and that stuff rubs off.
We all go goofy at the mention of Pepe kale and Kanda Bongoman and Mbotela’s Je, huu ni ungwana?, that seven year old girl from madaraka who Aced Kwasa kwasa, Rare Watts, Music Time, [Fred Obachi Machokaaaaa], Rick Astley, Top of the Pops [RIDE on tiiiiime] etc etc etc. The tois may quote Churchill, but guess who his role model is. We are ‘kenyan’ because we watched mamboleo and dunia wiki hii and yaliyotokea and junior schools quiz [someni vijana, sth sth tia bidii, mwisho waa kusoma, mtapata kazi nzuri sana **insert tulii tulii guitar effect], sing and shine…because we listened to Cofta and Good Morning and A-S-P-R-O.
Because we watched the ORIGINAL transformers and Saber Rider and Doom and these influences taught us to think alike. We are all little VOK-programmed-autobots…or Decepticons. We passed this on to our kids [and younger relatives], and they too will be truly Kenyan, via their VOK-taught anchors on NTV and [insert appropriate letter of the alphabet – I’ve lost track – I know there’s an X and Y and a Q…and…?]
I was once in the campus common room at an international university, and KBC news started. It was 6.55 p.m. and we were waiting for the cafeteria to open. For some reason that I can’t explain, we all just went ‘Mtukufu Rais Daniel Toroitich Arap Moooooi’ synchronizing with the newcaster [it was LD, circa 2000]. Nobody even noticed what they’d said, till an Ethiopian asked how we knew what the guy was going to say, kwani it’s a repeat of news? Another time somebody in the computer room started singing those Kenyatta day songs and everybody joined it, it was hilarious! Of course the foreign students were amazed at how 200 plus people ranging from age 20 to 60 with 69 different ‘accents’ all knew the words to that song.
Yes, we have the accent, yes, we have the insane capitalist spirit that sends us to ‘study’ anywhere from Finland to Uzbekistan, yes we have the uncanny knack of producing Slum Dog actors [apparently Jamal Malik’s parents are Kenyan born] and scientists who cure cancer in the US and…need I mention the obvious? But we have to admit, what makes us truly Kenyan, what shaped our mindsets and thinking, what made us who we are is good ol’ VOK. And maybe Kenya Times with Rastafari Bongoman.
PPS: They always say media shapes culture, but clearly, it shapes nationality too, and not just in Kenya. Who’da thunk 🙂