Where are you from … exactly?

I keep having this conversation in different places, with different people.

New person: So where are you from?
Me: Nairobi
New person: No, I mean, where are you from originally?
Me: Nairobi. I was born in Nairobi.
New person: (Eyes narrow, looks frustrated.) Ok where is your father from then?
Me: Yawwnnnnnnnnnnn.

Ha ha, the last part doesn’t really happen, I’m not that rude but sometimes I wish I were. The interesting thing about human beings is that we always have to place others so they can fit in a category in our minds. What do you do. Where are you from. Are you single or married. Etc etc.

I don’t mind being asked where I’m from. It’s part of getting to know each other. What I do mind is people refusing to accept the answer. What do you want me to do? Go back in time and reverse my place of birth?

The generation born in the 60s especially, does not seem to grasp the reality that it is possible to call Nairobi, or any other urban area, home, and be damn PROUD of it. I was born in a hospital in the city. My first steps were taken in one of the city suburbs. I fell in love with a city-born boy and got married to him… in the city. Guess where the dowry was taken- to my parents’ home in the city. Nairobi is where I live and where we plan to raise our own children. I guess I’ll be buried with my husband’s people, not that I mind too much about the details, after all- huu mwili chakula cha mchwa tu, didn’t Daddy Owen remind us of that?

I don’t like the perpetration of the myth that one’s roots can only be found in the rural areas, where your father or mother comes from. Your roots are where you’re born, the place that your earliest memories are found. I will always have fond memories of growing up in South C, not my father’s homeland which, although I love, is a place I go to as a visitor once or twice a year. Lovely as it is, it isn’t home. I “uuhhhhhhh”and “ahhhhh”along with everyone else at the beauty of that place – and then I head back to the madness. This concrete jungle, this land of traffic jams and pickpockets, insane matatus, burst sewers and noise pollution from hawkers and preachers, is my home (And all the Lagos people say amen!).

A few months ago I was on a long drive with my husband and father-in-law. My father-in-law asked me what type of grass is common where I come from- note- he was referring to my father’s homeland, not my beloved concrete home. For clarity’s sake, we (hubby and I) are both Kenyans but from different tribes. As a respectful daughter-in-law, I could not point out that the best person to direct that question to was the actual son of the soil- my father. As we Nairobi girls like to say, nilichoka. This is a girl who has only held a hoe once and cannot differentiate between a mango tree and a pawpaw tree (except when the fruits are visible). Which type of grass indeed. Ha ha ha! I honestly answered “I don’t know.” Seriously, how would I? For me, Agriculture has always been a subject, an economic activity and not a lifestyle. But I don’t blame him, we live in two different mental worlds. To him, I represent a strange new culture and I am its ambassador.

I love being a city chic. On Saturday I attended a friend’s function and at the table where I sat, about 7 tribes were represented— not that anyone noticed or cared. The one thing we had in common is Christ Jesus. I love that nobody is interested in my tribe except as a by-the-way. I love the fact that we are not ready to shed blood just so we can hang on to a piece of soil somewhere to call our own. I love that I get to have so many experiences that would not happen if I was not here. And ditto to Kampala, the city that hosted me for two and a half very interesting years.

This is my city and I call it home. Nairobi. That’s my final answer.


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