Photo: IG @lafrohemien

1. Every celebration you have calls for nyama.

Kenyans love nothing more than an excuse to get together and enjoy some nyama choma (open flame roasted meat) with the typical sides of greens and carbs by the pile. Nyama choma always brings together friends, family members, co-workers, anyone you can manage to wrangle together. It is less about the eventual meal and more about the socialization that happens around the meal: from slaughtering a whole goat or cow together, or collectively picking a cut from the butcher’s case, to enduring together the tantalizing wait as the meat is cooked to charred perfection, the smell of quietly roasting meat satiating the air. After the meal is done? Then comes the inertia, otherwise dubbed the itis.

2. It’s impossible to leave somebody’s house.

Kenyans are known for their warm, inviting nature. Sometimes too inviting. Trying to leave a Kenyans house can be like a booby trapped matrix; there is the first good bye, then the second one, then the final one when you make a run for the door and never look back. And 70% of the time you will not leave empty handed.

3. You use “can you believe…” more frequently than it should ever be used.

Most things are believable, actually. But Kenyans can’t seem to believe much.

4. You start 30% or more of your sentences with, “Me, I…”

This one is an easy trap to fall into. You hear it so many times that suddenly the words “Me, I…” come out of your mouth and you realize you are one of us. For example, “Me, I went to her house yesterday, and can you believe she wasn’t there?”

Come to our side. We have terrible grammar and unbelievable moments here.

5. You reinvent English every time you speak to another Kenyan.

Being colonized by the British, Kenyans have have an affinity for the finer bits of the Queen’s English. But we also take pride in our other national language, Swahili. The result? We take liberty with both languages, blending English and Swahili to create our unique versions of “Swanglish.”

There is no universal agreement on what is and isn’t Swanglish, however. So good luck figuring out what the guy at the store just said to you.

6. You can’t resist the lure of a bargain or second hand shopping (otherwise known as ‘thrifting’ in
these Northern parts).

Second hand shopping has nothing to do with income or socio-economic standing in Kenya. Instead, it is something woven into our national fabric. Second hand clothes and items, called mitumba, flood the Kenyan market each year, providing, a cheap, fashionable alternative to any savvy shopper. Word has it that Kenya even beats out Seattle when it comes to thrifting. And let’s not even get into our love for haggling. Sticker prices are a mere “suggestion.”

7. You’re still in a Manchester-United vs Arsenal feud with a family member, friend, or loose acquaintance.

Soccer is to Kenyans what American Football is to Americans; blood and guts, ritual, dedication, and the kind of fanaticism that goes beyond rationale, into mysticism. I kid you not that entire families and friendships have been ruined by soccer tournaments, most notably the English Premier League. A soccer tournament that involves no Kenyan teams, is played overseas, and results in ensuing soccer madness and lots of drinking in bars. It is the sort of soccer madness that has Kenyans in the diaspora waking up at 3 am to catch a match.

8. You are a rugby fan.

Rugby ranks only second in fanaticism to soccer for Kenyans. Which means that as a Kenyan, you have attended at least one Rugby Sevens match in your lifetime. You know someone who plays rugby, or used to play rugby. You know at least one rugby song that is both offensive and crude, and you have stood in bleachers, waving a flag and cheering on the destruction of the opposing team.

9. But when you tell people you’re Kenyan, they just bring up marathon running.

No, we’re not all marathon runners.

10. You’re openly tribalistic.

Home to 42 different tribes, Kenyans will study each other’s faces, and features, trying to compartmentalize people into tribes. We think that will tell us something about the other person’s character or history, or offer clues into their socio-economic standing. A person’s tribe will tell a Kenyan how they should relate to the other person. And yet, in the same breath, we decry tribalism within the national sphere and mourn it’s sometimes terrifying results.

11. Roadside eats. Enough said.

Whether it’s a grilled ear of corn peppered with chili sauce, freshly roasted peanuts, or a bag of delicious bite-sized sugarcane sold from the back of a dubious mkokoteni, Kenyans love to venture (slightly) off the beaten path for a bite.

12. You acquire a Western accent, or know someone who has a Western accent and you/they have never left the country.

There’s an all too familiar hybrid Kenyan-British-American accent that Kenyans have grown accustomed to finding among their fellow Kenyans, even those who have never left Kenyan airspace. The accent is particularly popular with any noteworthy entertainer, journalist, radio personality, or anyone trying to ascend in their societal ranking. It’s origin remains unknown, and the accent itself is hard to place; falling somewhere in-between re-runs of The Kardashians and the BBC News Hour.

13. When you’re in a foreign country and you spot another Kenyan you don’t know, you’re body goes into fight or flight mode…

If you have ever been a Kenyan in a foreign country you know that feeling. The one that leaves you internally screaming, “Please don’t talk to me. Please don’t talk to me. Pleeeeeaaassseeeee. Don’t. Talk. To. me.” One of my Kenyan friends said to me “There should be a meme that says ‘Yoh we both know you’re Kenyan, but I’ll look the other way cuz I ain’t tryna have that conversation.”

14…Because you know what happens when that other Kenyan makes eye contact and decides to strike up a conversation.

It’s 15 minutes later and you’re still eyeing the beer case over their shoulder, thinking to yourself, “I was so close…so close.” Meanwhile your rattling off your entire family history, accomplishments, current affairs, and future goals to this stranger, in the name of community.

Kenyans take assumed camaraderie and personal intrusion to a whole new level. Once I was held conversationally hostage at a barbecue by a Kenyan men who insisted he should have my number because our extended families came from the same town; a town I haven’t been to in over a decade.

15. You can party way more than you should for your age.

There is drinking with my friends and then there is drinking with my Kenyan friends; the two are not comparable. One involves the basic weekend shenanigans, a lost phone, and a bar tab I forgot to close. The other involves the sort of all-night-rager I think I’ve grown too old for. But then it’ll happen….again. There’s nothing Kenyans love more than a room full of our favorite people, and the booze to lubricate the good times.

16. You carry an optimistic and friendly view of the world wherever you go.

There may be something about being born along the equator and spending your life straddling two halves of the world. Or maybe it’s the near perpetual sun and stunning backdrop to life that Kenya offers. Whatever it is, Kenyans have a joy and friendliness to them you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else. 

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