Do You Cary A Present When You Go For Birthdays?

Purity can still relax because there is something urgent. There are some Kenyans who have been pestering me to write about two issues but I am not sure whether their ideas are good and how Kenyans in Stockholm might take the comments. I will take up one of the key issues today.

You have a very good Kenyan friend who respects you very much. She has two kids and the elderly child is having a birthday. As a buddy who is in her “white books” (you are almost topping the list), you are one of the first Kenyans and friends to be invited to the birthday bash, sometimes 30 days before the extravaganza.

The big day comes and then you arrive without a present for the child. It could be understandable if you didn’t have time to buy the present because your schedule is very tight. But then, you also fail to “put something” in an envelope which could later materialize into a present for the young lad who is turning I don’t know how many years.

Then, a small discussion about birthday presents suddenly pops up on a light note and, like a radio with new batteries (to borrow from comrade Martin Ngatia), you take over the debate, proselytizing about the general concept of birthday presents. According to your innovate theory, birth day presents are part of “white culture” because “our fore-fathers” never even used to celebrate birthdays in the first place.

According to your so called theory, the most important thing is that you have left all your stuff to attend the birthday Party. Your argument is that your presence at the occasion is itself the ultimate “birthday present” that is even “beyond purchase”.

In the meantime, you did not come alone. You pulled a friend who is totally unrelated to the family that had “specially invited guests” to come along and the justification for the extra company is different depending on whom you talk to.

According to you, “we are Africans” and not everybody needs to be invited to a birthday Party. “My friend called me and asked if we could go out. I told him that I had been invited to a birthday Party. WE THEN DECIDED that why not? We could hook up and zoom to the Party together. That’s the good thing with us Africans, you don’t have to be invited to such parties”, you roar.

By then, your beer level is about 4-5 cans and as you speak, you are at the same time throwing tiny bits of saliva on your listener’s face because you can’t shut your big mouth. Your hands are in the air and as you dinya your points, you are pointing in the direction of Kenya, saying “huko nyumbani, people don’t care”. Just to rewind, you opened a fresh drink, took two sips and forgot the can in the kitchen. Noticing that your system is still not yet saturated, you call for a new drink simply because vinywaji are freely available.

The thing izz, You have forgotten that the Party may have cost the host between 5-10 thao in krona (Ksh 50-100,000) and that probably, the budget was based on a simple arithmetic on the number of expected guests.

To counter any possible argument to the effect that uninvited guests (like the one you came with) are being unrealistic, you posit that “if you don’t have money, don’t call people to a birthday Party”. This is where we are. If it was your rib or some soft flesh your fingers are walking over, it could be understandable if she is the uninvited baggage. You have arrived with a functional alkizz (alcoholic) whose first demand is a whisky.

He is functional bcozz at least, he knows where to take the last train or the night bus. Even then, you have to call him in the morning to confirm that he arrived in his one roomed shabby flat because he has a tendency of feeding you with stories the following day of how he slept in the night bus and that he had to be woken up by the driver in the middle of nowhere. He enjoys telling you these stories because he likes remembering how drunk he was last night. That is his hobby.

As for him (who  arrived without a birthday present if you have 4gotten), there is a different explanation as to why he is there – eti it is always good to have friends because “they make things happen”. The truth is that he was supposed to spend money on drinks at Vasa but once he discovered that some free drinks might have been packing somewhere at a birthday Party, it was time “to go and meet Wakenya”.

Gate crashing within the context of African culture is not wrong per se. But why can’t you also contribute the cash you were supposed to spend at Vasa for the kid to have a birthday present or to appreciate the effort? We are Africans but we are not in Africa. We are in the “Krona world”. Even in Africa, there is what is called “communal contribution” in certain situations because life has become “hard”. If I were Leonard Mambo Mbotela, I could have asked: “Je, hu ni Ungwana kweli?

I was one day very embarrassed when I got to a birthday Party and suddenly, the kid who was celebrating her birthday started crying mysteriously. The mother was around and I was making a corner, (just on time) to download at the small room. Surprised, I stopped to ask the mother why the “star of the Party” was crying. With some difficulty, she said that there is a guest who had arrived without a present and the child could not understand.

The problem is that all along, both the mother and the child had been positioned strategically to receive visitors and things appeared to have been going well. Guests were either carrying presents or envelopes with others requesting for envelopes if they hadn’t carried any but had planned to “do something”. It was not a “police marking” kind of situation but those who did not carry presents quickly explained to the mother (that they had something) then the Mom relayed the explanation to the kid (a present would be purchased) with the result that the kid kept her cool. Every time a guest arrived without a present, the kid expected an explanation.

Suddenly, a guest arrived without a present and since the guest did not indicate that something was on the way, the mother too could not relay back any signals. Haya.

The kid questioned why there was no present and at first, the mother tried to ignore in some kind of cover up. The kid insisted and the mother still tried to brush the issue aside because it was embarrassing. When no explanation was fourth coming, the kid burst into tears shouting aloud where the guest’s present was. A crisis of sorts started brewing as the kid persisted in the middle of a deep cry: “where is his present?”

When I enquired why the kid was crying, the mother whispered to me the explanation as we entered into an emergency brain-storming session to contain the crisis because if the news were to spread at the Party, the guy ran the big risk of being the “talk of Kenya-Stockholm” (if you know what I mean yeah!).

“And did you hear what happened at the birthday Party of Nani’s kid?”, so it begins. Nani ali-arrive without a present halafu, mtoi ndiyo huyo…”. The Kenya-Stockholm professionals normally break-down the story in bits, leaving you hooked.

The Question is: Should people carry birthday presents when they are invited to birthday parties or should the practice be left at the level of individual discretion? What I know is that there are few birthday hosts who will criticize a gate crasher who tucks some quid in an envelope “in solidarity”.

If they were to pass comments in the situation, I know Wakenya and they will, most likely, say that even though he/she was not invited, alitoa kitu. He/she “is better than nani who was invited aka kuja mkono mtupu”. They might even add that the invited guest came empty handed even though “yeye huringa sana”.

To try and explain why the guest did not carry a present, they might say that these days, “amefirisika”. Some Kenyans might even turn philosophic eti mpanda ngazi hushuka and in some cases, they might conclude that ameisha kabisa! Just because you arrived without a present. To carry or not to carry, always remember that the consequences are lurking in the shadows, at least, in Kenya-Stockholm as we know it.

Okoth Osewe