Strange Ways Of Diaspora Returnees
Every time some Kenyans come back from abroad, expect some comedy. Suddenly they have forgotten directions and their mother tongue and need local guides and interpreters to find their way around. And as a village teacher who is slightly literate, I have had the privilege of acting interpreter to some returnees.
“Tell Mom that my system cannot handle this kind of food.” I translated this with relish, implying that everybody should know the dangers of some local vegetables that the chap and I had been brought up on.
In my social roving, I see many returnees wearing dark sunglasses irrespective of the weather. Perhaps they are winter guys and girls, used to the glare of snow in their adopted countries.
Some of them often demand alien things in the average Kenyan cafÈ like milk shakes, pizzas, herbal tea, hot dogs and diet coke, to the bewilderment of all within earshot.
And they often ask prices in dollars or euros, if you are able to decipher their accents.
And have you noted that their gestures and body cues are frequently western to a fault? When talking to us they keep a wide personal distance that can be misconstrued as antisocial to our African sensitivities.
The men are given to a little pomp when shaking hands and hugging. The women often shake off dreads or imaginary hair from their foreheads, just like wazungu.
Our brothers and sisters coming from abroad are always amazed by small things, like birds and insect and issue a stream of dizzying words to express their appreciation.
“Oh Gawd (God) how beautiful, splendid, cool, terrific! Absolutely!”
When these people bring their children along, they often confound their local kin with a totally foreign style of parenting.
For we have to quickly incorporate these brats’ interruption of adult conversations.
“Dad, this woman looks so black and old,” a brat may say about his grandmother.
And as often happens in such situations, everybody pretends not to have heard.
The children may take fright at the sight of cows and shenzi chicken and question the wisdom of coming this far in the jungles.
“Let’s go back home, dad!”
Some returnees may have left as shy village boys and girls on scholarships or green cards but they come back strutting, boisterous, and full of democracy and civil rights. They bring a strange rowdiness with them, commenting on every issue.
“This cannot happen in America, man!” They preface all their complaints this way when vehicles stall in traffic jams or local functions take too long to start.
Comically, they may demand a lawyer at every minor brush with the police.
People are often amazed at how quickly they have forgotten our old and frequently chaotic ways.
At social functions, these people are often annoying as they suggest solutions to all of Africa’s problems.
“I have seen many community based projects in Adelaide, British Columbia and Cardiff,” they will often say and outline novel development agendas. But they are nowhere to be seen when the time comes to donate money and take action.
In my social wandering, I often gather many anecdotes of how some Kenyans living abroad take incredulity to new levels by staying in five star hotels in Nairobi when they visit.
So, their rural kin adorn matatus with banana twigs and journey there to meet them, singing: “Anaweza Bwana anaweza….”
Others hire 4WD vehicles, hung binoculars and video cameras around their necks, stash mineral water bottles in their pockets and venture to their rural homes in daylight.
But they are back in urban centres for the night long before our witches and night runners come out. Yet many Kenyans living abroad venture back to the village quietly, with no trumpets blaring.
As I sign off to gather more social comedy, please cut out the concert when you return from abroad; you are not from heaven, yet. Absolutely, man!
John K. Kariuki