How To Be The Perfect Been-to African

So you put up that cliché ‘Finally going to the motherland!!!!!!!’ Facebook status that garnered over ten times your average number of likes for a Facebook post. Or more accurately, the number of likes was commensurate with the number of apostrophes you used. You most likely flew on an American or a European airline, via either an African or a European capital. If you jetted through Accra, Lagos or Nairobi, you most likely were in the company of black faces with hands holding more than one passport and the quality of the service would be termed impeccable were it not for a few incidents where women your mother’s age were assigned different seats from those they had booked and hence kept complaining, which you found amusing because they reminded you of your own mother who you hadn’t seen in a long time, or your vegetarian neighbour who was asked by the smiling American hostess, “Why don’t you try some chicken today?” If you invaded the European airspace, with a transit visa for Frankfurt, Amsterdam or London, your plane-mates most likely had between young and middle-aged white faces, headed to Africa (the country) for a safari or to save an African life or two, because they can and they care. Thousands of miles (you don’t call them kilometres, like your primary school teacher, now), dozens of hours, time difference controlled for, later, you have just touched down at the major international airport in your country feeling like a newborn baby: stress-free, jet-lag notwithstanding.

The main challenge now lies on how to act now that you are in the place that you fondly call nyumbani after spending a considerable amount of time overseas. If you are reading this, (don’t you just hate how people here like to state the obvious?) keep calm I got you; furthermore, the path ahead is not the biblical less-travelled and those that have come before you have left footprints. This scroll chronicles those footprints so that you, the prodigal jewel of Mama Africa returning to her bosom, shall never perish, but have everlasting joy and prosperity. Just a little disclaimer before you disembark: this particular how-to guide is set in Kenya, but I have little doubt that you will be entirely safe if you use it as a template, replacing the Kenyan details with your country’s equivalents.

From the onset, it is critical to understand that your words and actions in this new land will be determined by three main things: the person you are, the nature of the situation you find yourself in and the type of person or people you interact with. However, regardless of how much these factors vary your behaviour, two things must remain constant: firstly, you must always remain a loyal and passionate ambassador for the country you just left and use it and all its perceived characteristics as the SI Units for your country and all its characteristics and secondly, you must always take advantage of your new status as a been-to to assert your finer knowledge and power over the local, untraveled folks (in any case, aren’t they the same people who say in their proverbial wisdom that kutembea kwingi, kuona mengi, travelling more is seeing and knowing more?).

As soon as you step out of the airplane, inhale the sweet air of the continent, deeply. It’s too hot here: make this your first complain − it is a great debut for the series of complaints to follow. At the airport, do the first comparison: how can a people still have this kind of airport in the 21st century with the JFKs and the Heathrows of this world in existence? However, be sure to take a picture of yourself in front of the Smile, you are now in Kenya signboard as it shall come in handy once you are able to access your Facebook and Twitter accounts on your iPhone 5. Wear a confusing facial expression that will make the immigration clerk know that you are neither one of those foreigners nor one of those locals with inexperienced passports, or no passports at all.

Now that you have that entry stamp on your passport, it’s time to hit the international arrivals lobby. If you are the kind that has stayed overseas for decades, and has decided to come take its rightful position in Africa Rising, expect your whole village to be there. You are their hero and you must be ready to act like one. If you are a student returning after a couple of months or years, get those hugs ready for your beloved family members. If you are just a trader jetting in with your second-hand merchandize from Dubai, you better have your shillings set to pay those nagging taxi drivers waiting for you outside.

Na si umekuwa mkubwa: this and the corresponding mouth-agape expression (and probably an invisible thought: the change is a product of the money overseas), will always be the default initial reaction of the all the folks you meet, no matter how skinny or fat you are. Then they will start their endless questions. Respond to these in your new capacity as ambassador for the country you just left, feeding the locals’ perceptions with what they expect. When they ask: How is America or Europe?, you have an option of providing a critical answer to this question given that its vagueness is greater than that of the meaning-of-life question, but go banal and talk about the weather and the distinct seasons, “It’s summer now, very hot!” or just say, “It’s good.” Talking about your bad experiences or painting a negative image of majuu is a taboo; never dare do this, lest you lose your crown.

During the drive home, get shocked at how much the place has changed. Of course you really did not expect the Africa Rising to be this much in your absence: all these posh real estates, towering buildings with idiosyncratic designs, universities everywhere, Range Rovers causing traffic jams, much more smarter dressing than in the place you just left, a cleaner city−despite having posted self-esteem enhancing articles about it on your social media accounts. If you happen to drive along Thika Superhighway, exclaim: “I feel like I am back in America!” Make sure the amazement is measured or else your audience won’t get the feeling that you have seen a lot of 8-laned superhighways.

At home, having savoured the chapati, nyama choma, kitoweo, kachumbari and biriani delicacies you missed and answered the what-do-you-eat-over-there question grudgingly, switch on the TV and sift through the local channels. Why has Nigerian content taken over Kenyan television, we need quality shows like Scandal and Two Broke Girls: complain to anybody who cares to listen (if you find that your audience is not paying enough attention to you as it should, take the complaint to the next level: your Facebook status and maybe an angry tweet mentioning all local channels’ handles and asking them to raise their game to American standards−use TwitLonger if all your anger doesn’t fit into 140 characters).

When you take a walk in the city, rocking your khaki shorts, open shoes, dark sunglasses, I heart NYCt-shirt and a matching Yankees baseball hat if a guy or that small floral print dress (it being hot and all), fancy beaded sandals and dark sunglasses if a girl, don a conspicuous worried look. Worry about your safety from Al Shabaab, and dirty pickpocketers too. Pretend that this worry is more than the worry (actually fear is the right term) that possessed you when you walked alone at night in that same New York City your t-shirt claims to love, saw white policemen wielding their firearms and it suddenly occurred to you that being black like Trayvon Martin or Amadou Diallo, they could shoot you 19 times and simply call it self-defense (certainly against your lethal black skin, since you had never touched a gun in your life) and get off scot-free.

While still in the city, take this opportunity to show off the ignorance that your sojourn overseas has created. Claim that the landmark KICC building has moved to a different location and that streets have also changed names. Say this in your newly-acquired British accent, never mind having spent your three months overseas in Azerbaijan.

On Friday evenings, there is something Kenyan youth overwhelmingly indulge in called dunda; it is a sin to be left behind. However, unlike most of them (since they lack dollars like you), your dundacircuit must include the high end joints: start off with Rafikiz Lounge, proceed to Tribe for some wine, pop some champagne in Galileo Lounge, buy rounds in Casablanca and finish off with shots atBacchus Bar. In you drunken stupor, don’t forget to let the Western expats whiling away their nights in these joints know that you have something in common with them that the rest of the revelers on the dance floor lack and also that you have more cash than them in your bank accounts in their country. Also, tip the waiters and the bartenders solid amounts from your American Express credit card and complain about the selfishness of the people here: ‘Dammmmnnn TIA, even these rich bustards can’t tip the poor waiter a dollar!!!!!’ would make a good, drunk Facebook status update.

Once you are sober enough the Saturday after, mull over the deep question of culture. Are you going to experience reverse culture shock? Relax; you won’t because you just have to be like the sieve your grandmother uses for her tea: allow aspects of African culture that serve you right through and block out the residue. For instance, if you are a man, insist that it is African culture that women bow down to worship you as the natural head of everything. All collectivistic aspects of African culture, such as caring for the entire extended family, must be completely screened out. After all, when you realized that being African was holding you back, didn’t you decide to call yourself Afropolitan: a product of the world but who happens to have African roots? If you have children, do not dare teach them anative language because it−and not your malicious talk about greedy Kikuyus, childish Luos, backward Kalenjins, foolish Maasais, etc −will inherently poison them into little, war-loving tribalists (hail the colonial sailors for bringing English, our salvation, in their ships). Also, be sure to make it a passion to collect traditional African attires and art: this is the only authentic African culture. Complain about all the fuss about a growing culture made up of crap such as the dynamic Sheng language and art and music mixing local and global influences; call it fake, adulterated bullshit. In any case, culture is a dormant folklore of the past that must be fervently preserved like the African elephants and rhinos facing extinction; that black Frenchman Frantz Fanon must have been totallycrazy when he said “a national culture is the whole body of efforts made by a people in the sphere of thought to describe, justify, and praise the action through which that people has created itself and keeps itself in existence.”

On Sunday, there’s that routine destination that people of all kinds meet: the church. Be sure to join them as this will automatically add points to your good-person credentials. If the church happens to have a few worshippers, there is a high chance that your unfamiliarity will be noticed. If that happens and you are asked to ‘greet the congregation’, here’s what (genuine or fabricated) will earn you their adoration and hearty hallelujahs: “Praise God church! I am X and I love Jesus. I have lived in (insert the name of the country you just left) for X years, faced numerous temptations from Satan but was able to overcome them by His Grace. You know they even support the marriage of men with other men over there and they want us to do the same.” Never tell them about your numerous unanswered questions about what will happen to your ancestors, who worshipped their God and ancestors under a certain tree or shrine before they were asked by Bible-wielding Europeans to close their eyes to pray and then opened them only to find themselves holding the Bible and the white fellows holding their land, on that last day of judgment. You certainly do not want to miss out on eternal life worrying about ancestors who your own people have moved on from: they can burn in hell alone!

Mgeni siku ya nne, mpe jembe akalime. After spending the last few days without real work, it’s now time to find something concrete to do. Holding your Bachelors degree in Psychology from a liberal arts college in the-middle-of-nowhere in a Western country, go to that interview your chest puffed out, head held higher above the rest: you will certainly get that engineering job because when you were busy pulling all-nighters, your competitors, holders of Masters degrees in engineering from local universities, were busy striking over trite things like freedom of press. In any case, they didn’t have to go through tough challenges like being the only black (and African) kids in the classroom and thus having the rest of the students stare at them during an entire lecture on malaria; one would think malaria was an incurable disease, that all Africans suffered from all the time, which the staring students feared you would surely infect them−and gazing at you would immunize them. If you left your well-paying job abroad to come contribute to the rising of Africa, you are blessed with the top position and therefore getting tenders and contracts shall be the smoothest of sailings. For experience on your resume and concept papers, put being part of the Diaspora that has engineered Kenyan development through billions of shillings in remittances (completely oblivious of the tenfold billions the countries they live in earn from their presence and the billions, and irreplaceable non-monetary benefits, their home country loses from their absence) as the natural inheritors of the infamous Rudyard Kipling’s White Man’s Burden.

Now that you are settled back, how about you go shagz say hello to your cucu one of these fine weekends? The village is your paradise: it will provide you with a stock of items to complain about: slow or no internet at all, roads that turn into shambas when it rains, unreliable power supply if present, M-Pesa delays; also, the villagers −unlike the troublesome #KenyansOnTwitter who will say that you bought your fake American accent from Naivas Supermarket for fifty bob− will regard you as their god and treat every word you say as the irrefutable truth. Since the chances of these villagers ever visiting the country you just left are tinier than the likelihood of an elephant (not just a camel) ever going through the eye of a needle, manufacture and deliver to them extremely irrational lies about itTell them that over there, people who are found walking−and not driving big cars−are arrested and that you had to pay somebody to take away your Mercedes Benz before you came back. At this rate, you might as well tell them that you literally met Jesus and that He turned two litres of water into five thousand litres of wine, just for you. Smile inwardly as they nod in awed, respectful agreement. Let your imagination run wild as you paint an image of overseas that makes the image of heaven that their pastor paints for them look like a joke. Never tell them that loneliness became your closest and constant companion when overseas−YouTube videos, Facebook, 9gag, and your national newspapers websites were also great friends (and maybe some alcohol and weed). Also, don’t tell them about the thought-process that led to the decision to go natural, the circumstances that turned you from a vibrant extrovert into an aloof introvert or why your grades plummeted in your first semester in college (remember wondering why your intelligence had forsaken you at that critical point in time?). Telling them will not only bore them to death but it will also unsettle the going-abroad-is-equal-to-making-it-in-life status quo.

When you are out in the village bar sipping your cold Tusker (because wazungu think Kenya and Tusker are synonyms), an inebriated man might stagger to you and shout, “If I were you, I would have f*cked one hundred white women.” Tell him that in fact you have f*cked two hundred. When he tells you that you should have come with one of the rich white women, tell him that your white college sweetheart, the one who used to drive a Hummer to class, is just waiting for her visa to join you here. Don’t tell him about the racist abuses you endured and how quick people in the country you just left were to call blatant racism something milder in their futile attempts to be politically correct. Also, do not tell him that in the country that you just left, it is said that people are judged not by the colour of their skin but the content of their character, yet most black people can count their close white friends (not the ones they bump into and exchange nervous, awkward hellos) on one hand.

Finally, when you drive back to the city and go to bed, sleep assured that the threat of anybody ever kicking you out of the country is now non-existent and also that the colour of your skin is no longer the main determinant of your destiny. Goodnight; I just hope the lies you have lived and told do not come back to haunt you as nightmares!


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