I do not understand why anyone would leave Kisumu and come to live in Nairobi. For that city there on the lakeside is the most beautiful, pleasant city in East Africa.
I drove to Kisumu a week ago in the family fridge (maybe it was a car, but it felt like I was driving the fridge, with a year’s supply of meat in it to boot) and I can’t wait to go back.
First, Kisumu is the only city in Kenya without traffic. If you think that is a small thing, try driving across Eldoret, Nakuru or Meru. From the airport to Kisumu city centre is a pleasant, breezy drive of just a few minutes.
From Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, to the city centre, you feel as if you need a full day and an AK-47 to fight off crazy matatu drivers.
Kisumu has only a few matatus and boda bodas. Milimani, the posh estate, is only a few metres from main thoroughfare. It is a gentle walk away. There are no crowds of pushing and shoving folk in Kisumu, nobody is in a hurry.
In Milimani, there are no “for sale” or “to let” signs, no struggle for space, no profiteering grabbers, no ugly flats reaching for the sun. Only genteel, old houses in gardens that would make the land-hungry aliens of Nairobi weep with desire.
BUCKET OF RUMBA
But it is in matters of life and fun that Kisumu – and its wonderful citizens – merits the Nobel Prize.
In Kapenguria, Murang’a or Garissa, a man goes to the club to catch a breather, but his head stays with his problems: What is happening to the stock market; will the growth of that slum destroy the value of my plot; what is my neighbour up to?
When a tall (and most are), Luo man brings his woman to heel on the floor of Signature Club in downtown Kisumu, the world ceases to exist. And it is not just because when you enter the club, you feel as if you have dipped your head in a bucket of rumba—it clogs your ears, fills your nose and jams your throat.
The slow, languid but graceful rumba steps remind you, bizarrely, of an Airbus A380 attempting a vertical take-off, a thing of massive but retrained power, of audacious beauty but with highlights of danger.
For when folks take to the floor here, there are no secrets. Each roll of the shoulders, each slow step, each snuggling of the neck, is a bold and public declaration of lascivious intent.
Jaber, denda bonjre bonjre, to wiya chwakre kapari! (I go weak in the knees when I think of you!)
So it’s a Tuesday and there is a board meeting in the morning. So the workers are on strike. So you have an important speech to give the following morning. So the children have been chased away from school, your in-laws are in hospital in India and the body of your cousin is in a mortuary in Mombasa. So what?
Min Bebi, otieno ni mari kendi! (I dedicate this night to you).
I don’t know whether there is an academy where the Luo are sent to learn to have fun, live in this beautiful way and make each other feel like a million dollars. If there is, it needs to open campuses countrywide.
If you go to Kisumu, you might fuss about restaurants not opening for breakfast or your steak being lovingly embellished with mushroom, pepper, tomato, a generous dollop of oil and every description of spice and condiment.
But the only thing you will disagree with locals on is politics, especially if you find their single-minded dedication to ODM and Raila rather tiring.
AND THEN THE RIFT VALLEY
The Rift Valley is equally beautiful and I love the easy humour of the folks there. The thing about modern navigation is that it guides you to your destination, but many times you have no idea where you are.
Your location is just a line on the screen. Having been born with the sense of direction of a homing pigeon, I was absolutely delighted to realise that I had no idea where in Bomet (pronounced Bpoomet), or was it Kericho, I was.
“Where am I?” I asked the man at the biggest bar in the market centre. “Uko fee IB,” he told me. The bar is called VIP.
I noticed that the mongrels sleeping in the sun in this town were good, exotic breeds and I wanted to talk to him about that, but he didn’t strike me as the type that could be interested in pets.
Whereas in Kisumu folks love fun, in the Rift Valley people love Jesus. Every village has Bible society this or Christian retreat that.
In Eldoret, which has traffic jams as bad as Nairobi’s, our track stars have invested in swanky, well-appointed hotels and eateries, but not in good cooks. I made the mistake of buying a rib-eye steak in one of those and I couldn’t eat it.
But if you love roast maize served on the roadside like I do (all the while thinking about H. pylori, which we all have anyway) this is a wonderful place.
If you are going to have prejudices about people, the least you can do is get out of your house and go visit them. You will change your point of view.