I went to school with Kim but our ways parted at some point. I took a job with the civil service while Kim got a scholarship to study abroad. The whole village was abuzz with excitement about this development and it wasn’t hard to raise money for his air ticket and upkeep abroad.
But our collective expectations of Kim diminished with each visit he would make over the years.
Not that his English, with a heavy accent, is any easier to decipher at times.
During his last visit, nobody could drink beer in peace in local pubs owing to his condescending lectures on our lack of civil rights and good governance. Never mind that he was dreadlocked, as if in some sort of protest, and wore a pendant around his neck. He talked down to us and often said that Africans have a fundamental flaw in the way we see and do things.
Kim did not spare some of our elected leaders and would reserve some choice expletives for them whenever their faces appeared on television screens.
He would spitefully preface everything from the moles wreaking havoc in his mother’s shamba to our notorious traffic jams with: “You know this can’t happen in America, man.”
Village of birth
Another bloke from a God-forsaken village in Nyahururu lives abroad. He has been in his adopted country for so long that he now sees hoodlums behind every bush when he vacations here. Some accounts have it that whenever he visits, which is rarely, he cannot venture into his village of birth but opts to stay in a hotel in town. His people troop in matatus and pick-up trucks to see him at this hotel, in scenes reminiscent of the deputation from Ilmorog that goes to the city in search of their elusive MP in Ngugi wa Thiongo’s’ book Petals of Blood.
Welcome to the antics of some Diaspora returnees that horrify and amuse at the same time. They frequently choose an occasion, like Christmas day, to update their local kin on the results of some municipal elections in nondescript boroughs of Australia or on the latest in a dog show in Cardiff.
Often, all their estimates of distance are not based, say, on the mileage from Nairobi to Mombasa, but on the distance from New Jersey to Washington. And all their monetary calculations are based on the dollar or the euro. “How much do I pay in American dollars?” they may ask puzzled pump attendants and taxi drivers.
From their boisterous rowdiness when they congregate, to the effected mzungu mannerisms and â€˜tweng’ that they bring home, some Diaspora returnees are often a study in character transformation.
Significantly, those from the Indian subcontinent and other oriental countries have no accent whatsoever. They speak perfectly in their mother tongues after all the years they have been away.
Justin Mungai, a hotelier, can tell a Diaspora returnee from a distance. “They will often split hairs over the calories content of some foods and demand rare things like herbal tea,” he says.
Mungai remembers the bizarre case of a Diaspora returnee and his foreign wife who often stayed at his hotel. “This chap had the guts to bring his people to greet her, along with his local wife, whom he introduced as a domestic help who was taking care of his house in his absence,” Mungai recalls.
His people would discreetly book the local wife in a room in the same hotel and the chap would look for time to make up with her behind the mzungu’s back! The game continued for several years whenever the couple visited.
But one day, the mzungu wife read the two’s body language well and laid a trap. She caught the guy red handed with his black wife and created a scene. She broke up the relationship and flew away, Mungai says.
Allan Ndurya, a school teacher in Thika, had to cut short his high school studies 20 years ago so his younger brother could go abroad. “My brother now lives abroad but when he comes home, I always notice something more bizarre than during his previous visit,” says Ndurya.
For example, during his brother’s last visit, the younger man did not shake hands anyhow. “Perhaps he thought that Kenya was infested with disease,” says Ndurya.
He accuses his younger brother of splashing money and big festivals on his few local friends instead of close kin regardless of the problems that could be at their home. “Over the last few years, he has been alleging that there is too much insecurity around and will not sleep in our home in Thika,” says Ndurya.
“When he visits, he now stays in five star hotels in Nairobi or rents a Sh100,000 a month apartment in some posh city estate till his time is up.”
But at least Ndurya and other family members are spared the agony of going to Nairobi to see him. “At least he hires the latest 4WD model, packs it full of bottled water for his use and ventures into shags before returning back to Nairobi in the evening,” says Ndurya.
Tamara, a Nairobi based secretary, thinks that some Diaspora returnees have a comical sense of dressing. “They often wear oversize clothes, T-shirts or gowns with shocking colour combinations. This is especially the case with the women,” she says.
Tamara has noted that the men often pierce their ears and walk in a funny style.
She knows of a guy from Nairobi who went abroad for only two years but came back having forgotten Kiswahili and his vernacular. “This man could not even use matatus anymore on account of their road safety record and would hire taxis to all his destinations,” says Tamara. But on the other hand, Tamara observes, many Diaspora men know how to treat women nicely. “They usually open the car doors for women, do the cooking and such things which our men never do,” she says.
But Susan Wangui, a university student, considers many Diaspora returnees obnoxious. “My cousin lives in Europe where she is married to a mzungu”, she says. On their first trip here as a couple, all of Wangui’s people were excited and prepared for their homecoming for months. “The big day came and the couple drove into our ancestral home. As the church women ululated and sang songs, my cousin and her mzungu came out of their hired car and the first thing they did was to embrace and kiss each other in front of all the villagers and invited guests,” says Wangui. Embarrassed, everybody pretended not to notice this.
Wangui says that the mzungu man’s attire, or lack of it, could not possibly be wished away and the congregation soon started discussing him. “He was in a T-shirt and a pair of khaki shorts and his robust body hair showed all over,” says Wangui.
During the homecoming ceremony, the mzungu would hug and kiss his bride so often the people could no longer hide their shock and embarrassment. “It was a fiasco and I blame my cousin squarely for not controlling that man,” says Wangui.
Harris Weru, an Eldoret based social worker, says that there is a strong relationship between the education level of Diaspora returnees and their behaviour when back home. “Of course when an average area boy or girl gets a visa to live and work abroad, this is big news. He or she will behave like a small god upon coming back,” says Weru.
“Such people are often in the mould of the local youths who make a windfall in some seasonal job in our urban centres and go home in flashy cars and other bling objects and to heroes’ welcome,” says Weru.
He adds that as a nation, we are slowly redefining a successful family to include one in which a son or a daughter has made it to a foreign capital.
“Reeling off the names of close kin who live abroad is the hottest status symbol and, consequently, we are putting up with many of these returnees’ nonsense,” says Weru.
Yet he has seen people with awesome academic credentials who have lived abroad for years coming back quietly. “They are often a study in humility,” says Weru.