The Introvert (Or Something Like It) In Big, Bold, Happening Nairobi

Photo Credit: Mutua Matheka

If you told some people that I’m an introvert, they would laugh in your face, yet if you told others, they’d just look at you blankly and ask, “But what did you think she was?”

I was always a silent child, preferring to be by myself or with familiar faces, informing the house help when I would strictly not be seeing any of my fellow children in the estate. I would happily lock myself up in what we called the computer room at the time, either playing games or writing incredibly unrealistic stories…all day, giddy with joy. I would do this for sometimes months at a time, not going out of the house at all except for school and church; just me, some food and the computer, but then sometimes would miss my friends, go out, and playing a thrilling game of Chocolate Box, or race my friends around the estate. Then I would withdraw again, and so on.

But people are amazingly impatient with the silent. I distinctly remember feeling the pressure on me to say something; something funny, something adorable. But I couldn’t, and especially not on demand. When you’re silent, people decide you’re rude, proud, badly raised. And so I started talking, and people seemed impressed; the child was talking. And so I continued talking. It became like acting, a game of sorts, it was like I could design this big, exciting personality, get into it, do whatever I want in this frame of mind, make people happy. It worked. I faked it til I made it and so there is this quite natural uber confident, easy to talk to side of me, and I am thankful for it because I am pretty charming nowadays. J It’s like a little high I get on—but it only lasts for so long, and then I need to withdraw from people, and quick.

But look, Nairobi is this super high-energy, super interactive, super bustling, super sizzling type of place. It’s urban and fresh and almost untouchably cool. There’s always something exciting—and by exciting I mean, this sort of agreed upon, mutually understood mass-excitement—happening. It’s like in the olden days where there were the ‘talking drums’; I sometimes feel like there are invisible talking drums in Nairobi. People understand the drums, and respond accordingly. There’s a way this society moves—and it’s fascinating—altogether, in a sort of beat. There’s new lingo, there’s new music, there’re new topics, all the time and they always seem to be going around. But as I grow ‘older’, I find myself slipping back into that eight-year-old girl, sort of withdrawn, but happy, even though this means that I end up missing out on a lot of what is usual, prevalent; and I am 9 times out of 10 the one who does not get the joke or the song reference. I don’t mean I don’t interact with people or I’ve suddenly become shy or rejected society but I mean I’m sort of easing back into my natural centre; I don’t need much to make me happy; I can easily spend my week at home, just reading and writing and cooking and learning new things and I am so full with happiness—especially with this April weather here, all nice and chilly; sometimes rainy. I tell you the best feeling is waking up to rain and knowing I’m going to just stay in and write and read and cook and watch a stupid show. But just outside my doorstep, Nairobi is happening.

The other day I got an invite from a friend of mine for her birthday party. Dress code: ‘Grown and Sexy.’ Now I know this isn’t a novel idea really, much less a serious marker of a hyper-exciting society but I just had never been confronted by it in the form of a friend’s birthday invite, meaning something I would probably attend, and it was a friend I quite like. I wish I could tell you my first thought but I don’t remember because there was so much, and with a touch of hyperventilation. I really began to wonder, now, how does one consciously look grown and sexy? And I also wondered, how am I supposed to stand there and look at this other person looking at me, this person knowing full-well that I am standing before them trying to look grown and sexy? But you see, this, outside my doorstep, could be a very exciting concept, and this is the least of my problems in big, bold, happening Nairobi.

I feel like in a sense I don’t hear Nairobi’s invisible talking drums. I sometimes wonder if, at the time I am 70, I will regret ‘wasting’ my youth. At this point I am utterly satisfied, in fact, thrilled, because I am quite easily pleased, at my life. I am happy.

I do get out though, let it be known. An evening at the Goethe Institut, or at the Kwani? Gardens for some nice, chill event or at a restaurant with a few friends—that’s as sexy as it gets for me. Things like that are still very Nairobi and for me, rebut the single story of Nairobi that might otherwise arise. So even if the sort of overarching theme of Nairobi is, as I said before, this super sizzling fantastic high-energy place, there are very cool, more chill (but fully sizzling and fantastic in their own right) undercurrents—or less often seen currents (though catching up, I think), and the very wonderful thing about them is they are so equally (yet, weirdly, still, not truly equally) a part of Nairobi’s cultural fabric that there is a fairy-tale ending to this little rant of mine; Nairobi really does, if one looks keenly, have space for all—or most—kinds of people. We’re a work in progress, of course. 

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