Village Christmas becomes a luxury
In a few weeks, Mama Ngina Drive in Mombasa will be flooded with humanity, mostly from Nairobi.
Naivasha, too, will not be spared the annual migration of city dwellers into the small town by the lake, retreating with their families and friends for Christmas.
Some people will opt to remain in the city and visit Uhuru Park and other places. Others will gather as families in one of their homes within the city.
The best Christmases I ever had were when I was a girl, as we would visit the village.
The excitement about eating chapati, drinking soda and getting a new dress similar to my sister’s was out of this world.
Village was fun. I looked forward to meeting my grandparents and extended family members.
We had lots of happy conversations and getting clarity on who was who on the family tree.
The only downside of village Christmas was the pit latrine, the mud house, bathing in the river and having to stay in the dark because electricity was only for the rich.
Over the years, however, Christmas has come to mean different things to me.
I realise dad used spent a lot of money taking us to the village. Relatives were always visiting; we could not have a meal without a relative or two who would just be “passing by” and decided to greet us.
These days, I cringe when I have to go home for Christmas. I love my mum, aunties, uncles and my cousins.
I love my in-laws and always looks forward to meeting them over Christmas.
But there is a problem. It is expensive. No wonder, Nairobians would rather drive to Naivasha or Mombasa than travel to the village.
Going to the village means budgeting well. You must fuel your car or buy bus tickets. Then you factor in the meals for the days you will be there.
“In Nairobi, I only have to feed my family of four, including the nanny. This is affordable,” says Peter Odhiambo.
“When I go to the village, cousins, aunts, uncles and neighbours spend the better part of their days at my place.”
Mr Odhiambo prefers sending money to his parents for Christmas than travel home.
He admits that going to the village with one’s family can be a great experience, a chance to reconnect with relatives yet an expensive affair.
“It’s a opportunity to escape the hustles and bustles of city life – traffic jams, water rationing and the concrete jungle our lives are confided in, but how many people can afford it?” Mr Odhiambo asks.
A number of people go to the village for Christmas just to appease their parents, but the thought of coming back to the city dead broke haunts them for long.
“The much anticipated rest in the village never happens because one hardly has time to just sit under a tree and unwind while listening to the soothing sound of birds,” Ms Perry Nabongo says.
Despite the misgivings, she travels to the village every Christmas. Ms Nabongo ensures she has loose change of Sh50 notes to distribute to relatives who keep asking for “Christmas”.
When Ms Nabongo does her Christmas shopping, she factors in packets of 1kg sugar, wheat flour and bar soap to distribute to the extended family members, who definitely expect it.
And even as she does that, she is well aware that there will be no time her family will have a meal by themselves.
“By the time I wake up in the morning, there is always a relative or two already waiting in the living room and each has a problem that needs to be solved,” she says.
The chances of spending more are even higher if you drive home.
Villagers assume you are wealthy. How do you convince them that you are broke when you work in the city and drive?
Low-income urban dwellers are not spared either. The villagers do not care whether it took you a year to save for that trip.
The moment your car is spotted at the shopping centre, whispers of your arrival do rounds. Then the visitors and their requests start arriving.
There will be a funeral you need to contribute to, a poor child’s school fees and a church harambee in which you are to be the guest of honour.