My father had limited hospitality, and I am afraid I have inherited the same trait.
Back in the day when people used to go upcountry with little shopping and come back to Nairobi with sacks of grain and a hen, Nairobi was seen as a holiday destination by upcountry folk.
Strange, how times change. Now, if you travel to your rural home, you have to break a thousand shillings into fifties because everyone asks you for ‘sugar’ and the farms are not producing enough grain because all the young and knowledgeable people are in the cities.
Anyway, because Nairobi was a holiday destination, upcountry folk had a habit of popping up unannounced and say ‘I was just coming to see my people’ and then proceed to stay on for months.
My father would have none of that. He would welcome you, but before going to bed, he would demand to know the duration of your stay. I never understood it, until I got my own place and discovered that when you make plans for yourself and then someone imposes themselves into your space, you cannot be very hospitable.
Yesterday, I heard an old Jua Cali song Nonini featured in that reminded me of the suffering my friends and I have gone through at the hands of ill-behaved guests:
Si ni wageni wale ukituuliza ka tunataka chai
Si ni wageni wale hujibu ndio, na mkate na mayai
Si ni wageni wale tukishika remote ma-channel tunazichokora
Si ni wageni wale huchafua choo saa zote tukinyora
Si ni wageni wale hukuja kwenyu siku za bash pekee
Si ni wageni wale hatukujangi kwenu ile siku mmepika sembe
To summarise, here are categories of visitors I have encountered:
These are the relatives that come into your house for weeks and behave like they are in a hotel and will not lift a single finger.
If it’s the first day of your visit, it is excusable to put your feet up and wait to be served. But the longer you stay in someone’s house, the more you need to make yourself useful.
If the host cooks, offer to do the dishes. If the house is dirty, offer to clean it. After all, you are part of what created the mess. You cannot stay in someone’s house for a month and not ease their lives. Don’t be a burden.
I had a friend who hosted a lady for a week and she would not even get her own glass of water. He had to do it. When he suggested that he is tired of doing everything for her, she said, “But I give you good company and make you laugh?”
When has laughter washed the dishes?
These ones have mastered your food routine, if you keep one.
They know what time you make your lunch, what time evening tea will be ready, and what time you eat supper. And they will be in your house right on time.
I had a friend that used to attend the same church I did. After the service, I would say my goodbyes and head home. Then, as soon as lunch was ready, I would hear a very loud ‘Hodi hapa?’ at the door. That guy used to drain my energy.
One time, I had made a very tiny ugali, just enough for one, and was about to start eating when he magically appeared.
Despite the size of ugali, he proceeded to wash his hands and invite himself to the meal. I have never forgiven him.
These are a strange breed. I once visited a sick friend and bought her some food and drinks. After I left, another friend visited and asked to be given the drinks to take home.
How do you snatch food from the mouth of a sick person? The last time I saw that behaviour was in campus, where hungry friends would visit and help themselves to whatever you had in the room without your permission.
They even take your clothes and say you will buy others.
“That’s a nice T.V. For how much did you buy it?”
These are the type of people who want to know the price of everything you have and then in dramatic shock, say “Eh! You were conned, my friend. I know a place where you can get this for half the price.”
Okay, go and get it for yourself then, Auditor. Why would the prices of someone else’s things concern you? Are you visiting to do a lifestyle audit?
Closely related to the Auditor is the Inspector, who sees and comments on the smallest of things. The ceiling has dust. The bathroom smells of water. There is a bread crumb on the balcony. The water is two degrees above room temperature. Petty people who find need to find fault with everything.
A house is not a lab that has to be spotless. As long as the house is habitable, sit down and enjoy the hospitality of your host.
If you have not been terrorized in your house, thank your stars. First time I met a Stinker, an old friend had come to see my new place. He removed his shoes and I got hallucinations.
I don’t know how long those socks had stayed on his feet, but that stench was powerful. Problem is, he was so used to it he didn’t notice. The second time was when another friend had come to pick some documents and asked to use the washroom. And proceeded to fumigate the house. I know this can happen to anyone, but guys, that is why the air freshener was created.
These days, I hardly host. Nairobi has made me paranoid. And when I visit, I make sure my presence is not a source of discomfort to my host. As should be.