Mantalk: How are Kenyan women as compared to Tanzanian ones?


While Kigoma is a lover’s island, Nairobi is a gangster’s paradise.

Photo credit: Pexels

What you need to know:

  • Unlike our Tanzanian sisters, he said, Kenyans “wanakupeleka mbio.” His words.
  • Everything is a fight.

Something embarrassing happened to me recently. I’ll tell you but promise not to laugh. Okay? Okay. So, I am in Kigoma, Tanzania. You know, I am a Rastafarian Anglican so I only pack enough underwear for a week’s trip. Three shirts because who covers an Adonis? I have enough room in my suitcase left for my ego, which is gigantic. Anyway, when I got here, I discovered I only carried a pair of shoes—the ones on my feet.

I could hear someone’s daughter’s voice in my head – “This is why you need to marry me!” but I don’t see how marriage and shoes are connected. Anyway, I ask the nearest Tanzanian in Nyerere-esque Swahili: “Nitapata Bata wapi?”

Of course, everyone knows Bata, the footwear shop, right? Wrong. He points me to a building that does not look like it has Bata. I think, you know jirani is not good with the queen’s language.

I ask the man next to the building, “Bata iko wapi?” He tells me, “Go inside.” I kid you not, when I enter, it’s a club. Apparently, in Tanzania “bata” means sherehe. So, when I asked around for Bata, they thought I was looking for a club. As if that’s all I ever do. I mean it is, but still.

I am not one to question the ancestors so I indeed sat down in that Bata. Si bata ni bata ama? A friend, Brayson, from Arusha, later joined and we got talking. We were having beer at the right place and at the right price. That means the more he irrigated his throat, the more fertile it became.

I listened to him talk. I didn’t want him to stop. He spoke like his tongue grew words, and he was in a hurry to set them free.

When we reached Nirvana, that zen-like state in which monks climb mountains to go and meditate as if they don’t know that all they need is ABV 5 per cent and above, he finally opened up — Brayson, not the monk. Men of course do not gossip.

We “open up.” We discuss ideas over a moja mbili. We talk sharas, which is what a conman selling soil in Laikipia calls biashara. And he told me stories. Stories of how when he came to Kenya, the girls were so aggressive, that they could smell the haves and the have-nots and the have-littles, that in Tanzania they are used to buying beers in buckets, and when they replicated that in Kenya, everyone thought their table was the VIP one.

Unlike our Tanzanian sisters, he said, Kenyans “wanakupeleka mbio.” His words. Everything is a fight. “Unakanyaga pedal, yeye anaweka gear.” I wanted to know what part he would play in strengthening jumuiya ya Afrika Mashariki and whether he would consider marrying a Kenyan and he insisted on having one more beer before answering that.

No, he said. Kenyans are combative, not submissive. “Wamenizidi maarifa,” and then came the indictment: Kenyan girls are good to have fun with, not good enough to marry.

And I wanted to tell him that women are to be observed not understood, but I knew better. Just like I know that there is truth to his words. Socrates maintained that a man who lies to himself has an enemy living within.

The truth is, a majority of Kenyan women are masculine in nature. While Kigoma is a lover’s island, Nairobi is a gangster’s paradise, the reason why the phrase “Love is a battlefield” was invented. We are all wet dreams of Nairobi’s fantasies. It’s Bethlehem with a dirty mind, Jerusalem with a lascivious smile.

Of course, maybe this all could be that jirani is putting on a show for me. That wametoa “sahani za wageni” and are hoodwinking me. Like Jesse parading all his sons before the prophet Samuel only for Samuel to ask, “Are these all your sons?” Of course, they weren’t all his sons, and the son that Jesse hid ended up becoming the king. Maybe jirani is doing the same.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say they are not. You see, floating there on Lake Tanganyika, it felt as if the spirit of discernment had descended on me like a dove, and the word was clear: Kenyans are naturally predisposed to aggressiveness.

We come from a scarcity mindset and have had to fight our way through—and crucially for—everything. That’s why in business we undercut each other, in families we pit against each other and in love and relationships, it’s a power play.

Love is a brutal, deadly game, but a game, the best there is. And men love games. Relationships are the fields in which these games play out. We grew up listening to wataalam on radio who would tell us that utamu wa ndoa ni kelele za bibi.

We internalised that gobsmack, until the point where you find a submissive woman, is seen as a weakness. Get me clearly, I do not mean submissive in the sense that one is trampled upon or does not have dreams or lives to please the other. Contrary. Submissive in the sense that all relationships exist on a power dynamic, a trade-off between power and influence—while the man holds the power, the woman has more influence.

On one of those Sundays that my mother promised me chapos in exchange for accompanying her to church, the pastor was talking about “helpers.” The verse resonated with me because we have made the term ‘helper’ look weak when in essence nothing can be further from the truth. A helper should be stronger than the one they are helping. When the man calls a woman a helper, in essence, he understands that indeed, the woman is stronger. But a man can't learn what he thinks he already knows.

Kwa jirani kwema. The grass is always greener on the other side. Maybe. But our people say he who has not travelled thinks his mother is the best cook. When you experience other cultures, you get a different perspective.

Sometimes you appreciate what you have back home. Sometimes, you see the wood for the trees. I shake my head at my younger self now, as we often do. Then again, a man can't learn what he thinks he already knows.

And when the old men in the village tell you they want to find wives for you young men in the city, you say ni mambo ya zamani hiyo. You are dot com. They know that you will eventually find out. But isn’t it impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows?

PS: I never got to Bata. Didn’t our ancestors walk barefoot anyway? Did they die?