Small-Town Syndrome

I think it’s already apparent from quite a number of earlier posts where exactly in this beleaguered country of ours I dwell. It’s a jolly old town to be in; sleepy, comatose even, if I didn’t know better.

That small township where almost everyone knows the other, the Mama Mboga knows the names of all the children in your family, sometimes even the pets (and the past ones too if they happened to die). A random town where the random childhood tour of the market ends up in a rendezvous with the lady who in her own words “was the very first to wash you”. That scarily makes one feel violated. Like the person was holding a needle of those words menacingly threatening to burst the bubble of confidence that only a select few have seen your nakedness. I’ve always wondered how exactly I was ever expected to receive such news:

Oh wow, pleasure to meet you. I bet you were simply amazed at my boyish good looks by then…” *insert appropriate pose here*

How cold was the water? Coz I’ve been having these weird dreams since childhood where I picture myself surrounded by icebergs”

Did you overheat that water? Coz the right side of my head always feels awkwardly light when I’m in the hot shower…or trying to think…like now. Ummmh, who are you again?”

Na ni wewe pia ulininyoa wa kwanza? Coz kuna section fulani hapa nywele imekataa kumeanashindwa ni ujanja gani nimefanyiwa hapa!”

Ah well, I lived for my childhood. It was fun…no wait that’s a lie. I know a couple of people have read that and wanted to pull the carpet from under my feet. So let me be honest. My childhood was weird (details shall follow in another post).

There’s something refreshing about still being able to retrace half of your primary school classmates, though the extra baggage and stories they carry with them about your less sophisticated days can be one’s downfall. Some just wanna pay back for some unsettled scores, vendettas whatnot. Conversely, one shall be regularly enough unfortunate to cross paths with those former colleagues who remember EVERYTHING about your murky childhood past, even all your names, and nicknames, and occasional class positions! And yet, you can’t even recall their face, let alone their name. So one is reduced to that awkward moment where you’re supposed to knowingly nod your head concurring with all they say, secretly being amazed at their brilliant memory or possible untapped visual creativity in creating such awkward scenarios that you have zero recollection of.

Okay, I don’t know how I got there. I meant to focus on the minute, quirky yet enticing aspects of this sleepy hollow. So where do I begin…?

Small towns have a way of creeping into their residents’ minds and settling in there, parasitic almost…no, symbiotic. They make you love the place yet they make sure you never age too fast. They keep one’s memories intact. They keep life pacing forth at a bearable pace, never breathlessly rushed like the city is. I call it the small town syndrome. I know guys in even smaller towns (and other settlements not classified as towns) will relate with this. Maybe it’s more escalated in some places, almost claustrophobic. But I have always thought that the below (and the one’s above…I’m disorganized like that) are hallmarks of those sometimes ignored details of small town life.

You all know that Nairobi-style of crossing roads? Forget that nonsense about looking left right and right and above for crashing choppers. That quick look to the right, followed by a Bolt-like dash to the middle of the road, stop in the mid like that deer caught in the headlights, pause then make another rush. Yeah, that one, though it always varies with human and vehicular traffic…and rain.

Well, small-town-syndrome has that inverse effect on you. You almost always need a refresher course in road-crossing when you get back to these zones. Try dashing across the road like that no-one will judge you, NO-ONE! But, my friend, the awkward feeling you get in your mind for having left such a wide berth between you and the oncoming car, you’ll even wish it came closer.

In related news, traffic jams are news. I don’t just mean news, I mean news news! Happens like once a year, on only one street, and usually involves a maximum of 25 cars. To be specific, this only happens around February, that’s when you understand the meaning of Scouting Movement…or lack of it thereof. Truth be told, until a certain point in my teenage life, I always thought traffic lights were meant for use by humans, because, believe me, if you walk along Nyeri’s one and only rudimentary Thika Highway aka Gakere Road, you will understand the need for human traffic lights.

Gakere Road..maybe Tom Mboya Street would suit it better.

And you know the way men sometimes (emphasis) dress to impress? That’s why I love it here…who the heck are you trying to impress? The primary school crush who turned you down and now looks like her midlife crisis attacked her features almost two decades early? Or the girl in church whose mum is in the Women’s Guild leadership, alongside your own…or the high school leaver, still naïve and hot-headed and overflowing with misplaced xaxa’s and xemar’s? So believe me, when you pick up that unpressed t-shirt or subtly stained jeans, or slightly battered shoes, there’s always that self-vindicating voice in your head saying, “Kwani unaenda kuimpress nani? Attendant wa cyber?”

Too bad that in this miniscule settlement, you decide to put on the same clothes you wore yesterday claiming that you didn’t meet anyone you know so no-one will realize, (C’mon, some of these things just happen. Don’t judge.) everyone, from the matatu conductor to your neighbour’s dog notices! Those judging glances you get, rocks will look for you to make a hiding place for you out of pity.

But all in all, I sometimes love this place. Peace and quiet, birds in the air, crisp, clean breeze, and fresh mountain water, I always say I will build my holiday home back here, with a balcony facing Mt. Kenya and the sunrise. I had even earmarked the land I would target. Shock on me, the fella owning it put up a sale sign last week. So much for long-term planning. Lakini shamba tutapata, watuuzie ama wasiuze!

Wait! That almost sounds like a land-grabbers’ war-cry…. This should not be used against me in my future pursuits; I’m an honest man. Well, at least mostly.



2 thoughts on “Small-Town Syndrome

  1. I grew up next door in Karatina and I totally relate! A brisk walk to the market would lead me past my kindergaten teacher, the bitchy prefect from Class One, my Class Four crush (yikes!)…


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