10 Letters from Kibera

Letter 7

Christmas in Kibera

“The security guards at the malls will stop us from going in; they can tell that we are from the slums and think that our dirty looking clothes will put off genuine shoppers.

“Some rude guards will even ask us to show them the money that we intend to spend at the mall. It is does not dampen our spirits, after all it is Christmas!”

In Kibera, we start to prepare for Christmas early, the whole year we look forward to this time of year. Money is saved and hidden away for the Christmas celebrations. We start by cleaning our houses; most of them are made of mud (earth) and wattle and we do not want our house looking tired over Christmas, so we gather with our mothers and plaster wet red soil on the walls to give them a facelift. We draw flowers on the walls and write Christmas messages; we also write messages to welcome visitors to our houses. It is a competition; everyone wants their house to be the talk of the hood, and for those passing by to marvel at how beautiful the house is. It is nice to find a crowd gathered outside your house discussing the beauty of your walls.

After the hard work is done it is already mid-December, the Christmas mood has taken over; this is when we visit the nearby malls to stare at shops, the decorations and lighting at these malls is heavenly; it is so beautiful, we stare for hours. We at times go into the malls to stare at all the beautiful clothes; but if we are not in nice looking clothes, the security guards at the malls will stop us from going in; they can tell that we are from the slums and think that our dirty looking clothes will put off genuine shoppers; some rude guards will even ask us to show them the money that we intend to spend at the mall. It is does not dampen our spirits after all it is Christmas!

Full day celebrations start on 24th December, we rise up early and start to sing. We are excited; we have songs for waking each other up (that is the beauty of living in dense spaces). Teens waking up in one house will sing out loud and if the teens in the neighbouring house are awake they will answer back in song, and it catches on to the next house. You could have twenty households singing in a perfectly coordinated manner. Would you call this a mass choir or an orchestra! It is beautiful, after breakfast we the young people move together to the nearby Church; do not mind that some of us are Muslim and will be wearing our bui buis (the female Muslim holy dress) to the Church, no one notices, it is Christmas after all!

We practice song and dance and after that move from house to house singing Christmas songs; if anyone is home and opens their door and listens to our songs, they must give us a gift, if the gift is large then we might perform several numbers for the generous neighbour.

At midnight we return to Church, mass is held and we perform a play about the birth of Jesus. You will be amazed at the talent in our hood. We act so well and at times move the audience to tears! There is no sleeping on 24th December night, we will sing and dance all night, after all it is Christmas! Christmas day comes; we are still too sleepy and tired but will now wear our new clothes and step out. We also try new hairstyles, our hair may be kinky and hard to manage but we know the tricks. A hot comb will straighten it all out and you only need a few old newspapers to curl it up beautifully. Christmas for us young ladies is about fashion, no one mentions about Jesus being born. The main objective for us is to impress our friends with our new clothes and hairdos and to possibly get a nice boyfriend at the end of the day.

You are well rewarded when you step outside your house and you get nice comments from your girlfriends and a few stares from boys. Christmas is also about eating nice food too. Chapati (a thick pan cake) is a must have for all. There is no Christmas without Chapati, every Kenyan knows this! A family may be having seriously financial problems but they will still buy wheat flour and oil and provide Chapati for its members on Christmas day. It would be a very sad Christmas if Chapati was missing from the menu.

Another thing that must happen, is that you must invite people into your house to share your food; there is no way a family will cook just enough for themselves. We, young people move from house to house having a taste of what has been cooked. Mothers will stand on their door way and call out to young people passing by to go into the house and have a taste of her great cooking. You cannot refuse such an offer and it does not matter that within the last few hours you have been invited into ten other houses and had a taste of ten meals. You will be nice and accept the food, you will eat everything on your plate (you do not want to offend the generous neighbour), and after the meal you must thank the host and compliment the Mother of the house on her great cooking. After every meal you will be served a cup of tea, this one is usually a painful dessert. Milk is expensive in the slums and the tea usually does not taste too good. Some kids have been heard to say that it tastes like dirty water or donkey pee!

At the end of Christmas day, your stomach is so full and you are so tired all you want to do is lie down. This works very well for our parents, it is time to pull out their beers and the traditional brews; the men will sit together in a group (on the open corridor) and chat to the small hours of the morning, though honestly they do more drinking than talking. The women in our area take this time to enjoy each others company; they will sit a distance from the men, if the men feel generous they might pass some beers to the women. But even if there is no beer; the women will enjoy themselves, they tell stories and laugh their heads off. This really annoys the men! But it is Christmas and everyone is merry! Christians and Muslims together ! Merry Christmas good people and have a happy new year!