Day 3- Tales from Nairobi: “White, like you and me…”

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Havana- sounds Cuban, but not.

So, I mentioned yesterday that I hadn’t seen any white people really, and that it was odd when I did. I was accused of seeming “slightly irritated” that there were none around. Um… not sure where that assumption came from, especially given the crack about gentrified Brooklyn. But for clarity, it was an observation about the things that I’ve seen, or not. I’m the same chick who wrote 3000 words on Black Jesus changing her life and quoted  Khalil Abdul Muhammad calling white Jesus, “cracker Christ”  on IG. Don’t get me twisted.

Anyway, we didn’t do much today. I didn’t get to sleep until 4AM, because: jet lag. I finally woke up around 1, then proceeded to do almost nothing, unless walking around the cottage trying to take pics of our duo of monkeys count. Oh, and I turned in my assignment for The Root.

Around 7, Cousin G and I headed out to the Westlands. Remember the girl from yesterday who my friends ran into at the airport? She said there was a string of clubs and it was worth checking out. So we did.

We decide on a restie called Havana, which I chose solely because of the name and the assumption that it had margaritas. (They did, but I actually went with Amarula since it’s hard to get in the States.) The place next door, Bacchus (?) was super cute, but empty.

It was pretty light in Havana when we walked in, but filled up quickly (and was rammed out by the time we left at 11). Oh, and there were white people. Like almost all white people dining and drinking, which is weird to see in, you know, a Black country. Oh, and hip-hop, mostly of the Mos Def, Talb Kweli, dead prez, Ghostface variety. It was, in short, heaven.

Anyway, white people gonna white. Me and Cousin G are sitting at the bar talking about nothing and watching a football game (and by football, I mean soccer) and this white guy comes and taps me on the shoulder like a kid would. I turn, he wants to know if me and the woman sitting next to me, who I am sitting with my back toward, are together. Um… no.

Well, in that case, he wants to know if I can scoot my chair two inches to the left and if she can go two inches to the right and he can squeeze a bar stool in there.


I look at him. I look at her. I look at the space, and I say, “Sir. You think it’s a good idea for you to squeeze yourself into this tiny space and you want both of us to move so you can do it?

He nods.

Like I said. White people gonna white.

I scoot over. She scoots over, and he grabs a stool and moves in so he can watch the game at the bar.

Speaking of the bar... these are included the drink selection.

Speaking of the bar… these are included the drink selection.

So me and Cousin G kick it. A guy, whose name I wish I got, overhears us, and comes over to ask us, “Are you American?”

“How did you know?” I ask. Random observation: I’ve stopped using contractions when I speak. People do not use them often, if at all, overseas.

“I have ears,” he says.

Turns out he’s a party promoter and he’s hosting Nairobi’s First Mardi Gras next week. Yes, he knows it’s late, but no one in Nairobi knows that. And he didn’t get the sponsors until late, and nobody in Nairobi parties on a Tuesday. It’s contained from Thursday till Sunday.  Oh, and he did this event in Cape Town last year and it was a hit.

He wants to know if we’ll come and passes G a flyer. The headlining DJ? A friend of a friend I was e-introduced to before the trip, who I’ve been trying to get up with all week. He told me he’s “a musician”. He never mentioned he’s like the MOS of Nairobi. (Though I did think something was up when he mentioned he had to leave this weekend to “work” in Nambia, and when I mentioned wanting to do an event at a local hot spot and he was like, “you want me to put you in contact with the manager?” An hour later the manager was like, “whatever you want. Have it.”)

So since dude is chatty, I have questions, starting with, “Where did all these white people come from?”

Turns out there’s a bunch of ex-pats that live in Nairobi, a bunch of white folk who work for the embassies or UN, and then there are the white Kenyans with colonial family ties and old money and they been here forever.

Then he gives me an alternate spot to host my meet up and a list of places to go. Bet. Then he excuses himself to meet up with some “mates”. Good day.

So our time has come to an end. The bill comes and G and I are trying to figure out what to do about the tab. I mean we covered it, but the tip is in question. The lady from last night said if you leave anything, it’s 50 shillings or 100. There’s no percentage tip here. But that just feels wrong, you know?

So we’re picking money up and putting it back down, and picking it up and putting it down. And then the white guy next to us finally asks, “what are you doing?”

We explain: we are trying to figure out the tip.

So he explains, it’s basically what the girl said last night. Then he asks where we’re from. We actually tell the truth: America not Jamaica. We ask where he is from, Kenya, sorta and Sweden. Either he or his dad was in the Navy, he lived a bunch of places, but he’s here now, so… Then he goes on to explain further that

Kenyans in general don’t tip each other, but… wait for it… “they expect it from white people like you two and me.”

I’m sorry, what?!

I look at Cousin G, like did I just hear what I heard? I’ve been called a lot of things: light skinned, not light skinned, caramel, red,redbone, Black, African-American, Negro, colored (South Africa), Sistah, Sister, Queen, Princess, N-bomb and more, but not never-ever have I been called “white.”

White, eh?

Cousin G, who is my complexion, has no reaction. He’s just listening, so I just turn and look at the man again. He’s kinda dark for a white guy, but he is melanin deficient sitting up in the East African sun everyday. I have no idea what he’s talking about now. “White like you and me…” is looping through my head.

Now I gotta find out how Kenyans define race (as it’s a social based system, it’s subject to the whims of each country). Is there some weird hierarchy, like foreign-with-money (the assumption worldwide is that all Americans of al colors are wealthy) equals “white”. Or was this like the most delusional and literally color-blind white man ever?

I need answers.

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. naijamodel says:

    He said “white like you and me” because you are American. Basically, expats are thought of as wealthy, or at least having a greater disposable income than the average local. Same for Americans, Canadians, British folks etc (you get the drift). You get better service than locals usually…and the expectation is that you spend those dollars (because you are rich). Africans aren’t shy about class / social stratification. Race? Depends on where you are, but usually class will trump.

  2. Chichi says:

    The former. When I lived in East Africa, I (a black american woman) was constantly referred to as “mzungu” which in swahili means ” white foreigner/traveler”. I couldn’t understand why even though I had black skin like everyone else, I was still lumped into the mzungu category. Well, I was repeatedly told that as an American, everyone across the world thinks we have money.

  3. Sandra says:

    Hi Demetria !

    Unfortunately, this is how the world works. When you come from a very wealthy country and you go to a poor one, people will automatically think that you have money.

    I am a western African woman born and raised in Paris and when I go to Western Africa, people over there call me white girl because I don’t have the African accent, I don’ act like them ( whatever that means ).

    The same goes for Asian people who are born in a western country and then go to Asia, they will be treated differently from the locals.

    It’s a very sad, ignorant world we live in !!

  4. Quaysa B says:

    This is interesting! I had heard before, that they looked at all of us Americans as white over there and in Ghana as well. The term is ‘Oburoni’ and is also spelled ‘obroni’ and I’ve even seen it spelled ‘abruni’. It literally means ‘wealthy white person’ or ‘wealthy white man’ but it’s used to refer to all Americans as well as actual white people.

    Interesting that you experienced that in Nairobi, too. I can’t wait to read more after you do more investigating! Keep enjoying yourself, B, and again stay safe. : D

  5. Quaysa B says:

    Lol, oh and I bet my money that the white guy absolutely knew that but he just wanted to shock you guys’ socks off with it on the lowski.

  6. Clara says:

    So he lied. I am Kenyan,I tip,my friends tip and well we tip. I do 10 to 15%

    Something to note about expats. The only black people they hang out with are the ones who work for them so their views are very skewed.

    There is a social schism that exists. Educated Kenyans can only take so much the do gooders who actually are here to get into grad school. Expats can only take so many educated black people showing them up so here we are.

  7. kinky hippie says:

    well this was a fascinating read…..we do actually tip at least i do when i eat or go out but it is dependent on the service i get. this may seem ‘wrong’ to some but i believe if the service is good (which it is at least for me) then i tip….

    and yes there are common misconceptions that some Kenyans may have on ‘white’ people but then again i think that’s up to the individual and shouldn’t be lumped up a Kenyan thing.

    while i have not had the privilege of actually hanging out with the expats or the white people in Kenya, i do know they have this ignorant idea that all Kenyans, especially women, are after them for their money and to me that is simply ridiculous. why cant they save that assumption for after they get to know someone and not dismiss them off of this premise? and who said that i as a Kenyan woman, cannot afford to take care of myself? that i have to go looking for a white man to do that for me? i have an education i make a living so pardon me if i think that that’s just pride in itself!

    we aren’t all alike and maybe as human beings in general we should all try and give one another the benefit of the doubt….i could go on and on lol but i’ll save that for another day


  8. Lisa says:

    I am Kenyan residing in the US’and I do visit every couple of years. Per my experience Kenya has unspoken caste system, depending on where you are from ( local or foreign, where you live, how you speak, and so on) you get exceptional treatment and mostly first class treatment because they expect good tips. Secondly, they will judge you real quick by what you are wearing, artificial stuff, they are very good at weeding out deep pockets from ‘pretend’ deep pockets. I personally feel like as a foreigner coming to visit Kenya, you are bound to have an exceptional time because of the assumption you have money. Even though you are black, you get a pass on so many things that otherwise a regular Kenyan wouldn’t because you are American. I feel as much as tourism in Kenya is amazing, this wonderful experience has created a sense of self -hate where they will look down on what their fellow Kenyan can do for them and focus on the ‘mzungu’ who in most cases talks down to them and treat them so bad.

    Just my two cents . Enjoy your trip!

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