Monthly Archives: January 2012

DO YOU HAVE A LAIRA?


There is a long-standing joke, about Kenyans who go abroad and come back with an American accent, wherever they go…and that includes India, or in my case, Pakistan.

‘Hey, do you have a laira?’ Shellshocked…I could not believe when these words left my mouth. A ‘laira’ what the hell is a laira? And no, Nigerian currency is naira, not laira, so I was actually talking about a lighter…how embarrassing.

If I stay here longer, my accent, and to some extent my body language, will be thoroughly messed up. Since I came here:

  1. I stand very close to other men…too close actually
  2. I touch them too, (not the girls, cause ideally men and women don’t touch at all). But I touch my boys’ hairs all the time, and that’s cause they are usually fascinated by my bald head and take turns rubbing it and saying how interesting it feels.
  3. I shake my head from side to side, in agreement. Today my workmate came over and asked how work is going, and I shook my head to mean ‘Not good’, he responded ‘ oh, that’s excellent’ and walked away. Shaking your head means you are in agreement or that you understand.
  4. In my first weeks here, everyone used to ask me where I am from. When I said Kenya, they’d say ‘ Oh!Canada!’ and I’d repeat, ‘No,KENYA’ and they’d respond ‘Oh! KINYA!’ So to prevent this much unneeded long intro, whenever anyone asks me where I am from, I say ‘KINYA’.

Back to the crux of the matter, the twang I find coming out of my mouth when I list expect it, case in point, ‘Do you have a laira?’- I used to live with a Philipino dude, he could never get my Kenyanese accent. It got so annoying I wanted to stop talking to him altogether, cause he was always like ‘ Huh? What? I don’t understand what you are saying…’ very frustrating when you are trying to have a fully-fledged conversation. So I began to soften my r’s because this was usually the problem.

Accent check, now the international community of Karachi understands me.

And now to deal with other foreigners and some Pakistani people with amusing English, those that say ‘hairs’ and ‘moustaches’ and who start emails with strange greetings like ‘Respected Sir!’ (Yes, the exclamation mark is part of it, so I guess you should shout it: ‘ RESPECTED SIR!’ and salute) These are the same people that I was working with, and to avoid a very long 10 minute conversation, where they try to understand your questions and urgency, I had to lean close, and ask things like ‘ Status kia hay’ which in Urdu means ‘ What is the status’. I simplified my vocabulary with this lot – after all, who cares about the tense and subject/ object anymore, as long as the intended message is communicated …so I started ask things in this way ‘ What problem you have?’ or ‘Where is vendor’.

Now to really integrate, I had to adapt to local slang, so forget asking ‘What’s the plan’ it now became ‘What’s the scene?’ And to ensure a prompt and enthusiastic answer, texts would be phrased as ‘ Hi dear, what’s the scene.’ PS these are text messages to guys, because dear here is unisex. (The first time a guy texted me and said ‘Hi Dear’ I almost deleted his number)

Then came my housemate from South-Eastern Europe. Him and my Chinese housemate unanimously declared me Thesaurus Jere. So our conversations are frequently interrupted by ‘How you say…’ or ‘ Is this correct?’. Common mistakes in our household:

  1. I am sweat = I am sweaty
  2. Thanks God = Thank God
  3. My teeth are sensible = My teeth are sensitive

Then my Chinese housemate, who has very good English actuarry…yes actuarry it is usuarry good.

And in conclusion. Remember I recently moved jobs, and recently my workmate told me she thought I was from Canada or Australia because apparently I have an American/British accent….whats happening to me… *DRAMARIC SCREAM

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Fucking American Disco


Forget the rwanda sausage stories, let me tell you something bizarre that happened recently.

Have you ever heard a man screaming, and I don’t mean shouting…I mean screaming in anger till the veins in his neck pop out? Have you ever heard the sound of an AK being loaded when you aren’t on a shooting range? 

Someone came to our home and tried to break the front door down. He hit it so hard I could see it give way at the bottom, staying put only because of one lock. If you have ever had thieves break into your home, that’s usually how it sounds (4/5 times experience in Kenya).

The first time he hit the door, I thought it was a friend we were expecting. When he started pounding and slapping and kicking the door, I was still in between thinking why our friend was acting like an asshole versus how I would tell him off when I opened the door. When I heard the screaming, I thought it was cops or something and when I tentatively opened the door a crack, someone in a brown leather jacket made to force their way in, so my Pakistani pal who was over and I pushed it shut.

I have a neighbor. My housemates and I rarely see him- actually at one point he disappeared for months. He re-emerged recently, maybe 3 weeks back, we knew because we heard his door open and shut. Sometimes we hear him come up and down the stairs late in the night with 2 women, one his wife, the other maybe his sister. We listen to them fumble with the padlock on the grill, get into their house and then switch on their TV loud enough for us to hear. We don’t  mind though, since we live in a pretty noisy neighborhood and with the balcony door open, sometimes you hear someone cocking a gun, a motorbike zooming off somewhere, kids laughing and running up and down in or apartment block at midnight, 2 men laughing, and the noisy shutters from the many shops nearby grinding up and down. So once in a while we play loud music too, adding to the general buzz.

My neighbour and I have only spoken once…it was around summer, when you steam in your own sweat so our door was open and I was sitting in the living room without a shirt on. He came up with his family of women: after they entered the house, he came back out and told me ever so politely to please shut the door, because he lives with his family, and its not decent for them to see me that way. Obviously I was really embarrassed, and apologized, and henceforth shut the door. In retrospect, that was very daft of me…anyway, you live you learn.

Now I look outside, through the window we have close to the front door,  and I see my neighbour, he’s the one doing a Sonko on our door. He is wearing a brown leather jacket and a a blue shirt. My Pakistani pal was there with me at the window so I told him who the guy was so he opened the door to calm him down, but they started shouting at each other (cause all attempts my pal made to calm the guy were met with‘ you think this is FUCKING AMERICAN DISCO! This is family building!’) I figured it was about our loud music. 10 minutes later, my friend left, after telling me ‘Wait, I’m coming.’ The neighbor meanwhile, retreated, slamming the door into his house. I went to check on the rest of the people in the house, one had scampered into the tiny balcony where we have a boiler. 1 minute later, my friend, the Pakistani, called me on my phone – he had forgotten his car keys. LOL. I threw them down from the balcony.

That was just a commercial break. The rest wasn’t that funny.

Another 10 minutes later, I was sitting on the balcony, when I heard guns being cocked…, unless you are the one holding the gun among friends or on a shooting range, that sound is not funny. It is always such an eager sound, like the gun has a psychotic personality and is excited about the impending damage it will cause.

 

 I looked down from the balcony, and I see 4 figures, the AKs and a guy in pajamas – the backup. I was scared…scared for my neighbor.

I have a lot of theories…in case you never noticed. And one of them is that you do not intimidate or beat a man in-front of his family…because to them, he is a definition of ‘ A MAN’ and seeing their hero, provider and protector being beaten up will scar them for life.

My neighbor didn’t get a beat down; he did get slapped though…and I watched the fear that 6 men, and 5 visible guns puts in a man…maybe it wasn’t justified, but where power means everything, who knows what he was trying to achieve by trying to break down our door. Why couldn’t he just knock and be decent?

He came back the same night, he rang our bell softly. I went to meet with him, and found a visibly sorry man, now with a red-eye from the slap… he said that he had never had a problem with our music, he himself is a music fan (which explains why he left his door open once when we had a really loud party) and he only hit the roof because he had had a fight with his wife, and lost it when he heard the music…we hugged and he left…after telling us to play music so he will feel forgiven. No, we didn’t give him cake the next morning (like one of my housemates suggested – rolling my eyes- there’s a limit) but a silent power structure was put in place. Too bad it’s necessary.

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