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How the travel bug used to grip parents at Christmas

December used to be a month of great expectations. That was way back in the day, before Nairobi became a city of gated communities with rough perimeter walls topped off with broken bottles.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, when city estates had wide, open playing fields and no gates to ward off adventurous children, the town would lose virtually all of its proud “born-towns” to the feverish travel bug that gripped their parents as soon as schools closed.

There would be the loud assembly of relatives in the ancestral home and the day-long feasts on traditional vegetables, goat meat, dried fish, chicken and rice.

LONGED FOR CHAPATIS

Their children longed for chapatis and stared at the kunde, chinsaga, terere and murende with something close to fright!

Traditional vegetables had not made their way to the city with the abundance that we see today. Sukuma wiki and cabbage were the norm and so going to the village to be accosted by unfamiliar and bitter vegetable was part of the drama that they called Christmas.

For those who remained in the city, great expectations included VoK television’s “Weekend Movie”. Every year one hoped VoK would screen Scrooge, that 1951 adaptation of Charles Dicken’s novel, A Christmas Carol.

Few could afford to watch it at the cinemas and the family treat to the Bellevue drive-in cinema off Mombasa Road or the one on Thika Road was reserved for the time someone in the family passed CPE with “flying colours”.

By mid December, the pain of end term reports had retreated into distant memory and the challenges of repeating or going to a new class were too far off in January to pre-occupy anyone.

CHRISTMAS CLOTHES

And so the estates teemed with rowdy games — kati, blada, tapo, mchuz kaffir, futa, philipino, 7 stones and a whole bunch of innovations that had no names.

Everyone worried about getting “Christmas clothes”. This was an annual ritual that could send a child into self-imposed banishment away from the playing fields. How could you bear to be the child whose parents had failed to buy new clothes for Christmas?

The shops cashed in on these expectations with huge SALE signs to announce the fashion of the year — bell-bottom trousers, platform shoes, wedges, wet-look/psychedelic shirts in bright polyester colours, crimplene trousers, elephant trousers, halter necks, maxis, midis, gypsy skirts aka peasant skirts to be worn with cheesecloth tops with balloon sleeves and the plastic hair-band called “Love made in Tokyo” to go with the drop-waist dress.

Corn artists are increasingly targeting shopping malls. PHOTO| FILE
Shoppers flock Thika Road Mall on the Christmas Eve of December, 2013.

And if we were lucky, we would get the additional treat of being taken to town to fit the fashion at shops with enticing names like Pop-in, Njiri’s, Eastend, and Deacons.

For those who were driven to the village in their parents’ cars, the twists and turns of those inordinately long journeys has been beautifully captured in Sitawa Namwalie’s hilarious poem We Leave our House to go Home!

It involved several punctures. How those Volkswagen Beetles carried six children and their parents, as well as a carton filled with Kimbo, sugar, rice and cocoa boggles the mind. The radio cassette played Skeeter Davis, Jim Reeves and Charley Pride over and over again.

The scenes at Machakos bus-stop were as chaotic then as they are today! There was similar shoving, haggling and mandazi and sambusas.