“And so, my friends,” came the sultry voice of the radio DJ, “that is the question for right now. Do you need to have money to find love? Me, I don’t think so-”
“Ah, that is because you are a woman!” interrupted her male co-host, speaking in a TV preacher-type yell. “But a man knows, a woman will not love a man with no money!”
“We want to know what you think, so call in and let us know. We will be right back.”
One of the more cliché questions asked of a group, but I found myself eagerly awaiting the listeners’ response. Looking out the window, I admired a series of banana peel etchings hanging next to several brightly colored cotton dresses and above a dozen or so individual rolls of greenish toilet paper.
“Ah, me, I am so tired! You know when you are so tired, you feel like you could just fall asleep right away?” I looked over at Irene and nodded in agreement. Missing two nights of sleep was catching up with me and I was currently running on fumes.
I don’t understand how to drive in Nairobi, but in all of my time here, I’ve not once been in an accident. No traffic lights, even at the busiest intersections, and large roundabouts causing, in my mind, more confusion, headache and potential accidents than assistance. But this is how Nairobi drivers do it, and while I don’t see myself attempting this madness anytime soon, I love being a passenger and admiring the maneuvers. I imagined Irene’s reaction to Chicago traffic with its universally followed traffic signals and rules of the road. “Ngai!”
One more ad spot, this one for Wheatabix, and the radio hosts began to take calls. One timid voice after another, looking to share their opinions for a couple of seconds of radio fame.
“No, I don’t think so.” She sounded as if she were whispering into the phone.
“No, why not?” Prompted the female DJ.
“Um… I don’t think that you have to have money because having so much money can cause many problems in your relationship.”
“Mo’ money, mo’ problems!” Laughed the preacher DJ. “Who is next, please, let us have a man’s view.”
“When I had no money I had no love. Now I have some money and I am in love.” The male caller reported, as if reading carefully from a script.
“You see!” Shouted the preacher, “Women only want a man with money! It is true, I tell you!”
I gazed again out the window, at Nairobi’s working class making their way home amidst the traffic. Smartly dressed men and women walking along side the road, never looking tired or dirty despite the red dust billowing around their legs and feet. Matatus filled to the brim, neon lights casting eerie shadows on the passengers’ faces and bass vibrating violently through the vehicle. If the streets are the cardiovascular system, then matatus are the heartbeat of Nairobi traffic.
“If you love someone, you do not care about their money,” another female caller, this one more confident. “They can have a lot of money or no money at all, but if you’re in love then you are both very, very rich!”
“You see,” the female DJ pointed out to her co-host, “beautifully said. I agree!” The calls continued, exclusively split along the gender line, each DJ collecting team members and agreeing with their own sex. Finally the station cut to a song.
I want to be a billionaire, so frickin bad…”
Peddlers meandered in and out of halted cars, selling everything from cashews to hammers to soccer balls (excuse me, I mean footballs). They lingered a little bit longer at the car with the mzungu in the front seat.
“Scuzi, scuzi, ciao bella!” One stops and waves at me, holding up sunglasses and an inflatable beach ball.
Irene laughs as she rolls up the window, “you know, he thought you were from Italy. Imagine! ‘Ciao!’” She continued to laugh in her infectious way, “Tsk, tsk, tsk, ‘ciao’!”
Smiling, I take a mental snapshot of this moment. The honking, the matatu drivers yelling out their destinations, the music blaring from every window, each car listening to a different station. All of this coupled with Irene’s unique laugh, the sporadic pop of roasting corn and the far off cries of birds. I look from the red earth to the bright pink and purple flowers hanging from the trees to the infinite blue sky against the bright green Safaricom billboards and kiosks. Diesel fuel blends naturally with burning garbage and charcoal, creating that perfectly poignant Kenyan scent that is so hard to describe yet so easy to recognize. There is an energy that exists here – a powerful energy that has the potential to shift into something dangerous, something uncontrollable. But for today, it’s just rush hour as normal in Nairobi town.
I turn my attention again to the radio as the endless money/love debate continues.
This is fantastic. I can totally hear this radio conversation going on, and now I’m picturing all the crazy Nairobi roads and remembering what it feels to think you might crash every time you reach an intersection. Give Irene a big ‘ciao bella’ for me!