The problem with dating in Nairobi

At Trattoria, the little-but-cute Italian base along Wabera Street, dates sometimes go wrong, horribly. Dates, those between a boy and a girl, not the fruits and not the calendar days.

There, when you’ve just ordered their very well, extremely delicious, and unrivalled Tiramisu (every spoonful dancing deliciously within your mouth as it’s transported to the stomach) for dessert, you’ll see a couple walk in.

You’ll take a look absent-mindedly and then move on to what you were doing. Example: wait for a friend to return from the bathroom and/or wait for the said friend to finish talking to a mheshimiwa downstairs. As they converse and the friend showers the mheshimiwa with a lot of colorful, complementary nothings, you, seated by the balcony, will notice the watchman from the opposite building doze off.

You may also notice all the well-dressed, superbly polished, men in suits who wind their windows up every time an “unsightly” face of a beggar shows up. Somehow, this scene makes you drift and think about life - the irony, uncertainty and unfairness of it all.

Your thoughts are then disrupted by the clinking of forks and knives on plates, then you realize something, the people at the table across you are doing just that, clinking silverware, neither of them talking. The guy, who is in a fitting shirt and is well-shaven looks uncomfortable, he doesn’t know what to do or say. The girl, dressed in a non-creative pair of denims and a blue top, is bored. She even almost has a pout.

The guy tries to initiate conversation, but each attempt is dismally shut down by one word responses. The hunter looks fatigued even before the hunting begins. This is a first date. And it’s a pain, to everyone involved, including this one self-imposed observer.  

Perhaps in whatever warped way, the problem is the venue. Or the Italian food. Or the BMWs passing by. Perhaps these factors remind these 27-year-old looking young-ins of things beyond them. Dreams that seem so far way.

Or perhaps the problem is Nairobi. When you visit so many places around Nairobi, you may begin to feel complacent about the idea of dining out. Especially with a stranger, who is bored and pouting.

Maybe, if they’d driven to Nanyuki or met there, there would be some smiles on their faces, some giggle in their voices and even some cheering of glasses. Maybe, in Nanyuki, they could have taken a walk through the great sewage dumpsite (Nanyuki has strange tourist attractions) or gone to the end of the rail tracks (See? Strange) or maybe, if their pockets would allow, they’d find themselves at the elegant and artistically decorated Kongoni Camp.

There, they would whisper sweet night tales between the both of them and perhaps even proceed to an 80s-music club where in addition to the music, Fred Omondi (a helluva fantastic MC!)  would entertain them and leave their ribs cracking. Then, when the night is over, they would say their goodbyes, the guy would promise to call and the girl would go home blushing, without a pout.

But that type of dating hardly seems to exist these days, let alone in Nairobi. Now, everyone seems to have an agenda. The men want to prove very many things to their egos (and their “homies”) and the women largely want to own fancy things.

I had this discussion late last year with one of my older friends. He’s Ghanaian, and seems like he’d be one of those cool, hip, with-it, uncles. But when it came to this topic, his face changed, he grew serious, and said:

“You know what the problem is these days? You young people don’t take time. You need to wait for the other person’s beauty and flaws to be unveiled in layers, in good timing. You need to learn how to discover each other.

You also need to learn to let go. Half of the people in relationships in this day and age are in it out of convenience. This is ridiculous and foolish. Ties that don’t work need to be severed. Move on to the next adventure. Discover the world. Discover yourself. There’s more growth in that than in a dead-end relationship.

And listen, it’s okay to miss people. It’s okay to listen to songs and be reminded of someone. Or to be perched perfectly against a beautiful coastal sunset and to wish you were with someone. But it’s never worth it to go back and seek that which didn’t work out. In the long run, it’s never worth it.

You young ones need to learn to be strong, different and willful. Stop going with the crowd. Be you. Take your time. Enjoy the journey. And be happy. “

At this point, my friend and I sat on rocks, calming beverages in our hands and enjoyed the golden, warm, sunset that sometimes comes with scenic destinations in the Nairobi outskirts.

As I stared into nothingness, I remembered a quote: “Miss someone until you can’t miss them anymore, until the things you miss are identified and cataloged as things and not a person, until you figure out that easy company and long talks and unblinking, all-knowing, eye contact will find you again the way they found you the first time. Miss someone, until you don’t.”

Yvonne Aol is a writer and freelance journalist. You can read more of her work here http://www.cottageaoll.com/ 


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