The New Year found me in Kampala. As happens almost everywhere we hadn’t left the house yet. I’m not even sure everyone had showered. We had drinks in our cups, the smokers had cigarettes in their hands and we all carried joy in our hearts. The countdown happened and suddenly it was 2016.
I remember looking out into this darkened street and seeing this old lady burst out in screams and shouts so happy the year had passed. All of a sudden more noise crashed against us. Everyone was shouting, everyone was screaming and everyone was wishing everyone a happy new year. New Years Eve at midnight is the only time you feel entirely comfortable screaming and shouting. It is the only time you can walk around and feel everyone is your friend. It brings humanity together for a brief moment. There was then a huge fireworks show immediately afterwards Lauren Groff wrote that doomed people celebrate peace with sky bombs… no matter doom is beautiful, those rockets going boom and flowering in the sky, showering stars, powering imagination.
A new year is after all a granting of our most sacred wish, an answer to our most fervent and deeply held prayer that we should see another year. This is in fact the only New Year’s resolution that counts. Last year I was asked what I wanted and I said it was to see another year. People looked away and harrumphed. They didn’t think this was a good enough thing to want out of the year. Granted it was at an office meeting where professional growth, academic achievement and financial goals were all being spouted. It must have sounded juvenile or just the opposite perhaps I had bared too much of myself for that setting.
Anyway after New Year ’s Day comes Njaanworry. I don’t know if they always had this word but it’s perfect. In a nutshell it describes the economic situation: dire, it identifies the people suffering; Kenyans, it informs of how long this will last; a month.
Is there anything like Njaaworry? When we laugh at our foolish spending habits for making us so poor. Where we cry because for what fucking reason does this month have five weekends? What bombo pussy r’asscloth motherfucking dripping cunt bitch*kind of calendar provides this month so many days for (not) spending money on alcohols and meats?
*apologies to anyone who would be offended by such a beautifully strung together sentence of swear words. Also if you want to read more by the person who first wrote that sentence pick up a book called a Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Truth though njaanworry, like end-month is an alien concept while you are a student. I remember with fondness my weekly allowance. My safety net that meant I stumbled into the house every Saturday night with nothing but coins in my pocket from the 1st to the 30th, from January to December. 2014 introduced me to the concept of end month. 2015 should have introduced me to Njaanuary but I was doing my pupillage back then and I really wasn’t being paid that much (which I promise will make sense). Plus they paid so close to the new year that I didn’t spend that much especially as I was in Nairobi. Then some money came in the first week of Njaanuary for an article I wrote (this was definitely not a lot either but the fact that I was being paid so little meant it made up for my December excesses. ) last year no Njaanuary for me. This year I moved a house full of things to Meru, I paid deposit and a month’s rent and the other place haven’t paid me back my deposit so I really am feeling Njaanuary.
What I am about to say next I would never have written if I couldn’t assuredly establish my Njaanuary bona-fides: not everyone is broke this month. Some people are just fine. They are as level as they have been all through the year. They have just as much to spend in this month as they did in December November (nobody’s entertainment allowance is as strong in Jan as it is in Dec, that would just be ridiculous this month dry of holidays and company where would you spend it all?)
These people exist. They fall into three distinct camps with a little overlap between them. There are the financial advice people who genuinely want to help you with your poor budgeting skills, they inform you that there are ways of avoiding this. You can almost see them talking to you, frown lines all bunched up, a worried, somewhat angry look on their faces because you disappoint them. They really want to help and they don’t understand why you can’t be more like them.
(you know you do want to be like them)
There are the January babies. The ubiquity of these babies points towards some very naughty Easters for parents all over the world. The world doesn’t care that they celebrated December, it’s still their birthday and they must turn up. Drink, eat, gift (they have to gift themselves unfortunately) and they learn that in order to celebrate they have to have a little something. That little something is not so much as the previous group.
Then there are the people like I was last year. It just skates over you somehow. And if you are in this group you can’t admit it. You have to complain along with everyone else. Nobody likes a spoilsport and aren’t these Njaanuary memes funny?
How can you bare to be the only person who doesn’t relate. Even if you are fine you need to pretend to be in on the joke so that you can laugh just as heartily. Afterwards go to the bar or for a good meal or go do whatever else it is people do with their money. Its fine you will find people there. There are always people still enjoying but if you want to get the maximum out of your January you need to suffer along with everyone else. It’s a bonding experience. Even if you loved waking up at 5 in the morning while in boarding school you didn’t admit it. You should do the same here. Everyone should, it’s as nationally unifying as unbwogable once was, Kenyans suffer January-it’s what we do. It makes us one.
This bonding experience is important as are all suffering bonding experiences. In 2014 I did my pupillage. It’s one of the worst times in a young lawyer’s life. I had just gotten out of 5 years of studying law, done one of the most difficult exams I had ever had to do and then found a job. Except it wasn’t paying much. Except the work sucked. Except the hours were not commensurate. In fact I remember reading an article about the mafia that compared that organisation to a law firm: the new members in both organisations get stuck doing the menial repetitive work that their bosses could not be bothered with, for the smallest slices of the pie, with the understanding that if they did the work now they would make money later. (The latter part is probably not true for the mafia either- pyramids don’t widen their tips after all.)
Even if a person enjoyed their pupillage there is no way in the world they would admit they did. I was talking to this lady lawyer about her’s. She did it in a firm that had offices both in Nairobi and Mombasa with 5 other pupils. Two of their pupillage months they were sent to work from Mombasa. The firm rented them a digs (a pretty crappy one true), the house was on the south coast (this meant they had to cross the ferry every day to the office), and a lot of other things that to me sounded like paradise.
A house in the south coast of Mombasa with your friends. Ferry rides every morning, ferry fish every evening. Wow! She hated it. Made it sound like she had suffered. During my pupillage I wrote letters, and letters, and letters because I was working on this housing project- sale of apartments. 47 houses so the same 47 letters save change of name and apartment number. I did what amounted to data entry for a chunk of it. For a larger chunk I was sent to huduma centre and the companies registry to get things stamped. To return with receipts to pick those things up. Work that taught me nothing about how to be a lawyer and in addition was nothing more than lining up with bundles and bundles of documents in my hands. It felt like torture.
I hated my pupillage. However this lady lawyer who was rented for a digs in the south coast of Mombasa for two months of exposure to law practice there hated hers too. We all hated our pupillage it was necessary for bonding. So what I’m saying is even if Njaanuary is not real for you, hate it. Hate it with all your heart. Lack of finances isn’t the only thing that makes us hunger! And hey, an election is coming up so shut up about your financial acumen and do your bit for national unity by sharing another Njaanuary meme.
And hey, it all ends.