Friday 1300hrs. I rushed to meet a pal of mine who’d promised to buy lunch. As is the norm with free things, I dared not keep him waiting lest he decide to revoke the offer.  I’m just Kenyan after all, and we all know our love affair with free things. See, if you want a Kenyan to show up for an event, just promise them freebies.

That aside, I could hardly contain my excitement. Soon as we exchanged greetings; we sauntered off in the searing Industrial Area mid-day sun  in search of the nearest Chicken-Pizza-Creamy Inn outlets along Jogoo road.

It had been a while since I’d eaten the famous batter-coated fried chicken pieces from Chicken Inn. My cravings would finally be satisfied. Raunchy thoughts of how I’d devour that chicken rushed through my mind. I could already feel the tonguegasms that would precede the first bite. We quickly gave our orders to the teller and proceeded to an empty table.

“5 minutes waiting time”, the teller had said.

The place was packed, an obvious expectation as it was lunch time. The “upper class” folk who worked in Industrial flocked this particular joint as the rest of the eateries were for those people whose pockets were a bit lighter. The food and milkshakes finally came (after about 10 minutes, impressive, aye?) and without hesitation I dove into my plate (or carton container…I don’t even know).

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But to my utter disappointment, the explosion of goodness and tonguegasms I had anticipated were nowhere in sight.

Yes, the chicken was tad bit oily but it was just fine: the fries were hardly enough to feed a starving child but they were top notch, nothing to complain about.

So what was the problem? I felt a certain emptiness in the pit of my tummy, an emptiness that should’ve been filled with the jolly feeling of satisfied cravings.  I felt as if I was betraying someone.

Images of my usual eatery aka “Mama Wambua’s” kibanda flashed before my eyes. For those of you unfamiliar with kibandas, it’s more of an open plan kitchen.  There’s nothing fancy about them. The only décor you get to enjoy is the rusty mabatis partly enclosing the road, soot stained walls of nearby factories and the plants by the roadside whose leaves were browned with dust.

The heat in some kibandas can make newbies light headed. There are usually 5 to 6 large sufurias boiling on top of coal jikos a man or woman standing at the far end making chapatis  on a furiously burning pan with the expertise that only  kibanda chefs can wield. These chefs can churn upto 10 chapatis within the 5 mins.

When I began internship 3 months ago, my colleague had taken me to lunch at Mama Wambua’s and ever since then I religiously ate from there. At Mama Wambua’s, everyone is treated like a VIP guest. Whether you’re in an Armani suit or an overall stained so baldy you cant tell its colour of origin; everyone is treated equal.   The menu options are limited and you eat what you get.  Ndengu, beans , githeri and meat are usually the main courses, and you get to accompany them with rice, ugali or chapati. And for those keen on getting a full experience, you can always ask for a “mix” of everything being offered on the menu.

There is no wasting time at the kibanda. Soon as you arrive you tell Mama Wambua to put for you “kawaida” if you are a frequent customer and without further ado, she’ll heap food on your plate and give it to you.  KIbanda chefs are not exactly culinary experts, the food is often overcooked and or the salt is never quite right. But there’s just something about kibanda food that keeps you going back. The portions are way too large, even Luhyas can’t complain. No one judges at the Kibanda, no one gives you those sneering or snobbish looks. You can always seat yourself at one of the makeshift bench and tables dining area and join in on the conversations about politics, the weather and economics. I have learnt so much about life and the struggles people endure from these kibada convos.  At the kibanda, no one snaps pictures to post on Instagram. You actually sit down and enjoy your food in the company of people. No one judges at the kibanda, you can chew with your mouth open.You can slurp your soup if you want to, no one will ask you. And the best part is you never get to leave a kibanda with an empty stomach. Even if you have 20 bob, Mama Wambua will feed you. “Such is life”, she says, “maisha ni kusaidiana”.

And  I sat there eating my chicken and fries, a part of me craved for my usual  chapati-beans and a little bit of avocado. I missed the noisy environ that was Mama Wambua’s kibanda. I missed her joyful “sasa msichana wangu” greetings; how she always insists on putting extra food on my plate because she wants me to “add meat on my bones”.   Mama Wambua’s kibanda had become more of a home for me. I felt like an errant child who’d defied her mother’s instructions. I felt like I’d backstabbed a close friend. How was this even possible?? Why was I feeling guilty yet I’d done nothing wrong?

I guess that’s just how some things work. You grow so accustomed to things that change feels like betrayal. Remember that uncomfortable feeling you get when a different Barber shaves you? That feeling of shame when you buy veggies from a different place and you have to hide them when you pass by your usual Mama Mboga. I couldn’t even eat in peace knowing I’d betrayed my beloved Kibanda. Is this how it feels to cheat on a spouse or partner? I think yes

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