Home-Away-From-Home: The Untapped Market?

Published on 21st December 2007

The late Jacob Luseno, a Western Kenya born veteran musician was unmatched in his compositions that were heavily laced with social teachings. In one of his luhya classics Khutsi Ingo, Luseno advises city dwellers to make it a point to visit their people their rural homes. Khutsi Ingo (let us go home) depicts a man who lives in Mombasa, a vibrant coastal city in Kenya, desperately but unsuccessfully pleading with his wife to accompany him home-upcountry.

Despite the popularity of this song, many Africans are yet to embrace Luseno’s advice and wisdom. For decades, some of them have completely neglected their rural homes to an extent that they can not find their way back on their own. Many collapsing houses abound in our villages as their owners have gone into self-exile in cities. These ‘exiles’ only make technical appearances in their rural homes during funerals of close relatives then ‘flee’ back to the city immediately after burial. Christmas or voting can also persuade them to appear upcountry. Some years back, funeral service companies would force people to accompany the hearse home as culprits would more often than not give excuses of lack of bus fare.

A young man will leave for the city in search of employment with a dream of assisting his aging parents but quickly forget this vision once he lands a job. He will get hooked to concubines or marry, sire kids and settle in the city with no intention of ever relocating back home. He ignores the fact that families ought to go home and be assimilated into their extended clan.

Consider a man who for a period of 20 years has never been to his ancestral home and only returns when retirement, retrenchment or when terminally ill. To start with, family members and neighbours strain to remember him. You will hear people gossip about him. His children look like alien creatures from the moon. They cannot relate with their new environment. They will mistake a sheep for a dog and (being used to milk sold in packets) get so mesmerized to see a cow produce milk. They cannot respond to their grandmother’s in native language. Cases abound of such children engaging in incest for lack of knowledge of their relatives.

Their mother is terrified upon seeing the children’s grandfather ‘blessing’ his grandchildren by spitting saliva on their faces. She mistakes this for witchcraft. She can neither fetch firewood, water from the stream nor smear the floor using cow dung. Being used to buying ready-to-cook vegetables from the market, she can’t fathom going to the farm, picking the vegetables and preparing them herself.

On the other hand, the man looks like an individual who has spent many years behind bars. Everything seems new to him. He is under cultural shock. After spending all his retirement benefits on establishing a new home, he is left with nothing to sustain his family. He has no mango tree to sit under. Stress sets in as he has no networks at home to continue earning some income. Such people die as soon as they come home.  

We can’t talk about regional integration when we are so distant to those near us. We know much about Europe, America and China but very little about ourselves. No wonder, we run to them to fix our problems. It is a shame for our children to know more about Mnchester United and Ronaldinho, but not know the first letter of their grandmother’s name. 

City entrepreneurs have a great challenge to tap into this ‘anti-home’ market by setting up home-away-from-home resorts. Hotels and pubs are already doing this by establishing cultural nights and integrating traditional designs such as grass thatched houses in their architecture.

In spite of this, East or West, home is best. Regardless of how irrelevant your rural home might currently appear to you, when all is said and done, that is where you get real comfort. Home gives a unique sense of belonging, love and security. Let us not realize these facts of life when situations become unbearable in the city.

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