My brother started sending messages again. You know something major is going on in Nim’s life when he starts sending inspirational messages every so often. The internet downloaded ones that have a backdrop of a sunset, or something with flowers or some shit like that. He wishes you a good morning. Asks how your day is going at midday. Hopes that you had a good day. Then sends you to bed with a goodnight text…I am sure if he could come and tuck me in he would – complete with a bed time story and a kiss on the forehead.
I did not respond to these messages. Partly because I am a caller, not a texter, and the other part is because this is not Nimrod. This is not my brother. It is not my siblings and most certainly not my mother. It is unlike my family to show such overt affection to one another. We do not ask one another how we are doing, or what is new in each other’s lives. We do not check in on one another. We do not even say I love you. Last December when my other brother, Deo, fell from the fifth floor of Strathmore University’s Student Center, I was hurt beyond recognition and scared shitless that he would die. But then when he did not, I do not remember confessing these things to him. There was no point in saying it. He already knew. And that was enough.
My Jaber does not understand this kind of living where family barely talks to one another. She has dinner with her cousins every Friday. Every Saturday she goes to church to be with her folks, followed by a family lunch. They have an active WhatsApp Group in which anyone who is even remotely affiliated to her surname is in. So it blows her mind when I tell her that I do not even know where my mom stays (to be fair, this is a rather complicated story). The point here is, I am not given to that level of closeness – be it with family or friends. Dealership is at an arm’s length.
This conversation came up in a Cousins WhatsApp group that I had left sometime back. My phone buzzed and alas, I had been added back. Ideally if someone adds me back to a WhatsApp group I already left, I immediately block them, then leave again. But this is family, you know? They enjoy the limited privilege of bullying you into a WhatsApp group you do not want to be in. Your only recourse is to mute them for one year with notifications switched off. This time however, I had to ask them what the point of that cousins group was. I left because we were not having any meaningful conversation there. The group would go quiet for months, then someone would send a meme, a few people would respond with yellow emojis, then we all go quiet. Then repeat.
The truth is, we were forcing ourselves to have a WhatsApp group, to feign this closeness that is really not there in real life. In real life, nobody calls you to ask how you are really doing. Nobody calls you for lunch. Nobody knows what is going on with your life – other than the stuff you put up on Facebook. Nobody knows what half of the group does for a living. Hell, we do not even know where each other live! The truth is, we have many cousins on my mom’s side of the family alone, who are not included because nobody has given two shits about where they are, ever since the first grain of tarmac was put to build Thika Superhighway. We just meet at funerals and graduation parties.
After they added me to the Cousins WhatApp group and I challenged the idea of having that group in the first place, my sister lost her shit. She could not get why I find it pretentious to start now, after an entire lifetime, this overt gesticulation of affection. This need for us to ‘be together’ (via WhatsApp! my goodness hahaha) is approximately- going by how long the youngest cuzo has been alive – twenty years late!
I honestly do not know why people obsess over creating WhatsApp groups just for kicks. These days there are WhatsApp groups for everything: The General Family group (which includes uncles and aunties you do not know how you are related to), the Cousins group, the Siblings group, the Primary School group, the High School group, College group, Best Friends group, Church group, Getting Married (Finally) group, a group to go Hiking Next Week, Sports group, Book Club group, Work group, Birthday Party group, Where the hell did I leave my house keys group, I got a new job group, Who has seen where I left my wallet group, Check out my new song group, Imagine We Are Still Alive Group, Who is on Dishes Today group, Never mind..I found my wallet it was in my other pants group.
Yaani…there is a group for everything! And it blows to the seventh heavens.
The one person whose love for WhatsApp groups baffles me every time is my girlfriend. I suspect she loved WhatsApp groups more than me. I know she will sleep facing the wall tonight when she reads this, but it is the truth. And the truth shall set me free, says the Biblos. So I will spill ALL of it. ALL.
Jaber has many friends, but the close ones, the ones who truly matter are like 6. Let us call them Jane, Grace, Anne, Pat, Shiro and Gatzie (short form for Chelagat). Those are seven people including Jaber. Trust me, there are kitu five different variants of WhatsApp Groups with these seven people only. It is possible…just calculate the probabilities.
One group has all of them. Another is Grace, Jaber, Pat and Anne. Another has Gatzie, Shiro, Jaber, and Anne. Group number 4 has Jaber, Pat and Shiro. Group number 5 has Gatzie, Shiro and Jaber. Group number 6 has Grace, Anne, and Jaber. And then I think there is a group number 7 where Jaber is alone with her alter ego.
Each of these groups serve a particular purpose. Each is created to exclude someone else because either Grace and Shiro are beefing or something like that. Each group has a unique, quirky name; Warembo na Joho, Zegzy Bitches, The Nyakos and Aki Shiro Si Anabore?
It is important for me as a boyfriend to understand who is in which group so that you do not confuse the power dynamics in play; so that when Zegzy Bitches are coming over for brunch, I should know that Gatzie is not around because….she is neither zegzy or a bitch? I do not know…ah, who cares why? All I need to know is that the Zegzy Bitches are not particularly fond of Gatzie.
And that is just with her friends.
It works, by the way. For Jaber, that is. Somehow it all works, and I think Jaber is an admin in like all of them. She thrives in them. She enjoys connecting with her people that way. She is needy and she is a texter. Her phone is never quiet. The best way to catch her attention is to send her a text. Which is a problem for us because I was not built that way. Me if you do not call me, you’d rather just come to where I am and ask your question in person.
So naturally, I hate instant messaging. It is not instant when it comes to me. I will respond when my head has given me, not the second the ticks turn blue. People assume that simply because they texted you, then you should drop everything I was doing to have a conversation with them. Bullshit on stilts. I was not sitting somewhere waiting for texts. If it is so important, call so that we finish whatever it is chap chap. Texts are too tedious. Someone wants to start with greetings, ask after the cows back home and whether they have given birth, is it raining yet, how is your mom, is your washing lady doing well, ….they spend kitu 13 exchanges before they get to the point – which was to ask if they could come use the internet at your place.
The reason conversations drag like this is because instant messaging is inexpensive. Once you are on your office’s free wifi, you are not spending anything wasting other people’s time. Oh, but calling costs money. Safaricom ndio kiboko yao. When they call they spend less than ten seconds saying whatever they have to say. When money is involved, foolishness dwindles.
Out of all those IM apps Silicone Valley has ever created, WhatsApp is Jezebel’s unwashed armpits. Horrible place. I am only on it because my work kind of demands it, otherwise I would not use WhatsApp. I hate it primarily for one simple reason – WhatsApp groups. Why? Because nobody ever asks you to be in them and then when you leave everyone gets offended…talking about tangu they wrote about Magunga on The New Yorker he has been hearing himself too much.
WhatsApp Groups are where people go to steal phone contacts. One moment you have been added to a group, and the next thing you know, someone you have no idea about is already sending you private messages asking you to spread the word of her sister’s biashara about some miraculous herbal medicine for Athlete’s Foot. Or in the case of former school groups, some stranger sends you a private message saying “Ah niaje bro! Long time bana! You guy, you have disappeared!’
When you ask, “Fiti sana, huyu ni nani?” because their WhatsApp photo is a frog, they catch a feel.
Then there is the message overload. There are WhatsApp Groups were people never sleep. You go to bed at 1.30am and when you wake up, there are 500 messages. What the fuck were people doing talking in the middle of the night? Then you remember that you are in your high school group and there are those people who went abroad for campo, but have no sense of the time difference between Kenya and US. When you scroll through those messages, you find people have discussed everything from Donald Trump winning, to Obama to Moses Kuria to Fidel Castro, and Josephine Kabura. Halafu some people who have been beefing since primo and have never forgiven each other started a fight, nastiness thrown around, people exchanged names they wouldn’t even call their pigs when drunk, one of them stormed out of the group, others begged the remaining one to chill, then the admin added back the one who left, people poured messages of unity and love asking everyone to be kind and respectful, then some clown sent another meme to wipe out the blood.
You wake up and you are like, shit man. You go through all that and you cannot believe all this happened when you are asleep! Yaani while you were asleep, some PEV-level shit hit the fan, Ocampo Six named in a brown envelope, Eric Wainaina sang another peace song and the Hague trials done and dusted. Goddamn!
The effect of the 500 messages will also be witnessed when you are scrolling through your phone and you cannot remember how some photos ended up in your gallery. You wonder, is this phone possessed? Has it been caught by a nyawawa? I swear there was a time I was listening to my playlist at the gym and then all of a sudden, after Mungu Pekee by Nyash, I hear people starting to talk in my ears. I thought I was hallucinating! I almost dropped the weights on my chest because what the hell! Kumbe some voice notes had autodownloaded themselves bana. Hebu just imagine you are working out listening to some jams on fire and then small small, out of nowhere you start hearing a male voice saying “Lakini Onyango ni nen ga jakuo mar uniform….no dak ga adaka ni en suruach ji emokwalo e dormitory bang’ games. Nyasaye emanoreso mihia no ma koro tinde oware. Otherwise dosewang’ siandane Kondele ka…”
See the thing about this WhatsApp groups, especially the ones for your former classmates, is that they get derailed. You form a group for a class reunion and spend six months bickering over venues. The guys who moved to Nairobi want one in Nairobi. The guys who remained in Kisumu want it in Kisumu. Then when someone proposes different reunion events in Nairobi and Kisumu, everyone is against it. When guys finally settle on an option, and people are asked to send money, everybody goes deathly silent. This is the time you start seeing notifications that so-and-so changed his number. The reunion story then slowly fades away and then the group because without reason. Fights start. People who had issues with prefects back in the day start picking on those old festering wounds. Basically, it no longer becomes about what is what intended for. Its reason for existence goes tits up. It becomes a bedrock of excess palaver and a lot of flim flam, both of which I have very little patience for.
So I left my high school group and when I did the most annoying thing happened. I was added back immediately. The admin then sent a message saying, “Hakuna kuleft hii group.” That is when I lost it. I blocked his number and then left the group. Two more admins added me back and I blocked their asses too. Truth be told, I was not really a social butterfly at school. I was always that kid with very few friends. So I wonder why people who did not want anything to do with me back then, all of a sudden feel the need to be in the same group. What changed? I quickly realized that I have not spoken to these guys ever since we left school, they do not call me, and we do not talk even on Facebook. Essentially, we are not acquaintances even. Then they want to bully me into being in a WhatsApp group without the right to leave?
Leaving a WhatsApp group is like farting in public. Nobody ever means to do it loudly. But then you have been holding it in for far too long and it gets to a point when you cannot contain it any longer. Then you try to do it quietly but then it explodes. Everyone notices. It is impossible not to notice given the stink left behind. Everyone gets offended and cuss a storm over it, but then those complaints do not bother you because you are relieved at last. There is no need to explain yourself when you do it – that is between you and your God. If you tried to reason with the people you offended, they will never understand your point of view even if it stood full frontal before them. So no need to bother – you do it and go away, leaving everyone else stewing in the aftertaste of your freedom. They will live. And they will eventually move on.
The point of this entire jeremiad against unsolicited WhatsApp groups is this; I do not want to be in them. Life is too short to congregate with people you do not even care about, just so that you can gorge yourselves in awkward (and quite often, extremely boring) conversations, all the while pretending that you would ever have had anything to do with one another if you weren’t related by blood.. or had serendipity not chanced you to attend the same school.
Cut the bullshit already. It is a waste of everyone’s time.