It’s 2 a.m. in downtown Nairobi, Kenya.
Wendy Kimani is doing what a lot of young people here do around this time: standing outside a night club, holding a bag of French fries. You can see the grease soaking through.
“It tastes like heaven,” Kimani said. “Greasy as hell. And we like it that way.”
French fries to go — or chips funga as they’re called here — are the late-night snack of choice in Nairobi. But recently, chips funga has taken on a whole new meaning.
“It’s basically taking a lady home who you don’t know,” said singer Anto Neosoul. “You met her for the first time, and you take her home for a one-night stand.”
Neosoul is a rising star on the Kenyan music scene. His song, "Chips Funga," has been riding high on the airwaves here for more than a year.
Neosoul says when he first heard the term chips funga he immediately got it. He says young Kenyans are constantly inventing new slang terms — in English, Swahili, and tribal languages.
The phrase chips funga started popping up on Facebook and Twitter about two years ago, says Harriet Ocharo, a 25-year-old technology writer. So she decided to blog about it. She asked readers about the “etiquette” of a chips funga.
The comments started pouring in.
“No sleeping over,” was one comment. “No phone calls before 9 p.m., like, there’s nothing to talk about during the day, so you only call for the hook-up in the evening.”
“No emotional discussions. All gifts are accepted; money is always good. No baby talk.”
Ocharo says, at first, it was mostly men who used the term. But now, women use it too. They’ve even come up with a spin-off: sausage funga. You can probably figure out what that one means. Ocharo says women’s use of these slang terms is a sign of the times in Nairobi, where women no longer feel bound by traditional gender roles.
“Nairobi is a very free town,” Ocharo said. “No one judges a woman if she chips fungas a guy or the other way around. I think it’s a good sign.”
There’s even an online dating site called Chips Funga.
But Neosoul says he sometimes worries that young people in Kenya are chips funga-ing too much. And they’re putting themselves in dangerous situations.
“We might contract HIV and AIDS,” Neosoul said. “We might contract STDs and STIs, we might get pregnant.”
He even worries the term makes people want to chips funga — because it sounds funny and lighthearted. So he wanted his song to send a message: that it isn’t necessarily good to be a chips funga. The third verse, which he sings in Swahili, does just that.
“If I put it in English,” he said, “it would basically be, ‘Put on some ketchup, put on some mayonnaise, put on some salad, you’ve just been served. So, you’ve had a one-night stand, and that’s what you are. You’re chips. You’re French fries. You’re vegetables. And you’ve made yourself cheap, like chips.’”
That’s the message Anto wants people to hear. But it may be the opposite message that has them singing along.
Watch a 15-minute documentary of the chips funga phenomenon.