Every few years I go through a phase of absolute exhaustion of living in this country. As my years have advanced so has my growing disdain and urgent need for a break from it. For years I have repeatedly asked myself, why we treat each other so badly and disrespectfully in this country.
This past Saturday after an early start to a meeting that was cancelled a day before and not communicated to me. My grumpy self bumped into another chap who was also upset by the cancelled meeting. And instead of bitching about what had happened we began to talk more about a delicious plethora of issues, from the making of the US Federal reserve to Caesar being an epileptic to Mercy Myra’s come back.
We got to a point in the conversation where this young man, Joe, gave me the word I was looking for, dignity. It was there all along. The reason why we rape, steal and feel justified in eluding justice in Kenya is because of the dignity that was stripped from us. By who you wonder? Blame it on the Brits or Neo colonialism or each other whoever else you please.
One of my cousins has been irritating the life out of most of us whining about “What is wrong with Kenya?”
“We know! We know! We get it already!” In low tones some of us wanted her on the first plane back to Istanbul, where she had been. She would ramble on about the amount of respect that citizens in Turkey exuded to one another irrespective of them being sweepers or bell boys. The sweeper and toilet cleaner would be accorded the same respect as a CEO or teacher. And I have heard similar stories in various countries globally, where citizens may respectfully disagree with each other, but don’t forget their humanity.
When you see a Kenyan police officer what is the first emotion you experience? I will be honest, I feel high levels of irritation, same way I feel about matatu drivers and touts and boda boda operators. But lately I am trying to teach myself to see them as human beings, sons and daughters of someone; people who may have chosen what they do or were driven by circumstance. They deserve the same level of respect that we accord affluence.
I know it is hard, but the truth is, at times it is easier to show than to say you respect someone. By saying hello to a policeman, or like what I am learning to do in bathrooms, is thank the cleaner for their job and have small chit chat with them; even just two minutes long. We treat most of these people as if they are invisible; they are alive and well and have the human need for acknowledgment in any decent form.
At times, in retrospect, I think matatu drivers and conductors and police officers act the way they do as a self fulfilling prophesy. It is systemic, ‘I know all touts and drivers are a –holes’ ergo – I become one. Our dignity may have been stripped from us by the political and financial elite, we may be denied a great education, or bashed for being stupid by educators and parents, decent healthcare and housing denied and even told ‘our names betray us’. But does that mean I have the right to treat someone in a way that I would not want to be treated?
A resounding No! If there is one thing that we can do right to restore the dignity that is stripped from us, is to begin to treat each other decently every waking day. It eventually will become reciprocal; see each other as human, with similar needs just at different stages in life. I think our attitudes of gratitude and positive acknowledgment will take us a lot further and unite us for one common cause; living and thriving in this life and not surviving it.
First published on http://blog.storymojafestival.com