In a dimly lit alley in Dandora, a young woman walks nervously. She’s carrying a baby on her back, and the bag she is half-carrying, half-dragging is clearly heavy. She keeps looking behind her, like she is running from something or someone that would pop up any minute, and her big, scared pupils would dilate as she screamed for help.
The young man she is running away from is seated on a wooden bench outside a shop that sells khat. He has dreadlocks that would look decent if they were washed and set. He holds his jaw in his palms, bent over, the face of introspection. Around him Gregory Isaacs, the legendary reggae artiste, croons over a medley, bemoaning the fact that the girl he loves left him heartbroken, for a rich man. He fishes a phone out of his pocket and dials a number, there is the extended ‘tooooot, toooooot’ and the line goes dead. He clicks and returns the cheap Chinese-made model in his pocket, and orders for a glass of coffee.
I thought today how important a full family is for the holistic development of a human. Having figures around you, who teach you the basics ; eating with your mouth closed, apologizing when you offend others, acknowledging when others go out of their way for you, working for your dreams, treating others with dignity, being polite and behaviors that make you a decent human being.
I thought of my own father who was absent. How many mistakes that I made that could have been avoided. Morally, financially, career-wise, sexually, romantically. How many times I had to learn first hand, and painfully when his advice and experience would have meant I wouldn’t hurt others, and myself. That yes, I’d have made mistakes, nobody is perfect, but they’d have been MY mistakes, not forced on me by circumstance. That I would have learnt earlier to own up to my mistakes, to always be ready, to treat women like the queens they are, to apologize when I am wrong, to have work ethic, to take responsibility.
I thought about how many TED talks, mistakes, and conversations with people I respect have led me to unlearn, relearn and learn things that make me a decent, not even exceptional, human being. I thought about the millions of young people that have had nobody to teach them to forgive themselves, to treat others like they’d want to be treated, to question status quo, to move with purpose. It broke my heart to imagine how many youth are wandering, lost, shuffling along, ‘winging it’ through parenting, businesses, life, relationships, religion, politics.
That we have young men that grew up seeing their fathers come home drunk, hurling misogynistic insults to the women in the households, and how that affected how they see women. That nobody showed them to treat women, to help women raise families, to help their partners as it is a team effort, this life. That there are young women who have deep-rooted, justified fear and hatred for men, and that nobody showed them to be women that would contribute to raising happy, disciplined children while taking care of their own happiness, and mental, psychological and physical health.
That both young men and women look up to role models who are themselves lost, directionless in the pursuit of financial security, pushing agendas that sell advertising spaces, sacrificing morality and altruism at the altar of bottom lines and profitability. That we are glorifying economic crimes against our futures, and calling it ‘being smart’. That an entire generation is fast-losing the principles of hard work and patience. That honesty is looked down on as foolishness, that we reward cheats and impunity and humiliate those that chose virtue and order. That our moral fabric is as strong as wet tissue. That a majority are giving up on the straight and narrow, and we will soon be fighting for an ever-shrinking pie, and that it will get uglier for everyone, except the select few that steer the gravy train.
I like to use the analogy that if one grew up in a household/community where everyone ate with their mouths wide open, that would seem like the normal thing to do. Majority of Kenyan youth grew up in homes where teachings on building character was not a priority. This is manifested in the high rate of social ills that plague our society. Nobody taught most of us financial literacy, and so (if we are lucky to be salaried) we are broke by the 15th, that we can’t fall back on our parents as they too are financially illiterate. That most of us weren’t taught to compromise, and we hate people that have different opinions, and violence is substituted for dialogue. That simple manners, saying hello, thank you and I am sorry, are mistaken for weakness. That men talking about their hurt is seen as weakness, and the facade of bravado and machoism means that those who deserve it the least, bear the brunt of their stifled anger and bitterness. That our anger is manifest in our families, our roads, our politics, our national discourse.
We need to heal. To forgive each other. To COMPLETELY overhaul cultures. To question why we do what we do. To learn to let others be. To seek therapy where it is necessary. To REFUSE to pass on this mediocre way of doing things to a generation that DOESN’T DESERVE it. To hold people accountable, for past, present and future crimes. This isn’t how to live. We are a nation that is deeply hurting, clapping for our abusers for the simple reason that they speak to us in our native languages. That we stand by and look as they deal with crime from a moral standpoint as opposed to an economic one, that we gun down young men and women, who have committed crimes yes, but because the state has failed. We are marveling at the fact that teenage pregnancy is being tabulated in five figures in a single county, when we have REFUSED to talk to our children about sex, to give them options if they decide to go ahead and try it, to ensure they are protected, from STDs and early pregnancies.
And so, a young man in Dandora, will dare a young, scared woman, that he made pregnant as a result of both their ignorance, who is barely out of her teens, to leave if she can. He knows she can’t leave, that she will softly knock on his door at odd hours of the night, her knuckles almost frozen. He will shatter her self-worth with his words. He knows no better. He has no better words. She knows no better. She has no better option. We have to change that, or we risk to lose, irreversibly, an entire generation.