I’ve meant to write this for the last four years. It took three men on a tractor for me to finally put it into words. They didn’t threaten me or anything, (although that would have made me write faster). I saw them atop the tractor and it triggered something inside me.
They weren’t hanging precariously, like your attention to this piece is. They stood firmly, each grabbing a piece of the old Massey Fergusson, as it shuttled across the golf course at Windsor. The sun was shining brightly, that warm feeling that makes you think how amazing jobs,(that let you lie on soft grass, as birds and the occasional click sound as golf clubs strike golf balls does nice things to your ears), are.
I was on the grass, my body looking like a bean bag on the well-manicured lawn. My stomach was digesting beans, chapatti and a warm black currant when I saw the men; The tractor was the colour of a cloudless sky, with tires that were so smooth, they had me worried they’d fall off if it took a sharp bend. The men wore white tunics with a blue strip down the middle, the kind of uniform that servers at expensive establishments wear.
They weren’t talking to each other, and it looked like a cut from a Burna Boy video, you know the two second clips of the actors staring at the screen before the scantily-dressed dancers come into frame? Exactly. I stared and thought about life and Africans. About the three men, and I: Here to work, and only to work. That we’d not be allowed here if we weren’t offering a service, them cooking/cleaning and event set-up for me.
I looked at the young men beside me, working the tents, none older than twenty three, talking about girls, alcohol and money. All of us had a snowflakes chance in hell of having the kind of wedding that we were setting up. A wedding so luxurious, the roses were brought in by a designated lorry. A full-to-the-brim lorry of flowers. That’s the most amount of flowers I have ever seen in my life. The flowers section alone had about six people working overtime to have the garlands and bouquets ready.
I thought about that scene as I read a statistic today that said only 3% of Kenyans earn more than Ksh 100,000 a month. The three men on the tracto probably don’t earn that combined. That’s a sad statistic, if you break down a fairly comfortable life by Kenyan standards. With decent housing costing an arm and a leg, (north of 15,000 for a house with water, not too far from the CBD, safety adressed) a lot of us know too many people living in cramped spaces, where privacy and dignity is beyond reach. (Sharing public bathrooms is the worst, if you’ve never lived in such settlements, it basically means that different hygiene standards means you can be scarred mentally/disgusted every time you push the toilet door open).
Three men on a tractor
With basic needs beyond reach, things like holidays and special events like birthdays, anniversaries are considered as luxuries. I know friends who’ve only celebrated their first birthday parties when they were almost thirty because they were too financially stretched growing up to do one. I think this deprivation leads to people being too extreme, either too lavish, (to compensate for the lack of good times growing up) or too stingy (seeing parties like those as unnecessary expenses) and it robs people of life-changing human experiences.
I looked online for them, but I didn’t find statistics for the percentage of Kenyans that have been to the Mara (where a balloon ride costs about 45,000 per person per hour), or to Mombasa for a holiday, or a commemorative event. Events with familiar faces, (away from the rigours and physical and mental stress that comes with work, and everyday life) help enhance the human experience.
Makes us more likely to enjoy life, better ourselves and our crafts, donate money and time to a cause, have clear rational thinking about important things like religion and politics, which in turn enable a more advanced society. Enable us to be more tolerant about other people’s views, respect other people’s views on touchy subjects like gay rights, abortion and atheism.
I equate everyday work like a slow, hot pressure cooker. Without the occasional opening of the valve, to let off pressure (time off with self and loved ones/holidays/humour), the cooker explodes (domestic violence/bigotry/zealotry/homophobia/racism/sexism). I think that’s why large parts of our country are so angry. I feel it in the air sometimes, so much anger and bitterness. Fights over things that can be resolved verbally, and with reason. But 70-hour work weeks, with workers/self employed people chasing a higher wage packet, don’t allow for breaks. Low income, coupled with limited free time, and responsibilities like laundry, church and multiple kids mean that time spent doing anything other than working or recovering from the workings of life is viewed as wasted time.
Instead it is this time that would be used to watch documentaries on topics of interest, open us up to topics we are unfamiliar with, instead of relying on hearsay and opaque sources. Learn about atheists, about the need to ensure equal pay for women, equal rights for gay people (the illegality of same-sex marriages is largely founded on religious books, who says those books aren’t flawed? They were written by men, who throughout history have proven to be fallible). Visit parks, (and see the need to conserve them), get involved in a cause, (sit on a board at your alumni/ teach a craft to children at an orphanage), or even just sit on the grass, smell flowers and look at the sky. It would help so much with enriching life, helping people to appreciate the small things.
Like telling your children you love them, to avoid starving them of love and leading them to self-destructive habits seeking external validation, a more enlightened population would demand more from the state, better schools, hospitals, roads, public housing, conducive business environment, (let me not ruin it with my passion for politics lol). Kenya is so beautiful, I swear. I have been blessed, through a job I had, to travel to different counties, and the people and sceneries are so intrinsically beautiful. We can make our own wonderland here in Kenya, instead of having so many people die without knowing how beautiful the country outside their doorstep is.
I feel like money has the ability to make life so much more beautiful. To treat diseases, to pay for airfare to places, IN KENYA, so stunning you are in awe the entire time, to provide services to people that make them keep their dignity. This was a long read, and I am glad that you have read until here, thank you for your time. I’ll finish with a quote from Charlie Chaplin’s movie, ‘The Great Dictator’ where he says “..To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish..”