Children are like budget psychiatrists. You can talk to them and they’ll pretend to listen to you. Better yet, if you remember to give them food then you’re not restricted to one hour sessions. They’ll hardly say anything back which is another mark in their favour.
I speak as a former victim of this practice as I’m sure most of you are. You probably have some vague memory of long car rides with one sided conversations you were not expected to understand and, all in all, you didn’t really try to anyway. They were only interesting in that they guaranteed some kind of reward at the end. Usually ice cream.
Sometimes though, you remember what was said in fragments. They can be amusing, they can be scarring or, if you’re really lucky, you can end up with some really good black mail. Rarely, you can actually learn something from them. This article is about those rare times.
“… these fools who run away from the mess in their own homes to try and fix other people’s problems.”
My mother said that. I don’t know why she said it largely because I wasn’t really listening but that particular phrase stuck with me for years. I’m not sure if I actually thought this at the time or if it’s an embellishment I’ve woven in over the years but I remember agreeing with her. They were fools. What kind of person would actually do something like that?
Time, in it’s general humorless way, has revealed a rather distasteful answer to that question. As it turns out, I’m the kind of person who would do something like that.
To me, home has a variety of meanings. I have many homes. Where I actually live with my family is just the most obvious one. Nairobi is my home too. So is Kenya. As is Africa. And it’s become clear that I’ve been running away from their problems and their complications for a long time now. Not entirely. But enough that I need to reevaluate what I’m doing.
There’s something unsettling about the fact that over the years, I’ve talked about racism more than I have about tribalism.
That my most readily available images of classism do not easily lend themselves to the Kenyan or even the African context.
That when you weigh how much I’ve talked about Gaza, Syria and Iraq against something like Kasarani, the latter pales in comparison.
I’ve been running.
Home is not just a place though. It is a community. It is your connections. What keeps you rooted even if it’s not in one place. Friends and family are part of that. And if there is an area where I have truly failed, this would have to be it.
How many exam is rape jokes do I let my friends get away with?
Could I even count the number of homophobic remarks from relatives that I let pass without comment?
How many “that’s retarded” statements do I just ignore from people I know?
Yet, I can easily write about these issues when I’m talking to strangers and I think there is something fundamentally wrong with that.
The truth is, I can do more about Kasarani than I can about Gaza.
I’m more likely to change how a relative or friend sees an issue than I am to do so for a stranger.
There are no problems that I understand quite like the problems at home. And that’s the issue. I’m invested. There can be consequences here. This isn’t my neighbor’s place. This is mine. If there is fallout, I will have to bear it. If I fail, I will feel it. There is something that can be broken if I confront the problems here too much. It is in every way easier to look away and just run. Looking only to deal with problems that do not directly affect me. Safer problems.
I can’t keep doing that.
I could be wrong but I think a lot of you are like me. It’s all too easy for us to get angry at the start but let that fade and ignore the issue even if it isn’t solved. Even easier to never bring it up at all. It’s how we keep the peace in our little home.
Only, it isn’t really peace is it?
There is only one logical conclusion that I can see. What to do is really rather obvious but I find that even now I still want to run from it. The image of talking to my parents about homophobia will not leave my mind. It is one of the most frightening thoughts I have ever had. I can’t imagine how such a conversation would start let alone how it would end. I don’t think I want to.
“Oppression can only survive through silence.”
– Carmen De Monteflores
A choice has to made. For each of us.
We cannot let the government wait us out on things we care about knowing all the while that we’ll fold first. We have to keep at it. Even when the numbers start to dwindle and it’s no longer easy to do it anymore. We have to keep at it.
We cannot continue to watch people around us doing things we know are wrong and stay quiet. Our silence isn’t just inaction, it makes us part of it. Accessories to a crime.
We cannot claim to be for change if we see the clearest path before us and never take it. Even if it’s not an easy one. We have to take that step.
We cannot keep running.