As a lot of you know, I was born and raised in Kenya. I have been to South Africa and all over Kenya. I have hung out with Zims, Tswanas, Ghanians, Naijas, Tanzanians, African Americans and other children of the soil from all over the place. What have I learned from all of this?
1) Keeping It Real:
By keeping it real, I don’t neccesarily mean honesty, because any African will tell you that Africa has it’s fair share of liars. Instead, I am talking about wearing your heart on your sleeve.
Yesterday I was in a social gathering here in Oz (Australia for the uninitiated): When I got home, I realized how subtle our interactions were. Sure on the surface level, it may have seemed quite simple and easy, but there was so much sub-text: when to talk, who to talk to, when to move on, when you lost someone in the conversation, when you gained someone else, who had the power, who didn’t, who is attracted to you, who did you just turn off and so on and so forth.
And none of this was really ever discussed in the open or brought to the surface and its something that a lot of folks can really miss unless they have interacted with people from Oz for a while.
I cannot tell you how much grief I have seen because of completely misunderstanding the sub-text or underlying rules of an interaction or not setting the rules early on.
Sure in Africa there is still sub-text but people are much more open about how they feel and much more expressive in the way they speak. Most of all they speak sub-text that I understand. Considering I learned a lesson something as important as this in the school of hard knocks and not in a classroom you quickly realize:
2) Education Isn’t What it Promised to Be:
There are many articles out there that constantly remind members of the African diaspora that we are some of the best educated folks around.
As far as I am concerned, the fact that you have a degree means diddly squat. Don’t get me wrong, I bow to your intellect for being intelligent and hard working enough to go through more than a decade of school and end up in an outstanding course in an outstanding University. I salute and have a deep respect for you after enduring the rigours of the unstructured University life and coming out strong, Lord knows I dropped off on the side. BUT all this love and respect, is aimed AT YOU, not your degrees.
Anyone who was around Kenyans around the post-election violence of last year quickly realized that a University degree (and even chronological age) isn’t a guarantee of maturity, or wisdom, or restraint, or love, or compassion or even intelligence really. So all this stuff we were sold as kids that education is the be all and end all to making us well rounded people of substance: Not so! And by the way the same thing applies for:
3) Hard Work:
Africans are hands down some of the hardest working people around. I come from a family where one half of the two person team that made me was the best woman in the country when her high school results came out. I have watched both my folks slug it out for 8+ hour days 6 days a week, starting business after business after business. And here’s the thing: that work ethic is pretty much standard procedure in Africa.
I was genuinely shocked when I arrived in Oz and realized there were things like minimum wage and maximum daily working hours.
When most folks here complain about being worked to the ground from 8 hours of work, 5 days a week, I can’t help but think: isn’t the idea of stress relative?
The Australian workload would be kinda like a vacation for a standard African worker. That’s part of the reason that I don’t write much about the need for hard work: a lot of Africans intrinsically know this and live it. Sadly that’s partly because:
4) Africans are Unashamedly Materialistic:
A lot of people in the West are materialistic. A lot of Jones out here want the fancy house, big car, a lot of money, pretty girls/boys etc etc. However many people out West are taught, and even believe that,
“Money isn’t everything. There are things more important than money.”
Not the African. Many Africans would sell their soul at discount prices to get money. There is nothing more important than money to a lot of Africans and material possesions not only define you, they are the cornerstone of who you are. One of the reasons I created the Stuff African people like series was to poke fun at a seriously high level of materialism that we as African folks have at the expense of other things.
Don’t believe we are materialistic: pay a visit to the homes of African politicians and welathy businessmen and tell me they don’t easily trump 90% of homes in Europe: I mean I was certainly disappointed by the houses here when I first showed up. It’s pretty interesting though how there is so much similarity right now between the homes of Melbourne and where I grew up in Nairobi. In truth:
5) Westernization is Powerful:
If anyone ever wants to start a think tank that talks about the power of Westernization and how to keep that sucker on a leesh and under control, I am behind them 100%.
We are on the road to being one huge homogenous global society, controlled from Washington, speaking English and liking and doing the same things from Auckland to California.
For me to say that I never spoke anything other than English regularly before I came to Australia is a travesty when one considers that just over 40 years ago I would be living an entirely different life with an entirely different set of beliefs and values.
We are not in control of Westernization and it is hitting Africa like a tidal wave, the good sides (human rights, respect for women and people from other cultures, shared commonalities with people from all over the world) and bad ( relationships breakdown, drug habits, lethal eating habits, confusion and lack of purpose, manufacturing of a majority of humanity living in poverty, linear models of insatiable consumption etc etc etc).
I am not saying that Westernization is good or bad, I am a result of it. I am saying, we need to control it and not be a slave to it. As Westernized as we Africans arel, I was quite surprised to discover that most Africans are:
6) Africans are Socially Conservative:
It’s been said many times and it will be said many times in future: white people are crazy. I love it! A lot of white people are unashamedly out there and willing to try out things that would make the average African absolutely squirm.
Whether its experimenting with things like religion or relationships or business or even endangering their lives in pursuit of something that to many looks like a pipe dream fantasy that will never come true, people from the West do it.
Africans tread with care and wait for a path to be beaten before jumping into it. We hold on to whatever societal rules have been passed down to us and are rarely willing to question for fear of failure and alienation.
White people go beat the path naked with a carrot in one hand and an idea in the other.
But I Digress
Just as a side note, don’t you find it interesting that out of the whole African blogosphere, there are only like maybe 10 or less of us who actually use our real names and/or have pictures AND almost all of us who do aren’t in Africa. I know there is a point to be made there somewhere, I just don’t know what it is.
7) Some People are Just Mean:
The old adage that good will always prevail over evil is a lie. Many brutal, callous people have existed and gone about their narcissistic work all life long going from success to success. Just look at African dictators. Some of these fellows will do evil all life long and will die not having experienced any more stress than the normal man who does good. Good doesn’t always prevail over evil. It only prevails when people who believe in it fight for it day after day after day.
So there, off the top of my head are 7 things that growing up in Nairobi and being around a lot of Africans from all over the world has taught me in my life.
Be blessed and bless others,