When my teacher approached me with the idea of “I CHOOSE PEACE”, my first thought was, “why should I be a part of an initiative am not sure I know what it stands for or rather, what it wants to accomplish?”
For a long time, my conscience has had a conflict of expectations from the elections to be held on March 4th. From the Kenyan political trend, I know enough to settle to the fact that Kenyans do not coincide to defeat, so whatever the outcome, there has to be one form of social unrest or another…which makes me really worried.
Many will ask me why?
The reason is not that I fear death or being homeless or having to relocate, but I fear that, while one of the above might occur, I won’t have enough social support to help me and those close to me, to get through that period. It will mean re-establishing my social life again, which my character does not support or anticipate.
Why so? You may ask……
Well let’s start with the root cause of all of Kenyan social unrest: TRIBALISM. While some Kenyans will be fighting on the basis of “who is my ‘brother’”, I will be at the crossroad unsure of what to do or where to go. Now, we all know that no man is an island, and to say I can live without my social pillar is a big lie and an undermine of the roles that this significant others play in my life. I am a typical Kenyan. Like all Kenyans, I have my weaknesses that only the others around me can compensate and together we help each other to live and sometimes to survive.
Why do I fear that somewhere along the way from the ballot, we will lose each other?
For one condescending reason: to some degree, we are a circle representative of our country…we are multi-ethnic and multi-lingual forcing ourselves to not only become polyglots but also to become dynamic and multi-cultural by embracing each other’s culture and language.
How is this possible, you may ask. The explanation is very simple.
We are a troupe of ten. Florence is a pure kikuyu, Priscilla is half Luhya and half Kikuyu, Celestine is Kamba, Lameck is Luo, William is Kikuyu and Charles is Luhya, Kasaine is pure Maasai, Lukwor is Turkana, Mluhya is Taita and I am half Maasai and half Kikuyu. That makes us a comeglorate of young Kenyans. We laugh, joke, hassle and harass each other but we also take care of each other, help one another in terrible situations and protect one another from the ever present unfairness of life. We study together; choose our neighborhoods where one is easily accessible by the others and make sure we all know the whereabouts of the others.
This is how we have lived since we learnt the meaning of life. We met at high school during the renowned drama festivals and maintained our friendships to post secondary education and now to post graduate studies. The most beautiful thing in all of this is that we originate from areas that are world apart but we have grown into each other and learnt to be one another’s keeper. The 2008 post election period was the only time that made us realize how of great importance we are to each other. We are inter-dependent, almost dependent of each other. This in turn, not only makes life easier but also makes us value our country because we have a firsthand experience of just how prosperous and intensively rich we can become if we can learn how to be appreciative of one another, to not view our ethnic differences as a weakness but as a strength of diversity, not as a weapon of disaster but as a source of peace and development if we can use our various strengths to build a Kenyan empire. We know just how well we can be able to fight interference from other countries if we can learn to speak in one voice, to be tolerant of each other and fight and laugh at our own stereotypes that we use to brand the other tribes. We have a firsthand experience at positive tribalism: not being ashamed of where we come from or the stereotypes that come along with the tribe name and language but also using them to build on a relationship that lasts, benefits and grows while making you grow, appreciate and develop.
All this had me thinking about this PEACE they want to teach and preach. How far can it go, who are the audience? Has it been done before? If yes, by who, when and how? What were the results……and many more.
The answers were fragmented, never really answers. The bottom line is we can keep telling Kenyans to VOTE PEACE and CHOOSE PEACE without telling them who peace is and where to find him. Maybe we need a change of approach, to change our tactics maybe and maybe try using a channel of communication we haven’t tried before…am just saying…
So, I made a conscious choice to be part of this “I CHOOSE PEACE” because, if peace is the only way I can protect my friends and family, then I will. I speak a minimum of seven languages but I can identify with none of them. Truth is, I CANT SPEAK my mother tongue but I can speak other Kenyan languages, so is my brother who speaks a minimum of five Kenyan languages but can neither speak Kikuyu or Maasai, which are supposed to be our speech communities. Within our home setting, it is common to hear one speak in Luo, Kamba, Turkana, Kipsigis or Sakuye within a single conversation. It is also common to find us discussing family matters in public because we can use a languge such as Rendille or Sakuye with too much comfort from knowing that people will never know what we are talking about within our home area. That is the joy of cultural diversity and multi-lingualism. Everything is so easy to do and you don’t have to post-pone decisions because you are in public.
If there will be social unrest, who will I identify with?
I may be able to use Dholuo, Sanye or Ndorobo languages but I cannot be able to identify with their culture. They are too much of a kinship community than we might know, and this becomes my undoing. I might be able to speak Segeju, Taveta, Taita, Mbeere or Pokomo languages but this still exempts me from their culture and lifestyles considering that there are some of their valued practices I can never be able to identify with. I might decide to try my luck with the Elmolo, Samburu, Elkony or the Njemps but my world and their world are too polarized for me to ever understand their way of life. Or I can decide to be the modern Kenyan and stick to Swahili and English, not to mention that what I call Swahili is the conventional sheng, but who does that make me? Is there a native tribe called Swahili or English? Whether we want to agree or not, the truth is that as much as we are all Kenyans, we have a second identity: our ethnicity of which we can neither erase nor denounce despite the common “I AM KENYAN” song that we keep singing.
See my dilemma? Well, am not alone. Most of the people I know have a problem with knowing their own mother tongue and have to be content with English and the little Swahili they know. Most them don’t know where they came from and you will hear the phrase, “mimi ni born tao” (I was born in the city) more often than you really want to believe and truth is, some Nairobians are born and die without knowing where they are rooted from.
My cousin for example, was born in Dandora. He calls himself the “son- of-a-hassler”. His father is Maasai and his mother is Kikuyu. After “hassling” through his education, he became one of the many “hasslers” whose bank accounts are wealthier than the National bank’s pool of stand-in deposits. All this time, he knows that he is a proud Maasai (Kenyans identify with their fathers tribe) from Kajiado –a faraway place he has never set foot at, and that his mother came from Kiambu, the land he calls A LAND OF HONEY AND MONEY both of which he has never gone to taste. Call it parental failure or whatever you want to name it, but that is how many Kenyans are. Despite us naming ourselves the “extended family” nation, we have aped too much of the west that most of the norms, cultures and morals we used to hold so dearly on to no longer have value or meaning and with their disappearance, the value of family too is disappearing.
That is why we can afford to have a load of tribal hate speech all over ourselves; our language, walking styles even our body posture spell out who we are to others in today’s society. E.g. the other day, I overheard a conversation at a university bus park. A lady and a man were too busy dissecting a woman walking by that they did not realize that most of the other by-standers were offering them free audience…but what got me was a remark -that left me wondering whether I was in Kenya or had crossed a boarder without realizing it -when the man said with utter conviction “those body tires (the fats around the abdominal areas), and those slim feet can only be THE WANJIRU SYNDROME. She can only be a KIKUYU!!!” to this the lady answered with a voice filled with malice and disgust “I hate all kikuyu women! How on earth do they survive!! God was so unfair to the world, he should have made them to be pigs or something” at this point, instead of being offended, I wanted to know what would make someone to hate a fellow human being with such intensity. The man was not about to let this go, so, very annoyed, he said, “my sister-in-law is a Kikuyu. That was the worst mistake my brother could have ever made. They are selfish thieves and they have no sense of community. Asking my brother for transport is always a problem because the wife has to say how much I am given and it sucks!” with a lot of annoyance the lady answered, “they behave like they own the world. They want big cars, large farm and always want to be the ones ruling the country. Why wouldn’t Uhuru just let it be and at least for this once support Raila? What did we ever do to them that make them think they are the supreme? I swear to God, if I had the power, I would Nazi them the Hitler way”
So bad my mat (a fourteen-seater public vehicle) came and I had to go…but to this day, I still think about what that lady said. This was a university chick who is supposed to be more rational and conscious of her social stand, a lady who should be able to differentiate between tribal hatred and political motives but who none the less did not.
As I was signing this commitment paper of “I CHOOSE PEACE”, a lot was going through my mind…..my family, my circle of friends, my relatives, my country and me.
After the signature was done, I looked at the paper for a few minutes and I knew then, that I was only one among thousands who had signed that paper because, like me, they had people to protect, and a life to live in a country we love…as I hold this paper, I have a single prayer, that on March 5th, like today, I will have a place to call home. I will have a party to go to with the assurance of coming back home safe because I have friends who would sacrifice themselves for me and who won’t see me as that Maasai girl who used to be their friend. I will have a nagging brother and a sweet mom to go back home to. I will still have a Borana boyfriend who will not see me as potential threat but above all that I will have a country to be proud of because we were mature enough to make selfless decisions and to see past our differences for the collective good of the country we love.
If my wish does not come true,
…… consider this the Epitaph of a beautiful life, which was once my country
……the sweet narrative of a once beautiful life
…… the sweet farewell of a beautiful soul that once lived and loved