A few weeks ago on a Friday I was traveling from Nairobi to Machakos and I had a very interesting and enlightening journey. The best time to beat Mombasa road traffic out of town on a weekend is to travel anytime past eight o’clock in the evening and I was boarding my matatu at around quarter to nine. The vehicle I found was not very appealing because it was one of these new Toyota vans with very small boxes as the windows, which are very inconveniently located and distributed if you ask me. I’m quite claustrophobic and a vehicle without windows is a deathtrap for me. To make it worse, the only available seat was a middle seat, but at least it was close to a window. Since it was getting late, I decided to brave this one and perhaps try to convince the other passenger to crack the window open from time to time. At the time, only their bag was on the seat which is the Kenyan version of “Dibs” so I settled in my seat, paid my fare and waited.
“Ero! Sasa mimi amepata pesa, lakini apana pata change ya elfu moja. Tutafanya namna gani?” A very heavy Maasai accented gentleman spoke those words from outside to a group of touts who then roared with laughter. One of them then replied, “Leta nikuangalilie kwa ofisi Kasee.” Then he went away laughing. “Wewe apana ita mimi mzee. Mzee ni baba yako,” the Massai fella retorted before asking one of the other touts, “Ero mimi atakojoa wapi?” He was directed to the toilets and left one of his bags with the touts with express instructions not to lose it. I couldn’t help chuckling. After a while, he came back, collected his change and settled in the seat beside mine. I immediately noticed his fine cowboy had, pure leather duffel bag and Rolex watch. His cologne was quite distinct as well, an unusual match for traditional Maasai wear. The journey kicked off.
Slightly past Syokimau an Iphone rang(We all know the default ringtone) and it was my neighbor’s. I’m a Kenyan so my curiosity was piqued. The Maasai gentleman, the one who “couldn’t” speak proper Kiswahili received the call and had an entire conversation in English. His English was very refined too, not the “You guy, my guy jana was lit” kind Nairobians torment us with. I’m not very proud of it, but I eavesdropped and from what I gathered a driver had ferried American passengers from Maasai Mara to JKIA and now needed fuel money to make the return trip. One of the passengers was the one calling and my neighbor asked her to tell the driver to use the $200 (about Ksh.20,000) he received as his tip, then he would be refunded via M-pesa the following day, or as soon as the journey to Machakos was completed.
As soon as the call was over, he turned to me and asked how long it should take us to get to Machakos, in English. I responded and a conversation ensued. As it turned out, the gentleman owns a resort and camp in Massai Maara and was currently traveling to see his wife and children who had recently relocated to Machakos because of her work. She’s a bank manager. In addition, “James” (not his real name) can fluently speak in five international language, Including French and Italian. James is a university professor who has lectured at Cambridge, Harvard University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), among others. We had a very interesting conversation and I got a lot of insight from him.
One look at James and what comes to one’s mind is an illiterate Maasai man who’s entire life revolves around cattle bu he is in fact more enlightened than the touts who were mocking him and the many more people who instantly dismissed him. Ask yourself, how shallow is your perception of people or anything for that matter. Do you acknowledge people with regard to what they have to offer or is your vision tainted with untruths that were programmed into your by society?
This incident also raises another concern. Why is tradition often viewed as backwardness? The modern Kenyan won’t even converse in mother-tongue because it gets them weird looks from those around them. We’ve become so “modernized” that we’ve lost the very essence of who we are. I think it’s time we shave away the negativity with which we’ve regarded culture and start accepting it as a unique quality that identifies and distinguishes us.