I grew up on the compound of a private British curriculum school (cue the judgmental assumptions). Both my father and mother are teachers, thus my education, or at least the certifiable recognition of it, is important. My historical education was skewed, limited, and severely lacking in complete truth. I mean fine, I hated History class because my teacher was the worst so I would mostly check out in class and dream of the day I would drop it, burn the books, and run, far far away, breaking the braces off my legs with intense speed whose power was matched only by my complete disregard for the ensuing consequences! (breathe)
But the few times I did pay attention, we were learning about Napoleon, Hitler, Queen Elizabeth, and Karen Blixen. Not about the heritage of the country the school resided in, nope, of course not, because in what world does that make sense? Not this one definitely! My history class was like a little Western appreciation club living in a bubble that neglected to make clear the fact – part of the decadence of that History was made possible by the blood my great grandfather spilled. There are massive gaps in my understanding of Kenya, and the world over as a result of my limited in-class education or, you know, the me not caring for my class part. The explanation depends on how you were taught to tell lies; either economically, or in abundance. I gleaned, from the material and content presented to me in Western appreciation in comparison to the realisations discovered in later life (now), that the latter was the way to go.
My Cucu and Guka, as children, experienced things a child shouldn’t experience. My mother and father are products of a traumatised generation, the kind that didn’t like to talk about Karen Blixen, Hugh Cholmondeley, Berkeley Cole, Josslyn Victor Hay, and the rest of the Happy Valley set. I am the product of a generation that didn’t have much to say about dreadlocks of honour, because not much was said to them. So all I had to go on when it came to understanding my history was a darkness on my continent suddenly lit up by the presence of lighter skin tones like that of Karen Blixen and her friends.
If you wanted to call me lazy or ignorant for not taking the initiative to find out more about my country’s true history in the 21st century with all this information floating around in the virtual air, I wouldn’t blame you. I am, in regard to certain subjects, ignorant. And I am, in many aspects, lazy. But (here comes my petty excuse) there is little to question when you are unaware there are answers, different kinds of answers.
I read an article recently that was talking about cultural appropriation, a term that’s been floating around a lot lately like a toxic fart bomb released by 1000 pumbas, the author implied, but that was my first recent encounter with it. Ummm, so any who, she talked about African Americans and their Africanness and the way both sides treat each entity like they’re not part of it, sort of like a Malcolm in the middle situation, kind of, maybe. It got me thinking about the thing that makes me Kenyan.
Is it that I was born here? From the government’s perspective, yes. Is that enough? Maybe it’s the fact I panda matatus and throw sawa into conversations and say maji with the yuh sound, instead of the harsh j sound Kenyan’s use – apparently corrupting the Swahili language, so that I feel like I can speak Kiswahili sanifu. Clean! It can’t be that I’m in touch with my tribal ancestry, because I don’t speak a word of Kitharaka or Gikuyu except for thithi, because it’s the only word in any language I’ve come across that perfectly describes that feeling, so it’s stuck in my head. It’s definitely not that I’m a product of the Kenyan education system because I only know about mono through stories my year 9 classmates told me after ‘crossing over’ to join me in the British bubble of privilege. Maybe, just maybe, it is because the blood that flows through me, is the same blood that flowed through the men and women who traversed the jungles, plains, and grasslands to find the beauty that is Mount Kenya. Maybe it’s the fact I climbed Mt. Kenya (just gonna throw that in there so you know I’m a champion! Yup! Point Lenana like a pro! Me and 20 other people, in that same moment, and like millions(?) more before that, but whatever, still an accomplishment!).
Maybe it’s the way my hips curve like Mumbi’s did 300 years ago, or the Njagi in my smile. Maybe it’s in the kink of my hair and my mango laced lips. But it is, indeed, within me, that Kenya is; even devoid of all the understanding that I seek.
So, if you want to give me a talking to about my lack of patriotism displayed by my ignorance or my lazy approach to learning about this gloriously flawed but beautiful country that I call home; you can find me in the National Archives, trying to figure all this stuff out and piece my history together.
Featured image source: VenturesAfrica