Proudly Kenyan

On one 7th August 2008, I was traveling from upcountry to Nairobi to visit an aunt of mine who lived in Majengo area near California Estate. I was with my cousin whom we schooled together in an upcountry school. During the school holidays my parents allowed me to spend the holidays with my cousin in Nairobi. As we reached Nairobi at around 10:30 a.m. we were shocked to be welcomed by a chaotic scene where everybody was running away from the city centre and others were driving out of town. At first we did not know what was going on because of all the commotion and confusion. There were so many policemen and police vehicles all over town. There were also gazillion ambulances dashing in and out of the city centre, a scene that I was not too familiar with in my upcountry home. Our matatu driver cautiously drove away from the commotion towards River Road where we were to alight. We later learnt that there had been a terrorist attack on the U.S embassy and that Ufundi House had collapsed.
My cousin and I were too young to understand what a terrorist attack meant leave alone what this meant in terms of the people who had been caught in between this unfortunate event. All we knew then was that things were not good. From a far off, we could see huge billows of smoke from one of Nairobi’s sky scrappers and two army helicopters hovering over the area with the smoke. St. John’s and Red Cross’ ambulances were all over each street and sirens filled the mid morning air of Nairobi. My heart was pounding fast as my cousin, who was well versed in the streets of Nairobi, took my hand and luggage as we walked hurriedly towards the stage where we boarded a Kenya Bus that was heading to Majengo.

When we reached home, all that we could see on television were graphic images of a collapsed Ufundi house, a U.S Embassy building turned to rubbles and so many people covered in blood. I can’t quite remember all that was going through my mind that day but I was struck by how selfless Kenyans of all walks of life were working together and tirelessly to help the people that were trapped under the rubbles. From this experience I saw the unity of Kenyans coming together irrespective of tribe, religion or social status. That day we were one. We were Kenyans.

Over the years I have seen how Kenyans unite when tragedy comes knocking at our doors. As I write this fresh memories still linger in my head of the recent incident of the collapse of a building somewhere in Kiambu and also of the deadly Nakumatt downtown fire incident. I was impressed and humbled to see how many Kenyans were selfless and brave enough to risk their lives to save others. In all these incidences, I am more than persuaded that Kenyans are a very united and selfless people. This is what makes me to be proudly Kenyan. Yes the unfateful events of the post-election violence would prove my statement incorrect, but I know that deep down our Kenyan identity we are a very selfless, kind and united people.

I have had the privilege of traveling abroad on several occasions to five different countries and I must say that my experiences have made me to be more proud of my Kenyan and African identity. While staying and studying in the U.S for one year, I must say that what I missed most was the warmness and sense of community that we Kenyans have. Life in the U.S. goes very fast and everyone is always busy and required to be on time for everything. I must confess that having to be punctual at everything was a great challenge for me as a student. From my experience as a University of Nairobi student, having to be on time for lectures has never been a problem. Take for instance, if I have a class at 11:00 a.m., I usually leave my room at 10:50 a.m. and arrive five minutes late and mind you I will still be early for my class. In the U.S. things are different, classes and meetings start promptly at the allocated time, even if you are meeting a friend over coffee or for a date you have to keep time. Well, I know it is said that time is money, but I have come to realize that for us Kenyans, we are more concerned with the event happening as opposed to what time the event will start or end. I guess that’s why it is said that we Africans have the time while the Europeans have the watches. What I am proud of as a Kenyan in terms of time keeping, we are always careful to spend much quality time with our friends and family. In America or in the developed world, social meetings are done within the confines of allocated time because people are always catching the next bus, the next working shift or the next plane.

Another thing that makes me a proud Kenyan is that though we have so many problems in our society, beginning from low living standards, poor infrastructure, and lack of access to good health care systems, corruption, and an endless list of other problems; we are quite a resilient and grateful people. I love the Kenyan spirit. The spirit that always smiles and appreciates whatever circumstance there is, even in the midst of a host of all the problems that define our day-to-day life. While living in America, I was struck by how different life is in all its aspects. For example, I would say Americans are spoilt with choice and opportunities for better living standards. For instance, if I wanted to have milk in the morning for my breakfast. I had to choose between having 2% milk, whole milk, or low fat milk. If I wanted to have coke, I had to choose between diet coke and regular coke. Everywhere and everything I wanted, I had to make a choice of either this or that. In Kenya, for any common mwananchi, the question of which kind of milk one would like to have does not come before the question of the availability of the milk. But despite all these differences and inadequacies, Kenyans wake up everyday with a hope and determination to better their daily standards. I have a great admiration for the masons and “hustlers” who wake up each day; they either have tea (black tea for that matter) with either bread or the ugali that remained from yesterday’s supper and they head out to a full day’s work where they will be paid peanuts. This is so unlike life in America where people are paid per hour and still many of them are ungrateful or even realize that the kind of life they have is a heaven to someone else.

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