Yesterday, I went through a rough series of events with my friends. It took me decades back to when my grandfathers were alive and young as they fought so hard for freedom in my country; Kenya.
I never got to see my mother’s father Josphat, but judging from the way my father’s dad Bartholomew, treated me, it would have been the same. It is interesting that I found out that my late grandpa Bartholomew shared and exact birthday date with Nelson Madiba Mandela. So that gives you an idea how long this gentleman walked on this earth.
Yesterday, I finally made sense why at times my grandfather Bartholomew, went silent as he stared into my Bambi eyes as if he had recalled something deep buried in his memory. This man had gone through so much hurt, both physical and emotional as he fought as a soldier to protect this country against colonialist attacks. Half his life was spent on the battlefield as he prayed and hoped that his family back home would be safe under the care of his wife Rhoda and protection from his eldest son, my father Simpson.
Every Sunday morning, after grandma and I made him breakfast, I would run to his house to serve him but he was never inside. I would find him whispering a prayer at the foot of his favorite tree that he called Salome which stood next to a river that streamed through the Kakamega forest. I think that apart from the day my grandma Rhoda passed-on, these mornings of prayer were the only times I got to see my grandfather with a slight hint of weakness. He always stood tough and tall even at his old age.
There’s a day I found him talking to his fellow ex-warrior who happened to be his brother-in-law. The talk seemed too intense and I knew that this little girl was not to interfere. But they called me to join them anyway. Suddenly, their faces that were folded with so much tension softened and beamed when they started speaking to each other in my native language, Luhya. I did not understand a thing they said, but I sure knew that I was the topic of discussion.
I think that it pleased their hearts to know that their long years of fighting for independence were all worth every scar. However, the painful memories of the war somehow remained evident by the look in their eyes. I guess that it is never easy for an indestructible soldier to run away from the human inside him.
These ex-combatants, who with a glance at their little grand-daughter softened up, had a dream that they could see coming to life. A dream that one day their grandchildren would walk the streets of their country without the colour of their skin getting them into trouble. A dream that their granddaughters would confidently run their homes just as grandma Rhoda single-handedly championed. That never again would Kenyan blood ever shed out of hate. Never would racism ever prevail. Never would women be tagged as the weaker sex.
Never again! Never again! Never again!
But yesterday, all these feelings of discrimination hit home when my girlfriends and I were personally served with cruel blows of racism. Who would have thought that after celebrating the wedding day of our friend, a ladies’ evening out to eat would end with scars of racism in our hearts.
Since when did it become a custom for classy-looking ladies with a generous amount of money to spend on themselves, to get tagged as prostitutes? This is what my girlfriends and I were called by some gentlemen at a local restaurant in Nairobi.
We were dressed like we were from a wedding and from the moment we arrived at the venue, we were treated differently and even allocated a secluded table away from the rest of the customers who majority were Caucasian, Indian and Chinese. At first we thought that there must have been a reason for the seclusion and were actually waiting for an explanation.
Sadly, this shifted gear when one of the waiters had a laugh with the lighter-skinned customers discussing how it must be that my friends and I were prostitutes. Our appetites flew out the window as soon as we all tried to digest what we had heard said about us.
All that run through my mind were countless questions; what made them think that? Why were we secluded in the first place? Is it wrong for us to spend on ourselves? Why was the lady sitting amongst the gents stomaching that nonsense? Why do I feel like all of my grandpa’s and father’s effort to get me an education and set me apart as a virtuous woman get insulted?
My friends and I tried our best to confront the staff and management at the restaurant but at the end of the day, it seemed that no matter how hard we tried to reason with the management about this issue, all we got was…Nothing!
The (female) director of the restaurant had already promised to take care of our bill as compensation but it changed course when the guards refused to open the gate for us to leave. Also, when the waiter and (male) deputy director followed us to the car park with a bill for us to pay. Let us not forget how they made a scene by shouting at us, “We are busy so you need to pay-up!”
The night ended with the director jumping-ship on us by saying that she had only agreed to pay for the juice as she thought it was the only item we were planning to purchase all evening. Hearing this from a lady made it all worse. How could we have come to such a restaurant, dressed so elegant with lots to talk about all evening, only buy to fruit punch worth Ksh. 130 all evening?
I was disgusted and could not stomach how the air around me suddenly lacked any doze of intelligence. It seemed like I was back in the Stone Age. We paid-up and dashed off to the car as fast as possible and away from the bad glances we got after our painful battle with the racist individuals.
These fellows were ignorant of the fact that they were stepping on the soil that is strengthened by the blood and sweat of our forefathers who fought for the independence of our country.
I found it hard thinking about telling the story to my father who could bring them down with the power of Kenyan and international media. But, I just told it to my mother who knew best how to handle such a situation. It is sad that in one week I could face a series of discrimination because of my gender, age and race in my own country. This is also a reason why I quit my job this week.
I thought about the questions my daughters or sons will ask me one day about this issue and how I would tell them I confronted it.
I would certainly not want to tell them how I kept quiet and did nothing.
I will tell them that I fought hard with the tools I knew best; persuasion, writing and speech.
All these years of education must be used to do something powerful anyway…
My only hope is that this message may at least touch a heart and empower every person who reads this story to never keep quiet but always stand up and fight hard for what they believe in till death do us part. No matter the colour of your skin…
Fight! Fight! Fight!
Fight for the love of humanity!