Saturday, March 28, 2009

I hate that I feel at home at a supermarket

I got a beef with the wizungu ("white people" in Swahili, plural of "mzungu"). The country used to be a British colony, and though Kenya became an independent country in 1963, it doesn't feel like British imperialism is over. But instead of it being a political iimperialism, it's now more of a corporate and economic one. I feel like wizungu are here--and have always been here--to plunder Kenya of its wealth. And to be fair, it's not just the British. There are people here from all over Euope and North America (except Mexico...I think finding a Latino in Kenya is like finding a unicorn.)

But what really gets me, and this might be a bit presumptuous on my part, is my suspicion that a lot of the wizungu hate Kenya. Many of them live in big Western-style houses, watch only Western satellite TV, eat only Western foods, and shop only at the big Westerner-targeted supermarket (Nakumatt). It's as if they don't want to be here in Kenya at all. They have transported their Western lives to Kenya, creating this perfect bubble that they never have to leave. The best illustration of this is a conversation I overheard between a British woman and a younger Kenyan man who was presumable her potential house cleaner. She told him, "and I cannot stand the sight of dust. So don't let any dust get in the house." WHAT?! That's all Kenya is! Dust, dust, and more dust! If she hates dust, she hates Kenya.

Clearly, I'm different. I love Kenya. I serve the poor; I don't use them for money or any other self-serving purpose. But is that really true? I think I got so upset by the wizungu in Kenya because I'm just as guilty. I'm angry with myself. I resent the fact that I feel most at home at Nakumatt, the big Western supermarket chain. I hate that I daydream so much about the food I'm going to eat when I get back to the States, and I must admit that I've given in and have eaten at both the burger chain and the Mexican food chain. I'm angry that I sometimes need to sit down and watch an American TV show or movie. (Kenyan TV is pure crap.) I hate that I get so frustrated and imptient with the inefficiency and tardiness of Kenyans. This is Africa, after all! (Not America.) And worst of all, I suspect that I also use Kenyans for selfish reasons. Not for money, but I'll take picture of people without asking sometimes, or maybe I'll use them for a story or blog entry that coiuld win me admiration from my family and friends. (I'm not trying to do that now.) I didn't come to Kenya or ICROSS for self-serving reasons, but in any act of kindness, there's always that voice (that "little dude") that asks, "Now what can I get from this?"

Maybe I'm being too hard on myself and on the other wizungu in Kenya. I shouldn't forget that wizungu have done a lot of good in Kenya (humanitarian aid, tourism, etc.). And we shouldn't have to totally abandon our culture and lifestyle when we're here. But whether we want to admit it or not, we all kinda hate the dust... At times, we all hate Kenya.

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