Kenyans are a skeptical lot (who can blame them, seeing the sorts of governments and leaders we’ve had?). That cynicism could be interpreted in any number of ways, but in this case, I especially mean our inability to see better for ourselves. They say hope springs eternal but I think that spring came to Kenya, survived for a few months, then promptly dried up during one of our December-January (or is it now until February?) heat waves.
When I was pursuing my Bachelor’s degree a few years ago at Daystar University, I was one of those students that was in all the clubs – AIESEC; Environment; the school newspaper; Model United Nations; Rotary. You name it, I tried it. Part of the reason I was trying to be everywhere doing everything was my burning desire to travel. And what better way to do that than to network furiously till something popped up?
Ordinarily, what tends to happen at undergrad is that naturally, most of your friends are those studying for the same degree course. Studying Journalism and therefore coming across loads of information (I started doing this thing at undergrad 😅) and would forward lots of opportunities that were not quite my fit to friends who I thought were better suited. Everything from conferences to essay competitions and student awards. I would be so pumped, reminding them to “Tell me how it goes!” with a flood of emojis 😉. But alas, this was to be my first real taste of the Kenyan scarcity mentality that plagues us like body odour.
Any interaction with a Kenyan about anything good – even if it’s for them – will make you thoroughly doubt your ability to achieve anything. That way of thinking is not from nowhere, of course. When you live in a country where tarmacking is rampant and one job offer can draw thousands of applicants, it’s hard to imagine that you will be that one lucky duck that succeeds. Basically, you can’t live in that environment without it getting to you. Especially the idea that you can apply for something and be successful without having any connections that can push your case forward. “How, surely?” a Kenyan would ask. And you really can’t argue with them because that’s really how it’s like in this country.
But the minute you allow your brain to begin marinating in such a mindset, you’re doomed.
Everything gets painted with that same depressing shade. Like wearing green-tinted glasses, everything you look at becomes green. And that means the idea that you can’t achieve anything seeps into every single aspect of your life.
You want to have kids? Don’t bother. The economy is crumbling and who’s going to pay those insanely high school fees? And don’t even think of having multiple kids, that’s a no-go zone.
Want to pursue a degree in something that’s not Law, Medicine, Architecture or Engineering? Are you crazy? What sort of job will you get? You want to be paid peanuts? Want to start a business? Ha! Good luck with that. Don’t come crawling back when you’ve sunk millions into a worthless venture instead of putting your head down and participating in the drudgery of the 9-5 ratrace. It’s endless. And there’s absolutely nothing you can do that would be received with a “That’s a great idea. Go for it!” Maybe from your mother or sister. Everyone else will see the worst of it. As if they don’t trust that by the time you’re beginning this thing you’ve researched all there is to know about it and performed your own SWOT analysis.
I recently interviewed Chao Tayiana Maina and she told me how she began with a Computer Science degree and then branched into historical archival for her Master’s Degree. I of course had to ask how she’d made that switch and she narrated a tale as old as time. She’d been convinced to pursue Computer Science as her first degree despite her great interest in history.
Many of us were pushed into things we didn’t actually like. I was one of the lucky few (to study what was close to my heart) and I thank God every day for my mother’s ability to see past the usual Kenyan pessimism (a positivity still alive in her, possibly because she’s not originally from Kenya, or something. Sorry, countrymen and women 😅).
And I keep wondering, why are we like this (especially lately). Is it because we live in a world where we receive all the bad news the minute it happens (and it happens a lot here) thanks to social media (before the news media replays it all in the evening)? And would it then be imperative to disconnect and live most of our lives offline? Maybe. But not probable?
Because any sense of hopefulness will more often than not be swiftly crushed by whatever new disaster is unfolding. But, as it happens, things don’t only succeed in utopian societies. Even in the Kenya we’re living in today (tough economic times and all), there are still those daring to dream and taking a leap of faith, against all odds. You, therefore, should have some faith, if not for yourself then at least in others. Otherwise, do not throw wet blankets around.