“Who is your Mother”? My mum would always ask.
I recently heard a conversation between a child and an older person who I really hope wasn’t her mother. I say that because my insane mind could not comprehend the fact that such a conversation could exist between a parent and their child. I actually cringed in my corner in broad day light like a man haunted by the unseen. Yes like a mad man. I know what you are thinking. I will not indulge you.
Let me tell you about a certain extinct group of people who in my days were referred to as “our parents”. To them, Madness was not something that you woke up with one day. No, certain behaviours were taken to be signs of early infection and once detected, some mitigation techniques were introduced as a treatment. Like many children those days, my mother (shudders) once detected what seemed to be an infection. And she dealt with it.
You may not know it, but boys(at least from our age) start liking girls at a very early age. I was not different. I liked one too. There is no madness in that. Here is the madness, I liked my teacher. Here is more maddening madness; I told my best friend about it. And the insanity of it all was in discussing in detail what I would like to do with her. I was young then and that did not mean much but whatever I meant landed me in a lot of trouble.
My best friend on the other hand was in a more advanced stage of madness because he told his mum and his mum told my mum. I always knew something was wrong whenever my best friend was frog marched to our house. I would start confessing to myself all the sins I had knowingly and unknowingly committed that day.
The only problem was I never thought the conversation we had about the teacher I liked would ever leave our bones where we hid all other secrets. I still wonder how that foolish boy even started telling his mum about that particular story. Come to think of it, I don’t know how he still had all his teeth intact after the first line of the confession. Lucky for him, his mum had somehow started evolving into a “friend-zone” kind of parent.
Well, the first line is all my mother had to hear. One line and no witnesses and my case became extra judicial. Well to cut the long story short, I was frog marched to school (read, beaten while being asked rhetorical questions like “Whose child are you?” and since I thought answering the questions would stop the beating, I honestly did. The beating continued). I was told to apologize to the teacher and tell her what I had done wrong. I had no problem with the nasty beating ( I knew I was adopted) or the apologizing bit, but the confessing of my sin to my teacher? That was a low blow. I can actually trace my average results throughout school to that day.
In my days, if you were playing outside and an elderly person passed by, we would stop playing go over and say hi and if she was carrying any luggage we would help her carry it to her house then go back and play if she did not insist we sit down for a cup of tea. It was unheard of for me to sit down in church, a hotel, in the bus or even in our own house while an adult stranger or not, stood.
If a visitor came to our house, regardless of who they were and what we were watching on TV, we would switch it off, I would go outside to play while my sisters prepared something for the guests. We knew everything about our neighbours and they knew everything about us. If any of our neighbours was known to have bad manners (the true meaning of the word) everyone was to stay away from them.
We did not wait for special occasions to visit each other. It was obvious that if I am not home then I am at so and so’s. If I did something wrong, I was punished “on location” and on the spot. Our neighbours would even at times have people call them using our land line. Remember reverse calls? (If not that was an advanced flash back)
If our parents had to travel, they were comfortable leaving us in the capable hands of our neighbours for days! Our neighbours reserved the right to send us to the shop if they wanted. We were a community we were a society. No one was trying to outdo the other. You could not ask for something that your neighbours did not have and if they had then you were to share. No need to get another one. That’s how I never got my own a BMX bike.
Back to the story that made me cringe the other day; how do you talk back to your mother like you are age mates? How do you click and still have a tongue? How do you walk away and not have your legs broken? How do you listen to music or watch TV as your mum talks to you and you still survive to tell others that you did it?
I know it sounds like we were brought in a military camp or a cult, but we looked out for each other. People were genuine. If someone walked up to you and said they dont have food, they meant it. Not only did you give them something to eat but also some to carry home. If someone asked for directions, you would go the extra mile to point them in the right direction.
Mothers were sacred. Fathers were kings. Little children were angels. I cannot remember how many times a stranger stopped what they were doing to help me cross the road. My own sisters would not leave the school compound until they saw me in front of them. Not just me, but my neighbours too. If you saw one of us the other seven, were nearby.
Today, who cares! Children are on earphones from the point they get home or are in their rooms the whole day. Very minimal interaction with each and the rest of the world. We even have names for them; introverts and so we excuse them. Those who are not in the house are outside and no one cares where they are and what they are exposed to?
You cannot correct someone’s child even if they insulted you to your face. If you tell their parents (if you ever find them) they say you must have done something to aggravate the child. And so we grow up and we maintain the same attitudes. We “mind our business”. If you see us walking in town, we have no time for anything that does not concern us.
Our “How are Yous” are superficial and our “I am Fines” plastic. We see someone who needs help over there but there is nothing we can do. Someone else will. We walk on. We hear of car-jackings and robberies, our neighbours fighting, and our friends committing suicide but not even that can distract us. We are plugged in to ourselves and our world.
We scoff at the government for talking about Nyumba kumi (ten houses). “Will knowing my neighbours help me pay rent?” We ask each other. “The less I know about you the better. I have my own problems, why should I listen to yours? Don’t tell me how to run my life and I will not tell you how to run yours. Mind your own business!”
And so one day, its your story we are talking about. Your neighbour blew himself up and brought down the entire flat. That new tenant who was “doing renovations”, that guy who you met with every weekend at the gate. He was not a stranger. You had seen him a couple of times. But you went on to mind your own business as he did his.
Now you need to raise a ransom to free your daughter, if she is still alive (you pray she is). You need to live without a limb after someone threw a grenade at you. You need to start a fresh after your business was literally brought down and the the insurance “cant help you”. You need to bury your entire family who had gone shopping when they were attacked.
You look for “that guy” that fishy one. He is nowhere to be found. You want to make it your business. But its too late. You hate and avoid “that tribe and those people.” But not even hating them will make you feel better. You should have said something back then. You should have made it your business to know their business. You should have cared. You should have.
Mind your own business. But mind “the environment” in which you mind your business also. This is Mad talk I know, but could this be the remedy to terrorism and crime in general?
But what do I know, I am just a Mad Man minding my own business. Mind yours!