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How we ended up being a distrustful and cynical society

Saturday November 23 2013
NJUPX

If a stranger stops to offer a greeting, you either take off in the opposite direction, scream your lungs out, or studiously ignore the “weird person”. For all you know, he or she could be some con, a thug intending to rob you at gun point, or the latest job description in Kenya’s crime world: a kidnapper. ILLUSTRATION/IGAH

Last week on Saturday, I went to commiserate with a friend who had lost her sister.

She hails from somewhere in the bowels of Murang’a County and, at some point, we had to leave the car in which we were travelling and walk the rest of the way to her parents’ homestead.

As we struggled up the winding, narrow path, something unexpected happened; something that hadn’t happened to me in a long time — at least not in Nairobi.

Several people, total strangers heading in the opposite direction, warmly greeted us. No handshakes were exchanged, but none were needed; the warmth in their eyes and the genuineness of their smiles were enough.

It was obvious to those people that we were “foreigners”, but instead of viewing us with suspicion, they welcomed us wholeheartedly even though they had no idea what business had taken us there.

That evening, we travelled back to our city homes, where if a stranger stops to offer a greeting, you either take off in the opposite direction, scream your lungs out, or studiously ignore the “weird person”.

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For all you know, he or she could be some con, a thug intending to rob you at gun point, or the latest job description in Kenya’s crime world: a kidnapper.

With such possibilities, one would be forgiven for wearing suspicion and mistrust like a cloak.

The only times I extend or accept greetings from someone I don’t know is in church, and only when the minister asks us to “say hi to the person seated next to you,” at work-related functions for the sake of networking, or other public functions such as weddings and fund-raisers. In these instances, it would seem rude if you ignored the people next to you.

SURVIVAL STRATEGY

I blame this snobbishness (or is it survival strategy?) on the prevailing insecurity and rising crime in the country. The truth is that you cannot help being suspicious of every stranger that looks your way for a second longer than is acceptable.

Even children are no longer the innocent sweethearts we knew.

A few weeks ago, a neighbour was telling me about another neighbour whose child’s bicycle was stolen from her compound in broad daylight.

A couple of days later, the stolen bicycle was spotted in a shop that deals with second-hand furniture. Investigations led them to a gang of three—two men and a seven-year-old boy.

The boy’s job was to get into different compounds, take whatever had been left “lying around” and walk out with it.

The men would then take over from that point. The rationale is that one would find it difficult to descend on a helpless lad with blows and kicks should one corner a child trying to steal from one.

The decay in society has become so bad that it has eroded the compassionate, humane nature in us.

Consider this: the other day, a relative offered a lift to a couple of school children on their way home in the evening.

It was raining cats and dogs and the poor tots — they were four — were soaked to the bone.

Later on, thinking about it, he felt like repeatedly kicking himself when it occurred to him how foolhardy his action had been.

What if he had been mistaken for a kidnapper or paedophile (there are too many of these nowadays) and lynched? Or have the police tail him? Just what if....

Gone are the days when stopping to greet a child was normal. Today, one could be accused of being a sex predator. And that is something that every mother contemplates with forbidding trepidation.

What a suspicious society we have been compelled to become.

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