I have been trying to write this piece for the last two weeks, and it has been agonising. I wrung my brain, trying to come up with zingy openings that compel you to keep reading, descriptions that cut to the core of how I feel, and yet don’t come across as overly sentimental. I worried about over-generalising, over-simplifying, over-dramatizing. I worried about being politically correct. Most of all, I worried about laying it bare…. or starting to.
You see this one is really important to me.
In reality, I have been trying to write this piece for the last decade.
So I am just going to write it. Ungarnished.
I popped my storytelling cherry a few months ago, and was preparing to tell Trupti’s story from John Sibi Okumu’s Role Play. I usually force my family to listen to me practice. They have perfected the art of zoning out, making grocery lists in their heads, as they watch my face for signs of when to make the appropriate oohs and aahs.
This time was different. By the end, my mum’s face was streaming with silent tears. Trupti tells the story of how her sister was raped by the military, in front of the whole family during the 1982 coup.
‘It was like that and worse Aleya. So much worse. They went from house to house, forcing their way in. The stealing was one thing, but they raped every woman they found. Every single one. In front of their brothers, fathers, grandfathers. So many of our Asian women.’
It is the first time she has ever spoken to me about these things.
‘A respected leader in the community stood outside his house, in only his underwear, wailing, crying, pretending they had stolen everything, just so the military would think his house had already been ransacked, and would leave them alone. Those were not fake tears Aleya. He was protecting his three daughters hiding in the house.’
What does it take for a man to do that? Stripped of his dignity. Forever.
We don’t talk about that sort of stuff. Is that why I sometimes see fear in my grandmother’s eyes when a black man she doesn’t know enters the house?
My friend asked me this once.
‘Why is it if I am alone in a lift with an older Muhindi woman, she shrinks back in fear, as if I am going to attack her?’
He asked me this only after we had become friends. After he had become comfortable enough with me to ask the uncomfortable questions. We both burst out laughing. The idea that he could attack anybody is simply absurd. He has the gentlest soul. The laughter was hollow. The idea was absurd to him. Indeed it is absurd. But imagine. A whole community living like that.
But we inherit our fears, just as we inherit our prejudice.
I have always wondered what happened to make my grandmother so frightened. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about the inherent fear so many women in my grandmother’s generation feel towards black men. This prejudice they then pass on to their daughters, and the daughters after that. It is ok to be friends with black women, but not ok to be friends with black men. Because you never know. The demonization of all black men. The fear of which, the basis we ourselves don’t understand, but we so often blindly adopt.
I am not interested in being politically correct anymore.
I have lived a truly sheltered life. My parents are working class, and have worked tooth and nail for that privilege of shelter. My father does not hide his opinion that I should have settled abroad. That was Plan A. Work hard. Save. Send kids abroad to university. They settle abroad. They live life in a country where they aren’t scared they are going to get kicked out any day.
I messed with the plan. I came back. I gave my heart to Kenya.
There are stories abound of Muhindi families with Idi Amin’s picture on their living room wall, a garland of flowers around the frame, in celebration, because that was the best thing that happened to them, getting kicked out of Uganda.
Memories of the 90’s when a certain politician went mad, and there were anti-Muhindi pamphlets making the rounds. Families advising each other to have a small bag packed. Ready to flee. Just in case.
Uganda was still fresh.
But flee where?
I was born here. My parents were born here. My grandparents were born here and have never even been to India.
I have heated arguments with my father
‘The problem with us Muhindis, is that we just live in our own bubble and refuse to participate in the country’s governance, and then we cry foul when we are treated differently, when we are told we are not Kenyan.’ I say.
‘We tried Aleya. We tried. When the country first gained independence, and started being cut up and doled out to relatives and friends, we raised our voices and on the front page of the National Newspapers it said ‘Asians if you don’t like it, get out!’ He says.
So the response of so many from my parents generation? Shut up. Burrow deeper into the bubble. Keep their heads down. Work hard. Make enough money so that their children have a choice.
They set down tentative roots. They made friends. They were buried here, and yes many of them gave Kenya their hearts, but always too afraid to love too much, because they never knew when their love would be stamped on by a steel boot. So they protect us from heartbreak, because they know our belonging here is tenuous. Because they know to give of your whole heart is foolish.
What does it do to a community….to feel that they don’t belong?
I have given my whole heart. It lies nestled in Kenya’s mouth. I have nowhere else. I am alive nowhere else. But it is like having an abusive lover. One that beats you up, humiliates you, taunts you about whether you are worthy of belonging to them. But I love. And for that reason, I can never leave.
What does it mean to be Kenyan. For me right now, to be Kenyan is to feel helpless.
I watch this inane swoop of alleged illegal immigrants and victimization of Somalis in the name of squashing terrorism, and it chills me to the core. It is illegal. Unconstitutional. Yet I don’t know what to do. I talk about it at the dinner table. It could be us. It has been us before. My father looks me at and says, that is why I told you to stay abroad. That was the plan A. I tell him, Dad, there is no plan A. This is my only plan.
Not yet Kenyan.
I weep with Mohammed Adow.
These are my own personal views. I do not speak for the Kenyan Indian community. I don’t even speak for my family. I speak only for myself.