How not to take offence as an African

Recently I was at my hairdresser’s house to have my hair done.  As usual, we exchanged stories of our childhood – we like to compare and contrast Kenyan to Nigerian ‘style of them days’.  Sometimes it’s like a competition as to who had more fun.  We are roughly the same age so our childhood experiences in different countries occurred at the same.  Not surprising we had similar experiences, especially where our mothers were concerned.

Our mothers, we found out, were fond of giving reverse instructions.  For example, if you were required to look after your baby sister, your mother would most likely leave the following instructions:

“When I get back, I want to find that baby boiling on the fire instead of the maize and beans in the corner!”

Or, “Don’t feed the baby!” Or “Don’t clean any dishes and go visit your friends all day!”

Of course, from a very early age, we knew better than to carry out those instructions.  We did what was expected of us from no instructions or reserve instructions.  I am yet to find someone who carried out those actual reverse instructions.  If you are out there [i.e. you survived the inevitable murder] hit me up.

Can you imagine if we left the same instructions to our millennial children today?  We wouldn’t last a day in sanityville.  Our children would be convinced we’d lost the plot and the government would take them from us.  We’d be accused of inciting children to commit crimes and we would be diagnosed with a range of mental illnesses.

We decided to put the reverse instructions to test.  My hairdresser called out to one of her daughters who had just come home from school and said to her….. “I hope you did nothing in school today!  Go to the kitchen eat your food and don’t do the dishes!”  She looked confused.  She said… “What?  Why would you say that?  Then, without warning, walked away.  I’m sure she was convinced we’d smoked something.

This got me thinking, what if our parents were preparing us for life in the diaspora.  The diaspora where people ask such ridiculous questions they make you want to kill yourself.  The diaspora where people call you ‘lucky’ the minute you tell them you are from Africa.  Maybe we should answer their questions in the same manner.  Maybe we should solidify their stupidity into the next millennia.

Here are a few things to think about: –

Firstly, stop explaining to people that Africa is a continent.  Accept it is a country, and that we do speak African, and eat African bush food.  Do not get worked up trying to explain how vast the ‘continent’ is or stuff like how a country like Nigeria has over three hundred different languages, or Kenya has 43 tribes. “Are you sure these are languages or dialects?”  They’ll ask you with a tilted head.  Make your life easier and just say “yes dialects not languages.”

If you tell them you are Kenyan [the enlightened few who think Kenya is another word for Africa], and they ask if you are Maasai, do them a favour and say yes, smile and walk away.  As far as they are concerned Maasai are the only people in Kenya.  You will save yourself time and heartache by not trying to explain your tribe.  Another enlightened lot [or so they think], will ask if you belong to the Obama tribe, also answer yes, smile and walk away.  If they ask if you’ve ever eaten a lion, say you have not only eaten one but killed many.  This, hopefully, will send a message of how quickly you can destroy them if they keep asking silly questions.  At this point, you’ll be forgiven for not smiling but do walk away.

If someone asked how you are enjoying the luxuries of the west – you know, given that your entire family lives on top of a tree with no Wi-Fi, react appropriately by smiling and do not grit your teeth.  Tell them how happy you are to be living here in a heated flat with indoor plumbing.  If they look horrified, tell them about the greedy narcissistic African leaders who have drained your country’s wealth and natural resources.  Tell them how you’ve seen actual children drinking dirty water, and how lucky you were to have escaped that: and now not only do you drink clean water from a tap, but you bath with hot water from a tap.  Talk about the impending death of many Africans due to incurable diseases and how lucky you feel now that you have the NHS.

If they ask about your corrupt government, agree with them and tell them tales of people you know who are on death row for speaking out or expressing any of the freedoms we take for granted in Europe e.g. loving someone of the same sex.  If they ask about your experiences of FGM tell them that was the sole reason for escaping to Europe.  Don’t waste your time talking about the economy or anything related, and definitely, do not talk about further education like masters or PhD because then you’d have to explain where you attained your degree since ‘no girls’ attend schools and boys attend windowless mud hut classrooms and do not progress past primary school.

If they ask you about your childhood, tell them how you wore underwear for the first time when you were thirteen.  Tell them how your first menstrual pad was cocoa leaves. Tell them how your nights were filled with dread and sounds of the thickets and forests.  Remember to tell them about the village leopard that came out at night to roam the little paths.

If they tell you that Africa is lucky to have escaped the evils of the internet, agree with them.  Do not, I repeat, do not indulge them with stories of Mpesa and direct flights to New York.  In fact, tell them how you travel home – you take a flight to the South of Spain, take a canoe to Morocco and bam you are home in Africa, all you have to do is walk to your village.  You don’t need luggage as long as you have your spear to hunt food.

Remind them though that you can dance and eat for Africa.

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  1. Hyacinth Amutalla

    I once carried out those reverse instructions. Mum left me in charge of the weekly milk and bread and sukuma wiki ( kale) shopping while whe went upcountry. She knew roughly how much change she would come back to, she however said « And I will find that you have bought chips and sausages ». Losely translated from mother tongue. When she came back and asked for change, I told her that there wasn’t any as I had bought chips and sausages as she told me to. She gave me a look that seemed like she was wondering if by any chance I was 100% upstairs. She almost took a swing at me but decided otherwise probably thinking that it wasn’t my fault that I was born that way. . I got away with it. Off course I knew what she meant about buying chips and sausages, but it was my only chance to treat myself daily while others ate sukuma wiki and ugali. After that, instructions given to me were very clear, which was a shame really because I really longed for the chips when I was given housekeeping money.

  2. Edith

    This is funny but make a lot of sense. No need to waste time trying to educate this people. If they ask if you are from Obama’s tribe, say yes, if they ask if you are a Maasai say yes too! That means they don’t have a clue of what is coming out of their mouth.
    The one I loved, if they asked about eating a lion, tell them you have killed many for meat! Whoever is asking this questions will be the one to start making there way, in case you do anything
    I love being African and being a Kenyan


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