I often ponder this question as I walk through the back ways and alleys of the African country I am in. So I decided to walk and ask. Here is what I found.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” I politely asked a lady who seemed to be having a bit of trouble with her six month old. “What seems to be the problem here?”
“Can’t you see I am teaching my daughter how not to cry by slapping her hand and shaking her? Go away you bother me,” she angrily shouted at me. So on I left.
As I passed a grocery store, I heard a screaming and wailing and poked my head inside just in time to see a mother slap her fiver year old across his face. “I said no, put that two shilling piece of candy back, I can’t afford it with my two hundred shillings worth of ice cream which you won’t get now!” No one seemed to notice but me. It seemed like she slapped him again just for good measure.
I quickly left, heading down an alley that I knew to be a shortcut. I passed a man angrily yelling at a lady, striking her hard across her face.
“I told you to get home and cook my lunch! Why don’t you listen?” he yelled at her.
“I had to get more vegetables, I will cook now,” she sobbed.
“You are too slow, I am hungry!” He reached back as if to hit her again. By then I had reached the two and grabbed his wrist before he could swing at her. Suddenly there were about five people yelling at me to mind my own business, don’t interfere, go away white boy among many things in Swahili. Yeah, I left, hoping my distraction spared her some pain.
On I walked, thinking to stop in at a school I saw ahead.
As I was passing through the gate, I noticed a girl about ten years old getting sick as she was running to class. Poor thing was having troubles I could tell so I ran to catch up to her to see if she was all right. She entered her classroom a bit before I got there, but I could hear the teacher already yelling at her. I entered the class just as the teacher brought a yard down across her back.
“SIR! What the heck?” I yelled without thinking.
“She was sick which caused her to be late, I can’t have that in my class!” he yelled back as he thumped her again. “Just move along before I call for the police.”
“Police,” I thought to myself. “They would be handy about now.”
No sooner did I hit the road and I heard a yell from behind me. “Mzungu!”
Seeing as I was the only white guy in the area, I turned to look over my shoulder, more out of curiosity than anything else. Oh cool, the police officer I can talk to about the teacher! “Yes sir?” I politely ask.
“Let me see your papers! (passport and visa). What are you doing where are you going what’s your work?” I didn’t really hear him since I was too shocked at his tone.
“What?” I asked, still shocked. “According to the amendment to your Constitution of 2012, you can’t just walk up to me and ask me such things unless I have committed a crime, am committing a crime, or planning to commit one. So instead of wasting your time with me, let’s go see about a teacher beating his student.”
“No, that doesn’t concern me. Show me now or I will take you to Central Police.”
“Ok ok geez.” I saw his hand tightening his grip on his baton so thought I might as well entertain his question. “Here is my legal visa and passport, all in order. I don’t do anything here, just visiting.”
“I need to get to know you better. Let’s go to Central.”
“Seriously? You have got to be kidding me.” I was getting a bit nervous.
“Or you can give me a thousand shillings and we forget about it,” he grinned.
“Nah, lets go to Central.” I returned his grin, even more fake than his. I had a ‘get out of jail free’ card up my sleeve I was rather confident in so without hesitation, I turned and headed towards Central, making sure my long strides kept me far enough in front of my escort.
“Mzungu!” I heard as we entered the Central Station. I turned towards the voice. “What brings you here?”
I had a run in with four corrupt police officers and two civilians after returning to Nairobi awhile back. This guy told me if I ever had problems to see him. I was now seeing him. “Chief Daniel. Nice to see you, it has been far too long. How are you and your two children and wife?” I politely asked.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the color drain from my police escorts face. All are well thank you for asking ,” he said as he pumped my hand in a nice firm handshake. “Again, why are you here?”
“Seems your deputy and I have had a slight disagreement as to why I need to show him my passport and the results if I didn’t. I thought it was about time to see you again, so here we are. Oh, and as you told me last trip here, tell you about any corruption I might run across such as what my friend did previously. This guy asked for a grand to forget about stopping me.”
You could have heard a pin drop. The look Chief gave his deputy would have stopped a bus. Chief reached on his desk, took a pen and piece of paper. “Mzungu, name and cell number I will call you please close the door on your way out.”
Not once did he look at me and yes, I left, quickly, closing the door as I left.
I was beat. I needed to go to my favorite café in my favorite area just outside of Thika. I took the twenty minute walk to catch the bus, Route 45 to Gutherie. Usually there are about ten buses for that route but they were suspiciously absent from view. Having ridden those buses many many times before, I knew where to catch them but also knew some of the conductors in charge of the route. Seeing one, I walked up to him and was pleased I could see that he recognized me. “Hi there, mambo?” I asked in a friendly greeting.
“Poa,” was his reply for good but I could tell in his eyes all was not well.
“What’s going on with Route 45 to Gutherie? They move the buses?”
“No, terrorists blew one up a short while ago in Gutherie so they are stopped.” He looked down. Speechless is an understatement, my mouth wouldn’t have worked anyway.
After a few moments, all I could utter was a quiet, “Why?”
“Al-Shabob thinks they can change us with violence and I don’t know why they would think that,” he just turned and left.
Change with violence. Now there’s an interesting concept. Violence begets more violence. Where would people get such thoughts and ideas? My mind was boggled, I was dead tired and feeling empty. I headed home…
All these examples were based on my real life experiences in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. I changed only the outcome. I stepped in far more times than I reported with many more examples to tell. I know I can’t change things by myself, but I will continue to try one person at a time. Violence against women and children is a universal no no and will remain so. Everything for the children. The children are our future, the adults had their chance and messed it up. Africa? You want to change? Start at home, see what happens.