Vulnerability

I just came back from Nairobi on the Matatu. The normal price for that journey is 100 shillings but if there is not much demand (oddly enough this is often the case when Im traveling TO town) it can be 80 bob (which is what I paid on the way there today) and when there is a queue at the stage the price can raise to 120.

I just paid 150! The conductor told me as much before I boarded so it wasn’t strictly a rip off but, on the other hand, it was because the majority of the people wanting to travel were school children reutrning for the new term! Talk about being taken advantage of!

While I was in town I talked to my frined Dominic who was featured here a while back. He spoke to me of the difficulty of the ‘vulnerability’ of people who live in rural Kenya. By this he meant the fact that there seems to be a tendancy for one to accept a proffered gift (or payment) irrespective of its utility or value (e.g. taking abundle of money in return for land which is worth a lot more and then leaving nothing for one’s children to live off).

I was struck by this term, vulnerability. Someone who has that mindset is certainly vulnerable and there are many examples of such people being taken advantage of: plenty of god land has been bought at low cost from its traditional owner/occupiers. Perhaps the most interesting part of it is the fact that the condition or mindset which leads to this vulnerability is taken for granted. It seems to be viewed as intrinsic to the people and its reuslt is that it makes them vulnerable, rather than saying that it is an attitude which they could change, a belief system they could opt out of or some other sort of choice.

Those of you who know me well will know that I am a strong proponent of the idea that we have control over our lives and need to make consious choices. I suspect that much of the fatalism I have perceived here arrises from a different belief system where people are not expected to be able to rise above their ‘nature’.

Another example arose from the conversation Dominic and I had in his car on the way to town. We talked of the Kenyan police’s crackdown on drunk driving with the use of a kind of brethalizer flute called Alcoblow. He told me it was victimization and a breeding ground for coruption (drivers offering a few thousand to the police officer to avoid a court appearance and afine of ten thousand),

“But there is a failsafe way to avoid both victimization and legitimate prosecution for drunk driving.” I told him, “Don’t drink and drive.”

He protested: “But we drink!”. Nature over choice again.

I respect his opinion, though I choose to disagree with it.

7 Comments

  1. Mark Says:

    I wrote this yesterday but WordPress has a facility to publish something as private which means it only shows up on the site for me, and that’s what I did. So here it is at last and now I can add the thoughts I had this morning on my way back from my run to Nguluni:

    In what sense to I ‘respect’ Dominic’s opinion of the nature and vulnerability of kenyan people? From what I have seen and the stories I have heard (more influential but less reliable of course) I think that many in rural Kenyan society in general are likley to be tempted by instant gains over long term investment and that people can take advantage of that.

    In what sense to I disagree with it? Setting aside the general, for any specific person, I think they have the choice to be tempted and vulnerable or not. Of course they have to know their what their options are in order to make such a choice, but I have met some remarkable people who have chosen to take control of their lives and choices.

    The general vs individual nature of this difference reminds me of the information I found on differences between British and ‘East African’ culture. I’m interested in the difference between the ‘we’ in ‘we drink’ and the ‘I’ in ‘I choose to disagree’ and wonder if it corresponds in any way to the differences between an individualistic and a collectivist one.

  2. Lydia Says:

    Do we have the choice to be tempted and vulnerable or not? Gosh, sweetheart, I think we do when life is rosy but when life is throwing its worst (and “worst” is entirely subjective, my “worst” may be another’s utopia but I hope not), going along with temptation and vulnerability may seem the only way to claw something out of existence. But then, I’m not one of the remarkable people…
    Thinking about British culture – I wonder whether you will notice any changes when you get back to the UK. I’m going to go off at a tangent because I feel quite strongly about something that some students told me yesterday. They are in their final year of school and one boy in their year who I taught two years ago was stopped and search on the London Underground recently. He’s a nice kid, hardworking, polite and positive about life. They gave him a form (apparently they have to), lots of fine print including the reason for stopping him, the reason he was so suspicious – “carrying two bags”. The students who related this knew quite well why he’d really been stopped, nothing to do with his bags and a lot to do with his ethnic origin. Racism is flourishing in England like duckweed.

  3. Chris Says:

    Yeah, I’ll second that Lydia… The political landscape of the UK has changed a lot since the 7th of July. On your way back Mark you’ll probably see one of the horrible airport posters that’s meant to encourage citizens to inform on “terrorists”… it shows a close-up of the brown eyes of a man with brown skin and talks about the “terrorists” who might be living next door. It’s quite sickening. (Apparently there are other posters with other ethnicities but I’ve never seen any of them.)

    At least London is very multicultural and there’s a chance to mix with and meet people of different backgrounds. Scotland, where I lived for the last 7 years, is generally much more racist than England. Mostly, I suspect, because (ironically perhaps) there are less immigrants – apart from the English, who are moving there in droves.

  4. Mark Says:

    Gulp! 0)

    Before I volunteered I worked for a company that had a contract to create the computer system into which the data from those ‘stop and search’ forms are entered. It is my belief, based on what I heard there and what I saw of the reporting that the system provides, that a significant reason for which the system was commissioned is the need to take action against racism (I’d not like to say whether within society or the police force).

  5. Sophia Says:

    I think British people as vulnerable in a simialr way. Look at the hige bedts they are collecting!

  6. Sophia Says:

    ooops – lots of typos!

    Here is what I _meant_:

    I think British people are as vulnerable in a similar way.
    Look at the huge debts they are collecting!

  7. Natty Says:

    Sounds like the Brits are catching up to America, where our much beloved Constitution has been reduced to a “Goddamned sheet of paper.”

    Can it really be that we have three more years of this? How much can our present administration ruin in that amount of time?

    Our country’s attitude is turning, however. It’s my hope that the fall congressional elections will go to the democrats in droves and we can get that branch of government out of the hands of the Republican party. That, and they all seem to be falling under investigation and indictment for corruption (Scooter Libby, Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, perhaps Karl Rove and hope of hopes Dick Cheney if Fitzgerald squeezes Scooter enough during his investigation of the Plame leak). Now if only W’s new stacked Supreme Court will continue operating under a modicum of common sense….