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.