Thursday, January 12, 2006

Bums and Bombs

You know you’re beginning to develop a circle of friends when you can sit around with someone and gossip about how you think a mutual friend is ruining his own life.

My friend stopped into the village for a visit today. He ran off to join the Kenyan Army and just settled into his new post on the beach in Mombasa. When he left for boot camp in September he was this idealistic young doctor with big dreams of going to England or America to pursue additional degrees, who could talk for hours about how deeply personal social injustice, corruption and human rights violations were to him, who wanted to change Kenyan history by overthrowing the current administration and replacing it with a reformed, progressive government. He was #1 in his class for all twelve years of primary and secondary school, and got his degree from Nairobi University, Kenya’s best. He’s brilliant, dedicated, hard-working and passionate. He joined the army with plans to pursue further medical studies, paid for by the military.

Today he says boot camp has made him forget most of what he knows about medicine, but now he wants to study to become a bomb expert so he can work with gadgets, avoid dealing with people, and spend his career sitting on the beach waiting for police to find a live bomb so he can be called in to defuse it, while collecting a fat military paycheck, taking advantage of the military discount on beer (20 shillings a bottle instead of 65 shillings or more), and commanding the status and power of being a card-carrying commissioned army officer.

Why bombs? Because people appreciate your work. Who isn’t going to show gratitude if you’ve just stopped a bomb from blowing their face off? Also there are so few bombs in Kenya that most days he can just do nothing.

“You’re so smart, and you could do so much for Kenya,” I said. “But you want to sit on the beach and drink beer?”

“Yah,” he said with a huge grin. “I just want to relax.”

It just seems like such a waste of valuable talent for Kenya. Somehow in a country where so few people have access to upward mobility, it seems like people like my friend should feel a civic duty to do something for their less fortunate countrymen. I suppose it’s not fair for me to expect him to shoulder this kind of burden. But Hillary and I had a private gossip session later about why our friend would choose to become, in our opinion, a bum.

“You know he’s a Luo and Luos like money.”
“When people get money they just forget about everything they thought they stood for.”
“He’s still young and malleable. Maybe he’ll realize after a few years that he needs more than money and sitting on the beach to be happy.”
“He doesn’t know yet what he really wants. Give it time.”
“He’s a lost cause.”

Something smells like shrimp cocktail and its driving me crazy. I miss seafood!!


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