Friday, January 20, 2006

More Mob Justice and News Briefs

There have been a lot of robberies lately in Uasin Gishu, just outside Eldoret. Locals suspected that the police were committing the crimes because everytime someone would call the police after being robbed, they would arrive six hours later, when the perpetrators were long gone. People decided to take the law into their own hands. At night they would block the roads so no getaway vehicles could pass. They couldn’t track down the actual criminals, who they suspected were Kikuyus, so they beat up a couple of Kikuyu vendors instead.


News briefs of note, collected while making French toast and listening to BBC in the mornings:

1. Germany has begun using a series of questions to determine if an immigrant is fit to be naturalized based on whether their value system agrees with what Germany considers to be correct. Lots of people are upset because they feel it discriminates against African Muslims in particular, who will most likely give the “wrong” answer to questions like:

Are men and women equally capable of doing the same job?
If your son told you he is homosexual and wants to live with another man, what you would say?
Is it okay for a man to beat his wife in order to discipline her?

My thought is that it’s not just Muslims who will give the “wrong” answer, it’s most of the people I meet on a daily basis. In my village, men and women alike believe in a strict division of labor based on gender, in the idea that a woman’s ideas and thoughts are not valuable, that a wife must obey her husband unconditionally, including embracing whatever opinion he tells her to embrace, and that a man must beat his wife in order to discipline her. And of course, that homosexuality doesn’t exist in Kenya because it is a scourge only found in the west.

The question of whether it’s right to use these kinds of interviews as a way to filter out “undesireables” is another matter altogether. If I were President of the USE (United States of Earth, as my fellow PCV Jenly calls it), I wouldn’t want people immigrating to my country who had unenlightened views about women, gays, people of other races or any other populations having traits that people use as an excuse to discriminate against them. In fact I’d want to round them up and flog them all.

But if I were the open-minded, accepting person I idealize myself to be – and Kenya has taught me that I’m not – I wouldn’t fault someone for the cultural values they were brought up with even if they offend me wildly. It’s a conflict I have constantly. Many of the same people who believe in these wrong answers are my friends (lets not kid ourselves, their answers are wrong in my opinion, so I’m going to stop putting “wrong” in quotes). It’s cultural, just as my values are cultural, and a purely objective anthropologist would say that neither value system is superior to the other. But the truth is that I think the idea of gender equality is superior to the idea that women should be subservient to men. I think the idea that no one should be discriminated or favored based on their race, culture, sexual orientation, age, religion, or whatever, is superior. And I so desperately want to shake people and say, “What’s wrong with you up there?” and change their minds and make them see it my way, but I know it’s unrealistic moral imperialism. (But for a good cause: my value system.)

I still haven’t figured out an effective way to share my views with people. I still get written off as the foreigner who doesn’t understand, like yesterday when I joked that my Kenyan husband will be fetching water. It’s especially hard because the matter-of-factness with which I’m told some things infuriates me even more. I went to a chief’s baraza (a town hall meeting) where the attendees were mostly men. We were sitting around chatting before the meeting and some of the older men started talking about how women aren’t allowed to own land under the laws of Kenya because women themselves are considered property. I knew he was just telling it like it is, not trying to demean me, so somehow I managed not to grab Grandpa by the neck and scream at him. Instead I said in a normal tone of voice, “You can own cows and chickens but women aren’t farm animals; you can’t own them.” And everyone just laughed and said, “But that’s what we believe in our culture.”

With people I know well, I like to test their boundaries. Today as I was gathering all the stray tree branches and plywood in my shamba into piles, Hillary said, “I wish my wife would come here so she could collect this firewood.” Because gathering firewood is the woman’s duty, which is why you see women walking along the road carrying huge stacks of firewood on their heads (only women carry things on their heads; men carry things on their backs).

And I said, “I think you should strap a pile of firewood to your head and carry it home for your wife.”

As I expected, he said, “Oh, that would be an abomination. She wouldn’t even appreciate it. She’d say why am I making the whole village to talk about how there’s something not normal with her husband?”

“But you’re not normal,” I said. “You believe in gender equality.”

“Yes, but I’m still normal,” he said. “I can’t carry firewood.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great essay Justina, I love your passion. -Pat

5:43 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home