I’ve often heard that the three major topics people are told to avoid discussing in social gatherings are RELIGION, MONEY & POLITICS. Ok, for some the list is different, but these three are major no-go zones in most situations because people have very strong opinions and sometimes arguing over these things can be very costly, say if your Seventh-day Adventist self was yapping away at your Hindu boss…
Personally, I think the major no-no is MONEY (the thing that supposedly made man mad). Why? Because that, more than anything else makes people uncomfortable. And yet, it is unavoidable. It affects both the high and low, much like HIV/AIDS; in fact it is the very thing that defines the members of the two groups.
So allow me to commit a faux pas and discuss the big, bad Benjamins and the social repercussions of being a ‘have’ and a ‘havenot’ in my neck of the woods. Why? Because this is my blog…ha, I kid, but really because some things are troubling me.
All right, so this post is about the middle class and whether being a member of the said category is a blessing or curse. Well I see myself as a ‘middle-middle’ class individual (in my opinion there is an upper and lower middle class as shall be deduced from the next sentence). This means that I live in an average home in an averagely priced suburb and went through averagely priced schooling. Basically I’m neither too badly nor well off. Niko pahali wastani. And I suspect that this is where most young Kenyans are because any one of us can tell you that the ‘High’ and the ‘Low’ (speaking strictly financially) are very easy to pick out.
What troubles me has to do with the doors/windows etc that are both open and shut to a middle class individual. While I was fortunate enough to attend university and pursue the degree of my choice it was not without its difficulties, 80% of which were financial. The remaining 20% had to do with the facilities, professionalism and general attitude towards the teaching of the course at the public university.
I honestly do not feel like I received the best training at my university! At least not in the 2 years before I specialized and even then some courses were taught in a very ‘ish-ish’ manner. I’ve heard many people say the same of other Kenyan universities, both public and private. However since I can only vouch for my own experience, I feel that it is unfair that such a basic yet vital need is handled so poorly!
Education is power! And I do not understand how universities can operate in such a manner when we depend on them to empower and inspire us to improve our society! I also think the state of public universities is such a disgrace especially since these are the most accessible quarters for both the middle and lower class in society!
Seriously, how many thousands do they take up? And with exorbitantly priced parallel degree courses surely they must have the necessary resources to improve the facilities? We make up a sizable chunk of the society, don’t we deserve better? Sadly, we have no real power. We have the numbers, we can take to the streets à la revolutions across History but because we lack clear and sustainable goals the senseless rioting that breaks out waters down the honesty with which any protest began.
Sometimes I look back and wish that I had attended a better equipped university, say United States International University (USIU). It is said to have the best library in East Africa! But, back then as now it is out of my reach. And the truth is, if I hadn’t gone to The University of Nairobi I probably would not have gone to uni at all… Therefore I cannot in one fell swoop say ‘my uni was total crap’…it was, just not totally (wink, wink) because I made some really good friends and had experiences that I would not have had anywhere else. For example walking across town every evening after class and enjoying the quiet beauty of our city streets or attending an early morning game drive with my classmates for our environmental journalism class.
Those simple things then become the redeeming qualities of a middle class existence. Rubbing against life, being one with humanity! (Ha, that was so ‘oh la la’) Basically, being broke has its benefits. You become grateful for everything that you forge with your own hands. The sweat on your brow from walking in the sun is countered by the joy of taking in fresh air, staring at the sky, taking in all the life, colour and hope around you (not to mention the health benefits of it all!) I suppose this is why the world over it is the middle class who drive arts and culture, they are often outdoors and need to amuse themselves, hehe!
On the one hand I truthfully do not want to take back the hardships that I have experienced; they have shaped who I am today. Made me more thoughtful, careful and hugely appreciative of my life.
But on the other hand, I wonder why it has to be so difficult.
I’d love to pursue a Masters degree in literature and creative writing but how shall I afford it especially since I’ve realized that I would have to go abroad? Also how shall I deal with the quiet hostility that is often directed towards those who leave Kenya for whatever reason? (Insert joke about the (non) contagious American and Indian accents here) Is it wrong to have aspirations beyond the middle class? If an individual of any class should become successful what identity should they take on? Are they now higher-middle class? What are their mannerisms? Will they javv? Can they still eat 5 bob mandazis?
Well, like I said at the beginning, money is a sensitive topic and there are no simple answers to my questions. However I believe that Kenyans of all classes deserve to be treated with dignity and it is their right to receive the very best that our country has to offer…or we shall plan harambees and ship off to other places, hehe!