The Man in the Glass

Friday evening. The end of a very long week. I’d just finished my pediatrics rotation that morning with an exam. The consultant had shown me my marks afterwards. I’d done well, and that was that. I was in the bathroom, looking at the mirror, pausing to let the fatigue and the sleep deprivation sink in. My eyes had lost the whiteness they once had. Exposure to medical jargon and medical textbooks was making me paranoid. I could almost detect jaundice in my eyes. Maybe it was the vaccine we’d been given that week, I didn’t know. And part of me didn’t want to find out. I know. I was shocked too.

There were multiple, tiny hairs sprouting from my chin. I already had the markings of a well pronounced mustache. I grinned. Adulthood was coming on well. My chest swelled with pride. I was finally making the transition from ‘cute’ to ‘hot’. I continued looking deep into my eyes, and it was then that the thoughts and feelings came flooding in, reminding me of the uncertainty and of the hopelessness that existed all around me.

I could probably speak for more than five minutes in fluent English. Probably one to minutes in Swahili, the most popular national language all over the country. But I hated speaking in English, especially around people with a predominantly urban background. They always had an accent, making me wonder if they had acquired it naturally or if they were simply trying to look sophisticated. That thought has always made me revert to speaking in Swahili, but the fact that I cannot speak it fluently enough bothers me. The same applies to my mother tongue. 11 years spent in a town with a huge population from a different ethnic community can do a lot of damage to your native language vocabulary, especially if those 11 years mark your development from child to teenager. As I stood with my hands clasping the sink, looking at the glass, I felt rootless. “Who are you? Where do you belong? Where are you right now? Where are you going?” These questions burned holes in my heart, and I could spot the despair in my eyes. I quickly shut them out. I started thinking about other things.

To say I read a lot is somewhat of an understatement. I have a very long reading list on my Calibre. Recently I’ve been reading a lot of articles on Africa, history, philosophy and even crime. I’ve felt the way writers portray us. I’ve watched movies where we’re the butt of jokes. I strove to understand why this was so. I googled extensively. I read about the suffering that we continue to go through. All this information came flooding back to me as I bored into my own eyes, looking for heaven-knows-what in those tired spherical balls.

I remembered the silence of western media when it comes to hiding looted wealth. I remembered the looting carried out by former presidents in our country. I remembered other articles I’d read, on Afghanistan and the events that led to the bombing of an embassy in my country (1998) and another in the US (9/11). I remembered the article on how members of the bin laden family and the house of Saud were allowed to fly out of the US when a strict no-fly policy was put in place. Kenya and the ICC was etched in my mind. A grim narrative was beginning to unfold. I could see grains of truth glaring down at me from the glass.

First, all systems of hierarchy, no matter how necessary they are to the continuity of law, peace and order, are susceptible to the influence of man’s most intrinsic traits: greed, power, and the sadistic tendency to crush the little man. From the scramble for colonies by the white man, to destruction of countries like Afghanistan and the DRC. When I look back at the history of assassinations of prominent leaders like LumumbaSankara and the economic exploitation that follows toppled states, I can barely handle the emotions that wrack my body. I begin to understand the reasons why people like Guevara resorted to violence. While many of the people who revolt and fight against perceived evils are not entirely clean and have agendas of their own, I understand why they do the things they do. It helps me understand how politicians are able to ride on the wave of anti imperialism and capture the heart of the nation, whether they were genuinely interested in bringing change or not.

I now have an inherent distrust of all systems of authority where human beings are involved. I will still obey their decrees and rules. I’ll pay my taxes. But do not be fooled. It is only those at the top that get to enjoy the privileges that come with having an organized society. A society that diligently pays its taxes and follows its leaders, like sheep to the slaughter house.

A final thought crossed my mind. It looked ironic, and rather tragic, that resource rich nations and regions like the DRC and Africa end up being the most impoverished and least developed. There is a theory for this as well, and it also touches on men of, ahem, ‘average height’. It was getting late and I was already starting to feel cramps in my arms for having grasped the sink for such a long period of time. Darkness had already started to fill the bathroom. I could barely see myself in the glass anymore. Was there anything that could be done to right the wrongs that have been inflicted on so many people for so many years? Was there anything I could do about it?

My mind snapped. I was tired of thinking, tired of feeling the gloom washing over me. Messaging girls and watching series felt much more appealing. I stepped out of the bathroom, unlocked my phone and promptly forgot about the thoughts of the man in the glass. They’d come back to haunt me of course, later at night, when everyone on my chat list would be fast asleep. The man in the glass would return.

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