I believe Mombasa is one of the best places to live in Kenya. Maybe I’m biased because this is where I come from and home is home right? That aside, the culture here is so beautiful and profound, it gives you warmth. We are a collectivist society which means we mostly do things as a society rather than individuals. This can be depicted in how we conduct our weddings, our funerals, our charity and all kind of activities. There is a strong sense of brotherhood which brings together many different yet similar people from all walks of life. As much as things are not the same as they were in the past and more people have now adopted the private lifestyle, we still are one in many ways.
Nonetheless, in many of the occasions that we connect and stand with one another, we cross lines. It is never intentional and most times, we never even notice that we are doing it. We go beyond limits and over-step despite our pure intentions to help. So I’ll be the bad cop today and point some habits that sometimes aren’t as pleasant as we may think.
Note: I am VERY sure the things I am about to mention happen in other communities as well. But I don’t belong in those other communities and it wouldn’t be right to speak of what I’m not really sure of.
So, people…here we go:
1. New born babies are extremely exciting. Everyone wants to see them, touch them, smell them and hold them. They are pure joy. As soon as a mother gives birth, we rush to the hospital to see the new bundle of joy. I say it again, we mean well. I mean we are family right? So half an hour after a delivery, the hospital room is full of people and laughter and…a VERY exhausted mother. Having to keep smiling for everyone who walks in, trying to silence the new baby, listening to everyone talk. Have you ever thought how this situation is for a new mother? She has just undergone a very painful experience, probably the most painful in her life. It is a new thing. Her hormones are gushing out, milk flowing over, her entire body system is messed up and is trying to adapt to the changes. This new bundle of joy is new to her too, whether it is her first baby or the fifth, it is still a new adjustment for her because every child will be different. Every five minutes, the child is either crying or a new visitor is walking in. Of course, she can’t let her visitors alone. So she wakes up and listens to the endless, often contradicting advice on children. This will go on for days. She probably can’t even remember the last time she slept soundly. She can’t ask people not to come because yes, she does want her family and friends to be happy with her…but she needs rest too. She needs to breathe. She needs a break to make sense of what is happening and adjust appropriately.
I am not saying we shouldn’t visit new mothers, I’m just saying, a text message is good enough on the first days after delivery especially if you are not immediate family or very close to the individual. I am sure your message will be appreciated. Just make a point to inform them that you will visit them once they settle down a bit. Communicating your intention is important. Then visit them after a month or so, when they’ve had a chance to adjust. It doesn’t make you a bad cousin or friend, it makes you empathetic and human.
2. Visiting sick people is a thing for us. Go to Coast general and see the buibuis and kanzus in large numbers visiting their sick relatives. It is a beautiful trait within us; compassion. Often times we are not sure how to support and help our sick relatives which makes us helpless, so we decide to over-stay by their bed side even when we aren’t exactly needed. Sometimes we travel from other countries and stay at the sick person’s place, with the intention of being there for them. However, most often than not, we cause them further discomfort especially if we are not immediate family or very close relatives. Because now, this sick person and whoever is with them, have to worry about one more person; YOU. What will the visitor eat? Will they be okay sleeping in this room? What if they see X (the patient) vomiting or crying in pain? They now become more cautious in their own house. We mean well yes, but there’s always a limit to how much our presence is needed. Visit the sick, stay with them for some little time, pray for them or with them, support them but once you are not needed, kindly give them the space. Of course this differs according to the state of the patient but you get my point right? (I’m sure someone is saying to themselves, we have the over-staying visitors even when no one is sick too!! Yeah, those too…)
3. Newly-weds: Weddings are such an exciting thing here. We invest in them emotionally, physically and mentally. So much so that once the groom has taken his wife, we still want to be updated on every detail of their life. We tactfully visit them every other day to ‘see how they’re doing’. We want to know whether they have adjusted, whether the wife can cook good food, whether they have a fridge, whether they have consummated their marriage?!
Two people have just started a new life together. It is a very big step. They need time to know each other and to adapt. Someone has been living with their parents for perhaps twenty or more good years of their life and now it is a totally different house, with a different person, a different neighbourhood. Yet here we are, knocking on their door, as soon as they tie the knot.
Of course parents and siblings would want to assist in the adjustment and that is fine but that too has limits. And for the distant relatives and friends, we have to be even more careful not to cross the limits.
4. Asking newly-weds when they will have kids, can be very irritating and sometimes humiliating. You can never know what a couple is going through. You can never know whether the lady cries herself to sleep, wishing and praying so hard to have a child. You can never know how many doctors they’ve seen and how long they’ve been trying. It is okay to ask someone whether they have children but totally not okay to ask them why or when or even worse, joke about it. You just never know the pain they could be enduring. Be sensitive to people. You just never know…
Same applies to asking unmarried people when they are planning to get married. Huh, some youth want to end their lives because of that kind of unnecessary pressure. Also take note; there is the kind of asking where someone is genuinely concerned about you and the kind of asking that is just meant to pressurize you. The latter is what bothers everyone who is asked.
5. Funerals: Grief is a very subjective emotion. The way one will deal with a loss will be totally different with another. This includes siblings and family members. We could have undergone the same tremendous loss but one would lock themselves in the room not eating for days while another wouldn’t shed a tear. It doesn’t make either of the experiences less painful. We are just different like that.
Now when someone dies, we come together and show support to those who have lost a loved one. However, we tend to camp at the deceased’s house, forgetting what kind of discomfort we could be causing. Someone just lost her husband, but here she is, even three days after the burial, her house is filled with people. She can’t have a minute to herself because there are people lying around and chit-chatting everyyywhere. She has to think about what the visitors will eat, who will cook, do we even have groceries? Sometimes it is the immediate family of the deceased who go into the kitchen to cook for the visitors, tears streaming from their faces as they cook the stew. How unfair is that? Making someone who is undergoing great amount of pain, push aside their emotions because there are thirty people in the house with empty stomachs. How unfair is it for the widow who hasn’t had a minute to herself to let it sink in, to breathe, to cry without anyone hovering over her shoulder.
We might think that everyone wants to have a crowd patting them on the back and crying with them but that is not true. Often times we need the support at the first instance of the death through to the end of the funeral. After that we just need to be alone or be with someone really close to us.
We definitely should not disregard that the loss is for several people and not just one person or immediate family. Of course death affects many people and it is okay to grieve too. But sometimes it is better that we grieve at our own space and allow the immediate family to grieve their own way.
I love my home and my people. Honestly I do and even more, I love how we are always ready to stand up for each other as a community. Nonetheless there are these instances and several more whereby we need to be wiser on how we deal with situations and people. Let us think of the other parties more. Let us be more empathetic as much as we are compassionate.
P.S This is but my opinion and everyone is entitled to their own. I mean no harm. Thank you.
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