One day last week, as I made my usual bleary-eyed early morning journey into town (I’ve started daily 7am classes at the Alliance Francaise and the mornings are a struggle), the cab driver was being philosophical. Out of the blue, he started talking about how lucky we were to enjoy another day: ‘how many would have given anything to have had this chance today’.
I took his point but in my groggy state treated it as a bit of a platitude: the past week, though, has jolted me into remembering just how true those words were. I watched the horror unfolding in Paris, and read the reports from Beirut. (Plus, on a personal note, I learnt about the untimely loss of my dear friend Ruben.) And at the weekend as I woke to the privilege of a break on the beautiful Kenyan coast, the cab driver’s reflections come back to me and resonated. I’m all too often guilty of letting petty day to day concerns blind me to just what a privilege each new day is: a privilege I need to remind myself never to take for granted.
On the subject of Paris, it’s been an eye-opener for me to watch the week’s events from the perspective of a country that went through something similar a few months back (147 students were massacred in the northern university town of Garissa back in April). I know that there has been a raging debate, on Facebook in particular, at the differing levels of social media attention given to these different atrocities.
Whilst not wanting to enter that debate on here (and I’m definitely not getting into the thorny subject of the mainstream media coverage, and who chooses to read what), there are a couple of points about the social media side I would make.
When I look at the sea of Facebook profile filters, and the countless shared expressions of shock, the way I rationalize this is that, for many of us, there is a very direct, personal connection with Paris as a city, and what it symbolizes; personal memories, and a closeness, that have made the events there, rightly or wrongly, resonate more immediately and profoundly. An attack there impacts deeply. But I feel strongly that this is not for a moment to suggest that, for those posting on their social media, those lives lost in other equally horrific attacks elsewhere are in any way valued less.
At the same time, however, watching things from here has made me more conscious than ever of the very understandable sense of hurt, injustice and indeed offence, that can result from such a skewed social media representation. I’ve listened to conversations over the past few days around how the recent outpouring of support from across the world, with its moving images of floodlit landmarks, has left a sense of alienation and (irrespective of whether it is true or not) a perception that a Kenyan life, a Beirut life, a Nigerian life is in some way less valuable. If you’re glancing down your news feed as a Kenyan, I can understand that. And this is something that I, for one, know I need to reflect on and be more cognizant of.
Away from the social media debate, I was interested also in the perspective I heard from those on the coast, many of whom have had their livelihoods decimated following Al-Shabab terrorist attacks in the past couple of years. I spent the weekend in Diani, a one hour flight from Nairobi which has been recognized as having some of the most stunning beaches in the world. Despite the idyllic location, with its pristine white sand, warm Indian Ocean and superb Swahili coconut fish curries, tourism in the region has collapsed. And from a local perspective, this is in heavy part due to an over-reaction from western governments; immediate travel bans and warnings, evacuations, with communities plunged into an economic wasteland and unemployment soaring. This was a disproportionate and needless reaction, many here would argue, (and not measures that anyone sensible is suggesting for France), which has only played straight into the hands of the terrorists. Unemployed, alienated, restless youth, with zero opportunities, become a perfect hotbed for extremist recruitment.
On a lighter note, I’m posting a few Diani pics. For anyone pondering holiday plans, I’ll do my little bit for the tourist board and for the locals here, and definitely recommend you add Kenya to your shortlist. You can enjoy beaches like these in the morning, and still be on safari in the afternoon. Or you can just tuck into one of those amazing prawn and coconut curries, and a bottle of Tusker.
Meantime, picking up from my cab driver last week, here to finish is that wonderful quote again from Maya Angelou (which personally I’d love to be better at adhering to):
‘Stormy or sunny days, glorious or lonely nights, I maintain an attitude of gratitude. Today I am blessed.’