I was seated in a café of an elegant shopping mall in Nairobi’s posh area. I was reading next to a couple sitting at the table next to me. The man was black and wore elegant yet casual clothes. The white woman wore clothes that would go unnoticed. They had ordered one drink which they shared with the help of a single straw, and, as they liked it, the man ordered a second one. They were happily recalling the safari they had just come back from, laughing and speaking of how lucky they were and how wonderful it had been. As it was getting dark and cold, the man then asked for the bill. It was brought to them.
Suddenly the woman started speaking in an angry tone and I was dragged out of my reading.
–Every time it’s the same thing! When did it not happen these last days! I will tell the waitress! She has to know. I’m fed up with this!
–Honey you can’t go on educating the whole world, said the man
–I told you already that I have no ambitions as far as the world is concerned, but I don’t want to contribute to world’s racism. I understand that for you it is not insulting.
–You are wrong it is as insulting for me! Do you think I was not annoyed by the warden at Amboseli when he asked if you were also paying for me? It seems like I am a kept man.
She calmed down. It was obvious that she was extremely angry but probably angrier at her partner not understanding, so she calmed down. From the conversation she had I understood that the couple were both UN workers but the man held a higher or more lucrative position.
Finally the waitress came back.
–Excuse me do women in Kenya pay for men’s bills?
As the waitress was silent she continued doing her best not to seem angry.
–Did I order? Did I ask for the bill? No. So why did you hand the bill to me. You could have simply put it on the table.
–I assumed you earned more.
At the waitress’s sincerity she calmed down.
–You see this is not to be taken lightely. First it is bad for me: if you put the bill on the table because I am a mzungu [a white person] it is , she laughed like out of shame, racist.
She whispered that word for nobody but me to hear as if she was ashamed for the girl whom she called racist.
“Look, she said to the girl, I am not telling you off, I am explaining things from a different perspective as a friend”. She continued:
“It is indeed bad for me, but it is worst for my husband. You are calling him a kept man. This gentleman here earns almost three times what I earn. And thirdly, she paused, it is bad for you”. Here she pointed the young waitress in an insistent way.
“It ultimately implies that you think that blacks are less than whites, that they need to be supported because they can’t come to a place and pay for the drinks they have ordered. Never ever ever dare think again that blacks are less than whites. If Mandela and Obama thought like you the world would still be as shitty as fifty years ago. My husband here is much much better than any of the best mzungus. That’s why he is my husband ”.
It was an interesting interaction and I was hoping the girl had understood the depth of those words.
Another friend of mine who usually drives us, two white girls and a white guy for lunch because he is the only one of us to own a car, was recently approached by a girl. “ Are you the driver of those white people”. When he told me that story two weeks after it occurred, he was still shaking from anger.
What I find tragic is the mindsets behind these tiny events. The blacks are not realizing that such thoughts are keeping them behind.