The Art of Being

Dedicated to Rachel.


Entitlement. I didn’t quite understand the true connotations of this word. I wasn’t a spoilt brat and I knew to finish the food on my plate. I knew about the faceless poor in Africa and sent them a thought of consideration when prompted. I loathed the rich and entitled snobs who treated money like mere paper and throwing  it about like confetti. I felt that was being entitled and I felt like a good person for disliking that trait; surely that made me grateful,no?

When I moved to Kenya with my family, the inner struggle to adapt that ensued gave a resounding no as answer to the aforementioned,what I thought was, rhetorical question. No, you’re not grateful, no, you’re not a good person by merely disliking snobs.

I spent the better part of the first two years fighting my new world. I hated it. I hated it. I didn’t unpack my bags because that’d mean I’d have to unpack my mind. My mind was still huddling in the corner of my old room back in Sweden because it refused to stretch to fit this new reality. I wanted to recreate the utopia I lived in and I was going to do that by criticizing anything that was subpar. The unpaved roads,the erratic routine of the matatus, the lack of public libraries! I viewed Kenya like a tracing paper; I desperately wanted to copy my old world onto this and how disgruntled I became when it refused to follow suit!

Somewhere between the second and third year my adoptive country took on a different hue in my eyes. I stopped tracing it after Sweden and I started to view it as a whole on its own. I broke down the monolith into neighbours,classmates,fellow commuters. I started acquainting myself with our housekeepers and was appalled to learn that they had to walk for an hour to get to our house at 7.30 a.m. each morning. That was two hours spent each day on the road to feed their families with the saved busfare. As I learnt more about the struggles – or rather, what I perceived as struggles- of the Kenyan people I also noticed a discrepancy; they weren’t disgruntled. They seemed content with life as it was. I’d say they seemed even more content than the faces I grew up seeing around me.

At first, it seemed paradoxical ; that the very people I grew up learning gratitude from were more grateful than me and my likes, even though we possessed more. But life is often paradoxical, the way a reflection in the mirror is vertically flipped, but not really. When I removed my convictions and stance from the lens through which I was viewing this new world, I saw things very clearly.

The poor are not born with a silver spoon in their mouths nor do they grow up entertaining endless possibilities by virtue of a family with many gateways towards higher levels. Not necessarily money, but connections and property.

Everything they have, the little they own they achieved through sweat and blistered feet. Because they never hold expectations, they never feel entitled. Hardships are a permanent fixture to life, like the chilling winters or hot summers. It’s not something that fazes them because it just is. Every little reprieve is welcomed with open arms and every achievement is seen as a blessing. Because abundance is not a common thing, their energy goes more towards being. Being ; optimistic, relentless, determined, respectful. Grateful for just living.

I had my hands full, so I never discovered the palms of my hands. I was too distracted by frivolous expectations and self-important entitlements to reflect on what wasn’t. I was simply too busy having things to just be. Kenya taught me to see my jagged edges in the potholes, and to see my emotional thirst in the frequent water shortages. It removed all distractions and acted like a mirror; wherever I turned there I was.

And FYI;  I wasn’t really disliking the snobs; I was jealous.