I have not yet found any area of the planet earth in which it would be pleasant to grow old. I do however count myself extremely fortunate to be growing old in Kenya for the following reasons.
The indigenous populations of East Africa have a culture of respect for the aged. For most of the rest of the world the opposite is the case. The Aged, both firm and infirm, cannot be dispensed with quickly enough as they become a social and economical embarrassment and burden to their younger generation. They must be hurriedly hidden away to await death in some dismal, expensive care (less!?) home. Such an unfortunate fate awaits an ever-increasing portion of the Caucasian populations. Over one million a year is the increase of retirees in the UK alone as the baby boomers turn into geriatric ‘doomers.’
Happily this is not the case in Kenya. This Kenyan virtue and lack of it in other cultures was well illustrated when I found myself on 4th Avenue in New York a couple of years ago.
I had best describe myself, as I obviously appeared to the cab driver in question. He saw an old and decrepit geriatric with white hair and long white beard shuffling along with a limp, a stoop and a walking stick. I had failed to obey a ‘Don’t cross’ pedestrian traffic light, causing a stream of loudly-shouted oaths bestowed on me by this New York cabby. Having endured in my time two years of vocal instruction from his and her UK majesty’s staff sergeants on the parade ground and from bosuns before the mast for a further two years, nobody could call me sensitive. Nevertheless the language from the cabby showed lack of any sort of respect. Not only did the cabby suggest I had illegal, immoral and incestuous relations with my female parent but also that I had the strangest taste preference for living meat.
Compare this cab driver with one of Nairobi’s cab drivers, who are not famed for being the most courteous of Kenya’s citizens. On one occasion I committed a similar crime on Kenyatta Avenue. The oncoming cab driver stopped his cab in the middle of the road and walked over to assist me in crossing the busy street. All the other drivers on the road were in complete sympathy with his actions.
I once had the job of welcoming and orientating 100 visitors to Kenya from the UK every month, half of whom had travelled British Airways and the other half, Kenya Airways. All of those who had travelled with Kenya Airways said they would continue to do so because of the exceptional excellence and sympathy of the Kenya Airways cabin crew, which contrasted with the professional forced smiles of the BA cabin crews.
Another unexpected pleasure of becoming old in Kenya is that should you find yourself in any queue you will automatically be directed to the front, whatever the colour of your skin – the privilege of the aged!
Before the coming of the Europeans, Kenya’s tribes didn’t have monarchs nor dictators to order their lives, but accepted instead rule from the Elders. This precious respect for the elderly in Kenya could easily be turned to a huge advantage, which I will explain in my next blog. Incredibly, this potential does not seem to have occurred to anyone else!