I had decided not to write about this after getting over my anger a day later, partially because the prejudice was not explicit enough to warrant a blog post, I thought. However, upon recounting the story to a friend, she insisted that I write about the experience specifically because the classism was so subtle, so engrained that a guilty party may not realise their chauvinism while those on the receiving end find it difficult to express.
One beautiful Sunday, some friends and I had decided to hike Mt Suswa, one of Kenya’s beautiful hidden secrets, located ridiculously close to Nairobi. We were a group of 4 – one Rwandan, one Indian, and two Kenyans. The plan was to take the Narok matatu (public minibus) until Duka Moja, then take boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) towards the start of the trail, a good 20km into the Suswa Conservancy.
Two days before the hike, a French girl I’d briefly met at a get-together heard of our planned trip through a mutual friend and texted me asking if she could join. “Of course,” I said, and again when she asked if she could bring some of her Danish friends along – the more the merrier! Little did I (or she) know that those friends had some supremacist tendencies.
Here are some examples of their subtle displays of classism that fine Sunday:
- Acting superior because they brought cars. They probably thought they were doing us a favour. They displayed almost no genuine interest in what we did, whereas we eagerly asked them about their lives and work during the trip there. They only made enough interaction with us to be “polite,” or so they thought. Later, when we made suggestions (like waiting for the slow car to catch up in case it had problems, and keeping the caves as an option later), they were dismissed without consideration. At some point, they told us “If you want to stay longer, you can take your matatus and bodas” – spoken in such a tone that implied these were things they were too good for. At the end of the trip, they became scarily particular about the money, ensuring we paid them back for the fuel and car entry to the park in amounts exact to the shilling! That feeling of “we did you a favour” was evident in the disrespectful manner they demanded these payments.
To the contrary, the cars were a disfavour – we arrived 2.5 hours later than had we followed the matatu and boda plan, because there were delays waiting for them to arrive in the morning, and one of their cars was not 4WD (though I had warned of this) and eventually had to be temporarily abandoned in the middle of the conservancy. This delay meant we couldn’t explore the caves that day.
- Prioritizing their views and desires over ours. When we arrived, they got together in a circle and spoke in some white language (allow me some racist ignorance here) for 5 minutes, excluding the rest of us (including the French girl). Then they came back to us and demanded that we “rush on the hike,” since we were so late and some of them had to “go to the airport after”(I had some doubts on how true this was), and that we “leave by 4pm.” We weren’t consulted or included in this discussion or decisions (despite the trip having been initiated by us!).
Well, we sure made sure the hike was fast, as per their request 😉 My Rwandan friend ran ahead of all of us, and was relaxing on a low shaded branch at the summit with his boots off long before anyone else arrived. My fellow Kenyan and I walked as fast as we could ahead of the rest, so we wouldn’t cloud our happy minds that wanted to absorb the beautiful nature with their seeping classism that had been offending us up until now. I feel extremely guilty that we left our Indian friend behind with the group as we were walking too fast for her. I was conscious of this but couldn’t bring myself to stay with them because I was on the verge of losing my cool – I don’t see red very often, but when it happens, I can speak my mind so much that I regret it – and in this case, it would have spoilt the eggshell peace we had on this hike.
- Feeling “too good” to mingle with us. Sadly, leaving behind my Indian friend was a worse sin than I thought as the group barely spoke to her. We made sure she was with us on the way down. Once the whole group was at the summit, the supremacists sat separately from us during lunch! What we found amusing was that they each brought their own packed lunch that they were not expected to share. There was quite a culture difference in the extremes of individualism and collectivism in this hiking group. Amongst my “lunch group,” whatever any of us brought was for everyone, so the “my food” idea was strange and hilarious.
As we were eating, the guide told us the white group said we had to leave in 10 minutes (excuse me?!). I insisted on staying behind 5 extra minutes as I wanted to meditate a bit and take in the nature. My friends stayed too, and we said we would catch up with the rest. Thus, lunch and the descent were the most pleasant parts of that Sunday, as we were able to be ourselves, to laugh and joke comfortably, and to relax.
- Making a royal fuss when we had to go “matatu style.” At some point in the Suswa Conservancy, one car was going impossibly slowly, so we eventually convinced them to leave it on the side of the road and have us all pile into the 4WD. 10 people in one car! The East African adventure? Not for this lot, who got extremely cranky. My friends and I were all jolly at first, but soon became too nervous to speak to each other in the car due to the bristling air. Being the tiny one, I sat on my Kenyan friend’s lap on the way in. On the way back, he was in the middle of the backseat so I asked the 2 white folks on the edge whom I could sit on… Awkward silence. I asked again.. Awkward silence. Once I realised they didn’t want my coloured body sitting on them in the car, I asked my Kenyan friend to please move to the edge to I could sit on him again. Also note, of course it was only us coloureds who volunteered to sit in the boot. I don’t know, maybe I’m projecting the race aspect here, maybe the reason was still class-related. Regardless:
I got home fuming, and woke up the next morning still fuming. Just one tweet on the issue from me:
Ok, the labels of “racist” and “white supremacist” may have been too much to assume, but “classist” was certainly accurate.
Luckily, that same morning, I met an inspiring young man with cerebral palsy pursuing his journalistic dreams (see previous blog post “I don’t need Kenya. Kenya needs me!“), which got my mood back on track.
The hike itself, I must say, is absolutely stunning. The entire 6 hour day-trek to the summit and back is along the edge of the crater, meaning the hiker enjoys beautiful views the entire walk, of green trees blanketing the crater, and clouds gracefully decorating that green blanket with lazily drifting shadows. It is also possible to walk round the entire crater if you carry a tent and do an overnight (Any takers? Let me know!). We didn’t even make it to Suswa’s famous caves, which will be the first place we head on the next trip. If you are looking for a convenient day trip, and have done the usual Longonot and Hell’s Gate, make Suswa your next!
Finally, I know people experience far worse, explicit displays of racism and classism – but the subtle ones are important to point out too, because they are the ones that we dismiss yet are indicative of an engrained feeling of superiority by certain classes and races, that perpetuates psychological inequality when it manifests in daily interactions.