The mental image of a man is different to different people. Personally, when someone says ‘man’, i don’t get the image of a masai moran armed to the tooth, with a shuka covering a portion of his ass and front, then lacing up to partially cover his bulging chest, brick-like six pack and biceps which threaten to burst. What i see is a humble fellow, most probably a bus driver, with grey hair sticking out of a old but neat baseball cap. He is respected by the passengers, and drives with the keenness of a mustard. He knows his car, and easily gets into a vibe with a millennial sited next. His conversation is deep with folk wisdom, and he takes his time, kneading each sentence and phrase to another like a weaver bird makes a home. Traffic cops get a laugh out of him at road blocks, in a bid to take a bite at his wisdom. He leaks wisdom.
In life we are faced with the risk of turning a blind eye to those nitty-gritty that define who we are. Like forgetting to take that favorite shoe to the cobbler. Our Swahili forefathers in their wisdom taught us that ‘Usipoziba ufa utajenga ukuta’, but like any other expression, it’s just that – an expression. Shoes are a stubborn lot, with the attention seeking ability of a 12-year-old girl. A slightly torn shoe will poke its face in meetings, and stand there smiling, letting all the meeting participants see how careless it’s master can get.
On Tuesday last week, I noticed a tiny hole smiling up to me during a meeting at the HQ. It was tiny, yes, but very shouting. It was not literally a hole, but an opening between two leather pieces. I made a mental sticky note to pass by the cobbler after work. See, my hood has this line of vibandas, where you will find any type of service, from the thin khat vendor, the guy who roasts chicken parts, to a mutura guy whose shack is always crowded, a reason there has been word that his ware has some sort of spell; and to the end of the line a lady who sells jackets, though I’ve seen the same stock since I first paid attention to her shack. On the far end is a cobbler and a shoe shine stand. I headed there, sat on the tall seat meant to be the client’s haven, although it had the strength of a scared chameleon and you had to lean to the left to ease the pressure on the cracked right leg. At first the cobbler looked okay, and I handed him the smiling shoe.
“Can you patch this up for me and leave as little a trace of the needle as you can?” I asked.
He looked at me, nodded and dug his mean looking needle into the. I noticed his eyes but it was too late to tear the shoe from his grasp. They were redder than a Carlo Rossi Sangria, and his voice shaky. He was drunk.
“Are you sure you can do this?”
“Why? Am not even drunk, my guy, I have been doing this for so long.”
I knew it was a bad idea even before he was halfway done, and by the time he finished and started hassling me for a ‘50 bob pekee’, my shoe looked uglier than Satan’s butt. The two shoes looked completely different, and there was this undying urge to punch him through his yellow-toothed grin.
“Buda, what do you mean 50 shillings? You are lucky am giving you this Mbao…!” I retorted, then tossed him the coin and left as he fumbled through the mess. That’s an experience I will regret for so long, and for the sake of this post, I can say I didn’t regard the guy a man in any way, just another trouser-wearing member of the male species. Not to sound like a heaven usher, but it’s deeply unmanly to offer a service while drunk.
Let’s wind it back to where it all started.
Am not sure about other cultures, but in the African, specifically Kenyan and deeper into the Agikuyu, the first steps to being a man was being born male. Everything was made to look that way – making you a man, from the way my old man would talk to me, to how my granny (rest her soul) would call us her little men.
Everything back then was laid down for the boy child as a stepping stone into the fairy world of manhood, and we would be forgiven to think that it’s the only thing we lived for. We lived in some kind of fantasy, whose dream was to take a bite into the ‘being a man’ pie. The society back then made men who were naturally respected. Not because of their masculinity or deep voices, but the way they carried themselves; their confident demeanor. A man would tell you it will rain by end of day just because they saw locusts mating, and you would believe him, and by end of the day it would rain torrents despite being a day in mid-January. Even before boys walked down to the river in those chilly December mornings, they had a mental ‘being-man’ brochure. They knew they were to stop the boy act and start being the man the society needed them to be, one to whom courage, kindness and role modelling came naturally.
I grew up in a society where a man was seen as not only the family’s backbone, but a pillar on which the community’s ethics were inscribed. A man was the soft authority, easily mistaken for a kitten’s paw – loving and cozy, but able to show the claws in reprimand. Men operated solely on respect, some kind of turbo charge. I remember when my old man realized we were too many a litter to fit into his sitting room, he called onto his male friends so they could extend the house from the rear. Am yet to confirm, but I doubt whether those fellas ever asked for any payment, and if they did it must have been so discreet since we saw them as family. It looked to me like they were there to help paps out. Mum used to take her time during lunch hour, preparing lunch for them, and we would dig into the milk and ugali as a big family. On Saturdays we would have the village photographer come around, and the cement covered men would hold us in their arms like their own as we made memories. I admired them, their loyalty and I still do, since I still find them catching a good vibe outside the church compound on Sundays, or at coffee factories while delivering their produce. Disagreements were there, but they solved them ‘like men’. To me, they were the perfect case of ‘bros in the hood’.
This post was inspired, not solely by the cobbler, but an incident I witnessed in a matatu. A nursing lady, seemingly chewing into her very late thirties struggling with her kid who was seemingly uninterested in both it’s mother’s breasts and the whole bus ride vibe. She struggled with a bag too, too stuffed it threatened to vomit its content. Next to her was this millennial, with a funny haircut giggling into his phone. He seemed comfortably ignorant of the lady and her struggles. Females have this thing in them, where they can act cool and composed even in situations they need help, especially where none is forthcoming – they are hard coded to withstand the pressures of the society, but I don’t believe they really should, not after the smile the lady beamed when I offered to carry her bag on my laps.
Personally, I have never had the notion to regard someone as a man, solely because they wear pants and had passed the age of the majority. Being a man has also never been about wealth or physical size and strength which would make whales men too. Being man is determined entirely by how one carries themselves, and the amount of respect they demand in their demeanor.
Sometimes I wake up late in the night, and wonder how it would be if someday nature decided to fling my way the responsibility of bringing up a son. honestly, I feel confident that I would do well but I am equally scared. What kind of man will I manage to bring up? A millennial who sneaks out of home for photo-shoots and leaves the kettle over-boiling? A man who wants his way regardless of how it affects those around him? A man who will cross the road at the intersection of University way and Uhuru Highway with one hand holding onto his phone and huge headphones, and the other holding the already fallen trousers? Paint me old-school but I will try my best to not bring up any of the three. I believe it’s time parents strive to raise a new breed of men, the kind that takes kindness as a cool trend, and one that is modest enough to say ‘aaah, it’s nothing’ … or ‘but it’s no imposition on me…’ when faced with a possibly ego blowing compliment.
Ps. The shoe is still ugly, and I will continue the search for a good cobbler. Please recommend.
“There is no age requirement for being a man, in the same way there is no rigid age-range for being a boy, for that matter” as quoted from elite daily on the 13 things every boy must understand if he has any hope of becoming a man.
The cover photo is borrowed from theatlantic.com, of a Masai warrior pitching a baseball in a cricket training session.
it’s me ..