Sometimes, when I am not too wrapped up in myself, I watch people; notice people. Sometimes, when I look really really closely, I see their eyes and what’s behind them. I notice their clothes, gait, expressions. Body language is the greatest whistle-blower.
I see a man, heavy laden, dragging a mkokoteni (hand cart) along a road filled with cars hooting at him for causing an even greater traffic jam, regardless of the fact that whether or not he was there, the traffic pile-up would reduce by, what, a centimetre? Anyway, the man’s body is young, but his face is filled with worry lines causing a grim expression way above his years. He looks hardened by life, like someone you would never want to meet on a deserted dark alley. But look behind his eyes.
Again I turn around and see a woman carrying a load on her head, one child strapped to her back and the other being dragged along by the hand. She is in a hurry, God knows where she is going with such haste. She moves mechanically, stops at a bus stage and comforts the fussing child she is carrying without even looking in its face. She disciplines the one whose hand she is holding without even thinking; its almost something second nature to her. Sighing, she gets into the bus and sits, carrying both children and her load because she can’t afford to pay for an extra seat. She looks tough and ready to deal with whatever life throws at her. But look behind her eyes.
I’m in a rowdy matatu, passengers are being forced to sit in excess and being pangwad (arranged) like cabbages in a truck, and as we stop at a bus stop, I see a group of young men…rowdy youths by any outward appearance. They look like the famous Mungiki adherents, what with their rowdy jostling and loud laughter. They look up to no good and you almost wish a truck bearing the dreaded GSU would descend on them and have them removed from your line of sight in an instant. But this time, I look again. There is something behind their eyes that breaks my heart.
Henry David Thoreau wrote: “the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation“. How right he was. Everything behind their eyes is desperation.
The mkokoteni driver is desperate for a better life, for him and the family he obviously has. He didn’t choose to do this thankless back-breaking job that he has to do to support himself and everyone else who depends on him. He would like a better job; an office job perhaps or a good thriving business. He’d like to be someone his wife and kids would be proud of.
The young mother would have loved to go to college, study whatever she wanted, enjoy her single life and achieve her dreams before she decided to settle down and start a family. But life dealt her a different hand.
The rowdy youths would love to be in college or high school, learning about things that impact the world, having dreams annd aspirations, being young and living right. They would love to have loving parents, better role models, a better life. They are desperate for it.
I guess all of us are quietly desperate for something. But I realized that I am lucky. My dreams are at hand. I don’t have a thankless job and constant suffering as my shadow. I can speak for myself, support myself, have the things in life I need.
If only we were all so lucky.
Take time to look into someone’s eyes today. Do something to alleviate their desperation if you can. If you can’t, at least appreciate all that you have. That’s the least you can do.