Saturday, March 24, 2012

A beer and a chat with the the Africans

I sort of like the word dilettante.  I like the sound of it. I read it somewhere, a long time ago in my youth. It was probably Trotsky or someone of that nature that used it to insult a petty bourgeois. I figure it must have been someone like that as I use it generally to insult someone.

Coming from a blue collar, ditch digging, hod carrying, factory floor working on sewer lines background, I was always impressed by the way the erudite upper classes insulted their opponents. They didn't call them lying m'fers, they referred to them as being "disingenuous". They never called anyone a bootlicker, ass kisser, brown noser or anything like that,  they simply said that they were "sycophants", defined in the dictionary as
"a self-seeking, servile flatterer; fawning parasite.". Damn, it doesn't get any better than that. These educated mo'fo's sure now how to put someone in their place.

But there are times when I am reminded that some of these definitions can apply to me, but in a good way I hope.  Perhaps I'm a dilettante at times. I must be able to say hello, goodbye and thank you in about half a dozen languages at least but can speak none, even English properly.  I go out of my way to learn a few simple words in other people's language.  There are a lot of Spanish speakers where I live so I can say more than a word or two in Spanish but I can't converse in it. But when the local store got taken over by a Yemeni, I learned to say hello, goodbye and thank you in Arabic.  I added Habbibi to this vocabulary too.  He was thrilled, it made him feel more comfortable, especially as Muslims and Arabs are not portrayed too well here.

It is very important to people when you do that, especially if they are a minority and you are white and an English speaker which is the dominant group here. I have found that people really appreciate it, it lets them know that you even bother to consider their language. Is this dilettantism?  I'm not sure. One definition of a dilettante is
one that engages in art or activity, "in a desultory or superficial way; a dabbler." Well when it comes to languages, history and knowledge of others' culture, I am a bit of a dilettante or dabbler.  I would like to think this is the dialectic at work, I never went to university or studied any such things, so I learn what I can to facilitate solidarity and the strengthening of human relations from the people I meet and want to build kinship with those of us that work that is.

I have traveled over much of the world. I lived in Africa too as a child and have very fond memories of it.  I was in my local pub tonight and a couple of Kenyans walked in.  Two women, one that I have seen before.  During the world cup the Kenyans were dancing and celebrating when we (the US) got beat by Ghana, even though Ghana is way across the continent from Kenya.  Ghana was the last African team in the cup. It was a wonderful scene, especially as the Americans congratulated them and were friendly despite losing.  It was a great moment, the Kenyans weren't cautious about celebrating, no one was hostile to them or made any racial or nationalist remarks, just congratulated them on their win; it was great. It made me feel good to be an American worker.

So I got to drinking with these two Kenyan women and they were Kikuyu women.  The Kikuyu are a dominant tribal group in Kenya and were the main force in the Mau Mau uprising that drove British imperialism from the country; they speak Swahili. I know about the Kikuyu because I have an interest and a connection to Africa and because I grew up in that period when the former colonies were driving the imperialist countries out, or trying to. I heard of the Mau Mau and of Lumumba of the Congo from British imperialism's point of view. Events in my life led me to see things from the viewpoint of the occupied.

We had a good time these two women and I.  We talked about lots of things, about Kenya and the uprising and the Masai who are famous makers of fine art and of immigrant life in America. They told me how hard it has been for them.  They weren't complaining, just talking about the life of an immigrant woman and how life was not the way people thought it would be or how the US media portrays it.  There was more opportunity but you paid for it with flesh and blood and hard work.  Not the picket fence, big house easy life that Hollywood shows the world. We talked about history and the role the British had played there and how the Africans saw this so much more as a class issue and not a racial one. They were not angry about their lot in life or history in general.

I don't know all the details about the role of British imperialism in Kenya, plus, I lived in Nigeria, way on the other side of the continent. I am aware of the brutal nature of British rule and the struggle of the Mau Mau to repel it. I can say hello in Swahili but not much else.  But as we laughed and a couple of native born Americans came over and joined the scene I thought of how important it is to find out a little bit at least about the lives of others; their culture, their language, their customs and their suffering and their successes.

We talked about the Ju Ju. They were Christians and I always say I'm Ju Ju because I used to always see the Ju Ju man in Nigeria.  They said this was black magic but I can't see the difference between that and the Christian or other western faiths to be honest. I just remember my mum giving me money when I was a kid in Nigeria and saying in her Ladbroke Grove, west London accent, "Don't forget to give the money to the Ju Ju man."  I didn't f&*k with the Ju Ju man.

I left in a good mood as these two were great company.  It made me think about how human beings love to share their experiences with each other.  How, under normal circumstances, when we are not thrown into competition for the necessities of life we want to share our life experience and the history of our kind. I guess I'm just an old dilettante. To not experience that is to not experience life itself.

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