don't try to compare them
17.02.2007 25 °C
Before I came to Kenya, I was told that Africa and Asia were incomparable. And it’s true: they are totally different; yet I can’t help comparing (and contrasting?) them. I know that, having only spent a couple of months in Nairobi and slightly more time in Sri Lanka and India, I am not in a position to analyse anything properly, but I can comment on my initial impressions.
One of the first differences I noticed was the people… not that they’re black… but the subservience. I was quite surprised (stupidly) when the driver or the porter in the hotel took the initiative to ask me who I was, where I was from, why I had come here. In India, that does not happen; I would probably exchange similar information but at my initiative. One wealthy Asian told me the lower classes there should ‘know their place’.
Another thing that jumped out when I first arrived was the food. In Asia, the street stalls and the cafes are overflowing with delicious and interesting foods. In Kenya there is almost no street food and the local dishes in the restaurants are not so interesting. Normal food here is Chicken or Beef stew or barbequed meet with maize, rice or chips as the accompanying starch.
Kenyans also express their sexualities much more explicitly than does your average Asian I’ve met. Sri Lankan women are likely to dress modestly and be unlikely to strike up a conversation with a tourist male. In Kenya, the women and men seem very aware of and comfortable with their bodies. They love to boogie and even ones that aren’t that pretty are very sexy when they get on the dance floor.
Of course the religions are different, the poverty is more extreme in Africa and, although Kenya, India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia were all in the British Empire, Kenya feels like its been much more thoroughly colonised than the Asian territories I’ve visited. But what I like to ponder is whether the differences are due to the difference of Africa and how much due to colonialism experienced in the two continents.
Why do I think Kenya was more colonised?
Well, the Asians were allowed to keep their own home grown religions.
The subservience of Indians is, I’m told, something to do with the caste system and the religions… which also seems to allow so many people to be living on top of each other, without too much strife and war that has tormented Africa since independence.
The boring food of Kenya sounds similar to boring British food… with Maize (the staple food) being an indigenous crop to the Americas. Cattle with Aberdeen Angus and Frisian genetic background. Chips being an indigenous crop to Scotland. Interestingly, Ethiopia (the only African country that wasn’t colonised) has got much more flavourful food.
I don’t think the increased sensuality and sexuality of Africa comes from the Brits, but an Indian friend of mine tells me that the prudishness I observed in India is due to the import of Victorian values… from Britain.
In language, I took a bus here in the company ‘Citti Hoppa’ (some corruption of a Cockney way of speaking) and I paid my fair to the bus conductor ‘Duncan’ with 20 ‘bob’ (abbreviation for the official currency of Shillings) before ‘alighting’ at my destination.
Another huge difference between Asia and Kenya is that the colonialism in Kenya seems to remain very strong today in economic terms. As I write this, I’m sitting opposite Barclays bank, within 2 minutes walk of a BP, a Shell and a Mobil petrol station. I can see an advert across the road for Michelin tyres.
Most of the music and pop stars I hear on the radio or see on TV (or in churches) are from UK or our richest former colony (USA) and all the TV’s, radios and cars here seem to be of brands from the global North.
In the supermarket, all the brands are ones from home. Macvities Digestives, Campbells soup, Delmonte juice, Lea and Perrins Worcester Sauce to name but a few.
In India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia you see local banks, petrol companies, music, film industry, computers, TV’s and brands in supermarkets.
This all makes me question, how much the increased colonialism is responsible for increased poverty in Africa still today. How much of every Shilling I spend here on most of my purchases here in Kenya ends up in the pockets of shareholders in the global north. Are the high rates of HIV/AIDS in Africa in part due to conservative Christian values on contraception? How much of the slow pace of development is due to the hand-out culture that our previous developmental/economic policies have nurtured?
I also want to rant about attitudes towards technology and agricultural development that Africa has adopted from The West… but I think that can wait for another time.