When I was a little girl I had plenty of fanciful notions and fantastic thoughts, colorful ideas and creative inclinations. I loved to dream and dream big. I saw the world with innocent eyes and I loved what I saw. But I would soon learn that you cannot always expect the best from people, and life isn’t just a bed of roses.
I am the child of a mixed marriage. My father’s family hailed from Kashmir, a beautiful region between India and Pakistan, China and Afghanistan. It features some of the world most picturesque scenes, from fast flowing valley rivers to snow capped mountains, but has been the subject of various border disputes and vicious wars. My mother’s family was from Kiambu. My grandfather was born in Kabete but had to relocate several times, in some instances forcibly. Those were difficult days. They finally settled down in Nairobi. How this Asian boy from Kashmir and African girl from Kiambu met and fell in love is a story for another day.
Growing up in this mixed home I assumed that race was a non-issue. I had a fascinating notion that humans changed colour every year – one year we were black and the next year we were white. So I was rather crestfallen when I realized I wasn’t changing colour as I was supposed to. When I asked my family about it they all had a really good laugh at my expense, and I was left with the upsetting realization that my fun world of colour changing was not to be… Ah well, no big deal… However I was soon going to learn my second hard lesson about colour – people can choose to hate you simply for the skin you are in.
We lived in Dagoretti, Nairobi, along Wanyee Road. After school I loved sneaking out of the house to buy Goody Goodys (toffee heaven) at the kiosk. My parents always warned me against it and insisted I should be accompanied to the shops, but I was a know-it-all, and I loved sneaking off on my own.
On this particular day it was mid afternoon and off I went up our little hill towards the main road. It was a steep 100m stretch to the top of the hill and the road was paved with tall trees and bushes. I was halfway up that stretch when I noticed a group of boys standing at the top. They turned and saw me and then started to shout, “Mzungu! Mzungu!”
I slowed my pace sensing hostility but did not want to seem cowardly so I kept walking, slowly. In a flash, one boy picked up a stone and threw it straight at me. It all happened so fast, the stone hit me square between the eyes. Head pounding and eyes brimming with tears of shock, pain and horror I noticed the other boys bending down to pick stones too. They wanted to stone me, because of my skin!
I ran towards the trees and made my way through the bushes, getting scratched and cut but aware that my struggle through the thick underbrush would get me to the back of my grandparents house. (The Asian boy who married the African girl bought a plot next to his father-in-law and built his home there, another story for another day).
I was worried that the boys might follow me, but this was my territory and at my grandparents I felt safe. I hid on their farm for a short while, I simply couldn’t let either of them see me (there would be hell to pay if they knew what happened). A little later I walked home, just across the road, when I was sure the boys at the top of top hill had gone.
I barely remember that evening… but initially I do recall that I tried to fib that I had fallen. My parents did not buy that story, the bruise was right between my eyes! Later, after some gentle words of comfort and serious coaxing I told the truth. It all came out that some boys in the neighborhood hit me with a stone as they chanted “Mzungu! Mzungu!” Aside from warning me never to go out on my own again my parents did not say much, but it must have hit them both hard. I was just six years old.
A neighborhood discussion was called. Police were involved and they gave some talks to the school children in the area, probably about tolerance. I stopped my visits to the kiosk. My carefree approach to life changed forever. That day remains firmly etched in my mind as the day the world tried to show me that life is colour coded. Indeed, life repeatedly tries to inculcate division, fear, hate, anger… but somehow I still remain locked into my fantastic world of colourful ideas.
I really think I had it right with that concept of changing colour every year… wouldn’t it be a more tolerant world? Lol! You know, while that attack hurt me emotionally and physically, I thank you for the incredible revelation early in life that our hearts are not colour coded. They are simply coded for love, or hate.
Your loving daughter always,
PS – please remember that if I did get to choose a colour it would be Red. You know how much I’ve always loved playing the Red Indians in Cowboys and Indians :o)
Julie aka Soaring Eagle…