25-03-2020 by Freddie del Curatolo
"What can I tell you, for me, work comes before life. Life is mine alone, with work I make the whole family eat. You die of so many things and nobody helps you, sometimes not even the people you've decided to help".
Karema is one of the many "Bodaboda Operators", i.e. taxi drivers on motorcycles, who yesterday failed to comply with the Kilifi County ban and risked being arrested for passenger transport.
I have known Karema for fifteen years.
He was a labourer, which they call "kibarua" here, and he tried to make the best of it.
Considering that no one had taught him and that he was fatherless, it already seemed so much.
Once he had finished primary school, where he had learned above all how to avoid getting worms under his feet by walking barefoot eight kilometers a day between rounds, he had given his mother a hand in the fields.
Then a relative called him to Malindi to help him in a carpentry shop, finally he invented a bricklayer and handyman.
The "handyman", inevitably, also includes some damage.
Especially if you start working for the mzungu and you mind telling them that you can't always understand their poor English.
So Karema went from carpenter to house builder for the owner of the hotel where he worked as a maintenance man. In that period he saved two pennies to pay the first instalments of a motorcycle and finally he could go to his mother's village, without having to pay 3500 shillings a month for a room behind the new market with no windows and the smell of piss.
In the village the walls may be muddy, but you want to put the breeze that brings the scent of frangipani, your brother who climbs the palm tree every morning and brings you a fresh coconut to drink and scrape, the mother who sings in shamba ... for those who have not yet been dazzled by certain dreams, which then become difficult to govern, rural poverty is still a certainty.
So Karema decided that she would still work as a bricklayer until the bike was paid in full.
It took him exactly ten years, and two years ago he was "Boda Boda".
He is one of the few, there are 1500 out of more than 100,000, who have all the licenses in order, as well as helmet and jacket.
He swears he never wears more than one person at a time, but it's one of the few things I don't believe him for.
Since yesterday, the Governor of Kilifi has forbidden him to transport anyone, to avoid contagion of this influence that has already killed so many people in Asia, Europe and America. In Africa you can still count on your fingers, but they say it's only because you're too late. On the other hand, here the "pole pole" is a bit for everything, isn't it?
"It kills more hunger, if we don't bring home those two pennies every day, which allow us at least one meal of wheat and vegetables and maybe once a week ox intestines or that little bit of meat that remains attached to the bones".
Matumbo, staff meat.
You don't even give the first one to the dog in Europe, but the second one does.
"I understand who cares about the Crown - Karema tells me - with all the problems we have and however much the politicians don't care about us, ready to flatter us and fill us with flour and promises only when they are in the election campaign, so much so that in the end we hope there will be elections every year... at least in this thing we are all the same. As we are all equal before God and death".
Jesus, Karema, don't you think that's a bit much?
And the health of the elderly, of your mother who raised you and sent you to school?
"It won't be a flu that kills her, but the lord who calls her to himself. Then you know very well what happens here, the young kill the old every day under the pretext of witchcraft to take possession of their land. What's the difference?
Children die of malaria without assistance and adults die of many other things without a diagnosis. The only thing certain, when someone here goes to heaven, is that you have to pay for the mortuary and you have to prepare the collection for the funeral. Really, I prefer to work."
So we tried to convince him, and maybe we succeeded.
Obviously not everyone thinks like Karema, especially those who have made a life just a little safer and are not alone but also have a family, children, a brick house, a nice smartphone, a satellite dish on the roof.
Things that are worth living for around here until health uncertainty and African fatalism bring you back to the same level as (almost) everyone else.
by Leni Frau
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