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Are you speaking the language of the hustler?

OPINION
By XN Iraki | April 8th 2020

If you listen to a typical Briton in the English countryside, you may not understand what he is saying. His accent is very different from what you hear from the Queen of England or on BBC news.

I found myself in such a situation on my first visit to the US’ Deep South, specifically in Mississippi. I almost asked for a translator. Could that be the problem in communicating the risks of Covid-19 to the hustlers, the Kenyan majority?

Are we using elite language and talking over the hustlers? Could that be one reason Covid-19 directives are not being followed to the letter?

A few examples. How do you explain social distancing to a typical Kenyan? In supermarkets it’s 1.5m on a straight line. Shouldn’t it be 1.5 metres in a circle?

More interesting, does social distancing apply to the family – your wife, children or relatives staying in the house? What is social distancing in your mother tongue or Swahili? Do the prescribers of Covid-19 rules ever find out if their message is effective? How do you differentiate social distancing from unfriendliness? Check how many Kenyans are keeping social distance as they walk.

Another example. Has anyone explained why a curfew is necessary from 7pm to 5 am? Why not earlier or later? Why can’t someone just explain that we are most active socially from around 7pm and reducing that will reduce transmission of the virus.

Or even better, 10 hours out of 24 hours is 41.6 per cent. By stopping our social interaction for 10 hours, we could reduce infections by about 42 per cent.

Finally, wearing a mask protects two-thirds of your soft parts where the virus can get through – the nose and the mouth. That can reduce the infection rate by two-thirds.
Often, the most powerful ideas and messages are shared in the simplest way, or most parsimonious way.

How do you explain ‘flattening of the curve’ to a typical Kenyan without awakening the ghosts of high school maths?

We face the same problem while teaching young men and women. We are older than them and more experienced. How do we get down to their level and perspectives? If we do not speak their language, we lose them. If you want to know how to communicate effectively, watch a nursery teacher teaching kids.

Sharing very serious information about Covid-19 and its consequences to Kenyans is serious business. Remember, a majority of Kenyans are religious, and are not sure of their next meal or rent.

The elites might be wondering when flights will resume. Our life priorities are very different. The language, even the emotions attached to it, really matter. Finally, remember the HIV and Aids crisis? Any lessons from how we minimised its ravages? I hope I have ‘talked’ to the readers in this write-up.

[XN Iraki; [email protected]]   

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