Coronavirus, this strange disease that came from nowhere, has taken over our lives. Suddenly, we cannot shake hands like we used to, we cannot travel like we used to. Here in Kenya, the buzzwords have become self-quarantine and soon I suspect that Namaste will replace the handshake as our standard form of greeting. There is a silver lining in every cloud and from where I sit, that silver lining will be the vast improvement in manners and hygiene.
If Kenyans were to be rated for manners, I think we would score poorly and here are a few reasons as to why.
Let us start with simple basic hygiene. It seems many people missed the nursery school lesson about washing hands before meals and after use of the toilet. On many occasions, you will see grown men and women dive into their meals especially of the communal kind without washing the sludge and dirt that reside in their hands. You also have those who see no reason to wash their hands after visiting the obvious hotbed of germs - the toilet. Our men particularly would score poorly because they like to pee with pride in nature-only that they never follow this up with a clean up as they venture to do other things some of a very private and intimate nature.
If we were to be honest enough, we Kenyans stink especially when we open our mouths to speak and when we raise our hands. If we were to harvest the horrible smells and fumes emitted from Kenyan mouths, armpits and feet, we might easily generate a few megawatts of power or find a cure for corona. It seems we have forgotten that we should brush our teeth at least twice a day and shower at least once a day- we live on the Equator for Heavens sake! Perhaps our serikal should consider lowering taxes on chewing gum and deodorant for we sure are messing up the environment with our Eau d’naturale.
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Some table manners, please!
When it comes to matters food, we display scandalous manners, which in themselves could lead to transmission of dangerous ailments. There are many people who must have been cows in their former lives just based on how they masticate their food. These people often put huge chunks of food in their mouths and then proceed to demonstrate to all and sundry their abilities to chew and grind food until it becomes pulp. These folks will often intersperse their loud mastication with a conversation so that those around them not only have to bear with the sights and sounds, they also have to occasionally dodge the food missiles that inevitably flee from the mouth.
A special place in hell should be reserved for the ‘toothpick’ Kenyans. Last time I checked, a toothpick is supposed to be used after meals, ideally for a short time and for the express purpose of removing bits of food that might have lodged themselves in the wrong places. I am yet to understand why there are many who believe in making this situation permanent.
So, they walk around with toothpicks wedged at the side of the mouth-a sight that on many occasions is traumatic. There is a strange theory that says men who walk around with toothpicks might be compensating for other challenges elsewhere. Yet, I shudder to imagine the trillions of germs transmitted by toothpicks in this country.
Country of miners
Our geologists tell us that we are not a mineral-rich country, meaning that we are not a country of miners and excavators. I think these geologists would change their minds if they observed us going about our day-to-day business. Kenyans like to mine and excavate, only that they do so in their noses. You will find many of us hard at work diligently using our fingers to dig deep into our noses.
The challenge is that we do that everywhere ignoring the fact that the fruits of such labours are usually worthless and are very unhygienic. These officers of mining also like dealing with their ‘precious’ metals in public. Some like to rearrange, massage and scratch their private parts in public while others like to pluck out sticky bits of underwear from crack and crevices. All these habits do not have a happy ending for it all ends with unwashed hands that end up in handshakes and in some cases in other body parts.
When all this Corona madness is behind us, I hope we will have learnt something more than social distance. I hope we will have become masters in respecting private space.
There is something about us Kenyans that lead us to shamelessly come close to each other. We do not believe that anyone should enjoy at least the few metres of fresh air and space around.
In queues, we will ensure that we are so close to the person next to us so that we can catch his breath, read whatever they are reading be it on the phone or in print. In fact, we so like this arrangement that we can even start making comments about what we have seen or heard from our newfound neighbour.
Maybe we will now know that respecting private space is not only good manners - it also good for our health. Here’s to hoping that corona will make us better behaved going forward.