A better nuanced post by a better writer on Kenyans in the diaspora and what they go through.
By Odumbe Kute
This is a myth that has been perpetuated for decades about life out in the Diaspora being more rosy than the suffering in Kenya. Whoever tries to convince you of that needs their head examined. Life is not a bed of roses out here. Forget the drama of Diaspora people who land in Kenya for holidays and flash the Queen’s shilling or Uncle Sam’s dollar. You have no idea what they went through to get that shit. I feel sorry for them personally, because what they have to come back to after splashing out in Kenya is a life of misery and debt.
See, there’s this assumption that if you’re in the Diaspora, you can pluck money from a tree and send it back home to do “development”. An assumption that Diaspora people are the best equipped to make sure that the hopelessness in Kenya is sorted out. There is an irony in that. For the last 11 years, Kenyans in the Diaspora have been remitting an average of Kshs 145 billion every year. And no, that’s not a typo. Diaspora remittances are the 2nd biggest revenue stream for the Kenyan economy.
The story that’s not told is what Kenyans in the Diaspora have to go through to deliver that shit. I can’t even begin to tell you the trauma this represents. There are people out here who are even scared of picking a phone call from home because they know it’s about demanding them to send money back home. A phone call is never about “How are you? How is life out there? Are you well? What about your family?”. The phone calls are about “Send us money now. If you don’t, we will die”. For school fees, for bills, for medical costs, for emergency, for saving someone’s life. The way it’s put, you’d think that if you don’t send money, someone is going to die immediately.
What people don’t know is that Kenyans out here have to hustle like a nonsense. Most do at least two or three jobs, or if they don’t, they’re working and trying to go to school at the same time. Money is not collected on trees as folk in Kenya believe. It’s hard sweat and graft, and even then, you’re just making ends meet if you’re lucky.
That doesn’t even take into account the stresses of life. Let me paint a picture for you, a picture that is common to most people in the Diaspora. You leave Kenya when your 18 or 19. Your objective is to go to school. You arrive out here and find out quick enough, that you have to hustle to pay school fees, you have to go to school at night because you have to work days and weekends, you have absolutely no time to yourself and the pressure eventually gets to you. If you make it out of that quagmire, you meet someone, you get hooked up, perhaps in a come we stay, perhaps in a marriage. You get a kid or two.
Now, out here, you can’t operate like you’ll get a house help from Kakamega or Kisii or something. Hell no, child care is so expensive, it defeats the object of working when you have a small child because you’ll be paying most of that salary for child care. Couples have to work around schedules to make sure children are taken care of. Many work shifts and don’t even see each other for weeks on end. The stresses this places on young families is unbelievable.
Consider that out here, we don’t have the same social network of close friends and family who would step in when things go thick. Under the circumstances, things most definitely go thick and we don’t have a way of coping with them. You have no one to turn to, no one to trust, no one who will give you guidance and counsel without judging the decisions you have made in life. Throw in the complexity of both of you as a couple having to hustle, the pressure both of you have to send money back home, the pressure both of you have to try and make a living and figure out what direction in life you both want to take.
But even within that, thousands have issues to do with immigration. Maratathi ni shida. A lot of people suffer in silence because they believe they can’t go to the police, or hospital or to the authorities because they don’t have papers. This despite the campaigning we did for years to eliminate immigration screening as a factor in DVP – Domestic Violence Protocol. The idea being that if you’re a domestic violence victim, you will never be asked about your immigration status. And I still can’t get this “African” thing used as an excuse by men. Someone once told me that in our community, if we don’t discipline our women, wata kuwa mang’aa.
Those who don’t have papers are very vulnerable. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s never to judge someone’s situation or why they don’t have papers. It boils down to every individual trying to make a better life for themselves and their family, and no one has any right to take that away from them. But in particular, women are the most vulnerable if they don’t have papers. Many are stuck in abusive relationships because they have nowhere to go. You can’t get a job, open a bank account, rent a house, get a drivers licence or do anything meaningful if you don’t have papers. I know of women who have to trade sex to get someone with papers to act on their behalf to rent a house, or to get someone to let them use their bank details or to cover them for anything that requires papers.
Granted, there are people doing well out here. But that is the exception, not the rule. Hundreds more are suffering. Some will never tell you that. They’ll paint you a rosy picture of how “Majuu” ni poa sana. They’ll tell you that your salvation in life is to get out here in the Diaspora. What they won’t tell you is that out here, it’s ugly, sometimes even more so than Kenya. You barely can keep the lights on, and there’s so much pressure especially to send money back home.
It’s not even just about the pressure of sending money you don’t have back home. The trauma of making it day to day hits many people hard. In the last 15 years, I personally know 6 people who have committed suicide because they couldn’t hack it. Thousands more are suffering in silence and experiencing mental health issues that affect their ability to cope with life day to day.
We really have to stop this myth that living out here aka “majuu” is the solution. We have nowhere to hide as Kenyans, we must confront and sort out our problems. In case you’re wondering what solution could ever get us out of the nightmare we have in Kenya right now, the answer is a revolution. But it’ll only happen when as a people, we get angry enough. Right now, we’re clearly not angry enough because we’re still tolerating the hegemony and corruption going on. We’re still very comfortable letting the bandit state, the politicians and the usual suspects oppress us. We’re happy to oblige, grabbing our ankles while they shaft us without the courtesy of lubrication as we sing to the tune of “Najivunia kuwa Mkenya”.