Kenyan in America: A Cop stopped me and gave me six tickets!
We all hear horror stories about race-ism, tribal-ism, class-ism, and all the other ‘isms’ associated with being other. The fact is that non of us choose to be anything. I was not in a state of cognition when I appeared in this world. In fact I can rightly claim that I was not there! I was not part of the decision-making process that my mother and father argued, or discussed, or whatever it is that happened for me to be born. The earliest memory of my being alive was sitting outside a house in Kijabe with my brothers and sisters. We had some friends over, must be kids, cause it is the earliest memory I have. All of a sudden our friend was jumping up and down. We joined the dance. He was taking his clothes off and screaming loudly! Siafu, those miserably painful ants had slowly crawled into every part of his body. They usually just come slowly unnoticed. Then all of a sudden they get the command from their colonel to attack…..ahhhhhhhhhhhhh….. is the only sound one’s body can produce.
Anyway…. I am who I am and I cannot be any other. I usually say that if my mother and father were in Iraq and I was born there, I could have either been a Sunni or a Shiite Muslim depending on my parents neighborhood. My mother happened to have been born in Uasin Gishu. Her Father, a man by the name of Chege, had joined many others in search of work and had landed in a Mzungu farm in the Rift Valley. Therefore my mother was born in the Rift Valley and migrated to Kijabe when my father convinced her that he was the best thing God had created and she would be silly not to marry him. The story of many women! She was brought up by her sister, given that her mother died while giving birth to her. Her cultural orientation was pure Nandi. That is why I love mu’sick and they call me Arap Kamau! She would get milk with a “ki’nya”. Get mutamaiyu and after burning it squeeze it into the calabash leaving behind charcoal and smoke. Then she would poor the milk there and after a few days, Mu’sick, Lala, Imata…sour milk! Nothing like the useless yogurt or the cancer-generating sour milk sold by vendors at Gilgil by the toll plaza! By the way did you hear that Biwot used to pass there and take the cash!….Kenya Yetu! My grand-father was one of the first Kijabeans. It is a Missionary place, so he preached to his son and his son became a Christian, pastor, radio guy. I was not there I just found myself in their home . . . Ajuae baba ni mama! My mother said this is your father; my father said this is your mother, they gave me a name….. that is who I am, and why I am what I am.
It is from this perspective I approached America when I landed in a Ivy league Christian college. 90% of the students were white Anglo Saxon Protestants. They came from places like Wisconsin, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota. There were six black students — 3 ladies and 3 guys. I was the only African, so they called me Kenyan! During my first entry into the student cafeteria I realized the black students were in one corner and the whites occupied the rest of the floor… they were the majority. I decided to sit with my cube mates. One of them was an Asian-Indian guy! Nice guy, but he never made his bed….. I hated it. From here I realized America has a problem of heritage. Blacks mistrusted whites and whites feared blacks! Then I got a car . . . an old 1975 Buick Le Sabre… A cool car but it screamed every time I passed a gas station! “More please”…it demanded. When it broke down, I discovered a great community of people… Mexicans, or were they Puerto Ricans? I cant remember: They looked similar to me. These guys were good mechanics. They reminded me of Jedd…this mechanic from Kijabe…the guy could just look at your car and tell you what was wrong.
After college, my graduate school, was in a neighborhood that had no black people. I lived there for years. One day, one of my black American friends came to have some chai. He was stopped by the local police. He was mad! “Teddy, how do you live here?” he asked me. “The cop saw a black man driving down the street and decided to stop me.” I told him I have never been stopped in that neighborhood. He proclaimed,”It’s because you are a Kenyan”. Yep, . . now I know, these police can look at a black man in a car and tell he is a Kenyan. Psychics! “Why did he stop you?” I asked.
“He said my rear left light was out….but I don’t think that is…..” I stopped him half way. “Go fix the darn light!” I told him.
I have driven to 48 states and Canada since then! I love American roads but have a share of tickets, speeding! Nothing compared to what happened during my college years. A Cop on some road stopped me and gave me six tickets! He checked my wipers, brake lights, he told me to honk the horn, and then asked for insurance! Some things worked others did not in my 1981 Audi 100. It was snowing, therefore I don’t think he saw my race before my brake lights gave me away! I think he had fought with his wife that morning. He was looking for revenge. I was the rat that day! Call it racial profiling? Na . . . I was a student . . . No money to keep all things working! Even the judge laughed when I went to court “What happened Kaman. . . .Six!? He forgave my violations but the insurance and court cost. “Your accent..?” He asked. “I am a Kenyan Student”. “Runners,” he said. “. . . . Fix your car son. And stay away from trouble.” Wise words from an old white judge. Racial? Na . . . just a nice guy!
Teddy Njoroge Kamau, PhD,SYR/Radio/TV. Director:International Desk. Diaspora Messenger Contributor