Against Memory

Michael Onsando
13 December ,2016

It is the dignity of the patient that underscores all this.

Tabu Robert

In case you missed it, doctors are on strike. It’s possible you may have missed it because *your* doctor is not on strike – but doctors are on strike. And it’s not the first time they have done it either. They have done this at least, 6 times since 2010. Why are they striking? Gathara expounds on this:

As I noted more than two years ago, according to the 2013 Kenya Service Availability and Readiness Assessment Mapping report, the country’s first attempt to get a comprehensive picture of the health sector, less than 6 in 10 of all health facilities in the country are ready to provide the Kenya Essential Package for Health –a sort of standardized comprehensive package of health services. Less than half have basic amenities and while two-thirds have half the basic equipment required, 59% do not have essential medicines. Only 2% of facilities are providing all KEPH services required to eliminate communicable diseases.

So they do have a serious amount of structural grief to handle. And even worse when conscious Kenyans call them hypocrites for departing from their Hippocratic oath. All this despite a doctor coming out to talk about how he was told to go back to the place where he almost died within 60 days and report to work. This also comes a few weeks after we heard about billions of shillings just going missing from the Ministry of Health. (Which serves as more evidence that doctors are probably not just striking for something that the country is owed – but something that should have been given a long time ago).

But this is not even about the doctors.

I’m really wondering when civic participation became an inconvenience, rather than a call for attention to a problem. Was it always like this? I ask because the repeated response to any form of strike is always “this is very inconveniencing for us.” When the university students hit the streets, we are more concerned for whether business will stop, and how many windshield wipers are broken than what the issue is. When Boniface Mwangi calls for a march, we scrutinize his funding and motives endlessly rather than try to understand where it is going. When hawkers protest the killing of their own, we call them thieves. And when doctors strike we call them hypocrites.

So, when and how is the right time to speak? To question? To interrogate? To demand for better? To insist that this, whatever it is, stops?

In The Education of a British Child, Achebe describes Nigeria of having a collective anxiety that manifests as anger, insecurity and suspicion. Having been burned in many ways in the past, the people remain skeptical of anyone who comes and sings the right song. After all, that song is the same one that has lead them to their death. Having been swept away by the revolutionary speech of the James Orengo’s of their time – the university has lost its right to a seriously taken strike. Doctors schedule patients in all kinds of haphazard ways and pharmacists sell fake drugs – the medical fraternity cannot be trusted. A phone is snatched in the streets, those that use the streets can’t be believed.

There is very little empathy for Kenyans in Kenya.

It is like we constantly expect the worst of ourselves. And then hold on to stories of the worst to verify our truths.

There are, of course, the indicators of care for this collective project. A well structured medical plea online will raise millions of shillings. So, on some level, we understand that only we can help ourselves. And because we know (despite our tirades against doctors) that the medical system is poorly run and looted often, we understand how medical bills can destroy a home. And many people will bring up things like Kenyans for Kenya as an indicator of care.

It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.

Mother Teresa

The thing is, the person who you are sending money on MPesa to can make no demands of you. They don’t really have a standard of care that you must hold them to. Their primary concern is that they get the money to pay the bill.

That’s a simple request.

But somehow life gets more interesting when someone actually makes a request that requires your attention. Like students, who don’t know how to articulate, but know that it is really a problem that their politic is turning into the circus it is. Or doctors, who are tired of working umpteen hour shifts every week with almost no resources and delayed pay. Or hawkers, who just want to sell their wares. Or even Boniface, who needs you to help him stop this thing you have been complaining about for a long time.

We seem to have forgotten.

We seem to have forgotten the dreams that led to the building of communities like Buruburu, Lang’ata and everything in between. Somewhere, between the economic catastrophes of the early 1990s and the silencing of the Moi era we seem to have forgotten how to listen to each other. How to hear demands for change as demands for us. As demands for our own freedom and our own liberties. We seem to have forgotten that we deserve to have a healthcare system that isn’t broken – or at least that can deliver medicine on time. Or that we deserve a government that will not spend its time finding new ways to rob us blind.

It is not forgetfulness, but the state in which it is deemed necessary or at least desirable to go through a process of forgetting.
The kind of forgetting in forgetingness is not a mere slipping away from memory, but rather a process of extraction from being.

 Interlude 3, Forgettingness. ICC Witnesses Project

And so because we have forgotten we react violently to memory. We try and suppress anyone who tries to remember that we too once hoped.

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