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Monday, December 3, 2012

old men


It’s easy at my age to believe that everything in  life can happen on an upward trajectory. Am still young enough to be experiencing constant improvement as long as I work at it. If I ran every day I would be more fit than I had ever been, if I opened myself up to intellectual stimulation I would be smarter than I had ever been, if I talked and laughed with people and tried to learn from each human interaction I would be more charming than I have ever been. The things that limit me are laziness(so much so I can’t even think of a second thing).

However the thing I know doesn’t get worse with time is wisdom. This is different from intelligence. This is something you gain only by living. No one has a natural talent to it. No one is born with it. Some people get wise faster than the rest but it’s also true that in the same year some will live longer than others and that some are more willing to learn from their mistakes. But  the best sign of wisdom remains  grey hair. Old men and women are usually wise and I read an article about Obama where it was claimed that at a cocktail party he never seeks out the most beautiful but the oldest. It’s a quick shortcut to wisdom, listening to the words of the aged and its one I take whenever I can.

A couple of weeks ago I was walking through town and this old guy was walking ahead of me. He had a shock of white hair and a brown suit. But on his face was the biggest smile in the street. He talked to a child walking with her mother and when the child didn’t respond he walked on. He had the swagger of happiness around him and was humming a song as he walked, hum, hum, hum. I liked him instantly. I liked that he was saying hallo to everyone on the street. I liked that he did it with a smile. I liked that he was humming. I liked that he was so obviously happy and I wanted to talk to him.

Some people are easy to talk to, all they are looking for is an excuse to engage in conversation so I fell in pace with him and smiled his way and just like that I had a new walking companion. By some fluke we were going the same way and as we walked he told me about life. He said that children nowadays are more disrespectful than ever before, recounting a story about him being upcountry and watching a herd of cows, well looking at them since watching implies stewardship. While he was doing this a boy comes and drives them away, the boy refused to talk to this old man, to offer an explanation that they were his, the boy’s, cows. The man was livid about this. Well as livid as such a state of happiness can allow. He said though that he couldn’t blame the children and that It was the parent’s fault. They should have taught their offspring better than this.

He talked about Nairobi and how impersonal it all is. He must have felt like I did that this kind of random conversation doesn’t happen enough in the city. Here there is a lot of mistrust and a stranger talking to you on the street is usually asking for money or demanding it. He couldn’t understand this and was so sad about the fact that people like money more than they do other people. It shouldn’t be like this and I agree it never should.  We got separated for a bit as we crossed the road and when I caught up with him he said that some woman had just rubbed her breasts against his arm. From here he went into a thesis on the state of women in Nairobi, first of all they wait too long to get husbands and then realise this and are caught in the midst of terrible desperation. They then decide to do whatever they can to attract male attention, he pointed to one of them walking in front of us in (what I though was a perfectly decent dress, and a perfectly decent walking style) but he disapproved of them both. The dress was too low the sashaying too provocative for his taste. He talked about working in an office with a woman who would dress like that in front of him and the way he told the people in charge to talk to her about how she was dressed.

It’s strange I think what happens in a generation. The dress he was talking about reached her knees, there was really no sashaying going on and I haven’t seen these desperate intentions that he saw painted all over the city. I disagreed with him on those points but with the old it’s better to listen than to argue.

Last week am buying alcohol for a party. The nakumatt alcohol counter at around 7 on Saturday is full of Kenyans buying the last cheap liquor they can. This country really does drink itself away. I have my bottle, a 750 ml of vodka in my hands when another old man comes to the line with a 350 ml of bond 7 whisky. He looks at my bottle and smiles. “Is that all for you?” he asks. I correct him, of course not. Am sharing this with my friends. This is because even though we are both definitely drinkers I don’t want him to think of me as a drunk, I really don’t. He smiles and tells me that I look like I could have finished it all. I smile because these are things guys love to hear. We like to think of ourselves as strong or at least as giving the illusion of strength. We want to be the biggest and the best of anything, drinkers, runners, mathmen. We can’t admit it because we know we aren’t but we still feel good when we someone thinks it.

He tells me that when he was my age that would be gone in 2 sessions. This is what got me thinking about the upward trajectory of bodily function. I always thought the older you are, the better you can hold your liquor. But here this guy was telling me that as soon as you clock a half century it starts to get the better of you. “When I was your age I could drink half of that, screw and wake up for class in the morning. Now when I drink half of that I can’t screw for a week.”

Lesson gleaned? Enjoy your youth. Also these two old men were completely different characters. One of them talking about the immorality of the age we live in, the other admitting the immorality of the age they both lived in. our generation often feels judged by those who came before but that’s just us judging them. Putting all of them in the same group when they really aren’t. Some of them may hate the loose ways of young women today and some of them may reminisce about the loose ways of young women when they were growing up. Talk to them and find out which they are before you write them off, you might find that they are so interesting you want to write of them.