“No, am not a barbie,me am a hustler!”
I told the guy who was doing my manicure, extremely offended that he had called me a barbie.
“So umewahi kukula mutura kwa street” (Have you ever eaten mutura on the streets?)
“Uhmmm…sawa basi, maybe me ni barbie-hustler.”
The guy laughs hard and continues to do my manicure. My chest is burning with rage: I am a hustler okay kinda hustler!
I may not know town or use a matatu frequently or eat mutura on the streets but I am my own kind of hustler…well…I…I…work hard in school and I make my bed and I can cook and I cleaned icky toilets while in high school and I’ve gone through hard stuff…
“Okay, Chebet aren’t those like normal things every person does? Why is that a hustle?”
“No Chebet, what I mean is …”
“Aaa! Don’t even, you are class privileged and he was right to call you a barbie.”
The manicure guy defined hustling as ‘ni ile kulive life from hand to mouth like hujui penye breakfast itatoka.”(it is living your life from hand to mouth, without knowing where breakfast is coming from). When I asked him whether he was a hustler he said that he was a hustler who is making it because he lives on the posh-ier side of Kibera. I then saw why I could never be a hustler in his sense of the word and to even call myself one was in some way disrespecting his hustle. It was like a white person telling a black person that they have the same struggle or a man telling a woman they have the same struggle or maybe am exaggerating…I don’t know.
However, I think there’s another kind of hustle, one that every person who is one the privileged side of things could experience and it is the hustle of coming to terms with one’s own privilege enough to empathise without pitying, enough to know when to feel guilty, enough to know what to change, enough to know if it is a problem.For me, it has been the hustle of coming to terms with my class privilege.
Ever since I can remember my privilege has been a cause of shame for me. I remember when I was in high school and my roommates would take things out of my closet/wardrobe/cupboard (I don’t remember what we called those storage rectangles) and ask me about their prices and I would get responses such as ” eisht, hiyo ni shopping yangu combined” or “That’s the same lotion my mum uses. ” I would curl in shame and slowly I learnt to go for less and less and less as a result in the family I am the ‘minimalist’. I also remember my good friend being sent home for school fees and how bad I would feel because if anyone deserved to stay in school it would be her so I would tell my mum to try and help as I poured myself into a club that wanted to raise money for such causes.Nowadays, I am always the one commenting on how the money we just spent at the movies could get someone through primary school. Of course, people get tired of me so this class privilege has manifested into an unbearable guilt every time I spend.
The other thing is the acute awareness that all the privilege I experience is by virtue of being the child of my parents and as a result I find myself in the hustle. The hustle to remain in the privilege without the help of my parents, you know, I don’t want to be ‘that rich kid’ , the one who thought they owned their parents’ wealth and woke up to unpleasant surprises one morning or didn’t wake up to surprises but scorns and disregard from people. The hustle to afford for my children the same things my parents have blessed me with. The hustle to stay at the top of the ladder and to climb other ladders. This hustle further enhances my privilege guilt and so to climbing
the ladder I add helping other people while at it, it reduces the guilt.
I am not so sure what to do with the guilt. I have gone from accepting the world in all its necessary or unnecessary hierarchy to disregarding any more ladders to wanting to go down the ladder to wanting to accepting it all as blessings to adopting mantras such as “To whom much is given much is expected.” But really, am just trying to figure this all out and as I do so am embracing my place in the ladder and trying to climb higher in a socially responsible way, my society tends to like and celebrate that approach…
Oh my this post is messy but it is really messy…
“No, am not a barbie,me am a hustler!”