WANJURA: Of family and season messages burden

WANJURA: Of family and season messages burden

I concluded that was the last person out when the driver stepped out and closed the rear door of the Sports Utility Vehicle.

He seemed uncertain of this himself. Judging by the way he checked under the seats in what should have been the trunk of the Toyota Surf, he seemed to be expecting more human cargo.

By my count, seven children ranging from toddlers to teens had emerged from this particular space. There were five people on the passengers’ seats behind the driver and an elderly couple at the front. Including the driver, that added up to 15 people!

They were an Asian family apparently checking in for Christmas holidays. Considering the gamut of ages, it was probably an assembly of a couple of families: the elderly couple, their sons and their grandchildren festive season get together away from home.

Many families tend to do this around this time of the year.

But apart from marveling at how possible it was to fit so many people in such limited space, the family got me musing about the raging traffic debate.

I had listened with disbelief at the Traffic Commandant waxing confidence of her officers’ ability to detect genealogy or lack of it among passengers merely by looking at them. She had said, with authority, that the police could tell who was family and who was a mere passenger in a shared vehicle. And she promised severe consequences for those who failed the family test!

My case study family yielded interesting observations. Whereas several of them were typically short and stout, there were notable exceptions. Some were tall or showing potential in that direction. The skin complexities were a riot of shades raging from the extremely light skinned to “Africa” dark. The hair also varied significantly from stunted tufts to waist-long coifs. Simply put, it would have been difficult to find obvious physical resemblance.

Traffic officers must have smiled at the abundance of opportunities that the directive by their boss offered. It felt like the perfect Christmas gift for our officers notorious for extorting bribes. It got me thinking of an imaginary traffic scenario for the Asian family.

If you forgive the obvious over-loading, you can imagine the ordeal that would surely follow its determination to prove shared identity.

I can evince traffic officers’ disbelieving smiles and the taunts. “…ati mzee unasema hii yote ni familia? Na wewe umezaa shule nzima? Hujui family planning? Unless the family has the birth certificates to prove lineage, their only salvation will likely lie in giving a bribe.

The directive may have been well intentioned. But it was unbelievably naïve and shallow. It fails to appreciate the reach and depth that make for families in many Kenyan homes.

In certain communities, everybody in the village is arguably family. Your in-laws and their in-laws are also family. It would be very unlikely for you and your wife’s second cousin to physically look alike. Yet it would be unforgiveable selfishness if you failed to offer him a lift to the village because his nose looks different from yours.

Understandably, the traffic directive has been the butt of many social media jokes. I was amused to see a couple of WhatsApp messages satirizing it. The generous circulation of the latter was a refreshing break from the usual monotony of seasons greetings that have now migrated to this particular platform. But I also noted the approaching death of the SMS. Its days seem numbered.

In my case, there were only ten short message service (SMS) in my phone inbox with festive season wishes by the close of Christmas day. The SMS sources were a mix of the predictable and odd balls. For instance, there was a Cabinet Secretary who surprised me by starting his text with a bold “My lovely wife and I wish you…”

Now, that was strange coming from a guy whose public mien is that of a cantankerous bully who seems to be in a perpetual hunger for the next fight. It got me guessing the family man syndrome was his unknown side or that he had perhaps delegated the drafting and sending of the message to his wife. Alternatively, he may have outsourced the task to those PR outfits so beloved of the Jubilee administration.

In what would be an ideal study of hope and resilience, my mum, once again, sent me a message with a bible quotation message and a reminder to go to church on Christmas day. She has faithfully done that since she owned a phone.

The message of the day was however from the estate watchman who, in broken Swahili, prayed for good health for “wewe na mali yako!”

What really struck me was that only two of the SMSs featured a decorated Christmas tree or a Santa Claus with his goodies gift box. That was a major climb down. In recent years, my inbox would be flooded with such messages. The accompanying words would be more or less the same with a heavy invocation of God’s mercies, a quotation of the scriptures, wishes for my prosperity and of course, a prayer for the New Year.

The reduction was good news to me. How to treat festive messages tends to pose a personal dilemma. Clearly, many are recycled stuff that is empty of a tailored thought or a heartfelt sentiment. You sense it is the same message sent to the office boss, the butcher, Nyumba Kumi chairman and Junior’s class teacher.

Depending on the phone type and set up, it will probably be the same message sent to the maximum number of recipients fished out of the contacts list with the alphabet and airtime affordability as perhaps the main determinant.

If you read the same message five years ago, is it still worth of a reply? Would it be lack of etiquette or being ungrateful if you did not respond to the same SMS you’ve already received more than ten times already with a week to the New Year? And how do you treat the digital generation gibberish that reads “Xaxa. Op Sir G atakubless 2016…?”

My rule has been that if it is not original, personalized and in standard language, then ignore it. But my courtesy is sometimes stretched when a respected relative or contact sends you the same text as your workmate whose last communication with you was an Easter SMS. Or when close friends or relatives whom you know to be anything but godly send you preachy messages heavy with sanctimony.

I tend to believe the entire festive season reeks of grand hypocrisy. The goodwill messages oozing affection and prayers is a contagious bout of fake charity that should be treated in the same way as those junk emails urging you to share the message with a minimum number of recipients as a precondition for your portion of blessings.

I have been resisting the wishes bandwagon with mixed success. Were I to be granted my preferences, I would love to ignore the collective party mania that grips the world around Christmas Day.

But I unapologetically get excited around New Year. I believe seeing through an old year presents a genuine reason to celebrate especially when you recall how many have fallen by the wayside. But that too can be a tempered affair that does not call for sending everyone in your phone book the same trite wishful message you sent last year.

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