Eight consciousnesses out of the ghetto

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Random musings by Njuki Githethwa

“Before you take a shortcut that leads to a dead end
Take my advice ’cause the Giant said so
And remember: there’s more than one way out the ghetto.”
– Showbiz & A.G (More Than One Way Out of The Ghetto)

Here we go
The ghetto and poverty are conjoined. Life is difficult in the ghetto, especially when borne by circumstances, not by choice. Borne by circumstances means that you grew up there, by association or survival demands. Borne by choice means that you choose to live in a ghetto to experience the life of the underclasses, or just for the heck of experience or seeking a way of escape or oblivion. Cosplaying of some sort; the hippie culture.

I grew up in Majengo, popularly known as ghetto in Nanyuki, a town along the Equator in Kenya. Our family later shifted to Likii village, another ghetto in Nanyuki town, also known as Elvis (I have always wondered whether there was any reference to Elvis Presly, the American Rock and Roll superstar who sang, In the Ghetto, a popular song in our childhood).My experience in the ghetto was a case of circumstances, not choice. I have observed over the years that my experience, similar to that of many others, is a journey of faith that can inspire, backfire or misfire various consciousnesses.  Ghetto by choice is a form of adventure. Ghetto by circumstances is not an adventure. Let me walk you through eight of these consciousnesses; admittedly there could be more, but I will limit these to the experiences that I have been exposed to and how I have mentally processed them.

One: Escape into oblivion
Life in the ghetto is depressing and frustrating.  There is no way out here, or perhaps there is. Alcohol is in plenty, so is religion and drugs. All are forms of oblivion. No wonder “wines and spirits” establishments and churches do brisk business in the ghetto. Escape into any form of oblivion. Escape from this reality. Religion is the opium of the poor, Karl Marx said it. Alcohol or drugs usually drown out sorrows and shields you from reality. It does not matter whether the escape is temporarily as long as it is an escape. Even quicker escape is the alcohol in spirit form. Even religion is a spirit, the Holy Spirit. The bottom line is that they are all spirits. Drugs uplifts spirits. Partake any spirit that fits your spirit. Escape into the oblivion that suits your spirit.`

Two: Get rich, or die trying
Poverty sucks; to hell with morality. Try all means necessary to get a shortcut to being rich. Sell drugs, you are not to blame for those abusing drugs. Steal their money, moreover, all money belongs to everyone, it’s only held temporarily in individual pockets. Let money circulate freely,  everywhere. Be corrupt, everyone is corrupt anyway in one way or another. You can even escape with murder to anyone on your way to getting rich. Justice can be sold at the marketplace or hired for a short while. Why bother hiring a lawyer when you can buy a judge? Heaven is an empty promise, a pie in the sky. Being evil is a figment of your imagination, it’s an illusion.

After all, you can change once you’ve made something out of yourself. Religion can be an accomplice to this change – Saul was a murderer before he became Paul on the road to Damascus. All will be forgiven and forgotten – the bigger sin is to get caught before being someone. Tougher sentences for chicken thieves than looters of billions. Clergymen even give space for the latter in churches and bless them for their ill-gotten donations. 50 Cent, the American Hip Hop artist provides the words of this consciousness through the title of his debut studio album: Get Rich or Die Tryin’.

Three: Staircase to heaven
This inspires various mantra: Education is the key to success; aim higher; the sky is no longer the limit; work smarter, not harder; such. It’s the stuff of motivational books; the seven habits of the most successful people; the seven spiritual laws of success; the monk who sold his Ferrari, such. You study hard. You excel on the ladders of education. You settle comfortably into a profession, a career. The job pays well. The career could also be in the arts or sports. The point is to excel in your career, to scale the ladder of success. You live well. You extend support to your siblings, family and friends. You give the surplus to the less fortunate, to charity, or to the church. It’s known as giving back to society, and to God. It’s the dream of most children and family. “We can’t complain” mantras. Our children are now settled. It’s the staircase to heaven.

There is even a Kiswahili/ song, Someni Vijana ( Study students), by the late  Ben Blastus O’bulawayo to inspire such dreams:

Someni vijana (Study students)
Muongeze pia bidii (Study hard)
Mwisho wa kusoma (After the end of studying hard)
Mtapata kazi nzuri sana ( You will get good jobs)

 Four: Fishers of men
It’s a love and hate relationship with the ghetto. Give them fish, but also show them how to fish out of the sea of poverty. You join or set – up a charitable organisation; a children’s home; a school, or any other kind of philanthropic project in the ghetto. Your mission is biblical. The image of Jesus recruiting his disciples to be fishers of men. There is even a favourite hymn to that effect from the Bible.

I will make you fishers of men
Fishers of men
If you follow me

There is even a story to go along with this messianic mission.

One day, on a calm evening, a philosopher was walking along the shores of the sea. Lots of small fish were washed onto the shores by the waves of the sea. He saw a boy picking one small fish after another and returning them back to the waters of the sea.

The philosopher was perplexed.

“Young boy!” he called him out. “What do you think you are doing? Why waste your time?”
The boy looked up at the philosopher
“Wiseman, what do you mean?” He asked him.
“Look at the width and breadth of this sea shore. There are millions of small fish scattered all over by the waves. Many more are being thrown out. Yours is an exercise in futility. You know very well that you cannot manage to return even a quarter of the small fish into the sea. Why bother at all? Why waste your time? Walk along with me.”
“Sure. You are right wiseman.” The boy replied, “ I can manage to return only a few small fish back into the waters of the sea, but by returning one small fish into the water, I am saving the life of one small fish, I am making a difference into the life of that small fish.”
“I see.” The philosopher nodded and walked on silently.

Five: Go to hell!
You have not really made it in life. You are still average, ordinary actually. You still struggle to make ends meet. You grew up in the ghetto, but hate it to the core of your being. You are ashamed of the memories or even association with the ghetto. The Ghetto, alongside everything and anything associated with it ,is an anathema to you. You treat it like it was a scar in your life. You behave like you have already made it in life. When the chance presents itself, you post your pictures and selfies in dreamy locations and travel, in airplanes, sleek vehicles, eating exotic foods, in trending fashions, modern tastes, hobnobbing in parties with well-off friends and celebrities; as though you’re living the dreams you aspire, but you are yet to attain that lifestyle or you never will but if you have, you avoid anything that reminds you of the life you once lived or you despise anything or anyone that reminds you of it.
You admire celebrities and their lifestyles. You dream to be like them. You also admire wealthy politicians and personalities. You quote their mantra and their books as though they are your bible. You are the victim of motivational books and commercialized spirituality. You can even escape into fanatical religion or cults to chase your dreams. You live a lie. The ghetto hates your fake life as much as you hate it.

Six: Advocate
The ghetto needs transformation. Transformation of lives and circumstances. It requires advocacy. Advocacy and policies for good roads, schools, electricity, housing, health care, right to information, sanitation facilities, adequate water, such. You take up roles of that advocacy for ghetto issues. Being a voice for the voiceless is your favourite mantra. You throw in some words about changing ghetto mindsets; laxness is evil; work smarter, not harder; cultivating the spirit of entrepreneurship in people; people are not victims, they are masters of their own destiny! Working in an NGO or a related charitable organisation satisfies your mission and commitment. You see it as service to humanity; giving back to society. Service to society is service to God. Religion is an ally. “Government will not save you; it can only provide a good environment for people to thrive.”

Seven: Rock of Ages
You wake up, get on with your work, or business, your means of earning a livelihood. You return to your home, or link up with friends to pass time or to the church, or for a drink at your local, or any other past time to while the evening away. You retire for the night, then wake up the following day, another day, same routine, same life. Another year, and another. Same routine; same life. You never grow rich, neither poor, just there, average. You are contented with who you are and with what you have. You are never over ambitious. Yours is a lifestyle that is the stuff of hilarious memes:

If you say hard work pays, show me a rich donkey
No airbags; we die like real warriors

You exist like a rock. No hard feelings or ambition to transform yourself, or your association or surroundings or community beyond your average lifestyle and outlook. You can work in a job, or engage in a business for your livelihood for a long time. You are a rock, literary. There is even a hymn from the Golden Bells to inspire your lifestyle:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from its guilt and power

Eight: Revolution Now!
This system is the problem! This system that begets the ghetto and poverty. The problem is systemic and historical. Ghetto and poverty are symptoms and the surface appearances of an evil and unjust system that lies  beneath. In other words, ghetto and poverty are the tip of the iceberg of this evil system whose large body is under the sea. You cannot blame the vulture for feeding on a carcass, blame the circumstances that brought the carcass in the first place.

Israel vibrations, the reggae band from Jamaica sings of such vultures in their song, Vultures:

The vultures are waiting to see the great slaughter
So that they can fly down and clean up after
While the big guys sit up over yonder having all the laughter

This evil system can only be rid off by a revolution. An ideological revolution that will fundamentally transform society and the depraved conditions in the ghetto. People are not poor; they have been impoverished by this system. People do not merely live in deprivation; they have been deprived by this system. This system is evil. We must get rid of this unequal and unjust system and strive for a just and equal society. Revolution now, not tomorrow!

Closure as opening
This reflection is not the closure of such musings but the opening up of more, or less. Such reflections bestride disciplines and concerns.  What this analysis has tried to attempt is to view various characters and habits as forms of consciousness out of the ghetto and poverty. Reflections of various forms of consciousness from the ghetto and poverty helps to understand, to emphasize and to seek genuine and meaningful transformation, not quick to condemn and harangue consciousness that we do not understand or ascribe to. This is actually the bottom line of this reflection: Understanding to transform; not condemning to dismiss. Therein lies the continuous quest for humane people and society.

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