I'm Done Being a Trash Can

James Ouma
Posted March 12, 2017 from Kenya

I have always known I am a trash can that has been receiving and spewing out toxic trash. Yet despite this knowledge, I strongly became aware of being a trash can on the day I got circumcised. There is nothing as humbling as an adult man lying on your back, having your manhood exposed to public viewing and hear men talk about things that have absolutely nothing to do with how to do a perfect circumcision.

As I lay on my back, facing the ceiling and watching my foreskin being taken off, a third man walked into the room and what he said next suddenly turned me into a trash can - and a helpless bystander who couldn't question the relevance of what was being discussed. I didn't have anything against the third guy, his manner of dressing, the scent of his cologne or his ethnicity. However, I considered his sudden appearance as an abuse of my privacy.

I didn't sign up for this, I kept thinking, and screaming at the top of my voice. But none of the three guys in the room could hear me because I wasn't able to move a single muscle or utter a sound. And so, in my helplessness and vulnerability, I lay down there and had to watch and listen to what didn't have relevance to my circumcision.

"Guys," the third guy begun, "there's a new food joint that is selling very good chapatis and beans."

"Is that the new joint Kamau was telling me about yesterday?" the one who was holding the bloodied pair of scissors asked, taking a short break from cutting my foreskin. "Don't tell me you've already gone for lunch." he added.

"Not yet. I thought I should take the two of you there before my afternoon driving duties," he replied, adding more details as he continued sharing his job description - for my sake - or so I thought.

"How much are the chapatis?" the other guy asked, handing over a clean pair of scissors.

"20 shillings," the driver replied.

"20 shillings?" the foreskin cutter asked. "Is that for a chapati and beans?"

"No," said the driver. "20 shillings per chapati."

'What?" the handler of clean scissors asked. "I guarantee you, I won't spend that kind of money buying one chapati when I can get two chapatis and a dash of bean stew at Mama Njoro's!"

"And on a lucky day, you may even get pieces of meat in the cabbage Mama Njoro adds as an accompaniment to the plate of chapatis and beans."

Feeding on trash

And so on and on, the three of them kept talking as the driver watched the other two guys patch me up after the circumcision was complete. As I put my clothes and walked out of the room, I didn't feel as enthusiastic about adult circumcision as much as I had on my way into the operating room. Part of me felt like the trash had reached an overflowing point.

That is what it felt like when I was growing up. I fed on trash as an orphaned boy who couldn't find a father-figure to guide me. I fed on trash that reminded me that I was poor, good for nothing and a slow learner. When I was ready to find a job or get married, this kind of trash came in between me and the kind of goals I was setting for myself.

Lying down, during my circumcision as three strangers discussed where to get the best chapatis and beans made me become aware that I needed to get rid of the trash I had grown up feeding on. Trash about myself, circumstances and other people. Strangely enough, the trash keeps piling every time our nation enters an election campaign mode.

There is a lot of trash going on; trash from past and present strikes, politicians talking trash to and about each other via national television news. There is more trash flying out of speeding cars, matatus, buses and trucks as drivers and passengers throw all manner of trash out of the window.

scattered pieces of chewed sugar cane flying in the air

boxes of pizza, cake and flour-stuffed chicken

discarded condoms lying on the ground

used 'you-need-it-we've-got-it' plastic paper bags

religious doctrinal propaganda

Just like a good friend of mine keeps saying, "You've a very beautiful country and yet allow corruption, ethnicity and all kinds of trash to pile up all around you. Doesn't that bother you at all?" And instead of saying, that's the way things are, I believe saying, "I'm done being a trash can!" will make a huge difference.

By doing so, I hope to have a clean country where men of character, courage and conscience engage each other in nation building and development. I hope to live in a nation where the political class doesn't consolidate power by surrounding itself with fellow tribesmen.I want to objectively listen to political, religious and psychological trash talk without being biased.

I hope live in a nation where tax doesn't eat into 30% of my income and the big five don't run away from the park as a result of a roaring speedy SGR train. I want to engage with another Kenyan without asking for their second name and giving them a tribal tag in response to how they mispronounce a particular word in Swahili.

Will I ever get there? You tell me...

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