The title for this post is both literal and metaphoric. My blood brother, so dear to me and my family has had a taste of what it is to labor on a casual contract and see first hand the dire hardships these hardworking Kenyans face on a daily basis. I myself experienced different aspect of the pursuit for such contract and feel strongly that something urgent must be done to show this segment of our society that we have not forgotten. They toil for the good of our society, its only equitable to ensure that they receive adequate remuneration for their handwork in doing jobs most of us are afraid to try.
Every day while I head to town laden with my heavy laptop, I watch these brothers toil under the watchful eye of supervisors devoid off humor or apathy. I see the sweat trickle down their worn faces, disappearing under the confines of their dirty covers underneath the bright green jackets that they always wear. I look at the sad hard eyes that gaze upon me as i pass the sad procession of workers on my way to the stage, eyes that wonder about the unfairness of the kind of life Kenya offers. They look at my smart official clothes and think about the office that I head to, to sit on a comfortable desk and consider some paper waiting for the days to get by and receive a fat pay check. They are wrong of course, but there is no forum to tell them so. So I bear their stares, some admiring some hostile.
I can’t help but wonder about the path our lives take. While I pass by my fellow youth toiling under the glaring sun, I say hi to some who I know. I know them because most were my fellow school mates in Primary school when our spirits were free to roam in the void where all dreams seem possible. We received similar schooling and most of us came from a similar background. But after primary school most of them dropped out convinced that further schooling was a waste of their valuable time and that it is best used in the pursuit of a few meager shillings. The advise of concerned parents fell into deaf ears and the years have passed, and most realize the folly of their ways when it is but a little too late.
But that does not give the government or private contractors the right to diminish their God given dignity and offer them wages that are unlivable. Some of you might be conversant with the global debate against sweat shops and the paradoxical ideals that the various arguments presents. Some people have questioned the logical legitimacy of adopting Western labor standards bearing in mind the vast differences in resources. Against such a background, insisting on higher wages would lead to the loss of several casual works and submerge these people into a deeper miasma of poverty and possibly open the gate for other lethal vices like drug abuse. But something have to be done, at least to improve the lives of these hardworking Kenyans.
I remember a time whilst in second year doing my degree, I was seeking employment o fill the idleness of the five month holiday. Perhaps at this juncture I can petition the government to consider lessening university holidays from the current five months to one month and in doing so reduce the over all years necessary to complete one’s program. Someone told me that a local pharmaceutical company was offering casual employment and that I should submit my CV for consideration. I obliged without hesitation and early one morning made my way to the gate where I was duly informed “leave them here and come check from tomorrow whether there is vacancy.” I obeyed without further questions and the following dayI made my way to the aforementioned company. I was rudely informed by the watch lady to cross the road and like everyone else wait until the names are called, if at all they’ll be called that day. It was at that point that I noticed the horde of people, some sitting while others stood, patiently waiting for their names to be called. I sauntered to the other side of the road, fully dressed in official attire, and I still remember the looks of sympathy and empathy cast at my direction by my fellow country men. Looks of pity at the naive hope in our corporate leaders.
To cut a long story short, the vacancy never came for the three weeks i went to that gate every morning. And during that time I got to know that some people have been coming there every morning for the last three months. And many more who are currently employed there had made that sacrilegious appearance for months before they were finally given the chance to secure employment with this firm. And for all that i went there, no one ever bothered to inform us that there were no vacancies for that particular day so that we can go and seek elsewhere. It was as if we were mere shadows below the huge trees, unrecognizable, undesirable and most importantly not human.
So when I walk by at lunch time and watch these brothers tired and exhausted resting below the protective shadows of a tree at lunch time, I mourn for them. I wonder where they derive the strength to carry those huge stones in the afternoon seeing as it is they had no lunch at all. I communion with those recently fired when they stopped work to protest the 300 per day wage, terming it oppressive and inhuman. I pity the wives and children who bear with them the hardships of life, remembering that i too once knew what it was like. And I glared at the fat man riding a huge Mercedes who came to inspect the work; a tyrant who would profit in exploiting the desperation of fellow brethren.