What my first encounter with social justice taught me.

Lately I have been dwelling so much on the injustices one has to perservere throughout life.  From being charged extra at the car shop (women, can I hear an ‘Amen!’) to being denied legal rights, it is a no wonder that most of us prefer to ride out the wave of unfairness instead of swimming against it.  Speaking out against injustices can be so time-consuming, energy-draining, and totally nerve-racking, right?  Isn’t it easier to just ‘tolerate’ the inconvenience than to challenge it?

I grew up in Lamu, a tiny town (island) just off of Kenya’s coast. There are no roads on the island, just alleyways and narrow streets, limiting the mode of transportation to foot, boat or donkeys.

My cousin and I used to sell my grandmother’s home-made traditional bread (mofa) in one of the town’s most popular commercial streets.  After the evening prayers, the street was floooded with pedestraian traffic of mostly men and donkeys who were buying home-made food (men) or eating food scraps from the floor (donkeys).  Unfortunately there was also a group of rowdy neighborhood boys that would stop by tease my cousin and I, often times discouraging potential customers from buying from us.  We complained about these events to our grandmother and she promptly sent out my grandfather to ‘protect’ us.  The boys were not deterred.  My poor grandfather, overpowered by the youthful energy, simply muttered under his breath. Of course after a few days of returning back home with our commercial basket still full of mofa, my grandmother could no longer contain her fury.

A few days into the testosterone-charged verbal assaults, something radical happened.  My cousin, grandfather, and I were sitting in our regular spot when the boys came charging again.  My hands went flying over our basket, my grandfather immediately started sighing out loud.  We were already in defence mode when we heard a commanding female voice from a nearby alley….”I have had enough of your nonsense! Get away from my grand-daughters!”

It was my grandmother to the rescue, not dressed as Wonder Woman, but covered from head to toe in her black buibui (cloak), her wrinkled face ready for some serious action.  The boys, sensing danger, ran off. My grandmother jumped onto the nearest concrete platform and bellowed out. “This is the last time anyone is ever going to tease my grand daughters.  The next time anyone dares to trouble my children, THEY WILL FACE MY WRATH!”. Immediately, the traffic came to a halt.  Everyone was looking up to this small, angry woman…and they were scared.   My amazing grandmother had just staged a one-woman revolution.

My cousin and I were left in peace after that evening and consequently the sales of our mofa rose dramatically.  And 20 years later whenever I feel the grasp of injustice choking me, I remember what my grandmother taught me. I remember to speak up.


10 thoughts on “What my first encounter with social justice taught me.

  1. Woow nice story….true if we dont speak up who will..ughhh I hate going to the mechanic alone…they always lie to me…but I know google before I go and ask questions. But yes..esp for muslim women~ we r still second class citizens. Our voice are never heard untill we stand on a platform and bellow our issues…then we r heard..but first from other women who are in the same positioni…then turns into a group which is then heard by the other species..aka Men!


  2. hahaha you crack me up!!…. nani kama hababa?

    I have never been to Lamu before but I would love to go there one day especially after the evening prayers just to see the streets that are “floooded with pedestraian traffic of mostly “men and donkeys”……….mhhhhhh!!!
    . who were buying home-made food (men) or eating food scraps from the floor (donkeys).

    Thank God for that!!!!!


    Have you written any BOOKS?


  3. i remember mofa,,i lived lamu,married there,kizingitini,and matondoni,went pate too.,i was.facsinated by the whole layout..original.how we will miss it on this new modernity venture..the donkey sanctuary,,ooh i went there always,,


  4. I always felt that as a female, we have to be some few steps *ahead* of the male counterparts to be taken *seriously*. I stand firm to what I believe that I have to be treated with respect and don’t expect anything less from that. My female role model is my mother who upto this date is one strong woman no one can *mess* with 😛


  5. Grandmothers to the rescue was a regular scene mtaani. Some at the door steps whilst others in the middle of the streets.
    The art I admired the most in my bibi (grandma) was her quick and witty answer to any question you ask. She would also explain something with in-depth details. On one occasion we asked her why she chooses to talk in such elaborate manner and her answer left us speechless. She said “why do you pay lawyers for?”

    May Allah (subhana wa taala) rests their loving souls in peace (amiin).


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