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Friday, July 21, 2017

Reflections: The real measure of your wealth

Kenyan shillings
Kenyan shillings

Now unless you’ve been on some spiritual quest for years, detached from worldly concerns and living in a mountain cave in an effort to centre yourself, it should not be a revelation that in Kenya, we are consumed by money.

That the acquisition and display of material possessions takes up a significant amount of our attention is evident in newspapers, online and on social media. Every other week, we’re smacked in the face with stories and selfies of young, rich people and how they splashed money at some event, occasion or nightclub. No mention of the source of the seemingly inexhaustible funds, just detailed descriptions on how much was spent and on what.

It is also often the case that in many of these ostentatious displays of wealth, the coin being liberally flung around doesn’t even belong to the people doing the flinging, but to their parents.

It wasn’t always like this. Back in the 90s, going out in town was much more frugal. Basically, we would meet up decked out in our finest threads, about three guys, and head out for drinks at a certain bar on Tom Mboya Street. After we’d had our drinks, we would make our way across the street to see about catching a matatu to a famous club off Langata Road.

Often because of the hour, there would be no matatus operating, but it didn’t matter because soon enough, we would be joined by other young people (a mix of boys and girls) also heading to the same famous club. Before long, we would make up a quorum of friendly strangers, enough of a small group to flag down a newspaper delivery van, pool our resources, and make it worth the driver’s while to drop us all off at the club. And once we were in the club, we got down to getting down on the dance floor.

It’s not that there were no rich people or rich parents back then. It was that parents in our day, whichever side of Uhuru Highway they lived — be it the leafy side or the treeless East side — they all had the same back story. They all went to school without shoes, life was a struggle, they worked hard for everything they have.

This meant that even if there were five cars parked in your parent’s driveway, you would not be driving to a nightclub in any of them unless you had bought it with your own hard-earned cash. Unlikely, as most of us at that time had only been working for a short while, and at entry level. And so it was that whether your folks owned many cars or none, whether your family was wealthy or not, we all used public transport. There were, of course, those who ‘borrowed’ the car after the folks had gone to sleep, but that’s a subject for another article.

The point is that in the absence of material possessions to flash, the only thing we could show off and impress others with was wit, humour and charm. In other words, we were judged by the content of our character and not the contents of our bankbook.

Being rich is not a fault. I’m sure it’s nice, but if all you’re worth is cash, gold and cars, if your total value can fit on a spreadsheet, then that’s not worth much.

The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money’ — Anonymous

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