Why Kenyans Can’t Swim
We had about 30 minutes to kill before our taxi picked us up from the hotel to head to the airport. It was our last day in Istanbul. We had just wound up a refreshingly magical cruise on the Bosphorus- a strait that cuts across two continents, Asia and Europe. Seeing part of Turkey spread out on the Asian side and touring a castle on that side (ahem, does this mean I also visited Asia?) was awe inspiring.
We also had some left-over coins, about 26 Turkish Lira. So, the mister and I decided to take a stroll down the street and see if we could find some use for the coins.
The first shop that caught my eye was a textiles store. Outside it was an inviting display of rich Persian rugs, the kind that you only find in the foyer of medieval hotels. The likes of Laico Recency and The Hilton.
Wasting no time, the store owner, a chirpy guy in his fifties emerged. He was dressed in a black Polo muscle shirt and black jeans. On his head rested a fancy pair of black Prada sun-glasses, quite trendy for his age. He reminded me of George Clooney, but not as dashing.
“Sweetie, come inside. You will love what is in there even more.” He said to me, completely ignoring the mister. His English was quite good.
“You know 26 Lira won’t get you any of that right?” The mister aptly informed me, pointing at the rugs and totally unable to hide his intolerance for my shopping obsession.
Undeterred by his sarcasm, I walked straight into the shop. Stacks of table mats and cushion covers sat on shelves all around the store. More rugs were piled on the floor. I went straight for the cushion covers and flipped them over, admiring the gaudy colors and prints.
“Where are you from?” He inquired, his eyebrows arched.
“Kenya.” I answered eagerly. “Do you know Kenya?”
“Of course. I know Kenya for its runners. I bet you run sweetie.” he said to me and then moved his gaze to my waistline, then all the way down to my feet adding ” I mean, look at these long legs.”
I felt violated and immediately turned to look for the mister to rescue me. He was pacing up and down the store, nodding his head to the music from his Beats by Dre headphones, oblivious to the harassment his wife was undergoing.
“I’ll take these four.” I handed my collection to him, alongside my debit card.
As he processed my purchase, he lifted his gaze off the PDQ momentarily.
“Is it true that Kenyans can’t swim because they have thick skin?” He inquired with a most curious expression on his face.
“What?!” I exclaimed amidst a shriek of outrageous laughter.
Demonstrating the thickness with his thumb and index finger, he added.
“A doctor friend told me that Kenyans are only good at running but can’t swim because they have thick skin.”
“You are kidding me. A doctor?” I snorted, fighting the urge to ask if the friend was a witch doctor.
“You know I was in the Turkish military and served in Somalia for 10 years.” He said to me as he handed over the PDQ for my pin. “It is there that I met numerous Kenyan soldiers who were very fit and ran with ease, but none of them could swim.”
At this point, I was tired of his hogwash. I mean, someone who serves in the military should have a decent level of education and at the very least, common sense. To top it all, this analysis was provided by his friend who was a doctor. If really it was a matter of thickness on the skin, should it not affect our running as well because I imagine there would be significance resistance as one cut through the air.
Or maybe I am the thick one here.
Whatever the case, it is amazing how ignorant or I’ll informed people out there are about black people and about Africa in general. Reminds me of the Iranian who stopped me on the streets of Taksim in Istanbul, begging for a photo of me and his entire family. I was so perplexed I did not even remember to ask why he found me intriguing enough to want a photo, like I was a monument.
You really must travel to Europe. If not to experience the different cultures, views, infrastructure and weather, you should at least travel for the awkward stares and myths about your country and its people.