My Uber driver somehow noticed my app came from America and greeted me in perfect English, “Where you from?” I told him Chicago. He thought a moment then sort of sardonically guffawed:
“Are you prepared for the trouble?”
I’d let my routine slip recently, not following Kenyan news as I usually do. I knew the presidential elections were coming up, always a bad time to be in Kenya. My mind raced through all the too many different times in my life I’d stepped into trouble in Africa, rarely accidentally. But I’m much older now. My heart didn’t race like it did when I was young. There was no adrenaline. I always got through it before. Would now. No matter what it was.
“So what’s wrong?” I finally prompted him.
“What?!” he asked incredulously. “You didn’t hear about the shooting of children in Texas?”
I can’t believe that after half-way through my eighth decade of having domiciled continuously in America that it still surprises me how dangerous if not evil we Americans seem to others in the world. It’s not new, just worse.
Almost a quarter century ago I was in Nairobi when the embassy blew up. After we contacted everyone who was arriving the next day to tell them they didn’t have to come, they all came and we had a great safari. But it was a really frightening time for me, starting with the broken eyeglasses and pieces of clothing that dropped out of the sky around me after I’d run out of my Norfolk hotel room when the bomb went off.
Just a couple years later my main guy in Nairobi asked Kathleen and me to host some of their family who were coming for the wedding of his eldest son in Philadelphia. It was to be a lovely classic American mid-June wedding and I got really upset when he became so delinquent sending me their arrival information.
Then the message finally came. After great discussions among all the Kikuyu elders in the family they decided it just wasn’t safe to go to America, now, even for the wedding of his eldest son. Too soon after 9-11.
9-11 accelerated security in America as we would never have been able to imagine before. Three trillion dollars on failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan did seem to stop another mass terrorism attack. But now the number of school children who have been shot is approaching the deaths in the Twin Towers. How many trillions have we spent on schools?
America’s self-violence exceeds almost every other culture’s in the world. It likely began with the fugitives who settled here fleeing the oppression of puritanical Europe. They started slaughtering the indigenous people who were in their way, classic behavior of an abused kid who becomes himself an abuser.
Then we became the largest slave culture the world has ever known. I always found it so comic the way some of my clients trying to sound well-informed about the peoples around their gorilla safaris referred to the unjustified enslavement of the Hutus by the Watutsis. What about the blacks by George Washington?
Our very unique maddening violence earned inflated agency in a cobbled and misunderstood interpretation of individualism, like gun rights.
“Oh yeah,” I answered my Uber driver casually not wanting to talk about it on a short ride to Karen. “Terrible, isn’t it.”