‘The Art of Being Kind’ is the title of a self help book
that my cousin Pelle kindly gave me when I visited him in Sweden during the
summer. He reads this journal and is aware of my daily struggle with the demons
that tries to make me the opposite of kind and mostly succeed. The book is
written mainly from a standpoint of efficiency, not morality or religion. The
author, Stefan Einhorn, argues that kindness is the best way to reach one’s
Well, from whatever standpoint the argument for kindness
arises I agree wholeheartedly. I don’t need convincing that it is a good idea.
I am only thoroughly and chronically unable to be kind. I want a self help book
to tell no How and not Why I should be kind!
Just take the very morning I left Pelle and his wife Nanni.
I was armed with the newly acquired ‘How to be Kind’ book under my arm. They
dropped me at the Lund Central train station. Lund is one of Sweden’s two most
important university cities- let’s say the Oxford of Sweden. I was on my way to
Copenhagen and Kastrup airport to board my plane for London.
I had been travelling around Sweden without a credit card
and this had already caused me some problems in this more or less cash-free
society. My new credit card was now waiting for me in London. Meanwhile I had
to rely on cash. ‘Where can I buy my
ticket?’ I enquired when I arrived inside the station building. ‘Over there’
was the reply, indicating vending machines where ticket could be bought by
credit card only. No one was able to help so I made my way to the platform
where my Copenhagen train was about to
leave. As I was intending to board the train two large uniformed Valkyries descended on me and demanded in unison: ‘Have
you got a ticket?’ When I replied in the negative they continued ’ then you can’t
board this train’. ‘Well, I am afraid
you are mistaken’ I countered with some
emphasis. ‘I am most definitely boarding this train, and I am perfectly willing
to pay.’ ‘Unimpressed, the Iron Maidens continued ‘That would be against the
law’. ‘How interesting! Then you had better call the police! Just you go right
ahead! ’ I snapped and boarded the
I sat down at a window seat and brooded, slamming the ‘How to be Kind’
book down on the table in front of me. One of the Valkyries now approached and informed
me that she did not like my attitude, while I noticed that she was glancing at
the book on the table... ‘That is fine’ I countered. ‘I don’t like yours
either.’ Finally she agreed to letting me pay the fare in cash and I began my
journey back to London without further mishaps, while I considered unhappily that
the guards had of course only been doing their job, and it was not their fault
And back in Djenne
things are definitely taking a turn for the worse. An incident the other night
will illustrate a typical situation badly handled by me:
A group of French government people arrived here the other
night to stay for two days. They are building a Lycee in Djenne. There were two
toubabs among them , the others were
Malians: one senior collegue, two security guards and two drivers. We had asked
how many people wanted to have dinner. When the price of the 3 course meal had
been explained only the two toubabs decided to eat. (The full 3 course dinner
is just under £9.) Keita and I decided to invite the two toubabs to our table
to eat with us and they agreed so one table
was prepared for 5 people-Keita also invited one of the drivers who turned out
to be a childhood friend. The table was prepared in the garden under the stars-
it was the only one there and it had little storm lamps illuminating it as
usual. There are other areas to sit for people who do not want to eat.
When Papa called us to go to the table we moved to the
garden with our dining companions but found that the rest of the group had
installed themselves with paper bags of take-away meat which they had bought in
the market! I initially saw red but managed not to say anything initially. I
did make it quite clear what I felt however as I was huffing and puffing and
banging about with Baba trying to arrange another table at once for the ‘proper’
After dinner, which was a lot of fun with the quite charming
French – one of whom was quite obviously a spy- we had coffee etc and when the
toubabs had finally gone to bed I made my big mistake. I called over the senior
Malian at the ‘picnic’ table and said something like this:’ Tomorrow night we
will be able to come to some sort of arrangement with the food so that you can
all have something to eat which is suitable for your budget’. It is not really
possible for you to bring in your own food to another hotel restaurant, at
least not here. And the table where you had been sitting had been prepared for
the guests that were going to dine.’.
The Malian immediately became furious. ‘We all have the same
Per diems! How dare you suggest that we can’t afford it! We just didn’t like
what was on your menu!’ I had clearly stepped on a very sore toe. But I know
for a fact that Malians earn much less than their European colleagues, and even
if they may have the same Per Diems, they prefer to keep this money, quite
understandably. We are actually quite used to trying to accommodate this sort
of thing, and we can make a cheaper option for dinner.
But now the scene escalated and I became angry too. The
Malian was furious and went to wake up the French spy, who listened stony faced
to the sorry tale and took the side of his colleague of course.
I went to bed miserable. In the end it was not worth it.
However annoyed I was at their occupying our table and bringing their picnic I
should have controlled myself, of course. But the thing is: I can’t.
I am quite simply a monster. But unlike my Princess Lulie
who was a monster too but did not care, I have the misfortune to care. Why can’t
I just be kind and understanding? Or if that is not possible, why can’t I be
untrammelled by regret like Lulie?