Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Art of Being Kind

‘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 goals.
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 train.
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 after all.
 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’ dinner guests.
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?


Blogger David said...

'Comprehending the good, but powerless to be it' - off the top of my head, isn't that what Milton writes of Satan? Remember, however, you are, when all's said and done, a good angel without striving for effect to the various causes of the people of Djenne, whatever they may think.

8:59 AM  
Blogger toubab said...

Dearest, you are comparing me to Milton's Satan? I am flattered, but think it may be a little too grandiose..?
In any case, if there is a comparison, I must stress that I do want to be good! And the whole point of Milton's Satan is that he doesn't. He thinks it 'Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n.' I do want to serve in Heaven. Thank you for the mention of the things we do in Djenne- we do try. But it is the old conundrum about wanting to love humanity but finding individual humans quite trying....

2:15 PM  
Blogger David said...

Brilliantly put, 'wanting to love humanity' etc, applies to us all...the human predicament in a nutshell.

11:32 AM  
Blogger toubab said...

Some interesting developments! The author of the above-mentioned august tome has sent me a message of encouragement via my cousin Pelle who forwarded the blog link to him. He wrote to Pelle:

'Hälsa din kusin så hjärtligt och säg att hon inte ska ge upp. Snällhet ärv verkligen en konst och ibland misslyckas vi. Men det är bara att resa sig och försöka igen.'
Which means: send warm regards to your cousin and tell her not go give up! Kindness really IS an art and sometimes we fail. But there is only one thing to do: get up and try again!'
How nice- kind! - of him to write..!

7:15 PM  
Blogger Daisy said...

I love the idea of being kind as a pathway to fulfilment. It must be related to treating others how you yourself would think it best to be treated. Unfailingly kind and you can't go wrong perhaps. NOw I must go and do something I have been putting off for too long - hopefully that will become clear. D

12:24 PM  
Blogger Daisy said...

I love the idea of being kind as a pathway to fulfilment. It must be related to treating others how you yourself would think it best to be treated. Unfailingly kind and you can't go wrong perhaps. NOw I must go and do something I have been putting off for too long - hopefully that will become clear. D

12:24 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

Dear Daisy,
Of course unfailingly kind is the way to be. Alas, not always an attainable ideal! It was lovely to see you in London, but not enough!

8:21 PM  

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