I don’t recall a time, growing up, when we didn’t have a dog. Come to think of it, all my neighbours had one or two, so I guess having a dog then was fashionable. Unlike today though, dogs were strictly for scaring away thieves and robbers, no one considered them pets, and you would have invited murmurs and stares had you pampered yours like many do their pet dogs today, buying them jewellery and setting aside a designated corner in the living room for it and furnishing it with a bed.
Anyway, since everyone had a dog, or two, there was endless barking through the night, most of it directed at the many cats that roamed about the neighbourhood day and night. With time, we all learnt to sleep through the cacophony, the incessant barking of dogs merging with other disturbances many have come to accept as common during the night, such as snoring.
Due to this long-running experience, a barking dog has never prevented me from sleeping soundly, yet a cough or a gate banging slightly will immediately jolt me awake. I recall that each time a relative visited and spent the night, each always complained about being unable to sleep due to the din from the dogs, and almost always wondered whether we had many robbery incidents. I also recall that not many would spend a night a second time, probably afraid that the ‘robbers’ the dogs were barking at might strike when they were around.
You’re probably wondering where I’m headed with this. It has dawned on me that we are only shocked by how other people live simply because we live differently. A particular incident comes to mind.
Many years ago, while I was still very new to journalism having graduated a few months before, I was asked to interview a certain Kenyan musician, quite popular then, a member of an even more popular band. The interview was to take place at her home. I arrived in time, and though I had to wait for about 30 minutes, I didn’t mind because the surroundings were pleasant.
When she finally turned up, she suggested that we do the interview in the backyard, where she introduced me to her two children – they were in a group of around five other youth, and all were openly smoking and drinking what looked like alcohol, gaily laughing at something one of them had said. I was taken aback because none of them looked a day over 18, certainly not 20.
Their mother did not look bothered, which said what they were doing is something that she allowed. Coming from a conservative background, I was shocked, yet for those children, smoking and drinking in their mother’s presence was as normal as sitting down together to enjoy a cup of tea. I imagined that this sort of socialising often took place in the circles they moved in. Parenting styles, I have come to learn, are as different as night and day.
Another case comes to mind, that of a college friend that was fond of trousers, skinny jeans to be specific, but when going home for the holidays, she would leave them all behind and put on a long dress or skirt. Where she came from, she told me when I asked, women that wore trousers were frowned on and branded disrespectful…
Isn’t it interesting that things that astonish or repel us are a way of life for other people?