I must have looked like a savage, an appearance that galls me. With so much hair on my dome, given its shagginess, I may have presented a scary picture. I therefore decided to pop in at the barber’s. I was a regular customer of this particular barber because I believed that it is only by patronizing one that one can be sure to develop a mutual understanding to get as smart a haircut as one would love.
When I walked into his shop the barber was working on a customer. I took a seat and waited. There were two other young men with the barber. One was waiting in a shaving chair with his chin bathed in a shaving cream, giving him the look of some strange beast that I could not describe. The other one was just resting a chair, poring over an article in a newspaper. The man reading a newspaper said something about striking doctors in the country.
The doctor’s question sparked off a hot debate in the barber’s shop. Whether the doctors were right or not, the common denominator was the high cost of life, which the powers that be had to do something about. They said that what was being done, if anything at all, was not enough.
“That is what caused all this,” one said. What did he mean by ‘all this’? I asked. It was the medical saga of the striking doctors, he said. They complained about the skyrocketing prices of items, expressing rage, but angry with who? Well, they were hungry dogs, and a hungry dog is an angry dog. They were people who had failed to get what they wanted or needed and were therefore frustrated and would easily be provoked to rage..
Obviously they were angry with the establishment, which they blamed the authorities for the ever increasing cost of electricity, the chronic shortage of water and skyrocketing cost of petrol products. The one with his chin swathed in a shaving cream said he was baffled at the inaction of the powers that be against the person whom he believed benefited handsomely from the big electricity bills – the ghostly Mr Richmond.
How could there be no water amidst abundance of water just because the relevant personnel were not responsible and they were not taken to task. “However, for over a decade now I have not taken a bath with a shower here in Dar es Salaam. Instead, I have learnt to aim at my back with a throw of a handful of water,” he said.
“There just isn’t any water in the taps! They were angry at rip off by foreigners, who they said siphoned the nation’s funds and banked the money in banks abroad with the assistance and protection of stalwart ladies and gentlemen in the corridors of power. “I am furious at the authorities because they know these people, but take no action against them,” said the one having a haircut.
For one long moment the barber stopped his clippers and since I was waiting for him to finish work on the man, I was not pleased. “I don’t understand why the big thieves are not arrested and it is only muggers, most of whom are adolescents, who fill the prison rooms.” When the first customer was done and I took the seat, the other man said to me: “Mzee, this country will not have peace unless we spill blood.”
He illustrated his question by invoking the nation’s flag and used it to justify what he prayed for to come to make people truly responsible and bring peace. “Just look at the flag,” he said. “Do you see any red colour there? There is only a green, blue and yellow stripe, but no red. All the countries with true transparency, accountability and responsibility have a red colour on the flag. They spilt blood for their rights and won’t have it trampled.”
The man, apparently widely read, went on to mention the USA flag - Old Glory or Stars and Stripes. Then he mentioned the UK’s Union Jack. “They both have a red, which shows the blood they spilt to get their independence and their right and value,” he explained to us. “Look at all the national flags in Europe. They all have a red.” The other man said the day our people murder one another in a civil war would be the day our leaders would stop pilfering from the nation’s coffers.
I was shocked. How could we rejoice in a bloodbath? How can the nation triumph with a huge loss of life? “If you want peace, prepare for war,” I told them. “But we have peace. What do we want a war for?” “Mzee, there is no peace. We are dying,” said the barber. “And some people must die for the rest of us to live well. Our hospitals are filthy because they go abroad.” The men may have a point.
It appears to the people that leaders are taking advantage of their positions and ripping off the nation at the expense of the masses' comfort. Still, there is something these three men missed and most of us do not see it either. When you are shaving your chin or head, you may think of making love or waging a war. They took the prevailing peace for granted, but: “We never miss the water till the well runs dry.” Its meaning is simple. You only realize the importance of something when it is gone. I left the barber’s dandier, more informed, but also ready for war.