I’ve had a couple of nasty comments posted to my blog – only a handful over the past 18 months, but nasty enough to eclipse the scores of lovely encouraging ones in my own mind. Reading a negative comment initially feels like receiving a blow to the stomach, then afterwards you feel a bit shaky and a few hours later slightly angry, thinking: ‘They simply just don’t get it do they?!?’
Of course, if one is bold enough to write something and put it on the internet one must expect criticism. As the old adage says: ‘Publish and be Damned’. However, I can’t help wondering what sort of people spend precious time reading something that so obviously irritates or angers them, then take the trouble to write a ferocious message and post it up. Surely life it too short?!? Occasionally the negative blog readers will put their name to their comment, but often it’s posted as a rather cowardly ‘Anonymous’. When there is a link to the comment provided, I’ve had to fight the urge to log onto to their site immediately and write something equally vicious but thus far I have resisted. ‘Rise above it! It doesn’t matter’ I tell myself, but of course it does matter because it hurts. Sometimes I publish the comments and other times I delete and try to forget about them.
I wonder if all bloggers get negative comments too or is it just me who is constantly putting my foot in it and causing offence? One of the biggest problems with comments is that there is no way of telling particular blog post they are referring to, leaving me in the dark as to which of my ramblings incurred such wrath.
The first stinger was the: ‘Vacuous housewife, inarticulate, illiterate, self absorbed, the worst possible archetype etc. etc.’ Don’t you think that the word ‘vacuous’ being so often coupled with the word ‘housewife’ is rather insulting? Many housewives have had full careers, completed degrees and PHDs before being in a position where childcare and keeping house took precedence. They might even go on to be a High Court Judge once their children are all in full time schooling. It’s a shame we don’t say more often: ‘vacuous ex army officer’, or ‘vacuous little man.’ In addition, the very nature of a web log or ‘blog’ (ie. diary) is going to be written from one person’s point of view so they are by their very nature self absorbed. I published his comment at first, then thought better of it and removed it, mainly all because I didn’t want this particular man benefiting by having a link to my site. I wanted to put something mean on his erudite but rather pompous blog but decided to drop it.
Next came: ‘Tribalist housewife!!’ Where ‘Anonymous’ accused me of taking sides in the election crisis and fuelling tension. ‘I bet your businessman husband is a Mungiki supporter!’ We have since made friends, she said she has forgiven me and even went so far as eventually revealing her identity. Insensitive I may have been in some of the things I wrote, but tribalist? Where would I start in taking sides? I’m from England! – I’ve only lived in this country for five years?!? Like many others, I love Kenya but was absolutely powerless to do anything but observe events as they unfolded after the election.
The latest and saddest is criticism is: ‘I’m surprised at how much racism there is in this blog’. I may be naïve, but I just can’t see it and it is obviously not my intention to come across in this way. The point of writing this blog was to talk about living in Africa today, as an expat housewife with a good dose of realism. Pick up any novel set in Kenya and written over the past hundred years and you can enjoy descriptions of huge African skies, fascinating wildlife and shimmering heat so I needn’t bother with all that.
Yes, as an expat family we employ staff around the house. If we did not do this, then a number of people would be out of an income with no support. Those in full time employment, however lowly paid, support up to 12 unemployed family members. It is fair to say that we all try to be sympathetic employers – this week our gardener’s sister died unexpectedly. He has now gone on compassionate leave with an advance on his salary and money from us for travel expenses etc. Do employers in the developed world go this extra mile for their employees? Many expat employers here sponsor children of their staff through school when they really don’t have to take on this responsibility. We sponsor an ex employee who lives in Kibera slum.
The same comment read: ‘Perhaps you expat wives should spend less time drinking coffee and more time going to the slums and helping those who are poverty stricken or infected with HIV?’ Well, my first reaction was; I sincerely hope that ‘AS’ is a grass roots missionary or in the middle of a harrowing VSO posting to justify taking this harsh position, because we are not all cut out for that kind of work. The fact that we get involved in raising money along with our fellow Kenyan parents and friends whose children are at the same schools and offer help and support to those in our employ, is surely better than doing nothing? A Kenyan friend of mine said she went to help out in a Nairobi displacement camp after the election but only managed a few days before quitting: ‘it was too traumatic, so many people were pouring out these tragic stories of rape and murder. I just couldn’t cope.’
Do all of those living in developed countries help out at local drop in centres for the homeless, just because they are there? Or offer themselves as untrained councillors for those with terminal illnesses? Becoming a martyred ‘on the edge of a nervous break down’ wife who rolls up her sleeves daily in the slums, in spite of the fact that she will always be considered an outsider there, may not be the best thing for her or her family in the long run. I’d love to say that I do all that, but it’s not real life and I would not be being honest.
At the risk of inviting more nasty comments, I do hope that what I write does not come across as racist to all the readers I am lucky enough to get and I certainly don’t expect mountains of praise either. I’m just painting a picture of how it is for our family, hopefully with a bit of a sense of humour. Love it or hate it, it doesn’t really matter too much, just please take it with a pinch of salt.