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MY WEEKEND: When it feels like a crime to be ‘doing well’ in the family



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A few days ago, I mourned to a colleague how I was suffering writer’s block and could not figure out what to write this week. She gave me a thoughtful look and then said, “Write about the burden of success.”

Her husband is a lawyer with his own law firm, a well-to-do business because they have managed to put up what we Kenyans would call a palatial home and can afford to take their children to a high-end school.

This colleague’s husband must be the most successful person in his clan, going by the number of relatives who keep asking him for money. Even distant uncles and cousins he barely knows expect him to bail them out whenever they need financial assistance, which is often, and should he turn away any of them, this colleague and her husband become the talk of the village, “the rich who have forgotten their humble roots and the people they left at the bottom”.

A few weeks ago, her husband’s cousin, accused of robbery, was arrested and locked up. His bail was set at Sh200,000, or so my colleague’s husband was told, money that no one back home, not even his parents, could afford. When that phone call came, this colleague’s husband was aghast, and let the caller, the suspect’s father, know that he did not have that kind of money, only for the man to accuse him of not sympathising with his son.

This colleague tells me that many times, her husband’s relatives from the village have turned up at their doorstep unannounced, expecting to be sheltered, fed and entertained for an indefinite time.

She tells me that when they were struggling, when they lived in a single room in Githurai 44, none of these relatives ever visited them nor called to find out how they were fairing. And no, they never offered them anything. The minute they started showing signs of doing well, however, suddenly their phones could not stop ringing.

Mind you, she and her husband have no qualms about helping their parents and siblings, it comes with the territory, after all. It is the distant relatives they have a problem with. Why, pray, do they feel entitled to their riches, if I may call it that, if they did not play any role in their getting it?

Sometime back, I wrote about an almost similar topic — I have to say that I was taken aback by the avalanche of emails I got reacting to the story. It turns out that if you are considered to be doing better than your relatives, most expect you to either contribute more during family get-togethers, or foot the entire bill. One is also expected to do the “buying” should you bump into a relative in a social place such as a bar, and during funerals, all eyes are on the “rich” relative, who they expect to contribute the bulk of the funeral expenses.

The Bible says: “To whom much is given, much is expected”. But does this verse apply in such cases?

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