africans and indians

posted in: cross-culture, travel 0

In Nairobi, the upper middle class are Indians–and not “fresh-off-the-boat” Indians, but those that have been here for several generations. According to wikipedia, the origin of Indian migration was for the construction of the Uganda railway (or “lunatic express“; see also last post) in the late 19th century. There are now over 100,000 Asians in Kenya today–and all the successful shops and businesses seem to be owned by them.

The other day I went to the pharmacy to get some paracetamol for G (he’s very skilled at getting food sickness whenever we travel). There were 2-3 black Kenyans assisting customers in the shop. After getting a box from one of them I went to the till, which was manned by a distinguished looking older Indian woman.

I was second in line. Just as it became my turn, an elderly, deep-voiced African man cut right in front of me and told the Indian woman that he will pay exactly 932 KSH for this medicine and no more, because the assistant over there had given him a 10% discount. The woman scanned his boxes. “Sorry sir, but we do not give discounts on this product,” and turning to the assistant: “Do not do that again–we can only give discounts here at the till.”

Boy, did that set the customer off: “You Asians do not know how to deal with people! You should have spoken to him in private; instead you humiliate your employees in front of everyone else!” (The ‘everyone else’ in this case being me.)

And so they continued arguing in civil yet passive-aggressive tones, while I felt increasingly uncomfortable being the public witness to it all. In the end the owner gave the man his discount. And I received my first experience of anti-Indian sentiment in Kenya, from a belligerent customer complaining about rudeness. Oh the irony.