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The Coconut Grater - Lessons in Life

Sometimes back in Kenya I ordered a local man who makes coconut grater (locally known as mbuzi - meaning goat) to make me one. Big one just like the old ones, because you can sit comfortably on it when grating coconut.

This type of grater is very old; I guess more than a hundred years, because it is displayed in our Mombasa museum - Fort Jesus. In fact I have never seen anything better than it for processing coconut at home. Earlier we were made to believe that it was used by either the Portuguese or Arabs during those times and we are still using it today. But if you look in the recipes for both the Swahilis, Arabs and the Portuguese, the Swahilis utilize coconut in almost all their recipes and I think the others actually adopted it from us.

The man brought the grater after 2 days and he made it just like the old one
we used to have, I was happy. Then he told me the price and just out of impulse I started negotiating. I wanted to take the price as down as possible. Amidst the negotiations, for a moment I was zapped into reality. I looked at this man thinking how many hours of work he had put into making this gigantic grater. Of course he couldn't afford any machinery so everything was made by hands and took him at least one whole day of hard work. His shirt was torn but clean, these were his business clothes, I told myself. I was sure this man is married, had children, and he has chosen to earn money the right way. I'm not turning myself into one of those unscrupulous people who take advantage of other people who are desperate and will take whatever is offered to them, I told myself. He deserves to be paid what he has asked for and I should just shut up and pay.

I have traveled half way around the world and have seen people involved in illegal activities as their way of making money.Their excuse could be because they did not go to school or they cannot find a job. This man in front of me, I will not be surprised to learn that he did not go school too, but he found a genuine way to make money. He knows he has hands and legs and brain which he can use to earn legal money whether he went to school or not.

Can you imagine all these things running in my head in just a few seconds while I was negotiating? I just handed the man the cash I had in my hand and told him to keep the change, he was surprised. I did that not because I am rich of money, which I'm not, but because I could afford it. It is the money that I pay this man that decides whether he will have food on his table or not for that day. That was a very enlightening moment for me.

In other parts of the world this man would be homeless, eating garbage, his kids taken away from him. I realized I was in Africa and just like other people would say they are lucky to be born in the US or Europe, I felt lucky and lucky for this man that we were born in Africa.


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