Why You are No Longer Close to Your Cousins

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Everything is breaking down. And there is a reason.

My favorite cousin is called Cletus. He is two years older than me. I have met him thrice in the last ten years. We have spoken on phone thrice. The three times we met were burial ceremonies. My extended family has suffered three deaths inside one year, more deaths than the previous fifty years.

Cletus is a good man.

When we meet we joke over a beer and reminisce the good old times. We were classmates in class 3 and 4 and he ensured that no bully would touch me. We used to carry food with those Kimbo/Cowboy or  “Kasukus”  tins and his food was always better than mine. I don’t know why.

We have some affective familiarity. But we never anticipated going different paths, like this.

I saw a post by Kemunto Nyakundi on Facebook asking people how close they keep with their cousins and everyone lamented how the relationships have collapsed. My editor told me the other day that some girl on his wall is his cousin, but she doesn’t know. And isn’t that fascinating?

Our cousins were a special species because they sit at a very unique gap. They are the first people we trust, the first people we make friends with and they play good wingmen when teenage sets in. They even tell you where you cannot hunt because, maybe, your brother is hunting in the same bush.

They are family and still, they are not family. They are family because they have your back, but they are not family because their nuclear environments are different from yours, something that creates suspicion and chaos, sometimes.

So, where have they gone? Have we dropped them, or have we replaced them?

The other day I was reading about the concepts of “crime swap” and “crime drop” that explain why, for instance, a decrease in the number of muggings in the city might not mean a total reduction in crime levels. It could be that thieves have become sophisticated and started doing cyber-stealing. I think that the same concept can explain the shift in family relations. The space that our cousins occupied has been taken by friends; strangers whose loyalty has become brotherly.

That disintegration of family structures is novel and viral; we do not think about the level of transformation, and in the next fifty years we may see a complete demise of the nuclear family, the way we have observed the demise of the extended family.

Of course, the imported concept of individualism will come in as an explainer of that disintegration, but I think that is not it. We are still a very collective people, we work very hard to build tribes, “boys’ clubs”, “poetry groups”, “book clubs” and so forth. That shows we love coming together and doing stuff, but we are still losing some of the best connections that happened in our lives.

Other relationships that have defined our societies have also felt the pressure of modern life. Marriage was a thing you would do at 25, pop out a few babies and focus on raising them. Your life would be defined by how well you did the job, where your kids schooled and whether you were available for them around the clock.

That still happens.

Having a family is still a qualifying factor in our society. But, you must have noticed the rate of disintegration of the family system, the number of divorces, and the men and women who choose to go on their own. Someone noted that we should start looking for “relationships that are working” instead of the ones that are not because chaos are the norm and each gender feels attacked and threatened by the status quo.

The economy has played a critical role in this transition from stable and healthy relationships to experimental and chaotic ones. Think about that friend who never picked himself up after college, do you know where he lives? Think about that crush who got a baby in third year and got married off by the time she finished college, do you know how she’s doing?

In all fairness, many people hunger for these bonds, to retain friends who have been there during the hard times. But you cannot do that in a city that plucks souls for fun, puts them in an 8-5 grind where 90% of the workers just pay their bills, and by 5th of the next month, they are merely surviving.

Survival doesn’t create bonds, not like the way our parents would afford to gift relatives things like clothes, food, seeds, and so forth. You cannot gift  pain. Just try it. Slide into the DM of that crush you have had for a year and three days in she will narrate to you the story of her life. A break up that made her lose her mind. A runaway baby-daddy. A dysfunctional marriage. A broke husband. A full year without a job.

It is not that you have stopped loving your cousins, caring about your wife or husband, or disrespecting your friends. It is not that you are depressed because you are weak, incompetent, or undisciplined. Think of yourself as a seed planted on a very unfertile land and you have to negotiate your survival.

The next-door man in his mid-thirties, who wears suits every day and steps out for work, gets screamed at by his boss and he has been planning on quitting for five years. But he has a bored wife and kids who have to go to school, eat and sleep. His happiness, definitely, is not a priority and if he slackens he will lose everything. The wife. The kids. The house. The job.

You must, also, have seen the gender wars and debates on social media. That when a man gets broke the woman leaves. I don’t think that is the case. We just have a generation that is not ready to persevere like our parents. We saw them take loans, work with extremely tight budgets, and struggle to put their happiness at the backseat to fend for us.

If you want to think politically, you can reflect on the impact of the Moi era on their lives; meagre salaries, retrenchments, suppression of opinion, and bullet-speed corruption.

Or religiously; they attended church services that encouraged them to tolerate hardship, leave everything to God and respect their men as the heads of the family, the violence they received notwithstanding.

And fleeing, people will. Men. Women. Everyone. Because most of us cannot imagine life as worth if we choose to withstand pain for some random future promise of “things will be alright.”

It is not that you have stopped loving your cousins, caring about your wife or husband, or disrespecting your friends. It is not that you are depressed because you are weak, incompetent, or undisciplined. Think of yourself as a seed planted on a very unfertile land and you have to negotiate your survival.

When the environment is as rough as this, some people will give up, and that is one of the options available for everyone. It may be that you will think of exiting the world or just getting used to mediocre standards.

Whatever you do, don’t take it personally. It’s the economy, stupid.

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Nicko Musembi
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Nicko Musembi

Nice read. Our parents for sure persevered. Something very rare in this stupid generation.

Mercy
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Mercy

Wow
People have been conditioned to leave ..leave..leave
While something’s you’ll only get in heaven 😂

David Odhiambo
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David Odhiambo

Well said. Gone are the days that you’d expect to live with your uncle in the city after doing your KCSE, as he help you map out your future. Not that he hate living with relatives, but the economy is stupid