A couple of weeks ago, I went to buy bread. I miss the Kenyan shops where we are kings, everything is done for us. You only push the trolley to the cashier, pay the cash and carry your bag. In this country I live currently, I also park the goods on my own into the shopping bag – someone does this in Kenya. Not only do I park my goods but I also have to slice my own bread. Never mind, I am now an expert.
I have not mentioned that I never know how much money I have until I convert it to the Kenyan Shilling first. That means that I don’t know if a thing is expensive until it is in the Kenyan Shilling. That’s faulty most of the times especially because everything seems extremely expensive. Soon the cheapest bread is over 150 shillings, how in Kenya could you buy this?
Forgive me, I was talking about bread. So this good day, buying bread… I went to this bread slicer (if that machine goes by that name) to slice my bread, of course to slice the bread! I did my best to observe what people did so that I did not need to ask how every step is done. I observed as much as I could.
I only proved that I didn’t get everything when I was to put the slices in the little bag, to dress the bread if you know what I mean.
They all behaved as though they were not hewn from the same block. Every slice went on its way. Actually two slices fell of to the ground. I was disappointed, not only that I couldn’t put the slices in good order but that also I had lost two. If you love Math, that’s just about sh. 20 lost, not much but something. It took me about 5 minutes to stack the little pieces together shambolically. I have never felt more stupid in the recent past. I knew that there was something I did not learn because it should be easier. The shame was here: the little bag was transparent, and every one could see how neatly by bread was parked together.
Three days later, I went to the shop not to buy bread yet. I saw a man slice his bread. He placed the sliced bread on a small metal support (definitely a conspicuous part of the machine) to support the bread then clothed it easily. His bread was prefect in the pack. I learnt my lesson. By observation. I had to come back in two days mostly to buy bread but partly to show the machine that it cannot be smarter than me for too long. It’s just a machine, you know!
We learn many things by observation. I do my best to learn as much as I can by looking around. Observation is also an “intelligent” way a proud man appears to know all. But there are times that observation fails, mostly because we almost always never see the most obvious. When is a proud man is made humble? When they think they saw enough and yet they didn’t learn the most obvious. “You can get by with your smartness for about ten minutes but after that you better know something… ”
If only I asked, “excuse me, how can I dress my bread as decently as you did?”
When observation fails, asking questions is the other way to survive. When you ask questions, you look stupid. Especially if it’s about the most obvious things. If you don’t ask, you only multiply the time and energy you use to learn. I learnt this secret from an old campus friend, Gachuki. He said something like this, “if you cannot stop to ask for directions when you do not know the way, you are proud!” I think the best questions are often the simplest questions.