class: in session



S is for September. Reasons I like September: the cool breeze, coffee, new beginnings.

Reasons I dislike September: the cool breeze, (excessive) coffee, new beginnings.


Also S: the shape of the curve representing productivity this month. There’s the lag phase in the fleeting last moments of summer (up til Labor Day). Followed by a positive acceleration of renewed productivity on all counts, spurred by the “blank slate” that accompanies any new beginnings. We are moving, people, and not slowing anytime soon. (We know that December is also on this graph, but we choose to ignore it).

Alternatively, a persistent hot-cold imbalance allows for rationalization of an adjustment period.  “Adjustment period” – otherwise known as 30 days (realistically, 21 after Labor Day and weekends) for dragging your heels and telling yourself your lack of productivity is only temporary. You just need time to acclimatize before you’ll be good to go. Coincidentally, this is also the right time to buy everything you need for acclimatization, because it’s all currently on sale.


So there you have it- two types of people, two approaches to September. Following a whirlwind summer, my timeline continues to be a whirlwind of activity as people announce their new beginnings and dive in headfirst. As for yours truly, I fall in the second class of people: those who wait till its practically October to accept their fate.

A slow migration to the starting line is typical of not only my September approach but also my life approach more generally – I’m hesitant to start, and hesitant to tell you I’ve started. As a proud millennial, I’ll openly admit to being practically hardwired into my social networks. Merits of this include: constant updates, little privacy and complete visibility at most times. This rapidly turns into a game of “who’s doing what”. The constant update cycle also contributes to a persistent “have/have-not” divide, and a desire to show what you have. A third strategy is to not disclose at all, making it ambiguous as to whether you have or have not, but not exempting you from judging those around you.

“Keep ‘em guessing” is a much better game in my opinion, because you’re not putting yourself into the comparison pile or signing up for the accompanying scrutiny. In my off-line life (my “real life”) I’ve started to adopt the same policy. Disclosing as little information as possible can sometimes go a long way, especially when you know your audience.



them: “so how’s Africa?”

me, disclosing as little as possible: “an adjustment but it’s good!”

them: “your insta looked, like, glam though…”

And just like that, I scored this month’s 2-for-1. One, who told you Africa can’t be glam? Two, who told you Instagram is real? Three, four, five: Africa is a continent, “glam” can still be an adjustment, thanks for asking. I could go on.


GLAM. What is “glam” and what isn’t are ultimately subjective, but we do have some collective baseline assumptions about wealth, and how to recognize it. Though behaviours and attitudes can be indicators of social standing, these are often hidden at first glance. Product choice – what we buy, wear, and drive, are subconscious tools we use to differentiate ourselves. But to signal wealth, the absence of signals can be a powerful signal. In Jonah Berger’s Invisible Influence, he starts to unpack why minimalism is a trend amongst the wealthy. Thanks to counterfeiting and the uptake of big brands by the “nouveau riche”, flashy branding has been liquidated as a status symbol. People will pay more for a smaller logo, or no logo at all. Berger adds that certain products have status signalling as their only function- i.e. a watch that can’t tell you the time, but does cost upward of a million dollars. Each of these product choices are attributed to a drive to self-distinguish socially as well as economically.

I’d add the following on the flipside: being discreet has an important social function. “If you’d rather not draw attention to your money, then don’t.” In reality, this is much easier said than done. You can trace the line of logic from simple products becoming expensive, to them eventually being rendered indiscreet. Even if you practice minimalism, travelling a lot or having a nice car or house speak for themselves. Being inconspicuous is tricky business, and as Berger highlights, a lucrative one at that.


Back to Instagram.


On Instagram- “glam” is in a state of flux. You don’t have to have wealth to appear glamourous. You just need to have a photograph painting the right picture of wealth. Similarly, you don’t have to have good intentions to seem like you do- you just need to have a photograph painting the right picture. Curating a highlight reel that paints the right picture is our first instinct, though doubting the truth behind what see online isn’t.

TL;DR: Instagram is fake, Africa is a continent.


A Brief History of South-East Asians in East Africa

Since 1963, Kenya has been a proudly independent, democratic nation.1 Prior to 1963, the colony of Kenya was under British Rule, having been established as the East Africa Protectorate in 1895. The East Africa Protectorate saw trade extended from one of Britain’s strongest colonies, India. As a result, a mass migration of Indians (predominantly Goans, Parsis, Punjabis and Gujaratis, all of Muslim, Jain, Sikh, Catholic, or Hindu denominations) to East Africa took place, to fill administrative and business roles as the rupee was instituted as the initial currency of the region. Indentured labour from India was recruited to undertake railroad construction, and upon completion of construction many workers settled in East Africa. In the early 1900s, free migration of other Indians took place as the possibility of economic growth in the region became apparent. The presence of these migrants played a large role in the economic development of the region in the early 20th century.

Though the protectorate was a white settler colony,2 and the capital (Nairobi) a white settler town, Indians (unlike indigenous people) were permitted to live alongside settlers. In addition to a higher social standing, Indians benefited from massive economic and political clout. As a result, racial hostilities gradually intensified pre-Independence.3 At the time of Independence, Asians and Europeans were given the option of gaining Kenyan citizenship by denouncing their British passports. Thereafter, policies favouring indigenous peoples and removing Asians and Europeans from office took widespread effect, contributing to an exodus of Indians in the region to the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, many white-collar jobs left behind by Europeans were taken up by Asian Immigrants.

 As portrayed by the 2006 blockbuster “The Last King of Scotland”, the rule of Idi Amin in the early 1970s brought fear, instability, and persecution to Uganda. A promise of persecuting all Asians added to another mass exodus of Asians seeking refuge, this time to Canada. A majority of those leaving the region were Gujaratis, Goans, Paris, and Sikhs. The permission for these peoples to get safe haven in Canada was granted by Pierre Elliot Trudeau, known for his liberal immigration policies.*

* (This not from Wikipedia): a large majority of those migrating to Canada were Ismaili Muslims of the Nizari tradition from East Africa. The leader of Nizari Ismailis, Shah Karim Aga Khan IV**, had a close friendship with Trudeau. For this reason, many Indians from East Africa (henceforth; IEA) have a warm affinity for the Trudeau family and an estimated 95% of those over the age of 50 probably voted for Justin Trudeau in 2015.

** The presence of Nizari Ismailis in East Africa also resulted in a range of Aga Khan infrastructure projects in the area in the 20th century, including schools, hospitals, and the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa. A primary Aga Khan mandate was that these facilities be of an international standard. These are still operational, however the costs to using a private, international hospital renders these services inaccessible to many people. The schools operate under a scholarship model.


There are still many Indians living in East Africa. Many are business owners or landowners. Of the Ismailis, the population is aging, and will likely continue to decline in number. Many have had the capital to send their children overseas for schooling, later settling abroad semi-permanently.


1 A re-election is taking place in Kenya on October 17th, 2017, after the August 8th, 2017 election results were rejected by the Supreme Court of Kenya. The contenders are : Raila Odinga and the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta. The original vote indicated Raila’s loss by a very narrow margin, though these results were deemed fraudulent. TBD

2 In 1953, 2007 and in 2017, tensions in the Rift Valley area have centred on issues of land claims. The colonization of lands for farming by settlers caused the dispossession of many young men in the region, many of whom eventually joined the infamous “Mau Mau” rebellion (less violent in reality than the British proclaimed). In the present day, with a shrinking area of arable land these tensions still run high.

3 These run along ethnic lines as well as religious lines. Following colonization, much of Kenya is Christian, with some areas having larger Muslim or Hindu populations.





Full Disclosure

I’m a 21 year old woman doing development work in East Africa. I live and work with men I barely know. I came from Canada, so for the next little while you can forget my name because I’ll be going by mzungu .

I look Indian, because I am. I’m descended from IEA on both sides of the family. My maternal grandparents are Catholic Goans who left Uganda in the 1970s and settled in Montreal (thanks Trudeau). My paternal great-grandfather owned an empire of Industry here that encompassed hotels, an airline fleet, textiles, and agriculture. He had to enter his hotel through the back door, because coloured people weren’t allowed in. His assets were eventually seized, and he was paralyzed by the shock, but we all did okay in the end. Many of us moved to Canada, some of us to the UK.

In Kenya, I have some family who is very wealthy if you’re trying to go by any signals. Some might call it “glam”. They worked hard to get there, give back to their community, and always graciously host family when visiting.

My nuclear family is what you’d probably call middle class, and I feel blessed to have gotten a university education. By any standard, I’m privileged.

I’m a millennial, so both Drake and Instagram have been constants in my life since high school. I love Instagram because it’s quick and stimulating. It’s an easy way to connect, make a point, or tell someone you’re thinking of them. What I hate about Instagram : it won’t tell you about circumstance. It won’t really tell you about intentions. And it sure as hell won’t tell you the truth, 99.99% of the time.

-everything I can’t (and won’t) say in an Instagram post this year

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