“Mama, would you consider offering your expertise as a teacher? There are a lot of organisations and school boards in need of your expertise.”
“I am tired, I was a teacher for over 30 years, I don’t really want to engage in anything in that area anymore.”
“How about going back to running the orphans programme you were running a few years ago.”
“Rose, I am fine as I am.”
This has been an on-again and off-again conversation I have had with my Mum the last couple of years because I was concerned by her life in retirement. Every day she was up by 7 am and after a chat over breakfast we would spend time chatting idly under a mango tree and occasionally Mum would call out to the domestic help with instructions. I had no idea what she looked forward to every morning, why was she even bothering getting out of bed every day?
I visited friends and realized it wasn’t just my Mum but my friends’ parents too. A little bit of shamba work for some, others a bit of exercise, run an errand or two, direct domestic workers, and then sit and watch telly or chat with anyone who pops by.
Our parents had careers, some retired as senior civil servants and top executives in corporations with a goldmine of information, ideas and wisdom the country needs so desperately. But they are sitting with that information on a couch at home. Why?
They didn’t prepare for retirement, our parents had no idea how to retire. For most of our parents, they were the first generation to have a career. They were the youth of the country, the firebrands running a newly independent Kenya, with a college education. Some of our grandparents were illiterate subsistence farmers, some worked for the independent government as clerks of the railway line. But even for those grandparents who did retire, some may have started businesses, but most went back to the rural life of subsistence farming. Their pension was menial and relied on their children for upkeep.
Our parents never had anyone provide a model for what retirement actually could be. Or why retirement is even an option? My Mum says she is OK, and so do my friends’ parents but it just feels like wasting away.
An Aunt of a friend of mine was a High School teacher, after over 30 years in the profession, she moved to the village to retire, but in a matter of a few years, she had gone senile. She moved from discussions on improving child education, running schools and education policy to discussing people aka gossip. Her brain cells are not engaged.
For some of our parents the reading stops, TV helps a bit but soap operas, overly dramatic Nigerian movies can’t really compare with what our parents did work-wise. It’s as if retirement means to retire from all forms of work and aspirations. Who said there’s an age limit to trying new things?
In other economies, people are pulled out of retirement to share their expertise and educate the next generation. In some sectors, people are denied retirement because they are too valuable to lose. Kenya’s ageing population may only make about 6% of the population. But they have wisdom and expertise we need to tap into.
This generation knew what it was like to work in a country where systems worked before they were absolutely in shambles 20 years into independence. They can help us fix it and do more.
Every time I think about what our parents can offer this country if we let them to and encouraged them to and made them feel worthy of I think of the movie The Intern. Experience can never ever be bought. It is something you treasure and savour as you tap into it and hold on to it for as long as you can. Because there is something in the wisdom that no amount of youthful exuberance, innovation or ingenuity can ever outdo.
I am just trying to see how to tap into it now as I pay more attention to it now Mum is unwell. I trust God she will be back on her feet soon.
I don’t know what relationship you have with your parents, or if you have any parents alive. But whichever elder you know who you respect and trust, start building a relationship to learn from them. And if you can encourage them to get active if you can. We talk about mentorship and passing the buck, this is the time to pursue it before our parents are all gone.