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Change Changes

September 26, 2016

The other day I heard some Swahili sayings that reminded me those days when I was in school. We used to have this Swahili teacher who would consistently use Swahili sayings to instill the fear of life in us. Looking back at those days, now I realize that her intentions were right but her approach was somehow off. She should not have been using the sayings to scare us, but she should have been using them to make us understand that in life, nothing comes easy.

One such saying that she used to use often was, “ukitaka cha mvunguni sharti uiname. Loosely translated, this means that if you want something that is under the bed or under a seat, you have to bend in order to pick it up from under that piece of furniture. The actual meaning for this saying is that you get what you work for; as in nothing comes for free.

Of course it is true that if your shoe is under the bed you have to bend and pick it up, and if it is way further, you might even be forced to kneel or even lie on your tummy so you can reach in to pick it up. If it is still further, you might be forced to use something else like a stick or a cloths hanger to pull it towards yourself so you can pick it up.

But looking at this saying today, it might not necessarily be true that if you want something under the bed you must bend or go under the bed in order to pick it up. Things have changed now. Well, I recently heard someone saying “ukitaka cha mvunguni sharti uinue kitanda”, meaning if you want something that is under the bed, then you have to lift up the bed. Of course either way, whether you bend or your lift the bed the message is still the same; you have to put in some work. Of course the person who was saying this meant it in a jocular manner but unknown to him, he had planted a thought in my mind. It is this thought that forms the basis of my article today.

When I was growing up, my Mum had this habit of taking my sister and I to spend time with our grandparents upcountry every school holiday. It was a habit she and her sisters and brothers (my aunties and uncles) had and so all their children would spend time upcountry. While there, of course our routine would be very different from the routine we had when we were with our parents. It was not easy considering the lifestyle upcountry was very different from city life, but it was always worth going there over the school holidays because we would have time to meet and play with our cousins.

Our grandparents were disciplinarians, especially my grandma who I was named after. She was one tough cookie. She passed on about seven years ago but to date, whenever we go there to visit my uncles and cousins, we automatically switch to “good behavior” mode because even though she is no longer living, somehow her presence still lingers on and you always feel like she is watching you. I know that’s silly but that’s what happens. I used to think I am the only one who used to feel this but when I asked some of my cousins, they said they had the same feeling too. Now that is the mark a real disciplinarian leaves in you. The lessons taught are never forgotten even long after the person dies.

Back to my story, whenever we would go upcountry to visit my grandparents, like I already mentioned, our routine would change. We would wake up early in the morning and join the workers to do hard manual labor. Sometimes I would milk the cows (yes I know how to milk a cow), sometimes I would go help my grandma cultivate the land using a small “panga” (a small machete) or a forked jembe. Depending on the season, sometimes I would join the old ladies to go harvest maize or pick coffee or dig out sweet potatoes and cassava, etc. At the end of the day, regardless of what part of the field you were working on that day you would be so exhausted that eating was more work.

Fast forward to twenty years down the line, the same activities are still being done, the same food is still being grown and harvested but things have changed drastically. Of course the major change is that my grandparents are no longer alive. Second change is that all of us are now grown and have our own families, yes some of us still farm but we do not use the same methodology used by our grandparents. Instead of using the pangas and jembes to cultivate the land, we now use technology. Where tilling a 1-acre piece of land used to take twenty women nearly a week to finish, the heavy-duty machinery now used do the job completes it in one day, probably hours. Another thing is that we don’t have to wait for the rainy season to plant any more; we use irrigation and in some cases, greenhouse technology. I mean things have changed. We don’t just work hard but we work smart too.

Sometimes I can’t help but imagine how my grandparents would react if they woke up from the dead and saw what is happening today. I always get this feeling they would instantly die again due to shock. Things have changed so much that I am almost certain they would not survive in this new world. I mean, today we do agribusiness, we have cameras monitoring the land even when we are thousands of kilometers away, we can tell when our cows have gone beyond their boundaries because their microchips relay their whereabouts to us. I mean, technology has changed the way we do things today.

So if technology has revolutionalized how things are done in the agriculture sector, where farming is now being done using technology, what makes you think that you will make a dent in this world by continuing to use your old fashioned way of thinking and doing things in this time and age? What makes you think that you can continue applying the same strategies from four decades ago into your business, and expect it to grow? What makes you think that you can treat your customers the same way you used to treat them ten years ago (like they do not know what they want), and hope they will still remain loyal to you? Things are changing every day and it is only those who are ready and willing to embrace this change that will bear fruit. Of course not all change is good, and that is why each one of us has been given the gift of common sense; you evaluate to see what is good to emulate and what is not. But then again there are some people who have never opened that common sense gift they were given… I digress.

Friends, all I’m trying to say in the one thousand one hundred and ninety nine words you’ve read so far is that there is no progress without change. You are only as good as the change you apply to yourself. I remember I had a boss who used to say this so often; “if you don’t change, change will change you”. This saying can have many translations but the one I would like to adopt today is that if wherever you are working you cannot adapt to the changes happening to the organization, then you will be replaced by someone who can. And yes, this saying applies to every area of your life.

We have seen many giant companies fall to the ground because they never embraced change. Remember Kodak? Where are they now? Research has shown that they saw change coming, but they acted too slowly and were never able to recover from the unexpected turn of events; competition from smartphones with cameras. How about BlackBerry, what happened to them? They decided not to change with the times and opted to keep their physical keyboard on their phones while everyone else was going soft-keyboard. They lost the massive edge they had and now they are just but a lingering memory. Of course they are still trying to stay afloat but we all know it has not been that easy. I mean look around you and you’ll see for yourself; change has changed very many people and organizations.

Isaac Asimov captured this perfectly when he said, “It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be”.

So, if you still have this mentality that ukitaka cha mvunguni sharti uiname, then you are on your way out. While people are now thinking of how to get robots to do the bending for them, you are still thinking of how you will bend? You need to change with the times. Even fashion changes with times, and if fashion changes, why won’t you? 

You want a better life? Your life does not get better by chance, but by change.

This week take some time to reflect on all the areas in your life you have been either knowingly or unconsciously resisting change. Whether it is in your profession, or in your personal life, do what you have to do before change changes you

PS: Article originally published in Tanzania's Guardian on Sunday on the 25th September, 2016, under my weekly column "Thoughts in Words".

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