Suffer In Silence, Like A Man

When was the last time you had a comprehensive health check?

My last one was during the Nyayo era. Nothing to be proud of. I am stubborn man who has no patience with illness and my wife can attest to it, even though I am vulnerable to malaria and the flu. When I get a fever it becomes a seizure, grounding me for up to a week but if you asked after my health, I would insist that, “It is just kamalaria kidogo.”

Mosquitos know me by my first name. They locate me in a room full of people, descending on my bare skin like a kamikaze pilot. I can sleep through a Diwali firecracker ruckus in Parklands but the high pitched buzzing of a single mosquito is enough wake me up from deep slumber in panic and frustration. If only mosquitos sucked fat instead of blood, I would be in excellent shape.

Recently, an old family friend, Dr. Rhoda Kriek called to ask whether I was growing a beard this Movember. Movember is an annual event held in the month of November to raise awareness on men’s health issues such prostrate cancer, testicular cancer, depression and male suicide. In solidarity with the suffering brothers, men are encouraged to grow facial hair.

Rhoda invited me to her Amber clinic at the Hub in Karen for a full medical check up. I am in the vulnerable age group for prostrate cancer and my vital organs could be compromised for all I knew. It was a cue I needed.

My real motivation for going for the health check up, was to ensure that I did not have malaria lurking in my system waiting to test my manilness again.

I am in my 40s now and can no longer take my health for granted. The vim and zing of the 20s are gone. My knees shake sometimes, my teeth are not so great, I worry about the colour of my pee and I have a newfound respect for regular sleep.

I consider taking the stairs up two floors, exercise and feel self righteous whenever I park at the furthest end of a shopping mall in order to walk the much talked about extra mile. My system cannot handle as much alcohol anymore. I make a point of sipping water after every third shot and my bathroom runs are more frequent.

At a restaurant, I am the fussy customer demanding kienyeji vegetables with my serving of fried meat. My vocabulary is snobbishly health conscious. Meat is either white for the good kind or red which I enjoy but is not good for my cholesterol levels. I call plain starch such as boiled maize and sweet potatoes, complex carbs. I eat raw sprouts because I need roughage for good bowel movement and keep a mental tally of how much water I partake in a day.

I am at that age, where health and stress is killing most of my peers. Every other month, I wake up to the sad social media post of another fallen soldier. A brother, who just checked out after enduring a rough patch that left them worse for wear. No one knew. He never complained because he was that kind of guy. A real man.

I was brought in this creed. That there was dignity in suffering in silence. Tough men did not get sick. No, we just felt a little off and a bit down. Illness was borne bravely. Even at your weakest, strength had to be summoned to save face. Stay strong, sure and superior we sung in the hey days. Pain, discomfort, frustration and depression are the occupational hazards of maturity in our hectic 21st century existence but even when terribly afflicted, we won’t tell.

No, I am fine. I will get over it. It will pass.

Men suffer in silence because we are socialised to be like the Titanic. No matter the strength of the storm, we shall not sink. When suffering comes, with its own stool to camp in our house, we put our bodies and spirits on the line of fire for our women and children. We have to remain stoic as those under our care depend on our strength. Our greatest weakness lies in losing honour and giving up. In many cultures, men are born and bred to die in the quest for the simple honour of a dependable provider.

This is the paradox of weakness seen through the prism of masculinity. Weakness is to be acknowledged but not accepted. After all, pain is just weakness leaving the body, we assure ourselves. When a man is most vulnerable, in health and spirit, when he really needs a helping hand, or a shoulder to lean and cry on, is when everyone expects his true strength to kick in like a turbo charged engine that defies the gravity of his current predicament.

However, the reality rarely mimics the ideal. By the time the symptoms become self evident, it is usually too late. Fela Kuti sung about suffering and smiling, Suffer, suffer for world. The manly thing to do in face of anguish.

This attitude is killing men in droves and good men continue to check out needlessly because they are afraid of bearing the shame of saying,

Today, I am weak, tired and broken. Someone, please, please, help me”.

Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan writer, curator and editor. This blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan and African life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.


  1. Its okay to ask for help – sometimes, we all need help! We are interdependant

  2. Caroline

    Awesome article especially since we have been talking about equal treatment of men in my class.

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