The Standard | Online Edition :: Oh, the grit it takes to be African! Updated 5 hr(s) 11 min(s) ago By Ted Malanda The year was 1996 and a presidential election was in the offing. Then Russian President Boris Yeltsin suffered a life-threatening heart attack. They blamed vodka, which the leader was reputed to have a particular fondness for and which, it was said, he quaffed in generous amounts. Others attributed the illness to old age, and old the man certainly was. Some fools even blamed his lifestyle. But the African in me knew it was all about his political enemies pulling a fast one on the Russian leader using a dead black cat. But you know how naÔve Europeans can be - they just never figure out these simple things. So they called doctors - three doctors actually; a Russian, a German and an American. Naturally, the American was the team leader. Still, what caught my attention was the fact that the surgical genius was an incredible 87 years of age. I am yet to recover from the reckless madness of that choice. You see, in Africa, an 87 old man is supposed to have died 40 years earlier - from malaria, elephantiasis of the scrotum, tuberculosis, cholera, starvation, civil war or the aforementioned dead black cat. But in the event that the elements conspired to keep him alive, he would be in no position to cut his own nails or perform a circumcision leave alone tinkering with the aged, drink-sodden heart of the president of a nuclear power. At 87 in Africa, you are history. For starters, the bugger would have long lost his power of speech. His mental faculties would be questionable and coordination in his limbs non-existent. Great grandchildren would take turns taking him out of his hut and propping him up on a little three-legged stool under the sun for a spot of vitamin D. And there he would sit, swatting away flies and mumbling to an inexistent audience about his exploits in Burma during World War 11. Memory lapses When they come back in the evening to take him back to his little hut, he would enquire for the umpteenth time who they are. "You said you are who? Aha, Mwanzia! You are from which house? Ati you are Mutisya's grandson? But who is Mutisya?" Then they get arrested by a coughing spasm, sending the great grandchildren into a panic. That's Africa. We are not talking about the spoilt chaps in Nairobi who eat cooking fat for breakfast but the villagers who eat off the scorched earth. These are folk whose annual meat consumption is far smaller than what the city folk wolf down in a single sitting. While city folk jog to lose fat in their bellies, villagers receive compliments for a shiny nose. Amazingly, Africans can be extremely stoic amidst hardship. In America and Japan, it's not unusual for a grown man to dive out of the window and die because he lost his job. In Africa, when things get tough - which is all the time, anyway - the people grit their teeth, tighten their loincloths and get tougher. Vintage Africa Clowns in Nairobi will elbow, shove and strangle each other when a politician donates a tin of posho amid a flash of television cameras. But the people in Ukambani, where the real hunger is, adorn their best clothes, come to the famine relief centre, queue with order and respect and leave without fuss when they get nothing. That is vintage Africa. Our steel in the middle of hardship is legendary. But it can be very annoying, too, like in the case of Zimbabweans who simply won't get outraged enough to light a raging fire under Mugabe's arrogant little backside.