More than ten years ago my business was contracted to set up tents for an event by the Coca Cola company. Their soda brand, Sprite was rolling out a marketing campaign using basketball. Two of their taglines I remember vividly were – Obey your thirst and Image is everything. Those were fun times. I was fully engaged in my business and loved being part of huge successful events. The venue was Splash Water world off Langata road. That was one of my favorite setup locations thanks to Grace Ngamau who was the manager at the time. she was pleasant, loyal and honest in her dealings and I loved that. Thank you, Grace, for giving me an opportunity to grow my business and myself too in the process.

That “image is everything’’ line has lingered in my mind since. Often, we are under pressure (more like we put ourselves under pressure) to buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to please people we don’t like. We need to be seriously grounded and self-assured in today’s world if we are to resist the pressure to conform to societal expectations and trends. I’m indebted to my parents for teaching (and showing) my siblings and I early in life to be comfortable in our skin. We learnt mostly by observation as my folks have always been comfortable in their own skin. I pray that I can do the same for my baby sharks. I can only imagine how worse it will be in their time.

Sadly, we almost always judge a book by its cover. The last few weeks has confirmed that fact. After I sold my car, I hired a tiny Suzuki Solio. Yes, I also didn’t know there was a car called Solio. The only Solio I knew before this point was Solio ranch. The following week I hired a white Toyota Axio which I’m using currently.

I have been amazed at how people’s perception of me has changed. Hardly anyone respects you on the road when you’re driving a small car. Even worse when it’s a white unmarked vehicle as cops describe them. The only benefit of driving these small cars is that you remain incognito plus the fuel savings are impressive.

Matatus and buses behave as if we don’t exist. The most dramatic shift in behavior for me has been with security guards. After my photography session at Nairobi National Park a few weeks ago, I was stopped by a ranger as I drove out. He asked if I was a taxi so that I can drop some mzungus there at the airport. He wanted us to cut a deal and make money from them. I politely declined.

A few times I have driven into an office block and the response is similar. Guards ask me with an attitude if I’m coming to make a delivery or to pick up someone. I politely reply, “none of the above” and one guard was left hanging with that look of – so what have you come to do here? Last week a guard angrily directed me to park in a very tight slot. I think he categorized my car the same as a boda-boda or tuk-tuk. After parking he firmly instructed me not to stay more than thirty minutes wherever I was going. I just giggled in amusement and walked away. I took my sweet time in the meeting. I wanted to see what he will do as I left. As expected, he did nothing. I never got treated this way with my former car.

Why are we so quick to judge and disrespectful of our fellow human beings when their appearance fails to impress us? Most of us easily suck up to people who appear successful. They quickly earn our respect and courtesy (which I find fake most of the time) when they appear in a big expensive car. Most are undeserving of it. I guess it’s the Bwana mkubwa syndrome we have in our society.

Folks you better work hard on your intrinsic value and use that as your foundation in life because out there the value people give you is only skin deep. The sad fact and reality are we will treat you as we see you.

I will confess that the pressure to conform is real, but I will try hard to resist it. Some of these folks in big tinted SUVs and limos may be fighting some very intense personal battles. But then again, aren’t we all? Maybe the tint on the cars (I like tint in my car by the way) is to hide those struggles from being visible. It’s like a form of self-preservation.  I do not consider myself disrespectful, but this current season has emphasized the need to treat everyone I meet with dignity and courtesy, irrespective of how they show up.

We would be going against the grain if we chose to judge the books (people) we read by going through the pages and chapters therein. But that’s the only way we will know people for who they are. That process takes time, but it also frees us to interact more confidently with the strangers who cross our path. Malcolm Gladwell says, “in this modern world we have no choice but to engage with strangers. So, we must accept the limits of our ability and show humility and restraint.”

I hope the big city hoppa bus and matatu drivers can read this because they are the biggest bullies, I have encountered on the road so far. Followed by those GOK Prados always overtaking with sirens and hazards on. May I also not forget to be kind to other road users when I get a better ride.

I humbly submit that image is not everything. It may appear so, but It won’t sustain us in the long run. That deep character and good intentions followed by good actions are what make for an image worth keeping. With this kind of image that displays one’s intrinsic value then it will not matter much what size of car or make we drive. Those will just be modes of transport. With a mindset like that we won’t get offended by people talking to us based on how we appear. We can show them that image is not everything. There is much more to life than our image.

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8 thoughts on “Is Image Everything ?”

  1. Jackline Mburu says:

    Colleagues in my industry need to read this..

  2. Mike says:

    Not judging a book by it cover is so real. Have you ever met a well dressed gentleman and your expectations are high until he speaks? Opening the pages of the book or people makes all the difference. Even in the office, we tend to judge people by how they dress even before we get to know them. I have learnt to make a conscience effort not to.
    Thanks for reminding us what not to.

  3. Belinda says:

    Preacher preach!!
    These thoughts of a man at 40 need to be heard by everyone.

  4. Anthony Mburu says:

    Perfectly rendered, here’s an opportunity… and am inspired… to go for a white Toyota Axio… KB something if possible… no tint, no alloy wheels… just basic. And enjoy the research!

  5. MG says:

    Solio ranch… Oh lolest.. Even “me I” didn’t know there’s a Solio for a car… Being comfortable in how you show up is the ultimate test of self mastery, and as I read (and got a lot of comfort from it) from a wonderful book by a Dominican frair, that this usually happens after 40. When the true self wants, and even demands to emerge.. What is tragic is to be found on this side of 40 still meandering in the vestiges of the false self!

  6. Mike Eldon says:

    I had an MG car once!

  7. Ciku says:

    story of my life…

  8. Collins says:

    WOW.Truly addressing the ills that harm us.Check out my blog at

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