The Importance of General Expectations
The main expectations in these relationships, the ones that participants most often use as the basis for evaluating performance, are general rather than specific. Establishing whether general expectations have been met or not is much more difficult than doing the same for specific expectations and, at the same time, is often more important. A person who is judged to meet the general expectations in his or her kin status will be positively evaluated in the status by those in relationships with him or her even if that person is not particularly adept at meeting some of the specific expectations in the status. The reverse is less often true.
Since the difference between general and specific expectations is one of degree rather than kind, it is not surprising that the two shade into one another. Specific expectations such as the wife's housekeeping or the husband's provision of money become most important when they are seen as affecting general expectations. A key difference is that general expectations can be met in a variety of ways, which is not so true of specific expectations. A husband who loses his job may fail to meet the money-providing expectations but still be evaluated positively in the spouse role if the wife recognizes other bases for viewing him as loving, conscientious, and having good intentions (nia, see below). The same is true for a wife who cooks badly or fails to keep the house as the husband might want it to be.
General expectations may include telling a child or, sometimes, a spouse about mistakes they have made and how to correct them, but they are characteristically positive in nature. As will become clear below, "upendo," which can be glossed as "love," is one of the main aspects of relations among nuclear family members and, beyond that, with kin and neighbors generally. Some of the more obvious manifestations of upendo are displaying concern, trust, affection, and a regard for the interests of the object of the love. "Accustomedness" and, less, "one character" function much as "love" does, but for the present discussion, love alone will be considered and the others left for later examination.
It is not always obvious whether particular acts meet general expectations,
and even those directly involved can sometimes make a judgment only by considering a whole pattern of behavior rather than specific acts. In part, this is so because the connection between acts and the meeting of general expectations is so dependent on interpretation that a given behavior and its opposite can be taken to have the same significance. Thus, as we will see in chapter 10, a man shows his love for his wife by giving her money for clothing and such even if he thinks buying the clothing is wasteful and unnecessary. Showing love for a son, however, sometimes involves not giving him money when the same man, now in the status father, thinks the use of the money would be wasteful and unnecessary.
Nor are opposite behaviors given the same interpretation only when they occur in different relationships involving different statuses. A woman shows her love for her sister (i.e., meets general expectations in the relationship with her) by criticizing her even to the extent that the sister weeps, but love can also be shown by denying to the sister the truth of criticism, perhaps leveled by others, of her. In short, general expectations are illusive as concerns their behavioral reference, and this is not just an observer's problem. Participants in relationships often find it difficult to assess whether or not general expectations are being met, but the assessments are nevertheless made and remade with the future of the relationship, as well as the judgment of the individual, depending on them.
Community members are explicit about the difficulty in assessing behavior in relationships where general expectations are the crucial ones. A number of people have told me that in dealings with those who are close, that is, with spouses, children, close kin, and neighbors, nia can be more important than what the person does. "Nia" can be glossed as intentions, purposes, or general orientation. A person whose nia is "good" (nia nzuri ) can do things that may seem bad but that are recognized, perhaps on reflection, as at least well intended. Understanding whether a person in a close relationship has met the general expectations in that relationship, then, depends not only on his or her behavior but also on the view the other participant(s) in the relationship have of his or her nia.
Just what is called for by general expectations is not always clear until a situation arises involving them. Thus, for example, several young Swahili men were arrested for loitering one evening. It was difficult to tell why they had been arrested since they appeared to be doing nothing unusual but only sitting on a low retaining wall near their houses chatting as they generally did in the evening. Because of the vague reason for the arrest and because they were handled rather roughly by the police without any obvious reason (I saw the arrest), the event caused severe anxiety in the young men's households. On hearing what had happened, one of the fathers rushed from his house to that of a neighbor who was friendly with a number of the city's more important officials. In a remarkably short time, the neighbor left his house,
although he had been about to go to bed, and went to the police station where, after long discussions with police officials, he was able to win the young men's release.
No serious question seemed to occur to the fathers of the young men about the willingness of their neighbor to help them. Nor did the neighbor, then or later, indicate that he thought he had done anything particularly surprising or unusual even though he said he had not actually intervened with the police before on behalf of neighbors or, for that matter, anyone. "We help each other," he explained to me in discussing the incident and his role in it.
The neighbor's intervention is in accord with the general expectation of mutual help and support that is characteristic of relations between kin and neighbors. Thus, when the child of a household is being married, the mother's women kin and neighbors speak of "our wedding" and work impressively long hours helping to prepare for it. When the son of a household is ready for a job, not just his father and older brothers but many of his parents' brothers and parents' sisters' husbands, older cousins, and neighbors will all make efforts—some more vigorous than others, of course—to find him a suitable position.
Precisely what neighbors and kin do for one another is mostly not specified, but the expectations in their relationships are, nevertheless, powerful. Just as a politician is supported because he is understood to provide vague but vital goals and states such as "prosperity" or "peace," so kin and neighbors are positively evaluated when they provide "help" and "support." The Arab owner of a "ration shop" is expected to return goods and change to a customer who says what is wanted and gives him money, but expectations of such a clear and specific kind are not the main characteristic of relationships between kin and neighbors. In those relationships, more accurately, in the statuses of the individuals involved in them, the key expectations are broad and general, giving those relationships a flexibility and an ambiguity that relationships based on statuses involving mainly specific expectations cannot have.