A Nigerian-American journalist in Kenya

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Karibu! July 2, 2010

Filed under: Dreams of youth — Admin @ 7:42 pm
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I used to dream about Kenya as a little girl. Lying on my belly, I’d watch the clouds drifting from beyond the ivory lace curtains in my bedroom. Slowly drifting clouds. And I’d wonder if those were the same clouds that children see in Kenya.

In my mind, Kenya evoked excitement and romanticism. And at 13 years old, my idea of romance was sitting in a field of tall grass listening to exotic birds and drinking mango juice. I’d fallen in love with Karen Blixen’s “Out of Africa,” with the lilting guitar riffs and tight harmonies of local musicians, with the beautiful syllables of kiswahili (“hakuna matata”) and with the legacy of Jomo Kenyatta.

I promised myself that I’d go to Kenya and perhaps have a home there. I’ve constructed the home in my mind numerous times. Red in color. Bungalow in shape. Quaint in design. Close to nature.

A decade later, I’m in Kenya. The next three months, I plan to soak up everything: the language, the food, the clothing, the colors of the earth, the smell of the air, everything.

I’m a Nigerian-American in Kenya. You are welcome to share my experiences. Karibu!

For more info about me, visit: www.chika-oduah.com 

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Scenes in Kenya: Finale October 14, 2010

Filed under: Scenes in Kenya — Admin @ 4:40 am
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I left Kenya at the end of my residency program on Sept. 14. Kenya, I’ll be back…!

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The ground from whence I come (Goodbye Kenya)

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“One who is climbing a tree, must still come down.”

I am truly grateful for the opportunities before me, for the ability to tell the people’s stories and for the gift of words. Life’s joys can only be actualized by fulfillment and because of the goodness of others, I am reaching fulfillment.

Are you’re wondering what in the world I’m talking about?

“One who is climbing a tree, must still come down.”

I heard this proverb when watching a Nigerian movie one evening. An old Igbo man was talking to his son who had become rich and had forgotten his “roots.” The proverb stuck with me. (Africans are so eloquently expressive and such aphorisms are like ripe fruits in the mouth: sweet, wholesome and good for the soul.) Everyone’s goal in life is to progress, move forward, grow…climb a tree. But, the ground is still below and we mustn’t forget the ground from whence we came…and still come. We must come down, specifically to thank.

I write this for those who have helped me and as much as I can vocally express thanks, I believe nothing is more solid than the written word.

So, there is a man at the Medill School of Journalism named Bill. He is the one who coordinated this one-of-a-kind opportunity to report in Kenya. He worked hard to make it happen and while I crisscross from Nyerere Road to University Way to Harry Thuku Road to Kijabe Street and enter Longonot Place to take the elevator to the 3rd floor and walk into the K24 newsroom, I have to remember Bill. He’s not only a journalist and an instructor; he is a generous fellow whose eyes twinkle when he smiles. I’m serious guys, they twinkle!

Bobby, my longest- running friend; the quintessential, “good” buddy who listens and says exactly what you need to hear at the right time. Bobby, thank you for making me laugh, being my friend, encouraging me and never thinking that my goals are just “too big.” I can never, ever, never forget someone like Bobby; such a friend is hard to find in this life and I know this all too well.

And there’s Tope…. the slender, slim-eyed wonder of a friend whose soft, gentle voice leaves a lifelong impact. Tope has not only helped to guide my goals but has made me feel important. Said that… I’m not weird, but unique. Being the lofty, idealist, dreamer that I am, I’ve lived most of my life with my head in the clouds, and it can, indeed, get very lonely in those clouds. Tope sat next to me in the clouds. Good company. I thank him.

My other good friend is also a high-flying dreamer, but he is also like solid ground. And when he gets quiet, brings his palms together and raises them to his center of his face and just…watches, I know he’s thinking…deep thoughts. My thinking, dreaming, ever-solid friend told me not worry when Bill told me that some of the security concerns in Kenya may affect the university’s decision to approve of my trip. When Bill told me everything had went through and all the paperwork had been approved, my friend was no less excited as I was. The opportunities that he saw for me in Kenya were different, yet just as noble as the ones that I saw for myself. He believes I can do just about anything. Great friends come in divine packages like Uzoma.

And there are others, not a lot because I keep a small circle, but there are others. Shoulders I have mounted so I can grab the tree that I am climbing. Pastor Mike. Uncle Nche. Aunty Ngozi. Aunty Deborah. Uncle Ifeanyi. Dr. White, who exposed me to the beauty of anthropology. Mrs. Hobbs, who, when I was 11-years-old, told me that I must be a writer.

And the believers of God.

My younger siblings-three sisters and three brothers. Though I’m the oldest, I tell you, I’ve learned more from them than they’ve learned from me. We are a silly bunch and the hundreds of hours I’ve spent laughing with them are more valuable than gold. I wouldn’t trade my siblings for anything in this world.

Nurturing. Lifting. Encouraging. Teaching. Correcting. Loving. Valuing. Listening. Learning. Feeding. That’s what my parents do for me. They are helping me to live a rich and full life. I believe that a dog can only be a dog. An eagle must live an eagle’s life. And an elephant must follow elephants. I thank my parents for allowing me to be who I am. They have truly fostered my skills. I do love to write, and I believe that they enjoy reading my words. I remember driving in the car with my dad one afternoon a couple years back and I was scribbling in a notebook. Feeling my dad’s gaze, I looked up and he asked what I was writing. I told him, “my book.” He didn’t say anything else with his voice. With his silence, he was saying he loves me.

I took after my mom; she, too, is a writer-in-spirit. I thank them for passing on their traits, the good ones of course. I have my father’s smile and my mother’s creativity. She gave me her intense personality and my dad passed on his patience. Throughout my years of finding myself, they already knew who I was and who I would become.

I laugh like my mom, and my mom and I enjoy talking “big” together in the living room. And I finally understand that she is the source of my fiery passion.

I’ve enjoyed all my years of sitting beside my dad in the car as he, tired from work, picked me up from school. And like my dad, I am inquisitive. He always told us, “Ask questions! Read! Read everything!”

There is nothing like having a great set of parents. The greatest blessing is having parents who respect you as a person, love you as their child and believe in the gift of your future.

And the beauty of this journalist’s life manifests in meeting more people, telling their stories and thanking them for sharing. I look forward to continuing my climb.

But may I never forget the ground from whence I came…and still come.

 

Kenya’s children: yes, it takes a village to raise them September 24, 2010

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If you never knew it, now you know- African children are beautiful.

Okay, before you raise your eyebrows, I want to clarify that I am not demeaning any other groups of people with this comment. I am simply making a note that despite poverty, hardship, and racial discrimination, African children still captivate and glow with innocent beauty. Kenyan’s children are no exception. Everywhere I went throughout the country, I looked out for children and they were not hard to miss. I saw them in kitchens, playing on the streets, washing clothes, crying, laughing, etc.

This collage shows kids that I met in Nairobi and Nyeri. Top, Left to right: 1) These two girls live in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa. It’s in the southwest corner of Nairobi’s outskirts. The shy girls watched as my K24 colleagues and I interviewed residents and took photos. 2) Here is another kid I saw in Kibera. Looking over his shoulder, he stood next to a river of filth. 3) These hyper kids went ballistic when they saw me and the K24 camera-guy shooting on the school campus. I was at a primary school in Dagoretti, Nairobi doing a story on dyslexia. Bottom row, left to right: 1) This dyslexic boy is another student from the primary school in Dagoretti. I thought he was so adorable and he spoke well during the interview. 2) This is a young girl in Nyeri who lives at a youth center because her family cannot afford to raise her. When I asked about her impoverished childhood, she couldn’t answer and began to cry. 3) More kids from Kibera

Top row, left to right: 1) These kids were watching as customers wandered through the Maasai Market at the Kenya International Conference Center in Nairobi’s Central Business District 2) I played peak-a-boo with the boy with the large head and enormous eyes. Whenever I would look at him, he’d laugh hysterically and hide. I met him in Central Province. He’s about 3 years old. 3) adolescent girls in Nyeri  Bottom row, left to right: 1) These adorable girls live in Central Province. I thought it was so cute how the girl in the plaid dress was hiding behind the taller girl when I stood before them 2) Most of these boys are orphans and they live at a youth center in Nyeri 3) This is Phyllis’ nephew. He’s a cute kid with lovely cocoa-skin and huge, almond-shaped eyes

Africa’s children have a lot on their shoulders. They are the future of this continent and as they grow, they will surely face more hardship. Many of them live in struggling communities and statistics say that most of them will not live past the age of 48. But they have already defied the odds by being born, surviving infancy and sleeping under a roof.

They will probably be told that they are not worthy of success, and they will surely see demeaning images of people with brown skin being maltreated, enduring hellish experiences. But these children have the ability to rise and as Africans tend to do, they will survive and let’s pray that they thrive.

 

More K24 Features September 17, 2010

Filed under: K24 — Admin @ 11:57 pm

I attended the Maker Faire Africa 2010 (http://makerfaireafrica.com/) a few weeks ago and had a blast. I learned about it back in July and knew that I had to do a story about. The 3-day event brings together artists, creators, engineers and the like from around Africa to showcase technology and various art work. I met a South African, a Tanzanian, Ghanaian, Rwandan, and other Africans. I also met a Nigerian guy…named Chika! We were so happy to see each other. This story was also an exclusive; no other broadcast news company featured it. But the Maker Faire Africa really is a big deal because it truly is breeding ground for innovation and Africa’s next technology genius will be there. I’m already planning to attend the Maker Faire Africa 2011. Here is the video that I did: (By the way, I wasn’t able to get a camera operator, so I was doing the camera work all by myself.)

Finishing the dyslexia story was quite difficult, but i finally got it done. First, I never got permission from Kenyan’s Ministry of Education to conduct interviews with teachers, so that took a big chunk out of the story. And secondly, I was not able to find another dyslexic kid to focus on for the story. For part 1, Felix Kariuki (Phyllis’ son) was the “face.” I wanted another face for part 2, but it was nearly impossible. Parents didn’t want their kids on the camera. One lady kept canceling our schedule interview, and so on. So, part 2 ended up being more ‘official’ that the first part, with numerous organizational representatives and stuff.

 

K24 Features September 16, 2010

Filed under: K24 — Admin @ 10:11 pm

This is a story that I did back in August. I’ve been following the National Youth Orchestra (NYO) for the past 3 months. NYO is the first of its kind in Kenya, a classical orchestra for youth across the nation. Yes, there are classical orchestras, but they are pretty much for the elite kids who attend international schools and such. But the NYO is supposedly, “the face of Kenya” and will incorporate Kenyan youth of diverse ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. This story was actually an exclusive. No other broadcast company had reported it.

When this story aired on K24’s IN20 program (a magazine feature program), other media became interested in the NYO and reporters asked me for Ashni’s contact.

Ashni is a sweet and bubbly girl and her family, especially her mother, are very kindhearted. I really enjoyed meeting this family. I consider the Shahs as friends, not just story sources. I wrote about one of my outings with the Shah family here: https://chikainkenya.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/a-day-at-village-market/

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I’m working on a story about dyslexia.  https://chikainkenya.wordpress.com/2010/07/24/k24-day-12-dyslexia-awareness/ Well, here is part 1 of the 2 part series. It featured on K24’s In20.

 

Poetry in Nyeri

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I was able to witness, actually, not only witness- but to participate in the first ever open mic poetry event in Nyeri, Kenya! It was organized by a guy named Sam. I went with Kevin, a cameraguy at K24 and was not expecting to recite anything. But I decided to go ahead- hey, why not? So, I skimmed through a book of poems. But I couldn’t find anything that I particularly liked so I quickly wrote my own poem in about 5 minutes. I titled it, ‘7000 miles.’

I’m 7,000 miles away from home

What am I doing here?

I’m 7,000 miles away from home

My mother, she’s quite worried about my safety…

They say Africans are dangerous

And that I should be very

Very careful

I can’t be careful enough

But

I’m 7,000 miles away from home

But I feel like I am home

Because the people that I see here

With the same sun-kissed hue that I have,

They have the same

Kinky hair that crowns my own head

And even though we have different accents

We speak the same language

The language of the

African soul,

And the heart

I’m 7,000 miles away from home

And I’m having the best time of my life

In the most beautiful land in the world

The motherland of great people

And of even greater dreams

I’m 7,000 miles away from home

No, I think I’m home

Pardon me,

I know I’m home

After reading it, I quickly scribbled another poem called ‘One by One.’ I borrowed the title from a South African song used in The Lion King movie. Here is the other poem that I read that evening:

The color of my skin

That is dark

I am proud of it

The color of my skin

That is dark

I will die

With it

The one thing that really frustrates me

Bothers me

And tears me apart

Is seeing black skin bleached yellow

I don’t see it often,

But when I do,

The image stays with me,

And it’s hard to forget the ladies

With yellow faces

And black arms

And bluish fingertips

Would you change the color of rich soil?

The color of good coffee?

The color of sweet chocolate?

Show me the liars who said black is not beautiful

And I will show you a weak people

We can never change Africa

Until we stop bleaching our skin,

Bleaching our minds

And bleaching our culture

The color of my skin

That is dark

I am proud of it

The color of my skin

That is dark

I will die

With it

The greatest part of this shindig was seeing young Kenyans engaging in the art of poetry. They were quite talented! And after the warm applause I received after reading my poems, my heart told me that Africa is the place for me; that Africa is where my heart was all along; that Africa is where I will find true happiness; that Africa is where my future will unfold; that there is no place, and no place in this universe, like Africa.

 

K24 Day 43: Back to Nyeri September 6, 2010

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I went to Nyeri again last Thursday and stayed until Saturday afternoon. This time, I went for 2 enterprise stories that I’ve been researching for the past three weeks and I am particularly excited about these two stories. In a small town, a youth center houses former street children and teaches them about environmental sustainability. But this center is doing some very interesting things. A social revolution is breeding here.

The socialists principles underlying the foundation of the youth center are evident in a number of ways. Firstly, at the center, the youth are encouraged to take up skills and to be a “good human being,” and by doing so, they gain points for which they can use to “purchase” items such as clothing. The “directors” of the center, Andrew and Paul are what many Americans would call radical. I’ve conversed extensively with both Andrew and Paul and one can’t help but to be inspired. Paul has a economics background and Andrew is trained in technological engineering and by combining the two disciplines, Paul and Okello have formulated socioeconomic principles to help Africans to help themselves out of poverty.

On Thursday,  Kevin (the K24 camera guy who accompanied me) and I observed Andrew and his young volunteers discussing their project called Ujamma. Ujamma means “family hood,” in Kiswahili and denotes the idea of togetherness.

Ujamma, as a concept, was first practiced in Tanzania where the country’s first President, a very afrocentric and leftist leader named Julius Nyerere, advocated socialist ideals, promoting the idea that the land belongs to everyone and such. It didn’t last, but Andrew and his volunteers are convinced that Africans must returned to its tradition of helping one another. Ujamma, African socialism, they believe that this is the best direction for Africa.

So, these are Africa’s new revolutionary socialist.

When I asked the nine of them if they are socialist, I was met with a variety of replies.

“Socialism is a revolution. The value that we have as human beings shouldn’t be attached to money. Ujamma means family. Family is all of us. “ Tabitha Wangari Muchue, 23-years-old

“As much as we are trying to adopt capitalism, we are trying to keep our tradition of socialism. We want to keep socialism in us. This is in us. We cannot run from ourselves.”  Harry Mkala, 22-years-old

“This is the time for another revolution…If you mean African socialism, then yes I am [a socialist]. I belive in Africans taking care of each other. Not the imported ideas from the West. I don’t believe in this debate between Marxism and communism. I believe in the socialism that my grandmother told me that you look after your neighbor.” Susan Nyambura, 23-years-old

“Africa has always been social. The child is brought up by the village. We look after each other.” Andrew Okello-Syata, 42-years-old

“The work of my body, my brain, my hands, that is what I see in Ujamma. That’s the beauty of it. I see money as very dirty but your sweat is cleaner.” Jannath Bhagar