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Israel and New Breed in Kenya August 18, 2010

Filed under: cultural observations,the journey — Admin @ 6:39 am
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At the end of the nearly 2 1/5 hour ministration, Israel Houghton said it was his first time in Kenya. The crowd clapped to welcome and thank him.

*                                    *                                    *                                    *

This past Sunday, I was in my room looking up recipes (yeah, I like to read food recipes!) and resting after a lively service at Mavuno Church. Outside, I heard a guy, who I could tell was a young, white American, talking to a crowd of people. He was talking about the love of God and what it really means to be Christian. All day, several religious presentations had been going at Central Park, which was a 5 second walk outside of my building. Then I heard the guy say that he wants to welcome a friend. “Israel. And New Breed!” Suddenly, Israel Houghton’s powerful voice rang through the air.

My heart jumped. Gosh! This is one of my favorite gospel artist!

I leaped up, threw on my sandals and ran outside.  At Central Park, a crowd of hundreds (I can’t give a more accurate estimate because I’m just not good at the sort of thing) stood before Israel and New Breed. After stopping at a security guard who traced my body with a metal detector, I made my way to the very front and danced away with my camera bouncing around my neck and thumping on my chest.

It seemed like half of the crowd knew the songs and the other half didn’t. The sun was blazing, but it was a comfortable heat with a gentle breeze blowing from time to time.

I knew Israel had ministered yesterday at a huge concert because someone has mentioned it at Mavuno on Sunday. She said she had attended and had a fantastic time. Two Sundays ago, two people had received free tickets to the concert as a reward for bringing first time visitors to Mavuno. A guy announced that we could by tickets at the table in the front. But, I couldn’t find the table and just forgot about the whole thing. I’m glad I did, because I had saved my money. The Saturday concert costed quite a bit, according to the lady from Mavuno. But on Sunday, I was jamming for free.

“God, do your will in Kenya. Do your will in Africa!” Israel said.

I have to say, Israel and New Breed in Kenya was better than when I had seen them live at my church in Conyers, Georgia. I think it was…the people, the sun, the trees, the squawking birds, and everything else that God created.


The lively Maasai Market August 16, 2010

Filed under: cultural observations — Admin @ 9:08 am
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This past weekend, I finally went to Maasai Market! I’d been planning to go, but something would always come up and I’d have to postpone. Maasai Market is an open-air bargain shop and all my friends told me I’d get ripped off if I went alone and the sellers heard my accent. So, everyone recommended that I go with a Kenyan. I believe it’s called Maasai Market but the sellers were originally mostly from the Maasai ethnic group. And the artistic wares, all handmade by the Maasai.

So Gladys took me to the Maasai Market right next to the Kenya International Conference Center (KICC). Gladys was an intern at K24. Having completed the 3 month internship, she has now resumed school. The Maasai Market at the KICC is open on Saturdays and the one next to K24 is open Tuesdays. So I went with Ksh5,000 expecting to come out with 6 or 7 nice fabrics and some jewelry. A colleague at K24 said I can buy khanga or lesso fabric for about Ksh300 and kitenge for Ksh600. Pastor Frida said I’d buy them for Ksh1,000 or so. Pretty big discrepancy, right?

I knew when we were getting closer to the market because all of a sudden I saw white people. I told Gladys this is definitely the type of place that white people like. Gladys laughed and agreed.

She said the West has the perception that the Maasai are the quintessential Kenyans. Truly, the classic image of the Maasai is world famous: tall, chestnut brown skin, very slender guys with long cornrowed hair dyed red, wearing a red and/or purple plaid wrap, standing on one leg and holding a tall wooden staff. And their women- big, white teeth with baby smooth, wrinkle-free skin with bright necklaces and bangles. Bald. But, their beauty is unmistakable. During the colonial days, the Maasai warrior was described as the “noble savage.” I think most Western visitors to Kenya want to see the Maasai people. Shoot… I know I did.

I have two Kenya travel books and both have extensive descriptions of the Maasai and don’t give much attention to the nearly five dozen other ethnic groups in Kenya. The Maasai people are known to love beauty. Guys and females take great care in grooming.

I’m glad I went to the market with Gladys because she was excellent with bargaining. Immediately upon entering the shop, a young guy approached us and led us somewhere. That’s the way it seems to work. A guy comes to “help” you, and yes, he is helping but he is also making sure he gets paid. A young white couple was in front of us and a black Kenyan was running around them, like a lost puppy, trying to help. The white guy was very friendly, patting the Kenyan on his shoulder and smiling, but the lady was smart. She told the Kenyan, “no, we’re okay we don’t need help.” But the Kenyan was persistent. And the lady had to tell him three times, “no.”

So, a guy walked up to Gladys and I as Gladys was pointing to some fabric. “No, I don’t want tye-dye,” I told her.

The guy directed our attention to a wall of T-shirts. I told him I want khanga to make clothes. He understood right away. “Follow me!” He said.

Gladys and I twisted and turned throughout the market to keep up with the guy and of course, he made sure we didn’t get lost. I watched my feet to make sure I didn’t step on any jewelry, wooden wares, legs, stones, drums, and the like. We finally stopped where a lady was sitting and the guy showed me different colors of fabric. I told him I want something bright, purples and blues and yellows. Whenever I would pick up something, he’d say, “Oh, that’s pretty!” I ended up with three pieces of fabric. I believe 1 was khanga and 2 were kitenge, which is of better quality. He told me the total was Ksh4,000.

I was like, “no way!”

Gladys told him it’s too much. They continued talking as two other guys snaked over to listen to the bartering. One of the guys tapped my shoulder, “I have art! Nice art. Come look at my art.”

I said, “no” as firmly and politely as I could and went back to listening to Gladys and the guy as they spoke Kiswahili.

But the guy tapped me again, “Art. Very nice. Come see.”

Another guy walked up to me, “I have nice khanga.”

Finally the young guy settled on Ksh3,600.

I said it is still to much and pretended to walk away. He finally came down to Ksh3,000.

Gladys asked me if that is ok. I said yes. She asked if I am settled with what I have.

A green and orange pattern caught my eye and I bent down to look at it.

“You want to buy more? Or you want to switch?” the young guy asked. I was beginning to like this guy. He was very forward, but not annoying. Friendly, but not pushy. And his clever countenance and dashing eyes reminded me of my brother, Arinze.

“I’m just thinking!” I said with a laugh.

All three guys then laughed at once, as if on-cue.

“Take your time. Please. Think,” the young guy said with a broad smile exposing exquisite teeth.

I settled on my original three (red, yellow and black; yellow and green; sea green and white) and shook the guys hand. I guess he was happy.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“Now, I show you my art. Nice art.”

Gladys looked at me.

“I’m not interested in art,” I said.

Gladys asked if I needed anything else.


The guy lit up, “Come! Yes, come!”

Again, we snaked through the wares and sellers and buyers. With every step of the way, someone would see the Canon SLR camera hanging around my neck and advertise their goods in front of my face.

The guy led us to a woman sitting quietly. Before her feet lay about 400 beautiful necklaces and behind her, about 200 pairs of earrings. I picked up a jade stone necklace.

The guy said, “Two thousand five hundred.”

I laughed and walked away with Gladys behind me speaking to the guy.

I said, “The khanga wasn’t even 2,000 so what is he talking about?”

I’m not a fool. Gladys laughed and told the guy it is too much. We walked to another stall but this man followed us with the necklace draped between his long fingers.

I stopped to look at a beautiful, large elephant sculpture and another guy, tall and slim tapped my shoulder. He pointed to my camera and picked up a drum. He said that I can take a picture of him playing the drum for money.

“How much?” I asked.

He said Ksh200.

“50,” I said.

He agreed.

Gladys confirmed, “50 bob! 50 bob!”

“Sawa,” he said.

He began to beat and I felt kind of awkward. People began looking around, trying to find who was paying this guy to bang the drum. They found me and I was immediately surrounded by sellers. I gave the guy a 50 and he smiled. “Asante sana.”

A lady came to Gladys with the same beautiful jade necklace I had wanted earlier. This was the same lady who sat quietly as the guy led us to her stall. She spoke to Gladys. Apparently, she was the true seller of that necklace and the guy was just trying to make a sale off commission. I heard her say “500” to Gladys. I told her there was something else I liked.

We walked back to her stall.

I ended up buying three earrings and the jade necklace- all for Ksh1000. I did some bargaining of my own!

I thanked the lady and she was so happy.

“Keep those brokers away,” Gladys told the lady with a smile.

The lady nodded.

Maasai Market at KICC, I’ll be back. I’ll surely be back someday.

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I have a date! August 6, 2010

Filed under: cultural observations,the journey — Admin @ 3:06 pm
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Every cool journalist is “supposed” to be able to say something like, “I was in Berlin the night the Wall fell on November 9, 1989,” or “I was there in South Africa on February 11, 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from 27 years of imprisonment” or “I was on the steps of the Capitol when Barack Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009.”

So…I finally have my first date and hopefully, it will be the first of many great ones.

On Thursday, August 5, 2010, I was in the midst of hundreds of Kenyans in Nairobi’s city center as they celebrated the victory of the constitutional referendum–Kenya will adopt the proposed constitution!

Surely, Kenyans have spoken. With more than 6 million votes in support of the draft constitution, the “yes” team has prevailed. Officials and other talking heads have declared that from this point on, there is no more a “no” team or a “yes” team. Let all Kenyans join the Kenya team!

Throughout the streets of the nation, in Mombasa, Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldoret, Nakuru, Kenyans have been celebrating. And I’m so honored to have witnessed this beautiful and historic moment.

Thursday, I was home recovering from a throat infection, but I was continuously watching the referendum coverage on television. When I saw Higher Education Minister, William Ruto of the “no” camp conceding defeat, my heart raced. “So this constitution will really pass!” And Kenyans throughout the nation rejoiced yesterday, though prematurely because the results that showed the “yes” vote clearly in the lead were still provisional, according to the Interim Independent Electoral Commission.

Nonetheless, President Kibaki, Prime Minister Odinga and Vice President Musyoka addressed the public at the Kenya International Convention Center (KICC) to declare victory. The address was to start around 4PM. I jumped out of the bed sheets, still shivering with cold shills and with painful throbs in my head, and called my trusty driver, Godfrey to tell him to take me to KICC immediately.I grabbed my audio recorder, reporter’s notebook, Canon Rebel camera and Kodak Zi8.

Godfrey arrived in 3 minutes and told me he had just seen Kibaki’s motorcade headed to the KICC. I was as giddy as….as….as a lady named Chika reporting in Kenya!

From everywhere, Kenyans made there way to see their president, many coming straight from their places of work. Jumping out the car, I made my way into the crowd and started snapping photos and asking folks questions:

“Why are you here?”

“Did you support the draft constitution? Why?”

“How will the new constitution help you as an individual?”

“What does this mean for Kenya?”

I truly had a blast. When Kibaki and Odinga presented themselves at the podium, the crowd went wild! I met a young lady name Sheila and she ended up following me. She was cool, but the brightly-dressed, 19-year-old had no idea what was going on. She has just left school and saw everyone headed toward the KICC.

I ran into a K24 colleague, a very kind camera guy named Galgallo. Galgallo was shooting for a K24 reporter named Kagoe. Galgallo and I were pleased to see each other at the event.

Words truly can’t express my glee about this victory. The entire process was simply beautiful. Watching the daily public service announcements on the referendum on television; listening to IIEC chairman, Isaack Hassan, confirming the fairness of the referendum; watching Kenyans standing in the lines at the polling stations for hours; seeing taxi drivers reading the informative handouts on the details of the draft constitution; listening to people singing and chanting “Uhuru!” (freedom) and “Kura!” (vote) and “Haki yetu!” (our rights) throughout downtown Nairobi. This victory is not just for Kenya, but it is for Africa.

Katiba Mpya, Kenya Moja (New constitution, one Kenya)

Kofi Annan stated: “We commend the two Principals [Kibaki and Odinga] for their stewardship… and congratulate the Government and the people of Kenya for this momentous step.”

Barack Obama: “This was a significant step forward for Kenya’s democracy and the peaceful nature of the election was a testament to the character of the Kenyan people.”

Mwai Kibaki: “The historic journey that begun more than 20 years ago is coming to a historic end. Let us now hold hands together as brother and sister…The successful and peaceful conclusion of this referendum shows that our democratic institutions have come of age.”

Raila Odinga: “This constitution is actually for the liberalization of this country.”

But, the victory wasn’t final until declared by the Interim Independent Electoral Commission. Today, IIEC chairman, Isaack Hassan stated:

“Pursuant to the Constitution of Kenya Review Act, 2008 and the Referendum Regulations, 2010, I do declare that the Proposed New Constitution is hereby ratified. Thank you.”

Some provisions of the new constitution:

  • Two levels of government: national and regional (47 counties will be created)
  • Removal of the Prime Minister position
  • free secondary education
  • a Bill of Rights for all Kenyans,; these are rights that people are born with and are protected by this constitution
  • Kenyan citizens by birth may also be citizens of another country (dual citizenship)
  • The creation of two houses in Parliament
  • Limitation of Presidential powers
  • The creation of a Supreme Court which will have the final word on judicial matters
  • The creation of a Senate, to check the President
  • The establishment of a single National Police Service which consists of the Kenya Police Service and the Administration Police Service
  • The establishment of a National Land Commission to manage all public land
  • Requires all people to have access to public land
  • Creates a land policy that allows people to have equitable access to land and secure land rights
  • Foreigners cannot own land but can rent (lease) land for less than 99 years

Kenyans celebrate the “yes” team’s referendum vote lead August 5, 2010

Filed under: cultural observations — Admin @ 9:40 pm
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Tabitha Njoroge

“I’m the executive director of Women in Law and Development in Africa. Here in the Nairobi Chapter…I have just come from the Bomas of Kenya, where I slept last night. So I tried to tally the votes and I’m hoping this will really be a new dispensation for Kenya. So when this was announced on the radio station I said I had to come here and hear for myself what Kibaki has to say. And just to see whether the mood that he has is the same mood that the “no” leader has…We are all winners in this. They have considered defeat. They are agreeing that we need to move on as one country and forge ahead and implement which we already have right now.”

“As a woman especially, this is it! We have fought for affirmative action over the years. We have fought for citizenship over the years. I think this is a real package for women. We have been telling ourselves, if we don’t get it now,  we perhaps might never get it. It can never be this close. So, we did our best, we went out there, lobbied people. And I can tell you right now, I am one excited girl.”

“Yes, I’m a very happy Kenyan, especially as a woman. The future that lies ahead in this country is great.”

Geoffrey Kamau, 29-years-old

“We have come as they launch the new constitution, because this has already passed…

Yeah, I was supporting it, for one, it is supporting youth in many ways…in terms of distribution of resources, yeah.”

James, 30-years-old

“I’ve come to see how the new Kenya is born, yeah.”

“Basically I want to see how we are showing the changes and hopefully how the changes will change the whole of Kenya, especially the political aspect, even the economic ones…There are so many clauses which I believe will bring a lot of change in Kenya, especially in line with the choosing of the cabinet ministers and also the issue of devolution. Right now we’re going to have a lot of funds being brought down to the grassroots. Unlike the current constitution, which does not have that provision.”

“It’s historic in the sense that since independence we’ve just been having one constitution that is we’ve never had a change in the constitution. What happened is some amendments which were not so instrumental. But now that we have a constitution…in fact what we’re saying is, this constitution was drafted by Kenyans. So we now sort of think it belongs to us—that we sort of own it.”

Claire, 27-years-old

“I’m here to celebrate the new constitution. The proposed constitution has passed. I voted for it. So I’m here to celebrate…I came from work. I just heard from the media the celebration here, the president was coming to address the public so I said, ‘wow, I must be with my fellow Kenyans and celebrate together.’”

“Yes, peace will prevail and I believe corruption will reduce.”

Penina, 20-years-old and Gladell Mwangi, 19-years-old

Gladell: “We’re hear to celebrate the new constitution that we’ve just passed. And we’re happy about it. It was a very peaceful event and we should pat ourselves on the back because we do deserve it. It’s a first and we are proud of every single one of us who took part in it. We’ve been waiting a long time to see for once an election that will be peaceful and will pass in a positive way and this has been one. Even though it’s not a major one for presidential or anything, it’s important for us because it’s about the laws of the land and all that so we’re very happy.”

Penina: “Gender equality. I think something for the less fortunate, like the IDPs. I think it will do something good… There was like so much corruption in the country, so I think Kenya will be in a better position because Kenya was ranked like one of the most corrupt countries in Africa and the world at large. So we’re expecting changes like that. Plus, it was very efficient and we are very happy. It was efficient and fast, unlike the previous elections. So, basically that’s why we are here. We’ve never been to one of these gatherings but we were like, ‘let’s just go.’ Because we are really happy as Kenyans.”

Gladell: “For me as an individual I can particularly say, okay, the old constitution could not allow me to have dual citizenship but now I’m allowed to have dual citizenship. I can be an American if I wanted to tomorrow, if I get the green card or whatever. So, that’s a chance. That’s a good thing for me because I’m about to go study abroad. So that’s a big thing for me.”

Benwell, 32-years-old

“I’m here for the constitution…Yes I support it.”

“There was peace and that’s what we want to have…It is good because there are a lot of changes that will be happening.”

Edwin, 32-years-old

“I’m here to celebrate the new birth of Kenya…Yeah, it’s a new birth to us. Because since independence, we’ve had a very bad constitution. So, we believe this is going to be a departure from the past.”

“Because it’s going to bring power to the people and resources.”

“I did vote yes because 50 percent of the resources will come to the grassroots. Also our MPs will not have the power to determine their salaries.”


“Victory. It’s a victory for us. It explains itself.”

Naboth, 34-years-old

“I want to hear from the President, what he says about the constitution and we are also expecting the holiday to happen so we are here to celebrate and also to force him to give us a holiday so we can celebrate tomorrow until Monday…The meaning of the holiday would be to celebrate given that we have struggled for more than 20 years, since 1990 up til now. And because of that one we want to at least celebrate after that long struggle.”

“Yeah, I was supporting the draft constitution more than 100 percent if there is a percentage as such.”

“The reason why I’m happy, I’m happy because it is something that we have struggled for for more than 20 years. And apart from that one, if we get it, then this something of tribalism will be something of the past. In the year 2012, the presidential candidates is going to get 50 percent plus and that one with the tribalism, you cannot get that with a single tribe. So it is going to clear that. And apart from that one also, the resources is also going to be distributed equal. Because after this constitution passes, 50 percent [of resources] will go to the grassroots, that is to the counties. And that will help in building Kenya equally.”

“What is meant for me is ..it is  a new future. It is something, I don’t know how to put it. But I have a hope that in future that at least something of tribalism-for me that is the most important thing- it is going to end. We are going to have a Kenya which is developed equally without  knowing someone. Because right now, you have to know someone in order to get employment.”

Evans, 37-years-old

“I was a presiding officer with the IIEC. The referendum was free and fair. The whole exercise started well and we ended well.”

“This exercise was conducted in a very harmonious way, very peaceful. There was no reported violence so far. There was no misconduct or even manipulation of the results. So, in a real sense here, I want to commend the IIEC and even the people of Kenya. They have done the best to show that we are together. Because at the end of this we need continue to be living as brothers and sisters. They have shown that they are mature, politically, and everything.”

Sheila, 19-years-old

“I’m here just to see the ministers and Raila Odinga and Kibaki. I was in town so I saw them here, so I want to see what’s going on.”

“I was trying to wait to go home, but I came to watch here but there’s no space, that’s the problem.”

Godfrey, 58 years-old (my good ‘ole driver)

“It’s historic for Kenya because for more than 20 years we’ve been looking for a new constitution. It’s been a long journey, many people have died. Others have been maimed. And now, finally we’ve got it. We hope that with a new constitution, things will change for the better…Though it can’t be 100 percent good, it’s more better than the present one. We anticipate good things out of it.”

“Education. Promotion of youth in respect of work. Also, it’s good to the farmers, in many areas, it covers many areas. We prefer it.”

“Individually, due to my work I expect a lot of visitors to come because the country will now be very peaceful. People are now united. They are now more united than before.  Foreigners will come. Investors will come and with that, my business will be good.”

“This [peace] is what has pleased me so much because many people were anticipating violence. But Kenyans have shown a good tolerance. They have shown they like peace and they would not like to repeat what happened in 2007.”

John Kimani, 70-years- old

“I’ve been waiting for this date. I want everybody to give peace. Everybody. Even you. Even me. Everybody. I want peace…I’m very happy.”


Referendum 2010 August 4, 2010

Filed under: cultural observations,K24 — Admin @ 6:22 am
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Today is the day, August 4, 2010, when more than 12 million Kenyans are expected to go to the polls to vote “yes” or “no” for the passing of the latest draft constitution. It’s a day Kenyans have been waiting for since the re-writing process of a new constitution began in 1998.

More than 27,000 polling stations are manned with troops and police officers deployed from around the nation.

Whether the draft constitution passes or not, today is a historic one for the nation of Kenya.

Memories of 2007’s post election violence are still fresh in the national memory. President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga have called for peace and yesterday evening, hundreds of Kenyans carried fire-flamed candles at a peace rally organized by Uwaino Peace Initiative.

The common message: We are all Kenyans. Let us have peace during and after this referendum process.

Violence, well…everyone is praying against such. The hot spots are mostly in Rift Valley Province, where ethnic tensions run deep. A friend named Jayshree told me to be sure that I get a ride to work this week because it may be unsafe to walk. She also told me to stock up on foods. On Sunday night, we went to the grocery store, Nakumatt in Westgate mall, and the milk and cheese were gone. Many other common items were gone as well and Jayshree said people are storing up just to be safe. During the 2007 post-election violence, Kenyans were forced to stay inside as blood spilled in the streets….literally.

I asked one taxi driver is he thinks there will be any violence. He said no, but if there were to be, it would come from the students at University of Nairobi. If the draft doesn’t pass, they may go to the streets in protest. From what I hear, these are quite aggressive students and their protests involve burning buildings and turning over vehicles. Fortunately, my apartment is right next to the University of Nairobi’s student flats! How…exciting!

As a visitor to this country, I’ve been quite impressed with what I’ve seen during this whole campaign. Democracy is alive and well in this country. The media and Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) have done an excellent job in educating Kenyans about the details of the draft. Nearly every night, the popular news stations have broadcasted feature shows about the referendum. Sometimes the shows are funny, sometimes serious, but always informative.

Those who are in support of the referendum, the “yes” campaign have been parading the country wearing green and the “no” campaigners have draped themselves in red. Kibaki and Odinga are in full support. At one press conference, Odinga said that this constitution is for the liberalization of all Kenyans. He called for Kenyans to prove the world wrong by conducting a peaceful referendum voting process.

But, former president Daniel Moi does not support this draft and many analysts say that he is worried that he may not be able to keep all his land. This draft constitution makes a provision for distribution of land ownership. Moi owns an extensive amount of land in this country and it seems no one knows just how much.

An overwhelming majority of those I’ve spoken to (students, taxi drivers, journalists, teachers, doctors, business owners) support this draft constitution. The passion of the Kenyan people is surely a sight to see. Yesterday and the previous day, I heard music in the streets and saw three vans painted in green driving slowly along University Way. Inside the van, people wearing green t-shirts, some with face paint, danced. The “yes” campaign theme song blared loudly to what sounded like a soukous beat.  Last Sunday, I heard shouts of people in Uhuru Park and a voice from a megaphone calling for the peaceful passing of the draft.

Among its many provisions, this draft constitution calls for equal representation of the ethnic groups in the government, gender equality and the creation of a new chamber of Parliament to check the President.

In 24 hours, we will see what happens.


“My names are…” July 30, 2010

Filed under: cultural observations — Admin @ 8:07 pm
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That’s the way many Kenyans begin when introducing themselves. One time, a guy I was interviewing stood up, cleared his throat and said, “my good names are…”

Let’s explore these “good names.”

I’ve always been fascinated with names and the traditions people use to name their children. In some Nigerian ethnic groups, several relatives will contribute to a child’s name so the child may end having at least six names.

In Kenya, I’ve learned that many children take on the names of a late relative. Well this is the case among the Luhya ethnic group. Often times, when I ask for someone’s name here, I get confused. For example, there’s a camera guy at K24 who is named Anthony.

Anthony is a very happy, friendly type of guy and you will always find him smiling (though he’s not smiling in this photo). So, I asked Anthony for his full name and he responded,

“Anthony Ngacha.”

“What is your middle name?” I asked.

He said that Ngacha is his middle name, actually his grandfather’s name. I asked for his surname and he told me “Kiboi.” So I asked why he did not include Kiboi the first time and he said he is not sure.

This is not the first time this has happened. During an interview, I asked a lady named Jane (I have changed her first name) for her full name. She told me her full name is Jane Kariuki. I became confused. I told her that I’ve known her as Jane Munyi. She said that Munyi is her father’s name but she is now married. So she told me to use Jane Munyi Kariuki. So I asked for clarification.

“So, your father’s last name is Munyi?”

“No, my father’s last name is Maganga (I’ve changed the name).”

So…I hope you understand my confusion.

Well, I sought out to understand this naming issue once and for all. I went to a guy at K24 called “Papa.”

First, I asked him for his full name and he said, “Odali Julius.”

I asked for his last name and he told me, “Kasibwa.”

“So Julius is your middle name?”

He said no, “Odali” is the middle name.

Julius is his given name while Odali is his father’s father’s name and Kasibwa is the surname. His children’s middle names all come from late family members, including his mother, father, aunt, and mother-in-law.

“And your children’s last name is also, Kasibwa?”

“No, Odali.”

I didn’t give up trying to learn! He explained that among his ethnic group, the Luhya, the child’s last name is the father’s middle name. So if I were Kenyan, my name would be Chika Ashinyeli, because Ashinyeli is my dad’s middle name. And then my middle name would be the name of a late relative. So, Chika Bridget (my grandmother) Ashinyeli.

I think I got it now.

So, I asked a few of my colleagues for their full names: Mary Wanjiku (mother’s mother’s name) Nyoike;
Gladys Wanjiru (grandmother’s name) Mwangi; Diana Wanjiru (dad’s mom) Muiri

And sometimes, a child can be named according to the season during which they were born. Julius said among his people, a child born during rain is named, Wafula and during the dry season, the name should be, Wanjala. Similar traditions exist in many cultures, most notably, among Ghanaians, who are named according to the birth day… literally. I remember explaining this to one lady. I have a friend name Akosua (“born on Sunday”) who had explained to me about Ghanaian, specifically Ashanti, names.

One day in an anthropology class, a classmate asked why almost every Ghanaian guy she knows is named Kofi. I told her that Kofi means “born on Friday.” She turned up her nose in annoyance and said it would be so awful to be in a class with so many classmates with your name.

“Millions of people were born on a Friday!” I distinctly remember her saying.

Well, each to his own, but I love the way that we, Africans, are named.

A few days ago, I was talking with a K24 colleague. Her name is Beryl and she happens to be a superb journalist. We were talking about baby names and we both agreed that African names are indeed, significant. She said that she had to grow into her own name.

I remember, my own journey, the journey of becoming Chika.

Throughout elementary and middle school, I was called by my middle name, Sandra, because I was ashamed of “Chika.” Sandra just seemed more appropriate, for the public- though at home, I was called “Chika.” In high school, I became somewhat of an “Afro- centrist” and I finally started telling people to call me “Chika.” Man! My L-town ghetto classmates had fun with that. “Chuka? Chicken? Chaka Khan?” My tenth grade math teacher once ridiculed me in front of everyone saying, “Chaka, Shiko, or whatever your name is…” But I didn’t care because I had finally learned to become “Chika.”

Then, I learned that Chika is actually short for Chikaodinaka. Chi Chi. Chika. Chikaodi. Chikaodinaka.

“My names are Chikaodinaka Sandra Bridget Ashinyeli Oduah.”

If you’re confused, send me an email.


The “foreigner” feeling July 22, 2010

I’ve always assumed blending in in a foreign country, especially in an African country, would be easy. But, I’ve learned, that’s not always the case.

In Guatemala, I was assumed to be a Garifuna. Also known as ‘Black Caribs,” or “Garinagu,” the Garifuna are the descendants of unions between Arawak and Carib Amerindians and enslaved Africans. You’ll find them along the Caribbean Coast, mostly in Belize, St. Vincent, Nicaragua and Honduras and to a lesser extent in Guatemala, Barbados and Roatan. They look like…African Americans and Africans and unfortunately, they don’t have it easy in Guatemala. They truly live on the fringes of society.

While in Guatemala, I got to hang out with some Garifunas and they told me about their plight. Injustice. Racism. They are fighting to keep their indigenous lands from being taken by powerful stakeholders in the expanding tourism industry. I told them about my experience in Guatemala: being closely followed by two guards in the mall (every time I looked back at the guards following me, they’d act like they were doing something else), taxi drivers speeding past me as I waited for a ride and people on the street sometimes quite hesitant to speak with me.

Some of the Garifunas told me that they go through the same thing and the reason why the taxis were speeding past me is because Garifuna girls are assumed to be prostitutes.

Sadly, it seems people of African-descent have similar stories around the world and to be honest, some of what I experienced in Guatemala, could have happened to me in certain places in the U.S.

Once, I went to a dance club with several of my Garifuna friends in Guatemala City, and as soon as we entered the discoteca, the manager came over with a worried expression. Maybe the site of a group of black people was disconcerting? He asked what we were doing and then led us to a table- in the back. But we didn’t let him damper our spirits; we danced the night away.

So, I was well aware of the foreigner feeling in Guatemala. In Nigeria, I tried to blend with my clothes and it worked for the most part. But, I was still spotted out on occassion.

“It’s your skin,” a friend told me. He said the lotions and soaps in America are of better quality so he can always tell which Nigerians are visiting from abroad because they have “glowing” skin. Wow! Um…really? Sounds like a bit of a stretch. But at least it’s good to know that all the cocoa creams, shea butters, pomegranate shower gels, rose water mixtures, almond oils, lemon and ginger extracts, aloe vera gels, black soap and Vitamin E supplements that I use are not in vain!

Now, in Kenya, a handful of people have told me that I look Kikuyu, a Bantu people who originally settled around Mount Kenya and throughout Kenya’s central highlands. The Kikuyu are Kenya’s largest ethnic group. Mr. Obaga, the music director at Nairobi School, said anyone would assume I come from just “around the corner.” One lady, swore I was a Kikuyu. But, the name Chika is not at all Kenyan and people here are having THE hardest time with what I’ve always been told was a simple name. I get a good laugh, watching Kenyans trying to pronounce it and even remember it. They want to say, “Shika,” (which means take or hold in Kiswahili) or “Chuka” or “Shaka.” One guy smiled and told me, “what a strange name! I will never remember that.” I told him to remember that my name means “girl,” in Spanish, and I am a girl. He said, “oh! In Kenya, chic means girl!” and we laughed.

So, that’s another lesson learned. I assumed Kenyans, being Africans, wouldn’t have a problem with my name. Stereotyped debunked! That’s the beauty of traveling- your mind opens and you confront your preconceived notions and stereotypes. Not all Africans can easily say, “Chika.”

Oh…and my accent! It seems to be somewhat of a problem here when it comes to reporting, and when I want to order food over the phone and when I generally want to greet someone.

Yesterday, I called an educational center to ask about their training on dyslexia for a story I’m working on. I introduced myself as a reporter with K24 and the woman on the phone simply could not understand. I re-introduced myself, oh… only about four times and each intro was slower than the last one. Finally, she transferred me. I was re-transferred about…um…let’s just say more than six times. They just did not know what I was trying to say. I was even pronouncing the word the way it is said here: DIE-SLEKS-SEE-YUH as opposed to how it’s pronounced in the states: DIH-SLEKS-SEE-YUH, with the “I” in the first syllable like “I” in the word “dim.”

But, nothing worked! I decided to just ask my story source for a contact at that center, as opposed to calling cold turkey.

You live to learn.

At a recent morning news meeting, I explained a story idea and was met with blank stares. Then someone said, “translate!” And everyone laughed. Apparently, the person could not understand me even though I was speaking as slowly as possible.

Speaking with a slightly British accent seems to help a bit. The first time I ordered a pizza, it took about 8 minutes to communicate my order. The second time I ordered, I sounded more like a Brit and it took about 3 minutes to order my food. Many Kenyans are more used to the British accent and many of them had British teachers in school.

Even humor can be culturally specific. I remember sharing a hilarious youtube video that my sister had sent me with a friend here and the person didn’t really get it. He tried to, he even chuckled. But, he didn’t get it. He said, “You Americans are crazy!” with a big smile.

I can say, I know the “foreigner feeling,” and the feeling may be positive, negative or neutral. It’s not just about your accent and your name, apparently, even your skin can make a difference in the way it “shines” and in its general complexion.

Now, I know what my parents go through. Though they’ve lived in the U.S. more than 20 years, they are still often treated like foreigners by some people. I grew up listening to my dad raising his voice to impatient customer service representatives on the phone.

“O-D-U-A-H! O-D-U-A-H!”

But the way he says “h” is different from how most Americans say it. I learned that very well when I spelled    my last name for my teacher in the fourth grade. I said “h,” they way I heard it said at home: with a deep exhalation, like “h” in “hate,” when most Americans say “h” without that extra breath, so it sounds like “eigh” in “eight.”

But for now, it’s still: “O-D-U-A-HETCH!”