I left Kenya at the end of my residency program on Sept. 14. Kenya, I’ll be back…!
“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.
K24 Day 43: Back to Nyeri September 6, 2010
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
Kenya’s Day of pride August 27, 2010
Around 10:30 am at Uhuru Park, President Mwai Kibaki promulgated the new constitution, making it the supreme law of the land. Dignitaries in attendance included former U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan; former Ghanaian President, John Kufuor; former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo; Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni; Rwandan President, Paul Kagame; etc.
I found a BBC article that nicely summed the story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11106558
* * *
27 August 2010 Last updated at 10:05 GMT
Kenya president ratifies new constitution
Kenya has adopted a new constitution, more than three weeks after it was overwhelmingly approved in a national referendum.
Tens of thousands of people watched as President Mwai Kibaki signed the document into law at a large ceremony in the capital, Nairobi.
The debate over a new constitution has lasted 20 years.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was present at the event, despite being wanted for war crimes.
Human Rights Watch earlier called on the Kenyan authorities to either “arrest him or bar him entry” if he were to attend.
Kenya has ratified the statute requiring it to co-operate with the International Criminal Court, which has issued an arrest warrant for Mr Bashir.
However, last month the African Union instructed its members – which include Kenya – not to apprehend Mr Bashir.
The constitution is expected to bring significant changes.
Some have billed it as the most important political event in Kenya’s history since it gained independence from Britain in 1963.
The large crowd gathered in Nairobi’s main Uhuru park to watch their leader promulgate the new document, amid gun salutes and a grand parade.
After Mr Kibaki signed his name, he held the document up and there was a huge cheer from the audience.
The new constitution will bring a more decentralised political system, which will limit the president’s powers and replace corrupt provincial governments with local counties.
It will also create a second chamber of parliament – the Senate – and set up a land commission to settle ownership disputes and review past abuses.
It is hoped that the changes will help bring an end to the tribal differences that have brought violence to the country in the past.
The BBC’s East Africa correspondent, Peter Greste, says the debate for a new constitution ebbed and flowed with each new political crisis until the elections of 2007, which were followed by the worst ethnic violence Kenya has yet seen.
In the wake of the violence, everyone acknowledged that something fundamental had to change if the country was to avoid yet more trouble, our correspondent says.
“The historic journey that we began over 20 years ago is now coming to a happy end,” Mr Kibaki said earlier this month after the results of the referendum were announced on 5 August.
“There will be challenges along the way. But it is important that we look forward with renewed optimism to better days ahead.”
Our correspondent says that the previous constitution allowed politicians to exploit tribal divisions, left courts weak, and concentrated power in the president’s hands.
While many Kenyans say that this is just a start – and that things could still go very wrong – most believe it is a fundamentally better document than the last.
President Kibaki won a landslide victory in 2002 promising to change the constitution within 100 days of taking office. In 2005, he held a referendum but it failed to pass.
The previous constitution was negotiated with the British in the early 1960s.
Constitution key changes
- Reduces president’s powers
- Devolves power to regions
- Creates senate
- Creates a Judicial Service Commission
- Includes citizens’ Bill of Rights
- Creates land commission to settle disputes
- Recognises Kadhi (Muslim) courts
A couple weeks ago, Mrs. Shah invited me to join her and her family to Village Market, a mall in the Westlands area of Nairobi. I know Mrs. Shah because I had done a story on her daughter, Ashni, about the National Youth Orchestra of Kenya. Before and after that story, Mrs. Shah has been extremely kind to me. She enjoys showing me around Nairobi and always offers assistance. She told me to see her “home as my home.”
So, I went with her family to Village Market and met her husband for the first time. Village Market is a large mall with a movie theatre, bowling alley, miniature golf field and small water park. It is more beautiful than most malls that I’ve seen in the States because it blends the outdoors with the indoors. Large trees are everywhere along with the sound of birds.
I’m not crazy or anything but I have a curious affection for older people and I haven’t figured out where those feelings come from. But they have to come from someplace, because whenever I meet someone who may be at least 30 years my senior, I can’t ignore the force within me that emerges. I first noticed this when a Nigerian family came to visit our home several years ago and my siblings and I came down from upstairs to greet the guest. When I saw the grandmother, I bent down to hug her and did not fail to notice the delight in her eyes.
From that moment, I noticed my ways around the elderly. In Nyeri, Phyllis’ parents were probably the most interesting part of the visit. Her father, 65-year-old Joseph Munyi, talks about the Bible almost nonstop. A retired civil servant, he now tends to his crops of potatoes, tomatoes, maize, and beans. He said he was excited to know that an American was coming to visit him and he asked for me to tell my parents that I had slept in a safe home in Nyeri.
Phyllis’ mother, Grace, is a vibrant woman. I found myself looking at her face for long periods of time, and I finally discovered what it was about her that I found so irresistible… her eyes. Chestnut brown skinned with a softly chiseled face of high-cheek bones, Grace might have been what my mom would call a “local woman” but, I’ve always fancied “the locals,” especially the women. Walking behind Grace through her field of maize, pumpkins and aro root, I watched Grace’s hips sway as her bare feet treaded the soil.
Grace is part of a local woman’s group and from what I understand, women’s groups are prevalent throughout Kenya and the mother is usually the one who keeps the family together. They meet to discuss domestic matters such as health and nutrition, farming, education and how to make more money. I asked Phyllis if fathers meet for such things. She said that men are difficult because when they get together, things go bad. Drinking, ulterior motives and big egos are too often involved. So, it is the mother who maintains the home and Grace was no exception.
Grace and her group of friends, some her age and some younger, are helping each other to construct energy efficient cooking stoves. Actually, it’s a fireplace. Traditionally, Kikuyu women cooked on a stone mantle placed on top of three stone structures. But, even in rural Africa, technology is rapidly changing. Grace and the group of mothers learned a new style of a cooking fireplace that involves less wood, so one can prepare more food with less energy. One by one, the women in the group go to each other’s house to build the new fireplace. I believe Africa is standing today, simply because of the millions of mothers like these. But as we all know, they can’t do it alone…and that’s another story.
Khanga is the most common of fabric in Kenya. Worn by lower and middle-class women, khanga is easy to recognize because of the scarf-like pattern. I recognized the blue, black and white khanga that Phyllis wrapped around her waist as the exact one that I bought at Maasai Market last week. Phyllis said it is a popular pattern. I paid Ksh1,000 for that, and I HIGHLY doubt that these rural women paid that much for the same. I was ripped off!!!!!!