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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.

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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.


K24 Day 8: Saving Music in Kenya’s Public Schools July 21, 2010

Filed under: K24 — Admin @ 6:26 pm
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It’s disappearing in Kenya’s public schools: students learning about musical instruments and playing in a school band. Public primary schools have completely removed music education from the curriculum and only two public high schools in the nation have an active band.

I went to one of those high schools, Nairobi School, and met a very committed teacher. Mr. Obaga is the only music teacher at Nairobi School. He’s been there more than 10 years. He’s a jolly man; I found his intermittent chuckles and shiny cheeks so comforting. He’s the kind of man who will introduce himself to you for the first time and then take you to his home to let you meet his family. Open. He treats you with the respect due to a fellow human being. It seems such people are hard to find, and one must fight for basic respect. In the music department of the Nairobi School, the students rehearse in a one-room metal building known here as “a mabati.” But how can a flutist practice freely when he’s hearing the overwhelming roar of a trombone? Most times, they practice outside where they have more space.

Music education isn’t taken seriously here, from what I’ve been hearing. One fellow named Moses teaches music at an elite private high school and he told me that the state of music education in Kenya is a “sad scenario.” He graduated from the Nairobi Boys school in the late ‘80s and he said the music department is nowhere near as good as it used to be.

I met Moses at his home in Hurlingham. I absolutely adore his bungalow! I would love to have a bungalow in Kenya. But, we’ll see how and when that can happen. A poster of Michael Jackson hangs in his hallway and he played Michael Jackson’s “Earth,” on the piano. Moses is a kind, soft-spoken gentleman.


K24 Day 6: Teaching Business Etiquette

Filed under: cultural observations,K24 — Admin @ 5:18 pm
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“I no be gentleman at all, I no be gentleman at all, I no be gentleman at all…I be African man. Original!”

I love Fela’s music, but I don’t love that philosophy.

Some laugh at it and some get angered by it, but many Africans (not all, mind you), have this idea that African culture and western hospitality are opposites. And that’s what the music icon, Fela, was saying in the popular song “Gentleman.”

If you know the rest of the song, you know that when Fela sings,

“Them call you, make you come chop (eat)

You chop small, you say you belly full

You say you be gentleman

You go hungry

You go suffer

You go quench

Me I no be gentleman like that!”

He is saying that gentlemen apply certain mannerisms when eating and take only a little food, in the name of courtesy, even if he’s starving. But Fela, according to him, is an African man, not a gentleman.

But, we’re in the 21st century and times are changing. With continued globalization, the world is getting smaller and it seems that one can find western culture in virtually every part of the world. Whether you like it or not, the Western hegemony pervades and to succeed internationally, you may have to act more…well, Western. One my sixth day at K24, I did a story to explore how Africans are importing international business etiquette.

I stumbled upon Public Image Africa while researching story ideas online. The company began in the UK and branched out to Kenya by the likes of a guy named Derek. Derek teaches “soft skills,” or business etiquette, which includes the art of greeting, small talk, professional dress, dining skills, customer service, etc. He actually offers sessions to teenagers, so that was my original story, but he didn’t have any such classes scheduled any time soon. But he was going to be offering a workshop for a business company. I decided to restructure the angle of the story to focus on Africans adapting western standards in the business world and I sat in on one of Derek’s sessions.

It turned out to be a fun story, especially when I got a chance to do some MOS (man-on-the-street) interviews with regular Kenyans. I got out at a busy intersection with Leonard, a really cool K24 camera guy and approached a woman who was buying nuts. I inquired about her ideas of courtesy when it comes to a man being a gentleman. She mentioned that African men should learn to be more affectionate, and perform little gestures like: pulling out his ladies chair, surprising her, opening the car door for her, etc.

I stopped another guy. This guy’s expression was pure confusion. First of all, he had a hard time understanding my American accent and he didn’t know why I was asking him such a question, but he was great on the camera. He said that African men are, indeed gentlemen, by nature because most African cultures teach courtesy and things like that. I asked him if Africans must adapt western ideas of courtesy, especially in the business world. I asked him if an African CEO of an international company should learn dining skills that involve knowing the difference between a soup spoon and a dessert spoon. The guy vehemently said, “no” and that Africans must carry on their own standards. I spoke to another guy who said Africans must do away with traditional culture and become more “westernized.”

The debate continues.