Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Heri Ya Mwaka Mpya

Happy New Year! I wish you good health, peace and success in 2009. Thank you to all of the amazing, wonderful souls I've met since I launched Mama Shujaa just eight weeks ago - My DRUM. Thank you for beating it with me. I look forward to us exploring the different rhythms in our lives.

In the meantime the rhythm that runs through these amazing young Djembe players - Isaiah and Abdoulaye - mmpphh! Simply beautiful.




Asante sana, stay blessed! The beat continues...

Mama Shujaa.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tell Me

As you complete your memoir, please tell me, again. Tell me about the passion that resulted in a tragedy, in one act, the prize-winning scar. Remind me about the manuscript I helped type: Ripples in the pool, that unleashed a plethora of discourses on the protagonist, a prostitute, a mother... and quests for origins. Revive in me the drama surrounding the discovery of the hypocrite amongst us. Was that indeed a turning point in life?

Tell me
about Kenyan women heroes like you, and their mystical power. So that I may continue to be inspired by my uriithi; rooted in East Africa, transmuted in the Diaspora.
So that I am reminded of the significance of correcting stereotypes. So that I am appreciative of ingenious oral narratives captured in those exciting folktales.
Awaken in me The Sacred Seed(s) from which dreams of love and hope are created. So that I may pass the tradition on to your grandchildren.
Carry me forward with the sweet harmony of your love, as indeed you have, every step of the way.
My heart submits to you, Happy Sikukuu Ya Kuzaliwa! Thank you for life, for grace and wisdom. Thank you for courage. Happy Birthday Mama.
Post originally published in December 2008

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2008-2014. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Peachtree's Core


By HANA NJAU-OKOLO

The train rolls into Peachtree Center Station,
Passengers alight.

Thick black braids projecting
North South East and West.
She heads south on the platform.

Moving in step behind her
Trusting her built-in compass
A coiffed hair-do and
A proper bespoke suit.
His meeting is southwest
At the Ritz Carlton.

Black mascara over blond,
Stiletto heels and all.
She has time to kill at
Café Hard Rock.

Ping Pong paddles in tow,
He heads west with alacrity.
The World Congress Center has
An All-Star show.

The comings and goings of folk
In this spherical gray passageway,
Dry coconut husks adorn
Solid gneiss walls
Cut from the strata of the earth.

A moving stairway towers ahead
Continually rising
To a bright light in the sky.

Multitudes of screaming blue tiles
Plastered to the left and to the right
Cry out in the light
And die in the solitude of darkness.

Lips pursed,
She sucks unrepentantly
At the marrow
Lodged between her teeth.
No. 3 at KFC.
Who’s scared? She quips.

The two-minute perpendicular ride,
An ascension that kindles
Heart-racing secretions in the gut,
Reminding folk of origins
120 feet into the crevasses of the earth.

Sensibilities
Refined or not,
Folk share a
Common understanding
Within the body of humanity.

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2008. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Mistaken Identity

By Hana Njau-Okolo

No authentic African woman would love her goat with the same reckless abandon of my groovy friend and her boy-toy over at MyBrownBaby.

Gem Gume (pronounced gem gyüm), joined the family when a good uncle bequeathed her as a gift to the family. It is customary in African culture to gift cows, goats, or chickens as bride-price, and for celebrations like birthdays, circumcision rituals, christenings, Independence Day (not the movie), Christmas and New Year’s.

The expectation is that the animals will be slaughtered and eaten on the occasion.

Gem Gume, was one of several tokens of appreciation from my uncle who had given us his first-born daughter to live with our family in Kenya. Why? First, because at the time, educational opportunities for further studies were probably better in Kenya than in Tanzania; and second, my uncle had five children to my parents' two, at the time.

My cousin, now the oldest child became the main tour guide of, and assisted with, the day-to-day work of running our Paa Ya Paa Art Gallery in Nairobi, Kenya. She became my favorite big sister, a hard-working role model; and yet another example of the beauty of Africa’s socio-cultural practice of sharing children.

Sidebar: The Kiswahili translation for the word “uncle” or “aunt” is baba mdogo (small father) or mama mdogo (small mother), baba mkubwa (big father) or mama kubwa (big mother).

My darling she-goat Gem Gume joined the three animals already on Paa Ya Paa’s five acres of land. I am not counting the troop of Colobus monkeys that would leap from tree to tree in the dense eucalyptus forest behind the main house and gallery; or the fluttering of butterflies that would flit about in beautiful disarray; or the chameleons that my brother would threaten to plant in my hair because they would stay stuck forever! I am still superstitious like that.

There was the smart brother and sister German Shepherd duo, Timi and Safi, Nyahururu (one of Safi’s sons by a good-for-nothing-rolling-stone) a mutt, who from time to time exhibited distasteful tendencies, like trying to mount his own mother. And even though he was named after the highest town in Kenya, a popular training ground for Kenya’s top marathon runners, his altitudinous name did nothing for his attitude.

Gem-Gume had an elegance about her that set her apart from her new sibling’s often roguish behavior. The unique way she pranced alongside the dogs down the long jacaranda-strewn, graveled driveway when guests arrived to visit the gallery. Gem Gume’s characteristic bleating, lifting the barking of the dogs into a vibrant accapella; and the way her sensuous eyes shrunk into slits as she carefully ruminated her cud.

It became obvious that she was the exemplary one; that Safi expected her to steward the way-ward Nyahu’s behavior with her particular noblesse oblige. The two became inseparable. They would spend hours frolicking about in the yard, sharing bones, and digging up wild onions and potatoes.

It was not long before all of us, including Gem Gume forgot that she was actually meat on four legs; that she was really Nyama Choma (Kenyan barbecue). She’d turned into a dog, barking and running after cars or passers-by across the fence, gatekeepers who assisted the night-watchman who often arrived to work noticeably intoxicated from the very potent and illegal Chang’aa.

Our birthdays came and went, Easter, and Independence Day, numerous art exhibitions and performances, still Gem Gume remained with us. Deep down in my heart I believed that Baba had grown attached to her and could not bring himself to order her slaughtered.

Maybe he planned to paint her some day?

Anyway, life was always good at Paa Ya Paa, with a steady stream of artists-in-residence from around the world there was never a shortage of drama and excitement.

At thirteen, I was responsible for the care and upkeep of the dogs; I’d cook for them, (Gem Gume did not partake in these meals - there was enough grass for her on the property); I’d bathe them, and teach them tricks. My older brother would help occasionally.

It was the rare occasion that I had too much homework to complete my chores when I’d ask the house-boy to prepare the dogs meals.

As time went by Nyahu began to take off regularly with some of his neighborhood bitches. I guess he took after his father, and thankfully he smartened up after a couple of attempts with Gem Gume.

Lonely Gem Gume would follow me around the compound, with a bleat here and a bleat there, we’d go together, everywhere, with a bleat, bleat!

One afternoon, I was in the house changing from my school uniform when I heard the ruckus outside. It was explosive. Dogs barking and an extremely distressed continuous bleat!

Nyahu had returned from one of his many escapades, a changed dog. All pumped up, he was on “mission predominance.”
Today Gem Gume was Nyama Choma!

By the time I got to the driveway, Nyahu’s canines were firmly lodged in Gem Gume’s neck. And the more she flailed and writhed in agony, the deeper they sunk. Her stupid step-father Timi, clueless and probably hungry, joined in the attack. Safi ran around in sorrow, dismayed by the extreme misfortune that had befallen the family.

My screams were echoed by the house-boy and within seconds, the gardener, some artists, everyone was trying to save Gem Gume’s life. We were too late. Blood was oozing from her nearly severed neck. Baba decided to take her out of her misery.

“Mchinje,” he said to the house-boy. (Slaughter her.)

“Tutakula mbuzi leo jioni!” (We’ll have goat soup for dinner tonight.)

And it was not even Christmas!

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2008. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dying To Be Accepted

Pamela Kathambi was fifteen years old when she died. Her death was a loss to her village because she was a very hardworking young lady who would have completed her education and gone on to become somebody...and helped somebody. As hard as she worked and as much as she was appreciated, at the end of the day, she had to accept herself. In the stillness of her soul, she had to like herself. She did not. The age-old internalized traditions had penetrated her spirit, even beyond the current wisdom of her own mother.

As she developed into a woman, as her breasts peeked, as her hips filled out, as she experienced her first menstrual cycle, only one act of honor would guarantee her an upstanding place in the community. That act of initiation was circumcision.

When her mother refused to let her undergo the ritual, she grew depressed. She suffered ridicule from friends and school-mates. They called her mukenye (the derogatory name given to uncircumcised ladies). She feared that she would be ostracized in the community. She would fetch a low bride-price; and if she did find a husband, she’d be labeled a rude wife.

Pamela Kathambi bled to death in June 2006. She had tried to perform female genital mutilation on herself in her village of Irindi in Kenya. Kenyans and the world were shocked. After all, there was a law banning female genital mutilation in effect since December, 2001. Essentially, Pamela was teased to death.

As recently as three days ago, three hundred girls in south-western Kenya fled from their homes and sought refuge in churches. They were running away from forced female genital mutilation. The girls, some as young as nine, are at two rescue centers in rural Nyanza province, police told the BBC. Source: bbc.co.uk.

A girl undergoing circumcision bbc.co.uk.

Laws are not enough! Parents, the community is not screaming loud enough! What will it take to eradicate this brutal practice?! It is estimated that two million women and children a year are subjected to this practice. What happened to Maendeleo Ya Wanawake's vow to eradicate FGM?!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Joel's Plate


By HANA NJAU-OKOLO

Joel’s teeth chattered noisily
shamelessly betraying him again.
Ten days into Indian summer and
His built-in weather vane
was signaling the onset of winter.

“You ain’t no man!”
Pealed into his eardrums.
It’s fresh cadence seeping through,
The knotted heap of perpetual questions
Lining the cockles of his heart.

Undeserved taunts spilled from
The lips of boys and girls
With sweet pubescence
Around the school yard.

Why at no cost,
Will Joel exhibit that false bravado,
The Big Apple swagger of his hometown?

Now, choppy phrases enunciated in pain,
Trip off his tongue as he tries to explain,
To Ms. Bona Fide, once again.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute now. Let me talk!”
Was all he asked, he explained.

His lanky back retreats into the tightly woven fabric
Of the special brown chair, as he waits for Ms. Bona Fide
To meet him half-way.

The iridescent make-up on her eyes shimmers across the table,
An oasis extending beyond the hospitable smile on her face,
Warming the strident ache out of the metal plate in his ankle.

“Young man, it’s gonna be alright.”

Like a glove, her voice wraps around
His 13 years and counting,
Echoing voices gone before,
The curative force of compassion,
Revealed,
In its measured prescription.

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2008. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Baby Girl, Happy Birthday Kipenzi!

Leo Ni Bathdei Yako Kipenzi!

Happy Birthday our darling! You are our joy, our Taji. It takes a simple perusal of your twenty-three years to conclude that indeed, you are One Beautyful One That Was Born.

Mungu Akubariki. God Bless You.

Love,
Mama, Dad, Emmanuel and Chid

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2008. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Me And My New Boots, Yesterday

I clutched the scarf around my neck, tightening it a smidgen. White, cold, flaky stuff was falling with no rhyme or reason. Intermittent flurries, not sporadic enough to prevent a million of them from landing on my freshly straightened hair. I didn’t care. There was no time to return to the office for the umbrella. I had just an hour during lunch to walk the half mile to the bank, complete the transaction and return to clock in at 2:00 p.m. Sharp.

It was not chilly, just disagreeably damp. I made a futile attempt to zip my jacket. This week my bust was not budging. I clasped my hands instead.

The hallway coat closet needs re-inventorying before the month is over.

I walked past MARTA, up Lenox Road towards Peachtree Street. I am a master walker. Right, left, right, left. A gentleman ahead of me branched off towards the slanted cobblestone walkway leading into the Lenox Building. A shortcut. I followed. He seemed to slow down.

I kept walking. Left, right, and then! My left foot skidded on the slick surface and propelled forward. My right leg responded in humble genuflection like both knees do, when I visit my god-daughter’s Catholic church.

Here I am, almost prostrate on Lenox Road across from Ruby Tuesdays during a busy lunch hour. The gentleman drops down next to me, picks up my stupid handbag and looks in my face.

"Are you okay?" Mortified, I do a mental check to make sure I am ok.

"Yup." I notice he is not taking off with my bag, but handing it to me. Perish that suspicion. Perhaps I should attend my god-daughter's church more regularly. "Thanks."

It will be hellish walking back.

As if on cue, the gentleman remains at my side, ready and able. "It's very slippery out here." He scrapes his rubber-soled non-slippery boots on the cobblestones in demonstration.

I should have changed into my sneakers before I left the office. So what if they looked funny with my mid-length woolen skirt. I kept my brand new sexy boots on. As a result, I looked funny falling.

Like a future ballerina attempting a half split. Quite dignified compared to the Grand Expose in Nairobi a few years ago...

I know it's happened to you.

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2008. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 1, 2008

World AIDS Day

Bloggers Unite

We are back to a regular work week, most of us. Some are considering what to do with Thanksgiving leftovers. Some don't even want to think about food. Are there those among us who are experiencing Black Friday Remorse and Cyber Monday Blues? Or those that are marking off to-do lists, shopping lists, and planning the next holiday?

Let's take today to focus on the concern around the world. Because, it is only when our level of consciousness and compassion is raised that we can collectively fight the stigma that is attached to the epidemic that former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called "the genocide of a generation."

I urge you to harness your personal resources (spiritual, physical, economic) and commit to making a difference. First and foremost, recognize your ability to do so. Visit Twana Twitu and learn about how you can make a difference in the lives of Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVC) in Kenya.

Peace.

Monday, November 24, 2008

My Brown Baby, THE Space For Moms

I've been following MyBrownBaby for a few months now and I absolutely love the joint! Founder and Editor Denene Millner has a terrific sense of humor and has created a warm, inviting place where moms share wonderful tidbits about motherhood. And, from time to time she runs fabulous contests such as the one I am broadcasting here today.

This week, the give-away is a solid set of four incredible autographed books penned and illustrated by the prolific husband and wife duo, Andrea and Brian Pinkney.

One winner will receive Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation; Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince & His Orchestra; Peggony Po: A Whale Of a Tale, and; Mim’s Christmas Jam.

Hebu (just) imagine?!

Don't delay, the contest ends at 11:59 pm EST on November 30, 2008, and with the holidays coming up, these will make wonderful gifts. Visit MyBrownBaby, enter the contest and tell them MamaShujaa sent you.

Sawa?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Africa is Not a Country

Just recently, I took my son and his best buddy to watch Madagascar Escape 2 Africa. It seems there are quite a number of folks in America who think Africa is a country. Gloria, the curvaceous hippo is in contention with Sarah Palin for the Mama Shujaa 2008 Seriously Uninformed Character Award.

Picture this scene: Moto Moto, the massive watering-hole womanizer swaggers over to Gloria as she lounges on a cool rock somewhere in Africa, sipping a Martini. L.U.V. is on his mind and with a name like Moto Moto you’d expect more than the thought-terminating platitudes that issue from his bulbous lips. You learn very quickly that he is all mass, no substance.

Miss Thing on the other hand has got it going on. She knows the meaning of his name: Moto Moto means Hot Hot in “African!” Uh, Africa is not a country, Missy. It is a vast continent made up of 53 countries with an estimated 2000 languages spoken.
DreamWorks and its writers should take note. Going forward, we want far more inspiring and relevant material when portraying Africa. It turns out that there are elementary schools that have whole lesson plans on teaching about Africa. I can’t wait for our school district to follow suit, but I am not holding my breath. As parents, we work every day to shatter stereotypes and educate our children about the truth of their heritage.

Overall, the movie was enjoyably animated and the boys (10 and 11) said they liked it; although, I wondered about their coughing bouts during the Gloria – Moto Moto scenes. Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Just Want To Say Asante Sana. Thank You.

video
Paa Ya Paa Creative Arts Center is located in Nairobi, Kenya. Paa Ya Paa is a Kiswahili phrase which means “the antelope rises,” a symbol of new creative adventures, a place where ideas flourish and flow freely.

This is where we get the Utu I speak about in my From Kenya With Love post. Enjoy the video and

  • Asante kina Baba na Mama
  • Asante Familia
  • Asante Mungu
Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2008. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

This Is Not My Africa

Map Source: AP

13 Year Old Somali Girl Stoned To Death

A thirteen year old girl was stoned to death before one thousand spectators in a stadium in the southern port of Kismayo, Somalia.

On October 27, 2008 Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death by members of Al-Shabab. What did Aisha do? In breach of Islamic law, she had committed adultery.

The truth is that Aisha was gang-raped by three men. When Aisha attempted to report this to the Al-Shabab, they accused her of adultery, and detained her. None of the three accused men were arrested.

It all began in August 2008 when Aisha traveled from a refugee camp in Northern Kenya to Kimayo, and was held there against her will by the militants. As the days went by, she grew distressed and it was reported that she became emotional, or mentally unstable.

Initial reports stated that Aisha was 23 years old, but her father confirmed to Amnesty International that her actual age was 13. Under Islamic law, convicting a girl of 13 for adultery is illegal. However, the Al-Shabab insisted that based on her physical appearance, she was 23 years of age. See: Amnesty International.

According to an anonymous informant, BBC news reports that Aisha begged for her life saying "Don't kill me, don't kill me!" A few minutes later, more than 50 men pelted her with stones until she died.

It was reported that inside the packed stadium, Al-Shabab members opened fire when some of the witnesses to the killing attempted to save her life. A bystander, a young boy was shot dead in the confusion. It was reported that an Al-Shabab spokesperson later apologized for the death of the child, and said the militia member would be punished.

Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow. May Her Soul Rest In Perfect Peace.

This is Not My Africa
By Hana Njau-Okolo

In My Africa,
Children are treasured, not obliterated.
The community is entrusted to raise a child,
Not enlist a soldier, or a sex slave.
Children are not hunted down
For being witches or wizards,
Then sold into servitude, or killed.
Politicians are charged
With educating the continent,
Not suppressing a populace.

This is not my Africa.

The Africa that harbors
Power hungry warlords,
Dictators and presidents for life.
The one that ignores
Human rights atrocities,
Famine and disease
Because foreign interests,
And their government-driven
Projects are more important,
Or their private sector wants
A source for raw materials.
The Africa that continues to ignore the
Un-educated masses.

This is not my Africa

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2008. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Essential Utensils

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. This year I’m tweaking our traditional menu. I’m thinking about cooking roasted Turducken, a partially de-boned turkey stuffed with a de-boned duck, which itself is stuffed with a small de-boned chicken. That sounds like GOODNESS to me!

I am going to roll up my sleeves and learn how to de-bone and stuff poultry because I love the decadent, excessive act of slicing into a layered multi-bird roast and devouring it. Mmpphh! Oh, and my side dishes will include jollof rice, chapatis and dengu - African dishes that I can prepare with eyes wide shut.

You see, as is customary in many African cultures my Shangazi (paternal Aunt), taught me how to cook when I was a pubescent teen. For that I am truly thankful. I do feel a little cheated though because some of my sisters from Uganda received extra training. In the Baganda and Basoga cultures, the Ssenga (paternal Aunt), delivered skills for the kitchen as well as the bedroom.

Using utensils such as the pestle (read: erect phallus) and mortar (read: pounding) the Ssenga taught her nieces how to keep sweet herbs and spices simmering in the kitchen, and the fire burning in the bedroom. She taught them how to cook African style.

In this coming of age ritual, when the pubescent nieces were finished with their lessons in the kitchen, the Ssenga would gather them and they would “visit the bush” together. First she would instruct them on their monthly cycle and the practice of good hygiene. Then, they would assemble some local herbs, grind them, squeeze the juice onto their labia minora and pull the lips while reciting the words “no pain, no gain.”

The girls would routinely stretch their labia minora, those tiny inner lips of the vajayjay, until they peeped out of the labia majora like the forked tongue of a snake. The ultimate goal was for the nieces to grow up with an elongated pair of minor lips to enhance sexual pleasure upon marriage. This tradition of sexual initiation persists even today in Uganda.

The initiation for our daughters here in the U.S. consists of a visit to the pediatrician, a clinical discussion about tell-tale signs that your little girl is blossoming, a stop at the nearest book store for an age-appropriate book, and then hopefully, a talk with mom about the birds and the bees.

I do feel blessed though because my Ugandan sisters constantly share mouth-watering recipes with me. Endless stories such as:

Foreplay begins right after dinner. A husband thanks his wife for a meal by holding her on his lap, for example. He massages her entire body asking tender questions like,

“What happened to the road that used to be here?”

“It is waiting for you,” the wife responds.

The back and forth exchange progresses in this way until the husband reaches the “well-tendered garden.” At which point, he checks to make sure it is okay to “open the door” (labia minora); and then he proceeds to thank her profusely for “toiling for him.”

Now, we know that Africa is a varied and diverse continent consisting of 53 countries. There are frontiers at our disposal for insight and discovery of the contours of Africa’s erotic landscape.

My only gripe is that Kenya shares a border with Uganda; they are two of the three countries that comprise the East African community. One would think that there would be a concerted effort to transfer knowledge, engage in cross-cultural exchanges, or some such endeavor, for goodness sake? Like most of my African sisters, I was well into adulthood when I discovered some of these delightful secrets. Better late than never!

So this Thanksgiving, along with the oral bliss to be enjoyed with the Turducken, let’s bone up on some of the eroticism of Africa. We’ll keep it popping in the kitchen this year!

Sawa?

Mama Shujaa
Email: mamashujaa@gmail.com

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2008. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Barometric Pressure

On this post-election Sunday I’m mulling over two interesting occurrences of social contact that materialized on Friday. Help me angaza; shed some light here as the historical magnitude of this election sinks in.

The day began like it was going to be a horrible, no good, very bad day. I developed a headache very early in the morning. It was slow in its emergence and persistent in its pounding. Sharon, a co-worker diagnosed it as a barometric pressure headache. According to meteorologists there was a storm on the way and sensitive folks like me are usually affected. I was inclined to trust her diagnosis as she is an experienced migraine sufferer. So I took two of the strongest stuff in the office, Back & Muscle Relief tablets.

It was close to mid-morning when the buoyant, good-looking Caucasian office services guy stopped by on a routine mail drop-off and pick-up.

“T. G. I. F!” He said cheerfully, pausing at my cubicle. Thankfully, the throbbing at my temples had somewhat subsided.

“Yes, I am ready for some R & R this weekend,” I managed feebly.

“Yeah, I’m ready to sleep in this weekend. It seems that everyone is tired this week. My girlfriend already called to warn me that she wants to sleep in tomorrow. Usually, I’m an early bird and when I wake up, I like to cuddle up to her in the mornings, but I can never touch her in the mornings. She is always tired lately. I can’t touch her.”

“Get them when you can, the cuddles.” I offered, stunned that he’d chosen to share the private bedroom details.

“Hope you have a good day,” he nodded merrily and continued on his rounds.

Now, what was that all about? What was his name again? Did I detect an untoward deference in his demeanor that is perhaps seeded in this new dawn in America? Is it what compelled him to reflexively obey his instinct that I was to be trusted, loved, respected, deferred to?

The day wore on as did the headache. On the way home I decided to make a quick stop at the grocers to pick up a couple favorite items for the weekend.

There were two cashiers in the store. One was a Caucasian lady who looked like she was in her late forties. She greeted me with a huge grin when I walked in. Her oversize white Barack Obama T-shirt caught my attention. I smiled back.

When I was ready to check out, she was attending to another customer. So the other cashier, a Hispanic gentleman took care of me. He asked me if I found everything I needed in the store, and then:

“Debit or Credit?”

“Credit,” I responded.

“I…Yes We Can.” He began, I thought.

“Excuse me?” I asked cautiously.

“I saw Yes Man.” He repeated, “with Jim Carey, it was uplifting. It was VERY uplifting.” He continued, waving both his thumbs in an upward motion.

“Oh, I have not been to the movies in a while. When did it come out?”

Truth be told, I was disappointed with his clarification. I wished instead that he’d embarked on another Yes We Can, Everything Is Possible Now, It Is A New Era type pronouncement. But I appreciated that he treated me like we were old friends because he chose to share personal thoughts about a movie that meant a lot to him.

As I walked to the car I wondered about the smiles, the uber-friendliness and the uplifting feelings floating around. Was I projecting so much joy to the world now that America had received their new leader? And now hearts are repeating the sounding joy?

Is Barack Obametric Pressure behind the blossoming of this new environment?

Whatever’s clever!

Mama Shujaa.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

From Kenya With Love

Barack Obama’s win is good for my Kenyan soul. This morning, my husband said he noticed that there was more ounce in my bounce. I too was surprised at how refreshed I felt, considering I'd clocked a mere three hours of sleep after a momentous 2008 election night.

Just as fresh on my mind this morning, is that last night I was quite okay with our oldest daughter's emotional comment that she was finally proud to call herself an American.

Aside from a momentary tinge of guilt that we had probably succeeded in robbing her and her siblings of an allegiance to the American flag (more on that later), I felt more strongly the overwhelmingly redeeming quality of Barack Obama’s victory.

At last, the distortions that have made up the fabric of American socio-cultural relations would exist no more. Finally, the suffocating guilt that bleeds into relationships and chokes them into premature death would be eradicated as time went by.

Indeed, our children can now brandish their U.S. passports, because Americans pledged to walk with Obama, they knocked on doors for Obama, they voted for and with Obama, and have promised to fundamentally change the country.

Back to the heritage and allegiance issue. For years, I’ve been fine with our children pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America in school and such. They were born here after all. In addition, I’ve trusted that as immigrant parents from Kenya and Nigeria respectively, my husband and I have distilled the essence of all that is special in our heritage and poured it into their souls.

In our household we constantly raise questions like:

Do you know what Utu (Kiswahili) is? Then we engage in long and historical explanations.

It’s the embodiment of you. It captures where you come from, where your parents come from, your intangible source of strength. The God in you. Your Chi (Ibo).

We remind them that they come straight from a line of African freedom fighters, pioneers, trailblazers, educators and this heritage is not to be diluted by their birthplace, America. And then, during summer vacations, we have sent them to Africa to spend time with their grandparents, to see for themselves where mom and dad come from.

Have we succeeded in instilling a veritable sense of Utu in them? Life has yet to truly test our beautiful ones, a daughter (23 years of age) and two sons (18 and 10 years of age). But, so far, so good.

Barack Obama’s win is good for the continent of Africa.

Kenyan politics and their style of governance will benefit greatly if they are willing to learn from this victory.

Consider this.

Forty-five years ago Mwai Kibaki of Kenya was a member of the newly independent Kenya Cabinet and John F. Kennedy was running for President of the United States of America. Obama was two years old.

Forty-five years later, President Mwai Kibaki is the joint leader of Kenya’s coalition government and Barack Obama holds the post that John F. Kennedy was running for then.

In forty-five years, the United States has had the following presidents: Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George Bush Sr. and George W. Bush.

In Kenya, the same old boys who are as old as dirt are holding onto power and trying to tell Kenyans they can create and execute development models that work! They need to cultivate a new generation of community organizers who care about the nation.

Then, there are my hating Kenyan friends, immigrants, now citizens of the USA who swore to me that they would not, could not, vote for Barack Obama because his father was of the Luo tribe. What possessed them to inject hateful Kenyan tribalism at this moment in history?

It's just galling, but I'll tackle that topic next time.

For now, Cheers! On the occasion of the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.

From a Kenyan with Love,

Mama Shujaa.

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2008. All Rights Reserved.