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


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.

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:

A girl undergoing circumcision

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


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,
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.

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.