Sunday, December 19, 2010


"Strr-o-k-e, strr-o-k-e it
strr-o-k-e it
come on!

Are you breathing?"


pump, p-u-m-p it
come on!
leave your day behind
let your body go
let your body dance
dancing baby
come on!
Feel the cadence
use your heels
p-u-m-p it
curl your toes

Finding the right balance between work and play is a challenge. So this two-in-one is right up my alley. One hour, three times a week, a worldly instructor with the gift of gab and an international collection of music. Every single time, I mount my saddle in anticipation of the mix of the day. I stroke my bike, legs rotating smoothly, skin glistening with perspiration, and pretty soon, the feel good hormones take over. My body responds to cardio pulmonary aerobics, also known as spin. Here's an example of the music we spin to:

Seasons Greetings!

Mingi Love,
Mama Shujaa.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bellows of Madness

The much-anticipated match-up between our youngsters and the boys from Ohio was finally underway. After the first whistle, more than the static energy emitting from our blankets charged the air, as we watched from the sidelines on that freezing 27-degree morning. It was day two of the Adidas Invitational and our boys had shed the lackadaisical approach they displayed in the match on the previous day, which ended in a poor result.

This morning, they exhibited energy and focus that reminded me of the cliché: “When the road gets tough, the tough get going,” as our boys rose to the occasion of playing the No.1 U12 boys’ team from Ohio.

I tucked the blanket tightly around my body, silently praying that my husband would feed off the almost tranquil atmosphere that had settled onto the pitch within minutes of kick-off. Tranquil, because the self-assurance displayed by the Ohio boys was mesmerizing, their playing style was one of validating each other, as one player talked to the other in the orchestration of their creative strategy. They owned their game and demonstrated self-possession that was admirable for 11 and 12 year old boys.

“Wow,” I said to myself and glanced at the mom sitting next to me. She nodded, “these boys are talking to each other,” she said, “I am impressed,” she added. This was a pleasant, new experience for us. A learning opportunity, even as our talented youngsters silently worked hard at playing the game they love.

“I LOVE it,” I intoned, casting a worried glance towards my husband and the handful of dads edging a little too close to the pitch. They were the usual suspects, known to think aloud at soccer games, despite numerous admonishments.

Low-key, occasional directives emitted from the Ohio coach to his boys. And a few commands issued from the formidable force of four coaches assigned to our boys that morning - the official team coach, the two dads (former coaches from different clubs), and a third dad (I am still not sure what purpose he served), all crowded our youngsters’ bench area.

It was fifteen minutes into the first half when the Ohio boys scored. And the loose constraint exhibited by the wayward dads began to unravel. They let their emotions rise to the occasion, fearing that a thrashing was eminent - witness the Ohio boys’ blistering previous match wins of 9-0 and 6-1. The dads took it upon themselves to ‘help the boys out’ and tell them what to do, i.e. coach from the sidelines.

“D-UP! D-UP!” (translation: defend, defend!)

“You are useless there, move up!” (Even though the coach had told the kid to stay in that position).

“What are you doing?"

“You don’t need a wall there?”

“Is that ten feet? Ask for ten feet before you take the free kick!”

Move the ball up field!”

“C’mon, no more than two touches! One touch football, c’mon!”

“Pass! PASS THE BALL. Pass it!”

The sidelines were perfect pandemonium by now, with horrific testosterone-filled bellows engulfing the pitch. I had heard enough. I got out of my seat and approached the dads.

“Can you hear the way the Ohio boys are talking to each other?” I asked, feeling like a Kindergarten teacher.

“Yeah, our boys never talk to each other,” an astute comment from one wayward dad.

“Well, maybe it’s because you dads are so busy yelling instructions at them,” I responded.

“Whoa, I’m moving away from your wife,” one of them commented, his smile barely concealed his ego.

“Stop stifling them, let them play their game,” I continued.

“We have to tell them what to do,” another dad informed me.

“You are not their coach!” I reminded him. “Model some positive behavior on the sidelines, please.”

The ridiculously annoying banter continued for a few minutes longer as I maintained my position as referee of the wayward fathers; trying to stymie the continuation of the toxic behavior; even as I was not able to contain the dad that kept stomping up and down the sidelines.

What is it about youth soccer matches and their propensity to bring out the worst behavior in dads, and moms? A soccer mom recently slapped a referee at a local tournament - scandalous behavior! I for one am fed up with the bad behavior. Maybe I should launch a campaign to eradicate it for the benefit of our young athletes; to foster more positive parental behavior on the sidelines.

Mingi Love,

Mama Shujaa.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Somebody I Know

Last Thursday night I ran into somebody I know at my son's soccer practice session. His son, two years older than mine (fourteen) usually practices on Wednesday nights, but every so often the coaches organize scrimmages between the younger and older boys, which they did Thursday night in preparation for our final tournament of the season.

He's a soft-spoken, studious type; happily married like me, by all indications. He and his wife work in the field of Sports Medicine. That night his rimless eyeglasses highlighted the platinum streaks in his hair, a few more than I remembered. And his face drew me in again because even at rest, his lips form into the shape of a smile. He's the kind of guy that is interesting to engage in conversation; he is well-informed and is an attentive listener.

"Doing great," I said in response to his question about my son who had suffered a hairline fracture in his right foot in February. "After six months off, he is back strong, and having fun. I've lost count of how many goals he has scored this season,"  I added with a smile. "And his sixth grade gifted program is challenging but he is working hard at it."

"Well Nehemiah is killing soccer but he is doing terribly at home and at school," he began. "He is in eighth grade now and he has picked the wrong friends. His behavior is terrible, he is rude and mean to his brother and sister, I don't like the way he talks to me, to his mother."

"Really?" I responded in a barely audible voice, realizing too late that I had picked the wrong word. Because Really? does not always communicate empathy.  It can intensify the negative in a message, and I did not want to appear flabbergasted with the news (even though I was). So I tried to make up for it by tearing my eyes away from his smiling lips and fixing them squarely on his eyes; leaving no doubt as to my thoughts of compassion.

"Over the last few weeks, his grades in Math and Science have continued to deteriorate, we can't seem to get him to sit down and finish his projects..."

"Oh, dear," was the most I could muster as a follow up, a bit surprised that he was confiding in me. Because where I come from, when your child misbehaves, you confide in your innermost circle of family and friends. Embarrassment to the family name is taboo. In addition, our forms of intervention would be considered illegal in this country, I guarantee you.

Somebody I know spent some time in jail for 'disciplining' his American-born teenage son (who called the cops on him).  Upon his release, however, he bought a one-way ticket to Nigeria for the kid, where he underwent further discipline.  The young man is now a thankful college graduate and a multimillion dollar NFL player.

"Well, this past Monday, Coach Mike called Nehemiah one evening and spoke to him at length.  The next day he got 100 in his Math and Science quizzes." The soccer dad continued, the contortion in his face, now more of a grimace than a smile. "But I would much rather his behavior improve than his grades," he admitted. And the arms crossed over his chest left no room for comfort.

In my estimation his heartfelt sharing reflected the depths of his despair. I was sorry for him and his family.

"We've told him he cannot play in the first game of the tournament this weekend, we've taken away his cell phone.  This is absolutely last resort type stuff for us!"

"Oh, I see." And then I went off on a tangent (some may think).

"There is this thing we call Utu in Kiswahili," I began my sermon. "It is the sense of knowing Who you are, Where you come from and What is expected of you. My parents taught me, and over the past twenty-five years, I have striven to teach our American born children to have Utu."
Utu is 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 (in Ibo).
Utu, in its various cultural representations, is nurtured within the African extended family. Where every relative has a stake in the growth and development of your child.  Where older siblings and cousins, pass the family heritage baton to the younger ones. And when a family is battered with an unusually troublesome child,  the elders are always there to intervene, with love and compassion.  They rid American-born Africans of the 'entitlement' nonsense they've imbibed in the West. They provide them with the tools necessary to become successful in life.

He looked at me, nodding his head as if he got the message to its core. Then he told me about a book his mother had sent him, called 'Raising Teenagers,' he said, "such a wonderful book, she got a copy for my brother too, who is having trouble with his only son, a teenager as well."

In retrospect, I wonder whether my ultimate message was tangential, irrelevant?  I don't think so..what do you think?

Mingi Love,

Mama Shujaa

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The soaring impulse: On World AIDS Day - A tribute to Swaziland

The soaring impulse: On World AIDS Day - A tribute to Swaziland: "It is World AIDS day and I would like to make a simple tribute to those whom we serve in the country of Swaziland. For their unflinching co..."

I met Dr. Maithri (pronounced MY3), about two years ago; he is a medical doctor living in Melbourne, Australia. He is also executive director/co-founder of Possible Dreams International, Inc - a non profit organisation designed to bring tangible hope into the lives of those facing the challenges of extreme poverty, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS and endemic disease. Currently the main focus of the group's our work is in Swaziland, with the gracious people of Swaziland. Swaziland is a country with the highest prevalence of HIV in the world (42%). 10% of its population are orphaned children. It serves as a vivid microcosm of the most emergent and under-recognised humanitarian crisis of our generation: the cycle of poverty and HIV infection.'

Click here to read his post.

Many thanks Maithri, to you and your team for your love and continued work in Swaziland.

Mingi Love,
Mama Shujaa.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Peacemaker

"You have too much Life in your Voice for it not to be heard."

That line is from Tyler Perry's movie, "For Colored Girls," an adaptation of Ntozake Shange's 1975 play "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf."

My husband and I watched it on opening night; it was alright, too melodramatic for my taste. I preferred the Choreopoem which allowed for my own interpretation of the nuances in the subjectmatter explored. As opposed to the gag reflex I experienced with all the spoon feeding in the movie.

You have too much voice  in your life for it not to be heard.

Even with the transposition of the words life and voice, I like it. It inspires. And encourages, much like the lines an editor shared with me after his review of my submission some time ago: "Looking forward to your next re-submission and remember this 'sure I am of this, that you have only to endure to conquer.'"
I endured to the very end; it was excruciating. Waking before sunrise on daily basis to write before heading to work; to get through that story. Now I have resubmitted that story and I feel free to focus on something else; to get back to blogging. 

At work, my new role has been  a challenge. Hence the beautiful flowers in my cubicle, a gesture of appreciation, a peace offering of sorts...

Siku njema,

Mama Shujaa.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


There are stories that cause asphyxia, which explains my long interruption in blogging. That and my wonderfully consuming new position at work - in Litigation, where no two days are ever the same; where daydreams (and plot sketches) pale in comparison to the real life cases at hand. But the beast of a story I am working on...
it is criss-crossing my mind, weaving tracks, revealing truths, moving me on. I look forward to the end, coming up soon, I can feel it.

Siku njema,

Mama Shujaa

Monday, August 9, 2010

Who Will Raise This Child

This summer, our hectic travel experience was eased by the Airport Art Program at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. We made time to take a leisurely walk through the Zimbabwe: A Tradition In Stone permanent art collection of twenty contemporary stone sculptures from Zimbabwe. You can read more about the collection here.

Who Will Raise The Child by Gladman Zinyeka. Photo:Mama Shujaa, Hartsfield Int'l Airport
I like this perspective of Exercising Man.

Wiki njema!

Mama Shujaa.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Exercising Man

Excercising Man, by Sylvester Mubayi. Photo by Mama Shujaa, Hartsfield International Airport, Atlanta, June 7, 2010

Exercising Man, the anatomy of your body entices my senses; right-angled legs splayed, almost erect. A trunk, flaring in fleshy fullness, growing out of the mass of a boulder from the great house of stone, hinged on right-angled legs splayed, almost erect. A head, carved into shoulders, conjoined for the purpose moving my eyes with fluidity, to the drama of your right-angled legs splayed, almost erect. A highly polished finish, a curved form with carefully placed crevices that create tension, and dramatic relief. Exercising Man, you stretch and lure me into an exploration of your latent energy, and the flow of the rhythm that makes Zimbabwe stone sculpture so powerful in its form.

Mama Shujaa.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Crouching Tiger

I could never squat by the roadside and relieve myself, in broad daylight, on sprays of grass in South Africa's breadbasket, the Highveld. No amount of decent cover could convince me to diversify the soil's fertility, to contribute tributary rivulets to fecal mounds of the animal variety scattered on the vast land; dried up, brown black swirls, no longer Swiss cakes to the bluebottle flies buzzing around.

I assure you; you would not come upon me crouching behind a clump of bushes as cars speed past on the N1 freeway towards Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein. I am not, after all, an African woman.

I am an acculturated African lady.  And that van load of Nigerian soccer fans, men and women gathered on the side of the road, within inches of each other, in varying positions of relief; spouting, spurting, oblivious to the hundreds of World Cup road travelers, the men of course, having it easier than the women, was a disconcerting sight for me.

Photo credit (N1 Highway Johannesburg to Bloemfontein)

It was the morning of the Nigeria national team's embarrassing World Cup defeat to Greece (June 17, 2010).  Our convoy of cars had set out on a 400 kilometer road trip later than anticipated: thanks to our preeminent host, Kingpin and the attractive young bureau chief of a renowned media house in West Africa, his most recent house guest, who had arrived in South Africa without winter clothes, like an unprepared journalist.

In keeping with Kingpin's agenda and generosity, he ushered her into one of his luxury cars and drove her to a nearby mall to buy her a winter coat. The rest of us lowly travelers had no choice but to wait in his tastefully decorated living room and engage in pre-match discussions, doing our best to mask mounting irritation as minutes morphed into hours.

Two and a half useless hours later, they returned without a coat. And as if everything was playing out according to his plan, Kingpin ordered one of five domestic staff members to fetch a blanket from one of the extensive closets in the marble-floored mansion.  A cream colored cashmere blanket was produced without a struggle, the flourish employed in presenting it to her, glaring in its extravagance.

Kingpin, our freedom fighter at large and a researcher's dream, proceeded to assign bodies to cars for the four hour drive from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein. Match kick-off was at 4 pm; it was just after 11 am.

"We must hurry. You, you, and you, go in that car," Kingpin distributed seventeen comfortably into four cars. I was assigned the car with my husband, our oldest son, Kingpin's young son, and Tim the driver. The Nissan Crew Cab seated us comfortably; I had ridden in it a few times with Tim, when he had taken me to the vegetable market in Yeoville, a densely populated community of immigrants and refugees.  Tim, a small framed refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose lifelong struggles were etched on his face was Kingpin's point man, assigned a variety of duties, from creating intense paintings, to supervising real estate development projects and chauffeuring guests around town.  I found him a far more engaging conversationalist than the young bureau chief; though I looked forward to the opportunity to press her on her statement:

"All news is political. Everything you see on TV is very deliberately selected for the viewing audience."

When the opportunity presented itself the following week, I was not surprised by her pure corporate response.

(Photo taken by Mama Shujaa in Sandton City, June 10, 2010, during Pre-World Cup Bafana Bafana parade)

Anyway, each car tailed the other through boundless grasslands and toll booths to the City of Roses. And just over three hours into the trip, not long after we'd left a petrol station and several restrooms, the Nissan Crew Cab's clutch failed and the car rolled to a complete stop by the roadside. It was only later that Tim admitted that it had become harder to shift gears in recent days; and consistent with his infinite ability to operate under continued difficulty or challenge, he had procrastinated reporting the matter to Kingpin.

As a result, we became stranded on the N1. Tim alerted Kingpin via text message.  Kingpin made a u-turn, and arrived within minutes to pick up his son and our older son.  They joined the bureau chief, a sexy Italian film maker, our younger son, and his daughter; and after he finished wagging his finger at Tim, Kingpin and his six passengers took off, kick off was at 4 pm.

My husband and I stayed with Tim, all of us feigning unconcern with the clock as we discussed our options. And that is when it became increasingly clear to me that I should have used the restroom during our stop at the petrol station.


Mama Shujaa.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Shock Absorber

I have become a good shock-absorber, cultural or otherwise.  So, my life is now an important reservoir of long-standing beliefs, and of fresh, unused experiences.  All to be seen in a pleasantly consistent whole, some day. As growth.  An African writer who wants to move into a realm of content that exemplifies humanistic expression, wholly involved in the search for spiritual and intellectual heights that are universal.

I am back from our family's South Africa 2010 holiday. And I am an evolving long-distance traveler - Johannesburg to Dubai: 8 hours; Dubai to New York: 13.5 hours; New York to Atlanta: 2.5 hours. 

I admit, I do not possess an unbiased eye, and frankly, mimicking passengers at airport security checkpoints, customs and immigration, has worn me out. Yet it inspires a flowering of thought, stories to feed the soul.  Slow eater that I am.

Now, the World Cup 2010 Final is upon us:  Holland and Spain.  And I am routing for Holland!

Mama Shujaa.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Thoughts, Plans, Reality

My desire was beyond reason:  to read seven books packed in my suitcase, for this too-short 2010 World Cup holiday in South Africa.

1)  My brand new purchases:
  • African Roar, a fiction anthology drawn from the very best stories published from 2007-2009 in the StoryTime weekly literary ezine dedicated to publishing African writers.
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • Away by Amy Bloom.
2)  My 'started but not finished':
  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Love Invents Us by Amy Bloom
3)  And two of my favorite re-reads:
  • Drown by Junot Diaz
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.
What was I thinking?  Our days and nights here in South Africa have been filled with remarkable experiences, some startling in their immediate lessons, others to be processed and reprocessed, and then embraced for a lifetime.  Maybe I'll do some reading on the flights back...

Mama Shujaa.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Before my arrival, I had heard about South Africa's world-class infrastructure. Now, here in Johannesburg I have seen for myself, the modern, highly efficient systems in place.  Everything Public works!  The malls are mind-boggling in magnitude (Monte Casino and Sandton City, to name just two of the hundreds) boasting four or five concourses, resplendent with shops dealing in everything under the sun, from high-end to designer to modern basics, you name it!  And the people that traverse the malls halls emerge from every corner of the world;  milling about in the enclosed spaces, amusing, indulging, scrutinizing, profiling.

Ah, Johannesburg is rich in diversity.

Cream colored or rosé, cement walls stretch across homes, opulent and modest alike.  Ten foot walls topped with barbed wire looping in endless menacing revolutions; alternatively, slender, pointed pieces of metal driven into the walls, thorny ends up, jutting with purpose towards the sky, establishing the unmistakable penalty for those who commit the crime of trespass.

In my travels, this has been the norm. Except in Alexandra, where everyone exists in this thickly populated area, in poor, dirty, deteriorated houses.  Young men, women and children jostle for dominance over the only open spaces - narrow tarmacked roads encumbered with humps, slowing taxis that roam in and out, carrying Alexandrans and visitors like me - loafing around, cigarettes hanging off chapped lips, playing street football, and hopscotch.  Ordinary folk accustomed to wrenching their lot in life, submitting to the status quo, or determined to transcend their subordinated lives, fashion a life of hard work and perseverance.

Mama Shujaa.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Nigeria vs. Argentina

Ellis Park, Johannesburg - June 12, 2010.

"Excuse me.  Can you please tie your hair up?  Put it in a pony tail or something?"  My husband, cloaked in our Nigerian flag, said to the young lady in the front row, tapping her shoulder one time too many.

"Every time you flick it, it flies into my face," he completed his request, addressing her horrified glance, expecting full compliance.

The damsel in distress turned anguished eyes to the fat guy to her left before swinging back with a retort:

"It's my hair!"

Not sure what to expect, I stole a quick look at hubby and "WTF?" was written all over his face.

We were now more than thirty minutes into the match and the couple's euphoria was temporarily disrupted.  The fat guy's Argentina was leading Nigeria 1-0.  With fantastic Category 1 lower level seats, just five rows up from the pitch, right behind the press folk, there was nothing to complain about, except an inconsiderate fan's recurring self-conscious habit driven by vanity, nothing more.

The fat guy flung a fleshy arm around his Goan-looking girlfriend's thin neck, pacifying her whimpering:  "He's losing. He's upset. Just ignore him," was the likely consolation passing through his indulgent lips.

There. No more ribbing for a while. You see, much earlier, fat guy and hubby had engaged in some friendly fire.

"Argentina will demolish Nigeria 2-0! I'll bet you One Million Dollars!"  Fat guy looked like he had that kind of cash.
"Nah.  Nigeria will tie Argentina 0-0!" My husband responded, "Get ready to pay me!"

Now, I leaned over towards hubby with empathy and before I could say anything he started:

"What?  She keeps flicking her hair back towards me, and I have to lean forward sometimes and the darn hair gets into my face! This lady seated to my right has not flicked her hair, NOT ONCE!" He continued in hushed irritation.

I took a glance at the beautiful African chick next to him and it was plain to see (well, maybe not for all), that her hair was not 'hers' per se.

"That is because it is not HERS!"  I whispered back and was met with a watered down version of the earlier look - "WTH?"

Most weave-toting African woman don't flick 'their' hair I had to explain later.  Hair flicking is a learned behavior that has constraints, for example, the risk of revealing the tracks along which the fake hair has been sown...


In the end, everything went well. After half time, the couple returned, the Goan chick had a woolly hat on (temperatures had dipped) the couple switched seats, there was no more hair flicking. The score remained Arg-Nig 1-0 so there was no exchange of funds.

Tomorrow, we are off to Free State Stadium, in Bloemfontein, for the Nigeria-Greece match.

Go Super Eagles! If the Eagles play as well as they did in the second half of the Nigeria-Argentina match they will win! Sharp! Sharp!

Mama Shujaa.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Price of a Smile

There is a lack of smiley faces here in Johannesburg. And I need them, thrive on them. Just a little something to bid me Welcome!  The slightest hint, I'll take that.  A change in expression, enough to fool me into thinking that you embrace my presence.  Because I want to identify with you.  Whether symbolic, or fake, like the nanosecond ones dished in pulsing metropolises like New York. Transform your face, let your smile hold sway over your mind.  Summon the god of laughter, of joy, even if temporarily for the World Cup, because the world has converged on this great country for a month.

I've recovered from my initial hurt on day two, when I discovered that you did that to everyone: talk to them in your own language - Zulu, mostly.  I believed you thought I was one of you, felt momentary compatibility, somehow.

All these tourists here, staying in apartments, hotels  needing to shop for groceries in supermarkets, for AC/DC converters in hardware stores, asking for directions. You don't see the big HUH? when you repeat the directions three times in Zulu on my face? Read it. Try to communicate with me, or don't you care?

Why not?  Is it linked to the memory of apartheid, like the taxi driver told me?  I shared with him my observation: so many non-English speakers in customer service type positions.  Some of them are not educated, he explained in impeccable English.  He was raised in Soweto, he studied hard, learned English, worked as an accountant in the chemical industry before retiring.  He said that during apartheid, young Africans were forced to study in Afrikaans, subjects like Chemistry and Biology (sounded awful, jaw breaking in Afrikaans), imagine!  he said, trying to study hard subjects like that?

So is the memory of apartheid intricately connected to language resistance?  Afrikaans, and English, the languages of oppression?  Does your mother tongue help numb the memory?  Strip it and its cruel legacy naked for all to see it for what it is?  I must admit, I'm a bit turned off by the guttural South African English accent, for now.

For how long are you going to tranquilize the pain of the past? South Africa is only 16 years old, I know, it is still fresh.  We need to be reminded, no doubt, like the Jewish community does well to remind us about the Holocaust; while they continue to ameliorate their economic and political power, from Wall Street to Hollywood. South Africa (40 million strong) should do the same and it all starts with education. Learn the oppressors language because then, the enemy cannot surprise you.

I know the gods of football are in town right now, our cultural heroes.  And yes, I've seen a whole lot of smiles in the stadiums, at the fan parks.  It is because we are supporters of the players, the teams, the nations.  We feel something larger, we feel temporary shelter from overly committed lives, our daily struggles.  But when we leave the stadia, when it is all said and done how do you leverage the experience?


Mama Shujaa.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Eating, Drinking, Sleeping Football

We are in the vast and beautiful city of Johannesburg where everybody is eating, drinking, sleeping and dreaming soccer. Yesterday, we watched a fantastic World Cup 2010 Opening Ceremony and opening match at a Fan Park in Sandton City.

Some questionable officiating notwithstanding, RSA should have won that match over Mexico. Even so, we are pleased with the 1-1 draw, especially after France and Uruguay tied at 0-0.

This morning, I am at an internet cafe, my keyboard has a few sticky letters, I'm getting tired of backspacing to fill in a missing e, o, t and f here and there. So, I'll be back as soon as I can with details; the ambiance...

This afternoon, Nigeria plays Argentina at Ellis stadium, we will be there.  The vuvuzelas are deafening!

Mama Shujaa.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


I learned the meaning of “déjà vu” when I was thirteen years old, thanks to Uncle James. With striking clarity and detail, before his car appeared, tires rolling on the jacaranda-strewn gravel driveway, I knew that he was coming to visit: every, single, time.

My father would have picked him as brother, if we could choose relatives. He settled for Best Friend: and their souls married into the spiritual and intellectual strivings of their day. One fed the other in endless conversations driven by an intense urge to survive stagnating aspects of neo-colonial Kenya. They were concerned about culture and life in Africa, about reviving indigenous forms of East African art.

My father Elimo Njau, an educator-artist, Uncle James Kangwana, a communications guru who began his career with the British Broadcasting Corporation in the 1960s. The two were co-founders of Paa Ya Paa in 1965, along with Sarah Kangwana, Rebeka Njau, Terry Hirst, Jonathan Kariara, Pheroze Nowjoree, Primila Lewis and Hilary Ngweno.

When all of them congregated in our sitting room there was certain buoyancy in the Present they were unfolding.

I was a careful eavesdropper back then: children were not allowed to remain with the adults in the sitting room. When guests arrived, you showed up to curtsy and say Shikamoh, and then dutifully retreated to a bedroom, to the gallery area, or to the garden. I am so thankful, that as an adult, I can tap into the bits and pieces I monitored in my youth.

I felt intelligent around Uncle James Kangwana. The force of his gaze was like a torch, shining out the darker recesses of my heart. I felt like an evolving young one, already vital enough to carry the baton. The way he’d say, “Vizuri sana, Hana,” [good job, Hana], commending my efforts as tour guide of the gallery, as sweeper of the crushed jacaranda leaves…

His voice is etched into my consciousness; like coconut water, clear and fluid, it quenches in baritone eloquent, melodious utterances intonated in Kiswahili.

I retrieve those memories with gratitude, to have been so closely linked to him, his family and with sadness because:
"Veteran broadcaster and former Kenya Broadcasting Corporation's (KBC) Board of Directors Chairman James Kangwana, died Tuesday night, May 18, 2010, at the age of 75…" The Daily Nation.
And I am here, living in America, not having had the opportunity to sit and talk to Uncle James and Auntie Sarah in the past two decades; my visits home controlled by stringent Paid Time Off (PTO) hours in corporate America; I selfishly guarded the time for my parents.

But with his passing, the promise of tomorrow emerges. I telephoned Auntie Sarah in Nairobi this week and offered my condolences. I reconnected with my 'cousins' Flora and Candy. We will reinforce our reconnection in the by and by, close the gaps, flesh out the truths in our history.

May His Soul Rest In Peace.

aka Mama Shujaa.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


(One of my Kangas bearing the Kiswahil saying:  Ukipenda Boga Upende Na Ua Lake [If you like the pumpkin you must like it's flower].  Photo:  Mama Shujaa) 

I am a junkie for people's faces. Last week I came across one that belonged to a woman. I had seen something in her face, somewhere before. I will call her Kisura, because I hold on to the hope that the content of her character will one day resonate with the Kiswahili meaning of her name: pretty, beautiful.

Kisura: the inconsiderate woman. I awarded her an All Star in Bad Behavior that day. In retrospect, however, I accept that social signals sometimes wrongfully indict a human being. An apple is not always rotten to the core.

There was a steady downpour of rain that morning. With every stop on our bus route, I prepared to receive a wet seatmate or, at the very least, collect a few drops of water from umbrellas, raincoats or book bags. Thankfully, a conscientious school girl took the seat next to me at Jimmy Carter Boulevard, the heaviest and most interesting loading stop on the route, where I routinely lift my eyes from the book in my lap to scrutinize faces and analyze bodies. Over fifteen people, a mix of white and blue-collar members of Atlanta's working class piled in.

Kisura was one of them. She did not sashay onto the bus, as was to be expected from her bendable mannequin body, which featured a soaked, fitted, zippered black raincoat, and a pair of skinny jeans, poking out from underneath. She carried six black bulging satchels, three on each shoulder and no umbrella. Her multi-racial hair was pulled back in a tight mass, the size of a pony's tail. Her glistening face was the color honey with barely visible lips wedged below her button nose; she was the perfect candidate for lip augmentation.

Planting one foot in front of the other, she crafted her way past the non-English speaking passenger engaged in sign language with the flushed bus driver. She slapped her magnetic MARTA smart card against the metered fare pad, emptying one ride's worth of the card's stored value; then dumped all six bags in the seat directly in front of me. It was marked RESERVED for the ELDERLY and HANDICAPPED. Next she began her solo in the now crowded bus.

As the bus lurched from the curb, she coughed several times, then squeezed her way back to the front of the bus, and made a spittoon out of the garbage back conveniently located at the door. She ejected phlegm, saliva or whatever other substance from her mouth.

For the rest of the ride to the final destination, there was no regulating Kisura. She coughed and spat to her heart's content.

It was revolting! No matter how hard I shoved my head into my book, or craned my neck towards the window, I could not escape her coughs, I visualized her lips pursing, gathering up the mucus, expectorating. And when she tired of the spittoon, she plucked a bus schedule (printed on glossy magazine-type paper), spread it open in earnest and used it as a receptacle. Ugh! Her actions stayed with me for the rest of the day, the week. Kisura, the inconsiderate woman will learn one day, maybe even the hard way. I just could not continue to suffer the memory alone. I had to share the misery with you on this beautiful day - Mothers Day. Am I the inconsiderate one today? Eh, kweli?

Happy Mother's Day!

Mama Shujaa.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Me and My Kangas


Here I am, at my front door, wrapped in my kanga; outerwear that binds me to my homeland. Pure cotton, long enough to cover the whole body comfortably, with a theme strong enough to enrich my soul, resuscitate childhood memories, and deepen my faith in the future.

I have a stack of these kangas, each one bold in design. They are works of art dazzling in their representation of an aspect of East African culture, where women and young girls wrap them around their bodies as skirts, head-ties, or nifty strapless dresses.

Lately, I’ve been pulling them out of my closet, one by one, indelible symbols of my youth, and purveyors of African tradition. They contribute to the power behind my voice. And I’ve been writing a lot lately; writing and rewriting, under the gathers of my brilliant prints.
And during each one of the solid forty days that have gone by, I’ve been making new habits stick, and I'll tell you more about them soon.

Mingi Love,
Mama Shujaa

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Inspiration Matters and Paa Ya Paa is featured in The East African Magazine

There are people that fuel the fire. Trailblazers who keep their focus. I think about them, and I am inspired. I have written about them, and I am sure I began with Just Want To Say Thank You, because I have manners; then I begged my mother to Tell Me.  After that, I shared The Antelope Rising  because my parents envisioned Paa Ya Paa as a spiritual calling and I too promised myself that I would flesh out the hints of the melodies that pulse beneath the surface: in my soul and in yours...Along the way, I have asked whether it was Too Raw, manifesting creative independence, authentically, without worry. And of course, life being what it is, I am learning to live Beyond The Ashes.

So when Paa Ya Paa is recognized, once again in the African media, most recently, on March 15, 2010, in The East African Magazine and we read about my father "Elimo Njau's living art is testimony of the present and past" I have to share the fuel that fires me.

"The spirit of art should float like the dollar: "one never knows when it will rise or fall!” says Elimo Njau. Since he believes art has neither a beginning nor an end, he sees himself as merely one phase in the entire saga.Despite his many years “in business,” Njau refuses to give himself any grand title. Njau is no stranger to the world of art. In fact, he ranks among Africa’s greats." Read more.
After I leave my 9-5 cubicle in corporate America every work day, this is what keeps me writing.

Wiki njema,

Mama Shujaa.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Gasping For Air

Her ample chest heaved two quick short bursts, her nostrils flaring in defiance.  This is it, she thought. Manicured fingers moved feverishly over the short dense strands of the white berber carpet; then slowed to a soft rhythmic caress.  She could feel the sinewy muscles of her lover beneath her palms, comforting like midnight under Nairobi skies. Sorrow overcame her as the air from her lungs made a final escape through her glossy lips.  Two tears began their journey down her cheeks.  This is it, she thought.

One of these days I will write a romance, what do you say?  Right now, I'm deep in a piece (working with an editor) for a literary magazine, not a romance; but I'd like to distract myself and continue with this, and see where it leads.

Weekend njema!

Mama Shujaa.

Copyright © Mama Shujaa 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Dear Tiffani,

Ever since you phoned me last week, I have spent time reconstructing our conversation; interchanging your sentences with mine, in a back and forth exchange that recaptures and breathes fresh life to the core of our sharing that day.

I’ve spent time daydreaming about you and I realize how I have missed you.

When you talk about anything and everything, your language is infused with details most ordinarily skip over. My heart finds its way through the layers of thought you plant on it. And then emotions that encompass my life, your life, our lives, provide a limitless reservoir of means by which to celebrate joy, and confront reality.

My friend, we talked often enough when you first moved away. Then slowly, our conversations became fewer and far between. I became lazy. I succumbed to geography. But deep down, I knew you would always be there.

When you called to wish me happy birthday, you awoke my senses; and they sprang involuntarily forth, organic. I felt freed, naked. After I hung up the phone, I picked up my pen. And my words had a clarity that was yours, ours – connected. And I wrote in remembrance of you and our history together; and about a time before you, a long time ago, in Nairobi, Kenya. You gave me permission to detail.

I love you girl. And as we say back home, akufaaye kwa dhiki ndiye rafiki; a friend in need is a friend in deed. Asante.

Kwa upendo [with love],

Mama Shujaa.

Copyright © Mama Shujaa 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


We met her, face-to-face on February 9, 2010. The night before, I had gone to bed an hour earlier, to offset any symptoms of sleep deprivation that might result from a midweek night on the town. As a result, I awoke early the next day, with enough time to pick out two outfits - for work and after work.

It was extraordinary, how quickly that work day began and ended; perhaps because of the atypical ending I anticipated. Not that I live a humdrum life, it's just that during the week, I'm always working, at the office, on the commute, at home with our kitindamimba [last born] and his homework, on my writing, and on my reading list.

After a quick work-out at the gym, I showered and changed into the jeans and sweater my charming husband had remembered to bring. The evening began with a pleasant dinner at Lobby at Twelve. I chose the grilled skirt steak with creamy potato gratin, green beans and beef jus; he had sautéed Atlantic salmon with herb risotto, asparagus and sundried tomatoes. I enjoyed my dinner. He didn’t; maybe because I’d ordered a bottle of the house Cabernet to go with our meal. He should have had white wine with the salmon, but he hardly drinks alcohol.

We skipped dessert at the restaurant fully aware that we’d be indulging in the deliciously soulfully rich treat that is Nneka; a final course that was at best gratifying, at worst, tantalizing.

At Vinyl Atlanta the petite Nigerian-German singer, songwriter, stepped onto the stage, dressed in a sweatshirt with the words “Africa Is The Future” emblazoned on its front and back. She began each tune with a brief introduction, explaining that her thick accent may be difficult to understand. Her songs, from her U.S. debut album, Concrete Jungle, speak of the corruption and poverty that she has witnessed in Nigeria; they also celebrate love, spirituality, and human dignity in the face of injustice.

The selection included “Kangpe”, “Focus”, “God of Mercy”, “Suffri” “Heartbeat”, my favorites. She gave us all, two hundred or more in that intimate setting, enough inspiration to keep us going in her afro-beat, hip-hop, reggae, contemporary way of making African music.

Here's her late night U.S. TV debut:

After the show, we joined the long line of folks waiting to buy her CD.  We popped it in the car on the ride home and enjoyed our very own encore performance; and a very happy ending, to a wonderful evening.

Eh kweli.

Mama Shujaa.

Monday, February 8, 2010

This Is My Africa

The award-winning documentary airs tomorrow Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 11:30 AM; only in the U.S.

"Directed and produced by Zina Saro-Wiwa, this quirky and unique film is a journey into an Africa that many may not know about. Created to reveal a more personal vision of the continent by weaving together the personal memories, tastes and experiences of 21 Africans and Africaphiles, This Is My Africa has been described as a 50-minute crash course in African culture."

"The film is so tender and full of humour and honesty and … such a welcome alternative to the constant portrayal of Africa as a problem ... or a posh safari destination. It filled me with a desire to know more, travel more, listen to more music (I've already bought the Asa...). I'm proud to be a part of it."Colin Firth.

Here's a clip:

I hope you get a chance to watch or record it.

Mama Shujaa

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Purposeful Weekend in London and Berlin

Myweku's Pose for Purpose event in London on Saturday, February 6, 2010. A group of professionals donate their expertise by offering pre-booked professional photoshoot sessions. Contemporary Photography + Superb Makeup Artistry = Amazing Images. You participate and raise awareness. More here

Haiti Lives, a Celebration of Haitian Culture in Berlin on Sunday, February 7, 2010. German actors (Muriel Baumeister, Hans Werner Meyer, Tyron Ricketts and others) read Haitian literature (Edwidge Danticat, Jacques Roumain, Michele Voltaire Marcelin) and perform traditional Haitian storytelling like Krik? Krak! More here

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lost in America

"Are you okay?" The usually tranquil eyes are chaotic.

"Are you okay?"

No Good Morning, nothing.

Her voice is earnest, startling. Her eyes urgent, fixed on mine. My eyes waver, and land on her glossy lips, they compliment her red sweater. Heavy women usually wear dark colors to the office. She never does. She flaunts her colorful busty body on a daily basis.

The entirety of her attention is focused on determining my state of mind.

"Is your family okay, honey? Are you okay?"

She's Mama Bear and I'm the cub.

Three thoughts float through my mind:

  1. Sometimes we have uncomfortable feelings and we project them onto others.
  2. I’ve been told many times, that I wear my heart on my sleeve, so I am used to occasional inquiry from coworkers whose misery finds company.
  3. My heart aches for the people of Haiti; have I internalized and projected my anguish to this extent, to elicit such compassion?

Mama Bear senses some confusion. "You are from Haiti, aren't you?"

Callous as it may seem, I am offended.

When she first joined the law firm, I corrected her assumption. She thought I was from Jamaica. She blamed my accent. I explained then that Kenya and Jamaica used to be British colonies hence immigrants from these two republics might have similar accents. I clarified then, that I was born and raised in Kenya and Tanzania, both countries located in East Africa.

Mama Bear is an American-educated African-American woman in her late fifties.

More thoughts float through my mind:
  1. She and I and others have engaged in small-talk in the office. On several occasions, my international, intercultural background has been the subject of discussion.
  2. Is a mass of black people who are suffering (as seen on TV) always in Africa? The impact of the images and enormity of the suffering of black people has historically been linked to countries like Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan - all in Africa.
  3. Has Mama Bear concluded that Haiti is a borough in Africa?

"No, I am from Kenya, a country in Africa."

I should excuse her misapprehension, and blame her aging memory, because Mama Bear means well. We proceed together to the break room; we each prepare a cup of coffee and talk about what we can do to help. I mention our coworker, a young man from Haiti.

"I had no clue he was Haitian," Mama Bear admits.

It is mid-morning. I am in the copy room.

“Hey, honey, are you okay? I was about to come see you, to check on you and your family!"

This! From my sometime lunch buddy, my sometime exercise buddy. One of a handful of coworkers I have invited to my home. She's attended a baby shower I hosted for a close friend (from Gambia, but I won't test her). She has seen all of the art plastered on the walls of my home. I've shared with her on numerous occasions about my childhood in Kenya. And during Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, I described as precisely as I could, his father’s home district in Kenya.

More shocked, floating thoughts:

  1. My savvy chica lived in New York City for several years.
  2. Where’s the residual education gleaned from the world renowned melting pot, the United Nations headquarters?
  3. Has my chica concluded that Haiti is in Africa?

I am at my desk, same day, the phone rings.

A pleasant surprise.  It’s a former coworker.

"Hey sweetie? How are you doing honey? Listen, I was watching TV this morning and I thought I would call and check on you and your family. Are you okay?"

  1. She has forgotten that I traveled home to Kenya during the year she started.
  2. She has forgotten the office grapevine and its spin on my 'long story' about missing my flight and needing an additional weeks' vacation.
  3. She has forgotten the gifts I brought back: a calendar with half-naked Masai men for her coffee table, and the colorful waist beads for her diva self.

Help me out. I am lost in America.

Mama Shujaa.

Copyright © Mama Shujaa 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, January 25, 2010

What Remains is What Matters

What remains is all muddled up. Bodies crushed concrete. Faces broken haunting. Will the grief ever go away?

What remains is bewilderment. This most recent devastation, like its predecessors, distinguishes itself as a crippler of a nation.

What remains is for us to keep caring, keep loving, keep giving, keep remembering, with and for the people of Haiti.

To keep remembering what remains is what matters:

Mingi Love,

Mama Shujaa.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ben Okri's Approach To Writing

" is what the story does to you in the taking you somewhere, that the story is about..." Just one of the many wonderful statements his makes.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Vanpool Diary

In college I enjoyed exploring the workings of real life interpersonal communication.  Inescapable messages, verbal and nonverbal.  Irreversible utterances whose effects remain even after the judge has told the jury to "disregard the last statement a witness has made."  And the complexities - the fact that no two people use the same words exactly alike, combined with the influences of perception, e.g. W.E.B. DuBois theory of Double Consciousness  (Google digitized version of The Souls of Black Folk).

Research observes that:  If communication can fail, it will.  If a message can be understood in different ways, it will be understood in just the way it does the most harm.

I wrote about the near death of our vanpool back in September 2009.  We managed to keep it going, but since then we have lost riders, due to job loss.  Now only four remain.  Our small group of survivors have developed, quite naturally a kinship born out of the desire to maintain the expeditious, stress-free means of getting to and from work.  Together with that kinship, there has developed a familiarity with one another, that  has become oppressive.  That is my perception.  I wonder how sensitive the rest are to the energy that circulates in our close confines for two hours a day?

Every day, the riders engage in what begins as palsy-walsy chat then distorts into rude intrusive innuendo. More often than not, there is one who does not know what’s kosher and what’s not.  Alluding to sex at every opportunity is adolescent at best. But why is it that certain topics, e.g. football, engenders carefully chosen words: show. pass. score. Politics and weather more of the same: mundane. affairs. galore. But then, sex sneaks in and out: teeny, tiny, bait. The culprit casts a weathered net: hard-nosed and in bad taste.

In Kiswahili we say, heri kujikwa kidole kuliko ulimi:  better to stumble with toe than tongue.

So, co-riders (time will tell if you do read this blog) when next we pass that billboard, the one with the pretty young lady's face, her smile right above the bold lettering STROKERS, a clever balance to what she is selling, keep your running commentary to yourself.  Please.

In the meantime, when I am not driving the van, I am thankful for my music and my headphones.

Wiki njema!

Mama Shujaa.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Africa Cup of Nations Angola 2010

The Africa Cup of Nations 2010 kicked off yesterday with the opening match between host Angola and Mali. With Angola leading 4-0 at the 74 minute mark, the end result at full time was unbelievable. I don't think I've ever watched a top draw soccer match featuring such a comeback.

Uploaded by petebrown60. - Check out more sports and extreme sports videos.

The tournament continued today with another shocker: Malawi defeated Algeria 3-0; and Cup favorites Ivory Coast were held to a 0-0 draw by Burkina Faso.

On Tuesday, Jan. 12,  Nigeria's Super Eagles take on the Egyptian Pharaohs; and Mozambique will tackle Benin. On Wednesday, Jan. 13, Cameroon v. Gabon; and Tunisia v. Zambia.

The matches are not televised in the U.S., but you can watch them all live at, click on the myafricanfootball banner or the Orange Africa Cup of Nations 2010 banner. If you like fantasy sports, participate in the African Cup of Nations 2010 Fantasy League here: create a team, pick eleven players and manage your team, let's see how good you are. I have my team squared away - Mobasababes - check out my players. And you can join the private league called All Soccer Africa (under the My Fantasy League tab).

Happy New Year!

Mama Shujaa.