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.