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 clich√©: “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.