Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Proving Ground

GSA 99 Red Disney Jr. Showcase 2011 Copa Champions

As the hourglass and her passage of time gently announced our last tournament of the season, the quality of the time we had spent together, like fine wine was measured in the moments (some clutch-worthy) of growth as a team.

In the end, we may not lay claim to the road having been as smooth as the curves of her glass, but we can certainly hold fast to the hope that we have in the future. For sure, there are qualities that are beyond measure at this time, subject to growth and development, subject to health and strength. Nevertheless the future is bright.

Witness our team's majestic win at ESPN's Disney Jr. Soccer Showcase over Thanksgiving Weekend!

As first time Team Manager of our U13 boys this season, I am proud - of the team, and of the parents, who have come a long way from Bellows of Madness.  We can now enjoy a short period of rest, before our Spring Season and all of its qualifiers commences in February 2012. Until then, I am going to be choosey with my time...write more, read more, occupy my own niche, more.

Weekend njema!

Mama Shujaa

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bus Diary Entry: So Young.

She made her way to the rear of the bus, lithe and graceful, a freckle-faced girl with the stomach of a pregnant woman. So heavy with child I worried, and I noted the way her smooth arms draped around her protrusion, as if the life force within was vital to her existence. Purple colored fingernails in stark contrast to the lime green top stretched out across her belly.

“Honey,” the effeminate voice belonged to a man.

She paused and turned towards a stunted man at the fare box. His posture suggested confusion; his hands were sliding in and out of the empty pockets of his oversized tweed jacket and undersized khaki pants.

“Twenty cents,” he said, “what happened to the twenty cents?”

She retraced her steps to the front; the dignity in her bearing lent a feeling of compassion to the stuffy, stinky local bus. From my choice seat by the window (I had cracked it open), I saw the next boarding passenger drop some extra coins into the fare box.

“It’s ok,” he said, his hands expressive as he waved them both down the aisle.

The young girl and her instrument of power led the way down the aisle; the dwarf-like man followed close behind. His head was nearly all skull. The thin strips of gooey auburn hair slicked down his neck, the base of which appeared a shade darker than the rest of his face.

She sat down in the empty seat diagonally across from me. The man eyed my bag in the empty seat next to me; and just as I was lifting it off the seat, I caught a whiff of something foul. The odor curled like a ribbon into my nostrils, destroying all comfort.

“Would you two like to sit together,” I asked getting up from my seat, purposefully pointing to her seat.

“Oh, Thank You!” They said it in unison. I felt a little guilty for the appearance of a caring act; but the man smelled! There was no way I would survive a 45 minute bus ride with him next to me (even with the window open).

For the rest of the ride, I wondered about the pair. The man, who had promptly laid his head on her distended belly, remained draped all over her, encumbering her with his extra load…old and smelly.

Siku njema,

Mama Shujaa

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Swallow Me

Swallow me whole
without sedation.

Sample the truth
my heart's vibration.

Limb by limb
take me in.

In every crevice
you will find
Teetering, dancing
around life's rim.

lest the precipice
invites me in.

Swallow me whole
Smack your lips
Seal them with
my single wish

the Marrow Of My Love.

Mama Shujaa.

**First published on July 8, 2009**
Copyright © Mama Shujaa 2009. All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Uganda in the Crossfire

Whatever the intentions of an action, everyone responds in their own way.

Recently President Barack Obama announced that 100 troops would be sent to assist the Ugandan government in its fight against the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group that has committed heinous crimes of murder, rape and the kidnapping of children for over two decades.

Juxtapose this against a March 21, 2010 Economist article entitled "Uganda's Oil: A bonanza beckons. And the weakness that consumes America -Oil and Money - dramatically reveals itself.

Now Uganda
integral members of the oil family.

To the some it may represent a humanitarian effort, the benefactors being third world citizens. My questions with regard to Uganda: For how long has the LRA been around? When did the State Department discover the heinous crimes? Why are they acting now?

The March 2010 Economist article reports that Uganda stands to make 2.5 billion dollars a year in oil revenue, beginning in 2015.

Humanitarian missions are good, but how much damage needs to be done, before action is taken? Is there a barometer that is used to gauge the opportune time?

Would it be a fair question to ask:  if President Barack Obama was in the White House at the time, would the genocide in Rwanda have happened?

Wiki Njema,

Mama Shujaa.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Politics of It

There is no room for interpretation
When dealing with parents of
talented 13-year-old soccer players.

Everything is bold and simple.

Play my kid and get team results.

The vigor and tension
With which this sentiment is communicated,

"Talk to the coach," I advise softly.

Each parent has their own imaginative eye
As eloquent as the other
It moves beyond
the scope of their own

My boy is a natural this
A real that!
The composition of the team
Must inevitably emerge
as I see it.

It matters not what
germination and growth
occurs and
what the surrounding
fertility may have to offer.

Their appreciation
and interpretation
is limited to only what bears close affinity
to what is personally satisfying to them.

What an exposition,
of individualistic machinations.

One Tired Team Manager,
Mama Shujaa.

Bon Weekend.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Characters -


Scene - office hallway containing cubicle stations. Fumilayo and Vera are neighbors, hunkered down behind computer screens.

(Enter Big Cahuna with a stack of college-ruled sheets ridden with his leisurely scrawl.)

"Fumi, I need to get this letter out ASAP!" his booming voice addresses the air.

Vera: "I can help. Give it to me."

Fumi (working on transcribing a deposition): "Thanks Vera."

(Exit Big Cahuna, face red.)

Vera:  "Don't know how you do it, Fumi. His writing is awful."

Fumi: "What would I do without you?"

(Half an hour goes by, tempered by Vera's grunts and groans through the cubicle wall.)

Vera (walks into Big Cahuna's office): "Here is the letter. I hope I did not mess it up too bad...I could not read your writing."

Big Cahuna: "Couldn't read my writing??  Fumilayo is not even from this country, and she can read my writing!"

(Some time later. In the copy room, enter Vera and Fumi)

Vera (giggling):  "You actually have shoes, Fumi?"

Fumi: "What did he mean? People from different countries cannot read well?"

Vera: "I don't get it. What law school did he graduate from?"

Fumi: "What a useless snarky comment."

(They exit the copy room.)
Mama Shujaa.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

You Write About My Country

I am unresolved about the article. Feelings of annoyance and guilt stir within; a tension stronger than my usual polite appreciation of such articles. As I write about it, I struggle, thoughts glued together, bound up as if in an outdated textbook.

The casual tone of the article irritates me.  Potential, Poverty, Politics & Parties: Why Kenya Attracts America's Best & Brightest Young Social Entrepreneurs makes comment on the development of my country as if it were just another accumulation of spectacles.

It starts with the dubbing of potential as "the people, not just their fellow expatriates, who seem to keep coming [to Nairobi from Wall Street, Harvard, Stanford and MIT] in droves...but the young Kenyans...craving something different."

It cites a slowly improving education system; an increasingly robust sector full of entrepreneurial ideas; Diasporans eager to be a part of Kenya's movement; and the budding microfinance institutions, M-Pesa, Ushahidi, M-Farm and M-Shop as igniting the tangential rise of Kenya.

Even though truth and reality is present, where is the depth in the understanding of the experiences and expressions of the people in this article? 
"Next up? Poverty. The business of poverty is, sadly, still booming in Kenya. Despite decades of nonprofit (and, on occasion, government) interventions working to make life more livable in places like the Kibera slums (one of Africa's largest slums) there's little to show for it all."
The business of poverty? And Kenyans are thriving in it because it is intentional. And what should I make of the welfare system in America? Is it the same business of poverty?
"...parties. Booming nightclubs stay open till 7 and 8 a.m., where you can dance to deep global beats with an eclectic mix of Kenyans, Americans, Europeans, and whoever else wanders in. Yet come Monday morning, if you are an American under 30, you'll most likely be trudging around the slums of Kibera, testing out a new technology or service that does this-or-that..."
There is no shortage of Guinea Pigs in Kenya. 
"As for politics...a fat dollop of corruption makes every day activities seem like a game of chance, and prepares you to always expect the unexpected in pursuing business. It's challenging, yes, but in a way an exciting learning experience for young Americans eager to build businesses in developing economies."
It is a free for all, after all. And with the lack of regulation, you can get a way with loads. And ultimately set up profitable manufacturing plants elsewhere...What will Kenya have gained from the Harvard graduates other than a couple of dollars dropped at the nightclubs, sampling our men and women?

In the end, I suppose it is a good touristy article. It sells Kenya; it highlights stagnating and sophisticated aspects of Kenya society today. Maybe I just have to come to grips with our changing world, globalization, the loss of ownership over the Kenya I used to know. The lost level of say.  Back in the days, tourists would come and go. These ones are staying.

The article creates images, smacking me in my face. Figments that show an Africa that is livable, touchable, supportable. Spectacles that regenerate themselves. It reduces concrete life into the world of supposition, of wonderment, adventure and enterprise.

Wiki njema,

Mama Shujaa

Friday, October 7, 2011

Savannah Blaze

This feeling, a vital source of my being.
Warm orange and red beneath my mocha-toned skin
Coursing through.

His eyes
Deep pools flowing, irrigating my soul
Rich and fertile.

"Nawa for your ass," the text reads as I walk into the train station.
 "Lord do u," another text reads.
This no-rigmarole-kind-a-guy.

"U makin' me smile."
Swamped with love.
Elevated, stretched across the Atlas Mountains.
 My African Passport still rises.

Weekend njema!
Mama Shujaa.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steady Does It

Unbroken forests. Acres and acres, flowing across shores and national borders. Making every inch count. The sights and sounds of the U.S.A. Packed, everywhere. On shelves, on mannequins, hordes have migrated en masse. In search of new growth in lush pastures.

Under the lens. Every tag checked by the consumers' eyes. Made in Honduras. In Egypt. In Colombia. In Mexico. In Taiwan. In Guatemala. Landscapes beyond these eroded and depleted shores.

A mosaic of products that blend into each other, each with the rule, to explore the face of America.

"Have you bought any souvenirs?" I asked our Chinese students.

"No. Everything is made in China!" they laughed.

Siku Njema!
Mama Shujaa.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Place of Promise

It is Wednesday morning and my shoe box story still lives. In the universe of my imagination, with more people in it now.  New bosses, wayward soccer parents, egotistical 13 year old soccer stars, kind coworkers, court filing deadlines, to-do lists at home and abroad. All locked up together, teaming, screaming, bundled up life. And yet, I've been blogging less and writing more - in my head. Ideas running through, vibrant on the colorful stinky local bus, gigantic scoops of pot stirring ingredients, simmering on the stove that is my brain. Cook. Trace. Weave. My shoe box story, unedited. Rolling in a place of promise.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cultural Awareness

Continued from See The World No Visa Required

"I will miss you," he said as we stood in the awkward crack of dawn’s light, all four of us, whispering farewells; taking care not to wake the rest of the household. It was the last morning of our cultural exchange week. Daniel and Kame were leaving for Beijing.

I scanned the metal rims of the spectacles on Daniel’s face, weighing the four choppy syllables just delivered, studying the mechanics of his message, its verbal and nonverbal connotations. The deep resonance of his voice belied his thirteen years. The sophistication in his carriage reflected an expanse of knowledge borne out of the experience of travel I was sure. I had observed the same sense of self-sufficiency in Kame throughout their week’s stay.

“I will miss you.”

Was this his disciplined regurgitation of a guidebook phrase, an appropriate thing to say to a host family, upon departure?

Still, the phrase elicited feelings of happiness in me. Hence, I took the freshly uttered words hanging in that morning air and I folded them into a ditto-type response.

“We will miss you too.” The full measure of my sentiment would reveal itself weeks later.

Our great Africa-China-America experience had ended. A time when we shared five quality evenings and a full weekend engaged in intercultural communication

They arrived in time for dinner, on day one, having spent the morning at the Aquarium and the afternoon at Centennial Olympic Park – a full day for the boys who had flown from Beijing via California that morning.

I served white rice with beef stew seasoned with Royco Mchuzi Mix and Chapatis on the side.

“Help yourselves,” I prompted them after we had said Grace.

“Do you like rice?” I asked, to my son’s dismay. I had managed to ask a stupid question just to occupy the loud moments of silence.

“In China we eat rice every day,” Kame explained carefully, as if bestowing upon me, a valuable piece of information.

"Ohhh, I see,” I sounded out my understanding, and caught the upward roll of my son’s eyes even as I chided myself for the pretense.

"Daniel, when did you get your English name?" I began, thinking the question fitting; ignoring my son’s glare, because the Student Personal Information table had four interesting sections:

Chinese Name ___________
English Name ____________
Last Name ______________
First Name______________

"When I was three years old, my father gave it to me,” Daniel responded, “to use when traveling, or with foreigners."

Kame nodded his agreement. “Me too.”


Wiki njema,

Mama Shujaa.

Monday, July 4, 2011

See the World, No Visa Required

Early last month a friend sent me an email with the subject FW: Student Cultural Exchange.

"Exciting opportunity," the two words leaped at me as I slugged three short paragraphs to grasp the important details. Age range: 13-16, male or female. Commitment: 1 week, July 6th to 13th. I made note that only eight privileged friends were recipients of the message. Until I read the last sentence, "Feel free to share with others!" My friend is charming, but she is also practical.

Interestingly, our thirteen-year-old conceded reluctantly to the novel idea of hosting a Chinese student for one week. My guess is that his regular summer routine - daily swim team practices, and swim meets every Thursday evening - causes little anxiety. In addition, sticking to his assigned school projects and reading lists, is easy and comfortable. Moreover, when we sat to discuss the opportunity that evening, he must have thought hard about the adjustments required, about coming out of a comfort zone. He must have reflected on the new experience (that would change perspectives and notions about people from another country). Indeed, he is shaping into a kid that prefers to hold fast to his handful of close family and friends.

Photo credit

The rest of us - my husband and our oldest son who is barely past his teens - viewed it as a chance to create meaningful relationships, to discover new ways to view social practices, to develop a fresh understanding of cultural differences, besides what the headlines present, besides the stereotypes.

That night we voted 3-1 on the matter. The following morning I submitted our application to the organizing entity and then waited patiently for a response.

A week later we received our acceptance letter and "Host Family Handbook," from Adventure Homestays Abroad.

That same week, He-Who-Voted-No announced:

"I've learned to say hello in Chinese! Oh, and I forgot to tell you mom, a woman called from China a day ago, and asked whether I knew we were hosting two students. We are getting two now, mom?"

"I taught myself Chinese on YouTube," he continued merrily, all of his earlier anxiety having vanished like magic.

I was too busy sorting through the new information – two students – and weighing the pros: they would keep each other company; it might make their transition easier. My husband agreed. There were no cons as far as we could see, just two extra mouths to feed for a week.

In preparation, we have studied the contents of the handbook:

1) Your Goals and Expectations;
2) Welcoming your Student;
3) A Photo Essay Activity;
4) Family Rules Activity;
5) Cultural Problems;
6) Problem Solving;
7) Expectations of International Parents;
8) Host Family Commitments and Responsibilities;
9) Student Rules; and
10) Emergency Information.

Just yesterday, my son’s twelve-year-old friend exclaimed with some modicum of respect, "I can't wait to meet the Chinese students. They are so smart!”

Indeed, in the “Student Information” section of the boys’ bios they both listed Physics as their favorite subject. In addition, they each listed their “English Names” as Daniel (13) and Kame (13), respectively. But, I will insist on learning how to pronounce what is listed as their “First Names” Xiang Yu for Daniel; and Fangwei for Kame.

Xiang Yu’s favorite music band is Back Street Boys and Fangwei’s favorite street climbing star is Danny Macaskill.

I wonder what they will make of our household’s favorite music. Salif Keita, Mbilia Belle, Fela, Sade…

And our favorite foods: Ugali na sukumawiki, Fufu, fried plantain…

Photo credit: Fufu (pounded yam) with Egusi Soup

As we say in Kiswahili "Tutaona!" We shall see, in a couple of days.

Mingi Love,

Mama Shujaa

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Two Fine Songs

A beautiful, breezy, sultry voice - Sara Tavares, from Cape Verde. All the elements of this video combine into a fluid and freeing sensuality - dynamic, playful. Reminding about balance in life.

African blues delivered straight from the heart of Malian guitarist and vocalist Vieux Farka Toure, combining with South African-born, Dave Matthews' flawless, melting vocal interpretation. A beautifully streamlined message.

Two fine songs that I hope you enjoy.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend. I might just eat a hot dog tomorrow for Fourth of July.

Mingi Love,

Mama Shujaa.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Wocalling Set To Thrill Europe

Wocalling or Women Calling, an all-females ensemble that last year stole many hearts at Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA), is enthusiastic about its tour of Europe scheduled for July this year.

The ensemble, made of artists from Zimbabwe, United Kingdom, Norway, Israel, Canada and Germany, will perform at various arts festivals and venues in Germany and Norway.

On arrival in Bielefeld, Germany, on June 27, they will have a two-week rehearsal at Theaterlabor before holding school and university workshops.

Artistic director and founder of Wocalling, Cecilie Giskemo, said, “The group will rehearse previous and newly composed musical, poetic and choreography material with old and recent musicians from Zimbabwe, England and Norway.

She added that two specially invited female performers from Germany will take part in the rehearsals and following tour in the represented country.

On July 15, Wocalling will proceed to Norway where it is expected to have a workshop and concerts at the Fjellfestivalen (July 15 – 18) in Åndalsnes. The group will also take part in music festivals such as the Moldejazz (running from July 18-23)and Mela Festival (July 29-31).

The tour ends early August. Tour manager Franziska Kramer said the tour dates have all been confirmed except a single venue in Germany, which is yet to get back to her before the tour begins.

Zimbabwean artists, who include two males, are vocalists Prudence Katomeni Mbofama, Fallon Richardson, Ruth Mbangwa, instrumentalist Vimbai Mukarati (Saxophone), dancer Maylene Chengerai, and poets Nicholas Monroe (Dikson) and Aura Kawanzaruwa (Aura).

Under its theme ‘female identity in the arts’, Wocalling hopes to achieve a unique fusion of traditional African music and dance and Western types of music while working with female artists from different cultural backgrounds.

“We wish to work with women and define our roles as artists and creative performers in the arts industry of today. As we view these two ideas as closely integrated, we aim, in particular, to observe the differences and similarities between the European female artist in her context and the African in hers,” said Giskemo about the theme.

She added that from this tour Wocalling hopes to create mutual understanding, exchange and support, which will empower the local and regional artists in their work. Last year, the project has performed at other venues in and around Harare (Zimbabwe), as well as recording their first album titled “WoCalling - Røyst in collaboration”.

Author: Beaven Tapureta
Director - Writers International Network Zimbabwe

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Here is $5. Take Care of My Tourist"

"The World Tourism Organisation argues that responsible tourism can play a significant role in eradicating poverty and meeting the millennium development goals. But is it right?"

"Kennedy Odede, originally from the Kibera slum, in Kenya, who is executive director of US-based charity Shining Hope for Communities, explains why tourist visits to slums are morally wrong."

Listen to the Guardian Focus podcast here. Kennedy Odede's portion begins at the 9:14 minute mark.

"Tourists taking pictures of people in desperately poor conditions. They romanticize poverty. They hold their noses with one hand, and their cameras in another. Tour operators hire inhabitants and pay them $5, order them 'to make sure you take care of my tourist, make sure they take the pictures that they want.' For example somebody took a picture of a poor woman giving birth. I think this is horrific. Oh my god, this place is smelling, they say. Yet you are walking into my home. You take your horrible pictures and leave." 

Wiki njema.
Mama Shujaa.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Shady Taxi Driver

I am very excited to share that my story The Shady Taxi Driver has been published in The StoryTime literary ezine, which showcases weekly new fiction by African writers. Click here to read the story.

Mingi Love!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Eyes Don't Tell

I turned away from the manicurist and looked out at the throngs lined up at registers, cashing out groceries to the din of hundreds of shopping carts. The sprightly manicurist's pseudo-professional explanation was still ringing in my ears.

"Ma'am, I can fix only the two nails that are messed up bad, I am sorry," she had said. Her Daisy Duck voice grated my frayed nerves. I am never coming back to this nail salon, I vowed to myself, as I looked into her eyes, searching for the faintest hint of remorse. A tactic best used on my children, not on nail salon workers, not the ones in Walmart.

"Have a seat over there, ma'am and I'll take care of you in a few minutes," was how she rendered my pressing matter into an almost trivial request. So, while she tended to the redhead in a Waffle House uniform who had arrived before me, I sat in my assigned seat and fumed over why I did not have the gumption to make a real scene. I mulled over whether to take over a pedicure massage chair and launch the plethora of buttons. At the very least, they could offer an unhappy customer a free massage. Was I a pushover? Would I never grow tired of being the everlasting obliging, respectful human being in this lifetime? Was this kind of substandard service to be expected from retail stores inside Walmart 24-hour Supercenters, I wondered?

Then I caught sight of the towering expanse of his body. His back was towards me, and he leaned like the tower of Pisa, his face turned towards a boy and a girl just beyond him, tussling at a self-checkout register. My eyes fastened on the girl, the marked aggression in her movements (a hasty snatch, a careless shove); and the boy, a lumbering bit of a lad, with a fat pimple-ridden face, who now sidled along the aisle towards the leaning tower, his father; his tail between his legs. The girl, well experienced at executing such time-out procedures, continued scanning groceries, methodically placing them in the shopping cart. Her face bore an expression of indulgent resolve, as if she was accustomed to having her way every day.

By now, the boy was complaining about the girl; witness the slouch in his shoulders, the palm of his free hand raised upward in hopeless plea, disloyal lips forming confabulations of a sister's acts. He hashed through them, pointing needlessly, before reaching for his father’s arm, the pressure behind his motion was startling in its force. He went for the arm in the desperate way I clutched at my two-year old, years ago, when he made a run between two parked cars onto a busy street. The man wrenched his arm away; the look on the boys face remains seared in my memory to this day. Something was amiss. This trio was a disconcerting distraction; in their bland coordinates of pre-washed cotton, and faded khaki put together for comfort, not style.

And as the girl, her task complete, now approached with the cart, the man inclined his head towards her. She smoothly rammed the cart into her brother while surreptitiously slipping a cellular phone into their father’s pocket. Then, completely ignoring the boy’s protestations grabbed their father’s now free arm and propelled him forward.

That was when I noticed the man’s dark sunglasses and his cane. He was blind.

Wiki njema,

Mama Shujaa

Friday, March 18, 2011

As quiet as it is kept, four

Pete weaves between the small round tables. There is a loose rhythm beneath his skin, waiting to release to the surface; when he is not thinking precisely, when the red wine (rocking and rolling in his glass) hits his palette, when he lets the blues pass through his body. And if the wine's viscosity provides good legs, the up-to-the-shoulders kind, like Ramona's, Pete will dance. Crisp black pants and shiny shoes compliment the night's pizazz. A black waistcoat, white shirt and black tie add a hint of gravitas, as his platypus feet step towards their table.

Guess Who Loves You More  is piping through the speakers. The singer's falsetto tracks a love lost then found; self-delusion at its worst.

"Good evening, ladies," his greeting is met with still air, the dead calm before the descent of dark funnel clouds of a tornado. All five feet and nine inches of Ramona is stretched taut, beyond irritation. Moments ago, she and Amani had succumbed to giggles over three horny lawyers and their shenanigans: women, lovers, inebriated, at last year's party.

"Hello, Pete," Amani's compassionate response.

"No wifey?" Ramona's shrill pitch surprises Amani; it pierces the air. Seconds seize minutes in momentous embarassment.  Amani's ears burn with this unfolding drama of stretched boundaries; its might grips their space like bad news.

"She's tired," Pete's nonchalance is unacceptable. "A side-effect of the toxemia," his elaboration falls within the parameters of callousness.

Across the ballroom coworkers intermingle, pausing for refills at any of the three bars flung across the room. A smattering of laughter floats. The evening passes swiftly into the impending night.

"I'll get us some wine, Ram!" Amani makes a temporary escape.

"She's just too heavy, now," Pete explains. He moves closer to Ramona. She nods her head.

"It's my birthday today, she insisted I have fun without her," he adds. The bare-faced gall of it all, the wiggling out of his responsibility, typical man! Ramona steps back a few spaces.

"Want to dance?"


Installments 1, 2, 3, here.

Wiki njema!
Mama Shujaa

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Culture and Compassion

On Thursday last week, my husband drove me to our primary care physician and I got the diagnosis and some medicine: I have the flu. Earlier in the week, I had begun my fight against what I thought was a common cold, as I wondered why the extra vitamin supplements I had been taking were not upholding my immunity.

However, when I considered recent on-the-job-stress, the departure of several attorneys and the attendant staff lay-offs to preserve the firm's bottom line, I attributed my debilitated immune system to the pain shared for coworker friends and their new plight, job-hunting in a tough economy.

I am recovering in the three days since I started the meds, thankfully and rightfully, considering the cost of the Tamiflu alone, $75.00 for ten capsules! But, according to a kind notification in my Personal Prescription Booklet, my insurance saved me $38.99. I am thankful for employment and for medical insurance.

I am also thankful for the small amount of energy I have today, to sit up and write this short post. I have been thinking about my worry early in the week, when despite rigorously downed cups of lemon, ginger and honey tea, and boosts of vitamin C; I continued to feel under the weather. My husband’s encouraging pat on the back, “that’s right, my dear, nip that cold in the bud like I do,” did little to ease the nagging concern: if I get sick and become bed-ridden, my husband and children will have to take care of me. I did not want to put them in that position.

I have been thinking about women, specifically African wives and mothers in the Diaspora, who might dread getting sick because of a concern of the unknown.

Will someone catch them when they fall? Will they experience the pleasant surprise of a spouse who will go the extra mile, pamper them when they are sick?

I suppose if we lived back home, in Kenya or in Nigeria, or somewhere on the continent, my husband might do one or two things to nurse me back to health, and leave the majority of the care in the hands of a daughter, or a female member of the household to handle. That would be the expected cultural practice.

I wonder, given the same situation in the United States, with a daughter born and raised here, if the roles might reverse, with the African daughter believing that the responsibility of care rests primarily on the father, the husband. I cannot answer that question this time, because our daughter lives in New York and so, by default, hubby has to care for and pamper me.

And I am fortunate to have a loving extended family, comprised of close women friends from Gambia, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Ghana, to mention just a few. Women friends who will cook healing soups and deliver them to the house; who will prepare special healing balms, made from the sap the baobab tree (from Gambia). Women friends who will deliver special instructions to my husband:

“As soon as she comes out of the bath, make sure you give her a good rub down, all over her back, her front, behind her ears, on the bottom of her feet. And don’t think of anything else when you are done, cover her up and let her rest!”

Our mothers will be proud that after all these years living in America, we continue with cultural practices they grounded in us; our caring for one another. And I am thankful.

Have a good week.

Mingi Love,
Mama Shujaa.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

As quiet as it is kept, three

For first two installments click 1 and 2.

Ramona is particular about the pronunciation of her last name. Moreover, she is selective in educating coworkers and the umpteen late bloomers she has met in Atlanta’s social settings. Not every moron who mistakes her for a slender Mexican gets details of her mixed heritage. Atlanta is a city with a deeply historic eighty-twenty percent cultural more that recalls segregation. On a given evening, nightclubs hosting at least eighty percent African-American clientele will balance out with twenty percent Caucasian clientele; flip numbers, race, and the same is true. It is boring, and Ramona’s cosmopolitan nature struggles to stay afloat. In her view, the so-called ‘Little Apple’ she relocated to must grow in leaps to the multiculturalism of her tri-state New York-New Jersey-Connecticut stomping grounds.

Fortunately, the workforce has provided some solace; because when she felt the stirring recognition of a fellow multiculti’s sensibility, she latched on and sought to nurture a friendship immediately. And truthfully, the melodious lilt in Amani’s voice first captured her attention; her polished accent boosted her interest.

“My name is Amani Njama, and I am from Kenya. So pleased to meet you.”

“Hi, I’m Ramona Lai. That is l-e-i, as they say in Hawaii, where my dad is from. My mom is Puerto Rican, but I was born in New York, baby! Njama, the ‘N’ is silent, right?” Ramona’s knowledge and sensitivity seals the deal.

Today they sit facing each other, tucked in a corner dark-leather booth with wainscot paneling. Earlier, when they wound their way between tables in T.G.I. Friday’s dim-lit confines, they elicited appreciative glances from diners hunkered down for a palatable meal. Now, as they scoop potato soup from saucy bread bowls, Amani notices that she is further along in her meal.

“What’s wrong Ramona? You are not eating.” She asks as she tears off some bread, and moisturizes it in the soup before putting it in her mouth.

“Oh, nothing,” Ramona’s wistful demeanor belies her anxiety.

“Are you really busy today? I have some down time, if you need assistance,” Amani offers.

“No, it’s not work.” Since Ramona assumed her new position as executive assistant to the managing partner, the nature of her job has become administrative rather than research oriented; she can complete tasks with her eyes closed, such is her efficiency and hard work.

“It is just a personal issue I have to deal with. No one can help. I have to live with it.” Amani does not want to rush to conclusions; but surely, Ramona’s problem relates to the prescription they picked up today; surely, the hurtful office rumors are not true; surely, Ramona will confide in her eventually.

“And going forward, I have to make better decisions.” Ramona’s recipe for change fuels Amani’s curiosity. “Well, if you ever want to talk about it, I am here for you,” Amani, now scraping the bottom of the bread bowl, is more than a little worried for Ramona; but she opts for her Don’t Ask, Don’t Pursue policy that has yielded unsolicited information successfully in the past.

“We better get back to the office,” Ramona says and pays for their lunch. “Do you have an outfit for the holiday party?” She waits for an answer, a hint of anticipation in her voice.

“No, I was going to ask you if you could come with me tomorrow afternoon, to the mall, to pick something out.” Amani’s mind was still hungry for the details of Ramona’s problem. Maybe she could find the underlying cause of it before the office holiday party next weekend.

“Sure, Danny will be with his daddy tomorrow.”


“We’ve arrived at a good time,” Ramona observed as they walked into the ballroom. “We can pick good seats,” and she led the way to the table closest to the DJ’s set up, right next to the patch of wood flooring cleared for dancing. They were first at their table, ten other tables were scattered around the room. They both wore black: Ramona’s mini-dress accentuated her shapely legs; Amani’s black knitted midi dress featured a plunging peek-a-boo neckline; for the greater part of the evening, they provided the scene with much needed eye candy.

“I’m glad they decided to hire a DJ this year,” Amani commented. “Maybe after the attorneys leave, the staff can really get down to some good music. I brought a CD with a variety of African dance beats.” Amani had every intention of showing off her skills on the dance floor.

“I heard last year’s party was boring, the band, horrible” Ramona started.

“It was, but after a few attorneys got drunk, it got interesting,” Amani responded, “Tina (she is no longer with the firm) started some trouble. She danced continuously with another attorney’s date, at least five songs, and totally ignored her partner. Tina put moves on that girl, gliding up and down, twirling around and around her, seduction was her motive, it was obvious; pretty soon, we could tell that Ruthie, her partner was irritated.”

“Whoa!” Ramona giggled, “So what happened next?”

“Isn’t that Pete that just walked in? He is walking towards us, god, I hope he does not sit at our table.” Amani crossed her fingers.


Mingi Love,
Mama Shujaa.

Copyright © Mama Shujaa 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, January 17, 2011

As quiet as it is kept, two

“Big plans this weekend, Larry?” She forced herself out of her reverie with a rote question void of sincerity, and prepared herself for his legendary preview of a football viewing booze filled weekend.

“Sure do,” he said boastfully, “unlike you, Amani, I have plans. Matter of fact, you are welcome to join me and my boys at our get-together; bring your own beer!”

“Thanks for the invitation, but I have stuff to do.” She preferred her mind-numbing chores to potentially tedious hours with her amply endowed cube-mate Larry and his bruisers; and their mouths, vessels of slipshod utterances passing from one to the other like an award winning ping pong competition.

“You guys have fun,” she said merrily, returning to her cubicle, certain she would be regaled with the events of the weekend the following Monday. In the meantime, Ramona, the new secretary was on her mind. And the ‘idiot’ attorney Pete, who by chance walked by her cubicle at the exact moment he crossed her mind.

He appeared less impressive after Larry’s remarks, annoying even as he heralded her in his usual manner.

“Amani, Amani, Amani,” he said, nearly shouting. She met his proclamation with her habitual smile, more crooked at the corners today.

Ever since she had told him the meaning of her Kiswahili name, he had taken to propounding its significance around the office, or so it seemed, proclaiming it now as if the good news had finally come to man.

“Peace, Peace, Peace,” he said it three times. And after Larry's awful hints of the fruition of a hanky panky scandal in the office, maybe he was not such a fool after all. Maybe the gods moved him this morning, in this invocation of peace.

"Good morning Pete," Amani's eyes lingered on him this morning, as she tried to piece together how the story could have come about, the two together, Ramona and Pete?

Pete, whose toes pointed outward when he walked, and who cracked his knuckles sporadically through out the day, as if he moonlighted as a pianist after work, drafted legal documents with National Public Radio playing in the background, every day.

Ramona, a leggy fair-skinned brown bird from Newark, with long black hair that rested comfortably on her shoulders, and a slow-moving figure eight for a body that could tie anyone's imagination, man or woman to pleasant thoughts, or more, had moved to Atlanta just over a year ago.

“To be closer to my baby’s daddy,” she had shared the tidbit freely with Amani. “So he can see his kid more often.”

Just yesterday, she and Ramona had gone out to lunch. And even though it was not the lunch date they had agreed upon a week earlier, she had enjoyed it nonetheless.

“Something has come up, Amani. Do you mind running a couple of errands with me?” She had asked her after they were ensconced in her new Audi R8 sports car.

“Sure, no problem, we can stop at a drive-through on the way back,” Amani responded from the supreme comfort of a leather seat.

"We'll go to T.G.I.Friday's tomorrow," Ramona said as they dropped off her prescription at the pharmacy and picked up her dry cleaning. Amani welcomed every opportunity to get to know Ramona Lai.


Sorry dear readers, I lost of track of time.

Mingi Love,
Mama Shujaa.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

As quiet as it is kept

She hastened the clatter of her fingers on the keyboard. Like most people, she detested eavesdroppers. Yet, given the cloistered confines of their workspace, who could fault her for learning of his dreadful connections?

"You are not a materialistic person," she overheard his affirmation to the caller, and she angled her head further towards the cubicle partition, fingers arrested mid-air. His unusual positive message was a sharp contrast to his habitual excuse-filled avoidance of tasks-at-hand, petulant complaints and nagging criticism of office policies.

"But, what you need to do is put your foot on his back and kick him to the concrete, that's what you need to do," he continued.

Her memory of the rumor-mongering lesson she learned as a teen was as fresh as the dewdrops on the banana leaves in Bibi’s* plantation. Nobody would ever finger her as feeder of the office beast.

"If that doesn't work, we'll wait and see," he continued, "you know they are going to earn every penny of their salary now," he snickered, "it's going to get nasty." He rarely used his library voice, and this morning was no exception. It is no wonder; her curiosity peaked in spite of her old-fashioned ethic and Bibi’s favorite proverb, sikio hailali na njaa.**

“Okay, talk to you later.” He ended the call and, after what seemed like a lifetime, her nimbly executed Ctrl+P command set off the rhythmic whir of her printer, spitting two blank pages; her camouflage tactic, albeit delayed.

“Thank god it’s Friday, right?” she called over the wall. Then, without invitation, she got up and glided into his cubicle.

“Yes indeed,” he responded as his eyes traversed her jean-clad pear shape; every business setting needs dress-down Friday eye candy. "Nice boots," he added.

“You know that fool of an attorney that is head-over-heels over that new secretary?” He began smoothly with the current affairs.

"What do you mean?” the blank look belied her knowledge.

“Where have you been sweetie? I don’t even know how he practices law, he is such an idiot,” he said.

“It’s about to go down up in here,” he continued in a voice wrapped in such gleeful venom, she suffered an immediate allergic reaction. A heat rose up her neck and flooded her cheeks leaving tracks the size of hives. Yet, she stood immobile, unable to remove herself to her cubicle, intrigued by the certainty in his voice.

Just yesterday she and the new secretary had gone out to lunch.

A short short intro to my new series. I will post the next, longer segment of As quiet as it is kept on Sunday, January 16th. Supposed secrets of every day life.

*Bibi = grandmother
** sikio hailali na njaa = an ear does not go to bed hungry, there is always plenty of gossip; a Kiswahili proverb.

Mingi Love,
Mama Shujaa.

Copyright © Mama Shujaa 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

On This Day of Resolve

On this day, I resolve to increase the quality, balance the thinking, report the strengths, resolve the weaknesses. Ah-ha!

On this day, I resolve to build on the harvest of 2010. Match its yields ounce for ounce, without sacrificing the depths of growth. Eh-he!

On this day, I resolve to love and create with abandon my mistresspieces of passion. Build on the learning richesses of mwaka jana [last year]. Ah-ha!

I resolve to tune out anxiety-ridden chitchat and tune in to uber-positive resources. Awaken the Utu upya [self renewal]. Eh-he!

On this day of resolve, I fuel the free spirit, increase the trust in instinct, speak it and prepare for that next giant step. Oh-ho!

Kweli on this day of resolve, I continue with more of the same; armed with escalated increments of ushujaa. [courage]. Eh-he!

Thank you for sharing my resolve on this day and on days to come. Ah-ha!

Heri ya Mwaka Mpya, Happy New Year!

Mingi love,

Mama Shujaa.