Opportunity Knocks

I work at a national law firm, and in the single ugliest day for the legal industry since the economic downturn began, eight major firms announced a total of 748 layoffs last Thursday February 12th. Read more here.

The gloomy announcements in our office began early in the day, just moments after the switchboard opened, and folks had logged in and settled down with their first cup of tea or coffee.

One by one, my coworkers and friends were summoned, issued the bad news, provided with boxes to pack up their personal belongings and where necessary, escorted off the premises. As the morning wore on and the scythe continued to fly, the office grapevine seethed with suppositions. No one was safe!

It was almost the end of the business day when the survivors were advised of the final number of those who had lost their jobs.

I know all of them well, most are women, heads of households, with small children, with health concerns, and now without medical insurance. What are they all going to do?

Over the weekend, I checked on some of them. A few plan to file for unemployment insurance benefits which will provide some support in the short run, while next steps are mulled over.

The trouble is the worst is not over, there are going to be more job cuts. Just yesterday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: "I don't think there's any doubt that we've seen this economy has gotten worse just in the last few months. The acceleration in job loss probably means that this economy is going to get worse before it gets better," he said.

And then there is the bigger problem for states and their competing priorities of figuring out how to spend the billions in infrastructure funds they will receive as part of President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan.

If there ever was a good time to get your entrepreneurial juices flowing, it is now. Tap into your god given gifts. Don’t leave all your eggs in one basket, allowing your 9-5 to define who you are, to stifle your creativity. Relying on that rat race has proven to be fruitless for all but obscenely greedy corporate giants; and witness all the out-of-work folk looking for government jobs.

Last May, I was invited to be a presenter in a panel of seven delegates at ATA’s 33rd Annual Congress in Arusha, Tanzania, entitled Bringing The World To Africa and Africa to the World: Africa's Competitive Edge In Tourism. It was such an exciting occasion for me, especially because I was able to return home, and spend time with my cousin and her family during the five-day event. I accepted the invitation to participate and about a week before the congress, I learned the names of the other panelists.

Me, Eddie Bergman-Executive Director of the Africa Travel Association, and Ambassador Daudi N. Mwakawago.

How thrilling to learn that I was to present alongside achievers such as Professor Pius Z. Yanda, Joint Recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore; Dr. Alhaji Dantata, Director of Nigeria’s National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism; Dr. Chika Onyeani, CEO of African Telecom; Mr. Fred Nelson, Consultant on Ecotourism and Sustainable Development, Mr. Darol Kubacz, Founder of Freedom For Life, a paraplegic who lost use of his legs while he was in the U.S. Army in 1992; and Mr. Eliseo Neuman, Executive Director of the Africa Institute.

Ambassador Mwakawago, Me, Hon. Eduardo Jonatao S. Chingunji, former Minister of Hotels and Tourism, Republic of Angola.

The Congress was formally opened by His Excellency Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, President of the United Republic of Tanzania who highlighted the important role tourism plays in promoting socio-economic development across the continent. You can view the complete program in pdf format here.

Day two of the Congress was dedicated to fleshing out Africa’s Competitive Edge in Tourism, and our session titled Trends In Africa Tourism was chaired and moderated by Ambassador Daudi N. Mwakawago, former Tanzanian Ambassador to the United Nations. As the only woman panelist, I felt that I was at an advantage considering the subject matter of my speech.

My dynamic seven-minute speech on the Essentials and Benefits of Sports Marketing and How It Compliments Tourism in Africa; the Emergence of Sport Tourism was extremely well-received.

I captured the attention of all the attendees, Ministers of Tourism, delegates, who were present; to the extent that quite a few cornered me for a word or two during the coffee and lunch breaks.

I raised points of discussion/questions such as:

- in a changing world where boundaries are being broken it is imperative to be different to stay ahead;
- the difference between the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro, Maasai Mara
- Are the lions in Tanzania more ferocious?
- Are the elephants in Kenya more weight conscious?

Day four was Host Country Day sponsored by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. Delegates were treated to a Safari to the Ngorongoro Crater. Here, a Ngorongoro style "Karibu!" [welcome] at the gates.

We traversed the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, where animals coexist naturally with the Maasai. Our tour guides tried their best and we were treated to the Big Five; we saw three lions, a leopard, buffalo, elephants and the black rhino. We were very lucky.

I did my best with a borrowed camera...

A delicious lunch was served at Serena Lodge. I wish I had a shot from the window of the lodge, an amazing view of the huge caldera (collapsed volcano) that is 600 metres deep and hosts over 20,000 animals.

As the economic downturn continues it is imperative that each one of us look for ways in which to ameliorate our personal lives; and here I come with the old clich├ęs: Who’s got your back, if you don’t? Have a back-up plan.Believe in you. Do not let the shoe drop before you start looking.

As my buddies in the hood would say, if you work for The Man, have a back-up plan.


Mama Shujaa
All content, images Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2009. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Wow, you were in good company there on the second picture! Are you still in touch with them?

    One back-up plan is often not enough, that's why I prefer having two.

  2. Rafiki,

    Hebu nikwambie, that is indeed a very good idea, two, three plans/jobs. And considering I have always been a very shy person - I mean certifiable - I literally backed myself into a wall when I accepted the invitation to participate in this congress, which opened up some windows of opportunity for me. Yes, I do maintain contact with them, and everyone I met.

    Mama Shujaa.

  3. As always, Mama Shujaa, hast du Recht! Stability is relative, just as this woman I profiled (a doctor and single mom) painfully learned when she lost her job and health insurance: http://thewip.net/contributors/2009/02/living_one_day_at_a_time_in_th.html

    My heart goes out to your co-workers.

    Btw, you look stunning in the second pic.


  4. What an excellent retrospective, Mama Shujaa! How proud you must have been to represent with such a distinguished panel. You advice is excellent...how frightening for those office workers...what a difficult time. May they find a way to provide for their families. For so long Bush said there was no economic problem...thank God President Obama will address this problem.
    I want to stay at that Serena Lodge...extreemly hermosa! <3

  5. Goodness. That is horrible and very widespread. My sister in-law will be packing up in April as the company she works for will be closing its doors, and its other location currently have a freeze on hiring folks... so now transferring possible. Its so crazy. I pray that everyone who has lost their jobs will be able to find something else that will pay the bills, keep food in their bellies and a roof over their heads.

    Congrats on your speech. Looks like it was a wonderful experience. Africa is truly beautiful!

  6. Ma Chere Rose-Anne,

    Please re-post that link, we'd all love to read it - I think it is incomplete. Thanks for the compliment but I believe the two handsome gentlemen flanking provide more of the eye candy.

    With regard to my co-workers I will lend all of them as much support, guidance and assistance during these difficult times.

    Liebe Grusse,

    Mama S.

  7. Dear Cynthia,

    It was an honor, and I learned a lot from them. And the beauty of a country such as this is that there are structures in place for people to fall back on, albeit with difficulty.

    When I think about the promised trickle down, the multiplier-effect that is envisaged when "third world" countries host congresses; so-called golden opportunities for the local inhabitants of communities such as the one in which this congress occurred; I am reminded of the significance of each of our roles to work towards the good of all women and men...more on that at a later.

    Mama Shujaa.

  8. Mpendwa Ms. Bar B,

    It is now labeled "The Last Frontier" because of all the interest it is now garnering - all the resources, opportunities. Indeed it has is a beautiful continent, Olduvai Gorge - The Cradle of Mankind....

    My heart goes out to your sister-in-law, may she receive all of the support from family and friends.

    Much Love,

    Mama S.

  9. Liebe Mama S.

    Don't know why the link doesn't work? Do I have to put html codes around it? Je vais essayer:

    Seriously, I think I'm not the only person who reads your blog who believes that you are such an inspiration. One hears/reads of so much craziness, theft and perversion on the Internet yet here it is that my days have been so enriched by your words, memories and ideas. Have a wonderful day, Mama S.

    Liebe Gruesse,


  10. Oh boy, seems like I need another cup of black tea this morning. . . here, another attempt at the link: Living One Day at a Time

    Gruesse aus Berlin,


  11. Mama Shujaa first up you look stunning in the second pic. plz courier that top to me!

    I feel for your colleagues. But lay-offs have turned into a blessing in disguise for some people. Like I have a friend who was laid of from Telkom Kenya. She wallowed in self pity for close to 2 years but when she bounced back with plan B she was like a wounded lion. Now she's much better off and happier than she ever was in employment.

    I so hear you and Rafiki about Plan B and C.

  12. I’m sorry to hear about your layoffs. Publishing has been a bad way too. We hear so much about the big car companies, but not about how the economic downturn is affecting everyone, big and small. I’m relieved to hear you kept your job, but the loss of colleagues and friends must be demoralizing.

    Your panel sounds really interesting. It must have been a thrill to be in such company and you look absolutely gorgeous and comfortable. What an honor!

    What fun questions! My brief experiences would conclude that elephants are the ones to watch. The one that charged us in Tanzania did not have a weight problem – he’d become aggressive due to bad experiences outside the park which kept him fit. The mama elephant in Kenya only mock charged when she got separated from her calf around our campsite. Hard to blame her. I still loved it. The Ngorongoro Crater was a lost world with tamer game. Your photos tickle my memory with pure delight on this cold day. You were lucky to spot a leopard. I still haven’t seen one. I want to return.

    What if your back up plan is as romantically hopeless as your first? An artist and a novelist, I have more passion than common sense.

  13. Mama Shujaa, please visit Oasis in Puerto Rico and pick up a little acknowledgement! <3

  14. I have some awards for you over at my place so come and pick them up =)

  15. we are living in desperate times that call for certain extreme measures and layoffs have just become a stack reality....its so important to have not just one thing but alot of other things on the side, i really feel for your colleagues....you ve really told the story well, from your safari...im already salivating for April hols..i must just go domestic tourism again!

  16. Shiko-Msa,

    Karibu sana, na thanks for the compliment. Remember that old phrase we used to hear a lot back in the day? Or am I dating myself? :-)

    KUJITEGEMEA! literal translation: to depend one oneself...and thereby help others...If I am not wrong, I think it was Julius Nyerere who popularised the thinking...

    Mama Shujaa

  17. Sarah my dear,

    Until you execute the back-up plan(s), you don't know how hopeless it is...:-)

    Mama S.

  18. Cynthia - thank you so much for sharing that with me.

    Ms. Bar B - asante sana mrembo.

    Mama Shujaa.

  19. A Nairobian: You are absolutely right what's more?

    For those of us Diasporans who ran out of the continent for education, experience, opportunity, we look at you on the continent right now and look at all the folks running back to Africa, to the naive virgin, to tap and tap into the resources, riches that we ourselves have taken for granted...

    Yes, DO domestic tourism! Post pics for us to see.

    Mama Shujaa

  20. What lovely pictures!!!! You looked absolutely stunning. Thanks for sharing such an great experience with us.

    Yes, that was a grave day at work, wasn't it. My heart and empathy goes out to all of those who lost their jobs that day and to all of the co-workers who had to standby and endure the gloomy experience with them.

  21. How terrible for all involved. One's colleagues do become "family". So sad.

    I try not to put all my eggs in one basket - I also try to remember to hard-boil them first... They're very small eggs, but I've collected a few.

    What an experience, and you do look stunning! I'm curious about the weight-conscious Kenyan elephants though...

  22. Dearest Hana,

    Let me say firstly... you look absolutely radiant...

    I am sorry to hear about your co-workers... And i completely agree with your words about 'havin a back up plan'... developing our other skills....

    You my friend are multi-talented... Loved the subjects for your talk, and what wondeful company you were in, they were priveledged to be with you also I am sure...

    I hope you and your family are well my sister, that the world is treating you with the kindness which you so richly deserve,

    Much love, Much laughter, Deep peace,


  23. Have I told you how fyyyne you look, darling? Talk about brains and beauty!
    With all the depressing news about the economy, where else is there to go except back to nature? Nothing can calm the soul or spark the creativity needed for a Plan B, except clean air, animals and God's powerful landscaping.
    I moved to a new condo yesterday. Needless to say, many things went wrong and I was stressed! Later that afternoon, I opened my front door to shake out my welcome mat and spied three deer crossing my neighbors' backyard. Just for two or three seconds...nothing else mattered. Everything was just perfect. I held my breath and watched them delicately make their way across the snow. For those few moments, I was at peace. I tried to hold on to that feeling as long as I could. Sadly, I was back in stress mode within 10 minutes.
    The next time you go home, I will be hiding in your suitcase!


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