Friday, April 19, 2013
Memories take me back to some very good friends in primary school who I wish to talk about. While I was in primary class 8, my best friend was Claris Wanjiru*. She was a determined girl coming from a family where the father was irresponsible leaving all responsibilities to the mother. When we did the primary school exams she passed well enough to get admission to a secondary school, but that was not to be. She never stepped into a secondary school. 20 years later, I have no idea where she is but recently I met her mother. She informed me that Claris is living in very poor conditions, having married twice and separated barely able to make ends meet. I asked for her telephone number so I could seek her out, she had none. My friend Benadine Wambui* was among the older girls in class having repeated classes. I liked that she was mature and humble. However, she had low esteem issues, having to school with much younger girls. It did not help that teachers made fun of her & humiliated her. One day she simply did not come to class, and that was her last day in school. She dropped out and got married immediately. She must have been about 15 or 16 yrs. These are just among the many girls I saw drop out of primary school during my 8 years of schooling. I was lucky to have been brought up in a family that greatly value education. Despite being a humble family, we all got education up to college level and it did not matter if you were a girl or a boy. However this is not the case for many girls in the community. One of my neighbours for example openly ‘informed’ my dad that he was wasting money on girls who would “eventually get married and move away”. The girls in his family barely got educated most of them not even getting halfway through primary school. They got married before 15 years of age or got children. Despite having a significant level of poverty, the main challenge is not poverty but rather attitude. Where families do not believe in educating girls, they drop out and eventually it becomes a cycle. When a girl grows up in a family where barely anyone accessed education, they lack mentors and never feel inspired to pursue education. The last born of my neighbour’s family for example was supported to go up to secondary school. I can assume that by then the family had seen the value of education. However, she performed very poorly and was often involved in negative peer behaviors like alcoholism. In contrast I got up to university level education, and by the time I was at university I could count on one finger the number of girls, who were my class mates who had college degrees. I have been very passionate about making a difference. I would look back to my former primary school and realize that hardly any girls were getting into secondary school. My dream was to inspire the pupils, girls and boys to realize they can make it. I had weird recurrent dreams where I would find myself stuck and unable to climb stairs in my former primary school. Eventually I decided to give it a try accompanied by my sister I went to the school, and met the head teacher, and that was the beginning of the ‘Dare to Dream mentors’ program. I engaged a few friends and we started going back to the school every 1-2 months to inspire the pupils. The pupils found it unbelievable when I told them that I schooled in the same school and managed to go a national school (the highest category). We discuss different aspects of life skills and academics. This has greatly inspired the pupils and three years later, we have realized a great improvement in their performance. Eventually this led to another aspect which I had tried to avoid, school fees. We were faced with one challenge last year when one pupil had passed very well but could not access education. We started some support and this year I mobilized a few professionals to form a welfare group to pay fees for a few needy students. We now have 2 girls and one boy who would not have had hopes of getting secondary school education. I am very excited about this initiative and I know that the efforts may seem small but will impact one a few girls, who will impact families, who will impact community, Kenya and the whole world! It’s my mission and I give monetary, time and other resources for this. I just realized the other day that the scary dreams stopped!
Sunday, April 14, 2013
I seek not the voice of the president, I seek not the voice of the queen, I seek not the voice of the prince, For them, we hear, Whether we seek them or not, I seek not the voice of the high and mighty, But I seek your voice mama. I seek your voice mama, For your nurtured the presidents and the mighty, Every day you toil, with resilience on your back, And determination in your stomach, On your left you carry courage, And on your right hope, On your laps is love, Enough love to tenderly cover all humanity. I seek your voice sister, For you rule the world, If only you knew! If only you knew how, Your voice and mine will make a mighty thunder, No longer shall be silent For in silence we ache, And deny the world the great and gracious, You are the pulse of the world. Awake and rise, Rise up to meet yourself, For you have the right to sway, and swing, To dance and dance, For it is a powerful dance, Where we all join, With the trees swaying to the rhythm, And the birds whisper a melody, For the universe knows its child is awake, She is awake to her mighty self, Joining in the voices from east to west, From north to south, We put our rhythm together, All in the powerful dance. Together we are transforming the world, We shall be silent no more, For the world needs to hear you, For her-story will be heard, And the dance will go on And on And on
Today I write about dresses, dressing. I cannot talk of dressing without remembering some of the great girls in my life that inspire me, my nieces. My nieces are an interesting lot and each of them has her own special way but for now let me focus on three. My niece Valerie has her own unique taste of clothes. I remember the day that with my younger sister we decided to have the ‘auntie of the year award’ by taking her shopping for clothes; not buy for her but take her to choose. She was very excited to be treated in such ‘adult way’ (she was about 5 yrs). We had in mind what we could have shopped for her, that Cinderella kind of dressing. Don’t girls look pretty in them, especially something red or pink? But no way, she wanted some jeans trouser! That was no easy task considering her tiny body. Eventually we got one that fitted her ‘hips’ and all and the girl was happy; her choice. She has made it clear she doesn't like long dresses, be it uniform or Sunday best. I recall an incidence where Bridget her younger sister, caused drama in a shop, she wanted open shoes! She was about 3 or 4 yrs and she was wondering why discrimination of her getting open shoes. We all know low heels closed shoes are more comfortable for young girls, right? But not her, she had had enough of that and now she had specific taste, open and with heels! After quite some bargaining the mother decided it was time, thinking she would soon get tired of the high heels and go back to closed shoes. (FYI she never got tired). Eventually the mother gave in and took the girl ‘shopping’ for her choice of shoes. She is not one to throw tantrums but that day she did! The shop attendants were trying to be helpful and brought some closed shoes, and the girl could have shot someone! Eventually with her tiny feet we got fitting shoes, and she was happy excited and ‘lived happily ever after’. As for Bakhita, another of my many nieces, she has decided she want my red dress! There are times we imagine that children will get inspired by graduation gowns to think “I want to get a degree” but when we were celebrating my MA graduation we were surprised! She was not interested in black funny gown; she wanted and still wants my red dress. (It will possibly fit her in about 25 or so years). I could go on and on, but why do these girls at that age make those decisions? I don’t know, but it’s their choice! Why am on and on about dresses and girls? Two weeks ago somewhere in Nyeri, Central Kenya, some idle men decided that they did not appreciate the choice of dressing of some woman. The lady was apparently ‘indecent’ so in a strange way of probably making her more ‘decent’ undressed her in public! I do not know how this lady was dressed, because by the time the issue became news she was no longer dressed. The first time I saw some pictures online about that issue I quickly logged off and closed my ears. Later on I saw the same piece of news and realized this was for real. I felt some bile in my stomach as I tried to put myself in the shoes of that lady who was traumatized by such inhuman acts. I was chatting with a friend Nancy Muigei who had posted a news clip and I decided to watch it. Eventually as we chatted we came up with idea of making this issue more national concern in the only way we could at that time, online mobilizing. I spent the better part of the Easter weekend on this; it’s a gross violation on women which is rarely if ever addressed. This is not the first time I have blogged about women and the patriarchal definition of dressing and dress code. I recall an experience I had one Sunday morning when I had gone for field work in Makueni. That was around 2005. That was one of the few times if not the only time that Sunday got me there and so I sought to find out where I could attend mass and found a Church that was nearby. I do not recall but I suspect that the mass must have been in Kiswahili since I vividly recall feeling it was one of the times that I was really present and enjoyed the mass. It came to a time that is very important for us Catholics, and so I joined other Christians in receiving the Holy Communion. A certain man crossed my path and started whispering to me but I could not understand the language neither did I know there was a ‘policeman’ for Holy Communion. Soon after a certain woman quickly came ‘to my rescue’ and that’s when I realized what it was all about! I did not have a head scarf, and the woman was offering me one. (Maybe I should also mention I was wearing trousers). I looked at this woman who was trying to be helpful and this ‘policeman’ and at first I thought of going to the priest and see what he would do but quickly thought no worth my efforts and walked out. I have been a Catholic since I was born, participated in organizing many liturgical events, taken more readings in Church than I can remember but the last time I wore a head scarf –white - must be when I received Holy Communion at 8 or 9 years old. Even in social life head scarf has never been part of my attire even while wearing African dress it is on vary rare occasions (and mostly through someone else’s efforts) you can find a scarf on my head. I have no issues with head scarves, I find women wearing especially the designed West African scarves to look really hot! But it’s not part of me, not my choice. The reason I refused the head scarf was not much to do with activism (it’s a while back) but mostly to do with faith. My reasoning was that if I accepted that head scarf it meant that had been something wrong (read sinner) throughout mass so why ‘pretend’ at Holy Communion. Since this was the first and the last time that ever happened, and I have continued being a catholic, anyone dares to tell me that it was about religion/faith? The girl in Nyeri was not as lucky and neither was she in Church but in a bus stop. The reason I so eagerly engaged and worked hard to coordinate and keep this campaign active is because of the action itself and also the underlying factors. Watching the clip that was aired by KTN left me quite surprised, annoyed and concerned. To start with, the media presenters aired the news item in a rather flippant manner making it a laughing matter. It was worse that one presented was female, did she not realize she can fall prey to the same? Some women who were there looked on as the message of “be advising your daughters how to dress” were promoted. One woman even said that it was a lesson for that lady and other women who should learn to wear trousers and “not tempt our husbands”. (I think here men should get annoyed on my behalf). I felt pity for this woman, did she actually believe that if women are tied in lessos trousers or bui buis than men will stop cheating! And does she believe men are such weak helpless creatures? Was her reason of wearing trousers motivated by whether she wanted to feel smart, sexy, relevant, decent or whatever motivated her, or was it so as not to ‘tempt men’? Do men who claimed she was indecent want us to believe they are helpless characters ‘tempted by the daughters of eve’ from the creation of the world? Did they make her ‘more decent’ by undressing her? Who appointed them the ‘dress police’? This is not an isolated case as similar cases have been reported in the past. On February 17th a woman was undressed in Kitengela for being ‘dressed provocatively’. Earlier in the year a woman was undressed in Nakuru and many more cases some of which are not reported in the media. In 2008, women were violated and harassed by illegal groups for dressing in trousers or miniskirts during the post elections violence. I recall uncertain and anxious moments as we left office for home wondering if to look for lessons and carry yet wearing jeans was best choice in uncertain moments when there was violence in various parts; yet some illegal group was undressing women in trousers since it was apparently against their ‘culture’. The culture excuse has been used so often it is annoying. If we were to go back to culture, can those men tell us which African culture wore trousers among men? After the Nyeri incident another women in the same locality was threatened with undressing by her religious group because of dressing ‘indecently’ in trousers! So what is decent? And who defines it? And why does it only apply to women? And what is the law against ‘indecent’? More so how does undressing an ‘indecent’ lady make her more decent? These are some of the issues that were raised in the online campaign “Say No to Undressing and Violation of Women’ with very interesting views. Women continuously face violation and perpetrators go scot-free. The constitution of Kenya 27(4) states that “The State shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against any person on any ground, including race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language or birth. (5) A person shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against another person on any of the grounds specified or contemplated in clause (4). It is therefore perturbing such incidences continue to happen and go un-addressed. It is a form of violation that if not addressed will continue recurring and adds on to many other violations that women and girls have often gone through. Patriarchy has a way of dominating women even in the various ways and lack of strong voice condemning this makes the practice continue without being addressed. For the second time that I recall, some male politician is bringing a bill to the Uganda parliament to legislate against miniskirts! A few years back there had been a similar motion or comment in parliament where a minister claimed that women wearing miniskirts were the main cause of accidents in Uganda as men stared! God help this daughter of eve! During the ‘Say No to Undressing and Violation of Women’ campaign, the most disappointing part was realizing how some of the leaders including female leaders were unwilling to engage with the issue. Did they seem to think they are beyond this? Any woman regardless of social status can undergo this and other related violations. I recall an incident where a tout pinched the breasts of a police woman! Eventually we got commitment after a press conference to have the issue addressed by the governor of Nyeri, and we hope this happens. Dressing is often used to justify other Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) like rape and defilement. It is not unusual to hear questions like “how was she dressed” being used. It is therefore imperative to nip such behaviors. The campaign is not a once off event, and I believe this is a movement that will last. I will not wait for the day I face similar actions or my sister or my friend or my niece of whomever other women known or unknown to me. I will not want a day when my niece will report that a certain boy pinched her because she was dressed ‘indecently’; or my nephew pinches a girl and says she was not dressed properly. A disclaimer is that I am not saying women should dress in one way or the other, I just know I do not dictate to them, unless they are less than 18yrs of age and under my wings; and even then, they still have preferences and choices and in the event their choices seem off, there is a respectful way of handling it. Undressing is just a pathetic excuse of some idle minds and perpetrators of violence against women. It is a woman’s choice and right to dress how she feels or how she want to feel; Formal Sexy Smart African Informal It is her choice, it is my choice
Friday, March 29, 2013
Tomorrow will mark two weeks since I landed in Yei South Sudan, and I must say I have been doing well in trying to get my way round. However I had been missing out on Church and being Easter weekend it was pertinent for me to find a way of communing with other Catholics. Since my younger days, and then reinforced more in my college days, Lent period and Easter have been my most favorite seasons in the calendar of the Church. In the Catholic Church this is the period where you experience more of the interesting rituals that define our faith. The period between Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday are the great Easter Trindium. On Holy Thursday we commemorate the Passover linking the old and the New Testament and more so the sacrament of Eucharist when Jesus had his last meal and hence the priests/ ordination. Most churches will have a mass in the evening, several activities on Good Friday (the crucifixion of Jesus); then Easter vigil mass on Saturday and on Sunday when we commemorate the ‘morning after’ disciples realized he had risen. I enjoy this season! That is why I looked forward to celebrate at least some these commemorative days by going to Church. I was therefore happy when I found myself at St Bakhita Cathedral Church. I had been informed the ‘Way of the Cross’ would be in English but apparently not. Luckily I had my Kiswahili missal with me. The congregation used the Bare Language and I followed using my Kiswahili version! Since this is familiar I followed what was being done and said, and even silently sang my own songs! We were together. Of course before the procession I started imagining what the priest was actually saying as he introduced the procession. He was courteous to say a few sentences in English. I always find it interesting when I find myself in a place where there is language barrier, but one thing is obvious. We can greet each other, may be by smiling, or waving, and that is understandable. We can also trade, using gestures where we can just indicate 2,5 …and the transactions go on. Of course it is not always smooth. This begs the question, is there a universal language? Even sigh language is not universal I understand. It was a hilarious moment in Kenya during the elections results announcement when Kenyans who have no clue about sign language started imagining what personal characteristics the sign language interpreters were using to indicate different presidential candidates. Some claim that there is universal language, love. A song that was common in my former secondary school Christian Union comes to mind. I recall some of the words of this song “love in any language, straight from the heart, join us together never apart. And when we learn to live it…Love in any language is the language spoken there” I am not sure I get all the words correct, but yes, love as a language that different people can understand. I am reading one interesting book called “ Say you are one of them” by Uwem Akpan who I must commend has a way of describing some occurrences in African set up that make the stories so real. One of the stories that he tells is based in Addis Ababa of some two little girls who loved each other so much as “Best Friends”. They went to school; salon etc together and even chose the same styles. Many called them twins since they behaved as such. They used to feel that the world was big enough for just the two of them. One day, the main character wakes up, not in her bed but in her parents’ bed and her parents were fussing over her. She did not understand. There was smoke and signs of burning in the neighbourhood. After breakfast, she asked as was the norm, if she could and play with her friend Salem. But her parents asked her to seat for an important discussion. “We do not want you to play with that girl again” they said “What girl?” she wondered. “That Muslim girl” “Best friend?” she wondered; as she had never referred or heard her best friend being referred to as the ‘Muslim girl’. After some violence had rocked the city, the ‘us’ and ‘them’ had become pronounced and as result these two girls were ordered never to speak with each other. They both felt sad about, each one wondering if the other missed her as much as she missed her. The girls would stare at each other’s balcony behind the blinds. One day one of them got the confident to come out of the blind, and the other one followed suit. They looked at each other for a while, and later one of them waved. The other waved back, and they smiled at each other. One sent hugs and kisses, by hugging herself and blowing a kiss to the friend, and the other followed suit. They were excited and happy, they had discovered their language. They now knew that their parents could not keep them apart. Well, well, isn’t language amazing! We all have our universal and coded language. That specific language; which if you are in a crowded place some occurrences will make you both exchange glances; that only you understand. For Christians the language of Easter is love. We believe that God realized there was no other language that the human beings would understand better than sending Jesus, the image of God to live as human and die like a criminal. While it happened many years ago, we remind ourselves every year of the journey from birth to death. Have a love filled Easter!
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
A few minutes ago, in the process of reading a certain document, I came across a picture of a school and pupils learning. I stared at it for a long while, not because I have not come across these kind of schools over and over, but I was wondering “how will this boy and this girl compete in this global world?” The school am speaking of is a shed with poles at the side and a bit of grass for a roof. If it rains, there cannot be school. The children are sitting on the floor, some on stones and some of some make-shift benches. Needless to say there is no blackboard and I am yet to figure out what the teacher is writing on. Luckily I can see some if not all of the pupils holding pens and paper! This is not a unique sight, it is seen over and over in many rural and informal settlement urban areas many countries in Africa. However, in another place, within the same country, or in neighboring countries, there is another child whose main worry is where is a new computer game! This got me reflecting about people and communities that I have come across and it struck me that luck and fate determines a lot. I am not suggesting that you “pray not to be hit by a car and sit on the road” as one of my great friend’s mum commented (hilarious story for another day) but rather that there are some circumstances that are beyond one’s control that determine their life. Sometimes we can do something about it but sometimes we cannot. I was discussing an issue with some girlfriends regarding how women and men live and believe in life when one friend commented that it is sad they are missing out a lot. But the rejoinder was, they do not know what you know, so they are not missing anything. If someone is living in a deep village where the main prestigious meal is beef they will not miss out on how pizza is delicious; or for that matter brooding over terrific Tuesday. Sometimes it pays not to know. Back to my luck and fate hypothesis, a few days ago I watched a video online by one of the Kenya media stations on “Kibaki’s siblings”. Hon Mwai Kibaki has been the president of Kenya for the last 10 years and has a lot of CV under his sleeves including being a Makerere graduate and many years as Member of Parliament for Othaya constituency. Makerere is a public University in the neighboring Uganda but in Kenya it is synonymous to the ‘bright boys of pre-independence era”. And now that I think of it, I don’t recall any Kenyan woman associated with Makerere! It is generally accepted that persons who went to Makerere are now controlling world in various ways. However that was not the main thing that caught my attention watching that vide, this is already in public domain. One of the older siblings of President Kibaki who was interviewed mentioned that Kibaki having been the younger one ‘was not useful’ in the home – read herding cattle- and since there was a requirement to take “one boy” to school he was ‘chosen’ to fulfill that obligation. At that time, the young boy might have felt ‘unlucky’ to miss out on the fun of what boys did away in the fields to go spend time in a classroom. Is it fate or sheer luck that he got an education that made his life take a completely different direction from that of his siblings? I recall while reading memoir of the late Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai (RIP) and a similar occurrence struck me. Wangari mentions that after her family relocated from Nakuru to Nyeri one day her elder brother, Nderitu, wanted to know why he had to go to school when Wangari did not. The boy did not understand gender issues and the fact that girls were not considered a priority to go to school. He could have been thinking that it was unfair for him to be made to go to school while Wangari did not! Regardless of the reason that the brother had for asking, the mother did not have a good answer and thought ‘why not’. That possibly abrupt occurrence set out the path for Wangari. Later on since the walk home was long hence not safe for a girl she went to a boarding school which increased her chances even more. One need to understand that in those days education was not a priority and educating girls was even rarer. First forward years later, Wangari was to become the first woman in in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, founder of the Green Belt Movement, first African woman to win the Nobel Prize among many other great achievements. Some ‘minor’ occurrences impact lives forever. My mother has told us that her father was very opposed to girls going to school so there was no question about it. However, her youngest sister was lucky to get basic education since (like Kibaki) she was ‘useless’ in the home. Unfortunately for her, when she got admission to a prestigious girls’ secondary boarding school my grandfather felt that if she went to secondary school far from home she would be bad girl and that was the end of my aunt’s education! How would life have turned for her if she had pursued secondary school education; or for my mother? We can only speculate, but will never know. This brings me to a very interesting book I read called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. He explored how the ‘outliers’, those persons who are outside of the average in their group/ achievement graph. This is a non-fiction book based on a critical look at various people in history with various achievements and occurrences that were not the norm among populations. He defines outliers as exceptional people who are smart, rich or very successful who operate at the extreme of what would be called “statistically plausible”. The book discuss how certain factors like family, culture among others play an important role in an individual’s success and pose the question whether successful people deserve the amount of praise we give them. However, he adds the "10,000-Hour Rule", where he argues that to a large extent for one to be a great success in a field one needs to practice about 10,000 times. I will summarize a few of the issues that Malcom highlights. He examines various factors that contribute to high levels of success. He looks at how successful Canadian ice hockey players are born in the first few months of the calendar year and link this to the time of recruitment to the game. Taking an example of the ice hockey players, he argues that since eligibility youth hockey leagues is determined by the year one was born, someone born say January and December of the same year are considered in the same league. He further theorizes that since those born in the early months of the year are more mature, almost a year older for some to the peers, they are identified as being better players hence getting more coaching. Other persons /groups mentioned include Bill Gates, the Beatles singers among others. He further examines cultural and socialization aspects that affect how people behave. E.g. the fact that some cultures are assertive hence a mechanic noticing a problem in an aircraft will inform the pilot boldly while another will merely suggest and this can determine possibility of a plane crash or not. On less acclaimed levels, it is clear that certain achievements are determined by aspects that are beyond our control. If I was born in a culture where educating girls was unheard of; girls get married in teenage, I would not have had to the privilege of making some choices. My experience working in communities for over ten years always gives me such aha moment as I interact with various people in different communities. In most instances aspects of empowerment like access to education which is among the most of basics are a rare privilege. Nelson Mandela is quoted saying “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The first five of the UN Millennium Development Goals in my view are based on the most basic of human needs; 1) Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, 2) Achieving universal primary education, 3) Promoting gender equality and empowering women, 4) Reducing child mortality rates, 5) Improving maternal health. In my view is that access to education is one of the greatest resources than one can get. This can help in realizing ‘individual MDGs’. However, not everyone is born in area or culture that promotes access to education. If one has not seen benefits of education, will they even realize they are missing out? If children are schooling in such deplorable conditions, how do they fit in this ‘global world?’ Sometimes its hard work Sometimes its determination Sometimes its other values; given that people in similar conditions do not necessarily achieve the same in life due to the efforts they put into it; Nonetheless sometimes it’s really luck or fate! Being in the right place at the right time!
Monday, March 18, 2013
“I deserve to just break down and cry now”! Those were my thoughts on Friday morning, 16th March 2013 as anxiety finally crept on me as I prepared to go to the airport. My friend Rahma actually validated this “I would have been worried if you are not a bit anxious” She knows how to say the right thing always. Why I have been so calm about this? I wondered. Somehow only one tear fell! I was okay and happy, as I prepared to go back to South Sudan. I recalled the last time I had been in this country in 2007. I could recall with nostalgia the time I flew out of Juba and looking from the sky thought “I am not coming back here”. My experience in Juba had been an interesting one that I still remember with a smile. I had been ignorant of what to expect but somehow got over the culture shock quite fast. The language barrier did not help matters especially when there was a public announcement and we could not comprehend. The scariest had been a curfew, where Justa my colleague and I had no idea what was happening and had been prepared to go to work as usual. For many that was nothing but the two of us having not experienced that before it was scary. We had coined a phrase “but then” as we made fun that any person would not have believed our experiences since they would have to be punctuated by “but then” hence removing the positivity. We were not just melancholic, for real life had a way of just putting some twists every now and then. It was more of what Kenyans would currently say “ni kama drama ni kama video”. The first mishap was that the office we were going to establish in Juba was to get most of the office stuff, computers, stationery, and furniture from the Nairobi office which had been in operation for some time. The network we were going to work for was to closing most of the operations in Nairobi and have Juba office fully operational. However the person contracted to transport the furniture to Juba decided to do some shady deals and use another organization’s transport space. The short of it was that he was to get away paying the costs and ‘hide’ under the other organization’s cargo. Things did not work as the person who was to receive our organizations’ equipment was not accessible by the time the transporter reached Juba. This started a long tussle with the person who had legally hired the transporter that lasted a while hence we had an office space without equipment. Some of the equipment had been purchased afresh hence were transported by air, but then the day my colleague landed in Juba with the equipment was the day the government introduced tax for NGOs equipment so this was again held at the airport. Eventually after a month we managed to retrieve the equipment from the transport saga, but then a good number of pieces were broken or spoilt, and small parts missing. So we could barely fix the computers, a cable missing here and there, board room table had leg broken…etc. A Kenyan friend helped us once in a while to mitigate some of these experiences…friends are friends forever! He came in handy when we were stranded. Another interesting experience was trying to get a mwiko (specific wooden spoon used in Kenya for cooking ugali which was our favorite meal). We tried without success and we could not manage to use the kind of cooking spoon that was used locally. Eventually after more than a month, someone brought us mwiko from Kenya, but then by then the maize flour had gone bad having warms due to the heat and the fact that we had not made arrangements to store it well to avoid heat and humidity. I don’t remember how we sorted our craving for ugali! Of course our Sudanese colleagues never understood the fuss over this small wooden stick. As part of making life more comfortable we had plumber repair the piping system in the house so that when we purchased water we could have it in the pipes! And voila we could finally use tapped water, I remember how that evening felt when we could eventually take a shower and have the 1,000l tank full! Shock on us (but then) on waking up the following morning to find not even one drop of water in the taps! We thought something had happened to the piping system but on checking the tank it was completely empty! Apparently there was something in the piping where the system could be open to go to public pipes. I must say this was one of the most interesting experiences I have had. Not forgetting how frogs seemed to time when I want to go to the bathroom to jump in…the door had some opening but I can almost swear the frogs waited for my turn! I also recall the day, when I was coming from work thoroughly exhausted, and with my colleague having proceeded from R and R break hence I was not feeling quite happy. And guess who meets me at the gate? Some very excited kittens welcoming me! I hate cats! Some cat had hidden and given birth in the compound without our knowledge. I felt like crying. I got the night guard to get rid of them. As I write this, seated outside the house in a new environment of Yei, I can only smile. I am not very good at working with the unknown hence this is an interesting experience for me. For once I had experience of using the kind of planes I dread most…15 seater! I dread using small flights but there I was in Entebbe looking at what looked exactly like an overgrown eagle! To make it worse, the luggage was piled outside with “chose one, leave one”. It doesn’t help that I had carried luggage like I was going to the moon. When we finally boarded I learnt we were to have a stopover in some place in northern Uganda. The advantage of this kind of craft is that it is so noisy that even if the captains wished to tell you “we are out of control” you will barely hear! However I can swear I felt the windows crack…and could see some small cracks after that when I checked the window! I heard the noises and tried checking what was happening and noted some tiny fresh cracks. I started imagining the window cracking completely and consoled myself that it was the outside part of the window. Of course the captain felt it was some old scratches when I alerted him at the stop over (he would not admit it though, right?); but he went ahead to check (and never gave me a report). I look forward to the experience in a different climate; meet new people, new challenges, and more so to the work I will engage with working with women! And yes… I am back…and hoping my luggage will get here today!
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
When you mean what you say- By Sophie Ngugi, January 2013 In the last few days I have been reflecting on the issue of integrity and authenticity. This was sparked by a minor incidence that ‘should have passed unnoticed’ but to me provided some insights and challenges. In a group where a friend had posted about death of certain former teacher, I watched as people give condolences on the same. It took a while before I could do the same for personal reasons. Eventually I felt the urge to comment on the same, so I posted my condolences to the family and wished them peace but also added a comment that indicated that there was no love lost between me and that teacher (RIP). I mentioned that he is the only teacher from my former primary school who I had bad experience with but “had forgiven him and moved on eventually”. This does not mean I would have hugged him if we had met before he died, forgiveness for me means letting go of the bitterness associated with the act of the person. Somehow I can confidently say that teacher hated my guts and I hated him for that. (Not yet time to start preaching to me about love thy enemy ). When I analyze this as an adult now, it is more of mistreating a child and what that means for the child. I can still recall the incidences but I will not put it to writing. That is neither here nor there, my view of him doesn’t necessary summarize his character nor his views of me. My main point on this experience is the conversation that ensued between me and someone who I don’t know but had read my comment. He sent me message indicating that that was not fair for me to write that. I reflected on this and thought...hmmm may be sometimes sincerity is not enough. So I told him I would take down the comment not because I felt it was wrong but because it may hurt others, while retaining I did not think there was anything wrong with indicating I was not in good terms with someone just because they had died. I did take down the comment ‘for the sake of peace’. However his comment perturbed me “Sophie you are a mentor to many kids, you are a role model to many...” I was perturbed, I actually mentor young girls and boys to be themselves and speak their mind. I got reflecting, was the person more concerned about the truth of the issue or about speaking bluntly while being lukewarm works better? The incidence got me thinking more about what we experience in Kenya each and every day. In a few weeks’ time, Kenya will go into elections. The airwaves are saturated with political activity of all kind, coalitions, mergers etc. with promises of heaven on earth. Most of the players in the current political scene have been in the ‘game’ for more years than majority of voters have been alive! For some of them, their development record (or rather lack of) is so clear to any eye; yet they continue promising ‘manna’ if we “give them a chance”. The sad part of it is that in all these rallies there are 10s of thousands of Kenyans of sane mind clapping and cheering on. In other cases, we, Kenyans of sound mind are abusing each other on social media in support of our candidate. I wonder what would happen if a politician took the platform and declared “I am not very sure what I can do for you, I do not think we will achieve xxx in the five years but I will do my best to ensure at least there is no corruption in the xyz sector/county. This still means the will still be a high level of unemployment and you need to work extremely hard since nothing will come for free but ...” Would she or he even finish that sentence? Is it more ‘swag’ to have people say what will please our ears even when we know it is all lies? I am reminded of lyrics of a song by BabyFace whose chorus goes - “Bring back those simple times of yesterday, when a man was a man and a friend was a friend. Bring back those simple times of yesterday, when you said what you meant, and you meant what you said”. I don’t know if sincerity got depleted over the years, whether yester-years people were more tolerant to truth, more authentic but the message is clear. There is something missing as far as integrity is concerned. The Wikipedia Encyclopedia defines integrity as consistency in actions, values, principles etc. It goes further to define it as honesty, truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions with the opposite being hypocrisy. The simplest definition of integrity that I have come across is “when you mean what you say, and say what you mean, do what you said you will do, or apologize in advance when you cannot”. It is as simple as that. As usual children are best at meaning what they say, a child will tell you “I hate you” for bouncing them on a birthday because at that particular moment they mean exactly that. Even if it will only last a few seconds, at the moment that they say it, they mean each and every word. They soon forget and forgive you and move on and the next time that you do something nice tells you “you are the greatest auntie in the world”. Adults on the other hand will tell you “it is okay, I really don’t mind” and hold the grudge for years. Very few times do we get to ‘shoot from the hip’ and mean it. We have learnt to measure our words and don’t say what we mean since that is what’s expected of us. Someone once commented that if you invite a Kenyan for an event and they tell you “I am not sure about my availability but I will try my best” then just know they have no intention of appearing! If they say I might be late, just know you will be lucky if they turn up! One critical issue about integrity is that we make people plan their event or life around your word and then you do not keep the word and inconvenience them. It could be as major as a promise of marriage to as simple as a promise to call. I recall the parable of Jesus on the wedding feast. Many guests were invited but did not turn up. If you have ever organized an event around ‘confirmed guests’ and they bounce you and you wonder where to take the food then you understand the frustration. One common one is the ‘sins of mobile phones’. At one time I stood in the streets to give a piece of mind to someone (with my eyes only of course) when I overheard him say “I am almost in Nakuru wait for me” and he was walking in the streets of Nairobi, possibly on the way to the bus stop at best! Nakuru is about 156KM from Nairobi. I imagined the other person making plans around these words! (Mind you there are no flights to Nakuru so at best he would take 2 hours after boarding a vehicle which he had not yet done). What if you are expecting someone in 30 minutes and they let you know they will take another 2 hours? Fantastic you can plan what to do for 2 hours not keep all your plans on hold. Rarely will people tell you where they are “almost there” means what???? I suspect this should mean 10 minutes not 2 hour, hallo! With time people judge our words by our past actions. There are persons even if they say they are sick or late, nobody flinches “that’s just like her/him” we dismiss. Sometimes we do not realize how strong our words are until we are confronted for not keeping them. I think children offer best lessons! No wonder Jesus said we be like little children. My sister had her aha moment in parenting one day. Her daughter had asked for some chalks and requested the mum to buy the white chalks and dad the colored ones. My sister told her “Okay I will bring you tomorrow”. In the hectic day’s work she forgot all about this. On arriving home her daughter who had just started pre-unit class asked her, “mum did you buy?” to which she apologized, she had forgotten. The girl pulled out some pieces of paper “mum I knew you would forget, so I wrote a note which you can put in your handbag so that tomorrow you do not forget” That was a major lesson, she realized that she had not kept her word several times and her young daughter had picked this as habit! There is folklore about a boy who always cried there is a wolf. Villages would run to rescue and find he was joking. With time nobody listened to him and when the wolf eventually came he was eaten as no villager responded to the call. Our words have power, and even to ourselves. How often do we lie to ourselves? Say what we don’t mean? Don’t do what we promised to ourselves hence not honoring ourselves? In addition, often society prescribes some behaviors that keep us from being real to ourselves. According to Wikipedia encyclopedia, “Authenticity refers to the truthfulness of origins, attributions, commitments, sincerity, devotion, and intentions”. The Wikipedia philosophical encyclopaedia further goes to define it as “degree to which one is true to one's own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures”. The privileged moments when one can listen to the deeper inner self and decide from that spot regardless of how the rest of the world feels. This is very tough, being yourself in a world that is always trying to make you different person. I hope that as the New Year (2013)progresses, I will honour myself by being authentic and practising integrity a one day at a time, a moment at a time, a step at a time.
Friday, December 21, 2012
I am not sure why, but I am looking forward to this Christmas season. What is special about Christmas? Why the joy that seems to bubble out of the seam of our hearts? For some it is because this is the end of year. We are thankful that the year is coming to a close and cannot wait to get some rest and conclude chapter 2012. In Kenya it is common for many organisations and businesses to close for this break for about two weeks, whether as a break or compulsory leave days for all staff. Whatever the case, many would rather take leave days at this time of the year than be working. We want to celebrate, visit places and simply do those things we may have looked forward throughout the year. For some Christmas places are decorated, presents bought and go into great length to connect with family and friends. The essence of Christmas for Christians is that we commemorate the birth of Christ. One of verses in the old testament that is likely to be read in many Churches this season declares “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6). The date when Christ was born is not relevant as to the fact that he was born and there is joy because of this. He came to be like us, God living as man, the highest form of love bringing joy and peace to the world. The closest I have come to understanding this is a reflection I read some years back that remain edged in my memory. A certain lady was watching some geese freezing in the winter weather and she dressed up warmly and went outside to try and get the geese into a warm place. She tried herding them and the more she tried the more they ran away from her. She struggled and frustrated that the geese do not realise she was out to help them thought “I wish I can speak their language”. That is what God did in sending the second person of the trinity to live as a human being. Different cultures have different traditions of celebrating Christmas. When I was growing up I knew Christmas as the time I was assured of a new dress and special dish of chapatti and a lot of meat and other delicacies; goats were killed and we would have many relatives visiting each other and rejoicing. I would see people I had not seen in a long while, and if I was out visiting with my sister (RIP) as was common for me, this was the time to back to the village and join the family. It was unheard of to spend Christmas in town! In the Church, the Catholic Church has some of the most memorable traditions. As a child I got very mesmerised by the portrayal of the nativity scene using various sculptures that gave a good idea of what the birth of Jesus was like with many stars (lights of different colours). For a child, that memory was enough to realise ‘there is joy in the air’. The other most memorable aspect was singing Christmas carols moving from one house to the next. I recalled this when I attended a beautiful Christmas carols’ show at St Paul Chaplaincy Nairobi. I love singing, and hearing old memorable Christmas songs was heavenly. In particular there is this song ‘Indulci jubilo’ that I sang during Christmas while in university choir but not heard a choir sing it since! In addition to others like to mention but a few the Handels messiah songs ‘for unto us a child is born; Halleluya’ that graced the night. The theme for the show was geared to the elections in 2013 with the theme of peace. The message could not have been more opportune. In Kenya, one can hardly thinking about elections without thinking about violence and in less than three months we will get into elections. Already we can see violence in various areas of different magnitude which could have political ramifications or even more likely has political causes. Political and ethnic intolerance has been a major cause of violence coupled with other socio-economic causes; yet the message of peace and joy is the Christmas message. During the Christmas season, we are likely to send goodwill messages to our loved (and not so loved) ones, we remember people we have not spoken with for some period of time. We will scroll our phone books, email addresses and wish many people ‘a prosperous year and a merry Christmas’. We will not confirm political affiliations, their ethnic or other identities but simply wish them a happy peaceful period. I pray that as we celebrate and have good wishes for Christmas, we will extend the same spirit throughout 2013 and have a peaceful Kenya, no matter how elections go. Merry Christmas!