An egg and a bangle

There is nothing as satisfying as gradually seeing a child’s face go from “I really don’t know what you are talking about” to lighting up with understanding. To see eager hands raised ready to answer questions or ask some more. For anyone charged with passing out knowledge and skills, this (in my opinion) is the ultimate.

We were out on an education trip in Samburu County, an area called Chumviere. As usual, I was there to document, in photos and video, the mobile education lessons that Save the Elephants conducts up north.  My back was killing me, thanks to the rocky path that we like to call a road. I enjoy these sessions, but on this particular day, I simply wanted to get back to camp and rest. Just before we ended the lesson, my colleagues suggested I take over the question and answer session, to test the students’ comprehension and grasp of the topic. We had gifts too. So anyone who answered correctly got some sort of stationery item. Soon, the classroom was a delightful spectacle; with  hands flying, students running to the chalkboard to label something and trying to outdo each other on speed tests.

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Photo: R.J Walters

It wasn’t long before we had run out of gifts. To wrap up, I decided to give a short pep talk on sharing and gratitude. I love it when I have a chance to impart more than curriculum to the kids. Values will take you further than anything you might learn from the normal school syllabus. I think.

 

“Teacher Trezer!”

I heard someone call out as I walked back to the car. I turned to see a tall, slender boy running towards me. I wondered what I had forgotten. I felt my pocket for my mobile phone and did a quick scan inside the brown box I was carrying; I couldn’t tell, so I waited.

He was almost out of breath when he got to me. I sensed some hesitation as he reached into his pocket and held out towards me a yellow bangle and an egg. I looked at the contents of his hand, then at his face. What was this?

As if sensing my unspoken need for clarification, the timid smile on his lips gave way to these words…

“I thought about what you said in class, about giving even when you could do with more yourself, and always saying thank you. Please accept this as my thank you to you for coming to Chumviere today.”

I stood there, lost for words, as his eyes pleaded with me to accept the gifts. I did. It took a lot not to tear up…(I can be a cry baby :D)…because this was, and still is the sweetest gesture anyone has ever extended to me. Raw and genuine. A bangle and an egg don’t seem like much, but coming from this young man, they spoke volumes. Eggs are such a luxury in these parts. I could even imagine the kind of meal he had envisioned  having after school, but here he was giving it to me. I don’t know why he chose the bangle though; maybe he thought the egg would be too little a gift by itself. Whatever his reasons were, I was moved.

I wore my bangle immediately and didn’t take it off for the duration of the week long trip. Every time I got frustrated about the heat, dust storms and long days, my yellow bangle would remind me about the ‘why’ and the impact on these great minds. This young man’s small act had succeeded in getting me to appreciate that what would seem like ‘just another day at work,’ is in fact an opportunity to inspire.

What a world it would be, if everyone of us was as receptive as this boy was! If each one of us acted out on what we know as right, and strive to see, do and commend the good around us. What a world it would be! How about I start practicing what I preach? Here, catch!

“Thank you for stopping by and taking time to read 🙂 I hope it was worth your time. Remember,  you’ve got the ammunition to make someone smile today. Do it! You will be happy you did :)”

 

 

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The Blood Moon

Interacting with different cultures fascinates me. I am always eager to take in as much as I can from the people I am visiting. Their traditions and way of life. I am nosy. LOL! But I am also a trained journalist, so I guess its a skill too. This post is however not about me(…the number of times I said ‘I’…whoa!)…

The full moon always scares us elephant people. In fact, while others call it lovers night, we call it blood moon. On days when there is a full moon, security around parks is heightened; rangers are on high alert and radios are fully charged. Poachers love the full moon. Easy spotting of their target and easy get away. They work so fast. Then all we find is blood and flesh, in place of the elephant face. Always seeking to be one step ahead, they now use the more advanced night goggles and poach whenever they want. Full moon or not. We are on to them.

Wednesday 8th October 2014, a blood moon is scheduled to be seen at different times the world over, well, almost. A different kind of blood moon. The lunar eclipse. I am seated at the edge of the Ewaso Nyiro marveling at the beauty of the illuminated full moon. Tonight it looks different, very very bright with a somewhat orange hue surrounding it making it stand out against the perfectly blue sky. Its breathtaking. A night guard at the camp joins me and says,

“Niliambiwa leo mwezi itakuwa nyekundu”-I am told the moon will be red tonight.

Blood moon

I ask him if he knows why, then I go ahead and try to explain the earth blocking the sun’s rays and what not. He looks at me blankly. Partly because I can’t find certain words in Kiswahili. So I google (21st century lifesaver 😀 ) a lunar eclipse image and show him. He nods, but he still doesn’t understand how the earth can block the moon yet the moon is on the sky that’s on the earth’s rooftop. Its hilarious. Never thought of it that way.  There are many myths surrounding the lunar eclipse around the world, I was excited to hear the Samburu version. Another guard joins us and together they tell me what the lunar eclipse means to the Samburus.

Lunar eclipse

“No one sleeps when the moon turns red. We believe the moon is God’s eye at night. When it is red, it is dead. All the women and children wake up and sing to the moon. They sing a “Surwa surwa” song. A song asking it to wake up and shine bright. The men also wake up and chant prayers to God. We sing healing songs too.”

This can go on for hours, until the moon shines bright again. It is healed.

I laugh at how interesting and fascinating all this is. Very different from my culturization.

“The born-towns don’t value the moon as those in the rural areas. All the electricity blinds you. You almost never notice how bright the moon is. How marvelous it is.  For us, it is a major boost to our night life. We will notice when its not as bright as it should be.”

I agree. Look up more often Born-towns 😀

PS: Surwa means blue in Samburu. There is some science about the blue and red of the Lunar eclipse here. What a coincidence that the the Samburu song was asking the moon to ‘go blue’ again!!

Being the 1st ‘Different One’- A moran’s perspective

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“How do you feel when you see your age-mates getting married and you are just there?”

I feigned a “Pardon?” while digging my brain for an appropriate answer.

A few days ago, I was in Kiltamanny area in Samburu County, interviewing a moran(A circumcised Samburu young man) about early marriages, polygamy and Female Genital Mutilation in his community. We were chatting up pretty easy until he asked me a question that caught me completely off-guard;

He didn’t ask, how would you feel, he said do. Ok, maybe I’m paranoid.

“How do you feel when you see your age-mates getting married and you are just there?”

One of two things;

  1. He wants to marry me (LoL)
  2. He’s trying to drive a point home by contextualizing* the issue.

“It depends.” I tell him.

“On what?”

Funny how this guy had turned the tables on me and now ‘held the microphone…’

“On how old you are, what kind of society you live in and personal life goals.”

“Ooooh. But isn’t a girl is a girl anywhere in the world. Girls like ‘groupie (not his exact words, implied) things.’ Following each other, doing things at the same time because you don’t want to be left behind.” TRUTH

I disputed with a couple of ‘intellectual’ arguments revolving around personality and reiterated my first answer. He nodded and let it go.

But he’d made his point. In communities where there is little exposure, education (formal) and influence from the outside world, questioning traditions is useless. A girl is circumcised at age10, 11 and by 13, she’s ripe for marriage. By the time, she’s 20, she has at least 5 children. After a few more years, her husband will then bring her a helper and the cycle will continue until there are no more cows to give as dowry.

“In other parts of Kenya, there are more unmarried women.” He says.

I laugh and ask him if by marrying more than one wife a man does a favor to women folk. He smiles.

“In these villages, if my age-mates are getting married at 13, having gone through the rite of passage, I can’t ‘hang out’ with them if I haven’t done it. They are WOMEN…I am not. The feeling of seclusion and solitude is universal. I think that’s the biggest hurdle. To convince someone that its ok to be different, to be the FIRST different one.”

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How many women are you going to marry?

“Nikioa wengi, ni mmoja tu.” (Only one)

So why was he trying to defend the polygamists, FGM and early marriages?

“I did no such thing. I just stated facts and why outsiders need to find more innovative ways of bringing mindset change where its not wanted. If any strategy is to work, the initiative has to be taken up by those of us (from the community) who have tested and seen the benefits of first, education. Education really is the key. I would be somewhere in the bushes raiding another community for cattle if it were not for an education.”

I left this interview EDUCATED. All the stereotypes and ujuaji I had coming into this had vaporised.

Lessons:

 -Dare to stand out. Be the first. Take one for the team.

– The feeling of seclusion and solitude is universal. Reach out when and if you can. At one point or another, you have felt something similar.

-Formal education is cool, but it won’t take you nowhere without informal education.

-Have conversations with an open mind, you will get what you came for and more.

 

 

What does Vera Sidika have to do with it?

“No butts, Vera is a national issue” A headline on of the lifestyle magazines in Kenya today.

Very interesting. Within days of the now ‘famous’ Vera Sidika Ksh.50m skin lightening procedure, she has had numerous interviews on both local and international media. On social media, a majority are clearly against her changing her complexion, while a small number say its her body and she has a right to do whatever she wants with it. The other negligible percentage don’t know who Vera is and keep asking what the fuss is all about. In PR, there is no such thing as bad publicity. They all direct spotlight at the brand. Vera’s business has been given a boost, heck! She might even go on and meet Kim Kardashian and become bottom buddies!

Now, I don’t want to start on whether whatever she did is right or wrong, as that would never be conclusive. However, I would like to suggest the following;

1. Airtime

For every one socialite (whatever that means), can we have 10 other women doing extraordinary things being given the attention that the likes of Vera have been getting. For instance,  #KOT (Kenyans On Twitter) were very capable of making Captain Koki Mutungi, the Kenya’s first female pilot of a Dreamliner a Trending Topic(#TT). Instead, we chose #bleachedBeauty and #campusdiva. None of these TT had anything productive. Just backlashes. Well, maybe a few tweets here and there were positive. Let’s face it, we are not having healthy online conversations. The power social media has in the 21st century is massive, so much that it sets the agenda for what is aired on traditional media. Now if mainstream media won’t join us in the ‘One for 10’ campaign, then lets use Twitter and Facebook and arm twist the Tv and Radio stations into seeing through our now(hopefully) refined eyes.

2. Mentorship

If you are one among many women who have been spewing serious bile on this issue, I dare you to do something about it! While you are busy condemning others on their inability to be proper role models for young girls, I bet you the same girls are yearning for ‘a big sister’ or friend to sit and just talk. Just because. Your financial status not withstanding. You can speak life to this teen. Oh, and don’t go bossing them around with a know-it-all attitude!

3. Don’t just let your kids grow up, raise them

I know this question might border close to unrealistic but, can we not let our children be raised up by the media? Can we give them the best grounding and foundation that the first place they are going to look for role models is at home? Mom, Dad, Big Sister or Big brother. The excuse, the media is corrupting our children is getting old. In giving credit where it is due though, the media has done its fare share of CSR, having exposed us to some great minds and personalities. So we need to stop complaining, because most of these media houses are in business and they need to make money(apparently the only way is to air this rot we do not agree with). Yes, let’s apply pressure till they budge; but until then, lets raise our children as we would love to see them turn out, then trust them to sieve what the media exposes them to and only pick what they feel is best and relevant in their lives. Sometimes they’ll chose paths that we don’t think or feel are right but ultimately the choice will be theirs. You would have done your part.

When people see kids misbehaving, they don’t ask..What TV channel does she watch? OR What does he listen to? They mostly ask,”Who’s her mother, father? Who raised him?

4. Let’s keep the conversation alive

“I am glad Vera did this skin lightening thing,”a friend remarked. “As far as I can remember, this is the longest we’ve had this conversation in mass.” I agree, only that I need to add that the conversation needs to stop bordering on condemnation and crucifixion and more towards positive engagement. I can bet on my mama’s spiced chicken that we all know of family or friends have gone down this road. We were scared to confront, well, ask them about it…but now…:) Today we celebrate Lupita Nyong’o, her dark skin and all. We must realize that this celebration is as a result of a long time journey for Lupita, having also battled with issues to do with ‘beauty and skin deep’. We also need to be willing to walk this journey with the people we love.

I am not offering very concrete solutions here…am I? 🙂 but while we wait, who’s with me? Is there a chance that these might actually work?

In his daughter’s eyes…

When I knew nothing about brothers and sisters coming from the same womb, I thought he and Archie Moroka of the South African drama series Generations were brothers; and I would brag about it all the time. After all, they had the same moustache design as well as similar facial profiles- He is the perfect definition of tall, light and handsome, my dad. I know what you are thinking, a side to side photo of he and Achie to prove it? Forget it.

He is a lot of things, and from that basketful, you’ll find things such as clean freak, disciplinarian, model, shoe freak, eeerm, what do you call men fashionistas?Yes, tempered, great cook, father, husband, friend etc etc. Like every parent on planet earth, he was always number one, favourite subject Mathematics. I have bitter- sweet childhood memories I’d rather not get into today, but it was worth living in that era with him as my dad. Definitely!

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I recently entered a beauty pageant, “Miss Plus Kenya” that seeks to encourage plus size women to love themselves as they are, boost their self esteem and live a rich healthy lifestyle. A win, offers a chance to be in the leading pack, creating awareness on diabetes and making Kenya a diabetes free zone. Purpose. It is quite exciting! When I told my dad that I was participating in this, he quipped “Utashinda lini?”(When do you get to be crowned?) For him, its not a matter of ‘if’ its when the win happens. I get pleasantly surprised when he calls to ask, “sasa mmebaki wangapi?”(How many of you are left?) and  one thing he always says…”Utashinda tuuuuu. What love! He will get a front row seat in the finals, best believe! and I already see him proudly declaring “This is my daughter!” no matter the outcome.

As years go by, I think dads start realizing their little girls growing up is not necessarily a good thing. Sometimes, boys and men will flock the house and they will not use the ‘can I borrow the science book or we have group work’ excuse. The once clingy little girl will see daddy as being up in her space-too much. At some point, dad will not be the ‘to go to person’. Its a competition! He can’t choose her skirts for her any more. No pet names, ok maybe a little when she’s not with her grown up friends. Then she will grow up some more, and move out. University degree in the bag. Daddy’s proud.

I still got my daddy…am still daddy’s girl, he’s still my No.1 man. This valentines, I send out all the love in the world to all dads who think they have lost or are loosing their daughters; to distance or to the other man. The one whom he gave her to that sunny morning at the end of the aisle. To trust that this man will look after her, like he did. Secretly wishing that he won’t outdo him, but in the same breath hoping that she will be the happiest she’s ever been.

You are not losing her. You have not lost her. In times when being all grown up is cliche, you are the only one who can entertain her child-like tendencies…you are her father after all. No one can quite describe her first day on earth like you can. How proud you felt with that first step, word and everything else she accomplished after that. Deep down, even she knows that you are forever…in heart, spirit, love.

In your daughter’s eyes…