THE ONE THING I KNOW ABOUT KENYA

I have been thinking about Kenya as I am sure  have you, even though it may have been for just one fleeting moment. Indeed being a journalist the first thought that crossed by mind ( in fact always crosses my mind  when any story breaks ) when I saw the breaking story on the BBC world news headlines early Thursday morning was to rush to the airport  board the next plane to Kenya and start filing stories immediately. Since it was not possible to hop into a plane at that very moment, I started to think deeply about Kenya. I entered a place of meditation. I began to search my soul for the answers. I began to page through my memory book in the hope that I could find some piece of evidence, missing link, a clue, some piece of new or undiscovered information that could make this all fit logically into an equation we could all calculate and arrive  at the same answer. During my internal investigation I was hoping to find a piece of luminosity in this large stew of blood, tears, grief and tragedy. My thoughts first went to the obvious. The Easter weekend; celebrated by both Orthodox Jews and Christians. The Jews call it Passover and it  is a commemoration of a biblical event  when God freed the Jews from their life of slavery in Egypt. He inflicted 10 plagues on Egypt the last one being the slaughter of all of Egypt’s’ first born children. Before doing that the lord instructed  the Israelites/Jews to mark their homes with the blood of a spring lamb so that the Spirit of the lords  would pass over their homes.  Christians also mark the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and his subsequent resurrections during Easter.  While these Judeo-christian holiday celebrations may explain the timing of the attacks,  these parallels however are counter-productive and do not contribute meaningfully to the political stand-off. Religious references in this case will only serve to en-flame an already volatile situation. So I had to look somewhere else. I began yet again to  ask  myself how I  could write differently about a story which is being covered from every possible angle by all the major news networks around the world? What new information could I reveal about the situation in Kenya from my laptop in South Africa? What do I know about Kenyan politics, history and the events and contexts which have brought this and many other terrorists attacks  to the country since the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Nairobi and  Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The reasons for the 1998 attacks and those on the 2nd of April are not very different even though the organizations orchestrating them are. All of the terrorist attacks have been motivated by revenge and are connected by four countries; The United States, Somalia, Sudan and Kenya.  The latter paying the price for it’s  role as a broker and  go-between. But everyone knows about east-African regional politics and the global Jihadist movement. What more can I offer to the general conversation. The more I stayed with the question, the more I delved deeper into my own personal archives in search of something more interesting and relevant, a piece of new information. While in the midst of my thoughts a startling fact revealed itself to me.  At first I could not believe it you see, because the truth is often so unbelievably simple, you often continue to search for the answer even after it has been laid bare  for you. The more I tried to search for what I consider to be an intelligent, erudite and lucid analysis of current events in Kenya, the more it became apparent to me that the story I needed to tell about Kenya was not a political one.   The story I am meant to write has nothing to do with terrorism, death, Al-Qaeda or Al-Shabaab.

The first time I traveled to Kenya was in 2002. It was my maiden trip to a foreign country and my first flight ever. I was glad to be travelling in company with a friend and colleague MG, who made the experience so much more enjoyable.  I was young, fresh and eager to absorb the newness of a new country and city.  We had been invited by the United Nations Development Agency (UNDP) for a  reporting workshop.  But all  I  and our my colleagues wanted was to break out of the conference walls and experience the city and its people who were infinitely more interesting than the workshop.  We did eventually find our way to the market place where MG was forced to literally hold my hand through the human traffic lest I be swept away by  waves of people moving like the sea in all directions.  My head was spinning just as fast. I found everything  interesting, my curiosity was inflamed by the sights,  sounds and smells of the city. It was a new form of  intoxication one that I had never experienced before but I knew for sure I could never get enough of.  It was a drunken rush of  new experiences to my head. I wanted take it all in. Asante Sana. Jambo. Saying Hello and Thank you had never been so exhilarating. I looked forward to any and every opportunity of saying Asante, sana.    I was inspired by the infinite possibilities of learning a new language. I wanted to stay.

It was such a heady experience all I managed to do in lieu of work while there was to take a sound recording of the city in the hope that one day the sounds could take shape and become words which I could one day use to return to that place over and over again.  It was a silent interaction,  where I did the listening.  I never once wrote a story. This is a first.

I fell in love with the African continent in Kenya. I fell in love with life.

My second trip to Kenya was to visit a friend and colleague and pursue what I thought was a promising romantic prospect.   I was not prepared for the loving warm reception I would receive from my friends’s friends.  We danced like crazy, ate and laughed the weekend away. I was cloaked in-love from head to toe. All my frantic search for something new, for new facts and information have led me back to where I started in the first place.

My quest to write something led me to the very same conclusion that I reached the first time I arrived in Kenya. Words were not necessary.

The one thing I know about Kenya is that love lives there.  It is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen. 1917248_720063085777_2353745_n

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The Girl From Addis…(an unlikely book review)

Cover of "Girl from Addis"
Cover of Girl from Addis

Heaven for me is: A world full of books, and I’ve been buried under mounds of them here at the Kliptown Youth Center (SKY).   What I’m doing here is volunteering, assisting the volunteer staff to take stock of how many books there are in the learning center, with a view to eventually creating a data-base for a functioning Library.  My job is to clean up. I’m  in the  library every day and it takes all of my willpower to focus on the task at hand which is:  packing books, cleaning shelves, rearranging the furniture and shelves, cleaning, moving rubbish, shooing children who’ve so far used it as a playground, which would be great if they actually read the books in the learning center instead of destroying them.  It takes all of my willpower to look over interesting  and inviting books and titles and I just couldn’t resist reading….

The Girl from Addis by Ted Allbeury.

Suddenly I am lying on the black leather sofa and travelling to 1960 Ethiopia, with author Ted Allbeury, a former British M16 operative – or more officially, a former  Lieutenant-Colonel in the Army Intelligence Corps during the Second World War. Allbeury worked in Sales , advertising and radio ( at the BBC), after the war before writing his first novel. He has  written an estimated 20 novels under different names since then.

I was drawn to the book because Ethiopia has been on my lately for a number of reasons, I’ve never been to that land. And it was for me a great escape from Simone de Beauvoirs’ Second Sex , I felt rebuked, chastised from all sides by the author. I could also run away from the  rows and rows of books which seemed to be calling me to read them … though in actual fact they just needed a place to stay.  Besides the book  was so thin I could be done in a few hours.

In a sentence the story is about an ex-MI6 operative now working as a photographer, who returns to Ethiopia, where he finds both romance and danger waiting for him.

The book is set  shortly after  the  Ethiopian  war.  Which  began on 12 September 1974 when the Marxist Derg staged a coup d’état against Emperor Haile Selassie, whom the main character in the book was an advisor to, before his cover was blown. The civil war lasted until 1991 when the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front(EPRDF)—a coalition of rebel groups led by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)—overthrew the Derg government and installed a transitional government in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa The Derg government had been weakened by their loss of support due to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. The book is about how this guy was used a pawn in an intricate chess game between, Russia, Britain, and to some lesser extent the US and Italy.  he was tasked to find and blow up military arms bases from Cuba and Russia stored on the border between Ethiopia and Somalia. Russia’s’  plan according to the Somali revolutionary army, was to destabilize Somalia, and take over the rest of East Africa including Kenya. The British seemingly had no real stake in the matter but were interested to know what their  enemies in this case Russia and Cuba were up to.  They eventually blew up the military arms base (triggering war  between Somalia and Ethiopia ) under the guise of helping the Somali revolutionaries, as a way of stopping russia from its planned takeover of the indian ocean, and East Africa. The Russians were using the Derg in Ethiopia and using the country as a base to occupy all of East Africa – which would mean control of the Indian Ocean etc.  The photographer and his love affair got off lightly from the ensuing espionage, but it was an invaluable read ( and snap-shot ) back in history especially in light of the recent terrorist attack by the Islamist Somali Group Al-shabaab , who have killed at least 60 people at Nairobi’s West Gate mall, in an effort to force Kenyan troops out of Somalia.

http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article47469

http://www.tesfanews.net/eritrea-pledges-support-to-somalia-government/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somalia

When I put the book back on the shelf,I felt like a naughty child who has just opened his present a day before christmas, or stolen a cookie from the cookie jar. it was a lovely trip. I am learning again and again, that we can learn from everything, and every situation and any book – Simone De Beauvoir says in her Seminal Book The Second Sex “Mystery is never more than a mirage that vanishes as we draw nearer to look at it”.   I  laugh at myself and think I do like punishing myself, why choose a book-worm to re-organize the library?

But the learning center – Library has been in disarray for some time now, and I feel even just a little order, a bit of cleanliness can restore some respect from those who use it.  Working in the Library, or learning center took me back to my college days when I would often go to the library on campus after lectures to read and watch documentaries then take a taxi to Pinetown where I lived and would spend the rest of the afternoon at the library reading books – mostly autobiographies, some romantic novels, and then hire out more BBC dramas which brought to life – such books as Pride and Prejudice, A Tale of Two city’s etc.  It would be a game of trying to figure out, if the characters on television would be the same as the characters you imagined while reading the book. As a family, my siblings and I loved the BBC dramas because they were long and we could stay in at home for an entire weekends without venturing outside, as long as we had enough movies to watch,  our parents didn’t encourage regular television. We had little access to TV1,2 and 3. Movies on the other  hand were encouraged, because my parents could select what we watched, and we used to look forward to holidays because my father would bring loads of them for us to watch.   I enjoyed the comfort of a library and it was the main reason I volunteered to work in the learning center, because it looked so lonely and without love, in the hope that  I could somehow re-create that same atmosphere at the center, which soothed me so as a teenager and young adult. I would love for them to enter into a quiet, safe space and find joy in travelling to other lands, spaces, places and experience a different life from the daily every day of their physical environment. That is what books did for me and movies.

Paradise for me is….

So here at SKY there are books on almost every subject under the skies and in different languages too. The children’s books are the best kind. There was one with a title “Chicken or Egg ?” which caught my attention and I started reading it mid-packing. The book described different types of chicken, what they are called etc and ended with this statement that got me chuckling  -“ So if someone asks you which came first the chicken or the egg? you can say the egg, because we eat eggs in the morning and chicken for  dinner” Now that’s an answer  I never considered. But yes to answer the question of Paradise: Paradise  for me would be – a time when we all can use this knowledge in decaying and neglected dusty book shelves to solve our problems, now – today. To create  sustainable livelihoods, to bring up positive, creative and loving people – to create a world where we can combine our experience, our talents and passions with  knowledge to break the chains of poverty,  disease and lack. The knowledge is there, but how do we apply it in our lives so that it brings about meaningful change? locally and globally?  This question haunts me a little because I fear books are fast becoming so unfashionable,  life happens online – a new way of travelling, seeing the world and meeting people, books are heavy, wordy, with few pictures, you have to use your imagination. Social Networking means people don’t have enough focus to read large heavy texts and fully spelled out words. I don’t object to technology at all, I am a fan.  Information is King, but what use is all this information or knowledge if it can’t be used to alleviate poverty, to create a better people, better homes, better relationships, working environments. What’s the use of having a lot of information about things which cannot help you to get out of a sticky situation, improve your own life. If I were able to do that – then I would not only be in heaven, my world will be paradise, because my heaven (books) would help me create Paradise on earth.