Assuming nothing; questioning everything

Archive for February, 2015

A book for every crisis of my life

books animation

Every time I take a new book to read, I hope that it will be one that will engage my senses and emotions, consume my thoughts and heart away, and make it extremely difficult to put it down. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen to me that often. I have read many good books, but they often fail to grip me or rip me apart the way I expect, want or need them too.

In a desperate attempt to find that book, I have been asking myself, what kind of book will it take to give me this kind experience? I have experienced it, and I want to experience it again and again. So, I began to explore, what the books that had this effect on me, have in common, and I noticed a rather interesting pattern; each one, speaking to an identity crisis.

The first time a book totally consumed me was in my early teens. At that point in time, I was going through that period that changed me, overnight from being a girl to “a woman” who needed to be “careful” because of the “danger” that it presented. I was not supposed to “play” with boys, because “I would get pregnant, get HIV, drop out school, or try to procure an abortion, and probably die in the process or be barren all my life”. That was sex education 101, for me in a nutshell. My “new-found womanhood” was a source of fear, and one that had the potential to ruin my entire life. I had to be very “clever” and “careful” if I wanted to finish unscathed. This message was repeated over and over; at school, at home, and in the “Welcome to Growing Up” books that I was required to read.

In the midst of growing up and being impressionable, my classmate lent me a novel to read; my first Mills and Boon, which I read the entire night, suffering my first hangover, and luckily not an alcohol-induced one. That night I got my sex education 102, a potential eraser of Sex ed. 101, and a new lesson about the “other side of my new-found womanhood”. In six hours I was introduced to a world of fantasy with unrealistic expectations of relationships, romance and sex. What kept me awake that night though, was the fresh and exciting discovery that being a sexual being was not just about danger, pain and shattered dreams but also about desire, romance and pleasure. This potentially erased all my previous sex ed., had it not been for the determination of my sex ed. 101 teachers, who hammered the message as often as possible. The confusion that comes with the conflicting messages, and bias of both narratives is a story for another day.

mills-boon

The second time I was unable to put down a book was in my early 20’s. This time, it was Marilyn French’s book, The Women’s Room. I bumped into this book when I was beginning to seriously question gender norms, what it meant to be a woman, and why women were in many ways given “lesser beings” status. So, when I met these women in Marilyn French’s book, I had an instant connection with them. Fascinated by their determination to break away from the social and economic limitations that society had placed on them, I felt as if we were walking the journey together. The conversational experience I had reading the book, was phenomenal. I cheered them on, asked the same questions they did, laughed and cried with them, and told my story as they told theirs. After reading that book I declared myself a feminist, a decision and journey that has been both interesting and frustrating. Again, that is not a story, but stories for other days.

We can all do it

The third and sadly, the last time a book consumed me in my entirety, was Chimamanda Adichie’s book, Americanah. At that time, in my early 30’s, I was struggling with my identity as a black person, an African, a Kenyan, and wanna-be-citizen-of-the-world. I had been to Europe studying, coming back to Kenya with high expectations, only to be met by a country that seemed to have little regard for what I had to offer, and for its people in general. At the height of my frustration, I toyed with the idea of disengaging from my Kenyan roots. I justified my thinking and tried to erase my guilt by arguing that I had not chosen my country of birth, and therefore accorded myself the right to live and be a citizen of my country of choice.

Like the prodigal son, I packed my bags, and set off on a journey to a far-off land to seek better fortunes. Unfortunately, my country of “choice” was proving to be equally, if not more hostile than my country of birth.
It was at that point, in my small room in London, that I met Ifemelu in Americanah. A young woman who had left her home, in Nigeria, leaving Obinze, her long-term boyfriend and the one thing that mattered most to her in the world, only to find that America wasn’t as rosy as she expected it to be, particularly for a black person. Reading Americanah, I reflected on my experiences, and began to ask myself whether I was leaving the 80 % that my country offered me, to engage in an endless search for the 20 % that I was missing.

Chimamanda quote 1

Americanah, took me on a long ongoing journey. At that point, like the prodigal son, it directed me back home, physically. At the moment, it continues to direct me home in my heart and mind. I have many stories, again for other days, on my experiences and struggles on the journey to be Kenyan in my heart and in my mind.

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If Kenyans want peace, they must work for justice

socialjustice

This week marked the 31st anniversary of the Wagalla massacre. The massacre happened between 10th to 14th February 1984, in the Wajir district. Although the official government report states that 57 people died in the incident, the TJRC report states approximately 1000 people died, while eye witness accounts claim the number may go up to 5000.

The Wagalla massacre was perpetrated by state security officers, who were acting on information that members of the Degodia community had accumulated weapons to attack those of the Ajuran commuty. The state security rounded up men from the Degodia community locking them up on the Wagalla airstrip, under the hot sun, without food or water for four days.

Hundreds died from heat, hunger and thirst, while those who tried to escape were shot dead. Back in their homes the mothers, wives and daughters of the Degodia community, were raped and tortured, and their homes set ablaze, as state security officers searched for the hidden weapons.

The wounds of the massacre, both physical and emotional, are yet to heal. The  Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) was established to investigate this and other historical injustices between 1963 and 2008.

To date, none of the recommendations of the TJRC have been implemented. Not a single arrest has been made with regard to the massacre.  Sadly, after the Wagalla Massacre, there have at least 12 other massacres resulting in more than 3000 deaths.  Most of these massacres have been in the Northern and Coastal parts of Kenya.  The culture of “accepting and moving on” and failing to learn from the past has not done any good, in terms of achieving justice.

Justice

To many of us, this is a story we have never heard. It is so distant from us, we struggle to empathise with the survivors. But the truth is, that we cannot move forward as a nation, if certain communities continue to bleed from the wounds of injustice.

It is very ignorant of us to imagine that our actions, inactions, and choices to ignore certain historical events, will not catch up with us one day. We act as if the resultant threats to security and livelihoods won’t affect us. We act as if the security failures in the North-East and the Coast won’t affect us in “safer parts of the country”. Westgate proved otherwise. The post-election violence of 2007/2008 is a stark reminder that this short-sighted optimism is misplaced.

What the Wagalla massacre reveals is that the truth will always emerge. Though the events of the massacre had been concealed for a long time, and treated as a taboo subject, people can now discuss it freely on social media, and in public spaces, through screenings of “Scarred: the Anatomy of a Massacre” for instance in Nairobi and Wajir.

Just as truth is emerging, a strong quest for justice will emerge. The question is, what incentive do victims of impunity have to trust the State to deliver justice, when it has constantly failed them?

Former Speaker of National Assembly, Farah Maalim Mohammed, in his remarks after the screening of the Wagalla Massacre documentary in Nairobi, reflected on the fact that both local and international justice systems had failed Kenyans.

The TJRC failed to deliver justice for victims of historical injustices, while the ICC failed to deliver justice for victims of the 2007/2008 post-election violence. In the absence of trust for both local and international justice systems, communities may resort to their own mechanisms for justice.

Such a scenario paints uncertainty, and calls for Kenyans to demand truth, justice and reconciliation through proper state mechanisms. It also calls for us to demand and fight for restoration of faith in our justice systems.

We must be our brothers and sisters keepers.  In the words of our national anthem “May justice be our shield and defender”

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