When I read Wangari Maathai’s autobiography Unbowed, I was going through one of my lowest points this year. I was feeling tired, deflated and depleted, and questioning whether “all this” matters. “All this” being my struggle for emancipation of women and other oppressed groups.
I was so deflated, that I thought I would never blog again. I was tired of the constant scandals and crisis mode that has become of this country. I remember sharing with a friend how tired I was of the fact that the entire year has been characterized by crisis after crisis, with a new scandal emerging almost every other week. I was growing weary from the fact that despite so many efforts, women are increasingly becoming more unsafe, to the extent of being raped while seeking medical care.
Looking at the magnitude of what has been happening, I felt overwhelmed and wondered whether what I was doing really mattered. I felt that I needed some inspiration, otherwise, my spirit was going to die a slow death.
It was at this point that I picked Wangari Maathai for inspiration. I chose Wangari for two reasons; one being that September was the month that we lost her four years ago, and I thought reading and understanding her cause would be a great way to celebrate her life. The second being that, I established a connection with Wangari at the age of 9, and over the years, I have considered her a soul sister, and I therefore expected her to speak to me during my low.
True to my expectation, Wangari spoke to me the way no one else would have at that time. I picked 3 key things from reading the book unbowed: one, the power of voice, two, that no matter how difficult, change is at hand when we persist, and three, that we are never alone, even when it seems that way.
- Voice is power
As I was reflecting on the power of Wangari’s voice in protecting Uhuru Park and Karura Forest, I realized that that we have those two green spaces in the concrete jungle that Nairobi is, because Wangari decided not to be quiet about it, and instead wrote letters to different government authorities questioning the intentions to build a sky scrapper on Karura Forest and put up private development in Karura Forest.
- Change is possible
The most profound part of Wangari Maathai’s struggle for change was the year-long vigil held at All Saints Cathedral with mothers of political prisoners, demanding for the release of their sons. For a year, they slept on benches demanding for change, and they did not waiver in their pursuit, until their demands were met.
Wangari’s spirit must have had an agenda to reinforce the message because at around the same time, I received a number of comments on my blog, on email and even by my friends, saying that my blog was changing the way they were seeing things, and they were becoming more conscious and found themselves questioning what they would consider normal. That energized me to keep going, knowing that no matter how slow, no matter how minimal, change is coming.
- We are never alone
My third lesson comes from Wangari’s recollection of her horrendous experience being arrested and locked up in a cold cell at the age of 52, while suffering from arthritis in both knees, and the impact that had on her health. She recalls how she had to be carried by four policewomen into the courtroom while crying and weak from hunger. As she was being carried into an ambulance to take her to hospital, she saw a banner from a group of women reading, “WANGARI, BRAVE DAUGHTER OF KENYA. YOU WILL NEVER WALK ALONE AGAIN.”
She says that this warmed her heart and helped her realize that no matter what happened to her, there were people who wished her well, and who understood what it meant to be a woman fighting for the future of her country.
I too experienced that towards the end of the week, when I was feeling as if I was alone in the struggle. I met some wonderful Kenyans that spoke with deep concern about what is happening and the need for change. Speaking to them reminded me that I am not alone, that there are people who care and doing whatever they can in their small ways to change things.
So, I may be tired, but I will not give up because I am convinced in the power of my voice to create change, and know that I am not alone, because there are many of us working to create the change we desire. As Wangari Maathai would say in her humming bird story, “I will do something about the fire….I will be a humming bird, I will do the best I can”.