Saturday, February 6, 2016

Stillness In the Wind


If you want to talk to the gods, tell it to the wind...

... his father had told him. 
Yet how could he tell it?  
The winds were still
The birds sang at the wrong time
Tree frogs had stopped croaking
Yes, flowers blossomed and leaves shed
But at the wrong time
Could he still talk to the gods, 
Could he still tell it to the wind?


They lusted at the expanse of green through the wrought-iron railings. Lush blades of grass so close-knit they formed an undulating moat around the ranch. Red brick palatial buildings occupied the front half of the property. The servants’ quarters were in the back garden before a generous array of indigenous trees lined up in a pageantry befitting the stately residence. The morning’s dew evaporated into the air, diffusing the scents of fig, camphor and grass, causing the hungrier cows to kneel on their forelegs, crane their necks, poke their heads through the fence and wrap flexible tongues around new tender growth. The persevering group: five herders, alongside a throng of hides, hooves, hot mouths and clanging cowbells, crowded the gates with attendant horn flies congregated on their backs.


The morning had begun with the promise of an equatorial December, the rays of the sun would be perpendicular to the surface of the earth by noon.

Nini?” The guard’s rude voice assailed them through the gates.

The cattle stomped their hooves and their long flowing tails swept the air, propelling pungent hints of cow dung in his direction. The herders leaned into the flanks of the cows closest to them, and with gentle reverence stroked, quieted them into a mood immediately absorbed by the herd.

Nyinyi nani?” Who are you? The guard stood firm; in a world very distant from the narrow footpaths leading to the cattlemen’s homesteads. He adjusted the strap of the upturned rifle on his shoulder, and then rested his fingers on the Walkie Talkie strapped to his belt.

Koinet stepped forward. “The President told us we could graze our cattle today. This is the permit.” He presented a paper weathered by its transfer from hand to hand.

The guard thrust his face forward. “Inasema?” What does it say?

“Livestock Grazing Permit,” Koinet accurately guessed the guard’s inability to read, “it is like the permits given to graze in the Maasai Mara National Reserve,” Koinet added. “This one is for seven hours per day.”

"How much did you pay for that?”

“It was free. From Ministry of Agriculture, approved by the president.” Koinet said, holding onto the shuka lifting off his shoulders in the light breeze. The rest of the herders hummed a singsong response, in support. They did not care that their wrappers were flapping to bare their tattered loincloths and their privates. Their ashy legs and feet stood encased in sandals crafted from old tires, shock-absorbers, thick enough to tread innumerable kilometers in search of grazing ground.

The guard turned his back to them, unclipped the Walkie Talkie from his belt, and dispatched a message.


“Jomo, come in.”
“Yes Kitui, nini?"
“There are some Maasai's here with their cows?”

The cows eyed the sumptuous overseeded green lawn, eager to offer a mowing to the expanse big enough to pasture one hundred cattle. The coarse and dry tufts they had come from yielded poor, under-producing dairy cows and emaciated beef for slaughter.

The Walkie Talkie cackled.

“Yes, those are the orders: as long as the President is not around.  Kitui, let them in.”

Kitui turned to them and said, grudgingly, “Ok. You can enter, for only three hours,” he added pleased with the little authority he could command.

“And make sure you clean the shit before you leave,” he added.

The hungry cattle hurried through the gates with bent heads tugging at the tendrils, crowding the entryway and causing a brief jam before the gentle prods and whistles of their masters urged them on.

Asante --” Koinet began but the guard interrupted him.

“You will give me some chai, eh?” Kitui said.

“We have nothing left; we used the last of it to buy our water.” Koinet said.

Koinet and the herders steered the cattle through the well-tended property. Except for the herders’ subdued voices and the gentle snorts of the cows there was stillness, a feeling of being in a sanctuary, witnessing the orderly grazing, ruminating and resting of cattle. Unlike the barren landscapes of their homesteads this was a temporary reprieve for the long suffering. The bore-hole and the stream running at the bottom of the garden assured its sustenance.

These days finding fresh pasture was as unpredictable as the weather patterns.

Could he still talk to the gods, 
Could he still tell it to the wind?
Maybe this guy knows?

(Part 1 of a short story)
Mama Shujaa.
Hana Njau-Okolo © 2008-2016. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, January 25, 2016

In Quest of Justice, a memoir by Rebeka Njau

A first look at the memoir of Kenya's pioneer writer Rebeka Njau, author of The Sacred Seed, Books Horizon (2003), Ripples In The Pool, Heinemann (1978) and The Scar (1965). Here is the first chapter of her soon to be completed memoir.


In Quest of Justice, a Memoir by Rebeka Njau

Chapter One

WHEN I decided to write the story of my life, I struggled to find the best way to express my deep and complex emotions. Finally, in memory of the poetry of my earlier years as a writer, I chose to open this memoir with the following lines:

My ears are plugged up
By poisonous spittle of a grimy tongue;
Times without number,
Little birds have been twittering, joyfully at my backyard,
But I cannot hear them.
Falsity, scattered like seeds
Everywhere I tread,
Has driven me to extreme bitterness and pain,
Making me feel powerless to forgive and forget.

Like a piece of rock that stands on its own,
I stand alone beside a sweet-scented bush
To ease my heavy heart.
Then in desperate helplessness
I approach the Mugumo tree, in my compound
To offer my supplications
To the Comforter, the Maker of all Things
And erase the agonies of pain.

But my attention is diverted;
I see images of Ondiri’s swamp,
Looking like a large carpet of mossy green;
Decades ago it was a sight to behold;
A sight to take one’s breath away.
Memories of that natural spectacle, flood my mind.
I recall the day I waded through it
The ground swayed from side to side
Scaring me to the uttermost.

When I recollect that act of courage
Inspired by Guka’s captivating words of wisdom
And the amulet he wore
To shield himself against evil forces,
I ask myself:
Who will shield me against the fangs of the unjust?
As I lift up my eyes, suddenly an apparition flashes across my face,
Leaving behind haunting images of a day I will never forget.

THAT DAY, August 1975, lunch-time. Very cold. I had had a restless night, for no clear reason. I picked up a book by Henrik Ibsen, one of my favourite playwrights and decided to finish reading A Doll’s House.

But before I reach the part where Nora, Helma’s wife, decides to escape from the clutches of male egotism, my telephone rings. I pick it up, but hesitate to answer. The caller says ‘hallo’ twice. I recognize the voice. It is my sister, Keziah. We exchange greetings. Then unexpectedly, she drops a bomb-shell that almost lacerates my ear-drums.

“Your husband, Elimo Njau has formalized his marriage to his African-American girlfriend.”

“What?” I exclaim in disbelief.

“Don’t say you do not know. It is a public scandal. They were joined in so-called holy matrimony in Moshi, Tanzania and they have a baby girl.”

“That can’t be true. He is still married to me,” I gasp. ‘It is against the law.”

“What law? Take courage, my sister. It is not the end of the world. The sky won’t fall on you,” she says and hangs up.

My mind reels. My lobes are on fire. A sinking painful sensation stirs inside me. I take a long deep breath to calm my palpitating heart. But like a withering leaf blown into a windstorm, my entire body is hurled to the centre of a whirl-pool, where my energy is sucked out of me, making me feel like a swamp drained of its water. I keep taking deep breaths. I shake my head with disbelief, anger. I try to convince myself that my sister's words cannot be true.

To me, polygamy is not an option. It goes against the Christian values that my mother, a devoted Christian evangelist instilled in the whole family. As growing youngsters, brought up among Christians who were ‘born again’, we were taught that a Christian marriage was meant to be monogamous. If my mother had suspected that my future husband would one day become a polygamist, she would have refused him permission to marry me.

I rested my head on my desk and appealed to my Creator to grant me courage to overcome the pain and bitterness. I appealed for strength as I did not want to let humiliation devour me and wreck my confidence, my hopes. After a while, I stood up, walked to the window. A six-storied building in the horizon held my gaze. An image flashed through my mind. It was the picture of the Mukungugu tree, a hardy tree that grew on Guka’s land near the banks of Nyongara river. Clinging to the tree was a tender yam plant which had twined its delicate limbs around its mother’s neck, like a child. That image captivated me. I fascinated over the bond of love and harmony displayed by those two creations of nature, linked together like the inseparable needle and thread. The image conjured up different strands of my life, and like in a dream, I heard the echo of my mother’s voice singing one of her favourite songs, “Blessed Assurance.” And my voice joined hers in the chorus, humming. “This is my story. This is my song.”

Before I could complete the chorus, ugly memories pervaded my mind. I recalled all the lies that my husband had drummed into my ears, regarding his relationship with his girlfriend. I felt humiliated when I remembered the sworn oath we took on that warm day of December 19, 1959 at the chapel of Alliance Girls High School, Kikuyu where I was a teacher. All the talk that we engaged in concerning sticking together was now meaningless. And as those corrosive memories continued to flood my head, I saw the images of my son, Morille and my daughter, Hannah, in their early teens, groping in the dark trying to reach me.

I returned to my desk, shaking in helpless fury. The tears came and I let them flood and cleanse my face. After a while, I composed myself, opened the last page of Ibsen’s play and read the final conversation between Nora and her husband, then left my office at the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) where I worked. That night, in the seclusion of my room, it occurred to me that the little goodwill which might have existed between Elimo and I had finally blown itself out. The faint light of understanding that might have been glowing inside our hearts had been strangled.

The next day, I got out of bed earlier than usual. I took walk outside and stopped in front of a leafy tree and listened to my favourite bird and her joyful twitter as she jumped from branch to branch. I circled the garden and stopped to lean against a huge blue gum tree. I looked up and the sun rising in the horizon caught my attention. As I gazed at its blazing beams, I recalled the words of my Guka (grandfather). “Focus your eyes on the rising sun whenever you feel distressed and the dark clouds will dissipate.” With these words, he always sprinkled his bare chest with tiny drops of his own spittle, reciting a prayer, not only for me, but for many of his kin.

The image of the ‘Mukungugu’ tree and the yam plant continued to ha"nt me. After debating with myself about my future, I made up my mind. Unlike Nora, I decided not to leave.  I had no other place to call home and no resources to start a new life on my own. Moreover, I had to stay for the sake of Morille and Hannah. I could not leave them under the care of their father who had clearly shown that his uppermost allegiance was to his art and not to his family. I had to wait and see them not only growing but fully grown.

***

It has been some time since I first blogged about my mother's mission to write her memoir, HEREToday, I am so proud of, and thankful to my mother for her staying true to her goal, her dreams.  And I will keep you posted on progress and publication.

I read somewhere recently that to have imagination is so important, because when you have the ability to imagine, you can put yourself in someone's shoes, you can understand, you can empathize, you can create and inhabit healing spaces...

Mingi Love,
xoxo.

Mama Shujaa.

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2008-2016. All Rights Reserved. 
 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ethics and Journalism


When I found myself neglecting the treasure that will always be my childhood years in Nairobi, Moshi, Marangu and Dar-es-Salaam, the history that is the backbone of me, I started this blog. Because I realized that subconsciously I had gone through such pains to try to forget what others spoke of so longingly, and still do, to this day.  Life at Paa Ya Paa with Mama, Baba, artists and a whole lot of drama, good and bad. 
  
Over the years, I have progressively improved my insight, intuition, I have learned to trust, to risk and to honor myself.  I want to maintain this.  So, when I come across writings about my childhood, my treasure, by so-called journalists, I have to respond with the truth, now.  This letter is my response to poor journalism exhibited in articles posted in the Business Daily Section of the Daily Nation, recently.

Dear Editor,

I write in response to the latest article published in the Business Daily by Margaretta wa Gacheru and the lies spouted therein. I cannot remain quiet any more. 

On October 15, 2015, Gacheru published an article entitled "Paa Ya Paa celebrates 50 years amid trials and triumphs" in which she presented a skewed one-sided view regarding the ownership of the land.  There was no indication that any sources had been checked, nor was there the presentation of a balanced view. There was no reference to court documents, and/or title deeds.
 
In that article Gacheru makes a statement that the "land grabbers have erected a fence." 

My question is: how would the culprits be able to legally put up a fence if they are indeed land grabbers? 

Gacheru states: "He prefers not to name the culprits but willingly shares an affidavit from one of the co-founders of Paa ya Paa — the late James Kangwana — which confirmed that Maurice Wolfe, Mr Njau’s high school British art teacher, had bought and donated the land to PYP explicitly for it to be used as an art centre."

My question to Gacheru is: Do you know that there are no documents on the so-called PYP Society? Mr. Njau registered PYP in 1974 with only three members: James Kangwana-Chairman, Phillda Ragland-Secretary and Rebeka Njau-Treasurer.  PYP Society it turns out has not had any registered members since 1974, and has never held a meeting. There are copies of relevant documents pertaining to this at the registrar's office.

In Kenya there are laws and the court has ruled.  In fact the ruling of the Law Society of Kenya website where judgment was made in 2011 regarding the subdivision of the land is in the public domain.  Here is the link: http://kenyalaw.org/caselaw/cases/view/74589.

In Gacheru's most recent article, published on January 14, 2016, entitled "Graffiti artists paint colourful murals in solidarity with Paa ya Paa," Gacheru once again presents, lies.

"The artists, for whom the land was bought in the 1970s by Elimo’s former high school English teacher, Maurice Wolf, chose to express their solidarity with the Njaus by painting the murals. - LIE.

Of course, he was also relieving me of rent payments, but he specified that he wasn’t buying matrimonial land for me. He was buying it especially for the artists,” he adds. - LIE

FACT:  The land was never given to Mr. Njau.  The truth is that there was a case in 1978 brought against my father, Mr. Njau by relatives of Mr. Wolf for non payment of what was due for purchase of the land.  My father, Mr. Njau had to beg to be let off. 
    
I would advise Gacheru and her editor to be careful about publishing uncorroborated statements in this paper. Accuracy is the moral imperative of journalists.  It is sadly lacking here and raises the question: is Gacheru one of the so-called Brown Paper Bag journalists, hungry for words to print, regardless of the truth that is staring them in their face. The two referenced articles published by her call into question ethics guidelines and whether the writers for the Daily Nation hold themselves accountable for their professional work. No accuracy and fairness is on display.
 
Gacheru is simply a mouthpiece of Mr. Njau, my father, who has over the years become confused about the truth regarding the land. Gacheru is lazy and unethical. My quick research on her Daily Nation bio states at the end, that "She [Gacheru] is currently constructing a house off Kiambu Road," which is where Paa Ya Paa is located...hence her bias?

Sincerely,
Hana Njau-Okolo