Friday, 26 December 2008

Walking on Water No Matter How Stupid it Looks...

Sundays as a kid were always superb.

Mass was a very short affair (phew!!) and afterwards we were all bunched in the car and taken swimming at the local sports club (bonus lunch too when lucky!)….when money was tight we had to eat at home (then wait 20 minutes for the food to “reach the stomach” to avoid barfing in the water).

We would race to change in record time and my mum swathed us all with a gob of Vaseline making us look like shiny brown blobs jumping into the water with glee….

All my siblings could swim like aces except me….I used to like belly flopping at the club’s baby pool to maximize the splash effect to those (idiots I thought) who were not in their bathing suits or ready to face the risk of getting wet at the poolside…

My mother, who believed any water more than a bath tub was lethal never got near the pool. She sat under the umbrella chairs propped her feet up on another chair and sipped on tomato juice on the rocks and browsed a romance novel or those weekly women magazines sometimes even chatting up my friends mummies….

My dad would routinely pop in and surprise us “to inspect our swimming skills” and treat us to red Schweppes and a packet of crisps… (by the way, if we broke that 20 minute rule to wait for the food to “reach the stomach” the puke in the pool was a horribly gross pale pink making all the swimmers scamper out of the water in total disgust….euuuuuuwwww you didn’t want to see pale pink puke floating in a pool)..

I kept pissing my dad off because of my lack of swimming skills…I had been doing the whole swimming thing since I was like two and he felt it a waste of money that I opted to empty the baby pool and upset guests by drenching them. So one day my dad got radical and yanked me out of the baby pool saying that it was a high time I learnt how to swim in the big pool.

To the surprise of everyone my dad took me to the big pool and threw me right in the middle before anyone could say KARUMANZIRA….

There was a collective sigh followed by horrified screams from all quarters….

It was like slow motion and surreal…am telling you my eyes were open as my body made impact with the water and as gravity pushed me down to the bottom …my feet floundered looking for the floor of the pool and God it was soooo deep…

I wondered for a second if I was going to die. Then I floated back up and grasped for air. I saw my dad with that ka-broom thingie for cleaning the pool shouting at me to swim and grab onto it. Almost everyone was at the edge of the pool hysterical and my dad kept telling them to back off.

So there I was like 5 years old crying and drinking all the pool’s water wondering why my dad hated me. Then he reached out with the broom inches away from me… I lunged to grab it and when I almost got it…he pulled it back away a bit…I lunged again to reach for it and he pulled it back again. …then I realized he was deliberately pushing my life link away from me and I felt like I needed to survive that ordeal to strangle him with my bare hands…I lunged again reaching for the bloody broom and he ….yes….pulled it back away from me!

What a mean horrible man….

My eyes never lost contact with that broom thingie and before I knew it I had done a half width and when I reached close to the edge my dad grabbed me and pulled me out. The bystanders at the poolside burst with applause once they realized that I actually swam on my own across the pool….

But I was pissed …crying bloody murder…. I hit his face like 20 times hating him for throwing me in the big pool. He just held onto me not letting go…letting me vent my anger. My mum tried to get me away from him (by the way I hear she sulked at him for like two weeks for pulling that stunt) but my dad refused to let me go.

Exhaustion hit and I rest my head on his chest with dry wracking sobs. He took me to sit at the table and just continued to hold me in his arms. When I calmed down, my dad told me matter of fact as he cleaned up my gooey face that even though he kinda pissed me off at least he proved to everyone that I could swim.

He told me I had no excuse to ever go to the baby pool again since I managed to swim across the big pool. That was when it really sank in that I could swim…well I could fight not to drown at the very least which I think is technically the same thing– lol…

Friends of the family all came to our table with various goodies from the pool bar…chocolates and peanuts more Schweppes congratulating me on the brave thing I did.

In those days I needed very little to boost my ego…in minutes I was stupid enough to think I was ready to go back to the big pool to give a shot at swimming a full length right up to the deep end….

My sister and brothers capitalized on my vanity for the next couple of Sundays and taught me the strokes in grueling training sessions. They never cut me slack and never let me chicken out on anything. I soon caught up with their skills and held my own in the pool.

When my dad came again for “inspection” we always had some new snazzy swim skill to show off to him and swimming became a real joy for us all.

So one day recently I asked him how he knew I would not drown that day when he threw me in the water…

“Let me admit now Chiqy that I didn’t know whether you would manage in the big pool. Of course if you didn’t come back up I would have jumped in shoes and all and gotten you out…. but when you lunged out the first time to reach for the broom I realized that you could do it and I pushed you into going all the way. Sometimes you don’t know the potential you have until someone pushes you to the very edge. Sometimes it takes a leap of faith to get us all started.”


It never occurred to me all these years that he didn’t know whether I would come back up in that water.

Yeah that was faith and faith can seem real stupid sometimes….but the results were totally worth it!

I still have vivid memories of struggling to get my legs on some solid ground that day and just trying to stay afloat to breathe…

But that’s how life is sometimes isn’t it?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Project Stubbornness Reigns..

Growing up I was a gawky girl with buck teeth and a shy smile. I took a while to warm up to people hiding behind my mum’s legs when strangers were around. With kids it was rather worse…I had not really had kids to play with and so I took socializing a bit tooooo seriously…It seemed absurd to me when kids threw sawdust from the play ground at each other as fun. I was a tad too sensitive and held back tears most times…I really preferred playing with pets insects and tailless lizards around the house…they were less likely to call me names or hurl saw dust into my eyes.

When I first went to nursery everything was new and exciting. I loved my tomato red uniform. My mum did my hair in little pom poms and I think I looked cute…..I had this little red box with my break tin and juice, two books and pack of 12 crayons.

My Stuff was labeled by my perfectionist mother… Sikiliza Flamingo Nursery School….

Its here where I met Mrs Raja. She was a tough but ok teacher, which was to say you didn’t want to make her mad – her face turned a crazy crimson. She pushed her thick specs in then glared at you, her sari rustled and she swished her looong black hair this way and that….She huffed and puffed with many of us seriously considering scampering under our desks till she stopped ranting….Am pretty sure someone peed in her pants once when she lost her temper in class….

So I learnt very early in school that I royally pissed the teachers off when they saw me using my left hand to write and draw patterns….About 3 of us in class were lefties and the crew found this an unacceptable statistic….(by the way I still don’t know what the big deal is being a leftie…???)

So one time (and without the knowledge and consent of our parents) the school decided to “de-left” us freaks led by the “Project Leader Teacher” Mrs Raja in the flesh….The school would have us stay on in class everyday during recess for two weeks….They would tie up our left hands at the back of the colored wooden chairs and force us to do writing and patterns using our right hands.

First day I untied myself after a frustrating few minutes with my right and just finished the sentence with my left. Mrs Raja’s hawk eyes spotted me fast and out came those puke yellow wooden rulers that had a metal slicer in between it (gosh remember those???)….she yanked my left hand out and wacked me One …Two… Three on my knuckles! The other kids were so horrified they actually went on to use their right hands without further protest. I cried of course and my hand bruised badly but the next day I still broke free and used my left hand to work.

Stubbornness reigned.

I got whacked often as I defied the orders of the “de-left” project.

On the 5th day when I could not wriggle out of the knots (they tied me real tight that day) I simply put my pencil down and said I wasn’t going to write. I looked at Mrs Raja in the eye and held my gaze! I saw her nostrils flaring and for a second I wondered if she was planning to kill me then she just came over to my chair untied me and scooted me out of class to play with the other kids…I kept looking back wondering whether it was a trick… but sure enough I was free and happily joined in with those twits throwing saw dust at each other…my two other mates came out of the whole sordid program as right handers…and even though I was relatively intact, I picked up a slight stammer then (which I have thankfully overcome for the most part).

Stubbornness reigned.

Another time when I was a teenager, I was nagging my dad for permission to go swimming over the weekend with some school friends….I anticipated some opposition so I started very early in the week…..

I kept asking and begging “Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaase Baba let me go swim with my friends at the club on Saturday?”

….he kept saying NO.. even in different languages….but that didn’t stop me from asking again and again and when he could not take it anymore he snapped back…

“Wewe, are you asking or saying you’re going for swimming on Saturday?”

I said, “Woiye si of course Baba am asking…am beeeggggging…pleaaaase Baba…”

“Chiqy you aren’t asking your saying and even though I say no you will still find a way to swim so you better think about that stubbornness you have.”

To be honest, he was right…I did end up swimming that weekend….

Stubbornness reigned.

As annoying as it is, once I make up my mind on something it’s very hard to make me change that resolve.

On the most part, stubbornness has taken me through shaky life moments….and waded me through flaky lifestyles and very tempting temptation……

Stubbornness reigning is what kept me up all night trying to finish some god dammed report due next day at noon…..

Stubbornness is what keeps me going with living in this dark world….

And while it won’t win me a popularity contest, let’s hope my stubbornness can get me through a new upcoming year….

Have a happy holiday y’all….hoping for good things in 2009…

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Eric Wainaina - Kenya's Singing Sensation....

Images By Jerry Riley
Words By Sikiliza

“ …Unadamu mkononi na asali mdomoni
Matendo yako ni maovu matamshi yako ni matamu
Nimeomba haujadhamini nimeiimba hausikii
Nimebishabisha nimeitana na mlango haufungui …”

There is blood on your fingers honey flows from your tongue
As you conceal the boundaries stones
While am not looking you stab me in the back with my own spear
I play my song but you’re not dancing
I pray for you but you won’t believe
My knees are aching from nights awake and tears for you …

… ukweli hauna kifo
ukweli hauna mwisho
Na wewe umejaa vitisho
Ukweli hauna mwisho …”

Truth never dies
Truth has no endAnd all you have are threats
Truth has no end”

Powerful words from Eric Wainaina’s single Ukweli meaning Truth in his latest album called “Twende Twende” loosely translated to mean let’s move with some frantic urgency.
This song was commissioned as a call for justice in the mysterious death of Father Anthony Kaiser who was reported as having committed suicide despite evidence that indicated the contrary.
We went out to meet Eric a GenerationKenya juror and award winning Kenyan musician at his Lavington base at Kifaru that hosts his studio Enkare.
Enkare is a partnership between Eric, his wife Sheba Hirst and Tim Rimbui aka Ennovator. It is a commercial recording studio that began in 2004.
While waiting to meet with Eric we stumbled upon all kinds of activities at the same, a live band was prepping for an upcoming gig, a music theatre group was going through the motions of their production and a sultry voice was practicing her voice chords somewhere about. We sat at the reception welcomed with steaming mugs of tea from Mary the lovely office assistant to fight off the nippy Nairobi chill as we waited for Eric to conclude his rehearsals.
Two cups of tea later, we watched as the last of the young musicians left for home after rehearsals. In their eyes there was an eagerness, all of them friendly and taking a moment to say hello. There was a lot of happy banter, chatting and laughter as they streamed out of Kifaru.
Eric came to personally meet us at the reception and as he led us to his office and we opened up to a burst of color; an orange wall more like the colour of sunset embers speckled with African art and a portrait of his wife Sheba. It was a warm setting filled with little trinkets like pictures and awards all around him. His keyboard was close by the window. He always carried a dicta-phone with him to capture any musical inspiration that came to him wherever he was. Then the naissance of his songs began to take form on his keyboard.

Eric Wainaina has stood out as a renowned Kenyan musician and composer.
His musical journey began when his father bought a second-hand grand piano from an expatriate move sale in 1977 when he was just 4 years old. The piano was really meant for his brother and only sibling Simon Wainaina who then thought that football was much cooler than sitting indoors and playing music scales …

His initial dabble on the piano were not spectacular, but he grew up in a home that nurtured them to follow their dreams. His parents, George Gitau Wainaina and Margaret Wangari Wainaina provided a diverse learning experience in addition to their academic studies.
Like many other kids those days, he enjoyed playing old LP records in the house 45’s and 78’s and his school St Mary’s was well known for putting up annual musicals. He feels that these were great music influences in his early life. Music surrounded him in the various choirs at church, prize days in school, inter-school music festivals and it slowly ingrained in him.

Family time was spent mashing pillows and wrestling with his dad and brother in the living room. He watched wrestling when the wrestlers actually wrestled and not just the banter and rhetoric that it has evolved into these days. The days of Big Daddy and Jack Haystacks….He watched football Made-in-Germany on Saturday afternoons and got up to the usual shenanigans that young Kenyan boys get into.

But music persistently crept into his life. His turning point was when he came across an a cappella song by Take 6. He played the song over and over. He especially enjoyed playing the stereo in the bath for hours to the chagrin of those waiting to use it after him; he closed his eyes soaking in the soap suds and the voice blends that brought out this remarkable new sound to him.
The fascination was intense. He and some school friends formed a group and decided to belt out an a capella number for a prize-giving day at Mary’s School.
“The lead singer started the song and I was the second voice and you know for school kids it’s always a nervous thing and some kids in the audience laughed at the start, but when the voices blended in together there was complete and utter silence. And I remember feeling from that moment that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” says Eric.

He went on with music and with his friends formed a group named 5 Alive who made waves round the country with their talent. This was not enough for Eric though and he was determined to pursue a musical career. He got a scholarship to study music at Berklee College of Music in Boston USA. The college is prestigious and the environment was very musically charged. This is where he perfected his skill and brought it back to Kenya.

“I realized very early that I needed to bring something different to Berklee, the culture there is predominately R&B and Jazz. I needed therefore to find my Kenyan roots for my artistic and creative inspiration and this meant coming home regularly.”
“Also I decided to come back home to bond with my “Kenyan-ness.” You see many African musicians who made it in the world were predominantly big at home first, then you sort of rise from the surface at home to the external markets who begin to notice you.”
His business canny acknowledged the fact that he needed to create a niche market in Kenya and so the longevity of his musical career was because he remained consistent and persistent singing songs of relevance and telling Kenyan stories.“I made a pact with myself that whenever I travel around the world with my music, the world would take me on my own terms and not the other way round but for that I needed to root myself at home first.”
So I asked Eric what being a successful Kenyan musician entailed.
“Playing a musical instrument is an integral part of composing and arranging your song. It gives one a sense of autonomy and this cannot be underestimated. Stress is, requesting a band to play their song and not know what key the song is in!” he said pointing out the most common problems that musicians face.
However even with tons of talent – being a successful musician does not come easy.
One time as Eric came across an old school friend while in a traffic jam said, “Oh Eric its 8.30 in the morning what are you doing up this early. I thought that artists wake up at 1 or 2 o’clock?”
He couldn’t have been more wrong. The process of composing, arranging, recording a song is a daunting task and it many times involves working hours on end to attain near perfection. Also, Eric learnt very early the importance of surrounding himself with people who are better than him – according to him its one of the best ways to learn.
Eric’s efforts have paid off though since he has received countless accolades for music.
So far he has garnered the coveted MNET (South Africa) award for favourite male vocalist in February 2001 and Best East African Artist at the pan-African 7th Annual KORA All Africa Music Awards on 2nd November 2002. He had been nominated for another KORA Award in 2003, and in 2005 he received his third Kora nomination, this time for the prestigious Artist of the Decade award. At the 2007 Kisima Music Awards Wainaina won three categories: Afro-fusion, best song and best video from Kenya.
His most memorable classes at Berklee was when a guest speaker came in and said to them, “The world owes you nothing! Don’t think that the world owes you something just because you’re a good song writer, the world doesn’t care! I mean you could die today and the music industry would progress on along like it always has. Don’t think that you’ll write this song and everyone will rush out to you!”
Music is a great way to articulate ourselves; Eric tells us how when a school bus was once stopped by a police officer asking for a bribe the school kids began singing out his song … “nchi ya kitu kidogo …” (Land of small things – bribes) this is increasingly having a snow ball effect on civic empowerment in Kenya.
Regarding the recent post electoral violence Eric felt the need for Kenyans to embrace openness.
“We as Kenyans need to talk more openly to each other. The key sensitive issues like land need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. We need to change the way we view leadership and choose the right kind of leaders because if we are eloquent on what is wrong with Kenya then we should ask ourselves why we have the same people going into power and making the same mistakes? The same injustices remain unaddressed over time and so I think it’s a high time we de-link politics and emotion allowing us to make decisions on a clear basis.”
But how can we cultivate music talent amongst the young Kenyans?
“The school curriculum needs to take music and art more seriously especially in Kenya where graduation from primary school does not guarantee you a placing in secondary, graduation from secondary does not assure you a place in university and graduation in university does not guarantee one a job. This means that a large group of Kenyans would have look for alternative ways to make ends meet. Therefore schools ought to open the minds of the young from the onset. For instance, reliance on art and creativity is really underestimated. The first thing one does after waking up is turning on the radio to listen to some music – we need to learn how to capitalize this.”
“Kids in school need to be taught more on how to live with others and problem solving. Right now the focus is squarely on learning by rote and regurgitating the answers during exams but the educational systems need to teach young Kenyans socialization. It would be probably the most useful knowledge we could impart as it teaches them how to live with other people.”
What are your views on the rampart piracy in Kenya?
“Piracy laws are valid and have been enacted but are hardly effected. People just walk into a cyber store and 50 bob later have a CD with burnt music. Musicians are not looking to stop these distribution channels which are viable but instead ensure that the buyers support the musicians by paying for the music – someone worked hard to get that song and it’s the least one can do to acknowledge talent.”

Monday, 15 September 2008

NYS -Hope for Thousands of Kenyan Youth

In the wake of Kenya’s independence there was a vast amount of nation building that needed to be done. There was also unfortunately, a large number of young Kenyans who were actively involved in the struggle for independence and so when peace reigned many had no where to go, no formal education or skills and no work prospects.

The president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta saw the need to establish a state sponsored youth programme aimed at training and developing skills while in turn have the youth volunteer their time and energy towards nation building activities. Thus, the National Youth Service was born. It was enacted through Act of Parliament in 1964. The brainchild was conceptualized by Geoffrey Griffin who also served as the debut Director of the NYS programme, Waruhiu Itote better known as General China as his Deputy and J.M. Kariuki all now deceased.

Since then, NYS has grown from strength to strength providing tertiary opportunities to thousands of Kenyan youth across a national demographic mainly those knocked off the mainstream public universities and colleges.

The NYS Programme is now under the relatively new Ministry of Youth and Sports. The programme recruits eligible youth aged between 18-22 years from each district around the country twice a year. The recruits must have a National ID, be medically and mentally fit with no criminal records and have attained D+ mean grade in KCSE with at least a D+ in English.

Once enrolled, they undergo paramilitary training for 6 months at the Gilgil College after which they volunteer a year’s worth in nation building. The activities they are involved in while nation building varies from road construction to large scale farming to manning the security gates. Once completed, they are then enrolled in one of the 16 institutes around the country for diploma courses all paid for by the state. The institutes offer a wide variety of courses including engineering, business studies, catering, agricultural studies among others.

One such training unit is The NYS Engineering Institute. It lies right at the edge of Mathare slums. Against the sprawl, the institute is spotless, grounds and gardens are well manicured. At the gate the security detail are thorough, smart and polite and as one drives in activities are muted as classes are on going. One would be hard pressed to see anyone of them slack always saluting smartly at any officers who come by their way.

“In the NYS programme we encourage our students to obtain a broader educational experience so as shape them into skilled, disciplined individuals when they leave here.” said Nicholas Ahere, Commanding Officer NYS Engineering Institute.

“At NYS we have uniformed and non-uniformed staff who deal with the daily routines of the school. The uniformed staff generally take up the role of ensuring that all the students are well-groomed, disciplined and that the general environment is spotless. Cleanliness is a sign of a less cluttered mind paving the way for the students to study in fitting surroundings. The non-uniformed staff are mostly civilian lecturers who take up the classes for the various courses we have.”

In more recent years, NYS programme has reached out to those who are from difficult backgrounds perhaps that of extreme poverty or orphans just as long as they can produce some documentary evidence at the recruitment drives.

Speaking to the Assistant Staff Officer in Public Relations, Inspector Enock O. Nyandege based at NYS headquarters he illustrates their pride they have of their students.

“Our students leave our programme and carry with them the sense of purpose in addition to their newly acquired skills and credentials. Some of them have moved to pursue military careers and we are proud to say that they have not misrepresented us. They have an edge from the training they receive from our Gilgil College and the further tertiary training means that they have meaningful skills and service to offer.”

A growing concern for Kenyan employers currently is the lack of discipline amongst most of Kenya’s Tertiary institutions which then transcends to the working environment. Nowadays, potential employers are increasingly seeking to find personnel who have a sense of self-discipline in addition to the basic qualifications of any job.

"We require that all our technical staff to attain formal tertiary training. We would be very keen as an organization to recruit from institutions like NYS as they have gone through rigorous rounded training and are far more likely to make hard working and balanced employees." said Anthony Wangondu, General Manager, Supply, Davis & Shirtliff.
The student’s most recent achievements are testimony of their potential. In the recently concluded Public Service week the students and lecturers from the NYS Engineering Institute Telecommunications class presented a “GSM Switch” an innovation that uses telephony technology to turn on and off switches by simply making a call.

“We encourage extra-curricular activities in a big way here. The students are very active with sports and drama inter-college competitions. We recently had the honor of receiving 45 certificates from the President at State House Nairobi for the Presidential Awards Scheme. I am very proud of my students they are truly high achievers.” said Vincent Otieno a lecturer in automotive courses, vehicle & engine technology also serving as the institute’s Drama Club patron.

The NYS programme also takes up the role of surrogate parents or guardians for many of the youth who have little or no chance in life to get good college training. From enrolment they are provided with the basic necessities like uniform, boots, bed linen, toiletries and all the girls are supplied with sanitary provisions regularly. In addition to this each of them receive Kshs. 500 stipend every month for personal use.

“Some of those we enroll come from extremely difficult backgrounds and have had a really hard time. We have full time counselors in the institutes both uniformed and non-uniformed who they can go to for advice or counsel. We also have VCT centres with peer educators who raise awareness on the HIV & AIDS testing, treatment and any other of their concerns.”

Institutions like NYS are therefore playing a major role in bringing up young Kenyans in a cohesive and nationalistic way. More support from the government should be directed to such ventures now more to enhance our efforts of bringing lasting peace and unity in Kenya.

NYS has received a lot of assistance from various foreign governments notably from Japan, Netherlands, Denmark and Germany who have been involved in construction or development of the various institutions countrywide. Last year, the Chinese government pledged Kshs. 4 billion worth of support to the NYS programme. Once this grant is available, it will go a long way in updating some of the obsolete books and equipment bringing up to date their coursework.

With more support, a large number of young Kenyans can have hope for training opportunities after completion of high school.

In our reflection of Kenyan heroes hidden quietly amongst us we commend the NYS programme and those individuals behind it. We appreciate and acknowledge their positive investment in the future generation of this great country.

Long live the NYS Programme; long live Kenya.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

AIC Kijabe Mission Hospital – Replenishing Life & Hope to All

Images by Jerry Riley

Driving down the escarpment on the Nakuru-Nairobi highway past Limuru, the road opened up to the great escarpment view point. Curio shops eager for tourist stopovers are set up by the cliff displaying bright coloured kikoys all set against the substantial drop of the valley with Mt Longonot at the horizon. Specks of iron sheet roofs shimmer in the dull noon sun and there are several squares and rectangles of browns and greens of people’s shambas spread across the bottom of the valley. In all the years plying to and fro this highway this scene still takes one’s breath away.

We were headed to Kijabe town an hour’s drive from Nairobi, our destination was a small mission station set up by the African Inland Church Missionaries in the late 1800’s. The town’s name is derived from the Maa language meaning “the windy place” proof of this evident in every person we passed swathed in some kind of warm woolly apparel.

AIC Kijabe Hospital is nestled at the edge of the Great Rift Valley escarpment in Lari division of Kiambu district. It is a frontier of sorts of Central and Rift Valley province. Turning off the highway the thin windy road spiraled down through thick forest into the Kijabe Mission Station about 2km from the town.

For the longest time Kijabe Hospital has been a landmark for those seeking affordable treatment from far and wide. It started when a group of missionaries began a medical unit in 1915. It has grown since then and now has inpatient, outpatient, maternity and paediatric sections. The total bed capacity is 249. The hospital sees an average of 300 people daily with a large percentage of the people coming from as far as North Eastern, Somali and Ethiopia.

The mission hospital has hit the headlines over the decades mostly under rather tragic circumstances; some well-known ones date as far back as the pre-colonial days. In March 1953, the few survivors of The Lari Massacre sought treatment at the hospital after the brutal attack by the Mau Mau who accused them and their Chief Luka of being British collaborators. Black and white haunting images of those who survived, eyes full of fear and with bandaged broken and slashed bodies at the hospital beds sent shockwaves the world over of the growing rebellion of the Mau Mau and their plight for freedom. The 80’s and 90’s were notorious times for traffic accidents along Kenyan roads and this brought them thousands of casualties. In more recent times, they received the injured from the Nairobi bomb blast tragedy in 1998 and their care and compassion brought them recognition from the then Head of State.

During the post electoral crisis earlier this year, Kijabe Hospital sent medical teams to various camps including Naivasha, Kirathimo and Nakuru. While in attendance they were able to attend to not less than 800 people in each camp. About 60 of them each month since then still need clinic checks and the hospital accommodates their medical needs. This kind of help has strained the hospital financially having incurred costs of about Kshs. 1.6M. The surgery and treatment of the 4 children from the Kiambaa church burn is over Kshs.900,000 and growing.

“At Kijabe, we do not just mend or fix ailments; we also preach and provide hope and compassion to the patients. We do not turn anyone away; our priority is not money but their welfare physical and spiritual. Our compassion must be the reason we have patients coming from far and wide. ” said Mr. Julius Marete the hospital’s Executive Director.

Walking past the full waiting room the sick sat calmly each bearing their pain and waiting for their turn to be attended.

Bethany Kids, the pediatrics ward of the hospital deals with the more common pathological diseases but are also equipped to deal with complicated procedures or conditions.

Some of the special conditions they deal with include:

spina bifida – a birth defect where an incomplete closure of the nureul tube results in an incompletely formed spinal cord.
hydrocephalus - where the child has an accumulation of fluid in the brain causing an enlargement of the head.
cleft lip
club feet
hypospadias – a birth defect of the urethra in male children involving an abnormally placed urinary tract opening.
ambiguous genetalia - a condition where one has more than one sex organ.

Specialists from all over the world give their time to perform these operations mostly at no cost to give these children a new lease of life. They limit the pain and rehabilitate children.

While at the children’s ward we stopped by to see some special patients Mercy 14, Mary 16, Jedidah 4 and Anthony 11. The children were victims of the recent post electoral violence barely surviving a church fire in Kiambaa a small village in Eldoret at the height of the violence. They had fled from their homes after they were attacked and property gutted following the announcement of the presidential poll results.

Strangers to each other before the fire, a friendship forged amid the twist of tragic fate. A Good Samaritan risked driving them through the then dangerous Eldoret- Nairobi highway after spending sometime without much medical attention at an Eldoret hospital.

“These children are very special to us and are such a success story. We are so proud of them. When they first came their burns were festered due to lack of proper medical attention. Even after skin grafting and several reconstructive surgeries they hardly suffered any infection. They were so positive and brave and now you see them around the hospital smiling and looking much better. Some of these things have nothing to do with us but more to do with the hand of God.” says Joshua Omolo an anesthetist at the hospital.

We found some young volunteers going through school-work with the children from books donated by well wishers.

“When nobody visits them, sometimes we walk into their room to find them all quiet thinking most likely of their dark future. The constant question on their lips is where to go from here.” said Sister Brenda Gathenya the Nurse-in-Charge, Pediatrics.

Mercy’s mother, Margaret Nyambura was a nursery school teacher before and had to leave work to raise her children; her husband was a farmer and the breadwinner. The children are terrified at the thought of returning to where they once knew as home and their harvest and home was all set ablaze.

Mary’s and Jedidah’s (the little one was in the local Kijabe mission nursery school at the time we visited as she has recovered) mother, Serah Wanjiku Kariuki was a farmer before the post electoral violence. Her children are too traumatized to go back and she is looking for a way to resettle elsewhere with a duka perhaps so as to support the young ones.

Anthony’s mother, Peninah Wangui Mbuthia is a skilled tailor and is wondering how to start her life again. They lost everything in the attacks. She is mostly sad because she lost her cherahani which earned them their daily bread….

In the meantime, they are all thankful for at the very least they escaped with their lives. Just barely.

The hospital also has HIV clinic that cares for just under 5,000 patients. In the height of the violence the operations were disrupted but they were able to reach a large number of their patients who required life-saving ART medication by using their community health workers, volunteers and staff members.

“Among our patients we can take you to the doorsteps of 98% of them. We have regular follow up programs from the hospital and have 27 sites throughout the country for people to receive care and viral management.” said Fredrik Kimemia, Senior Programme Officer in the HIV/AIDS clinic programme.

For many, Kijabe hospital is an oasis of compassion and as we walk away, our hearts are warmed by the hope we see in the eyes of the people walking up and down the corridors of the hospital.

As so says Mahatma Gandhi “…be the change you want to see in the world.” Indeed AIC Kijabe hospital is living up to this by standing out as a Kenyan Shujaa at hand when needed most to replenish drained life and hope of our nation, generation after generation.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Secret Passions....

I discover a newness about you each day, bringing me immense pleasure
Like a child unwrapping a gift, eyes lit with eagerness at some new treasure

Turbulent wars rage through my mind
With all this unrequited thoughts I find

Each and every one of your triumphs lifts my mood
Secret smile plays my mind’s lips like a shrouded hood

Unspoken whispers and confessions of love muttered
Untouched kisses and caresses make my heart fluttered

As you stand there utterly oblivious

Death might loom before I let slip my feelings for you
And even then I shall defy and hold onto this secret passion that you stir in me

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Flowers for Mama - Happy Birthday

Weeks before my mother’s birthday were always exciting. When she was alive I would rustle up my school allowance and get together a corny gift…mostly some cheap colorful costume jewelry that didn’t look as tacky as it did when I left the “no refunds store.”

I most always made a card because I would have used everything that I had on the cheap gift and have nothing left for a nice card and gift wrapping paper. For those who know me, my art sucked more than my taste in costume jewelry so in a sense what I really only had to offer my mother was the thought behind it. I loved her fiercely and found her to be the single most beautiful person in the world.

It’s been a while since I let myself think of her.

How she never let me wear make up till I was 16 and a half and even then only let me wear kohl on my eyes and dark lipstick. Even now, it’s the only make up I can get on my face.

I miss how she taught me to knit, crochet and appreciate all the flowers around me….She read my mind like an open book…

I miss all the advice that I split between taking for granted or just resenting.

Even in her dark sick days, she was there for me….even when I was a whiny annoying spoilt brat she still tucked me in bed and kissed me… hugged me after a rough day at school…the things that mothers do…

It’s her birthday on Monday, and I am really not sure where mothers go when they die. I do hope that she is at peace and knows that we love her and miss her.

I miss her and love her. Terribly so.

And if I had a chance to tell her anything I would like to say that:

I draw much better than I did 20 years ago… and have acquired much better taste in beads and would have picked out something really special for her birthday…and I cant seem to stop taking pictures of all these flowers around me.. I know how much she loved flowers and how much that passion rubbed off on me when we spent hours in her garden…I hope that one day if I get to see her again, I can show her all the lovely flowers I came across and how beautiful they looked…

But most of all I wish that I could tell her that, no flower in this world will ever be as radiant and beautiful as she was…

I miss you mum.

Happy Birthday


Your baby


Thursday, 8 May 2008

For A Friend

A fiery smile plays on your lips
As you spread the shine with your words
Laced with care and gentleness
That only a good friend can give

A song of a laugh echoes around you
As you relish the moment with cheer
Letting me in on the essence of you
That only a good friend can have

Thank you for sharing your wonderful heart with me

Thursday, 13 March 2008

For Boniface Gachugu - "I am not scared of the Dark"

A friend and poet Boniface Gachugu "Peanut" is in hospital today for major surgery and although he owes me a poem, I thought that my posting today should be dedicated to him and to his quick recovery...

"...Peanut, your friends are all rooting for you..."

A poem dedicated to you from me....

I am not scared of the dark anymore
Not of the glistening lights through the bedroom window
That look like huge orbs of eyes glaring at me as I sleep……

I am not scared of the dark anymore
Not of the sounds outside when the wind howls
Trees creak and the dogs yowl at the wee hours of enchantment

I am not scared of the dark anymore

Not of the sound my pulsing heart and heavy breathing
When sudden silence around me is deafening

I am not scared of the dark anymore
Not even when my furniture comes alive in the dark
And looks like a monster bearing down on me

I am not scared of the dark anymore

Not even when I fear that I might wake up at dawn to find
The whole world has gone and left me behind

I am not scared of the dark anymore
Not when my worst nightmares jolt me to a sweaty start
Praying that the nasty thoughts don’t stalk me as I wake

But I am not scared of the dark anymore
As I can see the glimpse of orange ember
Giving me hope of the sun trickling in

I am not scared of the dark anymore
As it is soon to be conquered by the blinding light of the sun


Saturday, 8 March 2008

Lets Recognize the Humble Heroes of Kenya

Maureen - Chairperson of Kibera Uzima Youth Initiative - Images by Jerry Riley

I went to Kibera last week Africa’s 2nd largest slum and found a gem called Maureen who walked through Kibera for 2 whole days identifying the weak and bed ridden who could not get up and look for food during the post electoral violence period that rocked Kenya. She and the wonderful people at Uzima Foundation helped feed 120 homes as a result.

Kibera was one of the worst affected places and I saw signs of plunder when I came across what was left of burnt houses and churches. Yet I saw hope in the eyes of the youth in Kibera…and I think we should nourish it…

To read my article on Maureen please check out this link

I am especially pleased that this story touched a well known and respected journalist Mr. Charles Onyango-Obbo. To read his article check out this link

To all of you who supported me and my fellow Kenyans when we were going through the crisis I take this opportunity to give you my heartfelt appreciation….


Friday, 22 February 2008

Am I?....

A little later than the witching hour
My mind cogs itself to motion
Sleep is evaded easily
My mind a faithful companion is most articulate then.
Qualms that engulf me are dealt with impartially
Frenzied mindsets are validated,
Tactics are drawn,
Meetings premeditated or cancelled
My mind shrugs itself off emotional baggage.
Fevers, chills, migraines and body aches are temporarily numbed
For a while I trade in for immortality and semblance of thought
Mercifully, it is granted.
A little gap in the vastness of time
A time most forlorn
With little or no acclaim as the rest of the world sleeps
Or is cradled in the gentle arms of a loved companion
With no interest in me or mine:
The flash of hopeful brilliance
Fades by dawn
Nuances may radiate when I relate
More of it seeming than certain.
Leaving void in the minds of many
As to whether I am……

Thursday, 21 February 2008

A Dream...

I am drowning in my senses
Goose pimples riddle my arm
Caused not though by the ephemeral breeze
For few precious moments
I am hoisted out of my trivial being
I feel myself lifted to the clouds….

I am not sure if its day or night
Not sure if I am flying or floating
But, I am rising.

My eyes shut
or open,
Suddenly, I feel myself falling
Falling fast
There is a tightness in my stomach
I spiral further down
My hand grasping for the clouds
The midnight and azure blue sky flash before me
My body battered by the merciless crossings of the winds…
I see the mountains, seas, lakes, whizzing past me …
I look towards the ground where my fall is inevitable
Clear waters of the sea and its depths beneath me…
I crash into it as my body is shattered into a thousand and more jolts of pain…
Fear grips me hard as it is cold.
My lungs drenched with the salty iciness …
And I drown…down to the unknown depths of the unseen world
To be lost forever in the bellies of a perpetual dark mystery


Thursday, 10 January 2008

Kuteleza siyo kuanguka
(To slip is not to fall)

Sikiliza upate kujua…
(Listen so that you know…)

I remember fondly as kids when we were occasionally asked to go to the front of class and tell stories and would always excitedly start as all stories are started in Swahili…

“ya mchele!”
“Ya mwizi!”
“ya watu wotee!”
“Na Maziwa je?”
Ya watoto wa nyayooo”

“Hapo zamani za kale……”

At that time it didn’t matter some statements were propaganda from Moi’s time…it also really didn’t matter that if you joined the primary school mass choir the songs you were bound to sing would be exalting his reign filled with words like Nyayo PhilosofiaBaba wa Taifa…and all the sycophantic lullings that went with sucking up to political leaders…

…it did matter though at some point when Kenyans decided to flex some muscle and break away from Kanu…

It was a hard time for all just before the multiparty era ...people talked in hushed whispers…disgruntled Kenyans who wanted an end to Moi’s era talked code OMO (Operation Moi Out) and the maziwa ya watoto wa nyayo was scrapped….Molo clashes hit us…inflation..macabre assassinations took place…white elephant projects with our taxes….a seemingly dull era which some of survived…barely..

We were probably too young to know or care…we played games like cha mama and katii…the boys would use scrap polythene papers and make soccer balls during break time….we ate ten-cent sweets called koo and survived drinking water straight from the taps…tribalism was not in our priority lists…

Admittedly though we did have several light moments listening to the different accents from all the corners of Kenya…it was not rocket science to place “your shrubs” what with all the mother-tongue interference…and really that was about it…some may have pushed the stereotype jokes to much higher levels...but on a whole nobody really cared to know your tribe...we were to busy living and learning…besides, Kimombo ilikuja na meli…. (English came on a ship)

This is to say that in my generation tribe was not a main preoccupation. Our parents worked in factories, schools or for the government…a mix of people from all backgrounds and all walks of life…

Our ethnicity only came in the picture when we went to our ancestral homes during Christmas…meeting with the grandparents, uncles and aunts...learning folk songs or tales and all kinds of happy family banter.

Then when back in school we swap stories on how big a goat or sheep was slaughtered…or how far and adventurous the trip was…then we move on co-existing in the normal rhythms of peace…

When I was in primary school we made the usual obligatory field trips to the national museum and parliament. While parliament was in session we watched wide-eyed as the debates egged on about the expensive this and expensive that’s…perhaps having the unusual guilt trip that in fact it was at the expense of the normal Kenyans to which one member was aptly asked,

“How much is too much?”

Of course at the time we laughed and now that I have grown somewhat and now pay taxes…I still dwell a lot on that question posed… “Sooo…How much is too much?”

On 27th December 2007 I cast my vote after a two and a half hour wait on the queue amidst all and sundry…when the cops patrolling were not looking we whispered loudly to each other on the about why our preferred choice were the obvious victors…..

All the while my cell phone was working over time sending texts and calling my friends riddled around the country talking of our different experiences…even then, tribe still didn’t occur to us…

I placed wagers with friends supporting different candidates and in happy camaraderie we jested each other each claiming that we would wake up the next dawn to our preferred choice…. we turned our TV’s on to eagerly await the results…day one, day two, day three, four…each day grew more and more desperately anxious.

Then I watched as people just morphed into myopic tribalists…the jokes said in jest about a particular tribal group could not be said anymore…the beer we drank didn’t quench our thirsts…the roast meat lay untouched as we gazed across the table of the bar eyes shifting this way and that…suspicion mounting…we went home and locked ourselves up…

We stayed indoors nail biting and hoping for the best as stirrings of unrest began and as the melt down approached the winner was declared….

All hell broke loose….

We didn’t need to watch the TV to know that the screams, gunshots, fires close by was a bad sign.

At night houses were torched…buildings burnt to the ground….and people were sent packing if they were from another tribe…that is those who were lucky enough to escape with their lives…

Police picked bodies every morning showing a path of horrific murders in the dark….

It greatly surprises me that with all that now I hear the amblings of people bitter with each other based on their ethnicity...I am sure that we can’t lack a few narrow minded people in a community…but on a whole I am sure Kenyans are more level headed than what has been recently illustrated…

I watched mortified….as my countrymen unfolded rooted bitterness so evil that whoever cast a stone, stole, killed and clobbered innocent people will surely remain cursed for generations to come.

I now know how one can beckon trouble by acts of carnage…killing mothers and children and burning a church full of the old and weary seeking shelter is bound to mark you for life. I actually empathize with the killers’ future generations whose tainted blood shall forever be cursed ten fold…

I watch foreign news and I hear descriptions of old warring clans and tribal tension…something strange to me and to the youth of Kenya….

All you need to know is that I am a Kenyan...and unless you’re tracing my ancestral roots…you can’t really place me… Don’t get me wrong….I am very proud of where I come from and it is a fundamental part of me that I hold with the utmost importance…but right now, I am more focused on where I am going and I cant get there on my own. I need my brothers and sisters that I live amongst…I need the friends whom I grew up with playing hide and seek and cha mama…and at this point, I don’t really care what tribe you are...I only want to know that you are my fellow Kenyan…

Amani kwa wote
(Peace for all)



Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Lets Give Peace a chance....Kenya

My friend had just finished lining up on new years for 2 ½ hours for fuel and on her way home she was caught up in the middle of the boda boda people (cyclist taxis) who were chanting and supporting their political leader and when the GSU forces came to contain the stirrings she got hurt in the melee…

Nothing except pain is gained by violence...