Saturday, April 06, 2019

The Prefects

*This blog is a personal account of the past, an exorcism of sorts, and does not seek to target any specific individuals.

Power:

They were only 16, give or take a year. But so powerful were they their mere appearance caused dread in girls no matter what we were doing. You could be sitting quietly during study hour and see a red sweater pass by from the corner of your eyes and your blood pressure suddenly rises. Most of us have forgotten that dread, but the effect of bizarre, unfair and extreme punishments remains, like an old scar that has created a limp in our personalities.

They carried around power like a hammer that was too heavy for their untrained muscles to carry. So it often came down and smashed the fingers of those they felt needed to be punished. They did not mean to be cruel. They were only 16. They were just being true to the duty of prefecthood that had been placed on their small child shoulders. They were used by an administration that somehow thought cruelty shaped character.

The prefects were the victims of adults who never taught them the nature of power. They were only 16, and that was too heavy a burden to place on a child without proper training. It is not fair, because no child at the age of 16 should be given a chance to test out the drunken joys of unhinged power. Some turned sour and punished their way out of their own pain. There are many adults in power right now who are clueless about how to handle power, and they wreak havoc on citizens every time. How on earth were 16 year-olds expected to know?

Punishments:

They had girls kneel on hot tarmac cooked to a boiling point by the tropical sun, their hands raised up as the punishing prefect kept a hawk eye on them, daring them to drop their hands. They had girls sort sacks of rice for endless hours, their eyes getting into a blurry pain as they flicked through grain after grain like sorting out sand on the sea shore, removing tiny black stones so that it felt as if the mind was drowning, backs broken from the pain of bending over a sea of rice at the end of the day.

They put girls out in the field to clean a long drainage all day long on empty stomachs, and forced to redo the punishment if the inspecting prefect so much as saw a smudge of imperfection. They forced some girls to travel back to school during holidays to do punishment for a whole day, no matter how far you lived, failure to which you were punished for five consecutive days when you got back to school, and you missed all the classes for those days.

I did all this, even the holiday punishment part. My dad asked me, “Why do you have ‘Holiday Punishment’ marked on your report form?” I said: “A prefect crossed me.” I had challenged a prefect and her ego had caused her to give me maximum booking. Minus 50. Dad said, “You mean she crossed this way and you crossed the other way?” I knew right there and then that my dad was secretly always on my side. He made it funny and it lifted the weight of being a disappointment off my mind. He wasn’t going to get me on a bus 7 hours to Nairobi to do punishment for crossing a prefect. I ended up doing five days of slashing grass when I returned to school. My desk mate took notes for me for all those days.

I could handle being punished, zap it off with a joke. I couldn’t handle seeing my sisters being victims of overzealous prefects and cold administrative power. We were three sisters in the same school. I had seen my big sister cry over being unfairly punished, and to me there wasn't a more conscientious human that her. I had seen my other sister sick with malaria for days in the hostel, neglected without doctor's care. I remember how angry I felt when I learnt that one girl had chipped her tooth and quickly been whisked home for special care because the deputy Headmistress was her relative. Meanwhile, my sister lay sick in bed for days. Of course it wasn’t the chipped-tooth girl’s fault.

Looking back, that was a great deal of anger to bottle in for a child. I carried those sorrows with me like an open wound in my chest. I was only 15. Since my first protest at the age of 10 over black kids being forced to drink all milk that Indian kids did not want – that was in Aga Khan Primary School in Mombasa – I knew I internalized injustices easily. I had taken all my “maziwa ya nyayo” packets and poured them down the sink in the hallway, all the time hoping the teacher will see what I was doing and confront me. She never noticed. It’s not that I didn’t need the milk, but that I hated the obvious discrimination. Indian kids were the “whites” in our black lives. One of the best experiences of Precious Blood was the administration’s deliberate creation of material equality while in school. We never knew or cared who was rich or poor. Traditional bullying was non-existent. The excessive punishments by prefects were a product of untrained power.

Surviving:

When I was barely 14 and in Form 2, the deputy Headmistress told me I was provocative, a word I first learnt from her. When I was in Form 3, I was suspended for sneaking out to buy a pack of Marie biscuits. A prefect had spotted me that early morning down at the gate and sounded the alarm, leading to a sudden stampede by other prefects hunting me down like hound dogs hot on the heels of an escaped criminal. When I was in my final year, the Headmistress, a German nun, summoned me and told me my graduation testimonial will not be good. I have never picked up that document, good thing she warned me.

I also came to the brink of leading a strike when I stood at the window of the school's top-floor hostel rooms and shouted my voice hoarse over the Nazi-style running of the school. As I spoke, some girls gathered down below and listened, and I felt a strange kind of power. The story made it to other schools, I don’t know how. I know this because years later a Starehe Boys alum said to me, “I heard about you! You led a strike!” I wish I had, I said.

I was tired and angry over seeing students faint so regularly. Acute stomach ulcers became a common ailment. The stress was overwhelming. We were vessels being seared in the furnace of cruel academia so we could get As. Sure enough, the school was always right at the top in academic ranking. What parent wouldn’t want their kid going to this exclusive school! I think I did not catch the fainting and ulcers like so many girls did because I didn’t bottle up the stress. I resisted, I complained, and I developed a wicked sense of survival humor.

Heads held low:

One day, a prefect who had graduated came by to visit no one in particular. She was idle and I suppose missed the school. But she was powerless, and I think unprepared for the feeling of being a nobody. She had been one of the mean ones. I noticed how she constantly looked down. When she had power, it had not fazed her that she was disliked. But they weren’t all power-drunk. In fact, I hardly remember the prefects from our senior year. Mostly, I remember the ones from when I was in Form 2 and 3. I remember the one who said to me, “Who do you think you are, the queen of Sheba?” I swear she said that! I was so tickled. I must have confronted her.

When we got to senior year, Form 4, the prefects were my classmates. Either they were uninterested in the games of power or I had become too immune to their ways by then. Or perhaps they punished the lower classes more. I don’t know. Some, I remember clearly, did not reflect the dark nature of wanton power; they remained friendly. They breezed through that heavy responsibility of prefecthood with a quiet discomfort. Years after graduating high school, I ran into another mean one at the airport. She had been a class ahead of me. I’ll never forget how she looked down, just like the one who had come to visit. Ashamed. Power had scarred them too.

Excelling:

Fast-forward. Most of these girls have done phenomenally well, in spite of Precious Blood. Getting A’s gave many the advantage of climbing a very steep Kenyan academic ladder. But I think resilience, discipline (yes, the school can take some credit for making us perfectionists) and a sense of competitiveness that came with simply having attended a certain school, gave us the drive to become who we are. We have bonded, even with some of the prefects.

Years bring wisdom and maturity. But so much else remains. That emotional limp that never goes away. Memory about neglect and overreach that should never have happened, some that destroyed lives. Only recently, I've heard one of the teachers has been offering profuse apology for his role in gleeful torture-discipline of the girls. I don't know if this is true, but it's enough relief to imagine it being true. Years bring awakening to those who have a heart.

Perhaps in my next blog on Precious Blood chronicles I shall talk of the music we made, the food we shared on parents’ day, the hockey games we won and celebrated through the night, the depth of sisterhoods we built, and all the old jokes that still floor me with punch-drunk laughter whenever I sit down with an old friend. We were only 16.

Precious Blood's music program can be traced back to a revolutionary nun called Sr. Mary Dominica (later left the convent and reverted to her name, Catherine Belmore), who first got us into the music competition, taught us how to play the guitar, clarinet and melodica, then in her own way, fought to change the stressful way the school was run. She suffered for it and quit.


Saturday, March 09, 2019

The Gift of Passage:


One day, my mother pulled me out of school. Just for a day. I was 17. It had occurred to her that I needed to be given a rite of passage. 

That rite turned out to be an Anglican one. The Church of England had erased our cultures and bequeathed us theirs. Yeah, some aspects of some rites needed to go but we threw away the baby with the bathwater. I was an African child born into an Anglican identity. A thing like that. One day we will talk about life as a hybrid creature.

So my mother sent one of my aunts to come to school and get me home. "You are to be confirmed today," my aunt said. "Oh?" I said. This will be interesting. I had not done the learning that qualified one for this rite.

When I got home, my mother showed me a white dress I was to wear. I loved it. It was new and it fit perfectly. It also awakened in me my unknown attraction to ritual drama and its therapeutic powers. My godmother was there with the gift of a tote bag decorated with big beautiful flowers.

In its years of existence, I had gone on to love that bag until it melted away, literally, because it was made of plastic material and years later someone had accidentally placed it too close to an iron. I had taken it to the fundi for mending and he sewed on a mismatched plastic patch where the big hole had formed. But that poor bag was never the same. Something was stolen from it, and the replacement made it dysfunctional, the stitches never quite holding it together. Things die strange deaths.

A goat had been slaughtered and chickens dispatched to poultry heaven. The soil had soaked in the sacrificial blood of these animals and the ancestors grudgingly accepted the shift in customs.

The compound was coming alive with festivities and before long, we would all be trooping back from church and I would be the center of attention. Had I been older and wiser, I would have requested for mwazindika drummers and their healing drums that sent old ladies into a trance when the boom of the beat was just so.

For that one day, the world would revolve around me. I have never forgotten just how special that felt. You carry this gift of love in you forever. That's how my mother had planned it.

In my mind, I figured my mother had pulled off a mafia move with the church authorities. I could see her whispering to Don Corleone to tell the Padre to tell the Bishop that I needed to be part of those to be celebrated on the special day the Bishop was visiting the village.

I could see Don Corleone hesitate and ask, "Has she taken her Confirmation classes? The Padre will not like that."

I could see my mother not entertaining any questions, "The child is ready. Tell the Padre she will be celebrated."

I could see Don Corleone go, "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse." And just like that, my name was on the list.

Heck I don't know how my mother pulled it off, but she did. She knew the Bishop would not be visiting that village in perhaps another ten years. He would be coming to lay hands on a cohort of young people that had completed their Confirmation classes and could satisfactorily recite the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, the Creed and other required Anglican chants.

Me? I'd have failed that test miserably and been denied the opportunity to have the Bishop place his hand on my head and declare me officially confirmed as a wiser human ready to bear the responsibility of being a moral being.

As a newly minted Anglican adult, this also now meant I could legitimately eat the body of Jesus and drink his blood too and it wouldn't choke me.. oh, wait, the chocking part is Catholic. They come up with the strangest things these religions.

All I'm saying is, thanks to my mother, I got rigged in to the gift of passage that brought a whole village together to celebrate me. She knew I didn't need to go through that curriculum. I suppose I already had morality knit into my conscience. To love my neighbor, to do unto others, and to make up stories.
Mwazindika: The healing drums of the Taita people


Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Karen of Voi and Kinyanjui the Cabbie

I got into a bit of a tiff with three young ticketing officials at the Voi SGR train station over legitimate tickets that needed name-change to indicate the travelers, not the buyer. They said the only solution acceptable by the system was to cancel them, get fined for it, and take a 50-50 to zero chance that we will get new tickets for the same day we needed to travel to Nairobi and take our flight. Unacceptable. I knew they could resolve it if they dared.

Let me tell you. If you are a Kenyan who travels to Kenya and fails to seize opportunity and deeply interact with its Generation Z, you do not do yourself any favor. This is the population that is beginning to own Kenya, as the working force, as the hustling majority, as the very near-future decision makers, fresh out of high school or college. 

So we challenged the three ticketing officials to become conscious decision-makers who rise up to solve human problems, and not merely act as cogs in the system's wheel. I told them they owned that country and all its wealth and that they had the brainpower to fix any challenge with integrity, without fear. 

I told them I've led organizations before and I've learnt the power of my position as a problem solver called upon to affect human lives, even just one. "My hands are tied" is a cop-out, a laziness of the mind when you know you're dealing with an honest situation. They were frustrated with me and my sister because we simply wouldn't walk away without them resolving the issue.

While we watched, one official had also made an innocent passenger pay 20% fine for the computer's mistake in printing the wrong date on his ticket. The system was set up to force them to reach into a poor Kenyan's pocket and demand 20% of ticket-cost for even mistakes made by SGR officials and computers. I was pissed off by how easily the passenger accepted the punishment for something the official admitted was the computer's fault. "Oh, it did not refresh. Give me 200/- for that mistake." She said so casually. And the guy forked out the money. I said, "That's just wrong!"

Meanwhile, a Chinese official had come in and sat quietly listening to all this racus from one of the booths. It was also for his ears that we spoke authoritatively.

After an hour, our indignation and lecturing finally led to the lady taking up our challenge and resolving our ticketing issue. For that moment, she became a leader, not a cog in a system that tells her to punish an honest customer. She had kept her cool while her two male colleagues got their egos hurt and walked out. If she cursed me under her breath for forcing her mind through a paradigm shift, she didn't show it. She just kept a nondescript smile.

When one of the ego-tripping guys came back, I told him his female colleague deserves a promotion. Her name is Karen.

Later on, I had a rich conversation with another Generation Z young cabbie who took us to the airport. Kinyanjui. He had fought really hard to win our business when we told him he was no competition against Uber cabbies who would charge us half his fee. I liked his hustle and his attitude and I took him on. He took us to Naivas so we could get our Kenyan coffee and tea and roico for survival in exile. We talked business, politics, handshake, etc.

In all this, I felt the invisible weight of the country on these young shoulders. A massive amount of debt forced on them would soon be breaking their backs, souring their dreams, crumbling their efforts, making them wonder why it was so difficult to survive through honest labor in a country bustling with new impressive infrastructure.

The current leadership has signed them up for economic slavery through noose-tying Chinese deals and mind-boggling institutional corruption that leaves these kids responsible for paying off stolen money. Life has taught me some tough lessons. I've had big debt before, fully paid off some, still have some-- college loans, hospital bills... But I've worked out a peace-of-mind relationship with these responsibilities mainly because I own them and no one else.

I've deliberately kept my husband's name off of any school loans as guarantor because I would never tie that noose around a loved one's neck. I couldn't sleep at night if I did. Of course kids can use their parents as guarantors because they fall under their parent's responsibility. But how did a bunch of greedy adults get to use their children as guarantors to pay off future debts after those adults are long gone?

How did Kenya get to a place where a bunch of politicians tied that noose of debt around an entire generation's necks? I know they can turn things around, if they choose to rise up to the challenge of fearlessly breaking brutal systems and reclaim their country.
Ernest Kinyanjui, the ambitious Nairobi cabbie with big dreams. His generation deserves better.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

A Personal Testimony: How A Mid-Year Resolution Changed My Life


Making a Resolution: 

Willpower is overrated. I’ve heard about people going cold turkey on bad habits - too much smoking, cracking knuckles, alcohol, gnashing teeth, biting your lip, etc. “Yeah! I woke up one morning and decided enough! And from that day on I never touched another cigarette!” I don’t know about that. I just don’t believe in superpowers. But I believe in powerful and persistent intention subconsciously leading to realization. If you train your mind to want something, believe in it, try it over and over again, one day you will achieve it “cold turkey”. For me, I was consuming an inordinate amount of cane sugar in my tea. Sackfulls. Boatloads. I knew if I didn't do something about it I'd probably join the long list of those making big pharma very rich on my meagre resources. But my willpower had failed me too many times.

Quitting 

So by the time I decided to try quitting on sugar consumption in my tea, it was almost just to humor myself because I'd given up trying. I had just watched that TED talk on the 30-day challenge where you try to change a habit by doing something for 30 days. I got my cup, wrote “Sugar-free zone” on it, and used it as a visual reminder to stick to my challenge (that trick was not on the talk). I posted it on Facebook as my contract with the universe.

Day one of sugarless tea was nasty. So was day two, and three... By Day 10, I knew I wasn’t cut out for this sugarless shit. I needed my fix. That was also the day I read about the sugar poisoning in Kenya. Some political mafia had imported tons of sugar not meant for human consumption and released it to the market.



The Sugar Mafia

Behind every addictive personal habit, there's a shadowy mafia reaping big from your weakness. An inquiry was launched by the government, and the report that came out was also contaminated with bribery, sugar baron names missing from it, and total acrimony in parliament. The issue died there. Kenya’s parliament is a graveyard, not a birthplace of a people’s aspirations. Calls to boycott sugar consumptions were met with a profuse production of funny memes by Kenya’s social media. The very people who were victims thought the whole issue was funny. It's what people who get schlonged by the system over and over again do.

The Spell of Tenga

It was on the day I read about that sugargate that I decided I was going to finish this sugar-free race. This was proof that when you sign a contract with the universe and make it public She will throw you a lifeline at your weakest moment and bid you finish your race. 30 days was nothing. I merged my personal challenge with a national quest for justice, and I didn’t care who was or was not boycotting. I was under the spell of Tenga, the Mossi people's goddess of justice. I posted my boycott and dared to look silly. I was all the way in the US, far from ground zero of Kenya’s sugar contamination war.

Winning the Saccharide War

By the time Day 30 came around, my taste buds were adjusting very well. I decided since I had done very well, I was going to reward myself with a replacement for sugar after the completion of the challenge. I started taking tea with honey. Science told me the metabolism of honey, a monosaccharide, is different from that of sugar, a disaccharide. Knowing my digestive system issues, I knew there were benefits to be reaped from that mono guy. I also knew I wasn’t necessarily changing the eventual saccharide content in my body by doing honey. Making it easier for my small intestines to absorb the sugars was apparently the only gain, and a very good one too because we don't want to talk about leaky gut syndrome. Oh, I also got a little bit more nutrients from raw honey. 

Then a wonderful thing happened. About two months down the line, I ran out of honey, and my tea has tasted just fine without it since then. My taste buds had come full-circle into a joyful saccharide-free zone. I get plenty of my necessary sugars from other food sources.

Chance

Of course I’m healthier for it. This journey has improved the quality of my life because my body has been thanking me. It was personal. As for longevity, that’s not for me to worry about because the way human existence is configured, chance lords over us all.

“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all” – the bible, Ecc 9:11

Let’s just say it’s agreed that healthy living often has longevity as a side effect. I’ll take that side effect if I experience it. More than anything, I’ll take the high that comes with winning small personal victories. Hurry up 2019, I’m dying to meet you because you and I have life to live!
A painting of Tenga, earth Goddess, by Zonagirl. "Tenga’s themes are balance, justice, morality and freedom. Her symbols are soil. Among the Mossi of Senegal, Tenga presides over all matters of justice and morality."


Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Shit Scoopers

*Warning: Graphic imagery ahead. Read on an empty stomach. #Kenya #Highschool #Pumwani
One day, true story, the toilets in the senior dorm broke. This was in one of the high schools I went to. A school that turned out to be a perfect fit for my mind.
It had no fence and no prefects and had the most beautiful view of fog cascading down the hills every morning right in front of our classroom. I thrived there.
Until one day shit literally hit the floor. The decades-old toilets in our dorm blocked and overflowed. The stench was unbearable. The Headmistress decided rather than overhaul the backed-up sewage system, they would have the students scoop the shit everyday.
There was a revolt, and girls went bang-bang on their desks. The administration came down hard and told us whoever does not comply with the shit-scooping fix will be suspended. That did it. Everyone went back to class and agreed to become shit-scoopers.
Except two of us. Maureen and I stood our ground, and we were summoned for interrogation and pending suspension. Facing the Headmistress in her office gave me an adrenaline high. I spoke with all the dare God ever gave me and said how wrong it was that the school is not fixing the toilets. I don't know what Maureen said, all I know was that we were not suspended, and the school agreed to fix the toilets "very soon."
Between then and "very soon", girls still had to take turns to clean the overflow of slimy goo, lumpy feculence, greenish-yellowish stench and rivulets of urine. Has it disgusted you enough? They had to look at it to clean it, and they had to scoop it all with buckets and without gloves. The toilets could not be shut because there was nowhere else to go to the bathroom at night. You cannot escape the system; you have to fix it.
Two things happened: One, the girls in that dorm honored the two of us rebels and gave us special beds next to the front door and farthest from the toilets. These were singles, not bunk beds. Two, the same girls exempted us from cleaning the overflowing feces. I suppose they felt we were ready to take the bullet of suspension for them.
But what I'll never forget was the humor with which one girl did her shit-scooping duty. She laughed and made rib-cracking jokes as she carried that bucket all the way to a pit outside. It was her way of getting through it. A very Kenyan way.
Kenyans laugh too soon. We laugh through shit we've been forced to carry. We carricarture the stench with rib-cracking memes that we share widely. We get sick from handling buckets of shitty maggots wiggling through every shitty situation. The middle-class carry the shit-buckets too-- loads of debt, expectations, keeping up appearances, getting robbed...
We wait for the next toilet-blockage so we can accept it and make new jokes all over again, which is just about every other day. Kenyans ease the tension too soon, and the value of tension gets lost. Tension creates energy, and energy diverted into a just cause gets things done.
But we surrender tension too soon because we think it wrong to show anger. We're embarrassed by the sight of those who express that tension - the activists - and we call them losers. Yet they are the ones who force systems to change. Carrying shit-buckets becomes normal for those who choose a civilized don't-get-angry response to tension.
I've been following the Pumwani saga, and I said-- there goes the civilized shit-scoopers who've been working tirelessly to make a long-ago broken situation work, and now they're being fired. And as sure as the sun rises, there will be rib-cracking memes on Pumwani Maternity. Its dead babies and dead mothers will continue getting scooped off the tables three times a week until Kenyans forget and move on to the next jokes-worthy tragedy.
Chris Ofili's feces-adorned "The Holy Virgin Mary", sold for $4.6 million. My take of this art that offended many prudes: There is sanctity in our shittiest tragedies that stare at us defiantly, in all their ugliness, daring us to clean them up.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Before 9/11 There Was 8/7

I was reminded that the 20th anniversary of the bomb attack in Kenya and Tanzania just went by. August 7th. Perhaps with very low-key commemoration. I saw an article in the Washington Post about Godec (US Ambassador to Kenya) saying the terrorists wanted to divide Kenya and US good relationship. Gobbledygook. That attack had nothing to do with Kenya.
It was a foreign war brought to African soil. Kenyans had no inkling on the rising tide of global terrorism. Local terrorism was a completely different animal — shiftas, cattle rustling and all. On August 7th 1998, Kenyans were going about minding their own business as they should, and suddenly, 213 of them and 11 in Tanzania were killed. A bomb blew up American embassies in both countries
Why was an American war being fought in countries thousands of miles away from America anyway? Easy answer to that can be found in history where powerful countries have the privilege of fighting their wars on other people’s soil.
It’s easier for a weaker enemy to target a superpower’s presence in less-secure countries, and many times, America itself has taken its wars to weaker countries. It’s like having dinner in your own home and going to shit in someone else’s bathroom because you don’t want the stink in your house.
All of Cold War between the US and then USSR was fought in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Citizens of countries like Mozambique who had no business taking up arms against each other in the name of Communism vs Capitalism went at it and slaughtered the daylights out of each other for years.
Ronald Reagan beefed up the war chests of mad butchers like Liberia's Samuel Doe to avoid a rise in communist opposition. Humble peace-loving Jimmy Carter fueled the brutal Somoza dynasty of Nicaragua. Five US presidents led a massacre of countless Vietnamese in a senseless anti-communism war. Meanwhile America thrived.
The Cold War was replaced by gwot (global war on terror), a well-orchestrated war machine that is still chugging along profitably. Unfortunately for the US, the gwot came with one of its most puzzling shockers- the use of American soil as a battleground on 9/11. Whether you take the conspiracy or no-conspiracy versions, that attack remains mindboggling and leaves American intelligence who dismissed obvious warnings with blood on their hands.
Remember by the time 9/11 came along Kenya and Tanzania had been tested as possible battlefields for gwot, an experiment that almost failed but later gained a measure of success very slowly, thanks to the ease of raising local proxy enemies through neighboring Somalia (enter Al Shabaab). Some devastating blows were dealt on innocent Kenyans, the worst being the slaughter of 148 University students in Garissa.
Kenya's current president gulped the kool aid on gwot like a champ. He waxed lyrical about our valiant troops in Somalia (who were either being used for racketeering in the charcoal and sugar trade or getting slaughtered). Kenya was outsmarted by Tanzania. The land of Mwalimu would have none of that send-our-troops to fight a proxy war they have no business fighting.
Meanwhile, America and all its power quickly diverted their 9/11 to Iraq and Afghanistan where hundreds of thousands of Middle-Easterners, and American troops (always the sacrificial pawns) died. Meanwhile astronomical profits were made by the US corporatocracy. Gosh, the money they've made.
Remember the famous words of General Smedley Butler: "War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives."
So, after being tested as a battleground for a new type of war profiteering and losing over 200 citizens, Kenya’s innocent victims are still fighting for compensation through US Congress. Just to remind you, the same Congress made compensation a priority for its citizens caught in the gwot attacks anywhere in the world.
Had the dead and maimed Kenyans been Americans, they would have been cushioned by very necessary, deserved and available financial compensation. Ask them about their lives now, how they’ve struggled to make ends meet, loss of jobs, limbs, eyes, minds.
For the rest of Kenyans, victims of any violence are often too quickly discarded into a gaping void of willful disremember. We tell them "kaa ngumu!" That's on us. America made sure the world never forgets 9/11. The world does not remember 8/7.

L: Art by Carlos Latuff | R: Artist Unknown

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Beliefs and Bullshit: The Enduring Sting of Vicious Gospels

Fattening and Sickening

“During the mission period, 3 out of 4 of the coastal Indians perished. They’d lived well free, but as soon as we introduced them to a Christian and community life, they fattened, sickened and died” – a Christian missionary during the Christianization of the Native American peoples, The West (Burns).

My mind goes to the parallels of devastation in my own country, Kenya. I have observed so much of similar fattening, sickening and dying among present-day Kenyans who have clung to a debilitating form of Christian thought decades after the colonial missionaries left.

Not all Christian thought is created equal. It’s like wheat from the fields that is meant to nourish. Some gets chemically altered, bleached and reduced in nutrients so that eventually it fattens, sickens and kills; and some is harvested and separated from the chaff just right so that its consumption strengthens and liberates.

A Cesspool of Heartless Spirituality

But the modern-day industries that monopolize and process Christian thought have little to no good intention. They are no different from the missionaries of old who conquered and killed in the name of God. A lot of modified, bleached and poisoned Christian thought is imported from the American evangelical industries to African countries, now mostly through social media, and consumed largely by the poor. 

I receive these emaciated over-shared cookie-cutter posts daily by Kenyan friends on social media who seem clueless about the moral bankruptcy, greed and political machinations of the American evangelicals they keep quoting. If these Kenyan believers are aware of this cesspool of spirituality they keep feeding from, then they've been indoctrinated to not judge the messenger because - they argue - "after all God uses sinners." 

It's drinking from that same cesspool of spirituality that got Kenyan evangelicals singing the praises of America's dirtiest electoral politics and its outcomes as if the brutish victor were the reincarnation of Christ himself. They were told it's all in God's Armageddon plan and you Africans need to toe the line lest Jesus finds you unprepared. A truly vicious gospel.   

This vicious gospel is heavily sold by small faith traders (miracle workers, guilt-peddlers, moral police, end-times preachers and prosperity gospellers) who thrive off of selling a gospel that leaves others in greater suffering. Like drugs that dock at the port of Mombasa, seep ghostlike into society where unassuming consumers get hooked, sicken their minds and die while the shadowy kingpins sit pretty on a mound of dirty wealth.

Prayerful and Peace-loving Citizen

So much of the depression in poor communities comes with a particular way of thinking and a spirituality that is itself the sting that carries the poison. A thinking that does not allow the believer to loudly claim power and personal responsibility to challenge what went wrong, what ails their society, and what should be done.

It’s a thinking that claws desperately at unseen spiritual forces that provide believers with the perfect excuses for not taking action towards healing and freeing their community from the ravages of calculated poverty and oppression. They leave it all to God. After all - they say - God willed them into these oppressive situations for his glory. And they have the bible to prove it. I would not wish such sickening spirituality upon the mind of a suffering enemy.

When some get tired of the boot on their necks and rise up in protest, you will find those infected with that debilitating strain of evangelization saying, “I’m not with those rebellious trouble-makers; I am a prayerful and peace-loving citizen and I’ll stay in my sanctified corner praying for calm to return for that is my portion.” As if there ever was calm in squalor and silent suffering.

Awakening

One would think that this sting afflicts only the uneducated hoi-polloi. Not so. Slum communities (or as some would prefer, economically depressed neighborhoods) in Africa are also home to hundreds of college-educated believers who feverishly share teachings from American evangelicals while their shacks burn in political turmoil and smolder in poverty.

One's awakening does not come without the dare to respond to that gnawing voice in one’s conscience. It bids you read books from competing philosophies that you’re forbidden to read and scour through critical blogs that challenge your mind’s comfort zones. Find a leading critical thinker to follow on social media and challenge them to duels of thought until you’re no longer terrified of your own mind’s ability to think for itself.

If these resources are unavailable, go into seclusion and think alone for 3 days, making sure to fast from sugary-sweet prayers of desperation. Just you and the power of your self-healing mind. If facing your raw thoughts by yourself scares you, find a friend who thinks very differently from you; one you can trust to take you through critical thought without judgement, and spend some quality time together. Do this even while your chained mind is kicking and screaming against leaving the comfort zones built from years of being told what to believe and how to think.

"Angel Eating Devil's Food" Artist: Tex Norman, Oklahoma City, OK

Sere