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I am a believer in pursuing one's passion and enabling others to realize their potential. Working with women and girls is my passion.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Christmas...what does it mean today?

What does Christmas mean today? I wonder.

Last evening, we were having the end of year staff dinner, and we got discussing what Christmas means and what it meant. We managed to get several issues to point to what made Christmas something different for us when growing up, but we never quite figured what it means today.  For Christians, Christmas represents the time that redemption started by Jesus coming to earth to be born as a human and live in the human life. It is one of the most celebrated holidays in the Christians calendar while it represents a holiday for many people in Africa as organizations take a break as it is towards the end of the year.

In the past there was something ecstatic about Christmas and the kids knew that was the time when some of the goodies that don’t come every day would come. It was compulsory to get new clothes during Christmas, but today this is neither here nor there, new clothes can be bought any season of the year. There were special meals for the season not to mention the very different way of having the Church service.

I have been reflecting on what Christmas meant at different seasons of my life. While growing up as a kid, in a big family, this was the season that you had to have something new! It is interesting how we never cared or even taught where parents got the money for this for the big family and with life having been harder then economically. I still remember the joy of waiting to see what my dad had in store for us during Christmas, it was different from any other presents at any other time of the year, and we knew Christmas was here. It was unheard of not to have chapattis during Christmas and often roast meat.  Today celebrations happens every now and then. The celebrations came with elaborate church services and different events. There was a vigil walk from one home to the other with Christmas carols   on the 23rd of December. This was an exciting moment when one could spend the night singing and moving from one place to the other. This was popularly called ‘murekio’. I am not very sure what it meant but it was an important even in the Catholic. This was the first casualty to go due to aspects of insecurity  and it was made into a one venue event during the day. I still remember singing and watching the starts and feeling really Christmas is here! Some Muslim friends of mine shared that  they felt the excitement of Christmas and it also meant something to them, some moment of getting together and merry making.

The Catholic had and still does have a way of bringing back the memories of the manger. There is a replica of the imagined Bethlehem with a manger, where the baby Jesus lay, and as a child this meant so much to me. I can still remember the awe I felt every time I found my way to the manger with a lot of colored lights and thinking how it must have been in Bethlehem at that time. The night mass that ended after midnight made the mood complete. With time, some of the Churches have removed the evening mass within the same locality as the Churches geographical locations of the churches are more divided to cater for growing populations and hence a few priests serving the different Churches.  There is still something magical about Christmas vigil mass. Somehow, things are more ‘ordinary’ even during the extra-ordinary season.
One of the most significant aspects of Christmas is families getting together and many people travel at least this once to the localities. I never thought I can spend Christmas away from my family but I did while in campus. Christmas songs carols are quite inspirational hence I was caught in between the singing and being with my family. I love singing, music gets to my soul. Through the universities mass choir we spent Christmas at state house. There is something euphoric about the Christmas carols and I still remember one ‘ my, my, my, Mary’s boy child, Jesus Christ was born on Christ-e-mas day’! I remember the melody and the two tenors one being the late Mr Ogallo, a great musician may he rest in peace’. It made Christmas special.
So what does Christmas mean today? Many Kenyans especially Nairobians travel to the coast region, one can almost hear the coast people saying the ‘tunaomba serikali watu wa Nairobi wabaki Nairobi’. It is the time that many get a break from work hence the traffic is normally heading from the city centres to rural areas and to the coast.  I am still reflecting on what Christmas means to me today.  Do we get to reflect what this means to us, what it has meant to us? With the mobile telephony that has changed the communication, this is the season that one will get text messages even from those who have not communicated in the past year. But this ends at Christmas, until the next Christmas.

Whatever it is, something gets awakened during Christmas, some positive energies.
During this Christmas am inspired by one of my favorite songs in high school, and I believe this will be my relic this Christmas. The words inspire me that ‘Wherever there is laughter ringing, someone smiling, someone dreaming, We can live together there, Love will be our home’.
The message for Christmas has been love, where we can live together in harmony.  During this period I can strive to lock out the negative energy and concentrate on a renewed energy, peace and love.

If home is really were the heart is, And home must be a place we all can share
For even with our differences, our hearts are much the same, For where love is we come together there

Wherever there is laughter ringing, Someone smiling, someone dreaming
We can live together there, Love will be our home

Wherever there are children singing, Where a tender heart is beating, We can live together there, Cause love will be our home

With love our hearts can be a family, And hope can bring this family face to face
And though we may be far apart, Our hearts can be as one, When love brings us together in one place

Wherever there is laughter ringing, Someone smiling, someone dreaming, We can live together there,  Love will be our home

Where there are words of kindness spoken,Where a vow is never broken, We can live together there, Cause love will be our home

Love will, love will be our home, Love will, love will be our home
Love will, love will be our home

Wherever there is laughter ringing, Someone smiling, someone dreaming, We can live together there, Love will be our home

Wherever there are children singing, Where a tender heart is beating, We can live together there, Cause love will be our home

Love will, love will be our home, Love will, love will be our home
Love will, love will be our home

Wherever there is laughter ringing, Someone smiling, someone dreaming, We can live together there, Cause love will be our home

Love will be our home. 


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kenyans for Kenya- where are we?

By Sophie Ngugi
Kenya has been in the international news for various reasons, mostly some crisis or the other.  Kenya was dominating the news between December 2007 and February 2008, for reasons that we will not forget in the near future.  We were in the worst violence to rock the country since independence popularly now known as Post Elections Violence (PEV). Fast forward, August 2010 and were in the news again, this time it was progressive news; we had peacefully voted to overhaul a constitution!  We can talk about this event forever, the great example that Kenya set to the entire world.
This reminds me of a story I was once told. There was this woman who had tried for long to get a child. Assuming the story is set in the African setting, it is well understood how childlessness is frowned upon, and the women is blamed for it hence it becomes easy to empathise with this woman who was scorned and looked down upon. It would therefore be well understood the excitement of this woman who had waited for so long when she finally got a child. In the excitement as she went sharing the good news she forgot to take care of the child. I am almost sure that this cannot happen to any woman who is a new mother, but the moral of the story is clear; if we don’t nurture what we have it will die. This is the challenge for Kenyans, and we have to keep reflecting back on this, and assessing how far we have come.
‘Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation two years on: where are we?
Those were the words that glared from several banners at the conference hall from 2-4th December 2010. As I sat at the Crowne Plaza where the conference was to be held I could not help but wonder; really where are we? This was the theme for the 2-day conference organised by the Kofi Annan Foundation and the African Union panel of experts. The purpose of the conference was to take stock of the progress made in the implementation of the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation (KNDR) agreements and the recently promulgated Constitution of Kenya, as well as build momentum for the full achievement of the reform agenda. This was an important occasion in Kenya, taking place just as the country is undergoing the pains of overhaul having passed a new progressive constitution and now the overwhelming task of making it a reality is here with us; with a lot of politicking regarding the justice process.
The conference theme got me reflecting on where we have come from as a nation and wondering what we are each doing to make Kenya the nation we envision. On 28 February 2008 following the  political violence that engulfed Kenya after the disputed December 2007 General Election, the two main parties – the Party of National Unity (PNU) and the Orange Democratic Party (ODM) – signed an agreement to undertake several step to end the crisis. Through mediation by the African Union’s (AU) Panel of Eminent African Personalities under the chairmanship of Mr Kofi Annan, the parties committed to undertake actions under four main agenda items agreed at the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation (KNDR) process. These were:
Agenda Item 1: Immediate action to stop violence and restore fundamental rights and liberties;
Agenda Item 2: Immediate measures to address the humanitarian crisis, and promote healing and reconciliation;
Agenda Item 3: How to overcome the political crisis; and
Agenda Item 4: Addressing long-term issues, including constitutional and institutional reforms, land reforms, poverty and inequalities, youth unemployment, national cohesion, and transparency and accountability[i].

The overall agenda of this conference therefore, was to review the progress made by the grand coalition government 2 years on.  The first 3 agendas were immediate to stop the violence and address the humanitarian crisis. The Agenda 4 item aimed at addressing the root causes of the violence through institutional reforms, with the constitution review being one major issue. The different aspects of the Agenda 1-4 had been handled while others remain unaddressed. The delegates composed of government officers, members of civil society organizations, diplomats among others reflected and discussed on various aspects of the implementation of the agreement with a lot of focus on the implementation of the constitution and the transitional justice system.  The chief guests in the event were Kofi Annan who played a key role in the peace agreement in Kenya and the dreaded and anticipated International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.  These two gentlemen represent peace and justice in the eyes of many Kenyans, Kofi Annan was critical in unlocking the deadlock for the country following the post elections violence, hence representing peace; while Ocampo has been viewed as the representative of justice in Kenya with the prospects of punishing the chief perpetrators. The chief prosecutor’s speech stood out as he outlined the plan for prosecution of 6 individuals who has highest responsibility in the post elections violence.

He emphasized that ‘We are investigating murders, rapes and forced displacements, which constitute crimes against humanity”. This caused quite some ripples in the country with a countdown to the day when the names will be made public. The ICC now looks more real, hence there is political resistance to the ICC process mostly the political class who are afraid of the implications of the ICC, while other Kenyans are mostly hopeful that the ICC process will send a message relating to end of impunity in Kenya.

Does this mean that every Kenyan who suffered will feel that justice has served due to the ICC process? How will the woman and girl who was raped and still live with the scars of the violence benefit from the process? What of the man who sees the neighbour who took his property across the fence while he can only recall how he lost his livelihood and dignity? How does the Kenyan who lost loved ones feel justice in this process?  The future of our nation lies in our hands as Kenyans; we are the ones who can decide to bring justice in our nation, and to ensure that the constitution is implemented in spirit and in word and other aspects of the agreement.

Several issues still stand out; justice for post elections victims and establishing local mechanisms; durable solution to the IDPs issue as many are still in transitional camps and settling them and allocating land has remained controversial 2 years later; reconciliation of communities, who we expect to coexist to name just a few of the issues that Kenyans are dealing with.

As I listened to the various issues that were raised in the conference, I could not help but notice the normal divide of duty bearers defending their role, convinced they were doing their best in the implementation of the constitution and other reforms; while the rights holders expressing the very opposite, there was rarely middle ground in the discussions. On the other hand the voice of many who have waited for justice for long was loud. It was clear that violations have happened for long that people are no longer sure when justice will come knocking. Some expressed that post elections violence has affected them for a long time indeed, in previous elections not just the 2007 elections while others expressed various forms of violence in various parts of the country that generations have suffered.

The international process will not sort out the grievances and pain of Kenyans if not followed by local efforts towards justice, reconciliation and healing.  Kenyans know that the ICC process is just a tip of the iceberg about the over 1, 133 innocent Kenyans who lost their lives, the families they left behind, the hundreds of thousands displaced, some who are still living as internal refugees, and the thousands of women and girls who were raped. Kenyans also realize that the ICC process is only but one step in a several procedures that we must carry out towards enabling effective closure on the Post Election Violence. Other steps ahead include local criminal prosecution of lower profile perpetrators of murder, rape and other criminal activities carried out during that period, as well as processes of national healing and reconciliation. 

The back therefore stops with us Kenyans, with me and you, not with the external processes.


In his closing speech, Kofi Anan uttered conviction in Kenyans being able to manage their nation “I came here to listen. What I’ve heard makes me believe that the prospects are good. You are passionate about your country, honest about the challenges you face; and determined to create a democratic, peaceful and stable Kenya that is rooted in good governance, the rule of law and respect for human rights[ii].
So; how far are we; and, where are we? Are we waiting for the ICC to sort our issues or are we on the path of sorting our mess? Are we keen on the implementation of the constitution that we worked hard towards or are we waiting several years down the line to complain how it has not been implemented as per the wishes of Kenyans?

It is a Kenya for Kenyans, and as citizens we have a responsibility to ensure this happens, that we claim our country back.



[i] South Consulting, Nov 2010, Briefing notes on the conference
Ii Kofi Annan’s closing speech


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

(Young) women urged to take up politics


 Artcle published by Daily Nation on November 3, 2010

http://www.nation.co.ke/News/Women%20urged%20to%20take%20up%20politics/-/1056/1045682/-/bj5jegz/-/index.html
Women should not wait to be invited to the political table. They have to pull up a chair and take a seat, two women’s leaders asserted on Tuesday.
Sophie Ngugi and Maria Okong’o said the new Constitution has given birth to a new Kenya and offered women the opportunity to become political actors like never before.
Ms Ngugi, executive director of the Young Women’s Leadership Institute and Ms Okong’o a programme manager with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), delivered this message at the National Young Women’s Forum at Ufungamano House, Nairobi. FES is a German political foundation that promotes democracy in Kenya.
Said Ms Ngugi: “There is affirmative action in the Constitution,” referring to the clause that guarantees women at least one-third of all elected or appointed posts in government.
Proactive roles
“But we need young women to take more proactive roles. We want women to join political parties and be active because you cannot influence political parties from the outside.”
The all-day seminar was aimed at encouraging young women to harness their rights provided in the new Constitution to have their issues and ideas addressed in the political sphere.
“It is very difficult for someone to feel the pinch of an issue unless they’re experiencing it. It is easier for a women to know what needs to be done as far as reproductive health is concerned because those issues directly affect us,” Ms Ngugi noted.
But many times, women are expected to be apolitical and not concerned with public matters. It’s time women took control and not take a back seat while others make decisions over their lives, their futures and their nation, she added.
The first step is for women to familiarise themselves with what’s in the new Constitution Ms Okong’o said, and second, join a political party — any party.
“If women are not at the table, they have no power of the decisions that are made,” Ms Okong’o added.
Historically, women didn’t feel welcome at the political table for a number of reasons. Illiteracy, financial barriers, family responsibilities and male-dominated agendas made it difficult for women to develop influential roles.
But women are ready to rise up to these challenges, Ms Ngugi said.
“When women want to have families and also engage in politics, they find it very difficult because they feel they have to chose between bringing up their families or joining politics. They can do both,” she said.
“I just want to get people energised to know, ‘I will do it. I can do it. I have to do it.”

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Slow dance....the dance wont last


This is a poem is claimed to have been written by a teenager with cancer, a terminally ill young girl in a New York Hospital. Regardless of the original source, it speaks to me, a challenge of living the moment that we so often forget.




S L O W D A N C E:


by Davic L. Weatherford




Have you ever watched kids
on a merry-go-round?


Or listened to the rain
slapping on the ground?


Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight?
Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?


You better slow down
Don’t dance so fast


Time is short
The music won’t last


Do you run through each day
On the fly


When you ask “How are you?”
Do you hear the reply?


When the day is done,
do you lie in your bed


With the next hundred chores
running through your head?


You’d better slow down
Don’t dance so fast


Time is short
The music won’t last


Ever told your child,
We’ll do it tomorrow?


And in your haste,
not see his sorrow?


Ever lost touch,
Let a good friendship die


‘Cause you never had time
To call and say “Hi”?


You’d better slow down
Don’t dance so fast


Time is short
The music won’t last


When you run so fast to get somewhere
You miss half the fun of getting there.


When you worry and hurry through your day,
It is like an unopened gift….Thrown away…


Life is not a race.
Do take it slower


Hear the music
Before the song is over.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

National Young Women's forum- Kenya freshi...niko set

NATIONAL YOUNG WOMEN’S FORUM -WHY THE FORUM
By Sophie Ngugi Executive Director Young Women’s Leadership Institute
During the national women’s forum held on 28th October 2010 at Ufungamano House


Why the forum? Why young women?

The people are learning that you cannot leave decisions only to leaders. Local groups have to create the political will for change, rather than waiting for others to do things for them. That is where positive, and sustainable, change begins. (Wangari Maathai)

Today we gather here in a platform that is rare but crucial, young women who are ready, willing and capable to map out our future and the direction of our nation. The objectives of the forum are:
- To celebrate sisterhood and the gains of women in the New Constitution ;
- To reflect on the constitution journey and her-story in the journey;
- To strategize on way forward in defending the gains in new constitution for young women.

Many times the spaces we have as young women do not allow us to celebrate and strategise at the same time. Many times we are expected to be apolitical, not concern with public matters and take back seat while others make decisions over our lives, our future, our nation. We forget who we are, how special we are and the powers we have to move the world.

YWLI has a vision of a society that enables the full development and self actualisation of young women. We believe in the potential of young women and hence we create safe spaces for them to nurture this. The space today is the open free space for us to engage with one another and at the end of the day come up with resolutions that we can commit to. Young women in Kenya have often been invisible in national processes yet we are contributing immensely to the building of our nation through local processes from the invisible space; behind the scenes. Young women have made immense changes in their communities in different engagements at local level hence impacting the lives of their families and communities in economic and social ways. It is a high time that these efforts are brought to the forefront and more young women engage in shaping the national processes in Kenya. It is a high time that these efforts are brought to a visible space. The participation of younger women in national leadership positions has been inadequate. Young women face myriad of challenges including violence, disempowering socialisation, other social cultural and economic challenges, limits their capacity to exploit their full potential. They have faced discrimination at educational and work institutions that limit their effective participation in making a difference in the spaces they engage in. On the other hand many have shied away from claiming public spaces as the notion of the ‘meek, nice girl’ has perpetuated this. The lack of sizeable numbers of young women in the public space is not due to lack of capacity but due to the many challenges that women and more-so young women face. We realise that the challenges are not going away, neither are we, so we confront them head on and use the stumbling blocks as stepping stones to move forward.

Our very own Prof Wangari Maathai said:
‘African women in general need to know that it is ok for them to be the way they are – to see the way they are as strength, and to be liberated from fear and from silence.’


YWLI believes that young women are the women’s movement often untapped and valuable resource in defending the gains on women’s rights. YWLI existence prides itself of empowering young women by building their leadership capacities, providing a platform for networking, nurturing other different kinds of movements for young women and multigenerational organizing. In the engagements we have had with young women, it is evident that young women have great potential to make a difference in Kenya. Tuko na ‘Uwezo’, the power to bring change and impact on our lives and lives of others.

“The thing women have to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it.” (Roseanne Barr)


We are calling upon young women to take the available spaces and be active members of political parties in big numbers; taking active role.

We are calling upon affirmative action within affirmative action to ensure that the processes that are taking place incorporate young women while calling upon young women to take the mantle and forge ahead within the affirmative action for women in all the key positions, and in other marginalised groups.


On August 27, 2010, the long awaited constitution of Kenya was promulgated and this marked a turning point in Kenya. We have agitated for a new constitution for many years and the passing of this constitution spells a possible future for Kenya that we have to make a reality. The new constitution offers a fresh start for Kenyans yet we are alert to the fact that that we have to be ready for this transformation and work at making the word and spirit of the constitution work for us.

As young women, ‘Tuko set’

We are ready to do all it takes to ensure that the constitution becomes a living reality. One of the greatest gains in this constitution is for women in political participation access, the human rights among other aspects. We are keen that there is affirmative action within affirmative action to ensure that young women are not left out in the implementation of the constitution. We are therefore gathered with this energy and synergy that comes from diverse backgrounds gathered with common purpose.

We will celebrate womanhood, recognising that women of different generations have contributed in the liberation of our nation yet her-story is often missing out in the ‘hi-story’ of the nation. Today we celebrate all women of all generations who have been in the struggle in different ways whether recognised or not. We celebrate together and uphold Udada, sisterhood of purpose and action, in realising that together we can go far. We appreciate our diversities as strengths not weaknesses.

Today we will seek to once again look at the constitution and what it has for us as Kenyans, as young women and recognise the role we have in ensuring that the gains outlined in the constitution are achieved. We have to claim and occupy the political space more so be active members of political parties. We strive to provide transformative leadership in different spaces and the devolved government gives excellent opportunities for our engagement at local levels. We believe that leadership is not leadership for the sake, and just being young doesn’t necessarily qualify us, but looking at proving alternative leadership and demand for the same from leaders. ‘Uadilifu’, integrity becomes a guiding principle.

We are therefore urging the young women of Kenya to take action in ensuring their presence and participation in political parties.


As young women, we are in no doubt about our equal space in this nation, in the making of decisions in this nation. We believe in ‘Usawa’, equity in access and control of resources both material and non material, non discrimination in access to decision making and in ensuring that

It is time, we have a new Kenya and we are set to take the mantle and move this country. We have done a lot in our different spaces and now we take it to another level.


Women really do rule the world. They just haven't figured it out yet. When they do, and they will, we're all in big, big trouble. ~"Doctor Leon,"

Luckily for us, we have figured that out! The time is now.

Welcome.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Less Travelled

In the last few weeks, I have not blogged, time not on my side. In between experiencing some scaring shockers, I realized there is one thing that makes a winner and a loser, the courage to be different, courage to do things differently. My former principal in high school always told us, 'it doesn't matter what happens to you but rather how you handle what happens to you'. I have been able to jump hurdles I didn't expect to, and be optimistic and share optimism when it was difficult to do so, and wondered how!!!!

By God's Grace.

I am soon going to blog, share my aha moments in the last few months....but as I prepare for my final exams to finish the first part of my MA, I am reflecting on this poem by Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

...Robert Frost

Friday, August 27, 2010

Pomp and colour: Promulgation for Kenya constitution

When the news started indicating that it will be pomp and colour at the promulgation of our New constitution, I didn’t realise just how much! I was set to watch the proceedings live from my house and the coverage in all the local TV stations was not disappointing. The venue of the great event, Uhuru Park has great historical significance. Uhuru is a Kiswahili means ‘independence’ and it has significance to the Kenya’s independence since the first flag was hoisted at the Uhuru gardens not very far from this park and hence the name has great significance. The Uhuru Park evokes memories of liberation; it is the park that the first African woman, Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai fought for a long while against the former president Moi’s regime who wanted to elect a skyscraper. It is at Uhuru Park, that the transition in 2002 was done when the current president took over power in what was seen as Kenya’s second liberation. It is in this park that today, 27th August 2010, by 0800hrs Kenyans were already full to capacity, waiting eagerly for the great day.

The visitors who graced the ceremony included several presidents from different countries, former presidents, ambassadors were among other guests. The mood in the crowd was ecstatic, patriotic songs were played by the military band and I could not help but shed tears of joy; the day is finally here.

The arrival of the first lady, Lucy Kibaki was followed by the arrival of the president shortly before 1000hrs and the ceremony got under way. The prayers were conducted to include some of the diverse beliefs in Kenya like Islam, Christianity and traditional religions. Shortly after 100hrs the process of promulgation started after s brief speech from the president. The crowd watched, cheered, clapped and simply celebrated as we watched the process begin. None of us watching had ever witnessed such a ceremony in Kenya. The OLD constitution was negotiated in Lancaster just before the Kenya’s independence in 1963 and has the seal and signature of the queen. This was therefore a momentous occasion to see the promulgation of the document we had given views on, discussed, bargained and voted for, what a day for Kenya! The four colours of the national flag; green, red, white and black were well represented in the dressing and flags that are witnessed at Uhuru Park.

The promulgation starts by having the Attorney General give copies of the constitution. The president gave a declaration of the New Constitution and then went ahead to sign the document. The seal was affixed on the new constitution and the president then held it up for the crowds to see. There were loud cheers as the fanfare is played with President Kibaki waving the Constitution. You should see the smile on the man’s face, and for the first time I saw a full smile on the president’s face!

AND NOW, KENYA IS UNDER A NEW CONSTITUTION!

The three verses of the national anthem were sung in Kiswahili. This is a really rare occasion since in national functions, the national anthem tune is normally played by the band and when sang in different occasions its normally the only the first verse; here we were the three verses. The words of the national anthem summarises the prayer for Kenya today.
“O God of all creation
Bless this our land and nation
Justice be our shield and defender
May we dwell in unity
Peace and liberty
Plenty be found within our borders.

Let one and all arise
With hearts both strong and true
Service be our earnest endeavour
And our homeland of Kenya
Heritage of splendour
Firm may we stand to defend.

Let all with one accord
In common bond united
Build this our nation together
And the glory of Kenya
The fruit of our labour
Fill every heart with thanksgiving.”

The cheering in the crowd was at its loudest and the cannon blasted as the flag is hoisted simultaneously! The flag that was hoisted is 22 by 14 ft and has risen to a height of 30 metres where it will remain as a permanent feature.
IT’S A NEW KENYA

The chief justice was the first person to swear allegiance to the New Constitution. President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila and vice president Kalonzo also took afresh the oath of office and allegiance to the new law. The members of parliament would take the oaths later on in the day. Kenyans ratified the new constitution of Kenya and here we were rejoicing in the new possibilities it created. There was entertainment and displays by different groups of people. Display of armoured Personnel Carriers, battle tanks and Humvees roll by. There is little chance they will ever be used in actual war, but every nation appreciates the role the army plays. It is the first time the Kenyan public is seeing this war machinery. Amazing stuff!! Helicopters trailing banners bearing the words, ‘GOD BLESS KENYA’. Trailers bearing workers simulating the construction of houses are also part of the display here. They are constructing a new house symbolizing the making of the new Kenya; musicians, it was the time for the Kenyan dance.
The occasion was concluded by speeches from the president, vice president and prime minister.
The president reiterated some of the values in the New Constitution that identified need to accommodate diversity and respect universal principles of human rights, gender, equity and human rights

For the second time Kenyans sang all the three verses of the national anthem to conclude the occasion. Later the presidents, prime minister and the first lady led in a significance event of releasing doves which signify peace and balloons in the colours of the national flag as an indication of new dawn.

A new Kenya, and I plan to celebrate even more, no worries about implementations, costs etc today, it’s time to celebrate!

New Kenya, New Dawn.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Desiderata

The words of Desiderata always speak to me, all so powerful

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be
greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career
however humble;
it is a real possession in the
changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you
to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit
to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham,
drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The baby is born- Kenya’s New constitution

I realized one might not need to have held a new born baby to know the joy of a mother on safely delivering a baby. I felt that joy. It was 5th day of August 2010, I was sitting in the coach following news closely despite a doctor’s advice to take rest, but this was not the time to miss the happenings in Kenya. I was wishing I can scream and shout aloud, WE HAVE A NEW CONSTITTION, but flu had put me down and I could only shout in my heart. I could not believe that it was finally here, the joy can not be described in words. I had been so passionate about the proposed constitution, that for me this was just a climax and my ill health didn’t deter my joy.

The constitution making process in Kenya has a long history. The previous constitution of Kenya was made at Lancaster house upon the Kenyan independence in 1963, and now was another moment to get a new homemade constitution. The first referendum was marred by a lot of politicking with the proposed constitution getting edited a long way to the extent that Kenyans no longer recognized their efforts in bringing their views into the constitution, and hence in 2005 the proposed constitution was rejected.

The constitutional moment was reignited in 2008 following the post elections violence in Kenya, the worst violence to ever be experienced in Kenya that left many Kenyans killed, injured, displaced and the belief in the national processes seriously challenged. The national accord was signed that allowed for power sharing and creation of the prime minister and deputy prime ministers’ position. One of the most critical aspects of the national accord was the popular ‘Agenda 4’. The long standing issues identified under Agenda Item 4 included: a) Undertaking constitutional, legal and institutional reforms; b) Tackling poverty and inequality as well as combating regional development imbalances; c) Tackling unemployment especially among the youth; d) Consolidating national cohesion and unity; e) Undertaking land reforms; f) Addressing transparency, accountability and impunity.

A national cohesion commission, a commission of inquiry into the post elections violence and the Transitional justice and reconciliation commissions were among the institutions that were set up to handle different aspects. The Electoral Commission of Kenya that was blamed for the flawed elections was disbanded and the Interim and Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) was set up.

Quite critical was the constitutional making process, and the process required that : Parliament to enact a Review Statute including a timetable; Parliament to enact a referendum law; The preparation of a Draft Constitution in a consultative process with expert assistance; Parliament to approve the Draft Constitution; and, The people to enact a new Constitution through a referendum. The law was passed during the crisis period and it was made water tight enough not to be interfered with at different levels as has been the case in many instances. The Committee of Experts (CoE) was set up and the process started and the progress was more of a parachute that has been released and it had to land, could not be stopped halfway. Since November 2009, different drafts were given with consultations and give and take and in May we finally had the Proposed Constitution of Kenya (PCK) that was to be subjected to the referendum, the final and climax process.

I have many aha moments in the journey that Kenya undertook and will highlight them as I go on. The first in this is the resilience in which Kenyans bounce back, it’s amazing! Following the post elections violence, many people burnt their voters’ cards; many swore to never go for elections. When the IIEC called for the fresh registration of voter’s country wide, they optimistically but cautiously put a target of ten million, but this was surpassed! Twelve million Kenyans registered and 72% voter turn out was registered, that is resilience at its best.

The journey was joyous, challenging, tough and exciting. I saw Kenyan citizens taking up the mantle and giving their time, resources and in terms of time, money and knowledge to enable other citizens understand the provisions in the then PCK. While they were two sides to this debate, those supporting (with the color Green) and those opposing the PCK (with the color Red) several issues came up. One unique entry into the debate was the Clergy where most of the Christian leaders openly opposed the PCK with the main bone of contention being the ‘abortion clause’. The ‘contentious’ clause (Article 26.4) reads ‘Abortion is not permitted unless in the opinion of a trained health professional there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger; or if permitted by any other written law’ . Many discussions went on around this and the sorry fact is that the discussion was more of religious (men mostly) discussing the reproductive health of women and with some even out rightly showing disregard for the health of women. In many instances discussion was skewed to portray women as immoral human beings waiting to getting abortion at the earliest opportunity. The fact that there are millions of abortion related maternal deaths, or that abortion has not been expressly legalized in the provisions didn’t feature. My disappointment is the observation that the same clergy who are eager to protect life never speak out when laws to protect lives of women like the sexual offences act are being discussed. In one of the mainstream Churches, a clergy in the last few months was dismissed from his services in the Church when he openly expressed desire to take up parental responsibility of a child he had sired. For me this was just patriarchy flexing its muscles.

As a result of the increased involvement of the clergy in the constitutional debate many of us stopped attending church services! The Church was clearly losing its influence and the clergy need to do much more to win back the confidence of the followers.

Some of the hilarious happenings were the appearance of ‘Paul the Octopus’ joke! And the portrayal of ‘Green win’ was one hilarious graphics.

As I engaged in different ways, I could feel excitement building and I felt the stakes were so high we could not afford to lose the proposed constitution. I saw this as the greatest opportunity for rebuilding Kenya and giving women what they have asked for long time. I failed to imagine the possibility of losing the vote in the referendum.

Some of the great highlights included the civic education trainings, the rallies and conferences and the one-one engagements with different individuals on the same. One of common feedback in the forums I attended or facilitated, which were mostly forums for women, was the power of knowledge. At one time one woman commented that she was feeling like the spirit had descended on her; that was how she could describe deep feeling she got from realizing what the constitution had in store for her. The low moments was when I felt slighted by persons who found it upon themselves to make assumptions, and one person told me that I must have been given money to promote the constitution! This could not deter my efforts; neither did the different sentiments deter the efforts of other young women who I interacted closely with. We formed a support mechanism coming to each other’s assistance where need be and being there for each other. Sisterhood at it’s best.

As the day drew nearer, I kept making sure that my voter’s card and ID are intact for the great day. I counted the day to the hour. Two days before the referendum, I started developing some sore throat which escalated to flu to the chest, but somehow it had not struck me to see a doctor until a friend asked if I had seen a doctor! On August 4, I had planned to be at polling station in my Gatundu North constituency at 0600hours but by then getting out of bed was a struggle. I managed to get to the polling station at 1000hrs and cast the vote! I had to recheck to make sure I had put the mark in the right place! Finally the day was here!

As I went to hospital and later stayed in bed for two days following the proceedings as much as I could manage, I could not help but feel proud of being Kenyan. The world was watching with some predicting violence. There was peaceful voting! I was so impressed by the IIEC who conducted the elections n the best way we have had in history; it was a big win for Kenya. Kenyans became more informed than ever before and engaged on civic issues more than ever before. The media in Kenya played a great role in making sure that the citizens got a chance to know what was in the proposed constitution. Individuals organized to have forums in their localities. Women’s organizations held forums to educate women on the benefits that the PCK had for women. It was Kenyans for Kenya.

The first leg of journey is over, the baby is here, and regardless of the journey ahead in implementing, we can pose for a moment and celebrate!

Oh Kenya we have a NEW CONSITUTION! No longer ‘proposed’ but NEW.

God bless Kenya!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It is good for Wanjiku, it is good for Kenya

It is said of any Constitution that “if it is appropriate for women, it is appropriate for the Nation”. I could not have put it better – And so, granted your cheerful endorsement, I now stand with you to say, that the draft Constitution “is appropriate and good for our Nation”.

These were the words of Hon Mutula Kilonzo (Minister for justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs) while endorsing the proposed constitution during the Women’s National Conference which was held at Bomas of Kenya on 30th April 2010.
The constitution debate has been rife in Kenya creating discord, emotional out bursts while many feel at long last here is a beacon of hope for Kenyans. Today I woke up thinking, ‘seven days to go then what? The debate on the proposed constitution has taken many twists and turns with each side pulling and hoping that it carries the day. On my part I am optimistic that come August 5, we will have a new constitution, and I have my reasons for supporting this.
While the debates have been based on fiction or facts, one person commented that ‘the constitution is personal, so how does it affect you personally?’ While this may be taken to mean that is for a minority people, it in essence mean that each one has a personal stake in this, whether selfish or objective. As a young woman, I only read history of the constitution making process and realise that it has been a long journey. Lancaster House Constitutional Conferences were held in London and Nairobi (1963) to negotiate Kenya’s independence constitution (http://www.kituochakatiba.co.ug/constkenya.htm). Since then amendments have been made on the constitution to address different needs but the need for a new constitution, people driven constitution has been agitation for long. One of the highlights were in 1995/6 When the former president, Daniel T. Moi promised constitutional review would start and National Convention Planning Committee (NCPC), the executive arm of pro-democracy forces who had come together to agitate for constitutional change was formed.
With time a new term entered the Kenyan politicis, ‘Wanjiku’ which before this used to be the middle name of some of us ( female), but today it is a name that is used to signify the common woman and man in the context of national politics. The name came to represent the ordinary person "Mwananchi" and general public after former President Daniel arap Moi dismissed the calls for a new constitution saying "Do you think Wanjiku understands what a constitution is?" One of the major milestones was in 2005 when there was a referendum on a new constitution and this failed. Once again there is another chance to make a difference in Kenya with a new constitution, and more than ever before I am so excited about being part of this very important process. While a new constitution in itself will not magically solve all the issues that Kenya has, it sets the stage for transformation.
The committee of Experts (CoE, 2010) in their summary of the CoE process, define a constitution as a set of laws that define the way a country governs itself, the supreme law of the land, an agreement between people on how they want to address their common interests and needs. It further states that a constitution specifies how the government will be constituted, and who will have the power to take which decisions. It also states one of the aims of modern constitutions which is to protect the rights of people and ensure that power is not abused. As I look at the proposed set of laws how it affects my future as a woman, I am convinced that ‘this is good for the woman, and it is good for Kenya’.

One of the issues that speak to me very strongly is the recognition of women as equal citizens in Kenya with some of the explicit provisions making this clear. The most exciting for me is citizenship where it is through this process of debating the provisions in the proposed constitution that I have realized that my citizenship in Kenya is tied to being the ‘daughter of’ or ‘wife of’. A friend shared how she was finding it difficult to travel with her son since she needs ‘permission from the father of the child’ every time she traveled, since the child is ‘a foreigner’. “So, how does your own flesh and blood become a foreigner?” I wondered and I came to realize the implication of women not being able to confer citizenship to their children. I remember the joke that as young women we need to be careful not to marry non-Kenyans, otherwise we bring up foreigners! It is not funny. The intensity of this was further exemplified when a friend shared how her brother was having difficulties getting a passport due to her parent being a single mother. The provision on citizenship further provides for dual citizenship thus protecting the Kenyans who may go to other countries so that they don’t lose their Kenyan citizenship unless by personal choice. Women will confer citizenship to their spouses. Therefore, every citizen (man or woman) is entitled to the rights, privileges, and benefits of citizenship

The proposed constitution provides for equal treatment of women and men in a society where women have mostly been disadvantaged in many areas. The National Values [Art 10] binds all state organs and officers in applying and interpreting the constitution, and the values include equality and equity, including for specific categories [Art 27] which obliges public and private ‘persons’ to respect women where Art 27(3) clearly states that women and men have right to equal treatment including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social sphere. Art 27(6) requires state to take affirmative action measures to remedy the past. One of the areas that women have been discriminated is in the access to decision making positions. The proposed constitution gives provisions to ensure that women are represented in more numbers in the parliament (national assembly and the senate) while having a principle that no more than 2/3rds of either sex are in elective and appointive positions (Art 27(8); 81(b) while also providing that the Chairperson and vice chairperson shall not be of the same gender. The gender requirement in political parties which are the main avenue to access parliament further reinforces this while ability to stand as independent candidates gives room for women and other Kenyans not to be locked out due to party politics.

Other gains include the recognition of matrimonial property and the ownership of land hence protecting women from disinheritance. Article 68(C) (iii) states that “parliament shall enact legislation which shall regulate the recognition and protection of matrimonial property and in particular the matrimonial home during and on the termination of marriage” This is recognition of the injustices women have historically faced in relation of matrimonial property. Women’s rights to matrimonial property have been largely compromised due to the patriarchal order of society that views men as the sole owners of matrimonial property. This greatly places women at a position of disadvantage especially in the event of divorce and separation. Women are left without any property. Their contribution whether financial or not is recognized. While these may seem like gains solely for women it is also a gain for the community as it also protects the children of these women.

These are just some of the gains of women, of Wanjiku and of Kenya.

As a young woman, I have a lot of stake in the proposed constitution taking a back seat is not an option. One of my favorite quotes is by Joan Kirner at Women into Power Conference, Adelaide, October 1994 "There is no such thing as being non-political. Just by making a decision to stay out of politics you are making the decision to allow others to shape politics and exert power over you. And if you are alienated from the current political system, then just by staying out of it you do nothing to change it, you simply entrench it." On august 4, 2010 we will finally make the deciding vote, the work of making sure that the vote counts started yesterday, and I won’t be left out. This document is good for Wanjiku, is good for me, it is good for Kenya. As I reflect on the possible new future, one issue remain constant, the process has made Kenyans much more aware of the civic processes with a keen interest to be part of this process.
YES, a new future is possible.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Together we walk in sisterhood

I remember that day in October 2007 quite vividly. She held my hands tightly, and her voice became a whisper. I could see her face turn colour, and I felt chills down my spine and felt this was bad news. It seemed like eternity before s finally hang up, and her first words were barely comprehensible, “there is a curfew”.

I remember looking at Justa helplessly as I tried to have the words sink in. Here I was barely a month into my work in Southern Sudan, and the idea of a curfew just spelled doom for me. I had never in my lifetime experienced a curfew. I used to hear stories from my mother about the curfews during the Kenyan colonial period but had never quite been able to comprehend what that meant. It was impossible for me to figure out how one can be restricted in movement yet here we were. Justa had received a call from her husband in Kenya wondering if we were ok ‘now that there was curfew’ in Juba. That was news. None of us was conversant with the Arabic language. The announcements of the curfew that were made in the streets escaped our attention due to the language barrier so here we were caught unaware about the curfew. We were yet to get to the official work station to access email hence when our driver indicated he would not be able to come, we had started wondering how to hire transport, and when we were still trying to figure this out the call came. We just held hands in fear and wondered what next? We started thinking practically, and we realised that we barely had drinking water in the house with only half a litre bottle between us so we decided to take a walk to the shopping centre and get some drinking water.

Once we got outside the gate, our neighbours warned us that there is to be ‘no movement’! “We just want to get to the hopping centre, about 500 metres away?” we explained to them. Juma, one of the men looked at us with pitiful eyes, am sure pitying our innocence as he explained that even the shops are closed and nobody is supposed to make any movement outside their home. Our neighbours were seated outside their gate and so we helplessly went back to the house. We didn’t know what to say or do, we felt a deep fear with the knowledge that we were far from home, the telephone network was jammed so we could barely communicate with our relatives in Kenya; we cold not access internet so we were stuck. We just held hands and hoped all will be well and started thinking and hoping for better days.

A thudding knocking at the gate sent us into panic until Magdalena, a Sudanese woman friend who treated us as her daughters called out. We opened the gate and she hurriedly told us that she had asked for permission from the army men guarding the area pleading that she needed to see ‘her daughters’ who were foreigners and one had been ill hence needed to make sure we were alright and make us know what was happening since we didn’t understand the language. She hurriedly told us to be calm, assured us that we would be okay and that if the military were to knock our gates we should open since they were looking for illegal arms. We felt better after that as we hurdled together wondering if the night mare would be over any time soon. Somehow as we held hands in fear, we felt at peace and even started laughing and sharing stories to make us forget this whole drama. Eventually we learnt from our Sudanese colleague and driver who came to pick us later that the curfew had been called off. I will never forget the feeling I had that day and the feeling of ‘want to be home back home’

When I came back to Kenya, I felt that I was finally home, safe Kenya, home sweet home until the worst post elections violence erupted in 2007/2008. For most of this period I was in trauma, dazed wondering what I can do to make a difference. I felt very insignificant and my experience though short lived in a post conflict nation made me even more wary. Having seen how conflict impacts negatively on a nation, I was convinced that the ethnic diversities and interests should be secondary to peace yet many Kenyans felt a need to support ‘one camp against the other’ It was really madness.

The high moment out of this depression for me was when we went as an organisation (YWLI) to distribute sanitary items to women, girls and lactating mothers in the IDP camps. We provided items that were mostly forgotten in the humanitarian aid, which included sanitary pads, inner pants, lessos and reusable diapers for lactating mothers. One woman commented that ‘only young women can understand what we go through, we have never got such kind of assistance’. At one time while in Molo (Rift Valley) the older women, were so happy with the lessos we gave them that they broke into a dance that I will never forget. As I joined them in the dance, I realised that in sisterhood we walk, we stumble and rise up and walk! It made the violence more manageable, the strength of sisterhood. After what we went through together, Justa has remained a very treasured friend.

Friday, May 28, 2010

It shall pass

One of my favourite phrases is “This too shall come to pass”. It is one of the phrases that console me and challenge too, since if something very good is happening then I need to enjoy it in full knowing it will come to pass. On the other hand if going through difficult periods am happy to know if it will be forever. I sought to look at the history behind the phrase and the most common one is this story. (http://pravstalk.com/this-too-shall-pass)

‘Once a king called upon all of his wise men and asked them,” Is there a mantra or suggestion which works in every situation, in every circumstance, in every place and in every time. In every joy, every sorrow, every defeat and every victory? One answer for all questions? Something which can help me when none of you is available to advise me? Tell me is there any mantra?”

All the wise men were puzzled by the King’s question. They thought and thought. After a lengthy discussion, an old man suggested something which appealed to all of them. They went to the king and gave him something written on paper, with a condition that the king was not to see it out of curiosity. Only in extreme danger, when the King finds himself alone and there seems to be no way, only then he can see it. The King put the papers under his Diamond ring.
Some time later, the neighbours attacked the Kingdom. King and his army fought bravely but lost the battle. The King had to flee on his horse. The enemies were following him, getting closer and closer. Suddenly the King found himself standing at the end of the road - that road was not going anywhere. Underneath there was a rocky valley thousand feet deep. If he jumped into it, he would be finished…and he could not return because it was a small road…the sound of enemy’s horses was approaching fast. The King became restless. There seemed to be no way.

Then suddenly he saw the Diamond in his ring shining in the sun, and he remembered the message hidden in the ring. He opened the diamond and read the message. The message was – “ THIS TOO SHALL PASS”. The King read it. Again read it. Suddenly something struck him- Yes! This too will pass. Only a few days ago, I was enjoying my kingdom. I was the mightiest of all the Kings. Yet today, the Kingdom and all his pleasure have gone. I am here trying to escape from enemies. Like those days of luxuries have gone, this day of danger too will pass. Calm came on his face. He kept standing there. The place where he was standing was full of natural beauty. He had never known that such a beautiful place was also a part of his Kingdom.

The revelation of the message had a great effect on him. He relaxed and forgot about those following him. After a few minutes he realized that the noise of the horses and the enemy coming was receding. They moved into some other part of the mountains and were near him. The King was very brave. He reorganized his army and fought again. He defeated the enemy and regained his empire. When he returned to his empire after victory, he was received with much fanfare. The whole capital was rejoicing in the victory. Everyone was in a festive mood. Flowers were being showered on King from every house, from every corner. People were dancing and singing. For a moment King said to himself,” I am one of the bravest and greatest King. It is not easy to defeat me. With all the reception and celebration he saw an ego emerging in him.
Suddenly the Diamond of his ring flashed in the sunlight and reminded him of the message. He open it and read it again: “THIS TOO SHALL PASS”.
He became silent. His face went through a total change -from the egoist he moved to a state of utter humbleness. If this too is going to pass, it is not yours. The defeat was not yours, the victory is not yours. You are just a watcher. Everything passes by. We are witnesses of all this. We are the perceivers. Life comes and goes. Happiness comes and goes. Sorrow comes and goes’.

As I reflect on this I think of the many great moments that I wish wont pass but even more challenging the tough moments when I wonder if life has colluded to make me miserable yet they are moments that I wish would not pass. The great humbling news is that it does pass. I remember a time last year when things seemed to be getting from bad to worse and thinking of this now, I am like oh, it did pass! I recall the weeks very freshly even if it’s almost a year ago. I had gone home to for some joyous occasion over the weekend of May 1st, labour day 2009 and just as I was leaving, the unthinkable happened, I dropped my phone (oh and I liked that phone) and it fell into a pit leaving me with the useless phone case in my hands! While thinking about my phone contacts, numbers, videos…I decided to just accept it, and threw away the case which was just a sour reminder. It was not hard to let go, I told myself after all it was just a phone so the main task ahead was to have sim-card replacement. I got back to my house in Nairobi at around 8.00 Pm and for some reason despite being a Sunday night decided to open my emails. The first message I saw left me numb, I could not believe it! There were two messages with the same message ‘Jane Nyambune dead’! I stood there wondering if to open the mails or not. I signed out, and signed in again but the messages didn’t go away, it was true. I felt like screaming at the top of my voice, but didn’t have the energy. Jane (RIP) was a friend I met during the Les Aspin training program at Washington DC in 2005. We had hit off immediately when we met for the orientation week at Safari park Kenya. She was a joyous lady, laughing and making noise and we had a lot in common then.

As I sat there thinking about the implications of the message, images of Jane went through my head. During the 5 weeks training we had bonded quite a lot, to the extent that one of our fellow participants nicknames us ‘shadows’ since where one was, the other was and if not she was to answer ‘where is your shadow?’, with the other nickname being the Chicago girls after we managed to take the short trip to the down town Chicago almost getting late to the airport! We had met a few times sometimes losing touch. She had been unwell and when I had gone to see her at Kenyatta national Hospital she had been weak but determined. Later on we met on the streets of Nairobi, and promised each other that we had to have coffee ‘one of these days’ but the day was never to be. I felt sad for the young enthusiastic lady that was not more, that we would never laugh and the coffee would never be. I felt sad because I had lost touch with her, that as we got busy with life, we thought life would always be here with us, that we would meet ‘one of these days’ and now that would not be.
Before I could fully processes and in the effort to plan myself for the week, I realised I had lost my bank ATM card! What else can go wrong? By that Monday morning I was so devastated and low, and was wondering if was ever going to pass. I reported my ATM loss, replaced my simcard and hoped life would be more manageable. In between the week as we sought to get more information about the funeral arrangements there was little to make me feel this was ever going to pass.
By that Friday, I woke up, prayed and made a decision that the week had started off badly but it was going to end well. The week was ending well, until I got a call from my cousin at around 12.00 am (Saturday), and knew ‘this can’t be good’. She disclosed that uncle, our mother’s first born brother had passed away! Not again! I started a different week, travelling in between mourning the departed ones and hence didn’t even manage to attend funeral of Jane. My uncle was laid to rest the next week Friday May 8th, and I had a sigh of, Ohhh, it has passed!
But not yet,
The following day, Saturday 9th following my uncle’s funeral, my brother started asking for some telephone numbers frantically of some of our cousins on my father’s side. By the end of the say we were to know that in fact my cousin had passed away. By this time I decided nothing was changing and it seemed like the world around me was doomed. As I think of this a year later, there is no pain or tears, neither can I remember how I felt that time, it is gone, passed away like many other occurrences in life.

I have survived set backs, sorrows, heart breaks frustrations, you name it, and I have enjoyed incredibly joyous moments in this life time. And it has passed…and I lived to tell the story! People have different ways of surviving low moments and still have the experiences leave them stronger. I like reading hence one of my ways of dealing with depressing situations is to buy books! Novels, inspirations, books that will energise me among other things. Many times a friend support comes in handy and this is quite uplifting! For sure friends are precious and I am grateful for friends. The realisation that ‘it will come to pass’ makes life more exciting and then we live life, instead of worrying of what is, was and is to come and forgetting to live the moment and anticipate the future..
“Life just passes away. There is nothing permanent in this world. Every thing changes except the law of change. You are just a witness of change. Experience it, understand it, and enjoy the present moment - this too shall pass”!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Quiet moments when I shut out the world, and live!

As I was reading a book by one of my favourite authors, Paulo Coelho’s like a flowing river one paragraph really struck me. As he is describing quiet moments spent in some village, ‘I never think about who I am, I have no questions and no answers, I live entirely in the present moment………at the moment am not interested in what is going on in Iraq or Afghanistan; like anyone else..’(page 2-3) How often do we take the quiet times from the very busy lives?

A few weeks ago I felt in a bad space, and amidst moments of feeling fatigued running up and down busy as a bee, feelings of betrayal and uncertainty I felt that my body was literally without any fuel to run another day. This was a warning bell and this time I went to a quiet retreat centre for a weekend and what a lovely, refreshing time!! The centre offers an ideal quiet place, without a phone or laptop, I set out for this refuelling experience and I wished I could have more! It ended too quickly. I had forgotten the power of quiet moments, having not done this in a while. The venue was ideal in that everyone there is on contemplative mode hence after reporting and getting booked in the only ‘talking’ that happens is singing during the mass service, nothing more, no greetings over lunch hour or good mornings! The 2 days gave me so much strength that as I look back I wonder how I would have survived another week without the refuelling. Many times we are so busy with life, putting off fires and ‘saving the world’ that we forget ourselves, I have been a victim of this more often than not.

I share my experiences of quiet time since they are the most blessed moments yet very rare. It is easy to organise for a party with friends and family and rave for hours as a way of releasing the pressures within that we find ourselves in. For those of us who are social and talkative it’s even harder, life is good when we are surrounded by people, talking, being merry. However taking time ‘away from life’ is the greatest replenishment that we can give our lives. The first day I planned to spend 3 quiet days it was more of a group activity than a personal commitment, and I wondered how this would end. This was back in college and I had never wanted to engage in the retreats but since this was part of the group’s expectations I was eager for this. Still, I kept wondering how I would survive three days without speaking! Shouting! Singing loudly and finding out how my friends were doing! The fact that I was with some of my very close friends made it seem even worse. The first day was difficult and I spent most of it sleeping but by the second day I was so alert, tranquil and wondered why I had taken this long to discover the peace there is in silence. The moments spent end up being such loud and clear communication with self. By the time these 3 days ended, I was so sure I needed more of the ‘me time’ often enough.

Hover, as usual... too busy we get! In mid (last month) April, I realised that I needed to shut down, and be with me! There are several things I do often when am feeling low, writing, reading books (and buying them) are part of my leisure. However sometimes, this doesn’t help, the inside still feels disconnected. I remember setting out for this tranquil place in Karen Nairobi and leaving my phone (which I am addicted to) deactivating my face book (yes...you guessed right, I am a life member!), now with a laptop (so I can survive without internet!) and only carried the few essential clothing, a bible and a note book, and off I went. By the time I finished the 2 days it felt like I had been in a holiday for a month, more energy, more optimistic and more in love with myself. I still had music in my heart, tranquil, not noisy.
Many times we feel that we have to be in touch with the world, not realising that the earth will still rotate in its orbit without our assistance, life will go on even if we don’t know what is happening in all corners of the world. In the current world we are living in, life rotates around work traffic, friends’ weddings, funerals, internet, news…barely is there a break. My beloved Kenya in particular is an exciting place to be in! There is always something interesting happening, some breaking news. Right now we are in the constitution making moment and life can get so crazy, it literally seems like living a drama. There is always some ‘urgent work’ to be done whether at the work place or in the home. In between these moments, we have to take a step back, take a break, and just be with you. It’s rewarding. Being alone, is not being lonely; you can be lonely in a crowd. Quiet moments help one to listen to one-elf, appreciate nature and be alert. Spending time with yourself doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with you. Instead it means that you enjoy your own thoughts, learning about who you are and engaging in recreation that doesn't include everyone else.

Take a break, and be with you!