Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Garissa, A Thousand Times Good Night and 41 Million Times am more than sorry, Dear Mama Kenya, Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai Born 1st April, died 25 Sept
2011.

Dear Mama Kenya:
Wangari Maathai

I missed the celebration of your birthday on 1st April because the children were at home. It was hectic.

 I always want to tell you how we are getting on. How Kenya is doing. I don't know how to let you go, maybe. The world hasn't. Peru has immortalised you in a statue. 

They say we glorify you but who forgets a mother so brave? But we have bad news so very often. This is not yet the nation you dreamt of in your own ways. I wonder what you would have made of it.

I am sorry is not enough. For you come from a land of beauty and hope. A land not afraid to win, not afraid to lose. A land that knows that in Kiswahili. Asiye kubali kushindwa si mshindani... the one who does not accept defeat is not a winner. But we cannot lose human life silently.

We are brave people. This is who we are before we are twisted to think that winning means only money taken as fast as possible out of public coffers. Unaccountability. 

Yes, even among the people otherwise the ones in power would care more about their image. Something we need to put right. So that we can hold them in check. They need to remember your determined yet smiling objection to some things. 

I am sorry that 142 students and other people in service died shot by Al Shabaab in Kenya. 148 is the total. 

Most Kenyans, we shall believe all of them, are extremely saddened by this and they worry too about Nigeria, Syria, Yemen and Iran... and other hot spots. Not so long ago some of these students said to us: I am Charlie Hebdo! They wanted solidarity against terror in the world. They asked the Kenyan government to protect them before in a protest last year in November. Instead they were arrested as usual.

Now who are they? What can we be for them and their relatives? Mine is to share thoughts before taking my canoe of letters and sailing. These students have changed my life forever. So has a film I will not forget. 

The film is 'A Thousand Times Good Night', made with the support of the Swedish Film Institute and all the media in Norway. It comes to my mind often. Three reasons. One is that it wants to wake up a world asleep with regard to the atrocities happening daily. 

The producer is Norwegian, Eirik Poppe. He is a war reporter. This film visits war zones and at the end of it, Becca, Juliet Binoche will visit Dadaab Refugee camp with her daughter and again, just escape death by less than a whisker with her already traumatised daughter. 

Kenya has lost too many people who had great dreams of a united country. Messages from these students showed the same desire. Even those written during a terror attack. Our security and government says that they worked fast but many say no. How could journalists arrive there before the the security from Nairobi?  

Many bodies are yet to be identified. Nobody is asking or answering why so many students fled the attack, so that earlier reports indicating a missing 533 persons is no longer a topic. I know even if they say you were not always perfect in all things, this you would be asking.

The horror has been to find out that the  mastermind was a brilliant young Nairobi University lawyer. We have to wake up. He was not planting trees of any kind. Not of hope, not green ones... and yet he was answering questions well in his law class.  Our waking up includes understanding that some young people will go for radicalisation. Young people from rich backgrounds. Young people from poor backgrounds. While the world fought visible poverty did it lose sight of cultural poverty? What stories do those radicalised people read? Have love poems and long stories with songs ended in Somalia?

Kenyan leaders have recommended the immediate closure of Dadaab Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya. A long list of possible offenders has been released. They are 86. It is a list of what people call 'Muslim' names and businesses. 

Mama, Am watching A Thousand Times Good Night again as I blog.  The mother in the film, Becca has just come home  After recovery from being in almost bombed to smithereens... In a suicide  bomb attack.

"You are...and nice warm and smelly..." The youngest has just chanted hugging her Mum who joins her as if in a duet. Becca role is played by Juliet Binoche. 

Becca knows now that Steph cried when they saw her in hospital on the Internet. This reminds me of how we used to be angry when you were arrested. This taught most of us to keep speaking out for justice. When I last met you in Oslo in June 2009, you opened a big meeting. 

I was sitting at the back not sure I would ever make it to talk to you. I was not hopeful until Caroline Marcomick came to me and asked me, 'Philo, would you like some few words with Wangari? I can ask her daughter Wanjira to arrange that you meet her.' I agreed hesitantly seeing how many people surrounded her. I was surprised that Caroline did that. I made it, was almost the last one to chat with you before you left. I asked you if you would join us in a vigil for Aung San Syu Kii where we would discuss freedom in Nairobi. Your were scheduled to be in Australia and you could not make it. You thought it was a lovely idea. Syu Kii was still under house arrest and her 62nd birthday was on the way.

How hard it can be for women, but you inspire us still, all of you! Right now Aung San Syu Kii is not heard much in Burma which is having a hard time. I am sure she does some things that do not reach the media. I am imagining at least she suffers for the Ruhingya Muslims even if she cannot speak out that much. 

I learnt from experience. I had almost condemned your silence some time back because of this hard struggle that was never ending. I thought you needed to tell Kibaki off for taking things easy and for treating you badly. I wanted you to be the Minister of Environment not the Deputy of Kivutha Kibwana in those days. Then I read your book one Easter. A Woman Unbowed. 

I remember I read it in the silence of a house by lake Naivasha recovering from what it had taken to get involved with an a poet and actor who felt so abandoned in her last days fighting cancer at Kenyatta Hospital. That large and lonely place. Another poet offered me a place to hide for it had been quite tough, her final journey in which I found myself like in many things just by chance. Wambui Wa Murima. I shall write about her here another day. 

I cried reading your book. I read it and then slowly in silent reverence, I decided that you owed us nothing more because you had done your best. I never imagined cancer would also come for you, it often does for activists. They inhale the hurts. We are all vulnerable.

I know a friend of mine always complained that you should have told the UN that they too built up in Karura forest. I do not know the sequence here. 

I hope someone will look at that and correct it if he is wrong. It is good for posterity. I remember how you one day came home and the house was strewn with papers and your husband had left you. In the film I am now listening to Becca talking with her husband. Trying to see what she should stop to do for the sake of her children.

Her husband wants her in bed. Traditionally I should not tell you that, but let us talk as friends and for the sake of other women in power today in Kenya and elsewhere. Balancing family, leadership and activism is hard. Somebody suffers. 

Becca explains that she has been in an explosion. He knows that and I wonder what he is thinking as we say at home. I now realise that what he does not know is WHY she insists on going to war zones, to hear, according to him, shots, gives her life. Gun shots. 
Like some said that you chose to have your hair pulled off by police because you were being too much standing up to a dictator....But Becca, she had dangerously 'wanted to tell the story' and seeing how suicide bombers prepared themselves making their bed of death is not enough to deter her.

But in her family, things are falling apart. He loved her because of her passion, she says. But he cannot stand her passion for people that suffer now.

The little girl tells it in full innocence..." and Daddy is sleeping on the sofa these days..." Maybe some day you will watch the film and think of Kenya and other places. 

There is the conflict of if Becca just enjoys publicity but she knows she does not. She knows she wants to move the world to act. She tries to focus on her family only. She tells the newspaper editor who is expecting her great work that she has quit. But how could she when she is making it to the highest levels. People want to own her in Ireland, in other countries. ..But seeing it makes no sense to her to abandon her passion and career, she forges on, remaining true to herself. 

Her husband and daughter recoil from her telling her she stinks death. Let me stop there because no deaths are pictures. All pictures of deaths from terror have been seen before they could be put on film.

Garissa University College is the last terror attack in Kenya since the blast in Westgate Nairobi, the bombing of the USA embassy in 1998. But there are a myriad of other small ones that go without much notice just like there are huge numbers of deaths in Iran, Syria and Yemen that also somehow fall off the edge of our concerns.  Your words remind me to do something small each time. In the end, it is powers, and numbers. And numbers and big things are won with little chips day by day... We have new homework. Words we cannot understand or fathom, like radicalisation in the way we have come to know  it. How do we say them to our children in mother tongue? You know we should not leave everything to schools?

So why am I writing this thousands of miles from home in Kenya which I left after the third peaceful arrest in 2009? Arrests for peaceful calls for freedom of speech and - yes, being very critical - as somebody has recorded in a thesis, of all the governments that have existed in Kenya: Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki and now Uhuru Kenyatta?

I am writing this because you believed that you inherited the world from its children. Us. So many thank you for your work on environment and how you linked it with democracy. I am writing this because you opened our paths. I am writing this because I want to tell it  and I am free.

I am writing whilst reflecting on Becca's conviction in the film, that her camera meant something. That somebody else might see her pictures and fall out of the sickness of indifference. That she could perhaps shake the world. 

The producer spoke at the premier of the film in Norway at the Gimle Kino. I was there. He said he was always depressed by how normal life seemed in Western cities when he came back from war torn areas. So complacent.

And everyone I met or knew spoke of how you were not indifferent. I now see a wonderful statue of you in Peru, a different kind of beauty of you in stone. By doing that, they have said something for all people of dark skins. What a South-South thing! It consoled me as in these days, news of black people in other parts of the world are about killings. Especially of black boys. Micheal Slager today, eight shots in the back...I know what you would say, and Micheal Brown yesterday.. so many in between. So to find a positive mind is unique. This should not be so.

I was also so delighted to receive words form a young man in Nairobi who calls himself Njoroge Filosofa. He wrote about Garissa killings of the 148.

"Our children at Garissa were holding a pen. Terrorists a gun. Justice never die. Pen is mightier than a gun. AL SHABAAB YOU ARE JUST WASTING YOUR TIME IN SPIRITUAL IGNORANCE."

I also write this to you this because of what happened in Paris, Charlie Hebdo too... It is no longer necessary to go too far to find areas of warring strife. Ukraine in Europe is afire and sad. The call of this film should be heard everywhere now... That we stop being afraid of the stink of death and ask why instead of people who just want to tell the story are going to such zones... people who WANT to join IS and others are leaving comfortable ranks of society and setting off through Turkey and other places.

Have we failed to define "heroism' that they should look for it in something like that? Have we feared too much in front of our children unlike Becca that they are eager to show us the opposite? That they are not afraid of believing in something? Have we failed you Wangari?

And the other reason why I write is because of the idea of not living a split life. I hear that Juliette Binoche could take many other roles if she wished but that she chooses, prefers to act in films that make a meaning to her life and that of others. She will dance ballet in Angelin Preljocaj's Polina, 2015. Great. In every stroke their can be meaning in perfection. What is the use of the revolution, the changes if we cannot dance? That is a question I love to ask myself.

We discussed it in a seminar called Defending the Defenders. People need breaks, activists burn out. Aung San needs our understanding. 
When they call you beautiful let it be from the heart
Juliette Binoche inspires...


A Thousand Times Good Night shows one that eye, not just in camera, but that human eye at the beginning of the film. Everything we do... is in our eyes. If we choose violence. That is what our souls might embrace eternally in the eye of time without end. I say that as we wait for Dark Matter secrets to get unravelled... hah!

I want to tell your story.  You radicalise in the roots of a tree. After all radical comes from radice, roots. You do it in another way...for unending action for good, no matter the accidents that may result. And losses. 

As for you, out there in what you think is the peaceful world, pour your cup of coffee... let it jerk and pour on your white tablecloth as you open the headlines if you do. Ask yourself... why is it that the Internet radicalisers are so much more effective than our power to get people to stand up for something that does not destroy? Ask Wangari, read about her. 

Tell your children everywhere. And sing to them stories of hope. A thousand times good night to you and to all who left the world in a hostile way in Garissa. Wangari, A Thousand Times, Rest in Peace! From many of us, among 41 million Kenyans.



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