Black Lives Matter

It has been a year. And it’s only June. I certainly hope that the rest of this decade will not be a repeat of this year. 2020 has been a year straight out of the end times depicted in the many religious texts. 2020 is the year that saw all the other catastrophes in previous years and said to them, “hold my beer”

You may have heard of a guy named Pharaoh who sat on a grand throne and enslaved Israelites, so the story goes. This fellow had enslaved the Israelites for over 430 years. Four Hundred and Thirty years! So, after 430 years, the Israelite God decided to send a heavily bearded man named Moses to have a chat with Pharaoh, and get him to #letmypeoplego.

Since Pharaoh was a king with a king-sized ego to boot, he decided not to join the #letmypeoplego movement.

So the Israelite’s God sent the infamous ten plagues:

Water turned to blood- note that this was quite different from the water to wine transformation that would take place many centuries later.

Frogs were next. This was before people discovered frog legs as a delicacy, and considered them to be pests. I have not personally partaken of frog legs, but I hear they are very tasty.

Lice were next. There is no denying that if I was the Pharaoh, I would have relented at this point. But the Pharaoh did not blink. He did not blink because he had people to pick the lice off of his hair, so that was a peasant problem, not his.

Wild animals and pestilence aka Coronavirus’ ancestors followed closely, but still, the Pharaoh refused to  #letmypeoplego

Next were boils, which, while painful and revolting, did nothing to free the enslaved Israelites. You see, that Pharaoh was what we call a kichwa ngumu (hard headed person)

Locusts were next. Full disclosure, these unwelcome visitors invited themselves to my homeland, Kenya. Let me tell you something about locusts. They are destructive with a capital D. If a hyena and a vulture had a child, it would be a locust. With everything else going on in the world, even the most hardened atheist had to wonder if this was all a coincidence.

Then there was darkness for three days, also known as living in a developing country where power is shut off for no apparent reason, so this would not necessarily have alerted a Pharaoh as to the presence of a campaign to #letmypeoplego. also, the Pharaoh had people whose job was literally holding lamps so he could see. So there was another peasant problem.

It was at this point that the Israelite God made the Pharaoh an offer he couldn’t refuse. He killed all the Egyptian first-born sons. After that, every Egyptian and their grandmother wanted the Israelites freed.

It is not lost on me that it is just over 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were kidnapped, chained and brought to the United States aboard cargo ships. 401 years to be precise. Millions of Africans died during the passage, alternately referred to as the African Holocaust, or Maafa.

Those who survived were sold like cattle, mothers separated from their young children, never to see them again. They were worked to the bone, beaten, raped, murdered, as if their lives did not matter. When Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves in 1863, it took two years for the enslaved people of Galveston Texas, to know that they were free. This day is now celebrated as Juneteenth  (originally June 19, 1865).

The physical chains of slavery may be broken, but the mentality that sustained slavery persists. Jim Crow laws ensured that discrimination persisted in housing, education, policing and every aspect of American life. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and countless others championed equality for all. They made some strides, but the work was not done. The work is not done. It is not done because on May 25, 2020, we all watched in horror as a white policeman knelt on a black man’s neck, even while the black man, George Floyd, pleaded for his life. He said he couldn’t breathe several times. During his final seconds, he cried for his mother. His dead mother. He knew he was dying.

8 minutes 46 seconds. They knelt on him for Eight minutes and forty-six seconds. In the United States of America. The land of the free. The home of the brave.

Not for George Floyd. Not for Breonna Taylor. Not for Ahmaud Arbery. Not for Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice, children murdered in cold blood. Not for Eric Garner or Philando Castile. Not for the multitudes of victims whose names we will never know.

401 years after the first enslaved Africans landed on these shores, the majority of the non-black American public is now just becoming aware of the inequalities that still exist. Amid the barbecue Becky and bird-watching Karen stories, there have been hundreds of thousands more people who have peacefully rallied, chanting Black Lives Matter. Doctors, nurses, teachers, students, people of all ethnicities around the world have joined the cause. Japan, a historically reserved nation, has joined in the cause. It gives me hope to see so many people moved by the senseless murders of melanated people across the world. It gives me hope to see the tide of public opinion turning. If this energy and momentum results in a higher voter turnout, I hope we will see systemic change in this country. The work must continue, so their deaths are not in vain.

Say their names. And vote.

Black Lives Matter.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to the phenomenal women who birthed us, and whose love for us is unconditional.

Happy Mother’s Day to the phenomenal people who did not birth children, but loved and raised those around them as their own.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the phenomenal men, who have, for various reasons, filled a mother’s role in their children lives.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the hard-working mothers and mother-figures who toil all day and sacrifice time with their families so they can provide for their children.

Happy Mother’s Day to the brave women who serve in the Armed Forces, often in countries far away from home, for months at a time. Thank you for your service, we salute you.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who are ill and fighting for their lives, may they recover and be reunited with their families soon.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who have survived Cancer, we celebrate you.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who are expecting their first children, welcome to the club. Motherhood is to know what it feels like to have your heart live outside your body.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who suit up every day to work in medical facilities and risk their lives to treat Coronavirus patients, you are superheroes.

Gathoni

10 years. That was how long Gathoni gave herself to work as a respiratory care nurse in New York before returning home to Nairobi. She lived with two roommates to save as much money as she could. She lived with them even though one of them ate Gathoni’s cereal straight out of the box and left the sticky spoon she had licked in the cereal box. She persevered the long, grueling hours at work, squirreling away her earnings, saving to buy land back home and set herself up for an early retirement.

Five years into her stay in New York, she had saved enough money to buy land and build a mansion in Athi River, where the newly affluent were buying homes. Athi’s river’s proximity to the City Center made it a more attractive option than farther flung areas with cheaper land. Her parents had found a trustworthy land seller, which was no mean feat in a city crawling with con men and women who would separate you from your hard-earned money in a New York minute.

In a world where new careers are formed daily, conmanship has established itself as one of the few professions uninhibited by common barriers to entry, other than the little matter of the law. The only prerequisite being a loose grasp of one’s morals and a tongue that, as my lakeside brethren would say, “anaweza toa nyako pangoni” (an Oswahili bastardization of the Kiswahili reference to a snake charmer)

When Gathoni flew to Nairobi to view the land, her father introduced her to a dashing gentleman named Getau, the real estate lawyer who had brokered the purchase. A friendship blossomed and they sporadically kept in touch when Gathoni flew back to New York.

Four years later, her mansion was complete and Gathoni had accumulated enough money to purchase additional pieces of land and was a budding mushroom farmer. She reconnected with Getau, and seeing as they were both in their thirties and too old to play games, they started to plan their future together.

When, at last, her 10th year work anniversary arrived, Gathoni walked out of the hospital for the last time, free as a bird, her waist length dreadlocks swaying in the wind. She sold most of her belongings, excited to be moving in with Getau, who had proposed to her a few months before when he had visited her in New York.

She flew from New York to Beijing, her destination being Huairou District, to see the Great Wall of China, a bucket list item she had been itching to check off. She spent the next four days touring the Great Wall among other attractions, and then boarded a flight to Nairobi.

She arrived in Nairobi to a rousing welcome from her family and Getau. She was finally home. Two days after her return, she developed a dry cough and thought nothing of it. Getau got her some cough medicine and a humidifier, which relieved her symptoms. Two days later, Getau awoke to find a lifeless Gathoni next to him. His attempts at CPR failed, and in a panic, he called for an ambulance, informing her family that they were headed to the nearest hospital. The emergency room doctor grimly confirmed what they all knew. Gathoni was dead.

In that moment, the world lost all color and went silent. Out of the corner of his eye, as if in slow motion, Getau and Gathoni’s family watched in disbelief as a security team whispered something to the doctor who quickly distanced himself from the family. They were unceremoniously bundled into a waiting car and taken to a government medical training center, where they were brusquely informed that Gathoni’s symptoms were consistent with those of the novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, therefore, they would be quarantined.  They were interrogated about their movements and known associations since Gathoni had arrived in the country. They provided a list of all individuals they had interacted with and were informed that those individuals would be quarantined as well.

They were then abandoned, and the only outside contact they had was that of faceless gloved hands leaving food outside their rooms followed by the sound of feet quickly padding away for fear of contracting COVID-19.

Where there is mystery, the mind goes to the darkest place. They wondered if they would ever see the light of day again. No one would tell them when they would be released.

Despair clung to them like a second skin. They had no information on where the hospital had taken Gathoni’s remains. Getau, beside himself with grief, withdrew into silence, barely eating or sleeping. Attempts to reach the hospital for information were thwarted by the overzealous security guards who had neither the empathy nor the expertise needed to comfort the shell-shocked, grieving family.

After their release, Getau and Gathoni’s family were given 24 hours to bury her. As they threw the dirt on her coffin, Gathoni’s parents and Getau still could not believe the cruel hand that fate had dealt them. Her mother collapsed, the reality of burying her child too much to bear.

Gathoni was buried on what would have been her 35th birthday.

Silver Dollar Pancakes

Happy New Year! I realize it is March, but we have not spoken this year so, Happy New Year! Donge?

I have lived in this country long enough to understand that the States in this country are sometimes so different, they might as well be 50 different countries.  That said, I am proud to note that I now understand some common Americanisms, such as the peculiar threatening phrases used to wish each other luck.

American: Knock ‘em dead!

Me: Ah, excuse me, I am not a murderer. Also, who do you want dead? Never mind, the less I know, the better.

American : Break a leg!

Me: Again with the violence. Also, why just one leg? How do you choose the leg? FYI, I will not be breaking any leg, mine or anyone else’s.

It is this confusion that has led to some rather amusing and awkward interactions. For example, in Kenya, when someone invites you to join them for lunch, they will be paying for the meal. In the USA, you will each pay for your meal. Why then invite someone to join you for lunch when you have no intention of paying for the lunch? For the pleasure of their company of course! I once attended a presentation scheduled at lunchtime, titled “brown bag lunch”. I wondered why they would tell us the color of the bag they served lunch in. Did brown have a particular meaning? Of course, once I was at the presentation, it dawned on me that everyone had brought their own lunch, and I was the sole hangry attendee who did not know that a brown bag lunch meant to bring your own lunch. Now, when I see anything including a brown bag lunch, I do not attend. No thank you. Fool me once.

I have fully adopted the American tea drinking experience. In Kenya, there are two types of tea: with milk and without milk. The first kind, with milk, is the preferred kind. The latter, called sturungi  is what Americans call tea. Water and tea. That’s it. No milk, no sugar, ginger etc. The tea of suffering. The tea that says, look at me, I have no milk. I have no sugar. I am all alone in this miserable cup.

The milky version has lots of fancy names here, my favorite being chai tea, or in Kiswahili (tea tea). Note to all immigrants from milk tea drinking countries- brown bag your milk. (see above for brown bag definition)

There is a common Kenyan joke about a visit to one of my tribes-men’s houses that goes like this:

A visitor is offered many drinks, but leaves without partaking of any.

Would you like something to drink?

Yes, I’d like water please

Still or sparkling?

Sparkling please

Chilled or room temperature?

Chilled please.

Flavored or unflavored?

Unflavored please.

Would you like it in a cup or glass?

Cup please

Large or small cup?

I’ll just have bottled still water please!

Plastic bottle or glass bottle?

Glass please

Flavored or unflavored?

Unflavored please

Chilled or room temperature?

Chilled please.

Large or small bottle?

Large please

With a bottle holder or without?

The exasperated guest left despite being offered similar choices for tea, coffee and every other drink imaginable.

That is how I feel when I go shopping sometimes. I just want yogurt. Why do we need 50 different types, flavors and packaging? And then there are the eggs. Free range, organic, all-natural, pasture raised, large brown, large white, small brown, just brown.  Did they all come from chicken? Yes? ok. Just eggs then. It is mind-numbing.

Which brings me to the Silver Dollar Pancakes. Once I browsed shelves upon shelves of pancake options, including their close cousins waffles, I settled on an enticing box labelled “Silver dollar pancakes”. The box promised large, fluffy pancakes, piled on top of each other, blueberry syrup enticingly pouring down their side. I scanned the ingredient’s list and was satisfied that I would not be ingesting unidentifiable ingredients certain to cause diseases which, to quote my mother, even the doctor cannot pronounce. I was practically salivating at the thought of getting home, turning on the oven, sticking the pancakes in there and voila! I would unveil freshly baked fluffy pancakes and my family would rejoice and declare it all a roaring success and me the queen of pancakes.

What happened instead, was when I got home and opened the package, out rolled the tiniest pancakes known to man, woman and child. When I say they were tiny I mean TINY. You could eat these pancakes like you would popcorn. The disappointment felt in our hearts and stomachs after devouring the entire pack was palpable. It was then that my husband pointed out the obvious. A silver dollar is a large coin, from which the pancakes derive their name. Large, that is, for a coin- not so much for pancakes. Turns out there was one more American open secret I did not know of, much to the chagrin of my rumbling stomach.

 

 

Habeas Dente

“It was him your honor! That man reached into my mouth and plucked my tooth!” the young woman said, her slight frame shaking as she gave the target of her accusation a death glare. A loud gasp was heard among the court audience, quickly followed by tightly shut mouths, in case there were other tooth pirates in the court room scouting for potential victims.

The well-toothed audience had heard of thieves, con-men and other people who specialized in separating people from their belongings, but they had never come across a tooth pirate before. What did this mean? Should they password protect their teeth? Buy locks for their mouths? Have security cameras trained on their mouths to alert them if any moves were made toward their pearly whites? This was an alarming development, Muy Alarmante!

Eyes turned toward the alleged criminal, expecting to see a heavily tattooed, pliers wielding, tooth-jewelry wearing mercenary. Instead, what they saw was a lanky, dark haired man who appeared to be in his mid forties, no tattoos or tooth jewelry in sight.

The alleged tooth pirate calmly stared ahead at the judge, giving no indication of having heard a word the woman had yelled, or the hundreds of eyes trained on him, trying to figure out what kind of messed up childhood led one to become a tooth pirate. Said eyes included those of the wife of a colleague who witnessed this event in living color.

After order was restored, the small claims court judge asked the parties to narrate the sequence of events to his court. (yes, no matter how valuable your pearly whites are to you, in the eyes of the law, they aren’t worth much, hence the small claims court)

“Dr. Sun, kindly explain why you extracted the tooth in question?” the judge asked.

“Your Honor, the patient’s tooth was decayed beyond repair. I had no choice but to extract it. I explained the reasons why to…”

“It was my tooth! MY TOOTH” exclaimed the patient, in case anyone in court thought that she too was a client of the tooth pirate mafia.

“Ma’am, I understand that all the teeth in your mouth are yours, thank you, kindly let Dr. Sun finish his testimony.” The judge patiently explained.

The dentist continued, “I showed the patient x-rays of her teeth, and as you can clearly see from the x-rays, this was a very unhealthy tooth.”

The judge examined the xray, and slowly nodded. He addressed the patient.

“Ma’am, the dentist extracted your tooth because it was decayed. You knew this, and that is why you went to the dentist…”

“Do you have all your teeth? Huh? I bet you do. You have the smug look of a person who still has all his teeth and is judging me for having a decayed tooth or two. That was MY tooth, do you know how hard it is to eat ribs without your back teeth? Do you? DO YOU?” the woman raged at the dentist.

The dentist sighed a sigh of the long-suffering. Before the patient had dragged him before the court, she had accosted him at his clinic, demanding to have her tooth re-instated. Dr. Sun dreamed of the day when he would be retired and not have to deal with random writs of habeas dente.

Have a Happy, prosperous and toothy 2019!