Kenya is not a family dynasty 

So, I’m listening to BBC World Service this morning, right? I hear a story about the good people of Togo protesting to reinstate presidential term limits.

I’m fascinated because I’m tired of BBC overly focusing on the English-speaking countries of Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and sometimes Ghana. I’m even more excited because, back in my student journalism days – when my journalistic future looked so bright – I covered a similar protest in San Francisco for my student newspaper.

So, I hear one Mary Harper giving an analysis of Togo. It’s a family dynasty, she says. The family dynasty is supported by the fact that president the Togolese opposition is protesting is Faure Gnassingbé, who was handpicked to succeed his father, Gnassingbé, Eyadema. So far, well and good. Continue reading…

Even old cats drink milk

Author’s Note: Here is another sneak peek at what I’m working on, a memoir about my painful (and pointless?) pursuit of education. This one is about corporal punishment and child molestation in the schools I attended. Please note that these are memoirs from my childhood in the ’80s and ’90s. They are in on way a reflection of the Kenya of today. Corporal punishment in schools has been outlawed in Kenya since 2001. 

The violence in my  childhood goes beyond home. In Kenyan schools, it’s widely acceptable for teachers to “discipline” children using canes, belts, punches, pinches, or a combination of any of those methods. Every one of my teachers at Makairo Primary School comes to class with his or her favorite instrument of torture. Be a minute late and you’ll be flogged, and subjected to hard manual labor at the end of the day. Ask a question about something you’re supposed to know, or get one wrong, and the beasts beat you like a venomous snake. One teacher in particular, freaks me out. If he smells a fart, he picks on the fat kid in the classroom and asks the bigger boys to take him to the toilets and plug his anus with maize cobs to block farts.

My life at school is made worse by the fact that all my teachers are my father’s friends. Even though he doesn’t teach at Makairo, he demands that I sit in the middle of the front row in class, directly in front of the teacher, so that I don’t get distracted. He is an official in the PTA, so he’s allowed to pop in anytime to see if my teachers are keeping their promise to monitor me. His friends punish my classmate and I for any mistakes we make in our classwork. But for me, they report to my father, who often gives me another beating, often worse than my teachers’. Continue reading…

The Malingerer

Author’s Note: This is an excerpt from a book proposal I am putting together. This was so funny and so sad that I had to share. Please note that this is just a summary of a chapter, which is why it lacks color and detailed description. Let me know your thoughts. Thanks!

After my bad report card, Tata, my father, tells my teachers to increase their punishment of me. “If my son fails, I will blame you.” My teachers have no problem carrying out those orders. They too are violent. All they need to do is apply a thicker switch on me. My constant fear of pain and punishment has an effect extremely opposite of what my father intends. It distracts me from my schoolwork so much that I began to do even worse.

In 1985, Baba, my great-grandmother, the only person who would occasionally save me from my father’s wrath, dies and leaves me defenseless. I begin to pray for my father’s disappearance. I don’t want him to die; I just want him to walk away and never return. The children in my circle of friends who don’t have fathers don’t suffer as much as I do.

Perhaps because I don’t say my prayers aloud, God refuses to heed them. I think about dying and going to Heaven, but I’m not so sure I’d make it there, considering that I failed the Seventh Day Adventist baptism class. And I love life. I don’t know why, but I love to live. Maybe it’s the hope that one day things will get better. I’m determined to overcome my miseries. I decide to come up with an ingenious plan to reduce my agony. Continue reading…

Cupid, African style

A true story of lust, booze, and an African weapon of war.  

Yours truly, the African Cupid, wanted to shoot a girl with his arrow. I found her at a New Year’s Eve party in San Jose and immediately charmed her with my good looks. Or, was it my sense of humor? A few weeks later, she was spending nights at my apartment.

Girl, twenty-two and living at home with parents, loved to drink. “Motherfucker, the only reason I sleep with you is because I’m a drunk,” she said to me one night, as I attempted to lecture her after she wet my bed. So, it wasn’t the good looks.

I should have left her then, but she came back with new beddings from the store in the mall, where she worked. After owning just one set of 250-thread-count sheets – which I took off the bed only when I did laundry – those softer and fancier linens changed my heart. She was also gorgeous and the sex was great. Continue reading…

The day I became a man

In my culture, the circumcision ritual marks the passage from childhood to manhood. When I turned ten, I had to face the knife.

We lay face down on the grass, two ten-year-old boys, completely naked, outside my uncle’s saiga, a hut where young Gusii men live until marriage. The cold from the mid-December dew cut through my tiny body like the knife I was about to face. The tips of my toes and fingers hardened from the cold and felt as if they were going to explode. Ants bit various parts of my body. In Makairo, my rural birthplace, a village nestled in the Gusii highlands of southwestern Kenya, only fireflies illuminate nights. I was scared. My heart was pumping fast. Yet this was only the beginning of a three-hour wait. And I couldn’t complain: I had asked for the harrowing experience. It was time to prove that I was capable of becoming a man.

The men who ordered us to the grass, and were now indoors, drinking, cracking jokes and talking about girls, had arrived at dusk to guide me in my painful journey to manhood. They said that at three o’clock in the morning, we would start a five-mile trek to see omosaari, a traditional circumciser. He would be waiting with several knives immersed in hot coals, ready to chop my foreskin off, without any form of anesthesia. Once there, I would stand, back against a sacred tree, with men pointing spears at me, ready to kill me if I made a sound that could embarrass my father and the village. By the time we got to the man who would sharpen our spears, as the Gusii would say, my mentors hoped freezing my body would lessen the pain. Continue reading…

African men can claim credit, but it’s women who made us successful

Self Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from my memoirs, which I have modified for International Women’s Day. Please let me know what you think, and share it with your networks.

It’s a sunny morning in mid May, and relatives have gathered for a small commencement ceremony in the courtyard of a wooden building at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. As they wait for us to emerge, a man turns to my parents.

“Who are you here for?” he asks after a brief exchange of greetings.

“My son,” my father answers. “His name is Edwin, and he’ll be the commencement speaker.”

“Oh, we know Edwin,” the man says. “Our daughter Stacey says he’s very smart and very funny.”

“I’m very proud of him,” my father says.

That’s just my imagination. I was the commencement speaker at my graduation from Berkeley, but my parents weren’t there . I was too broke to bring my mother from Kenya, and my father had been dead for nearly 10 years. But had my old man been there, he would’ve been extremely proud of me. Continue reading…