Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mashujaa (Heroes) Day

“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” ~Maya Angelou

October 20th is a Kenyan holiday called Mashujaa (Heroes') Day. Before this year, this holiday was known as Kenyatta Day - named for Kenya's first President Jomo Kenyatta until the Constitutional referendum was approved thereby changing Kenyatta Day to Mashujaa Day.

Now typically on a holiday one would expect to be festive – and possibly relax, right? Well I was not very festive (more tired than festive), but I did enjoy a full day of relaxation. For you see, the day before Mashujaa Day, His Excellency Michael E. Ranneberger, the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, visited my site.

Honorable Ranneberger came to Garissa for the official opening of the Career Resource Center (CRC) at the Kenya National Library Service, Garissa branch. The CRC consists of a Youth Library (including board games and a TV to watch inspirational/educational films), two counseling rooms – one for gents and one for ladies – and a state-of-the-art ICT center for boys and girls.

Picture above shows Hon. Ranneberger listening as the set up of the CRC is explained by a member of USAID Kenya Mission.

Hon. Ranneberger arrived on October 19th, 2010 by plane into Garissa town and he and his convoy made their way to the Kenya National Library Service where we had speeches from several guests including the Deputy Director of USAID Kenya, the Member of Parliament for Dujis Constituency (which Garissa falls into), and of course the Ambassador himself.

Picture above shows Hon. Ranneberger as he prepares to cut the ribbon officially opening the CRC.

Picture below Hon Ranneberger during his speech with a Somali interpreter to his right.

After his speeches and opening of the CRC, the Ambassador was bestowed traditional Mzee (elder) attire by one of our local elders. Picture of Hon. Ranneberger displaying his Somali Mzee outfit.

Following this event, the Ambassador and other VIPs headed to visit Sisters Maternity Home (SIMAHO) a local NGO clinic where Rachel (PCV) works. Note: SIMAHO is receives funding from APHIA II North Eastern – which is run by Pathfinder International with funding from USAID.

After the visit to SIMAHO, the Ambassador headed to a local hotel with conference facilities to have 2 town hall meetings: one with youth representatives of Garissa and a one with the Wazee (elders).

In between various interviews and his Town Hall meetings I had a chance to introduce myself to Honorable Ranneberger.

In the afternoon, after the Ambassador had finished the Town Hall meetings he had a few minutes of time for the press. After which the convoy headed out again, this time back to the airport for departure.
Picture of me greeting and Hon. Ranneberger (left) as he makes his way to a Town Hall meeting.

Back to Mashujaa Day: the day after the ‘big day’ I enjoyed a day of resting and relaxation before going back to my ‘regular’ schedule on Thursday (not that there is much regularity in my schedule though) :-)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Living Somali

“Somalis are born talkers. Every elder is expected to be able to hold an audience for hours on end with a speech richly laced by judicious proverbs and quotations from famous poems and sayings.” Professor I. M. Lewis

Recently, a friend of mine, Ayan, wrote a note on Facebook entitled "Living Somali".
A short time after she read the note, which I'm sharing below, I read a very interesting article entitled Is media coverage of Somalis too negative? This article, and Ayan's note bring up an interesting truth: that Somalis and Somalia are equated with negativity (violence, terrorism, etc.). Think about it, when you read/hear/see the word Somalia (or Somali) what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it al-shabaab? Is it Somali 'pirates'? Well maybe the note Ayan wrote will bring further understanding of Somali culture. She wrote the following:

[Begining of Ayan's note] Living Somali isn’t simply about being alive and Somali, it’s about dealing with “pirates” and “al-shabaab” on a personal level. It’s about a language and a culture so encompassing we live in communities of ourselves because no one else can fathom what it is. It’s about a history of poets and warlords, a society of pastoralists so in tune with their animals that if they were four or four thousand they would know them each by face.

We read the news and we know what is. The ‘current events’, but then what we read and know is a land wasted and destroyed by a violent, capricious and utterly unconscionable people. Somalia, the picture that comes to mind is one of myriad gun-toting pre-teens, hard faced men proclaiming their divine sentences and beauty. If nothing else Somalis are a beautiful people. But there is so much more than that. Yes we are divided and sub-divided and divided again by our tree of clans; the main clans of Dir and Darood from which every Somali stems, right down to Abdul-waq and ‘Auliyen who were brothers. And yes these clans and sub-clans are constantly at each other for this or that, water for their animals or paying blood money for the death of a distant relative – the third wife of a second cousin twice removed-. But we must understand, the terms I’ve just used to describe a relation would not be used by a Somali. To him or her, the dead person is simply ‘our daughter’ or ‘our sister’ because despite the divisions we are united the way no other nation is. There is a saying

Where two Somalis fight it is best for the outsider to stay outside, to separate them would bring the wrath of both against you.
This more than anything says what it is to be Somali like I never could. We would support each other against Them, so to speak.

And as for economics, well suffice to say that what’s mine is yours. And let me clarify by saying that individuals do exist who aren’t so communist is their view but then again they’re the exception and not the rule. Somalis are friendly, I love being home with my grandmothers because we sit down and eat together, we talk, they teach us the history’s and sing the great poem of old from memory! I can’t pretend that we’re all so woefully misunderstood and we’re really calm, underneath it all. But the fact is we are passionate, proud and often unforgiving. We are strong and loving with a strong sense of responsibility. We are extravagant, extraordinary, and exquisite. We are Somali, unrepentant. [end of Ayan's note; thanks to Ayan for permission to share this :)]

Having lived with the Somali culture I have a new appreciation of their livelihood and customs. It is rather unfortunate that the news we read about regarding Somali culture is news predominantly about some kind of violence (bomb explosion, gun battle, etc.) or some kind of security situation (pirates seizing a ship, foreign aid workers kidnapped, etc.).
Sadly there is hardly any positive news about the wonderful things that are going on -- at least not on the international news sections of newspapers or television broadcasts.

Thankfully a more complete picture of Somali news can be found on the following websites: and