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Tell the African Story

Monday Blues

That Monday had been the most difficult day I had had and I have had so far, I had been stuck all day trying to sort out a personal issue and I was dealing with the most difficult and demeaning people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in my life, my phone’s battery was drained so I had switched off the data option around midday. When I got home, by habit I plugged in the phone, waited for it to come on and turned on the data as I went to get rid of the layer of dirt and sweat. I was so tired and not really in the mood to eat, but I knew for a fact I wouldn’t survive the night seeing that a single banana is all I had eaten for lunch. Missed calls, text messages, Twitter notifications, new emails, updated applications, WhatsApp messages, my notification panel was overflowing! For some reason that day, emails got priority and there it was “Congratulations! You were chosen in the 2015 Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders” To say I got confused is an understatement,  I could only shed tears of joy, don’t think am an emotional one, whispered thanks to the big guy immediately questioning Him whether He had to make my day that hard to prepare me for this. Big sister and the family were beside themselves as they had been there cheering me on from the application through to the interview stage. The next few weeks went by in a blur, support from friends and colleagues was and is overwhelming.

Scarlet Town

Fast-forward to 19th of June, after about 22hrs away from home with about 19 of those spent seated down, I was longing for the comfort of a bed. We waited for a few others to checkout their luggage, met the amazing team that would help us find our way around. On getting to the apartments, I met the one lady I was sure to bond with a lot over the fellowship period (sorry guys, feminist in the making). Between meeting my new BFF and the hosts, let’s just say I was meeting my bed about 5hrs later, I was running on borrowed spoons by that point. When the bright summer sun crept into the bedroom the following morning, I promised to use my Maasai blanket as an extra blind that night.

Despite all the email exchanges we had had when exploring the mobility device that I’d be using, there had been nothing to prepare me psychologically to the reality of using one in a strange land. Day one was shopping day!!!  I had just met a group of about  27 people who would very much be a part of my experience and the fighter me was in no way going to take my new BFF with me and call all attention to myself, I seem to have super powers when shopping and walking are put in one sentence, not a word of complaint will escape my mouth.
BFF and I on the way to the reception dinner
BFF and I later started bonding and learning how to take care of each other, she let me take time in learning how to squeeze her into tiny elevators, past closing automatic doors and friendly people holding doors open for us all the while trying not to trend on their toes (we might failed at that once or twice, not to mention when she ran over me).

When classes started, we agreed that we would try and fit in, give each other space, that sort of thing but with the desks being a tad too low and always needing support when getting up from a chair, we agreed to stick together through it all. We promised each other endless walks, shopping sprees and eating out in the Scarlet town while enjoying what Rutgers had to offer.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell
Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee from Liberia

Jomo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Mwalimu Nyerere, ……………………..Wangari Maathai, Leymah Gbowee, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

How often do we hear the saying “behind every successful man is a strong woman,”?

Now, how often does the story of that woman get told when the man is at the top of his game?  

In the case of the countries that had to fight for their independence with great celebrated heroes, where is the story of the mothers, wives and daughters? The story of the atrocities against that come with any situation of armed conflict? When we celebrate our founding fathers, how often do we think of the founding mothers? Where are their stories?

When women rise to the top of their game, how often do people applaud the support of the men in their lives? Do we tell stories of those men who challenge fellow men in situations or war to stand firm against war crimes such as rape which seems to feature in every war-crime story? How often do we acknowledge the support that the women got from men that crossed their path in their unique battles?

Meeting Auntie Leymah at Rutgers University was those rare moments when I got to ask myself all the above questions and the main challenge was “Tell your story, write your story” then maybe some if not all the questions above can be answered.

Of subway stations, trains, elevators, air conditioning, sidewalks, buses and fire trucks

Let’s have some fun! New York City it was on this lovely Saturday morning and from all those movies you bet we were excited to be going, what’s more, the fellows from Rutgers would be meeting with those from Wagner, a mini-reunion for those of us who had countrymen and women in the other cohort. We were off to wander the streets in not so long. Then there was the brilliant idea of visiting a few museums and the metropolitan museum topped the list.
 BFF and I joined the others to the Grand Central station together with Temba our partner in adventure. We figured out soon enough how to squeeze the scooter and the power wheelchair into the same elevator but not all of them were large enough for both of us. We soon realised that getting in and out of the trains would be the greatest challenged we had faced as yet, push and shove was at its best as we positioned ourselves to access the doors when they open. We made it into the train and out quite okay the first time only to get off and learn that the subway station did not have an elevator. We waited for the next train so that we could get of a station about 25 streets away as it had a lift then catch a bus back down to the museum. By the time we got there, the rains were upon us and we were all very happy to get into the building. By the time we were done, the rain had summoned the whole clan and their neighbours the wind. That day reaffirmed by dislike for the rain, were it not for the team work, I would have given up somewhere between the jammed train doors and the soaked clothes.
Outside UN headquarters in New York

The next visit to the big city was bound to be more pleasant, the weather man had assured us of no rains so clearly nothing was going to dampen my day. Next to our Constitution ( Kenya, 2010) am in love with the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and a visit to the United Nations Headquarters was as exciting as you can imagine. Right by the entrance a guard saw my Kenyan lapel pin and greeted me in Swahili and I was sure this would be a great day, however, about 3hours later in the coldest air conditioning I have been in so far, my muscles were crying for a taste of sun. Have you ever felt so cold your toes wish you wore some think socks and your muscles become almost immobile in their attempt to save on heat, to the point that you’re sure 10 more minutes at the same temperature will make you sick, literally? I gave up any more sightseeing and waited below the Kenyan flag outside while enjoying the sweet sun.
Complete with Uncle Sam's headgear at the parade

Fourth of July celebrations were upon us one of my roommates and I were treated to a small town firehouse barbecue on the eve and a fire-truck parade complete with an entrance while riding in one of the trucks!!! The country music tracks played by different firehouses reminded me of the moments we’d be jamming to the same with my mum when growing up J

At the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial  

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – Alabama 1963

13th July brought with it these words and they can’t seem to escape me. The civic leadership training over the 6 weeks gave us a chance to examine the social justice issues in our countries and regions (Lots of love for the East African team), the similarities, differences and the journeys. From high school dropout rates, Female Genital Mutilation, early marriages, discrimination and lack of inclusion of persons with disabilities, domestic violence, poor health systems, failing education structures to politics and corruption.

When a great leader questions the killing of our brothers and sisters with albinism across the continent for the mere colour of their skin in a world where racism still fuels a lot of injustices, it leaves me more committed to look at the words of Martin Luther King Jr in Alabama more critically.

This amazing experience would not have been complete with my colleagues and now friends
MWF Rutgers 2015
Mandela Washington Fellowship Rutgers Class of 2015 (Keep the spirit of 202 alive J ),
Dr. Ronald Quincy
the good doctor who was more of a father to all 25 of us,
the GAIA team with their patience,
Temba, mama and I
Temba for the races we had,
my PC for an amazing celebration of the America Disabilities Act and the three musketeers!!!


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