Sunday, 18 December 2011

I bless the rains down in Africa (as long as it doesn't cause a flood)

For the past 3 weeks I've been in the middle of writing two new stories as well as facilatating entrepeneurship training with young, ambitious Kenyan entrepeneures at the m:lab. I guess that you could say that my writing capacity has been full. While preparing for the training it occurred to me in a fresh and new way that had I lerned much more than I had set out to learn when I embarked upon publishing "The Lizard & the Rock" back on 2009. Society doesn't usually classify writers as entrepenuers but perhaps this classification needs to be revisited.

Thinking back to the fall of 2009 there were several responsibilities that I was juggling besides the entrepenuer hat. Trying to earn a Master's degree and having to step out of class several times because the project manager was calling from California saying that the printers in China did not properly understand the instructions to ship the books on the particular date and now we were behind schedule. I remember sitting in class in a whirlwind listening to the professor speak about how to best align an organization while responding to two texts; "Hey honey the organic, spelt, pasta is in the fridge next to the grass fed meat sauce...hey Ralph let's look at another plan to get the books here in time for Christmas...." Rewind further back to August; corresponding with the editor on the last sections of the book and all of a sudden sharp pains are shooting through my lower abdomen. A trip to the hospital would reveal the loss of  ptential wrapped up in the makins of a human being.

Fast forward a year later when the second publication and the musical CD hit the shelves just in time for Christmas and the recession. I  have now graduated. I have a Master's degree. I have learned from the challenges of the first book and discovered new ones with the change in market climate. I feel that by virtue of maintaining my sanity  however I have also mastered life. I look at the successful black women between the ages of 40-50 and  wonder what stories they have not shared with the rest of us because of the painful and amazing moments encased between the pages of their own life story.

As  I look forward to "Christmas in Africa" and sort of feel sorry for the goose that will soon be Chritmas dinner and the rabbits that have graced our table as "chicken" I think about past Christmas years where all was exciting and moving quickly. This year will be different. This year things will be much slower, less commercialized and without extended family and close friends who know and love us well. On our table will be a representation of the places we've been and the friendships that we've made: Casava pie, Palestianian rice for stuffing, the goose from outside, mango and guava sauce, sweet potato pie and various Israeli salads. Perhaps this year I will take time to unwrap pleasant memories of the past and thank them for the gift of life's processes that have brought me to this present moment.  And look, I already received my first eary Christmas present:).

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A Chat with Debbie

Recently I was asked my my author friend Debbie to do a second interview with her. Weekly she interviews authors and posts the interviews on her blog. Bellow is the link for my interview with Debbie.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Ordinary is my Muse

A small section of our Garden. Planted by the non-gardener me:)

Masai bracelets and Silly Bands
Monday Morning: As the Nairobi sun beams through the Jacaranda trees it beckons me to be enveloped by its newness. Already my children are awake, getting dressed, playing and finding breakfast to eat (who ate all those chocolate chip cookies?).  I say hello to the gardeners who help us to take care of the grounds and the animals and thank the guards who have worked all night while my dreams soared past the African sky. They say to me, “There is no difference between you and me. If I take you to my village they will say that you are my sister.” “I am your sister,” I think to myself as smile back and prepare for the day.

 Wednesday: On my way to sub at a school. We are unable to drive up the road as police are motioning for us to go the other way.  We try to drive up the road anyway and notice that there is a large crowd of people walking and running in our direction. Stones are being thrown and it looks like something has been set on fire in the distance. The angry, yet helpful protesters tell us to wind up our windows and drive in the opposite direction. I think back to the other 3 demonstrations we either caused or were in the middle of while in Jerusalem and the huge red bricks that were being thrown at the cars in one instance at those who were breaking the Sabbath by driving their cars. But I digress.  Only later that day would we find out that the protest was in response to police who had murdered an innocent boy on the assumption that he was a thug.

       Herein lies a story that resonates with most Westerners. This typical media-driven sensationalism about the continent of Africa sadly frames our worldview of the Motherland. How I struggled to write this knowing that our experience here is characterized by other mundane excitements and ordinary miracles unrecognizable to the above written narrative.

            Saturday: We are going to the open market to buy our fruits and vegetables. We drive past several malls and many grocery stores on the way to the busy, mud floor bazaar. Perhaps it’s because we want the “African” rural experience that we venture where the trash looms outside and the monkeys are ever grateful for the abundance of food. Or maybe it’s because the produce is four times cheaper than the stores or maybe it’s because this is where Quincy can buy all of his exotic fruits and sprout the seeds later in preparation for his next project. Whatever the reason, we hold a certain romance with this place. Here we connect the faces to those who grow the food. Such a treasure was rare in our own consumerist, home culture. I see a monkey scamper by.  The children ask for shillings to buy sugar cane and maze, “Ninatoka maze tadfathali,” Zahari says with a big grin on his face. He is quite proud of himself as he bites into the blackened, golden kernels.
Rift Valley

Rural House in Limuru

"Want to buy a chicken? I also slaughter it for you"

"Look Mom I made a volcano!"

More artwork made of clay

Sunday School

At the Market after the Christmas Play

When Stars hide

When stars hide beneath the clouds those on earth can see
Cracked silhouettes, jagged edges fading glow-what once was brilliance.

When stars dangle in the ray of the sun their glow becomes what once was glory
Dangling in the beauty of a vast element, Venus is no longer the morning star.

When stars begin to wave across the blackened night with a trail of brightness we marvel at this wonder before us.

While we wonder and marvel, this star will quickly be no more.
What is this glimmering feature that hangs in the sky, encompassing rainbow’s blush?

While all of them light up the sky with midnight’s orchestra, only some starlight songs are called by name.

While thousands of illuminations dangle and dance along galaxy’s stage, the curtain of time will soon conclude this theatrical production.

By Joanne Ball-Burgess



Sunday, 13 November 2011

How to be an Expert on Africa?

I’ve been laughing hysterically while reading the book, “How to Write About Africa” by Binyavanga Waninaina. This little, literary masterpiece takes a satirical look at the way westerners view Africa. Waninaina says in his book that when referring to Africa broad generalizations are good, hence the reference to the whole continent rather than the particular country where I am living. If you remember, at the commencement of this blog I stated emphatically that I am in no way an expert on Africa however today I feel differently about my position as a spokes person for the continent having lived here now for 3 months. As a newly self-affirmed expert, I think that it would be a good idea to share the laughable wisdom that I have acquired in my ascension to Africa-Yoda status.

Here is my own highly subjective list of expert advice on Kenya.

1.      Ugali (looks like stiff cornmeal) -you must eat it. You can eat it with lunch. You can eat it with dinner. You can even eat it with rice but you must eat it-otherwise you really haven’t eaten.

2.      The term “black muzungu” (muzungu means foreigner) is an oxymoron. Those who find themselves in this category live in an ethereal world.

3.      If you are a black muzungu (ethereal, oxymoronic category mentioned above) and in the distance you see a missionary approaching, immediately let him know that you are a Westerner and he will assume that you do not need to be evangelized by virtue of your birthplace. White people in African do not need to be evangelized.
4.      In addition to employing house help, a driver, a nanny a guard and a gardener you must also employ a middle-aged gecko to keep the mosquito population inside the house to a minimum. You must agree to house the gecko and feed it for the agreement to work. At any time if the neighbor’s house acquires more mosquitoes the gecko may abandon his place of employment in search of bigger and better work opportunities.

5.      No matter how much the urge impresses upon you, refrain from breaking out in your best known traditional African dance (hands and legs flailing wildly in the opposite direction) if you happen to be in a club and you suddenly hear a 2010 World Cup song. The Kenyans will most likely be doing the Dougie

6.      Speaking of dance, I have come to discover that salsa is the national dance of Nairobi and Indian chapatti and chicken pilau are the national dishes following closely behind (the) ugali.

7.      The barometer for how well you drive is measured by the number of Matatos (crazy van drivers) you can enrage on any given day. Quincy has perfected this art. You must ask him how to acquire matato-enraging Yoda status.

8.       Do not move to Nairobi if you are looking to express your blackness by wearing an afro, twists, cornrows or any hairstyle that resembles Kathleen Cleaver, Lauryn Hill or Erykah Badu. Wearing a wig is the professional hairstyle of choice-even if it appears to be on backwards or sideways during the mid week.

9.      When asked about your life in Kenya, immediately mention Al-Shabaab, grenade slinging Africans (nice broad generalization), and contraband sugar by Somali pirates. This will keep frememies, in-laws and other unwanted guest from visiting.  

10.  Do not let your friends or relatives know that in Kenya you have access to more, free, blackberry apps than in Bermuda. This would immediately cause a mass exodus of Bermudians to the Motherland.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Beauty and the Bees: Trip to Masai Land

Quincy has been embarking on some wonderful new adventures here in the Motherland but like I said...this is not that blog:). Once a week he teaches beekeeping in a Masai community in the Rift Valley for an organization called MIDI. I went along mainly as the photographer but also because every time I travel to the Rift Valley a sense of calm envelopes me as if every part of my being agrees with me standing in this place.  I feel as if I have come home. So in between job searches and  continuous writing work from home, we jumped into the car to meet the friends who would take us to the Masai Comminuty.

An hour later we were traveling on a dirt path of loose, bumpy rocks with steep hills and narrow turns. Once in a while (6 of us in total)  we would need to jump out of the car to help to push it over the rocks. I was beginning to feel that eye shadow and sandals were not a necessary part of this adventure and hoped that my organic deodorant would hold up for the entire day.

When we finally arrived, covered in dust and quite shaken up from the bumpy voyage, we were greeted by Mat, the coordinator for MIDI in this area and several Masai people. We first had tea (Thank you British Empire. Nothing like tea on a hot day in a village), talked about the day, what Quincy would be doing, and then began the beekeeping course. By this time we were all dripping with sweat as the tea was hot and so was the air.

Soon many Masai people began to gather where Quincy was speaking. By way of a translator he taught the basics of beekeeping and explained how it is important not to cut down the trees so that the bees will have sufficient nectar sources. Many of the Masai people began to laugh saying, "This man thinks that we are going to be beekeepers?" I asked Amos, who had been translating for Quincy, what they were saying then said to him, "Please tell the people that they already know how to take care of animals so beekeeping will be easy for them. Quincy taught a bunch of people back home in Bermuda how to do beekeeping and they did not even know how to take care of animals such as you guys do. You can do it." Amos gasped and said, "They don't even know how to take care of goats and cows? Ha! Then we can do beekeeping!"

 He relayed the message in Masai to everyone as more laughter erupted at the thought of a group of people who don't even know how to take care of animals." At this point more people became interested and some went home. Pretty soon those who were interested were bringing out more beehives and frames, sharing honeycomb and asking questions.

While we watched the beekeeping in motion, the Masai women began to ask Amos if I was black, to which I replied, "Of course I'm black". The reply was, "Then why do you not speak any African languages?" Sadness came over me as I recalled the story of Bermuda's slavery in about 2 minutes (the fast version). "Oh we see! You used to be black but now you're white!"  I actually told them that over 400 years ago we were Africans but now we are not Africans which translates to the previous sensence in Masai.

In the midst of trying to figure out my race and the confusion with why I don't speak any African languages, the Masai women began to hold my had and we exchanged bracelets. We asked each other about our families (Joyce in the picture has 9 children) and smiled at each other. As we stood watching the continuation of the beekeeping class from a distance we remained holding hands. They told me that I looked like their family then decided that I look like a Moran (another Masai group who paint their hair with red dye). After the class was over, Quincy planted a bunch of mango trees and we ate lunch. Yummy beef stew with potatoes, onions and tomoatoes.

On the way home we saw several gazelle and had to jump out of the car several times to push it over the rocks-again. Ahh, back to Nairobi, where the potholes suddenly didn't seem as bothersome...

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Coastal Simplicities

We just arrived back form the coast this past week. I was unable to post while there due to the fact that the interenet was so intermittent. So here I am mulling over ideas in my head...which experience to write about and how much of my person do I share? There is not enough space here for me to peel of every surface of the onion but perhaps a glimps will reveal new beauty that suffices. for  Mull with me as I type as white space becomes lines and curves that will make literary beauty appear for the eyes to see and the mind's ear to hear...

After 10 weary hours of driving we arrived. The actual drive is about 6 hours long but getting out of Nairobi and into Mombasa are two hours each. The morning after the drive was sureal as I peered up into a tree of about a dozen monkeys looking at me as if I were a new species that seemed interesting to behold. We exchanged looks for a while, tiled our heads at each other in questionment, jilted in a split second thought of fear and then parted our separate ways. I threw a piece of passion fruit towards one of them. One monkey ran past carrying a smaller money. The locals said that the mother needed to wean it as it was almost as big as the mother. I thought about all of the theories to do with attachment and thought that this mother had just disproven all of them. I giggle to myself and then look about but there is no one around to share the joke with except for these peering creatures.

Later as I walk on the beach I miss the path for the guest house where we are staying. I walk and walk until I come to the end of the beach. There are Italians and Kenyans playing football together on the sand. Even a couple of Masai men dressed in their beautiful, traditional garb and adorned with lots of beautiful earings, and bracelets are playing. Such a site to see. I don't think I will ever get used to seeing the majestic look of a Massai person. At the market Quincy is being scolded by a woman selling her wares for not teaching his children to speak Kswahili; "You're a Kenyan and you don't bother to teach your children anything but English??"

Days later we are driving home, back to Nairobi. We stop for some goat foot and ugali and and continue on our way. While looking out the window watching for ostriches and babboons we notice 8 armoured trucks headed to the border. While we were running in the sand and looking at turtles Kenya had changed ever so slightly. I wondered how these experiences, simple yet unknowingly profound had changed me...only time would tell...

"When we go through profound experiences, they change us. We risk our relationships with friends and family. They may not like the direction we have taken or may feel threatened or judged by our decisions. They may wonder what happened to the person they thought they once knew." - Wangari Maathai

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Burgess' Kids Adventures

Over the past 4 weeks one of the joys of being here has been listening to and observing our children as they get used to a new country and culture. Some of the things that they say daily give me a belly laugh and other comments cause me to consider my own journey and thoughts. Join me in sharing in these joys through my children's eyes. Enjoy!

“Kenya has the same type of bananas as Bermuda.”-5 year old

“Today I met a friend from Germany and a friend from Mombasa. I told them that in Bermuda, fishing is serious business!” – 4 year old

“Mommy today I saw some Africans!” – 4 year old

“Mommy I like this place cause people carry bags on their head. When I grow up I want to carry a bag on my head. Look I have a sock on my head now!” -4 year old

“Mommy if we’re in Africa, where are the lions?” – 4 year old

“Today we went on a field trip and the baboons stole our napkins.” – 5 year old

“My favorite part of today was playing football.” – 5 year old

“I like my bunnies. They are all my friends.” -4 year old

“Can we invite some of our friends from Bermuda over for a play date?” – 4 year old

“Mommy, how do people understand each other when they speak in Kiswahili?” – 5 year old

“Mommy, can we get an ostrich so that it can be friends with our goat?” -4 year old

Pikipiki, Pikipiki, Pikipiki….., Sawa! Sawa! Pole! Pole! Pole! Pole! Scuma wiki! Scuma wiki! Scuma wiki!” 4 and 5 year old rambling off Kswahili words that they just learned and or find hilarious.  

The translation would go as follows: “Motorbike, Motorbike, Motorbike…, Cool! Cool!  Slowly! Slowly! Spinach! Spinach! Spinach!”

Thanks for following our adventures!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

School Clothes: The Adventure

We arrived in Nairobi on September 2 only a few days before the start of school. While still feeling like a zombie in a dream cloud rather than an excited child of the Diaspora returning to the motherland, we began settling into new life here. The next day it was time to buy food, but I was too tired to make good judgments on what to buy and trying to decide which commodities would be similar in quality than what I was used to buy while jet lagged meant observation was futile. Finally, we came to the outlet where we would purchase school uniforms for the children.

From a distance I could see a long, standing, line of eager parents and children waiting to get into the store. Like a true Ball I walked to the front of the line and handed my list of school uniform specifities to one of the tailors. "Oh no, you cannot come in until you are called," he said with both hands cupped forward in my direction. He motioned to the back of the line as I turned around with the children, grimly anticipating my fate. After about an hour and a half wait we were again standing in front of the entrance.

On the inside I was jumping excitedly as I clenched my uniform list. Without it we would surely disappear in the seeming confusion that waited in front of us. To a westerner, even for a loosely, artistic person like myself, priding myself on rarely matching my socks and operating under a system of disorganized organization, what lay before my eyes looked chaotic and stressful.

...another 15 minutes wait at the entrance and we were called into the store. Inside, a friendly tailor with measuring tape draped around his neck motioned for us to come in. He began as most Kenyans do, speaking to me in Kiswahili, experiencing a moment of confusion and then figuring out that I am a muzungu (a foreigner. Usually attributed to white people). After we talked about my birth location and to which tribal group he assumed that I belonged, we began the process of school uniform acquisition!

Although I saw this as a sort of non-process in need of a bit of organizational management change, the tailor was well versed in this system of school uniform search. It went something like this; I would call out the first item on the list and he would disappear into the mass confusion and appear with the item that I requested. Between the time that I asked for the item and when he returned was about 15 minutes. On several occasions we needed a larger or smaller size. At the recognition of this he would disappear again and emerge with another size: another 15 minutes gone by.

In the meantime the children were playing with the fallen clothes and school accessories and "climbing over the mountain." One is doing the pee-pee dance and both are crying for snacks: blood pressure rising. In the midst of all of this the desire to show my "muzunguness" became overwhelming. I decided to "fix" this situation. "Sir it would be so much easier if I simply handed you the list of uniform paraphernalia and you could simply bring it all back at once." "Oh no!" he said to me as if I had just asked him to go to the moon, "That's not the system. You will continue to ask me each item on the list and I will get it"...15 minutes passes. "Sir, I have 2 children. Can you at least get the socks when you get the gym shirt?" I shout out as he walks away. He obliges and purses his lips together, slightly irritated but still polite as ever and disappears behind the clothes for another 15 minutes.

There I was being a muzungu again. Judging another culture by my own cultural standards and trying to impose a different system after being in the country for only 72 hours. The truth is, this system has probably worked this way for a long time and after I leave it will continue. I leaned up against the counter still clenching my list, now wrinkled and tried to appreciate the value of experiencing a different method of accomplishing a task. If I really couldn't handle it I could just "Go home." At least that's what we as Bermudians suggest to well-meaning expatriates who move to our island and do the same. The counter response to this suggestion is to be called a xenophobe, those who are contributing to the financial demise of our island by chasing helpful foreigners with large money bags away. I imagined a group of gnome-like creatures running wildly across the map to the Cayman Island or elsewhere, away from angry looking natives.

Pain in my fingers from clenching the uniform list for 2 hours brings me back to my present reality. We have now begun the search for clothes for my younger son. Now I must closely guard the stack of school uniform stuffs for the 5 year old. It would be a travesty to lose one item in the shuffle and need to recover yet another item.

Finally, after 3 1/2 hours in total the tailor added up the cost of all of the items without a calculator. I on the other hand; blackberry in hand, was adding up the items along with him [although he finished before I did]. After paying for the school uniforms and gym clothes, we left the store and waved to the long line of eager parents also clenching uniform lists. It was now almost 6pm. Monday morning the boys got ready for school and looked cute as ever. One month later, the 5 year old misplaces his blazer at school…