Monday, August 09, 2004

Reflecting on the Plight of Kenyan Women

0.0. Telepathy Anyone?


Just before five o’clock this morning I woke up and the first thing which popped into my head was to call my sisters in South Africa.

No urgent reason, just a natural sibling sense of connection.

As soon as my sister Janet answered the phone she said,

“Why that is funny. FIVE minutes ago we were talking here in the office (my sister is self-employed) and Sarah was wondering how come you are so quiet and then out of the blue, here you come!”

Can someone explain that to me?

We spent a good six minutes delving into varying hypotheses all revolving around telepathy.

So good people out there, does telepathy exist?

Why is it that I will call my mshikaji at a very ODD hour in the night (their time) only to find her wide awake because she woke up half an hour previously TO WAIT FOR MY CALL- even though it is a spontaneous and unplanned one and when I do call, it is usually at a more decent hour?

What is up with that?

I am always fascinated with such questions. There are so many things in this world that we do not know.

Most of the time we rush to find rational explanations, and failing that, we fall back to mystical and supernatural ones.

Where does the truth lie (notice the conscious play on words)?

I know that I have ceased looking for explanations for some of these things-like knowing instinctively when my son in Toronto is not feeling well to guessing when one of my good friends is having a rough time at work or in a relationship.

I have a very strong alliance with scientific skeptics who know how much of so called unexplained phenomena has been permeated with so much bunk and mumbo jumbo.

Let us NOT talk about séances and ouija boards please.

There is one site that I will recommend for people like myself who are interested in apparent paranormal events but are not yet quite ready to take leave of our senses.

And that site is actually a DICTIONARY, yes, but not just any old dictionary, but a
Skeptics Dictionary

When I clicked on “T” and scrolled to “telepathy” I was promptly cyberported to ESP and did those guys throw some ice cold water on me or what:

ESP

Yes, the debunking of the“psychic dog”
brought me back to earth.

1.0. Humour as a Coping Mechanism

Many people ask me how I was able to survive some of the ordeals I have had to endure fo the duration of my so called life so far. When I tell them through HUMOUR they of course, think that I am joking.

Seriously, the ability to put the worst imaginable thing in perspective and laugh about it is one of the key ingredients to long term survival. Whether it is dealing with incarceration; a grim medical diagnosis; the death of a loved one; a traumatic breakup or looming financial ruin, one’s ability to pick up the pieces is often directly proportional to one’s ability to GENUINELY laugh one’s way out of all that pain, all that anguish, all that fear, all that despondency, all that desperation.

In prison it helped when we saw ourselves as unwilling fugitives trapped in a surreal theatre of the absurd, or Kenyan equivalents to some of the characters found in Franz Kafka’s stories like “The Trial”. When we viewed our captors as extras from Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” or our prison guards as unconscious comic figures uttering ridiculous lines written by a bad playwright we were able to participate bemusedly in the burlesque of what passed for daily prison experience- squatting in rows of five; saying Afande every time we saw a warder approach, tucking ourselves in at nine o’clock when we were still wide awake or pretending that the junk the authorities forced down our throat was actually “food”.

If I did not have a sense of humour coupled with a very clear awareness of the political circumstances that catapulted me to the abyss known as Kamiti, I probably would have been among other possible things, a very tortured alcoholic by now- and I mean that in a very literal sense because I see first hand how some of my comrades have chosen NOT to deal with their trauma through other means. And one is not even in a place to judge those comrades because even though we went through a general collective experience, everyone’s ordeal, everyone’s journey has been intensely personal and one would be presumptuous if one claimed to know what private demons each person tries to slay each night.

Humour really has therapeutic value- and I say this as I contemplate the unsolicited psychobabble that I have been showered with from the pens of mean spirited Dr. Phil knock offs online who have taken it upon themselves to psychoanalyze my “neurotic” decision to post a picture of my siblings in an essay I wrote to commemorate the twenty-second anniversary of my arrest aboard a Mombasa bound train. It has been amazing to watch some of these people, under the guise of offering “help” churn out some of the most spiteful lines I have accosted anywhere- online and offline.

Why am I talking of Trauma, Humour and Therapy?

It is because my mind is in Iraq.

And India.

Huh?

That is right.

And I am thinking of trucks.

And Kenyans.

Together with Egyptians.

Finally you get it.

Here is a clue of what I am about to talk about:

Bonyeza Here


Click Hapa

Do you get it?

No?

I mean the funny part.

Well go back and read this last line in the last link:

…Bachchan said he had no idea of his hypnotic sway in Iraq. "I was absolutely unaware of this popularity."

It may sound macabre, but this story evoking Amitabh Bachchan (watched quite a few Indian movies in Mombasa where Sunday was the designated day for Indian flicks at Moons, Naaz, Kenya, Majestic, Princess and other movie theatres in that town that I love so much) gave me an idea for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. And like I told some people on a certain forum, I am trying my hand at script writing.

And thank you Amitabh Bachchan for inspiring this tepid attempt:

So, without further ado, Onyango Oloo presents a brief skit for radio called

“Big B to the Rescue!”

Here goes…

[Falluja. A Monday night in August. Inside an Iraqi apartment currently rented by Sheikh al Dulaimi, the celebrity negotiator with assorted Iraqi kidnappers. He sits on an ottoman, remote control in hand, watching four television sets all hooked up to the big satellite dish outside. All four sets are on. One is showing a news program from Al Jazeera, the second one from Al Arabiya, the third one is locked on CNN while the fourth one is flickering with the BBC logo and those posh British accents. Nearby is a lap top with a wireless connection to the internet. The good sheikh has several windows open as he simultaneously checks his hotmail, yahoo, gmail and al bawaba accounts every five minutes. On an ornate coffee table are six sleek and powerful cell phones- Kyocera, Samsung, Sony, Nokia, NEXTEL, are some of the brand names next to copies of Al Watan, Al Hayat Al Ahram and other papers from the Middle East. The sheikh strokes his goatee thoughtfully as he adjusts his kaffiyer and straightens his flowing robes made of the finest cloth Iraqi money can buy in a war economy. Outside bursts of gun fire followed by intermittent chants of Muqtadar al Sadr! Muuqtar al Sadr pierce the tense air wafting with a whiff of depleted uranium. In the background the Lebanese crooner Fairuz belts out a plaintive ballad to an ungrateful habiby…]

Suddenly the Kyocera phone rings(note: all conversations take place in Arabic but for our readers’ convenience we have provided instantaneous translation and we have cut out the Arabic text to save space):

Al Dulaimi: Hello? Yes. This is the Sheikh speaking. No, I have not called Amman, Jordan yet. Why are you calling on this line? This is for the Turkish hostages! Call my Nextel for the Jordanian hostages please- you are tying up the lines and this is a matter of life and death.

(hangs up)

The Nextel phone rings.

Al Dulaimi: Hello? Yes. This is the Sheikh speaking. I just spoke to you a minute ago. Remember I told you to call the Nextel? Oh. You mean you are NOT the Jordanian hostage taker? Who are you then? You have the Canadians? Which Canadians? Nobody told me about any Canadians. I must set up a new phone line for Canada. Email me at aldulaimi@mediator.com and I will give you the new line. It will be a Motorola line, remember that! And one more thing, how did you get my unlisted number after all this is Falluja, not Montreal and-

Shoot, he has just hang up! These kidnappers are so rude and impatient! No telephone etiquette whatsoever!

The sheikh leafs thoughtfully through the pages of Al Watan, reading leisurely from right to left, back to front.

The SAMSUNG phone rings.

Al Dulaimi: Hello, Sheikh al Dulaimi the Iraqi Tribal Negotiator speaking. Now please don’t tell me you just called me on the SAMSUNG phone! That is RESERVED for the Japanese hostages!!! Don’t you get it? Yes, yes, yes, I know we are all working as a team here and I know that you have the Japanese, the Turks and the Jordanians- but I do have a filing system here that I need to maintain my friend. Samsung is for Japan, Nextel is for Jordan and Kyocera is for Turkey. Got that? Or should I break it down slowly? Thank you! Geez! What kind of kidnappers do they have these days? Can I talk to your boss? OK, that is fine this time, but please remember next time to call me on the RIGHT PHONE!

He walks over to the music system and replaces the Fairuz tape with a CD of Rachid Taha.

As he walks back to his ottoman, the Nokia phone vibrates and flashes.

Al Dulaimi (relieved) you are the only group that calls me on the right phone. Definitely the moist organized. What do you mean there has been a complication? I thought the Kuwaitis agreed to pay you the millions of dollars you wanted? Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya have agreed to run your videotaped message demanding the withdrawal of US troops. The families in Falluja have been contacted. And no, I am not trying to slip in my commission. You know you only leave a little something for my expenses. These separate phones and those internet accounts must be maintained.

But what do you mean a new complication?

So how much should we- I mean how much should you ask for? It is not money you want? What do you want then, guns, bazookas, grenades, orange uniforms? No? You mean you do not want that? What is it then?

Amitabh Bacchan? What is that? Some new designer cologne? Excuse me, but I grew up in Cotes des Neiges in Montreal and just moved back to Iraq last year to take over my father’s construction company after he passed. I find it cute to see a graduate of McGill called a tribal leader. You mean to say he is a movie star? Where? Never saw his movies in St. Catherine or the AMC Forum at the Atwater Metro. No. I am NOT trying to be FUNNY excuse me MISTER KIDNAPPER NUMBER THREE. OK. Keep talking. I am listening. I see. Legendary Indian movie star. Been around for almost forty years. Host of Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” I get you. I get you. So you want to hear his booming voice pleading for the release of the hostages… Wait a minute. Did I get you right- you want Asha Parekh to SING AND DANCE for you? Who is she? An Indian superstar from the 1960s? You think she can get up and dance half a century later? Are you guys crazy? I am sorry. I am sorry. Please do not do anything rash. I apologize. Yes I understand that you are very serious. Yes I also understand that nothing stops you from, you know.. We do not want THAT. Don’t mind me, Don’t mind me. I am just an idiot. I agree- I am an asshole as well. I am sorry. Yes, I know, I know. Of course. From now on I will be serious. Please don’t. I promise I will not make fun of you. OK, OK, OK. Yes, I will take down your instructions. Wait. Let me get a pen. And some paper. OK Shoot. No, I DID NOT MEAN SHOOT THE HOSTAGES! Don’t do it! I meant continue talking. Boy, you guys make me very nervous sometimes. Speak up, your voice seems to be breaking up. Is that a missile hitting the next building? Was that a grenade that just blew up? So here is your list of demands. Number one: Amitabh Bachchan goes on Al Jazeera with a statement appealing for the release of the hostages; Number two: Asha Parekh sends a video of any of her dance numbers to Al Arabiya; Number three UPS or DHL delivers within 18 hours 26 DVDs featuring Amitabh Bachchan, Raj Kapoor, Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar and other Bollywood Classic Megastars; Specifically you want gift wrapped and autographed the following blockbusters: “Sholay” “ Yaadon ki Baarat” “Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram” “Mera Nam Joker” “Awara” “Umrao Jaan” “Bobby” and ESPECIALLY “”Kabhie, Kabhie”, “Amar,Akram, Anthony, “Dil Se” and “Shree 420”. Consider it done my good friends, consider it done. I am calling my Mumbai contacts on my Kyocera right now. And sending an instant message at the same time.

But you forgot one little detail.

After all of these things have been supplied, in addition to the money, what happens to the hostages?

Are they released perhaps?

Of course. I understand your extreme displeasure if you found that the videos that are express mailed to you are nothing but poorly done dubbed versions of the crispy originals. That is NOT going to happen.

So we keep our fingers crossed?

Well I will take that grunt for a YES…

TO BE CONTINUED….

2.0. August 9 is South African Women’s Day

Today was an official holiday in South Africa, a national day set aside to celebrate the achievements and aspirations of South African women.

Here is a link to a document that will tell you why August 9th is significant in South African history:


Click Here

The following statement was issued this week to coincide with the day itself:


Click Here

Check out the line up of ministers and count the number of women in the cabinet:


South African Cabinet

Check out the deputies

About four years ago, South African women drew up a program of action called Women Marching Towards the African Century

How does this all compare with Kenya?

I have commented extensively on the question of gender and development in Kenya like for instance on this 2003 essay on a Gendered Approach to Public Appointments

in defence of the reproductive rights of Kenyan women


wondered whether the Kenyan government was becoming another Taliban regime
with its onslaught on women and their rights, saw parallels between a murder case in Kenya and, the Scott Petereson trial in the United States


wrote a short story based on the publicity surrounding 15 fetuses,
called “The Killer”

penned
a poem for Mothers Day

mused loudly on lipstick, mascara and eye shadow


wrote asardonic skit providing my off-beat commentary on the public spat between cabinet minister Martha Karua and radio celebrity Catherine Mutuko,

called my three sisters in Southern Africa and spoke to them about abortion
and so today I will confine myself to have a few practical questions.

And I will just list them:

1. What are the main economic, political, cultural, social and technological challenges facing Kenyan women today?
2. How much of a public voice do Kenyan women have?
3. How much political power do Kenyan women wield?
4. What are the issues which stand in the way towards the creation of a vibrant, progressive women;s movement that will put working women and women from cultural, ethnic and religious minorities at the core of that movement/
5. What alliances of a sustainable nature have been forged by Kenyan women vis a vis their counterparts in the eastern African region and elsewhere?
6. Does the Bomas Draft reflect the broad interests of Kenyan women
7. What steps can Kenyan women take in initiating a countrywide dialogue on abortion, adoption, parenting and other related reproductive issues?
8. How can Kenyan women build international links with progressives around the world who support their cause?
9. What is the consensus among Kenyan women when it comes to retrenchment, introduction of user fees, privatization, repatriation of profits and other planks in the Bretton Woods agenda for Kenya?
10. Are Kenyan women better off today than they were in July 2002?

Speaking only of reproductive rights, am I the only person who has noticed the deafening silence from the “Abortion is Murder” crowd?

What happened to all that noise? Where are the plaintive pleas for the Unborn? Barely two months after all that hullabaloo, you would not suspect that not too long ago there were headline grabbing stories about church services for aborted fetuses.

At one level it is a reflection of how superficially the Kenyan media treats matters which have a major gender component.

At another level it is perhaps indicative of the artificial nature of then so called crisis. Many of us thought then, and are convinced now that it was just another diversion from the many failures of the NARC government to deliver on its pre- election pledges.

However, for progressive Kenyans who are committed to supporting and enhancing reproductive rights for Kenyan women, this lull is the BEST POSSIBLE TIME to mobilize, away from the cacophony, away from the vituperation.

For instance I really think that FIDA should defend Nyamu and the two nurses either pro bono or mobilize forces such as the Kenya Democracy Project to set up a Defence Fund for the three accused individuals.

More than that, I think that for the next one year at least progressive women and men should embark on wide ranging conversations about the whole gamut of issues and concerns that fall within the rubric of the basket that is often crudely labeled “women’s issues” as if there is only one gender or as if men are not primarily implicated in issues such as violence against women, rape, unwanted pregnancies, parental obligations and other gender related matters.

To provide a focus for what possibly could be a movement towards a Kenya Women’s Day and the Declaration of a Kenyan Women’s Charter by next year, I am proposing that March 16 should be declared Kenya Women’s Day in memory of Mary Nyanjiru Muthoni who led hundreds of Kenyan workers in 1922 to protest the arrest of Harry Thuku and demand his release. We know what happened outside the Central Police Station in Nairobi on that occasion- deaths, gun shot wounds, more arrests. I also think that we should jump start a process which enables a consortium of women’s organizations in Kenya to start a national process of coming up with a Kenyan Women’s Rights Charter.

Revolutionaries are incorrigible dreamers so allow me to dream a little:

How about if progressive Kenyan women and men spent the period March 1- to 16, 2005 celebrating the achievements, mapping the aspirations and pointing the way forward for Kenyan women? How about if on March 16, 2005 there is a tree planting ceremony led by Prof. Wangari Maathai outside the Central Police Station to remember Muthoni and officially proclaim this day as Kenya’s Women’s Day? How about if, by that date, a DRAFT of a Kenya Women’s Rights Charter is ready to be launched for public debate?

How about if?

Onyango Oloo
Montreal
Monday, August 9, 2004
3:09 pm EST

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