I’m listening (books on tape) to Mikiwa, by Peter Godwin. It’s an account of growing up in Rhodesia, during the transition from being a british colony, to being an independent, but still british, nation, to being an independent nation ruled by the africans.
This book is making me miss Africa like nothing has done for a long time. This seems strange to me, because not only is Rhodesia/Zimbabwe a radically different place from Kenya, but he’s writing about a period that was at least 15 years before my memories of Kenya – a time when Africa was very different. But, in many ways, his experience was very similar.
I remember the day that President Jomo Kenyatta died. August 22, 1978. So I would have been almost 7. We were having a cookout in the back yard of our house in Kericho. I guess folks knew that he was sick, but I don’t know if he was expected to die right away. He was at his home in Mombasa, and died in his sleep. The VoK (Voice of Kenya) broke into whatever stellar program was going on, and announced that Mzee was dead, and that Daniel arap Moi had assumed the presidency as was his constitutional duty.
The choice of Daniel Moi was always considered – at that time – to be a brilliant political move. Kenyatta was a Kikuyu, the largest tribe in Kenya, and so was wide open to claims of tribal favortism if he had put Kikuyus in key positions. Moi, on the other hand, was Kalenjin – one of the smaller tribes. And he was from the smallest tribe within the Kalenjin. Clearly, this act said, Kenyatta was no respecter of tribe, and was being unbiased in his selections.
I also remember, in those early years of Moi’s rule, how the christian community in Kenya supported him. This was largely because the Africa Gospel Church was based in Moi’s home district, and so got a lot of preferential treatment in land deals, regulations, taxes, etc. Moi was always spoken of as being a good christian man, God-fearing, reliable,trustworthy. However, it seems that after the coup attempt, he realized that he was not universally loved, and decided that he might need to switch to more of an iron-fisted ruling technique in order to keep things in line.
I remember also that when Amnesty International issued statements against the way that Kenya treated political prisoners, and prisoners in general, I was outraged. How dare they make claims like that against my country? Kenya was the model of an African nation, and did everything right, and these claims were absurd. It was not until years later that I realized that not only were their claims true, but they were wildly understated. This was a real blow to my credulity.
Anyways, back to Mukiwa – the thing that rings the truest in this book, so far, is his discription of boarding school. It’s hard to put these sort of things into words, for me. I remember boarding school as a series of brilliant images, but much of it is foggy. He spoke, however, of the Italian POWs, that did so much of the wonderful construction in british colonies in the WWII years. The Italian POWs that were building his school were, at the same time, building, and, more importantly, painting, my school. They drew and painted pictures on the walls of the dormitories. Halfway through one mural in the Little Girls’ dorm, the war ended, and they went home. It has remained in this state of incompletion ever since as a tribute to them.
When Peter leaves the house that he has lived in his whole life, to move to a safer part of the country during the war, he goes on one last trip into the hills. I was reminded so vividly of my last hike up in the Ngnong hills. I remember hiking up to the summit, and that the wind across the crest of the hill was so strong that I leaned out over the edge of the sheer drop and the wind supported me. Suddenly, the wind dropped, and I had to throw myself back to avoid falling. On one side of the hills is the new world – Nairobi and numerous farms – and on the other is the old world – the plains, the Maasai bomas, and savannah to the mountains on the horizon. The hills create a rain shadow that has contributed to this division.
I know that Kenya is very different now, and I don’t know when I will ever get back, but I have these memories, and they are a huge part of who I am,and how I see the world. Books like Mukiwa show mejust how important these memories and attitudes are to me, and how integral they are to my entire self. It is hard, at times, having nobody that really understands these things to talk to, and I’m really looking forward to my brother and sister being here this summer. I’m on a mailing list of alumni from my school in Kenya, but most of them are the next generation, and Kenya was already so different by then that I might as well be on the wrong mailing list.
This book is *highly* recommended for anyone that wants to get a glimpse of the “third culture kid” experience, and how it shapes one’s world view. It is heavily shaded by the british colonial superiority complex, in which the africans are viewed as an inferior people, and, to be honest, this was a large part of my experience too. Like Peter, I both did not understand the attitutde towards these people who were clearly very intelligent, but also accepted the attitude as one of some truth. It is a weird sort of inherited racism that many people are suffused with, and don’t even realize it.
I’m sure I’ll write about this some more, but this is getting rather long, and I need to finish the laundry …