Monday, August 30, 2004

Kenyan hip-hop culture too American

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Kenyan hip-hop culture too American
Mr Kariuki

As you read this, a hip hop artiste in Nairobi is probably writing his next "dis 'n' dat" lyrics to bash a rival or chastise women, as hate-mongering seems to be rapidly becoming staple fare for local hip hop music.

And not to be outdone by their American counterparts who thrive on gangsterism, some of our artistes have also concocted a thug culture that has resulted in the emergence of gangs that routinely engage in imaginary turf wars – imaginary because the Kenyan music scene does not have real money to fight over.

The clothes are obviously American-inspired and most people from that generation have no qualms expressing their admiration for American youth culture. It shocks many, not least some Americans themselves, who admit to suffering some culture shock whenever they walk on Nairobi streets. US filmmaker Geary Mcleod who came here last month for a film workshop, was lost for words. "The dress style is straight out of US pop music videos, the talk learnt from US sitcoms, and I wonder what's up with Kenyan youth," he said.

Ordinarily, urban youth are the bookmarkers of aspiration for their generation at any given time. They do it through artistic expression, their language, the kind of movies they watch, and the music they listen to. If this be the case, then one wonders whether Generation X has read the rest of us right, or whether they have chosen to become a complete aberration, far removed from the reality that is Kenya today.

But you have to hand it to them; there is considerably ingenuity in the way they continue to improvise on the English and Kiswahili languages to effectively create verbal cocktails that vary from region to region. The problem with this language (sheng) is that it has affected the quality of conventional language, as the outcome of language examinations clearly attest.
Street language is part of urban youth culture globally, but the borders are clear to users, and it should not affect their mastery of conventional languages.

In fact, the compliments they may get for developing sheng is lost in other aspects of their endeavours. It is most pronounced in music where the outright copying of American hip-hop has diverted attention from what ought to be their real inspiration. This was best portrayed during the Kisima Awards which has become the vehicle for this non-culture. Amazingly, it had the blessing of then Culture Minister Najib Balala who appeared unable to see the anti-Kenyanness that Kisima represents in its selection of nominees and even categorisation.

Certainly, the likes of Nameless, Necessary Noize and others have star quality, but for people who wish to take their music career seriously, the road has been greatly narrowed by this Americanness. Of course some will argue that local rappers are using more Kiswahili, but language has little impact unless applied in nuances that are Kenyan-specific.
Currently, local hip hop is greatly influenced by US rapper 50 Cents, complete with his hedonistic dance-hall chants that are criticised as meaningless even by African-Americans.

On this score, Tanzanians have fared better in that their Kiswahili rap is free of the American English-style intonation so prevalent in Kenya's hip hop scene. One can say the same for southern Africa's Kwaito. Even Europe has had its examples where street music has been made country-specific, using music and symbolisms unique to the specific countries.
But rather than learn from what has become a global formula Kenya's youth who have been submerged by bad American influence, tend to become defensive, claiming that there is no such thing as Kenyan culture, and that what they have embraced is the global culture.

But not to be too harsh on the youth, they are probably the victims of media hype than perpetrators of a pervasive culture. The blame is really on those charged with policy on cultural matters. A good example was noted in South Africa just before Nelson Mandela took over the presidency. During one forum, a group of South African blacks representing various age classifications were put on an Oprah Winfrey style show. The age ranged from 13-17 years, and those over 25. As expected, the youngest cited heroes from America – Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Tupac Shakur, while the 17-year-olds preferred Brenda Fassi, while those over 25 cited Miriam Makeba as their music icon and Mandela himself as their social hero.

At the end of the quiz, the host drew several observations – that young urban South Africans had no time for their country's music and more so that they spoke in distinctively African-American accents. By contrast, the over 25s enjoyed a bit of the two worlds, but remarkably laced their English with accents from their different mother tongues. The host then went on to outline cultural challenges facing the nation, saying that it had to reverse the trend in favour of South African cultural expression by listening to their own music and had no problem speaking English with tribal influences.

The cultural awareness has largely helped to create a boom in South Africa's art scene, and even the young realise that there is something of value in South African culture. But Kenya is going the opposite direction and appears to be sinking deeper into the quagmire that is American culture. Youth culture no longer defines who they are but rather the negative influences.
For a while, they drew attention by pretending to be rich, wearing fake jewellery and talking big, but now they are finally conceding that they do not make all that much money from their music.

Gradually, the pretension is ending, and one hopes that they will eventually come down to earth and realise that being a pale copy of the quintessential American is no big deal, and that being a real Kenyan will eventually pay.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

sounds of silence

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Strength of a woman
By Wayua Muli

By raping her, Njeeri’s attacker robbed her of everything. But she lived to tell of her ordeal, and In the time that Njeeri wa Ngugi has narrated her rape ordeal to me, she has not broken down. Not even when she describes how her attacker forced himself into her mouth and then her anal opening.

But when she starts to talk about their second meeting – at a police identification parade where she had gone to pick him out earlier in the day — the cracks in her armour of strength start to show.heal

"I don’t know how they do things here, but they put you in a room and they line up the suspects," she says. "You are in this little room with all of these men, and you have to reach out and touch the person that you … you have to touch them.

"When I entered the room, the first person I identified was the man I had begged (to save my life). I had given him all I had — money, jewellery, everything (her voice breaks). I gave him everything, from the bottom of my heart, and he could have stopped what happened next. And if you know Ngugi, you know that we don’t carry a lot of money… but we gave him everything…"

Then she turned, and saw her attacker.

"Um, then I saw the man who …," she sighs. "I had a lot of anger when I saw him. A lot of anger (pause). I have never known anger like that. It was almost … forgive the use of this word, but it was … hate." Her eyes narrow as she resolutely decides that yes, there is a member of the human race that she hates. "I gave them everything and it could have ended there. And he was standing there, in front of me. And I had to touch him." "If you could have told him what you wanted to say at that time, what would you have said?" I prompt.

"I don’t know," she whispers. "I guess — I’d ask … ‘Who raised you?’" Her voice is nearly gone now, and she is speaking to herself. "Who raised you?"

Robbed of everything

She reverts to her narrative, at the point when their attackers struck. "My first thought was to cooperate with them," Njeeri says of the fateful night when she and her husband were attacked at their Norfolk Towers apartment. Four men, one of them armed with a gun, had just forced their way into the apartment as they were seeing their relative Chege Kiragu off.
"If you give them what they want, they will leave you alone, and you will survive," she thought. It seemed that all they wanted was money. And so she gave all they had – including their jewellery, laptop and mobile phone.

"When they didn’t go, that scared me," she says. Suddenly, Njeeri was forced into the kitchen, and Ngugi into the living room. "I didn’t know what they were doing to him in there. All I knew is what was happening to me." The armed man, who had pushed her into the kitchen didn’t even bother to unzip his trousers. "He just lifted himself out of the top of his belt."
Then he did the abominable, forcing himself into her mouth, and eventually sodomising her. "It was not negotiable," she says. At that terrible moment, she wondered where African society was going. "I kept wondering if (sodomy) is something that people do here. Have we come to this level?"

She screamed, and that was when Ngugi was catapulted into action. "I always thought I was the stronger one, but he ended up being the one who saved us, because he knew that salvation lay beyond the front door, and he was willing to risk his life to find it."

Barrel of a gun

By her account, Ngugi rushed towards the kitchen, dragging all three of his attackers with him. Njeeri’s attacker then turned and pointed his gun at Ngugi, to silence him.
Njeeri’s first impulse was to stop him killing her husband, so she held on to the barrel of the gun, pointing it away from her husband.
"I started pleading with them, saying ‘Please, he won’t speak again, he won’t be loud, just let us go back inside and we can talk."

The robbers let Njeeri walk back into the kitchen, and then Ngugi. They then turned around and forced the door shut, locking the robbers out. "Ngugi and I were pushing the door, and the barrel of the gun was half in and half out of the room. I suddenly remembered that Kiragu was on the other side, so I started shouting, ‘Kiragu! Take the gun!"
It struck them that the force with which the door was being pushed felt like it was just one person rather than four men pushing back. And there were no footfalls indicating that the others had left.

It is not clear what happened after that, but as it turns out, they escaped, and left Njeeri and Ngugi to seek help.

Sounds of silence

Njeeri screamed out loud that they had been attacked, but all she got was silence. She went round the back, because she remembered seeing a guard walking a dog in the grounds there, but she still didn’t get any help. Then she remembered that she could use Ngugi’s name to get quicker help. "I shouted that Professor Thiong’o had been attacked, and finally a young lady called Mwende answered."

It was Mwende who called the police, and Mwende whom Njeeri turned to for comfort. "She was the only woman around and she went with us to the hospital, but I haven’t seen her since. She just told me her name, and she gave me her slippers. I was hanging on to her, and she seemed like the one who saved me and I didn’t want to let her go."

One of the questions Njeeri has had to deal with since then is why she made the decision to go public. She has said that speaking about it is good therapy.
But that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t go through internal pain. For example, there is the question of HIV infection. "I have to take — I call it Aids medicine," she says, referring to the post-exposure prophylactic that was prescribed for her. "I resent that. I have lived a fairly good life. I have protected myself against HIV. I didn’t have to worry about it. And now I do. Now, I have to keep getting tested, and I will not stop until I am sure that I (am not infected). Those men may have spared my life (by not killing me) only to take it all over again."

And she worries about other Kenyan women who do not have access to anti-retroviral care after rape. "I was lucky because I was taken to a good hospital. But what about the others who are not so lucky?" she poses.
She also worries about post-rape care in the country. "I kept asking the nurse if they had a rape kit, and she didn’t seem to know what I meant," she says. "In this country, you can get a pap smear done. It is important that women who have gone through this preserve the evidence until it has been examined. You never know, it may be what vindicates you later on."

A room full of men

And she worries about the way the police handle the situation. "I would have preferred that a woman interview me immediately after the rape. But there were so many policemen and there was no privacy. Yes, there was one woman, but the police were more immediately concerned with the robbery rather than the rape."
For now, Njeeri’s greatest concern is that her attacker is brought to justice. "I don’t care what the bigger picture is. I don’t care what their motive was. I just want the man who attacked me to pay for this," she says.

Her advice to other women who have gone through a similar ordeal is: "Talk about it."

"Find a support network and talk about it. You need mental health support. Don’t think that it is a sign of madness that you are going to see a psychiatrist. Talk to one. Talk to your friends. If they won’t support you, find a community, like your church. Wherever you can find someone to listen to you, please talk it out. It is the only way you can start healing — because if you hold it all in, you might just explode."

And so, for Njeeri, who is leading the way by example, it seems the healing may have already started.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Day of Conscience

Day of Conscience

The Save Darfur Coalition has identified Wednesday, August 25, 2004 as Sudan: Day of Conscience. On that day, communities across North America are urged to engage in interfaith activities to raise public awareness about the horrific situation in Darfur and to demand that the international community take immediate and decisive action to stop the killing, the rape, and the destruction of villages, and to assure that humanitarian relief reaches all those in need.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Md. Moms Say No to Coverup at Starbucks

Md. Moms Say No to Coverup at Starbucks
Women Push Chain for Policy Allowing Public Breast-Feeding in All U.S. Stores
By Rosalind S. HeldermanWashington Post Staff Writer

Monday, August 9, 2004; Page B03

Carrying infants in slings and car seats, about 30 mothers gathered at a Silver Spring Starbucks Coffee shop yesterday to nurse lattes -- and their babies.
Along with the babies' fathers, grandmothers and friends -- about 100 in all -- they came to lobby the global corporation to declare that mothers can breast-feed publicly in the chain's coffeehouses.

The event was organized by Lorig Charkoudian, a conflict resolution trainer from Silver Spring who was inspired after a store employee asked her to cover up or go into the ladies' room while nursing her 15-month-old daughter, Aline, last month.

"I don't put blankets over my daughter's head because it's uncomfortable for her. If I did, she'd scream and bother everybody," Charkoudian said. "And I think it's disgusting to ask anyone to eat in the bathroom."

In Maryland, the mothers have the law on their side: An act passed in 2003 prohibits restricting mothers from breast-feeding their children in public. A spokeswoman for Starbucks wrote in an e-mail that the company follows local laws and plans to reemphasize Maryland's ordinance to employees.

"We will instruct our Maryland store partners to inform any concerned customer that by Maryland law, mothers have the right to breast-feed in public and to suggest to the customer that they either avert their eyes or move to a different location within the store," spokeswoman Audrey Lincoff wrote.

But Charkoudian, who got a similar message when she wrote to the company, said that is not enough. She is pushing the company to adopt a nationwide policy.

To support the effort, she's launched a Web site, There, mothers can download a letter to send to Starbucks chief executive Orin C. Smith on behalf of their babies. "Sometimes [my mother] goes to Starbucks. When she does, I don't want to have to starve," the letter reads in part.

Focusing on the company is a smart move because so many young mothers frequent the stores, said Elizabeth Zifcak, 33, of Kensington, who attended yesterday's "nurse-in" with her two children. Like many at the event, Zifcak said she heard about the protest from a parents' e-mail group.

"If you look at the clientele during business hours, you'll find a lot of young mothers with children who come to congregate and talk," she said. "If they want to continue to attract this clientele, they need to change their policies."

State laws on the issue vary. Some states have none, some mention it only in exempting nursing mothers from jury duty, others say where breast-feeding must be allowed.
In Virginia, mothers can nurse in all public buildings, and breast-feeding is specifically exempted from the commonwealth's indecent exposure law. Private establishments, however, are not required to allow it.

Lincoff wrote that Starbucks does not have a national policy and that she would not speculate about whether that might change.
At the Starbucks on Cherry Hill Road yesterday, older children sprawled on the sidewalk playing with dolls and building blocks, while the moms held up signs advertising their cause -- "Lactate with a Latte" read one -- and swapped stories. One woman recalled being asked to move to a fitting room while nursing at a nearby Target store, prompting a chorus of dismayed comments from the others.

"Let's go there next!" said Dawn Davenport-Coven, a District mother who said she feels so strongly about teaching her daughters the importance of breast-feeding that she said she not-so-accidentally "loses" baby bottles that come with dolls she gives her 3-year-old.
Other customers who drifted into the Starbucks took the group's fliers on the benefits of breast-feeding. Only a few offered the nursing mothers sidelong glances as they made their way to the counter.

At the coffee bar inside, Kalen Johnson, 19, who described himself as a regular at the store, said Charkoudian's demonstration was an "overreaction" to the employee's reasonable request.
"In a place where I'm eating or drinking, that's the last thing I want to see," he said.
But the mothers maintain that breast-feeding is only natural.
"When women breast-feed, you see less breast than you do in the average Coors Light ad," Charkoudian said. "The breast is doing what it's designed to do."

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

jesus wept.
john 11.35