It was a great safari

Narrator: Hadithi hadithi

Audience: Hadithi njoo

Narrator: Paukwa

Audience: Pakawa

Narrator: Maziwa

Audience: Ya watoto wa nyayo

Narrator: Kiboko

Audience: ya watoto wakorofi

Hapo zamani za kale, paliishi…. no, but I get ahead of myself.

I want to tell you a story of my recent safari to Puntland, Federal Republic of Somalia. And as good stories go, they must have a beginning. What I am not promising you is to be a good story teller, I am a good listener, not talker and definitely not a writer. If it were that it was writing that was standing between me and my killer, they stand a chance of winning, but that’s a story of another day.

The story begins at JKIA (code for Jomo Kenyatta International Airport- I think they should rename it to something friendly like Mak Airport). Where else would it start. It is possible that two cultures can exist side by side without affecting the other. And I think this is true for some of the airlines that fly to Somali because how do you explain paying for two seats, arriving early at the check in counters only to be told, no my friends (in Trevor Noah accent) there is no seat for one of you. And they are not joking. Our story ends here šŸ˜¦

Since I am telling you a story about Puntland, you must have already surmised that we traveled without a hitch.

Our layover at Mogadishu was short and uneventful. Those of us who were proceeding to Garowe were checked in to our connecting flight while standing in the hot sun in the air side of the airport. Landing at Garowe is almost a culture shock of sorts. The runway is murram, though the landing is quite smooth. Their passenger terminal, if we can call it that is as good as non existent. The immigration desk, well, the little said about it the better and safer too, because you see, I must return to this beautiful country, maybe even settle.

I want to believe there was a welcoming troupe at the airport assembled just for me. No, they didn’t talk to me. Didn’t even notice me. I think we had traveled with a famous person who was to be received with pomp and flair. When this story is retold, it must be emphasized they were at the airport to meet me.

Garowe is a beautiful town. I think Nairobi could learn a few tips from them. Government offices are conveniently located out of the CBD but walking or taxi distance, well it still a small town, but there is a thought there. It is quiet, peaceful and would do with a breeze especially during the afternoons. But it is also a strange place. Yours truly went to a bank, a bank my people, to get dollars and the lady who I found there looked at me as you would an alien and said something to the effect they don’t trade forex. I am hoping, to her advantage, that she didn’t understand me.

If there is a diabetes capital of the world, it must be Puntland and the greater Somalia. My request for white tea no sugar was always met with very astonished looks. And whenever I was so unlucky to find myself in places where such luxuries were unavailable, they served you sugar that had some tea. The camel meat was however great and the fish at Eyl was delicious. It’s a paradox that they take so little salt believing, I think, that salt is not good. If they could, they would add sugar to the meat.

It is driving through Puntland, in Mudug and Nugaal districts that was the greatest joy. In the open grassland, almost desert like, every tree or shrub that was tall enough stood majestically as if marking and watching over its territory. One felt someone had planted them at those regular intervals to mark their place. They almost demanded your respect. At the same time, it felt like it was a flat earther’s paradise. Everywhere, well, almost everywhere you looked around you was flat. There were a few interruptions though. A small hill here and another there but perhaps the majestic cover of the blue cloudless sky that delineated our existential space.

I talk of driving in Puntland and your imagination drives you, I know, I can see it to think of road, long and winding tarmac. We would have give quite a lot even to have murram road. Our drivers, oh goodness, they were good, drove mostly by instinct. It felt like hunting squirrel and following their trail. That we didn’t get lost severally is still a wonder to me. On one of the days, darkness caught up with us or we caught up with it. One can’t be too sure of these things. And so, just like sea men hoping to see a lighthouse, we- this might just mean me- looked forward to any lights emanating from a small town as a sign that we were not totally lost.

We were in Garacad, a former pirates town or port. Or so our host said. It is a paradox that the people in the town abandoned hotels they suspect were built with proceeds from piracy because that’s haram.

We were in Galcayo where I think we were the only people without guns. Everyone seemed to have one. Maybe that’s how they know how to feel safe. I thought of getting one for myself but didn’t complete the thought. You see I am a pacifist and I don’t hunt. My only motivation to have a gun would be to take a life. I don’t think I am ready for that yet. I would reconsider if I met any one of our thieving political class and their tenderprenuer relathieves. About that, another day.

I said we didn’t get lost. I lied it. We did, it was only once and it was for the best I think. Maybe I am even glad we did get lost. We had driven almost the whole day. We were to go to Tawfiq a district that from all I gathered, is working on breaking off from Puntland and they said it wasn’t quite safe. We joked about it. We said maybe Al Shabaab lived there. But it was all jokes, you see and that is why I am happy we didn’t go. But that is where happiness ended or maybe it didn’t.

It has been raining in Puntland last several weeks or months, I can’t tell. And so with the nature of the roads, one is bound once in a while to find themselves in the thick of it. It happened to us too. It was under a quiet, dark, moonlight sky that our lead vehicle got stuck in mud. It was also ten pm. It was a silent night. I am not sure it was holy. But here we were, enveloped in darkness in the middle of nowhere. We tried to get the car unstuck for a while and when it continued to sink in the soft ground, that project was abandoned. We were going to sleep in the middle of nowhere. We were 8 of us. We had 2 cars. To say we didn’t sleep peacefully would be an understatement. Some slept outside the cars and some slept in the cars but we all slept. And when we woke up, all of us seemed to have been well rested. It was better than some of the places we had slept in.

And finally we went to Eyl, a paradise in the midst of ruins, two beautiful villages tucked in between mountain ranges or should I call them hills and valleys. I missed my bicycle. I would have loved to cycle in Eyl. The roads meander and turn sharply. The slopes stand there daring you to go to them.

Our politicians in Nairobi are a ridiculous lot. Most times when they head to the toilet, the path must be cleared of mortals and VVIP toilet installed somewhere. I think they shit gold. The president for Puntland state was meeting some dignitaries, I suppose, at the restaurant hotel where we stayed and between us and him was a short hedge. For all intents and purposes, we were oblivious to his presence. I want such a life as a public representative.

When one has lived in Nairobi following the juala ban, one becomes almost nostalgic at the site of juala everywhere and the convenience it brings. And for a long moment as I packed my small baggage I thought about carrying juala if only to piss off the migration officials in Nairobi. Maybe next time I will act on it. Our lives have been ruined without juala.

They said to understand the value of a minute talk to an athlete. What they didn’t say is to lose any attachment to time and live every moment as it comes, visit Somalia, a land where time stops.

In Kenya we really were totally colonized. Each of us, and yours truly, for shame, compete in how well we can speak in English. Mara grammar mara lexicon mara punctuation. One comes to Somalia and they are proudly Somali. Either learn Somali or talk to the birds. I want to believe the Somalis have been unfairly treated among us but they should be an inspiration to us. That while we acknowledge the brutal years of the colonizer, we can maintain our languages and what remains of our cultures. Whoever wants to do business with us should learn our vernacular or ship out.

In all, it was an interesting trip. I decided that you will read this and look at the photos and match up the stories.

See you when I am back in Nairobi or at any rate, I could be back already.

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Gertrude

Is a book all of you should read just to be entertained, to be moved to tears or just to pass time.

But I don’t know whether Hesse could have just title it Muoth. What does it matter what the title of a book is anyway. It is a lovely book about love, life, betrayal, death, music, passion, family, youth and old age. It is also beautifully told.

In a conversation between our narrator (Kuhn) and his friend Muoth, on wisdom, the latter says

ā€œAs far as I am concerned, I donā€™t care for accuracy. I believe that wisdom comes to naught. There are only two laws of wisdom. Everything between them is mere babble.ā€

and when asked to explain his meaning, he says

Well, either the world is wicked and worthless, as the Buddhists and Christians say. Then one must chastise oneself and renounce everything. One could become quite happy in this belief, I think. Ascetics do not have as hard a life as is believed. But if the world and life is good and right, then one must take his part in itā€”and afterwards, die quietly, for then he is ready.

and when asked by his friend which he chose, his responseĀ  was

That is a question you must never ask anyone. Most people believe both, depending on what the weather is, and how they feel, and whether they have money in their pockets. And those who believe, do not always act accordingly. It is that way with me. I believe even as Buddha, that life is worth nothing. But I live according to my senses, and as if pleasing them were the primary thing. If it were only more satisfying!

My friends, I don’t know about you, but I find this quite sublime.

I implore you to get yourself a copy and be reading. You will thank me for it.

African Religion and Philosophy

by Canon John Mbiti

This is a good introductory book to students on African religion. It is short on philosophy though. In any case, the only time he talks about anything close to philosophy is when he talks about African time and the concept of evil, justice and ethics, on this, shortly.

It seems to me however, that at some point his ideas of god, African gods, is coloured by his christian beliefs. It is Christianity that has an abstract or unnamed god. The Egyptians named their gods and one would expect, at least, named gods if the idea of god was not an abstract thing among traditional societies in Africa.

There seems to be a thin line between secular and religious authority. In fact, this distinction doesn’t even come into play. There is no sphere of life, per Mbiti, that is not religious or doesn’t involve religious feeling.

I am not sure I agree with Mbiti that there was no irreligiousness in African traditional societies. This, in my view is erroneous and should be worthy of study. In every age there have always been people skeptical of the traditions, including the religious ideas active in their times. So of interest to me is how skepticism was articulated.

His comments on evil, ethics and justice I found to be quite interesting and it is to that we now turn.

He writes for example about the Ankore who do not feel they can offend god because god is the final principle or among the Azande, Akan and so on who believe god has no influence on people’s morals.

Among the Bavenda, they believe in a god who punishes the community for the infractions of the chief.

Among the Nuer, he tells us, there is a belief that to be proud of one’s wealth may offend god causing them to take away cattle and children.

What I find deeply disturbing is the belief among some communities that never or rarely does a person or being of higher status do what constitutes an offence against a person of lower status. It is this belief or principle that supports the argument that god cannot commit evil against his creation.

The belief on restitution is however quite interesting. African life is earthbound, very much so. Mbiti tells us that according to most African peoples, god punishes in this life. The gods are concerned with the moral life of mankind and that with a few exceptions, there is no belief that a person is punished in the hereafter for what they do in this life.

I am not sure of the source of his next point concerning the Africans view of humanity in totality. He says to most peoples, no person is inherently good or bad but acts in ways which are good when they act in conformity with the mores of the community and bad if contrary. So for example, in a society that does not forbid sleeping with another’s wife, to do so is not bad unless there is a breach, maybe sleeping with a person’s wife not in your age group or cohort.

To expand on this, he argues in African societies, morality is more ‘societary’ than spiritual. It is a morality of conduct rather than a morality of being, that is, it defines what a person does rather than what they are. That is to say, a person is what he is because of what he does rather than he does what he does because of what he is. Kindness is not a virtue unless someone is kind.

Moving away from the above considerations, I found his comments on secularism, communism and capitalism interesting, and I will quote it extensively

[]In their extreme positions, these -isms despise, reject and even oppose religion. They are movements away from religion, and it is this which makes them relevant to any discussion on religion.

Secularism has an undermining effect upon religion, but it may well be to the good of religion if the latter injects religious principles into secular life instead of waging a war against secularism.

Capitalism, he writes, is anti-religious when it exploits man to such a degree that he becomes simply a tool or robot and loses his humanity. If capitalism reduces man to the material level only, then it has contradicted the religious image of man which in all traditions, depicts man as both physical and spiritual.

And as I mentioned earlier, I am not sure of some of the views Mbiti expressed were not coloured by his Christianity. At the end of thos work he writes or rather wrote

I consider traditional religions, Islam and other religious systems to be preparatory and even essential ground in the search for the ultimate. But only Christianity has the terrible responsibility of pointing the way to that ultimate identity, foundation and source of security.

I should in passing that he saw schools as breeding or recruitment grounds for churches and was for the idea that schools should be used to indoctrinate.

Of men

Or their gods,

Strange! that you should not have suspected years ago–centuries, ages, eons, ago!–for you have existed, companionless, through all the eternities. Strange, indeed, that you should not have suspected that your universe and its contents were only dreams, visions, fiction! StrangeĀ because they are so frankly and hysterically insane–like all dreams: a God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice and invented hell–mouths mercy and invented hell–mouths Golden Rules, and forgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man’s acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused slave to worship him!.

By Mark Twain

 

on marriage, I think

Mbiti, in African Religion and Philosophy, writing about dowry, bride price or bride gift writes

This marriage gift is an important institution in African societies. It is a token of gratitude on the part of groom’s people to those of the bride, for their care of over her and allowing her to become his wife. At her home the gift ‘replaces’ her….. The gifts elevates the value attached to her both as a person and as a wife.

which if read together with

[…]In others, the bridegroom (and his relatives) must in addition contribute labour; and in matricidal societies the man lives with his parents in-law working for them for some years in order to ‘earn’ his wife.

contradicts the claim that

Under no circumstance is this custom a form of ‘payment’, as outsiders have so often mistakenly said.

And on virginity he writes

The blood of virginity is the symbol that life has been preserved, that the spring of life has not already been flowing wastefully, and that both the girl and her relatives have preserved the sanctity of human reproduction. Only marriage may shed this sacred blood, for in so doing it unlocks the door for members of the family in the loins to come forward and join both the living and the living-dead.

He adds

Virginity symbolises purity not only of body but also of moral life; and a virgin bride is the greatest glory and crown to her parents, husband and relatives.

As you weigh in below, does your culture dictate bride price? And how does it treat female virginity?

 

 

Man Vs the men or just breasts

No, I am not talking about Mencken’s letters to La Monte by the same title. I am writing about man as he is in the African setting, or rather in traditional African setting.

John Mbiti writes

Only in terms of other people does the individual become conscious of his own being, his own duties, his privileges and responsibilities towards himself and towards other people.

[…] Whatever happens to the individual, happens to the whole group, and whatever happens to the whole group happens to the individual. The individual can only say; I am because we are and since we are, therefore I am.

Elsewhere, commenting not about relationship between men and others, but on breasts and breastfeeding moms, he writes

African women, as a rule, suckle their children anywhere taking out their breastsĀ  openly and without any feeling of embarrassment or shame. Breasts are the symbols of life, and the bigger they are, the more people appreciate them; they are a sign that the woman has an amply supply of milk for the child. There is nothing naked or sexy about nursing mothers exposing their breasts to suckle their children in market places etc; those who judge such mothers as being indecent must revise their understanding of African concept of what constitutes nakedness.