Honestly, I thought it was a bad joke, so I tore up the letter and pretended that nothing had happened.
Over ten years ago, when I was a graduate student, I received a small beautiful card in the post, and in it was a handwritten note from one of the faculty in the department where I was. In the note, he said that he loved me, that he couldn’t stop dreaming about me and he wanted to make love with me. So could we go on a date?
Honestly, I thought it was a bad joke, so I tore up the letter and pretended that nothing had happened.
Yesterday evening, I was in a meeting with students discussing their research topics. Each of them wants to study different conflicts in the Kenyan professional and political landscape. Until yesterday, we had been able to avoid talking about politicians and expressing any kind of anger towards them.
Any Kenyan who works in a multi-ethnic space like Nairobi can figure out why every day, one has to play this dance of pretending not to have a political opinion. Kenyan Mpigs have successfully poisoned the environment, so that it has become difficult to talk about the incompetence of the president without the conversation degenerating into ethnic mudslinging.
for Daystar University Chapel
April 7, 2014
Today, we are a region in mourning.
Just three days ago, we lost one hundred and forty-seven of our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, relatives, friends, acquaintances, fellow citizens, in a horrifying attack in Garissa University College.
And today, our East African Community sister country Rwanda commemorates the 21st anniversary of the beginning of the genocide of 1994, a horror that also washed over their country and claimed over 1 million lives in about 100 days.
Both these great losses occurred during the Easter season, when we remember the greatest sacrifice of all; that of our Lord who was innocent, but tortured, mocked, flogged and crucified by our sin.
Even in our grief, we are triumphant, because we know the Resurrection. We know that even as Jesus was whipped by the soldiers, mocked by the crowds, crucified on the cross and taunted by the thieves on Friday, Sunday was coming when the stone would be rolled away and the Lord would appear in the flesh.
However, it is still too soon, and the pain is still too fresh, for us to celebrate the Resurrection when Kenyan families still haven’t identified, let alone buried the victims of the Garissa tragedy. We do know, though, that our sister country Rwanda has emerged from the ashes of 1994 to build a new nation. But even in Rwanda, everything isn’t perfect. Some pain never heals, and like our Lord’s pierced hands and side, the scars will always remain. However, the power of the Resurrection is what keeps us believing two thousand years later. It is the same power that can propel Rwanda to greater heights, and that can help Kenya win the war over terror.
All the same, it’s important for us to remember that there’s no Resurrection without the story of great love, and later great trauma, of the people who loved the individuals who were so cruelly taken from the world. And today, I’d like us to reflect on one such story.
The story of Mary.
From the very beginning, Mary the mother of Christ knew her son was special. His birth was announced by an angel. He was conceived by immaculate conception. When he was born, expensive gifts were brought by the three wise men. Shepherds came to see him, angels sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2: 14). Mary and her husband Joseph took the baby to the temple, where the prophet Simon, and Anna, the daughter of Penuel, celebrated this child who would bring redemption to Jerusalem. Simon prayed “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2: 25-40).
But not everyone celebrated. King Herod, fearing a threat to his power, panicked about the birth of Jesus, and had all the Hebrew baby boys slaughtered.
So whether it was from the celebration or the Herod’s reaction, Mary knew that the child she was raising was no ordinary child. She probably knew that the hopes and lives of people would forever be changed because of her son.
But thirty three years later, Christ’s calling to redeem mankind would be like a spear through her heart. It’s not that Mary didn’t know. When she and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the temple, the prophet Simon had warned them: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
But even then, I doubt that any warning could prepare Mary for the horror of seeing her son in excruciating pain, hanging on a cross, all because he had loved the rejected, fed the hungry, healed the sick and taught the people.
And that is the story that we’re witnessing 147 times today in Kenya, and that we witnessed a million times in Rwanda in 1994. In Kenya, parents took their children to school because they knew that their children were not ordinary. They had hope that these young people who were training to be teachers and other professionals, would touch the lives of thousands more. Although some knew the risk of taking their children to a school so close to the border with Somalia, and even tried to get their children transferred to another campus, they still sent their children to university because the hope for their children’s future was so much stronger than the fear of the present. Like Mary, they knew.
But three days ago, a sword pierced their soul.
We must thank these parents for their step of faith, and pray earnestly that God may comfort them. Because no parent deserves to go through that kind of horror.
Similarly, in Rwanda 21 years ago, a sword pierced the soul of many families whose children, parents, friends, lovers, were wiped out, and with them, hopes and dreams for the next generation. Again, nothing could have prepared them for the heartbreak of seeing neighbors, and sometimes even relatives, turn on them upon incitement by the government.
But the excruciating and cruel manner in which innocent lives are taken away by people for whom politics is more important than humanity – be it Herod ordering the slaughter of baby boys, the Roman soldiers crucifying Christ, the Interahamwe slaughtering Tutsis or Al-Shabab killing in the name of Somali Islamic nationalism – is not the end of the story. There is Resurrection. The sorrow of Mary Magdalene, who was with Jesus’s mother at the cross, would soon be replaced with the joy of seeing the risen Lord, whose resurrection was announced with the question “why are you looking for the living among the dead?”
So we too, with our tears, must also see our fallen children, our fallen brothers and sisters, as rising from the tomb. We must tell the world that 147 people’s lives are snuffed out, but they are alive!
They are alive because we remember them by naming them. We can name Isaac Pop Bushen, Branton Wakhungu, Aban Kumba Daniel, Peter Masinde, Selpher Solo Wanda, Erick Ondari Nyabuto, Doreen Gakii, Adley Mose, Ruth Esiromo, Solomon Oludo, Mary Muchiri, Lydia Obondi, Tonie Wangu, Joy Chepkorir, Gideon Bryson Mwakleghwa, Priscilla Kathure Akwalu and others.
But we can also remember them by honoring the dreams which they and their parents wanted to fulfil by sending them to Garissa University College. And this is where I call upon you, Daystar students, to take your studies more seriously. We teachers are unhappy to see parents pay fees for their children, and the children skip class, crashing their parents’ dreams, while confusing many other students who are struggling to raise fees to finish the semester. Remember that for each one of you, when you were born, the universe lit up and celebrated this great life that has joined the world. Each parent, each teacher, each preacher who has spoken into your lives saw potential in you and invested their dreams in you. When you were born, God smiled and said – did you know that my son or my daughter will bring healing to the sick, knowledge to the illiterate, hope to the nation?
Do not let yourselves, your sponsors, your country down. Embrace the power of the Resurrection and remember the hopes invested in you, the youth of Kenya, hopes that Al Shabab tried to wipe out three days ago.
In dedication to the grieving parents and families of our heroes who fell in Garissa, I would like to play this song “Mary did you know?” by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene. It is normally played as a Christmas song, but I think it points out what Mary might have been remembering as she watched her son die such a painful death
I dedicate this song is to the parents of Kenya. To the parents of the 147 students who were brutally massacred in Garissa. They knew that their children would one day rule the nations, but Al-Shabab had evil ideas in mind. But those Garissa university students can rule through you, students of Daystar. Do not let your fallen heroes down. You must fulfil your parents’, teachers’, communities’ dreams, prayers and hopes which they see live eternally through you. Do not let a sword pierce their souls by neglecting to do what God has called you to do at Daystar. AMEN.
It was heartbreaking to hear people celebrating the withdrawal of charges against Kenya’s president for crimes against humanity at the ICC. The irony of their joy is simply mind-boggling. The people who are rejoicing are the same ones who are victims of extra-judicial killings. So even the luxury of having a government stall on providing evidence, or of affording Queen’s Counsel to defend them in court, or having parliamentarians escort them to court, doesn’t count, because many of them are tried and executed before they even get to court. For those who are lucky to be alive, they get hit with ridiculous sentences, like the three men in Thika who were convicted of robbery with violence and sentenced to hang for stealing pineapples worth Ksh 2,400 (about USD 27), pineapples which Del Monte recovered anyway.
But the irony gets worse. These are the same people who suffered many losses in 2007 when politicians became tribal warlords and negotiated sharing power using the lives of their citizens. It doesn’t seem to bother them that over 1,300 people died, 500,000 others were displaced, thousands of women raped, and no one has been called to account.
How do we reconcile that irony in our minds?
So next month, Mavuno church is doing a series on manhood with the insightful Pastor Mbevi. After the disaster that was the "Future of men" panel at Storymoja festival, I'm nervous about this one.
You see, just like at Storymoja, women will probably be more in the congregation. Most of us will be sitting there, wanting to hear why our men are not like what Pastor Mbevi will be talking about, while others of us will be praying to get a man at all, or to raise a man like that. It's a terrible space to be in as a woman, and probably that's why the Storymoja session degenerated into a shouting match.
My feeling is that men should have this discussion among themselves, without us women there. We all know that men don't talk - really talk - with each other when they're together. They show off about how virile they are, but never talk about the cost, which is usually stealing from the public, breaking their wives' hearts while exploiting other women, and basically leaving a trail of pain in the lives of the women and children who love them. Or if the men are Christians, they'll just praise the Lord and say everything's ok. No struggles, no real issues, no accountability, no soul.
Perhaps one of the most tragic things about academic study and publishing in Kenya is our underestimation of how important they are to our nation’s and continent’s historical consciousness and psyche. Most of the time you hear Kenyans talk about academic work, they see it in terms of degrees and access to jobs, or they dismiss academic work as largely irrelevant, or as too “theoretical” for practical use. Even university administrations treat research and publishing as outside the core “business” of education.
Yet, our limited scholarly output ends up costing the continent, both in terms of cultural baggage, and also in shillings and cents. And lives.
The best example that I always quote, is that of Rwanda. When the genocide against the Tutsi broke out in 1994, the world had literally no template from which to understand what was going on. There had been very little publication on the country, and the most authoritative documents were the anthropological pieces that provided the very historical framework on which the genocide was based, together some quaint writings by travelers and journalists. There’s an interesting book by Adam Lebor, Complicity with evil: The United Nations in the age of genocide, in which he reveals that some of the decisions by the UN to abandon countries in crisis are largely caused by the shallow intellectual engagement on the countries affected.
I have been diagnosed with a deadly disease once in my life. It was breast cancer. Even though my body seems to have been cleared of it now, I’ve been told that I had an aggressive strain that is known to return in more patients than others. So I kind of have a clue about what it means to look at death in the face. On the other hand, when I read the sad story of the panic, riots and misinformation that have plagued particularly Liberia and Sierra Leone following the Ebola outbreak, I know that mine is a totally different experience.
Ever since I was told that I needed to be tested for cancer, and as I waited for biopsy results, I thought through what confirmation of having the disease would mean. Two major questions were on my mind:
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