Simba Mbili Curry “Poda” Is Lazima…Ama?

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When it comes to diversity my family certainly takes the cake! They married from everywhere but Mars…(Now what have I started! Some family members are now already searching the internet to see how they can marry from there!)! At home we have in-laws from everywhere in the country. We were also mostly urban raised and those who did not start out in Nairobi or Kisumu or Mombasa invariably ended up there or in even bigger metropolises like New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, London, Stockholm, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sydney,  Kingston…! That diversity means we speak a hodgepodge of different languages and when we meet as a family, the same diversity by hook up and or travel is reflected in the food we cook to share.

Just recently, my much traveled and suave (He says he is a chip of the old block…good lookin n all!…hahaha!) gourmet eating nephew posted a picture on FB of a huge helping of biryani…or was it pilau that had been served him at a restaurant in Nairobi, where he regularly goes to quell the hungry spirits of his need for a spicy and curried inoculation! He went to school in India…The capital of all things spicy and hot…and good too! The comments that followed were testament to how good it looked on the plate and the promise of a palate tingling experience. I bet they used Simba Mbili or its relative…in there somewhere…! Ha!

Today my friend Alice posted a pic of her Kenyan home-made salsa / tomato sauce and followed it up with a recipe that had me drooling already at the prospect of what I could do with that kachumbari (salsa). Visions of roasting nyams…goat, ngombe (beef) and kuku (chicken) flashed thru my mind in quick succession and the drool…oops!…got some on the keyboard noooow! Hahaha!…Kleenex!

What caught my eye in her recipe however, was the specific reference to “a teaspoon of simba mbili curry powder…”. Now that just made me stop right there and say…This recipe must be goooood! Our mum was from slopes and I tell you there was no shortage of jokes in our house, by our dad…who was a great (Luhya) cook (there! now I’ve really done the profiling thing!)…about how seriously handicapped people from the slopes are when it comes to culinary diversity and the magic of cooking! Our dad said (bless his now resting little Kenyan “tribal” heart!), that slopes people (Wahome Mutahi said it…not me!) only knew “boiro”…of meat, waru, githeri, ngwashee and ndomaa and that the most adventurous they got with adding edge to their cooking was adding salt! Hahaha! We died at the joshing each other about that! I will leave dads story on how mum cooked her first kuku for another day…It merits its own space and time!

But our mama bust that myth thoroughly! She was the greatest cook ever! Her dad…our gramps was a “chef” to a colonial musu of them days and mum learnt direct from him how to make some really tantalizing msosi…some of which we did not care to know how to pronounce or why they were named so but were happy to nosh on! That aside, her chapos, rice, ugali, matoke and ingoko (of the earth scratching and worm eating variety from Kariokor!) was to die for. She also had the murenda and tsisaga cooking from luhyaland down pat! And the one ingredient she insisted on when cooking the mchuzi or stew…was the magical Simba Mbili curry powder…and salt of course!

So now we Luseno girls grow up and the tradition continued…It was Simba Mbili or bust! Our in-laws…especially those from the coast where they lay claim to the best cookery in the whole of East Africa (Ugandans might have something to say about that!)…have such a laugh when we compile a shopping list and Simba Mbili is high on the list! “Jameni…Kwani hio Simba Mbili isipokuwepo leo hatuliii? Hahaha…”…Then they would see the glint in our eye…murderous to say the least at their being dangerously close to committing high treason by laffing at the holy sprinkle of our cooking…and the lafta would peter out! Hahaha!

So much for a little family anecdote but seriously…I don’t know what brand of curry you use…or your mum…family…But that was our thing and when I found two friends who shared that same brand, I felt so vindicated and I almost want the ICC of food, if there is one, to institute a statute to get the whole world on board.! Hahaha…All the same…Here is my friends recipe as posted on FB and used by her kind permission…and following that the convo we had about that Simba Mbili brand”

Alice: 10-12 ripe tomatoes. 2 Spanish white or red onion. Fry onion gently in canola, or Elianto oil or better extra virgin olive oil till onion is pale but not burnt. Add teaspoon of Simba Mbili curry powder, stir. Add ground fresh garlic, 4. Add a table spoon of tomato paste, an Italian brand like Vega or SA All gold or Kenya Orchards will do too. Add your chopped fresh tomatoes tomatoes. Dried mix herbs. cook covered for 15mins till soft. Stir n Mash up with a potato masher to make it smooth. Put back on fire n add two fresh ground garlic, pinch of salt n Thai sweet chilli sauce to balance the tanginess. Simmer with lid open for five more mins till reduced n thickish. Cool n fill in glass jars rinsed in warm water with a drop of apple cider vinegar to preserve. Stays in the fridge for 7 days. Use to fry any food pronto. No chopping tomatoes all the time. Enjoy. And let me know how it went.

Me: I like this recipe Alice “Barefoot”! May I use it on my blog under the “It’s whats cooking” category where I also share my own recipes with attribution of course? I particularly love the “add teaspoon of simba mbili…” We the Luseno girls were brought up on simba mbili and woe-betide you if you brought another brand when mama sent you! Our inlaws can never understand why for all family get togethers to eat food list must have simba mbili…and also esp hubby when I ask specifically for that brand when he is ready to come back after a sojourn to the old country! Hahaha! Glad to know it counts for something in the food!

LynnNjeri Osaak There is something about the simba mbili brand I am equally specific about it – trust me it makes the difference

Me: True Lyn…A quick read of the ingredients used to make the brand on the can will give you an idea why it is the best and it leaves no bad after taste in the food. I think it is specific to the south of India Madrass…the mecca of curry powder as per a cooking channel program I watched. Apparently the inlaws have no problem cleaning their plates and asking for seconds when it comes to the mlo part! Hahaha!

Lynn: How so true no after taste what so ever I am just glad to note that I am not the only one who is brand specific

I think I should end this post with Alice “Barefoot’s” quip that accompanied a pic of the lovely Simba Mbili and whose initial post actually inspired this blog post…”Simba Mbili- The one and only genuine and original curry powder and truly Kenyan, generation after generation.”

So what is your “Simba Mbili” in generations of you family cooking that is still lazima (a must add-on)?

©NjeriOsaak is a trained Journalist, Public Relations Professional and a College Speech Communication Teacher / Consultant, currently based in the United States.

Making Friends With Pork…

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Pork is soo underrated by a lot of people as an absolutely delicious meat. It certainly tastes and smells different uncooked…but so does all meat! It depends on your food socialization I guess because food does tend to be very cultural. Cooked right, it is tender and soft and has a delicious buttery taste. I tend to overeat when I make pork and so I limit myself to cooking it say twice a month…Oh heck sometimes I can’t resist and cheat…and cook it a little bit more often than that! That’s how good it is!

Meanwhile if you get to eat pork that’s not done nicely as a first experience, I guess it could spoil your relationship with pork and you may become skeptical about ever eating it again or making friends with it! Pork needs to be treated and seasoned well because it tends to have a strong smell…and again not unlike other meats like say fish!

You can make your pork adventure as simple or as complicated as you want. I like to keep it simple and after trying out so many recipes as seen on TV and found on the web, I discovered three simple ingredients that work well and are easy to find at any store…Paprika…mustard…salt! You can also determine to buy different varieties of the first two ingredients but I prefer the french poupon mustard complete with the grainy seeds in it and the Hungarian red paprika…The latter also gives the cooked pork a lovely reddish baked color! You can also choose to make it hot by adding powder chilli or garam masalla!

I recently had a conversation with a friend  on FB and she said that she has been considering  cooking pork and didn’t know why she had never done so before. She was prompted to do that after watching “The Chew”, a daytime TV show co-hosted by among others a fav chef of mine Mario Batali. I responded to her complete with my own very simple fav pork recipe thus:

“Wah!…You don’t cook pork becaaaauuuse…? Go get some chopped country style pork loin / rib pieces on bone. Wash the pieces under warm water and pat dry. Season generously all sides with grey poupon country mustard, red Hungarian paprika, salt, cover the pork in a bowl and leave in the fridge for at leas one hour.

Spray your oven cooking sheet with canola cooking spray. Turn on the oven to 450. When hour is up transfer the pork loins onto the sheet and apply a light spray of the canola cooking spray on the pork loin and put in oven. Shut oven and let cook for one hour. Turn them over and cook for another 15 min.

Remove after the time expires, wrap the pork in foil and let stand for the juices to redistribute and also render it even softer. Use the juices from the pork to make a stew using the same ingredients  used to season the pork at the beginning and you can add roiko to thicken it. Make rice or ugali with fried baby spinach kando. Serve while hot….”

I like my pork “well done”…crisp on the outside…soft on the inside and certainly the juices must not run red! Owing to risk of Trichinella, pork needs to cook through thoroughly and should not be treated like beef, salmon…that is eaten rare or even sometimes raw (French Tartare…Italian Carpaccio…Japanese Sashimi). I guess that is what was on my friends mind when she responded to my post thus:

” lol..I think i was turned off since my days from school and learning about tape worm! Although I do eat bacon and ham..so it really doesn’t make sense! Yeah there was a nice recipe on he chew today..i’ve been meaning to try it for a while now, but just haven’t gotten around to it…”

I am waiting for her feedback…And yours too should you feel adventurous to try making friends with pork too!

©njeriOsaak is a trained Journalist, Public Relations Professional and a College Speech Communication Teacher / Consultant, currently based in the United States.

South Bend Indiana Has Lesson For All Immigrants

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The recent South Bend, Indiana tragedy in which a Kenyan dad offed his daughter and then was taken out by cops is sad. I am however amazed at the way people at home ooh and aaah at this story as if it were the biggest news to come out of here. The program “Snapped” should start airing in Kenya so that Kenyans get an idea of why a story like that is not earthshaking in America. I even like that some are weighing in on who is to blame after reading a newspaper account. Others are worse…their CSI begins and ends with FB and twitter.

Truth be told, this is a pedestrian affair and is only made sadder by the fact that they are both so far away from home and also on account of the young life that was caught and taken  in the crossfire. Reading the local Kenyan papers, I am appalled at how people are calling the mother of this child names and then generalizing it to all Kenyan women in the US saying that all of them eventually leave their husbands because of the power of the dollar. Well you could have fooled me because I thought it was the dollar that drew both of them to the US in the first place. Their probas seem to have coalesced around money but ask any marriage counselor or pastor and they will confirm that money is always at the root of failed marriages. Everything else…cheating, diminished love etc. is a symptom!

I sympathize with the parents of the man and in their grief and mourning they are looking to understand what happened. They have suggested that there was a sociological family trigger, other than the police trigger that killed the man. And from their interview with the media it is obvious they think that their son would never do what he did, stab his daughter to death, and if indeed he did then his girlfriend and mother to their granddaughter had an ominous hand in it. They are in denial and she offers the obvious scapegoat. People need to lash out when something like this happens and so that does not come as a surprise. The mother is very angry and spends time on end gazing at the fresh mound of the grave in disbelief. They now want serikali,  throuh the office of  H.E Amb. Amina Mohammed Foreign Affairs, to intervene and ask American police why they did not just arrest him and deport him, in the words of the mother.

South Bend is a small town in the American Mid-West with a population of about 100,000 and an unemployment rate of 11.4%. It can be classified as small-time America located in the rust and Bible-Belt America. Settling here as an immigrant makes you stick out like a sore thumb and job opportunities are far and in between…and especially if you arrive with just your high school diploma or even a first degree from Africa. The jobs that will be open to you will be menial. Discrimination will be high on the bill and therefore the more reason for you to learn how to settle in and play by the rules. The other option is get a job and go to school in order to get an even better job. It does not come as a surprise that the couple went for months without a job. Now that is a myth that needs to be put to rest: Jobs in America are not hanging like ripe berries on trees for the picking!

Small time America cops do their job thoroughly and you cannot bring your home tabias there and expect to get away with it. The rules are clear. You are not allowed to drink excessively and then beat up on your wife, kids or husband. Violence is violence and the domestic type is the most despicable. Harm a child and you will go to jail…or die trying! There is no justifiable vehicular homicide and especially if the alcohol-meter says you had no business sitting behind a wheel. You break the law and take someones life, you are considered a threat to the community and they will take you out if you do not surrender. Obeisance is paramount here and and there is no defense in “I did not know”. These guys will call you “sir”…very respectful, as they cuff you and haul your butt down to the “cop-shop”! The take down is brutal but very civil unless you begin to plead your case in which case they will only listen to you once you have been processed at the station.

My point here is that while we all sympathize with the family, this is not an issue that is high on the SBPD’s to do list. It will be explained by the circumstances which in this case amount to the gentleman being considered rogue having had issues with the law known as priors. He is reported to have had a problem with alcohol, which most Kenyan men, and sometimes women too, do not seem to realize that they cannot continue to imbibe in the same copious amounts and attempt to drive, like they did at home. Hakuna “kitu kidogo”! It is sad that the other story coming out of Seattle involving the drowning of a young Kenyan boy is also being tagged to excessive alcohol in-take in the name of fun at the beach.

I was drawn to one comment in that standard where a Kenyan immigrant in the US (gentleman) said that when you arrive in peoples country as immigrants, it behooves you to learn the rules of the community in which you hope to settle. Life is hard and especially seeing that you do not have the regular support systems we have in our African communities, there is need for restraint and trying to make it work for the mutual benefit of the family. Life is already hard and there is no point in making it harder just because either party finds it difficult to acclimate and adapt.

When couples arrive here and I have seen it here, they are first lovey dovey and showing their best sides. Then they get jobs and now it becomes this is mine and that is yours. The law suggests that certain things should be done together if you want to avoid high costs…like filing your taxes and claiming your children . Equality becomes a reality and there is division of labor and no one is king of the hill in the house. Mutual respect must abide and the woman wearing pants as item of clothing should not be construed as usurping of powers conferred by the elders in gichagi! When this arrangement seems to not work then take the other route of seeing a counselor na ikizidi muone wakili wa talaka…Not to engage in mortal combat with kids as collateral damage!

This young family certainly did not have a chance. Some couples come here and they find their median very quickly and settle…not to say that they never have probas…but they know how to deal putting their mission at the core. Others fall apart very quickly. Like this family here. I hope the two families involved in this saga find peace and understanding that they will have purchased at a truly great cost…the tragic loss of a father and son, a daughter and grand daughter!

©njeriOsaak is a trained journalist, a Public Relations professional and a College Speech Communication teacher / Consultant, currently based in the United States.

Kenyans Doing Really Good In The Diaspora!

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A Kenyan media friend of mine Ann FB’ed that she had google-stumbled on  a Kenyan in The US that is doing very good in an industry that most find very difficult to penetrate…and especially if you are from the netherworld dubbed “Third”. She in fact said she thought he was an Italian…a Black Italian because they are there…but on reading on was pleasantly surprised to find that Edi Mue Gathegi…is a Kenyan. I will not go into how she thought he was Italian with a name like thaaat!

I myself live here and had never heard of him. And that, I discovered, is because I am not exactly a fan of TV series like House. I am impatient and cannot understand why I have to wait til next week to find out if the man died!  It took a prod from his aunt Rosemary Mulembo née Mue, an old good friend of mine and my sisters’ from Kenya National Theater Balcony halcyon days, to go watch a movie in which her nephew was “starring”. I was like “what?…Starring where?” I was even more stunned when she mentioned the title of the movie “X-Men: First Class”…and now I was convinced that we in the diaspora are sometimes crazy and like to tell stories!

I hauled myself off to Princess Theater and sighed as I settled into my seat to watch keenly in case I missed the flicker of a miro dude in a crowd scene who might resemble people from my motherland. I can live with that. And I had to tell Rosemary that I went because she would catch me later on FB (can you tell I live there?) and would ask if I had been. Lordy! Lordy! Somewhere and sometime into the movie a guy appears and Yes!…He’s cute and has the most adorable accent I ever heard…Nice! Needless to say the experience was riveting and I resisted the urge to turn around and tell the guys behind me that “Darwin is Kenyan…and I know his Aunty!”

I guess most people have missed out on who Edi is because he certainly did not grow up in theater in Kenya and is relatively unknown in Kenyan theater circles. He discovered himself and his acting inclination when he was already here in the US. Rosemary Mue sounded so proud, and as she should be, when telling me about her nephew. She startled me more when she told of how far he has come from his birthplace in Uhuru Estate to the dizzying heights of Bel Air Los Angeles and the US film industry in general. He has truly made it, one can say, judging by his resume of work and his most important roles as Laurent in the films Twilight, its sequel The Twilight Saga: New Moon and Darwin in X-Men: First Class.

Born March 10, 1979 in Eastlands, Nairobi, Kenya, Gathegi grew up in Albany, California. As an undeclared undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, he was more interested in playing basketball and was good at it, until he injured his knee; this plunged him into a depression so he took up an acting class as an “easy course”. That is where he discovered his love for acting. Afterwards, he studied at New York University’s Graduate Acting Program at the Tisch School of the Arts, graduating in 2005. Gathegi’s career began in theater,and his stage credits include Two Trains Running at the Old Globe Theater, As You Like ItTwelfth NightOthelloA Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Cyrano de Bergerac, among others.

Gathegi’s first professional role was the Haitian Cabbie in the 2006 film Crank. Though he had originally auditioned for the role of Kaylo, the producers gave the role to Efren Ramirez and instead offered Gathegi an appearance as the Haitian Cabbie. He was dubious at first about performing a Haitian accent, but was coached by a Haitian friend. In 2007, after guest-starring on Lincoln Heights and Veronica Mars, Gathegi went on to star as Bodie in Death Sentence, Darudi in The Fifth Patient and Cheese in Gone Baby Gone. He later had a recurring role as Mormon intern Dr. Jeffrey Cole on the television medical drama House, his character was often mocked for his religious beliefs by Dr. House, who himself is an Atheist.

He also guest-starred on CSI: MiamiCSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Life on Mars in 2008 before being cast as Laurent in Twilight. When Gathegi first auditioned for the 2008 film, adapted from the same-titled first book in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, he had not heard of the series and was not aware that his character was a vampire. He now has read the whole series and calls himself a hardcore fan. He also played A-Guy in Son of Magnet and he portrayed Eddie Willers in Atlas Shrugged (2011), based on Ayn Rand’s novel of the same name.

That is some really good resume that I dug up on him after watching a few of his movies. And he truly is a gifted actor taking his roles seriously and making a recognizable effort to portray his different characters accurately. He never looks the same in the different roles and that is the mark of a seasoned and marinated actor. Edi has great comportment and carries his interviews on his roles and career exceptionally well. He def has to do a good job seeing he has had to act with and against some of the big Hollywood names like Kristen Stewart (she is the poster child of the Twilight movie), Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattinson, Hugh Laurie (Dr House), Omar Epps, David Caruso (CSI: Miami)and Morgan Freeman (Gone Baby Gone). He is certainly for me an actor who is also in the league of other African greats like Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba.

He currently features on The CW’s Beauty & The Beast as Kyle, ABC’s Family Tools as Darren Poynton and ABC’s The Red Widow as Leon. In 2011 he was nominated for Featured Actor in a Play for the role of Franco Wicks in the Geffen Playhouse production of “Superior Donuts.

Edi is young and certainly has a long way to go in his chosen industry. I am amazed at how he has curved a niche for himself and grown his art and standing in this industry quietly without the attendant maua or kelele that some of us make when we get a walk on role or appear in the local daily caught in a crowd scene. He has humility and those who have met him speak of how he is so easy to get along with and talk to.

He is certainly a guy to watch out for and a sign to other upcoming actors that it can be done if taken seriously. He also signals that one needs to take their craft seriously enough to also get some book knowledge behind it. He epitomizes Kenyans doing really  good in the Diaspora.

©NjeriOsaak is a trained journalist, a Public Relations Professional and a College Speech Communication Teacher / Consultant, currently based in the United States.

Why POTUS Will Come To Kenya.

Obama is not coming to Kenya and Kenyans are sulking. How? How can he not know that we should be top of the list…and that that should not have even been a subject of debate seeing that we are his relatives…brothers, sisters and cousins…albeit sometimes twice…thrice removed. But we are “blood” and after all…si nyumbani ni nyumbani! He can’t even listen to the tug of his shosho’s  umbilical calling?

So the discussion at the State department, as they met to plan the trip, should really have focused on whether he should also go to TZ and SA and all those other countries that naturally fall in behind Kenya…All things nice, about us considered.

My modest research tells me that the United States and Kenya have enjoyed cordial relations since Kenya’s independence. Relations became even closer after Kenya’s democratic transition of 2002 and subsequent improvements in human rights.

After Kenya’s independence on 12 December 1963, the United States immediately recognized the new nation and moved to establish diplomatic relations. The embassy in Nairobi was established 12 December 1963—Kenya’s Independence Day…Right on the same day. They celebrated our birthday with that! Very profound I must say!

Then again, more than 9,000 U.S. citizens are registered with the U.S. Embassy as residents of Kenya. In 2006 a record 86,528 Americans visited Kenya, up 17.6% from 2005. U.S. business investment is estimated to be more than $285 million, primarily in commerce, light manufacturing, and the tourism industry.

So really…How can Obama skip over us like that? We are also blood yawa! And I keep on coming back there because that is how it feels if your rela arrives in your part of the world to visit and then heads back out without visiting you…not even a phone call. Worse still…the rela visits a neighbor who you have never really had much in common with and that you don’t like very much…and then sends a message ati you pokea ,salaams from them akiwa safarini kuelekea!

It doesn’t matter that they have been MPesaing you with aid here and there. This rela, and especially if they came visiting from majuu, should know that you needed to spend some much previously touted floss time with them. So now, what will you tell the neighbors and others? Anything you say to them can and will be construed to be sour grapes!

And Kenyans did offer a lot of sour grapes on Facebook and twitter…Ati even its better that Obama is not coming because of the traffic jam that would have caused them to be late for work. Now I know a lot of who Kenyans do not have a strong work ethic and being late has never really been a bone of contention…more a good and plausible excuse!

Some were more realistic and closer to the truth when they talked about the gas / petrol lost while idling in the jam waiting for the plane to land, traditional welcome and signing of visitors book and then the msafara into city center of the guest and entourage. Others just shrugged it off in resignation and capitulation with a “si akae basi!…Na ata asikuje akimaliza kukuwa prezzo!

The Telegraph, in an update on the planing of the trip, carried a piece recently on how Barack and Michelle Obama have reportedly scrapped a safari during their trip to Africa, and while in TZ specifically, because of the costs of snipers needed “to neutralize cheetahs, lions and other animals if they became a threat..”! I shared that on FB and I got an earful in response from my friends! Some said it was just as well they will not visit Kenya because now the disappointment would have extended to our lions and cheetahs. Then we would be left to deal with them to calm them down.

Another said that that is just an excuse because the safari would have been during the day when the lions and cheetahs are already well fed (poor zebra and gazelles and gnus!) and are usually taking a lazy nap. The Chinese Premier paid a visit recently and he did a safari and he was okay…and he did check out the wildlife scene!

A more serious reaction involved someone suggesting that the lions and cheetahs are a metaphor for a wild and hard to understand or control local ‘tribes-people” and the snipers would be stretched to pinpoint where in the woody jungle they could be hiding and pounce from! Then there is the misplaced notion that animals just roam wild in Africa and intermittently show up in the city…Now I know why we have Zebra crossings!

What ever the reason for Obama circumventing us, we must move on because no amount of venting, short of picketing and bringing  Shosho or Dani from Kogelo to the picket line, will change that program. The Telegraph in the same story says that including this coming trip, “Mr Obama has spent less than 24 hours in sub-Saharan Africa during his time as president, when he visited Ghana in 2009…”

Kenya has never had a visit by a sitting US President and so maybe there is a good reason…and a pattern. Americans say “if it aint broke…Don’t fix it!” It aint broke with Kenya and so nothin’ needs fixin’ I guess. My sour grapes is that Obama and entourage have on their agenda to visit where it needs fixin’. We’re blood and he will come…In good time because like that song says…“Nyumbani ni nyumbani”!…Home is home!

©njeriOsaak is a trained journalist, a Public Relations professional and a College Speech Communication teacher / Consultant, currently based in the United States.

African Meets Squirrels In America!

200px-Sciurus_niger_(on_fence) Squirrels…They’re bunny-cute!…But it doesn’t mean I have to live with them!

So I had this family of squirrels (real ones!) who moved in with us…into our yard and finally made the other move into our attic for the winter! You know!…They wake up so early and generally cause such a racket up there…playing catch-me-if-you-can and cracking their nuts (real nuts please!) and then you cannot sleep in because they wake up so early to begin their day…even on a weekend! Now if they would just consult with the landlord and agree on sleeping …waking up and play time, maybe things would have been different. But Noooo! They just do what they want…and they don’t even pay rent!

I checked out the yellow pages and called an animal catcher…They who deal with pests like that…squirrels, snakes, raccoon, birds, bats, rodents…! I get a guy who came highly recommended to me by the animal catcher dept of the local municipal council. This fella arrives in a pimped up jeep, accompanied by his pretty, blond galffie and he himself dressed in shorts and bulging out of a Tee…He generally reeks ex-marine yadda yadda and after we get talking…yes! He IS ex-marine! And now I am thinking we are in business because he served in places with tougher animals and things…so whats squirrels! Rightie? Wrongie!

Inevitably and as we initially chat to get introduced, he latches onto my accent despite me making all the right noises of “How is y’all doin?…It’s kinda hat (hot!) taday!”…and he asks whether I “is from Jamaica”. I say “Naah!…I is fram Af’ica!”, I insist bado with akso and tweng to boot!…Then he dropped the bomb on me (More an IED since we are talking on the curb outside our house!)…”So how come…How you be scared of squirrels if you’se all from Af’ica???…They’s got all them big snakes over dere…and lions and things…?” I am wide-eyed now and think…”What the yonks!…This guy thinks I sleep with lions…after watching the movie “Sleeping With The Lions” I guess!

I breathe in and out…in and out…and ask him whether he thinks the snakes and lions and dem other animals is related to me and ask him whether he wants the job or not! He says he wants the job and that he specializes in snakes ‘specially…real big ones too!” and how he has been bitten so many times…”. I tell him snakes is for later and could he check it out and tell me what he’s gonna do! “Uh-Huh…well checkin it out is gonna cost you like $70 and then I’ma come back with traps and things”. I ask him how he didn’t bring the tools of his trade and things since I was clear on the problem I have and he chimes in about how the car he came in was not his work car and that he will come in the truck with the stuff after we settle the little matter of the “jus’ checkin it out” fee!

Long story short I told him that I needed to consult with my African hubby who has the check book authority. I told him in Africa hubbys are king of the hill and they must say yes…basically like in Lion King…I said! His lady was like “Wooow!…How cool! And y’all women in Africa don’t mind?”. I said we are happy about that and told her that he also bought me the brightly colored mumu I was wearing and that was billowing in the breeze on this rather warm spring day! I said to them I would call and so he gives me his cell number again and tells me I should call because they’s no telling how big the squirrels could grow up there then…who knows?..A collapsing ceiling owing to fat squirrels and …Yeah! We don’t want that happening do we now!

I watched them jump into their jeep and take off thinking…”Be gone before I set my lions that I keep in the bedroom upstairs and the gnu grazing in my backyard to kick your a… on ya!” I never called. But then I got this other excellent team of guys from Animal Removals LLC who came and were excited too to hear that we are from Africa. They did a great job and they were nice, skinny and lanky kids, dressed in green Tees that said “Animal Remover” across the chest…And who “squirreled” up the ladder, set the traps and soon the unwanted guests, lured by the mystery “goodies” they put in the traps, were history. And they sealed our roof too if just to let any other would be unwelcome tenants know that this house is closed for business!

But these guys were also cheerful and hilarious and the most they wanted to know is how to say “Hello”  in Swahili. So I said to them Hello in Swahili is….But that’s another story…

©njeriOsaak is a trained journalist, a Public Relations professional and a College Speech Communication teacher / Consultant, currently based in the United States.

Women in Politics: Kethi To Join The Fray?

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So Kethi Kilonzo has said “yes” and then no…and now maybe, to the idea of slipping into her late father’s moccasins. The journey will now begins for this soon to be lady politician. Kethi’s rise is unique because her path into politics took a very different route than that of other political inheritors like Ngala, Mudavadi, M’Maitsi, Juma Boy, Khaniri and a host of others. She is, first and foremost, the first female to inherit a political seat (and she will win if precedence on post incumbent dad’s death, poli-inheritance is anything to go by), all the others coming before her having been men.

The similarities with her male counterparts ends at that point. Kethi can actually lay claim to the title of emergent or a people evolved leader following her never before seen and people judged, classic performance, as an attorney representing AFRICOG, a social activist group, as an interested party at the historical Supreme Court 2013 election petition. Her papa was still alive and sitting right next to her in the courtroom, as she made her debut quasi-political statement and appearance. He annointed her his successor there and then. She acquired overnight super-star status and the local dailies and social media were awash with glowing epithets one of which said “Kethi for president!”Okay…that was a bit much!

But I am a tad worried for her. She has been plummeted into politics feet first amid the euphoria that surrounded the election petition. It is all so heady considering that she must have not seen that coming and is now transfixed like a deer caught in the headlamps of an oncoming car. Will she make it across the road or be struck down in the prime of her life and be consigned to the political wasteland of women who have tried so hard to be accepted as equals in politics, but have come through with titles like iron lady and little else is remembered of them?

I am concerned about the challenges that lie ahead for this young lady who is really going into this hostile territory as a political minion! What will be Kethi’s role in the Senate and how will she expect to fare as compared to those who have gone before her?

I call it hostile territory because historically, democracy has not been kind to women and has served men better than it has women. Political thinkers and philosophers of yore such as Aristotle, Plato, Hobbes…the darlings of our Basic Concepts class at the UON… thought women as being only fit for certain roles in society such as being good mothers and wives! Now who would have thought…The starters and discoverers of democracy as we know it today!

This thought has been sifted through the years and despite the strides that have been made in the increased percentage of women involved in politics today, women’s domestic role of mother and cleaner and cooker and everything else will come later, has remained deep-rooted and entrenched. It is like DNA that is hard to shake off and we remain attached to the hearth, with helix apron strings, while the patriarchy of the male ego reigns supreme.

In a 2005 paper titled Women’s Political Participation: Issues and Challenges prepared for the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) Expert Group Meeting held in Bangkok, Farzana Bari quotes Adrienne Rich to define patriarchy as “A familial-social, ideological, political system in which men by force, direct pressure or through ritual, tradition, law, and language, customs etiquette, education, and the division of labor, determine what part women shall or shall not play in which the female is everywhere subsumed under the male.” That right there is the totalitarian nature of patriarchy and so what chance have women ever had…even before they started?

Consequently, when women enter politics within this context, chances that they will have a lasting impact are mediated and watered down by the stiff opposition they will experience from their male counterparts. Clearly, this is that last bastion of male dominance and as nature will have it, men will fight tooth and nail to remain at the top of the food chain in the political jungle. Women will forever be made to feel that they are where they are…whether in the Senate or parliament…as a token from the alpha male.

Never mind that in other circumstances women have to campaign 100 times harder than the men…and in high heels, skirts and with babies on their backs too! Women have to exert themselves harder campaigning on issues and at the same time dealing with demeaning insults that are grossly below the belt.

Wangari Maathai offers a classic example of a woman with an exemplary book education and who in jumping into the political foray found that the transition did not sit well with her supporters who thought she did a better job from the outside than if she became a hard core politician. She however went ahead and  while vying for a political seat in the 1980’s, against her ex-husband, she stated the classical statement at one of her campaigns, aimed at her opponent…telling him that he should keep the campaign clean and focus on issues that are above the neck and not below the belt! She was of course referencing the unfair insults that she had to endure from her opponent’s campaign machine that unfairly alluded to bedroom issues and other sexual innuendo!

We have seen other brave ladies such as Martha Karua, come into politics leaving behind their professional careers and which they excelled at. She who become only the second women in Kenya to vie for the presidency, after Charity Ngilu. Ms. Karua would however carry the campaign further than even Ngilu but alas the criticisms that followed her everywhere including the fact that she is a mere women saw her perform badly. She was beaten into fifth place by a johnnie-come-lately-into-the-election maverick, Abduba Dida, who had campaigned nowhere nearly as long, hard and as widely as Martha Karua.

Martha, also known as the iron lady was the subject of so much male (and female) derision and they did not pass the chance to take pot-shots at her. They reveled in stories that told of her clandestine sexual escapades and her unwomanly or unmotherly instincts that cast doubt on whether she was not really a man dressed in female hormones!

As I was writing this piece, there was an interesting heated discussion on CNN on why Hilary Clinton will or will not win the 2016 presidential election. A statement by one of the discussants filtered through to me. Hilary Clinton will not win because she is too masculine…She might however win because she is cheerful. Really? Its back to basics and women even as powerful as Mrs. Clinton must first be the traditional happy woman?

So…Charity Ngilu, Martha Karua, Wangari Maathai and now possibly Kethi Kilonzo. She can choose to emulate past women politicians…Wangari Maathai had a checkered mainstream political career but was wildly successful as an activist or critique from the edge and went on to become a Nobel laureate. Martha Karua…also successful but thanks to sideshows we remember little of her success and more of her grit and iron and anger. Charity Ngilu…Oh well!

I have some advice for Kethi…She needs to do some soul searching and make quick decisions about what her objectives will be and how she will go about achieving them. She should determine what and how she can bring her immense popularity and while it lasts to her new job as Senator for Makueni. She should just be herself and not strive to earn the masculinity and other hardnosed titles. The people love her as the intelligent, soft-spoken but pleasantly surprisingly brilliant person that she is. They already know she is a mother too. She should remember it is not going to be easy…men will be men and when push comes to shove, they will push hard, despite who her daddy was!

Yes. Kethi has the unique opportunity of charting a new course: Finding and setting a new approach to winning our rightful position alongside our men in politics, while remaining a lady but winning hands down, without necessarily taking the bait and turning into a clone of our women politicians, that has been cleverly crafted by men about us, over the years.

©njeriOsaak is a trained journalist, a Public Relations professional and a College Speech Communication teacher / Consultant, currently based in the United States.