O Wa Gatùù

                         

 

 

Like jokes, there are certain phrases that are common among cultures that are hard to translate and even in those cases where some of those phrases lend themselves quite amenable to simple translation, the meaning of the phrases are not as easily translated.  This is not a sign of a new epiphany but I have to say right from the beginning that even I did not realize just how deep some phrases are when viewed in a deeper context. If fact, the underlying theme of my essay being just have to do m with more than a deeper context, but only that it is cloaked in a more digestible idea of the phrase above. I have in mind a very expansive idea of what it means to be an African-born Southerner living in this times. I have always struggled with what my responsibility is/should be. I find it hard to just create context of myself relative to all other Africans who have traversed the vast American South, both past and present. Having a son in the South and knowing the fractured history of race relations in this region makes me act with a lot of trepidation.  That trepidation is mostly for others. I try to imagine the fear and dread that has been experienced by many Africans in this corner of the the subcontinent. I can’t fail to note that many were brought to this shores amid great and traumatic violence, only to be immersed in even greater violence. That part of the story in partly recorded and many historians have done a great job in their attempt to capture a picture, however faint, of the ordeal. However, there is a part of the violence that only the first African-born Africans were aware of. That violence is the the bitterness of the memory of Africaness and of home.

 

As such, I tend to think that we can divide all the Blacks in this country into two basic groups: those with a memory of home and those without. While both groups can conceptually understand their oppressive conditions, only one has a context of how to what extent the group has been damaged by the experience. In other words, the memory of home forms a sort of starting point, or base line. This memory is a double-edged sword, it helps one stay grounded, but it can also be the source of a lot of pain as one compares the wretched condition to those of home, family and community. I just happen to be one Africans with both a home-consciousness  and the experience of away-from-home-African-Southerner. That I even consider myself a Southerner is not a easy admission to make. I know that any of my American-born children will never truly experience the feeling of home that I once experienced before coming to the South. This is no trivial matter. What it means to be an African in South should be a conversation that all people of color in should have with and among themselves. Failure to do so is likely to have some serious ramifications.

When I was in undergraduate, I received a scholarship named in the honor of W.E.B Dubois. While I was happy to get any scholarship, the kind of scholarship I received was probably more important then the scholarship itself, at least in terms of the impact it had in my life e. Without too much prompting by my professors, I found my self dealing with a great curiosity about the kind of person Dubois was. What started as a simple curiosity to learn about someone who seemed like an important person for a freshman to know just because, ended up becoming the guiding light and a fire rod that has light both my path and sparked my brain. I find myself dealing with a lot of the questions that Dubois dealt with. It should obviously go without saying that my family’s history and my experience in Kenya contributed a great deal in the budding interest in the intellectual pursuit as laid out by Dubois.

In that light, I started seeing a lot of contradictions among Africans in the South. Southern Blacks were proving to be just as much of a lesson for me as the books I was reading. I quickly understood that some of the behaviors I was observing among Africans in the South predicted that behaviors that Africans in Africa were moving towards. This was before the age of widespread internet use and therefore I did not have a lot of access to information that would have have deepened my understanding of this crucial topic. At the same time, I was still young and much of what I can see now was still beyond my reach even by a far shot. But that was then. With age, new levels of understanding open up and the various reading one may have engaged in begin to bear fruit. So when I was talking to Nducu Wa Ngugi, the son of the legendary Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, I picked on a very nuanced phrase that symbolized home-consciousness.  Nducu and I are great friends and we have a great time talking about all matters African whenever we meet up. Being a writer and as son of writer, we talk into the wee hours of the night whenever we happen to be together. He really gets my mind thinking as he is such a great story teller. But yesterday, he got me thinking about how our conversation still carries oblique signs of a people whose food is oppressed. No better phrase captures that fact than the phrase ‘o wa gatùù”. Nducu was alluding to the fact that food is very central to all the things we do. He continued to recount that whenever he finishes writing at the end of the day, the first thing he wonders if what can I get to eat. After various interesting examples of thing that people do and then proceed to get a bit to eat. This got me thinking about the differences between how my grandfather welcomed his guests to our homestead during his times and how Nducu and I are likely to welcome our friends or even offer to treat them to launch.

I have to first tell you about Kamakia,  my grandfather. I have written a bit about him previously but not enough. My paternal grandfather had three wives. Two of them lived in the same compound and one lived about 30 minutes away from our homestead. Kamakia was quite wealthy during his time. The number of wives that one had during those days was certainly a mark of how wealthy one was. He owned may goats and cows. While this was still during the time of British occupation,  the family lived quite comfortably during the early years of my father’s youth. What was amazing was that my grandfather has a piece of land that was tendered to by his wives. He also had goats in his hut that were tendered to by the young boys in the family. The food that come from my grandfather’s plot was his only. Nobody else could walk to his plot and pick anything to eat without his permission. In the evening, he would be in his own hut with all the boys of the homestead telling them stories. There was always a fire in the hut to keep the place warm. The wives would be in their own huts with the girls who were big enough to help their mothers with the cooking. The younger girl would be in their grandmothers hut enjoying stories, songs and family history. What struck me in learning about my grand father is that from time to time, he will order on of the young boys to bring some green bananas or sweet potatoes to roast for snacks as they waited for dinner. The snacks would be roasted at the fireplace in Kamakia’s hut.  During those days, the women and their husbands did not share huts, each had his or her hut. Each was distinctly designed for the different sexes and was build to meet the needs and functions that each sex had to attend to.

The women’s hut was the most complex of all the huts in a compound. It had a storage sections, that was the equivalent of a pantry, it had sleeping quarters for the young girls, a section for cooking, an areas to store cooked food and her own sleeping quarters. She also had her own goats in the same house. The mans hut was much simpler. It was quite open and did not have many sections. The one thing that conspicuous in a man’s hut was a storage for his honey, meat and tobacco snuff. The meat, known as rukuri, was usually preserved in honey and then dried. It was very sweet and a great treat. Only great friends would be offered this meat. Men typically shared tobacco with their general friends and age mates. During special occasions, the women would brew sugarcane bear and the husband and his friends would be hosted in the house of the wife who prepared the brew. The type of brew was known as Muratina, muratina being a loafer-like plant that was used as catalyst. The english name for the plant is African Sausage tree. The brew was quite time consuming. There were areas where the community would construct a community sugarcane press to squeeze the juice from sugarcane and then honey would be added and the mix would be placed by the fireside. After a few days, the brew would be ready and word would go around to the community elders that Kamakia for example was hosting his friends for a night of conversation, known as ndeereti in local language. The enders would come and to the Kamakia’s homestead and head straight to the hut of the wife who had done the brewing. They would all seat around and the host Kamakia would tell his friends why he had decided to brew Muratina. This was customary because people did not always brew for the sake of it. The was always a reason behind a brewing session. Sometimes the elder may brew Muratina because he had an important message to pass to the other elders. One such important message would be the announcement of marriage in the family.  Other reasons would be honoring a friend. There less desirable reason but similarly fun brewing session for one done as a result of a fine by the council of elders. If one elder or his family broke the law, one of the fines could include brewing Muratina for the elders.

Those drinking session were like theatre to an anthropologist. But to a chef, they were something far greater. The one observation about this sessions was that the person in whose honor the Muratina was brewed was the one who would do the honors, no pun intended.  What was amazing is that all the elders would drink from a single horn. The horn of the cow was just no ordinary horn. It among the most precious items that an elder would have beyond his staff, his sword and his seat. This horn was likely to have some decorative marks. I have seen with three carved circles at the tip to represent the highest level of authority among the council of elders. Every circle represented a goat paid a requsit fee to be admitted in the various levels of authority among the council of elder.

Every elder would take a sip of the brew and then pass it to the next elder. By using one horn, the drinking would take a very long time before all the brew was gone. The whole process still had an aspect of theatre even to an anthropologist. All the various characters would be be played on as though on a collicium. One could very clearly learn the existing relationships among the elders. The truth of the matter is that not all elders were created equal and neither all of them were welcome in such groups. I remember tales of elders who were so stingy that they hardly invited elders to “night in” at his homestead but were quite regular in attending the parties at other peoples homes. One such elder might be “dissed” by being skipped as the horn was going around. Such an act was a form of high disrespect. Such an elder would be so furious that he would end up leaving, also he intended result anyway. But the disgraced and humiliated elder would walk out forlorn,  knowing that he was not welcome among other elders. These sessions would last quite a while. There would be many discussions but more on the lighter side. This was a true celebration for the elders. In the end, the elders would leave and walk home at night. It was not unusual for them to sing out loud as they walked home. All the neighbors would know for sure that so and so had been having a good time. The elders would also use the session to brag about whatever accompaniments each was proud of. As they were joking around, one would for example swear with his dad or a famous member of the family such as a warrior or his clan. These were surely fun sessions. It was also a time to let loose. Besides those who may have been deemed to be unfit for the gathering, those in the group could raise sensitive topics without sounding so serious. This often took the form of riddle or insinuations. The conversations were almost like a form of art. The elders would talk in riddles and symbolism. This was true joy and true freedom. I way for elders to be children all over again.

The stories from my father about those days left deep inscriptions in my memory. I could just imagine the kind of consciousness that it had taken over thousands of years to fine-tune such well orchestrated gathering. With so much order, even in what others would view as chaos. This is why Dubois was such a fresh read for me. I could relate to his central message. That the oppressed have a sense that those in power do not have. They live life with a great sensitivity to their environment. They are truly aware of the power imbalance and how the power in the hands of others shapes them. Such is the connection that Nducu and I have. When I visit him in New York, I feel a great sense of joy and intellectual or cultural union that I rarely feel in this country. This kind of jovial feeling is rarely possible with a White person. I am acutely aware of the fact that however much they my try to understand the feeling of being Black in a country deeply stained by system racism.

But here is a way of trying to demonstrate it. Whenever anybody would visit my grandfather’s homestead, his first words after the greetings was to call out to one of his wife’s to make something nice for the guest. In fact, he would rarely use words such as could you please feed or give so and so something to eat. Rather, there was a special word for indulging the guest. He would most likely use the word “ Kugagura” It struck me as strange that that word is never used in any other context. I only used to hear it used relative to kindred soul. I can almost bet that the word was used relative to a guest or whenever my parents were quite happy. Not that there was a rule against using the word, but it just felt awkward is used out of context.  We just can’t avoid talking about context. But that was then. What about now.

When I in Kenya, I still make the same observation whenever I go back to Kenya, I hear family and friends ask each other “ could we find somewhere we can get something tiny to eat?” Here we go again, meaning lost in the translation. The way they say it sounds like the perfect words that indicate how much our food as people of African descent is still oppressed. The words are quite demeaning if you think deeper about them. For Nducu, for example, being the friend and comrade in social justice, the use of the words “o wa gatùù” reduces both our friendship and our status to that of serfs or slaves. Those very words mean something like infinitesimal. The lowest of the lowest that you can get to eat. How did a people so proud, so friendly, such masters of hospitality, wonderful farmers and great master of family craft get this low?. They while not exactly egalitarian, women could still marry other women in our culture. The arrangement was not sexual and the women who did the marrying would assume the role of a man. I guess “ me too “ would not have worked in their case. The big difference wit the food they consumed was food that it  was grown by the family and no slaves or serfs grew the food. It was therefore local, organic and afro futuristic. It was based on justice, love and community. Is it any wonder that these people were neither obese nor plagued by lifestyle diseases? Yet the process of exploitation in this racist world has in equal measure damaged the consciousness of the African to the point where the highest and finest etiquette of sharing food with family and friends is reduced to an exercise that reminds us that we are eating our own oppression. Failure to recognize this simple fact means that we as people of African descent may be blind to our reality. The result is a consciousness that is false and out of sink. That consciousness should in fact be labeled “O wa Gatùù”. It will symbolize the beginning of the crime against our consciousness. Depending of where you stand, it could also symbolize the beginning of the spirit of blind exploitation of man by man. Many other groups have marked such period of horrors by creating a name for the day of infamy. The Palestinians for example have a day they call All Nakba or the day of Catastrophe.

Among my ethnic group, “o  wa Gatuu” is the most feeding reminder as to why we are still having a problem being ourselves or being human and home.  If we “Kugagura” our consciousness, we just maybe whole again without touching any hem of a garment of the capitalist Moloch that benefit from our toil and suffering. If we do, we may just offer the one salvation that this country deeply needs but does not seem conscious about how our salvation is intertwined. Whenever someone asks me what they need to eat in order that they may lose weight or heal from an ailment. I am deeply disappointed. We don’t suffer or gain weight because we don’t organic food or healthy food, but because we are dishonest and oppressed. Even those perpetrating the oppression are equally oppressed. The very fact that they rely on oppressing others to feel exceptional is a sign of savagery. Yet the very eating in a civil way may be the first step towards taking a deeper look at ourselves and hopefully waking up otherwise the slumber will destroy this country, especially the South.

 

August in Food and History

 

 

 

 

To a young boy growing up in early-eighties Kenya, the month of August excited as if it were an Eclipse. We could count our list of pleasures with just a few fingers; but we needed only one: the outdoors, which we had in abundance. Therein were all kinds of worlds.

    But the endless desire for more plagues everyone, including children. As a boy during August, I wanted to leave the city and head to the village where my mother lived as a farmer and keeper of the ancestral land. This land was magical to me. It was as if I already recognized that this was the closest thing to heaven that I would ever see. My life in the city, where everything seemed fake and disingenuous, only sharpened this perception. The village was different from that. My mother, my aunts and my cousins lived there. There were friends, numerous boys to play with and numerous girls with whom to learn what crushes were. But above all, the month of August was corn season. Albeit unknowingly, I was betting on what would become the god of the world.

    I refused to sleep an extra night in the city after school let out. But like Odysseus, I had to pay a high price before coming home, as though I were being punished for having left home for the city to live a life of poverty among lost souls. Lost souls are not easily redeemed and mine was no different. The odyssey was no joke. I’ve often toyed with the idea that if Karl Marx was to travel to my village at the time, he might have questioned his ideas about the opiate of the masses. The transportation system from the city to the village was nothing short of a religion. Public service vehicles known as Matatu mostly handled the journey from the city of Nairobi. Matatu in Swahili means trinity. While I knew nothing of careers at the time, I knew very well that if I did not do well in school, I would end up working in one of two religious industries, either the Matatu industry or a seminary.

    The trip from Nairobi to Kangema lasts about three hours. I would always start my journey at Munyu Road, where my father and his friends ran a bar and restaurant named after our ancestral home, Kangema. I’d take my report card to my dad; in exchange I’d receive my Matatu fare and several messages for my mother. Most importantly, I would get his blessings: for surely I’d need all the blessings he had and more.

    At my father’s, I would pick up a few items for my mother, eat lunch, and then head to the Matatu terminal. The terminals were always easy to spot.  Matatu men made loud noises in an effort to attract travelers. They were rude, and looked high on holy waters or holy smokes. They did not live by the morals of mortals, but instead a single-handed salvation of profit. They were interested only in filling up a vehicle, getting paid, and then seeing it on to glory as the next car moved up the line.

    But these men could perform magic. They could transform their own into passengers. They, like their religious counterparts, understood human psychology. They, unlike their religious peddlers of hope, actually peddled hope of time. It is interesting to note that with the coming of  Western culture, as much at it promised, the one thing that it took away was time. Everybody all over a sudden seemed to have become poor in the currency of time. Those who were actively engaged in the midwifery of the new western thought were the first victims. These vehicles would periodically start to pull off slowly but would back up again to its original spot, having given false hope to the occupants and hopefully tricked a hesitant passenger to finally jump into the vehicle. So they would pose inside as though they were travelers, and as more passengers got in, the fake passengers would jump off.

    Once the vehicle was full and all the seats taken, young travelers would be asked to stand up. Here the test of strength would start. The vehicles are so low that I’d have to bend at an angle of about 55 degrees. Any grown adult would bend to an even higher degree. The vehicle was stuffy; the bend was hell.

    Those seated were not in paradise either. They were arranged like sacks to maximize the number of travelers that could fit in the vehicle. You see those men did not see bodies or people; they only saw money. More people were more profit. I don't remember anyone ever getting angry enough not to pay. People would murmur to themselves about being uncomfortable, but they would ultimately resign to their fate and pay the fare as though it was a title demanded by the gods of the highway. But conversations would distract the standing souls. Many stories I claim as my own were actually overheard en route to the holy village.

    The drivers were tyrants. They would sometimes demand a song from the passengers, especially when the bus was climbing a hill. They might also park the bus in front of a bar, go inside, and enjoy three or five beers. No one dared to complain. Most of the passengers were smart and travelled with a four-course meal in their baskets. So while the preacher drank wine, the passengers ate bread.

    It would sometimes take us a whole day to cover the three-hour journey, but patience paid. It didn’t bother us a great deal that we were traveling like animals. August was holy, and I paid homage to it. I eventually got home, and it was as if my feet had kissed the ground. I would run as fast as I could to see my mother. We would exchange warm greetings. She would inquire about the other world, the shadow world. I would convey my father’s messages and then sit in the kitchen as my mother prepared some homely meal. There was always food; this was heaven after all.

    I would then visit the cowshed, note the new calves and then check on the other animals. Finally, I would go to the garden and walk around the cornfields to check how far they were from being ready to harvest. I would envision the annual rituals that occured every harvest season. For many late nights my brother and my cousins would stay up late roasting corn on the bare fire. During the day, my cousins and I herded the cows, and brainstormed ideas for making a flying oven called Nugi. It would keep us cold in the grazing fields as well as roast the corn in record time. I did not know then that I was repurposing cocoa cans and Kimbo, a brand of hydrogenated oil for dead souls. This tradition and the flavors embedded in my memory come back all at once when I harvest corn. It is called Mutungo. To all those who have their own visions of youth: say Mutungo. My mother and father will smile, along with all the drivers who delivered me from Memphis, the city of the dead, and landed me safely in Kangema to see my lovely mother and find yet another taste of a holy meal among angels, the likes of which I will never see again. I will forever remember thee and will forever compare others to thee, despite being unjust. Though guilty I may be, I hope that you will forgive me for being high on my memories of these people. Their lives and labor are encapsulated in this simple crop with such a complex ritual. Mutungo, Mutungo, Mutungo.

 

Farming, Fashion and False African Independence

During this year's Think Again Conference put on by the amazing Abundance Foundation in Pittsboro, North Carolina, I was asked to give a talk on the subject of Farming, Fashion and Fiber. This was not the first time I had been invited to speak during many of the events that the brains behind Abundance Foundation organizes each year. The first time I heard about the organization was during my training in culinary school. One of the professors, chef Todd, had announced that the college had agreed to participate in a festival known as The Pittsboro Peppers Festival. He went on to explain that the student-participants would join about ten other local chefs and restaurants in preparing dishes using peppers that had been grown at Piedmont Bio Farm, which was located on a Bio diesel plant that actually gave the farm its name. Dough Jones was then the most renowned farm locally and especially due to his extensive knowledge about peppers. Dough Jones was one of my mentors during my formative years as I cutting my teeth in the nascent Food Movement. I would spend many hours volunteering at Doughs farm at the Bio Diesel Plant and at the Central Carolina Community College where Dough ran the student farm before he move to the Bio Farm. It was therefore not a hard preposition for me accept the invitation to volunteer at the food event that chef Todd was inviting the students to. I did not bother to mention that I had previous connections to the some of the people involved in the event, Pittsboro is a small town and I latter came to find out that the same people would appear at most progressive events.  

The event, as it were, was rather small. It was held in the backyard of the Bio Diesel plant, surrounded by Doughs beautiful farm on all sides. The attendance was quite low and it would have been difficult to project how such an event would grow in a mere ten years. 

During the event, I met Tami Sherwin who genius behind the foundation for the first time.  Our relationship grew and I came to admire her commitment to building community, local economy and green energy.  This relationship developed over time as we realized that we shared a lot of common interests. Tami would always keep up with what I was doing or simply the latest ideas that I may have be toiling with during the many events we would ran into each other. A year after I graduated from culinary school, she agreed to host a pop up dinner at the same plant. The dinner was held at a break room of the Piedmont Bio diesel plant with an adjacent small kitchen. I have to admit that the space for quite small for the number of guests we had but this also made for a very cozy dinner.  The next gig that Tami and worked together on was when she hired me as a consultant for a climate change conference that with a focus on social justice a few years later. All this events allowed me to both expand my exposure to the complexities of food matters.  Whenever she would reach out me with another request, I found it easy to see the role I could play and this just kept stretching my imagination.  Then one day in 2017, Tami and Alisa, who rans Sparkroot farm, come up with an even crazier idea about hosting a Death Faire after they both lost loved ones the previous year. The Death Faire was a celebration of those who had departed as well a time to rethink how we have been socialized around the whole idea of death and to review the attendant emotions and how we could think about the whole process in more sustainable way that both serves our inner emotions and the environment as well. It is worth noting that both of their loved ones had green burials. I actually participated in the digging of the grave for Alisa's husband. That is however a story for another day. Green burial in a growing field that aims at eliminating those funeral practices that are detrimental to the planted. But I digress. At least I hope that the reward for such digression is a descent context for the story. 

I therefore gladly accepted the invitation to give a talk about the above subject though I did not immediately know what I would exactly talk about. On the Sunday before the event, I went on a run at a near by park and by the end of the six mile run, the lecture was clearly outlined in my head. I could see a very clear connection between the title of the conference and my work as a food activist, anthropologist and chef. I have always know that the textile industry is the backbone of most developed economies and it is only next to food in ranking of the most important foundational industries which no liberated community can afford to ceed to a foreign power. I have heard the argument raised by many people and I may not even remember exactly where I first heard the argument or when I first articulated the idea in one of my lectures.  What I do know is that my ideas about fashion has evolved a great deal since I formally started my work as an activist. As I learned more about how the fashion industry in organized to exploit the poor nations as a source of cheap labor that are a modern form of slavery, and the enormous amounts of profits that are made by those behind the industry, I become very disillusioned by the whole industry. I almost detested the veneration of the blood-soaked fashion industry, and especially the wrong-headed practice of poor people using the fashion as a status symbol. I found myself caring less and less about fashion as I freed my self from its centrifugal pull. I could see very clearly how it was a set up to keep poor people working against their best interests. By buying into the whole fashion industry, the poor were actually perpetuating the industry of exploitation. The whole industry was based on accepting a false narrative that wearing clothes or rather brands was a sign of progress. It mattered less that the clothes were made in sweatshop conditions, where majority of the money went to multinational corporations. It did not seem to make a difference that these corporations did not pay any taxes in the countries where these clothes were manufactured. Neither did it matter that many of this clothes, which were mostly made in areas know as EPZ, or export processing zones, where the clothes could not be sold to the local markets but were specifically made for export. The same countries that were exporting new clothes to Western countries were themselves importing the same clothes a few years down the road as used clothes. How crazy is this? Are others people, mostly people of color not dignified enough to wear new clothes that have not been disempowered by Westerners bodies and actually designed for white bodies and to promote White culture?  Would it not be easier and better for the planet to make new clothes for those communities and for America and the west to make their own clothes in their respective communities and save all the transpiration costs?

The questions I asked myself are too many to list here. What I did realize and raised as a major point in my lecture is that Food and Textile industries are the backbone of any local economy. Food and clothes are the two things that you have to use every day, unless you live in a nude beach. If any country wants to conquer another, control of its food and textile is one of the easiest way to keep them as perpetual slaves. If someone is feeding you and clothing you, it goes without saying that you will start worshiping that person as your god.  For all intent and purposes, the person who feeds and clothes you ultimately makes you. If you take the highly processed food that many in the developed nation consume, the result has been an overweight and sick nation. The effects of consuming highly processed food has far reaching consequences on the kind of society we become and the kind of influence that America and the west has on the rest of the world. In fact, its not coincidence that American diet is widely know as SAD, standard American diet.  The idea of food stamps for example had little to do with helping people to eat but with business. During the Depression, the farmers in this country had no market for many of their produce as many American had little or no money to buy their food. The government then figured that it could buy the food from the farmers and keep them from going bankrupt and defaulting on their loans. The poor families become a great way to make the whole idea work as they become the consumers of the food that the government bought. That period also marks the beginning of the weight problems in this country. The food that the government subsidized  was highly processed and had little nutritional value. Processing food is a darling of large corporations and a way of creating jobs. So the American government financed the enlarging of corporations by giving them guaranteed government business but also created a huge burden for the country as obesity rates ballooned in the U.S and now in the developing world as America exports its processed food as its local markets become saturated.

This model has been perfected by the Farm Bill that continues to give too much money to the wrong people to grown too much of the wrong food that does too much damage to the environment and finally does too much to dispossess the American people. What is an even more damning indictment is that this is not limited to this country only. The final blow of the whole process is that the process was like a pilot project. We can see a similar process in international affairs. Food and textile are being welded as tools of war globally. In addition, the financialisation of many economies around the globe are taking on the same model. The Bundesbank in Europe is forcing other countries like Greece to accept more loans just to keep the banks in Germany and France that loaned Greece money from loosing money. That means that these powerful countries are forcing Greece to take up more loans to pay loans that it has already defaulted on. How is taking more loans going to help a country that cannot pay its current loans?  The solution would be to just right off part of the debt and renegotiate the rest. However, the consequences of these forced loans to Greece have resulted in a shrinking Greek economy. A shrinking economy means that the debtor country will  be less likely to afford its current loans, leave alone any new loans. We also know that most of these loans do not even touch the Greek Central Bank but are paid directly to the German and French banks. 

I am drawing your attention to the continuous process of exploiting other nations by the current super powers. Germany has plenty of blood going back to the Genocide in Namibia, a country where majority of the land is controlled by tiny minority of Germans.  Africans in that country continue to suffer under systemic racism , just as most indigenous populations are globally. 

I continued to use the the analysis to draw a connection of how newly independent countries by having no control over their food and textile were essentially forced to abandon democratic practices. This is because the countries are already set up to fail but having been denied to grow a local economy. What resulted was a situation where by these newly independent countries were being forced into the global financial system that was so slanted against them that all they could hope for is to continue being a source of raw materials for the same countries that had colonized them or exploited them. The World Bank and IMF had the sole purpose of making this oppression as smooth as possible. 

One of the ways in which the recently independent  countries were condemned to be despotic is simple. A president is elected by a population that expected to have jobs and an improved standard of living. Under normal circumstances, the food industry and the textile industry would create huge employment for the new nations. If you think about the growing of food and textile just by itself must employ millions of people. Then there is the technical know how to support the growing, the research, the processing of the textile and food. Then you add more jobs for the transportations and warehousing. There is also the design for the textile into fashion that has so many different sub sectors which include the organizing the whole fashion industry, the printing of fashion magazines and the whole model and fashion shows that come with the more developed fashion industry.. The marketing and retailing would also add millions of jobs. All these jobs are wiped out by having relief food and used clothes. Therefore any leader, however righteous would find it difficult to make up for the loss of jobs in a continent with such a youthful population. The natural solution of a leader for one of this young country  would be to protect his or her position in power through autocratic means. This is one sure way of making a dictator. Let us not forget that the same countries that send used clothes and food ,subsidized by the Americans tax payers through the Farm Bill, make it their business to have autocratic leaders in Africa. These autocratic leaders are know to steal huge amounts of money from their poor countries. That is one of the major reason that these countries are poor. That stollen money ends up in the Western countries but who are owned by corporations.  The small scale farmer in the U.S suffers at the hands of a government that is in the hands of the corporations and he is used to oppress other poor people in other countries globally by buying new clothes from the EPZ, ran by the same corporations that is getting subsidies from the government at the expense of the small scale farmer. These corporations use the money to buy influence through lobbyists in  western governments so that the government spends less money on the poor or middle class but more and more on giving to the rich and the corporations. There is one  reason we have a department know as Food and Drug Administration. So the next time someone tells you that Let your food be thy medicine", you know they are playing a conn game on you. Food is food and medicine is medicine. You don't go to the drug store to buy food and neither should you go to the food store to by drugs. But the corporations have blurred our intelligence. They sell us nutrients and vitamins instead of food. Its all in line to keep the ponze scheme going.  Once you realize that your appetite is the main cause of pain for majority of people of color and the major cause of global warming, we will be on our way to breaking down the curse that have visited mankind and is about to take us out of here.  I concluded by restating the old adage "let food be thy medicine" with "let food and textile be your gift and not curse to yourself and the world"

Examine how you eat and how you dress and you will find the secret and not so secret reason why you are unhappy, unhealthy and far from being free.  The illusion that westerners are free or better off than many in the developing work should remind all of the sword of Damocles that hangs above our head. We are all slaves of the multi-national corporations. They have no boundaries, profits have overcome politics. That is a death sentence for anyone who knows what capitalism is all about. The false independence tied to food ,textile should be out of fashion both for Africa and for YOU. 

Discussing Famine in Africa on NPR

Reflections about my Interview on NPR on Famine in Africa and Yemen.  

We now live in a time where memories are stored for us by a process of "Remembering Analytica". To that end, Facebook reminds us of things that did in the past that would probably have otherwise been lost for ever, yet even for those things that we would remember, the regular reminders of different anniversaries based on our posts on Facebook, allow us to remember those things in a different way. If Cambridge Analytica, got in trouble for collecting data about us to be used for political reasons, Remembering Analytica may be equally significant but in a more positive way.  One of such memories reminders appeared on my timeline yesterday about  post I shared a year about ago  yesterday regarding an interview I did with WAMU, a NPR radio affiliate based in D.C.  The show was about famine in East Africa and Yemen.  

Appearing on the show with me were two other contributors, Jeffery Gettleman, the New York Times East African Bureau Chief and Carolina Miles, the CEO of Save the Children.  I was quite familiar with Jeffery Gettleman and his writings from his periodic articles about different issues in Kenya and the region. I was excited to have an opportunity to engage him in a discussion about food as I saw him a poster book example of what is wrong with the food system in Kenya, and by extensions the relationship between the West and African in general. Mr. Gettleman does a great job of reporting on African issues, and specifically Kenyan issues, using very old Eurocentric eyes and perpetuating old stereotypes about the continent. I hope to write about one article that he wrote in the next blog post for anyone interested in understanding the issue further. So I did not have much reading to do to prepare for address his positions. Caroline Miles was rather new to me, while i had heard about the organization Save the Children, I was not that familiar with its head woman.  I therefore read up on her work and the direction that she was steering the  non profit organization. 

From the beginning, I had to admit that I had issues with the fact that a topic as central as food security and famine was being discussed on NPR by two white people and one African in 2017. What is the purpose of having educated Africans in the U.S if they can't speak on a topic as crucial as famine in their own counties. Even if none of the East Africans  were available as readily, why not have other Africans or African Americans to offer their views on the matter. There are many people of African decent with enough authority to speak on such issues. There are also university professors in African who are equally if not more qualified to speak on that matter. Is it that they have accents or are not readily available? It hard for anyone to make a case that in this day and time that White experts have to have all the answers for Africa's problems.  The consequences of such thinking is readily available all over Africa and beyond for anyone with eyes to see. 

Either way, I was glad to have been considered as a contributor and I also figured that it may be opportunity to point this out during the discussion, either directly or indirectly. I therefore went on the forum with those trepidations. As a side note, my thought was going through some kind of  crisis and I was having a hard time getting my voice back. I was hoarse and this was a very frustrating feeling. I tried to drink all kinds of concussions that I made but nothing seemed to work. I did however keep my commitment to appear on the show in spite of my voice issues. 

The interview started with a question to Jeffery about his his general experience with the Kenyan people. His answer all made me fly off the chair.  I have to say that having grown up in the village where there was plenty of food and food security as the villagers and family members worked the fields together and collaborated in building a functional environment that was conducive to food security by combining their resources to come up with local solutions to their problems. For example, there were  community cattle deeps, coffee factories  that were communally ran and the like, I was therefore extremely conscious of the the possible detriments that are likely to occur as a result of following wrongheaded government policies, misguided advice from Western experts as well as the gullibility of the local farmers who are naive to the political subterfuge of the multinational corporations. I therefore expected a serious discussion on this topic from the word go. So when I heard the answer from Gettleman, about how friendly the Kenyans are and how they greet each other and shake hands for a long time, I was not impressed. This may have had something to do with issues I previously had with his articles but the simple answer did not help either. 

I did mange to contribute some to the discussion but I did not leave the table feeling like I covered as much as I did.  When I checked the discussion taking place of social media, the picture was different. There was quite a healthy conversation going on and  a number of the points I raised seemed to have come out clearer than I thought. A great number of people noted that it did not make sense that two White people were discussing famine in Africa. A few others complained that I was not getting enough time to talk, while others responded to some of the points they thought were sound. But of all the comments I read, two comments stood out from the rest. The first one was by a professor from Rutgers University, Daniel Hoffma, who does work in several rural areas in Kenya. The first thing I appreciated from his work is that the project is not geared towards exporting food nor using foreign seeds, but towards food security for the locals by using indigenous seeds. He later invited me for a residency at Rutgers University. The second one was by a  Ugandan graduate student from Duke University who happened to be listening to me as he was studying.  He be befriended me on Facebook and we eventually met up for coffee. 

Here is his comments by the Ugandan student, who by the way is named Ceasar Lubanga-Kene. 

Was listening to NPR's 1A program doing a special hour on Famine in Africa. The panel had some notable people.

 

First, Jeffrey Gettleman- The New York Times East-African Bureau Chief, a Pulitzer Prized journalist who has extensively reported about wars, famine and drought in the East and Horn of Africa.

 

Then, President & CEO of Save the Children Caroline Miles, the madame president leading this big global Save the Children movement serving and saving millions every day especially in Africa. 

 

And then alas, a Chef Njathi Wa Kabui, a Kenyan-US Chef based here in Little Durham. 

 

So, at first I was all wondering what a chef in America would contribute to such a discussion and started whining (I am always whining) about why NPR could not bring other big people from Africa say Academics, Entrepreneurs, Journalists, Managers, Activists or Western African Policy people in this important discussion to match these two big policy-movers on a national public radio.

 

But trust an African Brother, Jamaa the chef is not your normal downtown Chef always playing with spices in his kitchen and #SaltBae-ing steak. After listening to his first lines, I looked him up...big man, Chef Njathi Wa Kabui is a Food Activist, Anthropologist and Political Scientist, Pan-African of cos

 

As expected, he almost crashed the panel. He made the most critical contributions through out according to us Africans. Bringing up stuff usually left out in such discussions. He shifted the debate from aid and charities to the plight of Africans and swayed the panelists to focus on the underlying root causes of the stagnation and starvation in Africa. 

 

He highlighted the unfair trade policies, military industrial complex hand in the armed conflicts, and the exploitative economic system that was set up by and for the benefit of the West, the looming environmental disasters due to heavy pollution again from the West exacerbating climate change and the drought in Africa.

 

Yes, for now we do need the charities and the hand outs from the likes of Save the Children with 20 million in Africa faced with starvation 1 million of the them children. Yes, we desperately need the media like New York Times and NPR covering Africa fairly. And Yes, most importantly for a long-term solution for Africa, Chef Njathi Wa Kabui is right, we need to revise the unfair trade agreements and deals, neoliberal market policies killing and draining African economies dry, scrutinize Western monopolies and corporations, World Bank/IMF Loans 

 

Most commentary in Western media about Africa is consciously framed with a 'needy-savior' implicit bias that affects the understanding, actions, and decisions of Western actors usually beginning and ending with the need for more foreign western aid to "save" Africans.

 

 

 

Michigan Food Tour Feb 9TH

Chef Kabui was honored to be a guest speaker at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership in Kalamazoo. The Arcus Center was then first building in the United States specifically built for the sake of Social Justice. The building project had a budget of $28 million dollars for building the facility and the rest for endowment. It is a fabulous building set right in the middle of Kalamazoo campus but operated independently. It was a strange coincidence that this facility was the site where I first spoke about my new cuisine that I named Afro Futuristic Conscious Cuisine of Affcoc. During my lecture, I first opened the lecture by playing the song Gentleman by Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who has had a great influence in my thinking and evolution as an activist and a born again Africanist. Unbeknown to me the art on the wall had just been installed and is Afro Futuristic. As Fella Kuti stated in the song, I too am tired of being a gentleman. I just want to be an African Man Original. That sounds quite simple for some but when you live in a country where the oppression of your racial group is systemic, one thing that is in great shortage among the members of the oppressed group is pride. I see a great desert of pride among my own kind. I however understand that at the base of this low level of pride is low level of power.

 

The Preacher Ordained by History

Sometime in the Fall of last year, Paul Ossom, reporter for the Chapel Hill News, contacted me by email and also by phone with an interest to do an interview. The article later made the front page for the Sunday paper. I got a lot of calls from that article than any other, what caught my eye was the title. "Kenyan Chef Teaches what he Preaches" the title of the article read. Since then, it occurred to me that I may as well be preaching. I have been feeling the weight of the Wisdom of my ethnic people but still this wisdom seem to be so misunderstood, worst by those that should be foremost in preserving it.  Why is is that Americans are finding a message that resonates with the food movement here and yet the very people whose heritage it is seem to see nothing on value in it? 

The food crisis, and by extension the cultural crisis has a lot to do with the forgetting of folk wisdom that has been refined over the year in favor of western culture that we knew very little about.  This forgetting has become of great commercial value to a small group of corporations as they replace things of value in the market with things that are dangerous to our life. So the choice of something as simple as what you put in your mouth has been commodified.  The new religion is based not based on what "Thou shall not eat .." to one that says "Thou should eat....".  While I claim that food is the most political thing you will ever touch in your life, the power to influence that choice has to come In a close second.  This is not at all surprising, I recognize that all things are political however subtle. The idea that Kenyans and the Gikuyu ethnic group I am hail from has so conveniently forgot most of their folk knowledge, essentially obliterating their information about their past, especially  among the educated. For a while this appeared very benign. Yet things are not well on the gastronomic front. The experimental period is over and doubts have started to set in. Some are asking some serious questions.

Without out realizing, I found the little knowledge I had managed to acquire from my parents and other elders is now turning out to be more valuable than the very expensive education I have received formally. The folk knowledge about food, music, wise saying, plants, and life in general has turned me into a crusader for something that not too long ago would have been a symbol of shame.  How did this happen, how did once proud people that form the largest ethnic group turn their cultural head down in shame and starting courting amnesia of their own heritage?

A lot of it has to do with the British struggle to build a global empire. The desire for an empire had a lot to do with the country's ability to feed itself and afford a higher standard of living. The war had to be financed and soldiers rewarded for them to  keep fighting for the empire.  The growing empire has to be administered and therefore more soldiers were needed. As it were the empire grew so fast and so big that the British soldiers could no longer protect the empire and wage war without enlisting the help of the very people they were dispossessing. This would end up being the undoing of the empire. 

When Kamakia, my grandfather, heard that the missionaries had had arrived in our village and set up a church and school, he went to two of his wives in his homestead and instructed them that my father was not to be give any chores around the homestead; necessity had created a new role for him and he could not be expected to forgo his duties for simple errands for my grandparents. His new role was to follow my grandfather everywhere he went for official and unofficial duties as a council of elder and learn all the traditions of his people. My grandfather in some strange way could sense danger from the attitudes that the British judged everybody else. He found it rather strange that besides just land and wealth, they were contemptuous of other Peoples Gods.  Theirs was the only true God.  The battle lines had been drawn, and they were deep. The customs of the Gikuyu were in peril, and power that was so firmly in the hands of the Gikuyu had been violently wrestled from their grasp. 

My grandmothers, on the other hand did not sense the urgency, But after many broken pots they realized that things were serious. My grandfather would ask my dad to break any pot or guard that he was using to attend to an errand for my grandmother.  The expensive habit could not continue and my dad was now free to follow my grandfather full time. Whenever there was a case to be settle, any celebration, induction of new members in the council of elders, or even simply discussion of anything important, my dad was right there. A library was being created one event at a time.  Meanwhile, the British were consolidating their empire. This meant wars on many fronts. Soon enough young men from my ethnic groups would be recruited to work for the benefit of the empire. But that was not before they were alienated from their lands. The land in their ethnic nation was placed under the crown in 1909. With many ethnic nations, the alienation took on different methods. The Maasai for example simply signed their land away. The Gikuyu not too quickly and not without armed struggle. But finally, it did happen. That meant that Africans owned no land and any land that they would later be allocated would be at the mercy of the Queen. 

This did not go very well, with the people on the loosing end. It disrupted their cultural life, food included. My people had not rights that the British were obligated to respect. They essentially become just tools for the advancement of the British and their desires.  When war became too much for them British, my people were expected to feel the urgency and cry to the pains that the British felt. When necessary Gikuyu young men were enlisted to go and fight for the Crown in Burma, otherwise known as Myanmar,  and elsewhere. But they were not to have any desired of their own for freedom. This seemed to make sense for a while. They British appeared invincible and unconquerable. 

But as more young men were recruited to go to war outside their country, the idea that the whites ere superior started dying off.   This remarkable realization would make it even conceivable for the Africans and other oppressed people elsewhere to dream of self rule. My  parents were growing up in the whirl wind of this political hailstorm. They would not be scared of it either and embraced the cause with all his might. But the question of self rule is not as simple as they thought. Looking back, some of the policies that the British put in place to ensure their political domination did not go away with lowering of the Union Jack, the British flag. 

The idea that their ways were superior and that they Africans were backwards and devoid of any useful knowledge would stick more and even risk undoing the benefits that self-rule eventually brought. This was not all coincidence, a lot of it had to do with political subterfuge and a desire to continue the same colonial policies through backhand means. 

It has now become apparent that there is no short cut to being free. Foods is one measure of how free, previously oppressed, are. I have found myself preaching that values that we have forgotten. I never perceived my work in this way and have never uttered a single word during my interviews that would indicate so. Yet it amazes me how a people who eat so well not too  long ago are now plagued by all kinds of diseases that they knew nothing about. Well, I have agreed to keep the lessons that my grandfather found so useful and my dad honored by passing them to me. What appeared to my grandmother as common sense to everyone with below average intelligence, is now becoming a plague. Its so simple to see through the jaded history of oppression and see how the same political goals of the imperial British are employed elsewhere, and how political battles can waged right there on your plate. Who will make the clarion call and wake the people up?

So I have to agree with the title the Ubuyu magazine choose for their article based on my interview, "There is more to Food than Meets your Mouth".There is a whole history to why you eat what you eat and it may just be worth asking yourself, if you are on the right side of history or not. What values are you advancing? Are they values you are willing to live for and if necessary die for? I say amen to my grandfather's vision, he was merely hosting the international flag that binds all men of good will together: FOOD. So take a bite of this history, hoist it's flag and preach.