Photogenic African Children? Is the difference that first world kids are taught to avoid the stranger’s lens? Because strangers are scary?
Truly, it’s amazing. The father to most powerful person in the world grew up in a hut on the other side of the world. Who would’ve thought? From here? Kogelo, Kenya?
Barack Obama still has family in Kogelo, namely his grandmother, Sarah Hussein Obama. By American standards she is his step grandmother, but by Kenyan tradition she is his grandmother. She raised his father. After his undergrad, when Barack Obama went to Kenya, it was her home in Kogelo he visited.
Her home is like that of many grandmothers, decorated with the grandkids’ achievements. In this case, senatorial and presidential campaign advertisements. Most are signed by the President, with a note addressed to Granny Sarah.
I had the honor of briefly speaking to her, through a family member who helps out, translating and organizing her business. I asked to what she attributed Barack’s success. She replied that it is a great thing, so great it can only be attributed to God’s hands. She said that he has much work left. There is not yet peace on earth. She hoped that during his presidency we would all become better at living with one another.
Obama’s grandma – she keeps it real.
Her life, and the village’s, has changed dramatically. A couple months back Al Qaeda said they were going to assassinate her. The Kenyan government built a police station to protect her. The primary and secondary school are named after Barack Obama. The road is getting paved. They’re building a welcome center for the President’s impending visit.
South-eastern Uganda. A hundred mile bike ride sounds like a long one – but to this journey it made for just another day. To Kampala I rode mostly on a dirt track, and it was the largest road within 20 miles. It was surprisingly poor and densely populated (So much so it was hard to find quiet places to pee). There was no electrification and but three secondary schools.
I was cycling along and whaddya know but ahead of me was a tractor. A tractor! I hadn’t seen a tractor in months. Wow! A tractor!!! Kenya had all sorts of golden nuggets: Paved country roads, food that was more than starch and mangy meat, decent English comprehension, even buildings ten stories high. Kenya has had a stable (if autocratic) market orientated government (kind-of) since independence. You see that.
Though, buildings are largely in disrepair, the roads are potholed and youth are abundantly unemployed. Lake Victoria is tragic. There used to be ferries that went to Uganda and Tanzania. Today it’s carcinogenic. I camped in a dilapidated lakeside hotel, comfortable with a cold beer in a cushy chair. An Indian businessman told me, “All the fish are gone. It’s pathetic – these people don’t even care.” And there’s little else to do but sit back, enjoy and await the next racist comment.
Note: Eldoret is the home of Kenyan Olympian marathon runners and there’s a neat dirt track you can check out. Early mornings, you see folks running. It reminds me of home.
It was an epic week. A nation born. The people had a palpable joy – flags fluttering from tree tops, mountains, pickups and people, celebratory honking, singing, fireworks and gunfire. It was a beautiful.
And yet, everywhere was the evidence that South Sudan isn’t truly a nation. It’s landlocked with barely a paved road. Less than 5% graduate from primary school. Tribalism rules, many do not speak a common language. The central government is weak.
There was an air of violence. It’s hard to articulate. You just felt it. I’d look at a guy and he’d look back without expression, stone cold. And then you wonder, where does that go?
In South Sudan, you see how far we’ve come. You see what it means to be a nation. And how very important that struggle is, to do the necessary maintenance, to remain one, indivisible.
Here’s photos of South Sudan’s Independence, of Nimule and the first national soccer game in Juba. An incredible experience, from being threatened by bandits, to the nonexistent infrastructure contrasted to the mass joy of the people.
Richard sent us this panorama of Zambia’s only harbor at Mpulungu.
download high res panorama
In Juba, South Sudan, the pastor kindly let us stay in this classroom. But we had to be up early – it was in use by 8am for Sunday School! The Church plays a big role in developing nations. In large towns the compound may contain a small seminary, guest house, kitchen and conference facilities. Many schools and clinics are also run through churches.
We took the MV Liemba from Mpulungu in Zambia to Kigoma in Tanzania. It was insane. When we go on a cruise, we expect sunsets and pretty scenery. This, however, is the MV Liemba: yelling, banging, crying babies, chickens, cholera, muddy hallways, people sleeping on cargo, people sleeping on people.
It was an experience. Especially as a TV crew from the History Channel rented out the boat, kind of, and were very happy to use their power as they pleased. I learned a lot. I’ll write more later.