Change of Subject and Trip to Asia

I suspect that there is a saboteur out to get bullets and honey; in the last week paragraphs have disappeared from the blog and I just now had a techie friend fix the problem (with embarrasing ease.) Maybe this is what I get for dipping my toes into Kenya’s treacherous tribal wars, in which case I must get away. And by that I mean that I am planning to visit Asia for the very first time.

Yes, this son of the soil is going to get into one of those machines made by man to visit at least a couple of cities in India and possibly one in China. I will be there for a week or two at the most so I suspect that I will not have the chance to see much. But planning and thinking of the trip has brought me low in shame. China has a billion people and I do not have a single close friend that I can call there. How pathetic is that? India is the same with all the Indians I know in the States or in Kenya so that again I do not have a person to call on anywhere on that sub-continent (except for the folks I will be working with for a few days.)

For this reason, I have lately been trying to chat up my Indian neighbors in the hope of some introductions with very little success – they just nod politely and keep walking. Yesterday afternoon I saw a piece of paper on the ground and picked it up only to find that it was a letter in english with some Hindi writing (I assume); I guess it must have been dropped by one of them or blown over from their place. Curiosity got the better of me and so I read it. The only exceptional item was the question whether the recipient had ‘managed to make any new negro friends…’ The thing is that I have been re-reading my James Baldwin lately and so this word negro has been much on my mind but I had no idea that there were still people using it to this day. Is it a bad thing? What does it mean? Assuming that the letter belonged to my neighbors, I really think I should befriend them – maybe all their words are frozen in 1960s ‘jive-turkey’ Americanisms.

If I do get to make this trip, I will be the second person in my close family to have been in Asia. My grandfather fought with the King’s African Rifles in Burma. Well, he didn’t really fight since he was a medic (and therefore was called doctor by everyone in Sigona, Kiambu till he passed away) but he was over there.

Most Kenyans do not know with what tenacity and success our grandfathers fought in that campaign since our relentlessly nationalist reading of history leaves no space to acknowledge Africans who fought for the British against the Japanese or the Germans. What this means in my own life is that I grew up around men who had traveled the world, maybe had even performed great feats in battle and never got to hear about it. I wish I had known what I know now before he died. So many memories in my family seem to just be buried and forgotten. And yet daily I read accounts of other peoples who have fought this or that campaign, who have traveled across that sea or that desert, while not having a single idea whether my own blood ever had the same experiences. It is crazy shit to live in a continent that is the most ancient – the cradle of mankind no less – and not know anything much about my own grandfather’s life. I won’t even get into the fact that I have never heard more than a few words about his father and mother, or theirs.

In the States, my black American friends would occasionally remark on how wonderful it was that I ‘had a history’ and a ‘name’ when theirs had been stolen from them by history. How to explain that in the most personal terms, they could trace their lineages further back than I could mine. That they could pop into courthouses and libraries and come away with records and stories of their grandparent’s parents when I could barely name mine or even tell where they had lived, what they had done. It is as my friend Wambui says, I live in an ancient world without having a history. How to explain to them that I may not have a “slave name” but that I do not really know the meaning of my name. It was handed to me from my grandfather as he received it from his grandfather but I was never told what it meant, where it came from, why for heaven’s sake our naming system was as it is. And please do not tell me of pyramids and the great Kush, they are as remote to me in personal terms as the Han Dynasty or ancient Greece. Of course I feel some nationalist pride once in a while at the thought of the Swahili trading empire or even Nubia and Egypt but I have no a personal sense of linkage with that time and those people because my history looms up short – maybe eighty to a hundred years at the most.
I wonder what this does to me. Am I freed by not being bound by a past, freer to create my life, to imagine different courses? Or am I like a corkscrew in a raging ocean, without direction, without the foundations of history on which to build my life? Hell, are these questions even relevant anymore?

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About bulletsandhoney
I read my first book when I was three, then my second one a few weeks later. It has carried on this way for decades with only temporary distractions of eating, fighting, loving, heartbreak and other such irrelevant biographical details.

22 Responses to Change of Subject and Trip to Asia

  1. Gundelibuzz says:

    Hi MMK,
    I really enjoy your blog. I want to know more about people in Africa, because in Europe we only see grim images on TV, as if all Africa were starving. That really annoys me, because we should also focus on trade with countries like Kenya, Nigeria etc. which have a well working economy. I know that India and China are investing in Africa now and believe firmly that at least some countries in Africa will see such an economic development as China and India did in the last 10 years.
    Cheers,
    Gundelibuzz

  2. Gundelibuzz says:

    Hi MMK,
    I really enjoy your blog. I want to know more about people in Africa, because in Europe we only see grim images on TV, as if all Africa were starving. That really annoys me, because we should also focus on trade with countries like Kenya, Nigeria etc. which have a well working economy. I know that India and China are investing in Africa now and believe firmly that at least some countries in Africa will see such an economic development as China and India did in the last 10 years.
    Cheers,
    Gundelibuzz

  3. MMK says:

    gundelibuzz – Thanks for your kind comments. We can only pray and work for people in places like Kenya be given free rein to trade and deal with the rest of the world. I am in the optimist bandwagon where Kenya is concerned. There is such an explosion of ideas and I think an increasing confidence in taking on the world.

  4. MMK says:

    gundelibuzz – Thanks for your kind comments. We can only pray and work for people in places like Kenya be given free rein to trade and deal with the rest of the world. I am in the optimist bandwagon where Kenya is concerned. There is such an explosion of ideas and I think an increasing confidence in taking on the world.

  5. kamau says:

    I watched the documentary “Africans, a triple heritage” by Ali Mazrui at my Midwestern university my freshman year. What was very strange was that this and many other forms of literature were banned in Kenya at the time. What I found shocking was how the Mau Mau narrative featured so prominently in the literature about struggles against colonialism on the continent. It was very embarrassing to tell my African American Professors that my grand father was a Mau-Mau fighter and was jailed by the British for eight years and yet knew very little about it the whole affair. Not even accounts of my family’s life in the British internment camps in the 1950s. I knew nothing about the economic, social and political issues around the whole affair. It was a history professor from the Uganda that educated me not just on the issue but why I knew so little about it in the first place!!!

    Imagine the strange effect of having to ones interest in the affair perked after staying up late and watching a Hollywood account of the affair, starring Sidney Poitier made in 1957!! There were no Kikuyus let alone Africans in lead roles with Latinos standing in for some Kikuyus.

    MMK,

    Adding to what you said about knowledge our own history, I think we need to collect the oral traditions of such times. I get irked and insanely jealous every time some NPR story comes on about the discovery of some new American folklore dusted off from recordings in the Smithsonian.

    I remember as a kid, my grand mother coming home after preparing the body of a relative for burial, I asked her “aren’t you afraid of dead people”? Her answer was that during the emergency (Mau-Mau rebellion) she experienced so much death, starvation and hardship that dead bodies were nothing new or things to be afraid off. It was not until years latter that I read books and accounts of British and Mau-Mau atrocities during the period that I begun to comprehend what she was talking about.

    My grand mother is in her eighties and many of her generation are dying and we really have to act fast, I am open to ideas on how we can capture this and many other such stories though out Kenya.

  6. kamau says:

    I watched the documentary “Africans, a triple heritage” by Ali Mazrui at my Midwestern university my freshman year. What was very strange was that this and many other forms of literature were banned in Kenya at the time. What I found shocking was how the Mau Mau narrative featured so prominently in the literature about struggles against colonialism on the continent. It was very embarrassing to tell my African American Professors that my grand father was a Mau-Mau fighter and was jailed by the British for eight years and yet knew very little about it the whole affair. Not even accounts of my family’s life in the British internment camps in the 1950s. I knew nothing about the economic, social and political issues around the whole affair. It was a history professor from the Uganda that educated me not just on the issue but why I knew so little about it in the first place!!!

    Imagine the strange effect of having to ones interest in the affair perked after staying up late and watching a Hollywood account of the affair, starring Sidney Poitier made in 1957!! There were no Kikuyus let alone Africans in lead roles with Latinos standing in for some Kikuyus.

    MMK,

    Adding to what you said about knowledge our own history, I think we need to collect the oral traditions of such times. I get irked and insanely jealous every time some NPR story comes on about the discovery of some new American folklore dusted off from recordings in the Smithsonian.

    I remember as a kid, my grand mother coming home after preparing the body of a relative for burial, I asked her “aren’t you afraid of dead people”? Her answer was that during the emergency (Mau-Mau rebellion) she experienced so much death, starvation and hardship that dead bodies were nothing new or things to be afraid off. It was not until years latter that I read books and accounts of British and Mau-Mau atrocities during the period that I begun to comprehend what she was talking about.

    My grand mother is in her eighties and many of her generation are dying and we really have to act fast, I am open to ideas on how we can capture this and many other such stories though out Kenya.

  7. alexcia says:

    ABH,

    This is far from a change of subject! It is the introduction, and chapter 1.

  8. A Kenyan Mhindi says:

    mmk – I have a strong feeling your “Indian” neighbours are real Indians (yaani “Rockets” – a term for the numerous Indian expats in Kenya)… rather than an Indo-Kenyan (those born/raised/lived in Kenya for at least 2 generations).

    I don’t think most Indo-Kenyans use the term “negro”… My interaction with the Indians reveals their English is still purer or archaic (take your pick)… The I doubt they consider “Negro” an insult i.e. Caucasian (of/from the caucus mountains), Aryan (of Aryan descent), Negro (as in black)…

    If your majirani are from India (Rockets) then you have a better chance of finding contacts in India. Just remember India is huge so not everyone knows everyone else.
    If they are like me… good luck! Many of us have never been to India or go solely for biashara or as tourists.

    English is widely spoken (larger cities) but the accent/pronounciation can be tough to decipher… unless you meet a Call Center rep!

  9. Zephyr says:

    I have been working on what I am calling ‘The Kukistory’ for my daughter for the last four or so years. I am digging back into the lives of her ancestors, starting from my and her dad’s granparents, i.e. her great-granparents. We started with a family tree, then I have just been talking to the people who have the info, kina my aunty, and her grandmothers and it has been an eye-opener. I want to give her at least an idea of who they were, those forebearers of hers. It has also been very poignant for me to dicover stuff about my dad after he passed away.

    I hear you totally about the collective history thing though.

  10. WM says:

    Kima,
    I really wish you wouldn’t boast about your job, since I want it. I wonder if I can convince your bosses that I would be much better at it than you–after all, I have experience….
    (Oh yes, of course I’m proud of you, but how irrelevant is that??)

  11. Anonymous says:

    MMK,

    So what is it exactly, you do?

  12. Binyavanga says:

    Yes, MK, what do you do?

  13. Steve says:

    I suspect that MMK is a professional aggitator – get in, mix things up, get people heated, get out while the getting out is good. It would explain both blogging and jet-setting (life)styles.

    I am not sure I envy all the travel though. Living in hotel rooms gets old fast.

  14. MMK says:

    Kamau – Form a company in Kenya called Family History Inc. that writes stories in different languages and builds family trees for a fee. I think you may make some money doing it.

    Kenyan Mhindi – I did not know the term ‘rockets’. Are you sure that not all Indians know each other in India? I also do not think that the use of the word negro was at all meant negatively – after all it was asking whether new negro friends had been made.

    Anon and Binyavanga – Steve answered your question. I am a professional agitator.

    WM – To what do I owe the honor of this visit to my bloghome? I have missed you.

  15. a kenyan mhindi says:

    LOL… I doubt that 1 Indian knows all the other 999,999,999 million Indians!

    No wonder they are smoking at Math & IT… after all its harder to remember the names & faces of the other 999,999,999 Indians… oops, the number just went up by 1,000 while I was typing!

    I used to get similar questions in the US…
    Yeah, sure, I know the Kenyan, Morrocan & Ethiopian jamaa/bibi who won the London or NYC or Boston Marathon, he/she lives in Eldoret, Casablanca or Addis… only a few hours by road/plane from Nairobi!

    The other question (well, covertly asked) was kwani your African but not mweusi???

    There were so many answers I thought of!

    – Don’t tell anyone but I am like Wayans bros in “White Chicks”
    – I am Egyptian (as if Egypt is not in Africa!)
    – I bleached my skin like MJ
    – Well, I thought all Americans were white!
    – Just like Red Indians are native to America, Brown Indians are native to Africa.

  16. donworry says:

    I like this blog and the owner too.Tulikutana hapo zamani lakini sidhani waweza kukumbuka.

    @Muhindi, Lol wewe mkali sana!

    To all of you hoping to preserve historia perhaps digital voice recordings is a nice place to start time is running out…….

  17. Keguro says:

    I have often thought that one of the privileges of autocthony, be it real or imagined, is a profound comfort with historical amnesia, at least in terms of family trees. In fact, we could argue that our current concerns over history and lineage are a symptom of a certain African modernity, however one defines its starting points and ongoing contentions.

    Now, how such an amnesia plays out across the black diaspora is remarkably interesting, at least in the ways that history is creatively imagined and (mis)used. The thin line between history and fiction, as always. I’m always anxious about the uses to which we put history–what is history if not the use to which it is put would be one take.

    But I’m equally discomfited by amnesia as my (deleted) blog attests. I worry endlessly about “foundations,” mostly due to training but also because I am never quite sure whether planned buildings do not house hidden and shameful cellars. And I am not savvy enough to read blue prints. One could extend the metaphor. I really need to stop writing late at night. I wander.

    Enjoy your travels and returns.

  18. Mary says:

    Keguro I miss your blog. It was one of the best Kenyan blogs out there and while respecting your right to take it down, I think it is a terrible loss.

  19. Shiroh says:

    Nice post.

    Infact today it hit me that Paris Hilton claims celeb status via her great grandfather Conrad Hilton.

    It hit me i have never really heard about my great grandfather or his parents. At least with my grandfather i have lived with him before he died.

    @Keguro, your blog was a great thing, its really sad you deleted it

  20. Keguro – why did you delete your blog? It was so good.

  21. from Delhi says:

    I read your blog with interest. When will you be in India and which cities will you be visiting?

  22. from Delhi – Hi. I will be in New Delhi during the last week of January. The trip has kept being postponed but I think that is the final itinerary.

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