Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ghanian Poet Kofi Awoonor Dies in Nairobi Attack

Saturday lunch time I was alternating between watching crap TV and washing dishes. My kids were off to a wedding and my husband asleep on the sofa. I decided to check Facebook on my phone. I see a few posts from FB friends saying that they are not at Westgate Mall. One says he was there but is now safely home. I turn on the news and there it is- Westgate Mall in Nairobi has been attacked by terrorists. A mall I had lunch in last year when I attended the Storymoja Hay Festival.

As the day progresses and the horror of what has happened develops, I send messages to friends to see where they are. The Storymoja Hay Festival is on and many writers are in Nairobi during the attack. By evening I hear that all of the writers at Storymoja have been accounted for save for one poet. I go to bed hoping he is somewhere safe. Sunday morning I wake up to hear the worst news possibe- the poet Kofi Awoonor has been killed at the mall.

As I write this, the horrific attack is not yet over. So many people dead and injured, so many lives knocked tragically off course. I wonder how Kenyans will continues after all of this. I wonder about the Storymoja organisers and how they will go on again next year. I'm not sure if I could just step forward bravely when such meaningless terror is out there.

For now, Kenyans should know that all of Africa is behind them, we mourn with them. In this case Africa maybe is a country, especially for its writing community.

Robala Ka Kagiso, Rre Awoonor.

Here is one of his last poems.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What I've Learned So Far About Pain

On 12 April, I woke up and found I was unable to move without horrible pain. I'd done nothing physical. I didn't fall. For about six months up to that point, though,  I had a series of stressful events that kept piling up and compounding the stress level in my body. I first felt the pain in my left heel. That caused me to stop my morning aerobics. Then the pain moved to my right hip. I took a few ibuprofen each day and managed to get on. Then one day my husband said, "Do you realise you're walking crooked?" Then on 11 April, we rushed to Gaborone to find a place for my daughter to move and to shift her stuff  after she was given less than a week to be out of where she was. That seemed to be the straw that literally broke this camel's back. 12th  April my life changed.

At first, though I was scared by the severity of the pain, I was sure my body would sort itself out. It always had before.Though I could do little more than lay in bed, I was sure it was nothing serious. But then a week passed and then another and then a month. A bit by force I was taken to a chiropractor and then I had Xrays and an MRI and suddenly everyone had an opinion. A disc between my vertebra was herniated and pressing on my sciatic nerve so the pain starting in my lower back shot straight down my leg all the way to my foot. I was advised by one qualified medical  fellow that if I did not get surgery and very soon I would be paralysed.

I kept explaining that I felt the months of stress leading up to the day in Gaborone was the cause, but no one was interested. They saw that disc and it had to be cut out. But I wasn't going to do it. I just knew I would need to find another way.

So more months went by. I swallowed so many pills I was a walking science experiment. I stopped going to the hospital because their only option was more pills or surgery. One was not working and the other I knew would not improve things.

Eventually I found a physical therapist who also does acupuncture who has helped me a lot. After seeing him  only a few times, I could sit on a chair again. I could walk with minimal pain.

As of today, I still have pain in my leg, but nowhere near what it was before. I can do nearly everything. I go for physical therapy once a week. And I've begun to understand a bit about pain. If I'm having a bad day, the pain is more. If I lose hope of ever being pain free, the pain is more. When I just get on with things, the pain is less. When I get scared and think maybe that fellow was right and one day I will be paralyzed because of this, the pain surges.

I know for sure and certain, whatever my MRI shows, my pain started in my head and continues to be produced in my head. Yes, I'm feeling real pain, but it is my brain creating it. If those six months of crazy stress had not occurred, I doubt 12 April would have happened. If I would have paid a bit more attention to my heel pain and my hip pain, paid a bit more attention to how I was coping with the stress, I wouldn't have spent nearly six weeks scared to walk to the bathroom.

I've developed huge empathy for people who live with daily pain. I know what a dictator it can be. It leaves nothing left of your life, it takes it all. I don't know if one day I'll be completely pain free, I hope so. I don't know if I'll have another attack that throws me back in bed, I might. I'm trying to learn to be kinder to myself. I'm trying to let things slide a bit. I've seen what stress can do to me. It's been a tough year, but I'm trying my best to relearn how to live and that's not a bad thing I think.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The V-Team

I wrote this story some years ago about Botswana's national vision, Vision 2016. It's a story for kids but I think we can all get something out of it during this Vision 2016 month.

The V-Team

by Lauri Kubuitsile

     The weak sun barely pierced through the heavy, dark haze of a now typical Gaborone morning. Exhaust fumes from thousands of cars and pollution from the factories were too much for sun’s rays to get through. Though it was mid morning, it could have been dusk, it was so dark. Neo glanced behind into the smoky air and could see the outline of a group of people following them. She knew it was one of the many gangs of unemployed, unhappy youth that roamed the capitol’s streets. She grabbed her mother’s arm and pulled her forward. “Hurry Mama, we can wait for the combi up there in the petrol station. We’ll be safe there.”
     Her mother struggled to walk faster but her legs were painful, the very reason they’d left the safety of the house in the first place. They had finally organised enough money to get her mother to a private doctor to have her legs attended to. The government money for the public health care system had long been mismanaged. Now only those with money could afford to stay healthy. Neo had thought that going out to the doctor in the day would be safer, but as she heard the footsteps coming ever closer behind them, she was thinking that maybe she had been wrong.
      She looked behind and saw the gang approaching. It was a mix of boys and girls as all the gangs were. She could hear them speaking with their American-accented foul language. The gangs hated all things Setswana and held tight to the gang culture they saw at the cinema. They robbed and stole freely. Beating and killing ordinary citizens meant nothing to them. They were angry at their lack of opportunity and took that anger out on whomever they chose.
     Neo could see the petrol station. “Come Mama, they won’t trouble us if we’re in here.”  She opened the door and snuck inside just as the gang came near.
      A tall, thin woman at the cash register said,” Hey you two! What do you want in here?”
     Neo looked at her. “It’s the gang... My mother is ill… we need to wait for the combi.” She could see from the woman’s face that she had no interest in their problems. She wanted them out. With a stern look, she raised her thin arm, dangling with gold bangles, and pointed at the door.
     Neo knew there was no use in arguing. “Come Mama,” she said, and she helped her mother outside.
      They stood as near to the shop as they could, hoping that they would not be noticed, but luck was not on their side. A short, dark boy with an acne scarred face approached them first. “Hey Baby, how ya’ll doin’? “
      Neo looked away, hoping he’d leave them alone, praying that the combi would arrive.  Another gang member approached. At first Neo thought it was another boy, but as the person neared them she saw she was a girl, not much more than 12 or 13. “Hey, he’s talkin’ to ya? Dontcha hear? Ya think ya too good? Maybe you gotta education, gotta job. That it? Think you betta than us?”
     The small girl put her face very near Neo’s and poked at her chest with her small finger. Neo could smell she’d been drinking. “I just want to be left alone,” Neo said.
       Suddenly, they were all on her. Someone punched her and she fell to the pavement. The small girl tried to grab Neo’s bag, but she held fast to it. Then she heard her mother shouting, “Leave her alone you tsotsis!”
      The gang stood back. Laughing, the acne-scarred boy, who seemed to be the leader, said, “What you gonna do ol’ lady?”
      “You have no respect for your elders!” MmaNeo said, standing tall and proud, fearless against the youths that surrounded her.
      “Respect for my elders? How’s this for some respect?” The acne-scarred boy pulled out a knife from his pocket. With the click of a button, a sharp, thin blade appeared. Before Neo could do anything, he drew the knife across her mother’s neck and blood shot out like a fountain.

        The gang ran as Neo fell to where her mother lay on the dirty pavement, spread with tins and plastics, and she tried to stop the blood, tried to save her mother’s life, but it was all in vain.   “Why? Why? ” Neo asked of no one, while her mother died in her arms.
         “What has happened to my beautiful country? What has happened to Botswana?” she cried.

      Around a long wooden table, six people sit paging through letters. They wear masks to hide their faces. They use code names to keep themselves secret from others and also from themselves. The door bursts open letting in the clear sunshine from outside. In walks a tall, strong man, wearing a red suit and a black mask similar to the ones worn by the others around the table. They look up when he enters.
     Dumelang ditsala tsame! What a beautiful day it is! The event was a wonderful success!” he says as he shuts the door behind him and takes the last empty seat at the table. “Really fantastic!”
     “Tell us about it, United,” a woman at the end of the table says. She wears the same black mask and suit, only her suit is green.
      “The whole of Bobonong was there. Families of all kinds working together in such harmony. It was beautiful! It’s no longer a one off event, I can see that now.  I truly believe Batswana have re-found the strength of their families. We are definitely on our way!” United’s enthusiasm was spreading and a wave of energy circled around the table.
      The green suited woman held up one of the letters in front of her. “It’s here! Finally it’s here!”
      “What is it, Educated?” a short man in yellow at the end of the table asks.
        “We just got the results back from the last census. You guys won’t believe this. Last year, 2015, we finally achieved 100% of our children finishing secondary school!”

      A cheer went up, shaking the roof and rattling the windows. “Educated, I think we’re starting to see the pot at the end of the rainbow!”  Moral, a woman dressed in a purple suit, said. “The V-Team has been a success!”
      “Don’t get too excited,“  a quiet man in a blue suit says. “I’ve got a family here that might just dampen your spirits.” He holds up a letter. “The mother is handicapped, the father disappeared years ago and none of the children are working. They need help. What can we do? Where is the Vision for them?”
      “Prosperous, I think first we need to attend to their current needs- food, clothing, and shelter. Caring, can you get on that?” United asks turning to the masked woman to his right.
       “Sure, no problem. Every business in Botswana has a social responsibility policy in place to help the community when people are in need. Thanks to that, help for that family is just a phone call away.”
      “Then, Prosperous, you need to see what can be done to get them back on their feet. There are so many new factories and tourism attractions, as well as the whole new agricultural sector. I’m sure you can help them get jobs, don’t you think?”
      Prosperous took another look at the letter. “It says here they live in Palapye. That’s great; the juice factory will be opening there next month. I’m sure they’ll find employment there.”

     The auditorium is dark. Quiet whispers and the ruffling of evening gowns and tuxedos give evidence of the people filling the hall; everyone waits for the event to start.  The soft sound of African drums can be heard. Slowly, they build, loud and strong they echo off the walls of the huge auditorium. A spotlight suddenly lightens the dark stage and the drums stop.
     “Ladies and gentleman, the President of the Republic of Botswana, Her Excellency Mrs Galaletsang  Thabiwa!” The African drums beat again, pushing excitement into the already electric air.
     The crowd jumps to their feet with wild applause as a handsome, tall woman comes onto the stage. She wears a beautiful rhinestone studded evening gown in the sky blue colour of Botswana’s flag. She raises her hands to quiet the crowd.
       Dumelang Bagestsho!” she says. “Tonight we are here to celebrate an incredible achievement. A short 20 years ago, the then president, President Festus Mogae, challenged the people of this great nation. He launched Vision 2016, a vision of what Botswana could be when she turned 50 years old. I am happy to say that today, all Batswana should be proud that we took up that challenge and we have succeeded!” The crowd jump to their feet, cheering and clapping.
      The President raises her hands again. “Behind our success are the faceless people; humble hardworking Batswana, who chose to make a difference, to grab up the Vision and make it their own personal goal. Tonight, Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to introduce you to the V-Team!”
       The drums beat again. The curtains open and behind them stands rows and rows of masked people, wearing beautiful suits in every colour of the rainbow, stretching far back in the distance to where the eyes could no longer see.
     Neo sits in the audience next to a big Afrikaans speaking man, who bounces up and down in his seat with excitement, “It’s wonderful! Just wonderful!” he says turning to Neo with a smile spread across his wide face.
     On her other side, is an elderly man, his clouded eyes swimming with unshed tears of happiness. “We’ve done it, Ngwanake,” he says in a calm, respectful voice.  Neo feels her heart warm in her chest; she feels love and joy all around her.
     On the stage, the President steps toward a small woman dressed in a blue suit at the end of the first row of V-team members. She takes the corner of the woman’s mask in her hand and pulls it over her head. It is time to reveal the faces of those who made the Vision come true.
     Shocked, Neo takes another look. It is her on the stage! She is the blue suited member of the V-Team! She watches herself turn to the red suited man next to her on stage.  She pulls his mask off to reveal his face. And they continue down the line- revealing lanky teenage boys and middle-aged fat ladies, stern faced old men and blond girls with pink makeup. They are Batswana of every age, every colour, of every creed. Neo turns to the old man next to her, “It’s us! We are the V-Team!”
    The elderly man nods his head; he has known it all along.


     Neo sits up in her bed, suddenly wide-awake.  She takes a few short breaths as she looks around her familiar bedroom and tries to get her bearings. She hears her mother singing in the kitchen preparing her breakfast. She is safe and sound, healthy and alive. It was not true after all; it was all a dream.
       Neo sits still for a moment. She looks at the reflection of herself in the mirror across the room. Suddenly, it all becomes clear. The dream was a call. She has a choice to make. She can hide and hope someone, somewhere will make things right, and then -when it is too late- she can regret what Botswana will most certainly become. Or she can take up the challenge herself. She can decide the future of her country by designing it everyday with both big and small actions. She can join the V-Team!
       Neo hops out of bed. It is clear now what she needs to do. There is no more time to waste, she needs to start today- she has a lot of work to do!