The first time I saw Sheryl Sandberg was a few years ago on CNN. It was around 2 pm on a random Saturday afternoon. I remember sitting up, intrigued by her enthusiastic voice and her bubbly face. There was something about her. Something about her vulnerable demeanor and raspy voice that made it look like she was talking to me or people like me.
“What do you tell people who might think that you are too privileged to understand the struggles of ordinary women?” The CNN anchor asked her.
I don’t remember how Sheryl responded but I remember feeling that that was an unfair question. Why shouldn’t she be able to share the advice that has helped her earn a billion dollars with other women? I remember thinking quietly.
“Lean in” became my mantra. Whenever things weren’t working out, I would remind myself to just lean in. She made it OK to struggle with self-doubt and still raise our hands. I chuckled when I heard her talk of going for a meeting and discovering the lice on her daughter’s head. These were ordinary struggles of many women and I was so proud of her for speaking up. For letting the world know of the challenges women go through while raising a family and trying to earn a living. I nodded when she talked of how most of us resent and judge ambitious women while cheering men for the same.
She got it.
And it didn’t matter to me that she probably had hordes of servants picking up after her. It didn’t matter that she most definitely had private jets at her disposal. She was speaking up for women, and in a world so hostile to women's causes, I could never cheer her up enough.
I felt terrible about her husband’s tragic death. I admired her even more when she bounced back. Her courage to share her experiences and her resolution to continue living her life blew my mind.
But now I don't know what to think.
A couple of weeks ago, word got out that Facebook had hired a right wing propaganda machine to discredit and smear George Soros.
In the months of October and November every year, stories about the holocaust flood German media. I have for years followed these stories and every single time, my heart breaks into tiny pieces. It never becomes more bearable or easier to see the haunted eyes and the emaciated skeletal bodies of the victims of the Wehrmacht.
I’m not sure what exactly drives me to watch or read these stories. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m deeply aware that as a foreigner, I would have been high on the list of those the NAZIs rounded up. Or maybe it’s my self-preservation instincts trying to figure out whether it’s time to duck.
One of the recurring themes in these stories is mixed families of Germans and Jews. I’m curious about these families. Mixed relationships in their nature are in the best of times fraught with mysteries and complications that would boggle most people. But how does one have a relationship let alone marry someone whose community is persecuting his own?
In one recently published book "Apfelbaum", a German actor Christian Berkel tells the story of his Jewish family. His mother, a Jew married his father a Wehrmacht doctor but they don't really talk about it. At some point he becomes curious and asks his parents about who they are. His mother tells him that he is a bit Jewish but doesn’t elaborate. She also mentions that she was in a camp but doesn’t explain that it was in fact a concentration camp. His father who had been a prisoner of war in Russia sings him Russian lullabies but he also doesn't say much.
I was reading this book by a Russian writer Victoriya Tokareva . The genius of the book like most great works lies in its simplicity. She talks about the men in her life. The ordinary misery, the poverty, the love, the betrayals, the alcohol and many other mundane things that make up human existence.
Whenever people use the term shocking, I get the feeling that they are just trying to be dramatic. There really is no need to use the term shocking to describe anything that’s not life threatening let alone in a blog post headline like I was planning to do. My first headline had 'shocking' prominently displayed in it but after going through it, I had to admit to myself that there was not just a tinge of drama in it but a healthy dose of laziness. The following are things that you are unlikely to find in Germany but describing them as shocking would be stretching it too thin.
The past two weeks in Germany have been dominated by demonstrations in the Eastern German city of Chemnitz. A male resident of Chemnitz was stabbed to death and two others fatally wounded. Two suspects, both asylum seekers, one from Iraq and a Syrian were arrested. The residents held a demo to mourn and protest. The next day, thousands of neo-Nazis held an even bigger demo to protest against ‘criminal foreigners’.
I live about 500 km away from Chemnitz in the south western part of Germany but as I watched the charged crowd and the “Ausländer raus!” chants, I felt my blood turn cold. It was no longer about two criminals. It was now about all foreigners which in Germany means anyone who doesn’t look ‘German’.
Neo-Nazis were prowling the streets and I wondered how it must feel like to be a person of color right at that moment listening or watching from your window somewhere in Chemnitz. What do you tell your kids? That it’s all going to be okay?
This was not the first time neo-Nazis were holding a demo in Germany. And yet this demo felt different. I have been thinking about why the events in Chemnitz unsettled me so much and I think I have finally figured out why. The first reason is that it didn’t feel like some fringe elements. It felt like these were ordinary folks calling out for foreigners to be thrown out of Germany. Thinking of hostility towards foreigners as something that’s restricted to fringe elements or some hateful freaks gives one a sense of security.
Does one really have to go to Venice? This question doesn’t matter at this point seeing as I have just come back from Venice but it’s one that anyone thinking of going to Venice should probably ask themselves.
I love stereotypes though as a foreigner, I really ought to hate them. One of the most enduring realities of living in a foreign land is that you will constantly be bathed, scrubbed and wrapped with stereotypes. I suspect that this is especially so if you are African. Some who have watched that crazy film with Eddy Murphy will assume that you are a Zamunda citizen waiting to pull some crazy stunt on them. They will mostly ignore you but if they have a minute to spare, they will look at you with wry amusement laced with unhinged curiosity.
This is something I wondered about when I first moved to Germany. I imagine that it is a question that gives many of my fellow foreigners sleepless nights. Can one get a job in Germany when they are not fluent in German? The truth is, that German is not an easy language and there are many levels that one has to master before feeling half competent in it. If you somehow succeed in figuring out the random genders of trees, cows and books, you will still be pleasantly surprised to come across a word like this 'Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften'("legal protection insurance companies") or a sentence so long that it could easily go around the world and back. The second truth is there are not too many countries or places around the world where German is spoken. In fact, almost all the 230 million speakers of German live in Europe with small pockets elsewhere. Most foreigners who come to Germany usually have other native languages and have previously only had superficial contact with German. Some of them come into contact with German for the first time. Many of them have qualifications from their native countries usually learnt in different languages for example English, Spanish and many others to name but a few. Almost all of them have dreams of working and earning a living.
When I first visited Germany for the first time in 2002, I got the impression that everyone spoke English: My partner’s family, friends and acquaintances all spoke English. Even though, some were not fluent, all of them could express themselves fairly well in English. During that visit, we did a small tour of Germany starting from the small town in South west of Germany) near Heilbronn where my partner’s family lived and headed to Berlin in the north about 600km away and then to Hamburg to the North-west and back. During this trip, pretty much everyone I encountered spoke English. I also noticed an eagerness of sorts among the many Germans I met to speak English. Strangers would often ask me probably because I looked different whether I spoke French or English. Needless to say, I concluded that one could get by in Germany without speaking German which as I later found out was at best naïve and at worst, well, very naïve J.
I never thought he would get elected. I just didn’t. Too many reasonable people in America. Women would stand with one of their own. He is too brash. Not without releasing his tax returns. Not with his Russian connections. Not after his tape about grabbing pu**y.
I was wrong.
As he would say, I was ‘bigly tremendously yugely’ wrong.
“You don't ask people with knives in their stomachs what would make them happy; happiness is no longer the point. It's all about survival; it's all about whether you pull the knife out and bleed to death or keep it in...” Nick Hornby, How to Be Good
Staying young is easy. Work out as often as you can. Eat healthy and most important of all, never ever acknowledge a new year.
A few years ago on my birthday, I told my son that I was turning fifteen.
‘Fifteen?’ I still remember the awe in his voice. He attempted to count his fingers but fifteen was a figure way beyond his imagination.
In the subsequent years, I have repeated the same story. Fifteen I am, and fifteen I remain.
Last week, I heard him tell his sister in his cocky little way that he could count up to one hundred. He started counting and when he reached fifteen, he paused and raised his finger.
“Mummy is fifteen!”
For a moment, there was just silence and then the sister broke out into a boisterous laughter. I saw the hurt in his eyes.
“Well …” I started but wasn’t quite sure what to say. ‘I was kidding,’ ‘that’s what adults say’ all seemed a bit lame. So I told him the truth.
‘‘I am 15b!’’
His sister’s eyes almost popped out and in that moment, I knew that I had to put this down for posterity.
“Self-pity is the worst possible emotion anyone can have. And the most destructive.”Stephen Fry English comedian,writer,presenter and activist.
No wiser words have been spoken before.
Most of us have experienced those moments.
The moments when the universe seems to be directly conspiring against us.
It could be small things;your dog is sick, you have a horrible tooth-ache, someone beat you to a parking spot.
But sometimes,it could be pretty huge;a serious illness, bankruptcy,losing a loved one,divorce.
Happy new year everyone!
A time comes in your life when you finally get it . . . when in the midst of all your fears and insanity you stop dead in your tracks and somewhere the voice inside your head cries out: ENOUGH! Enough fighting and crying or struggling to hold on. And, like a child quieting down after a blind tantrum, your sobs begin to subside, you shudder once or twice, you blink back your tears, and through a mantle of wet lashes you begin to look at the world through new eyes.
This is your awakening.
You realize that it’s time to stop hoping and waiting for something to change or for happiness, safety and security to come galloping over the next horizon. You come to terms with the fact that there is nothing like a perfect life. In the real world, there aren’t always fairytale endings (or beginnings for that matter) and that any guarantee of `happily ever after` must begin with you, and in the process a sense of serenity is born, of acceptance.
You awaken to the fact that you are not perfect and that not everyone will always love, appreciate, or approve of who or what you are . . . and that’s OK.(They are entitled to their own views and opinions.)
And you learn the importance of loving and championing yourself and in the process a sense of new found confidence is born of self-approval.
You stop bitching and blaming other people for the things they did to you (or didn’t do for you,) and you learn that the only thing you can really count on is the unexpected. You learn that people don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say and that not everyone will always be there for you and that it’s not always about you. So, you learn to stand on your own and to take care of yourself, and in the process a sense of safety and security is born of self-reliance.
The year is 1985. It must have been.
Her grip is becoming tighter. I hold on to her fingers and feel the sweat on my palms.
“Faster” she whispers in a near trembling voice. Waya which simply means 'aunt' in Luo, is a bubbly fearless woman whose laughter echoes miles away and lights up anything it comes across.
“Keep walking” she says.
“Look ahead” she exhales slowly. She barely opens her mouth let alone looks at me. The small backpack with my clothes suddenly feels heavy but I majestically try to keep her pace.
We are not alone. There is the samosa guy pacing around and singing something soulful. And then there is the little girl. She is probably about my age and she is carrying an orange bowl with peanuts and a small spoon.
And then there is everyone else.
Interesting take on a never ending topic…
That it was going to happen, was never in doubt. In fact, I had expected that it would happen any moment. And yet on that Thursday night when I watched Caren Miosga, the ARD newscaster talk of Mandela in the past tense, I was left staring hopelessly at the screen, tears welling like a sudden summer rain. She didn’t have to say it. Her regretful somber tone said it all.
Growing up, I didn’t know what apartheid was. In its place, I knew Winnie Mandela with her velvet like skin, Miriam Makeba with her sultry powerful voice and yes Lucky Dube. I knew that there was some kind of struggle going on down there going by the number of times South African music repeated the word ‘freedom’. But all these were too distant to make any impression on me.
So the elections came and went. As expected, ‘Mutti’ won. It wasn’t the fact that she won that was surprising. It was the style. So emphatic was her win that the competition was left speechless. For a big part of the evening, we sat glued in front of the screen, wondering whether she’d reach the magic number-absolute majority.
I felt sorry for the opposition. There is losing, and then there is losing. The latter is the kind of stuff you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. She had crushed them, literally. The social democrats managed a measly 25.7 %. Their natural partners the Greens managed 8.4%. Frau Merkel’s former coalition partners FDP (liberals) didn’t even manage the minimum 5%, and have as a result been kicked out of parliament. It was an evening that many will live to remember.
But if the opposition had any regrets about how they conducted their campaigns, I didn’t see it. It was more like sighs and yes, helpless shrugging of shoulders. ‘How were we to have any chance against her?’ The social democrats seemed to be asking themselves. Amazingly, there was no trace of bitterness. And so for the rest of the evening, we were treated to a chorus. “We would like to congratulate Frau Merkel on her victory.” One opposition leader after the other went on.
Frau Merkel on her part smiled that distant smile, which never quite reaches the eyes. Not once did she let the moment consume her. Not once did she gawk down at the losers in the way lesser mortals would have been tempted to do.
I watched this spectacle with a mixture of emotions. The lack of drama was both puzzling and admirable. No one acted like their lives depended on the elections. No one acted as if the world would crumble if the opponent won. But most important of all, no one doubted the ACCURACY of the results. It was a near opposite of elections, as I remember them back home in Kenya.
There is an agreement in most parts of the world that Africa is on the rise. With economic growth rates that the rest of the world can only dream of, Africa is set to be a favorite destination of economic immigrants. Actually this is already happening. The Portuguese are said to be migrating in droves to Angola to look for work. And the Angolans are returning the favor by travelling to Portugal to… guess what? shop!
In recognition of the importance of Africa, I have decided to come up with a list of the different types of Africans you are likely to come across. Be sure to print this list out and carry it in your handbag for future reference whenever you bump into an African or if you are lucky enough to hang out with one.…