Category Archives: Africa

I Know This Place

Have you ever been transported by someone’s words to a place that you have never visited but somehow you feel you know?  Is it the magic of the words that so cleverly, and it seems effortlessly, transport you to another place?

Today when reading the blogs that I follow and some that I don’t, I stumbled across this post The View at the End of the Day on Vision and Verb.  This is the first time I have found and read anything here but reading those words, I could feel the heat; the still dry air; that wind clearing out the air in the house and the palpable longing for  ‘just an inch of rain’.   And in that moment I realised that the mark of a good writer is the ability to transport somebody to a place they have never been.  And in reading about it make them feel that they know the place and that they are there.  Eliza who wrote this post, has that magical ability.

Having never been to Africa I know of it only through stories and films.  One of my favourite books is that written by Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke.  This is the story of her life in Africa in the early part of the 20th Century.  Out of Africa was made into a film in 1985 starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep and the opening line from that movie “I had a farm in Africa” is imprinted on my mind.

However, Eliza obviously lives there and through her writing I will learn more of this distant, mysterious continent.  Thank you Eliza and please keep writing, describing your life and your country for us.

Taken for Granted

Those of us lucky to have been born and raised in first world countries accept that education is a given.  But imagine what it is like in some other countries where people are not offered education in any form and where some have to fight to obtain even the most basic education.

Yesterday I went to the Wellington premier of the movie The First Grader.  as a fund raiser for my favourite charity The Mary Potter Hospice.

The movie tells the story of a Kikuyu man who had been a soldier during the Mau Mau Uprising against British Rule in Kenya.  This was a bloody period between 1952 and 1960.   The movie showed flash backs to the time when he was captured and tortured by the British.

The story centres around this old man – 84-year-old Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge.  The Kenyan Government announced free education for all in 2003 and this old man decided to take up the offer.  But hundreds of children were jostling for a few places in the school nearest to his  village and his application was rejected.  He was desperate to learn to read at this late stage in his life and  felt he must have the chance at the education so long denied to him and his generation—even if it means sitting in a classroom alongside six-year-old children.   As he said he fought for freedom and now he feels entitled.

Moved by his pleas (he attended and tried to apply several times after walking from  his even more remote village) the Head Teacher takes on the establishment and the parents of some of the children to allow him to attend the school.  Maruge is eventually enrolled and proved to be an apt pupil, so much so that in 2005 he became Head Boy of the school.

Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge made headlines in media around the world and still holds the Guinness Book of Records record  as the world’s oldest primary school pupil. He said he thought that he was born in 1920 but of course, there were no records kept.

In 2006 he was invited to attend and address the United Nations on the importance of free primary education for all.

This is an inspiring movie, but also a challenging and thought provoking one.  I remember as a teenager and a young wife and mother, hearing about the Mau Mau uprising but of course, only from the British point of view.  In this movie we see that the British were not strangers to the use of  torture to gain their way.  I need to do some more research on this period to gain a better understanding of what actually went on.

But back to education.  Our young people, and I speak particularly of the young in New Zealand here, take the fact that the education is there,  free and available to everybody.  Many leave school with only a very rudimentary knowledge of even the basic reading and writing skills. Some people do go back to complete their studies as adult pupils, taking advantage of evening classes and there are a few schools that offer adult education where adults learn alongside the other pupils.  But not many.

How shaming then is it, that this elderly man wanted so much to be educated even just enough to read, that he was prepared to sit in class with babies?

When Maruge died in 2009 there were many tributes paid to him.  Click here for one from another wordpress blogger.

PM John Key and children

PM John Key and children

Here in New Zealand (and I think in the US too), September was National Literacy month.  This picture shows a meeting in the Beehive*  between our Prime Minister and a group of young school children.

In an interview at the time, he said:

“I am simply not prepared to tolerate up to one in five New Zealand children leaving our schools without the literacy and numeracy skills they need to succeed”  Rt Hon John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand.

* Note – The Beehive is the name we use for the Executive Wing of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings.  It does rather resemble a beehive doesn’t it?

The Beehive

Via Wikipedia

So what do we have to do to get this desire to learn ingrained into our young people.  Oh I know that many learn and do well.  My grandchildren are lucky in that they live in homes surrounded by books; hear adult conversation about things other than what’s on TV today and are generally encouraged to do well.  But what of the others?  These are the children and young people we should be concentrating on.  It’s no longer enough to say they must go to school every day.  In some areas the classes are large (some 30 or 35 children) and so undoubtedly some will fall off the edge.  I feel that there should be more help for the learning challenged kids.  Education of our young should/must be a bigger priority than it has been up to now.

read write think

“The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think – rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with thoughts of other men.”
Bill Beattie
, American manager and coach

A Life Being Well lived

“I learned what every dreaming child needs to know – that no horizon is so far you cannot get above it or beyond it.”
Beryl Markham, (26 October 1902 – 3 August 1986)  British-born Kenyan aviatrix, adventurer, and racehorse trainer.

I discovered Kuki Gallman when browsing in the airport bookstore for something to read on the long flight to London.  This was way back in 1996.

Kuki Gallman is an Italian writer and poet. Born in Treviso, Veneto, she moved to Kenya in 1972 with her second husband and son (from her first marriage) and is now a Kenyan citizen.

The book I discovered was “I Dreamed of Africa and this book was made into a film in 2000 starring Kim Basinger. In this her first book, Kuki Gallman tells of her ongoing fascination with Africa.  She tells of being given an essay to write when she was 12 years old.  The theme was what she wanted to do and be in 20 years time.   The teacher dismissed her essay with the words “Why did you have to write about Africa?”  Her response (copied verbatim from the book) “But I do want to live in Africa.  I do not want to stay here all my life.  One day I shall go to Africa.  I shall send you a postcard from there, signora in twenty years time.

Twenty years later, I did”.

Her book tells her story of traveling to Africa with her second husband,her son, Emanuele  and the two daughters he had with his late wife.  The two girls were sent home but Kuki, Paulo and Emanuele loved Africa and stayed.

The book tells of finding the perfect place to live and the dangers and thrills of setting up life in a totally different country, where they neither spoke the language or knew the local customs.

“Between 1972 and 1980 they acquired Ol Ari Nyiro, a 100,000 acre (400 km²) cattle ranch, on the edge of the Great Rift Valley, in Northern Kenya where they created the first ever anti poaching squad to protect the largest population of Black Rhino in Africa and large populations of elephants, buffalo and leopards. Kuki became deeply involved with conservation.”( Wikipedia).

Kiki  had a daughter in 1980.  Paolo, her husband had been killed  in an automobile accident shortly before the child was born.  He had decided to have a crib made for the new child and while bringing it home for their unborn baby was killed when a lorry crossed into his lane.  This was the first death.

Black Mamba

Her son Emanuele was fascinated by and loved snakes.  Three years later (at only 17) he died of a snake bite while trying to extract viper venom for antiserum.

Kuki founded the Gallmann Memorial Foundation in honor of Paolo and Emanuele and has dedicated her life to saving the environment and wildlife of Kenya.  She still lives in Kenya with her daughter, Sveva Makena Gallman , who is also involved in conservation and helping African children preserve their heritage.

The second book, “A Night of Lions” I discovered a few months later.  This an illustrated collection of stories about the African land and people.  In reading this book you get the feel of her total love of the land and its people.

I strongly recommend both these books to you.  In particular, I loved “I Dreamed of Africa”.  It captured me from the outset and I hope it will capture you too.

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance.
They awaken us to a new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom.
Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon.
They stay in our lives for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.”
Flavia Weedn, American author and artist.

Flamingo

Photo – Steffan Foerster