I have traveled to the Netherlands, South America, Russia and Germany. But none like the beautiful Motherland- Kenya, Africa. When I was asked to travel to Kenya through the Harbor Charitable Foundation my heart nearly jumped out of my body. I remember thinking to myself, "Wow, the Motherland!" This trip could not have come a better time in my life as I have always felt a void (culturally) on my African side here in America. I always knew that there was more to our culture as African Americans than what we have settled for here in the states. And this was soon to be revealed in this trip to the Motherland.
My trip to Kenya, Africa filled that void when I met the many beautiful Africans and listened to their languages, songs, stories; admired their traditional attires, dances; ate the traditional foods, and observed the lifestyles while I healed with the communities. I found more similarities to the Navajo culture than differences. Our relatives in Kenya are people of the land. They have cornfields (my favorite traditional food was made out of maze is called Ugali- yummy!!!!), mud homes like hogan's, they make frybread which is slightly sweeter than ours in the U.S. (they call it "Mondazi"), rely on the sheep, goats and cattle for food (and the animals roam freely as ours do on Navajoland), and are proud people who are full of life despite their conditions and circumstances.
A large percentage of the population is impacted by the AIDS pandemic and I had the opportunity of meeting those who were HIV positive or had AIDS, including children. I remember the day I went to the County Clinic to get the various shots prior to my trip to Kenya. I sat in the office as I listened to the prices of what each shot would cost ($25- $230) for Malaria, Hepatitis A & B, Meningitis, Measles, Mumps and Rubella, Tdap, Typhoid to name a few. I remember feeling sick to my stomach as I thought of the people who" truly" suffered at the hands of such diseases while others profited off the inhumanity that stemmed from this. This was very disturbing for me.
Our first day in Kisumu, Kenya we visited the Pandipieri School, where we were greeted by Sister Bernadette who introduced us to all of her colleagues. The school of Pandipieri (one of the many projects of Harbor Charitable Foundation) is a formal and informal school where their projects are geared towards 3 areas: Street Children, Community Health and Education. A skit was presented to John, Leontine and I (the group that I traveled with through the Harbor Charitable Foundation) by children of Pandipieri about AIDS. The two leaders of the class spoke with much power, belief, strength and courage as we broke down in tears. What admiration one could only have for these children as they are now a part of a generation of change, hope and empowerment! I am very proud to say that one of the leaders will be featured on my upcoming album as a soloist as well as 15 other youth participants of the Pandipieri School. We also visited with the street children that were victims of parents who were killed in the political violence in January, 2008, the AIDS pandemic or runaways from unstable home environments. The street youths were encouraged to go to the Pandipari School for refuge and schooling.
Kagamega Education Program is another project that Harbor Charitable Foundation is involved in. This program is dedicated to preserving one of the largest rain forests and it's species in Kenya. Harbor Charitable Foundation is currently building a snake park to educate the communities about the different snakes and animals in the rain forest as some locals find them a threat. The first day, it poured like cats and dogs as we enjoyed a home cooked traditional meal prepared by the locals. Benjamin Okala took us on an early morning hike into the rainforest where we were greeted by the monkeys and their calls. I hiked to the top of a hill where I stood in the presence of divine beauty, our Mother Earth, overlooking the entire rainforest. This was a beautiful site to see and feel. It was breathtaking. We were also honored by a traditional dance that is still practiced among the traditionalists deep in the rain forest. This dance is to honor the Rain Gods and to express gratitude for such element to survive.
And last but not least, I had the privilege of meeting attorneys who dedicate their time and energy to Women's Rights. FIDA is a Federation of Women Lawyers (non-profit organization) that aims to improve the legal standing of women in Kenya through promoting gender equality, strategic and leadership programs, legal services etc...
I did presentations on domestic violence and encouraged our sisters that they too will overcome this destructive illness that plagues our world. Thank you FIDA for your hard work and dedication!
At the end of the day, we all share our common struggles, feel hope and desire change. It begins with self and from there it extends to the next brother or sister, all life forms and the universe. It's time to illuminate the dark parts of who we are and embrace humanity so that it flourishes in generosity and compassion. The drum represents the heartbeat of Mother Earth and it is the drum that brings us together in song and in dance. I was told that that the trip to Kenya, Africa would be a life changing experience....and it was. Let us reach out to each other even through a smile so that we become much closer.
Thank you to Harbor Charitable Foundation for all that you do to make a difference in people's lives and for making this trip possible for me. And much gratitude and blessings to my new friends of Kisumu, Kenya for opening your heart and sharing with me, the beauty in who you are as our relatives: Chris, Pandipieri School, Sister Bernadette, Alie, SWAP, Gabriel, James, Yusuf, John, Dre, George, Peter, Dottie, Ted, John, Leontine, Maria, Sr. Philomena, Benjamin Okala, Kagamega Rainforest Conservation Project (KEEP), FIDA and the Mill Hill Mission.
To the children of Pandiperi who will be featured on my upcoming cross- over album, "Thank you for sharing your beautiful voices and for breathing life into what is now, your song, "Freedom from Within!" You all hold a very special place in my heart and I love you all and miss you, dearly! Ahehee("thank you," in Navajo).
If I forgot anyone please, blame my head not my heart.
Until we meet again, because I plan on going back to Kenya soon.