Colour Coding

colour-coding-1

When I was a little girl I had plenty of fanciful notions and fantastic thoughts, colorful ideas and creative inclinations. I loved to dream and dream big. I saw the world with innocent eyes and I loved what I saw. But I would soon learn that you cannot always expect the best from people, and life isn’t just a bed of roses.

I am the child of a mixed marriage. My father’s family hailed from Kashmir, a beautiful region between India and Pakistan, China and Afghanistan. It features some of the world most picturesque scenes, from fast flowing valley rivers to snow capped mountains, but has been the subject of various border disputes and vicious wars. My mother’s family was from Kiambu. My grandfather was born in Kabete but had to relocate several times, in some instances forcibly. Those were difficult days. They finally settled down in Nairobi. How this Asian boy from Kashmir and African girl from Kiambu met and fell in love is a story for another day.

Growing up in this mixed home I assumed that race was a non-issue. I had a fascinating notion that humans changed colour every year – one year we were black and the next year we were white. So I was rather crestfallen when I realized I wasn’t changing colour as I was supposed to. When I asked my family about it they all had a really good laugh at my expense, and I was left with the upsetting realization that my fun world of colour changing was not to be… Ah well, no big deal… However I was soon going to learn my second hard lesson about colour – people can choose to hate you simply for the skin you are in.

We lived in Dagoretti, Nairobi, along Wanyee Road. After school I loved sneaking out of the house to buy Goody Goodys (toffee heaven) at the kiosk. My parents always warned me against it and insisted I should be accompanied to the shops, but I was a know-it-all, and I loved sneaking off on my own.

On this particular day it was mid afternoon and off I went up our little hill towards the main road. It was a steep 100m stretch to the top of the hill and the road was paved with tall trees and bushes. I was halfway up that stretch when I noticed a group of boys standing at the top. They turned and saw me and then started to shout, “Mzungu! Mzungu!”

I slowed my pace sensing hostility but did not want to seem cowardly so I kept walking, slowly. In a flash, one boy picked up a stone and threw it straight at me. It all happened so fast, the stone hit me square between the eyes. Head pounding and eyes brimming with tears of shock, pain and horror I noticed the other boys bending down to pick stones too. They wanted to stone me, because of my skin!

I ran towards the trees and made my way through the bushes, getting scratched and cut but aware that my struggle through the thick underbrush would get me to the back of my grandparents house. (The Asian boy who married the African girl bought a plot next to his father-in-law and built his home there, another story for another day).

I was worried that the boys might follow me, but this was my territory and at my grandparents I felt safe. I hid on their farm for a short while, I simply couldn’t let either of them see me (there would be hell to pay if they knew what happened). A little later I walked home, just across the road, when I was sure the boys at the top of top hill had gone.

I barely remember that evening… but initially I do recall that I tried to fib that I had fallen. My parents did not buy that story, the bruise was right between my eyes! Later, after some gentle words of comfort and serious coaxing I told the truth. It all came out that some boys in the neighborhood hit me with a stone as they chanted “Mzungu! Mzungu!” Aside from warning me never to go out on my own again my parents did not say much, but it must have hit them both hard. I was just six years old.

A neighborhood discussion was called. Police were involved and they gave some talks to the school children in the area, probably about tolerance. I stopped my visits to the kiosk. My carefree approach to life changed forever. That day remains firmly etched in my mind as the day the world tried to show me that life is colour coded. Indeed, life repeatedly tries to inculcate division, fear, hate, anger… but somehow I still remain locked into my fantastic world of colourful ideas.

 

————–

Dear Lord,

I really think I had it right with that concept of changing colour every year… wouldn’t it be a more tolerant world? Lol! You know, while that attack hurt me emotionally and physically, I thank you for the incredible revelation early in life that our hearts are not colour coded. They are simply coded for love, or hate.

Your loving daughter always,

Julie

PS – please remember that if I did get to choose a colour it would be Red. You know how much I’ve always loved playing the Red Indians in Cowboys and Indians :o)

Much love,

Julie aka Soaring Eagle…

Afro-optimist * Wife * Mother * Child of God TV Host * Writer * Producer * Entrepreneur * Philanthropist

27 Comments on "Colour Coding"

  1. This is truly sad and inspiring as well… I am glad today we have a Julie Gichuru who is a national figure working day and night to restore the sanity of perverse nation through media. Thumbs up!

  2. Lynn says:

    I have a 12 month old mixed race baby. We recently came back from the UK and her first welcoming shock was in Thika where this group of grown up boda boda men kept taunting us with mzungu, mzungu…I hope the words were only said in jest, but other hateful words followed. e.g assumptions that I must be a prostitute!

    I wonder what my childs experiences will be, i worry as mother. However, I also know that a lot of these stereotypes on color are fed by ignorance. As the world and people continue to mix and integrate, i hope what defines us will not be the superficial color of skin and that my daughter will it easier than maybe people of your generation did…

  3. People will always like to segregate others on the basis of any characteristic that they percieve is different from theirs. I had such an expirience as a young boy when I started schooling, whenever I fell out with certain boys, they would sneer at me and call me off as a “child who was bought” simply because I was an adopted child. This continued for a long time since I feared asking my mum why they refered to me as so. When I finally got the courage my mum just replied by telling to just ignore them, today I think she couldn’t even come to terms with the reality of me being rediculed. However I came to learn later on when my younger brother was adopted. I them understood why I was :a child who was bought”. Anyway today I accept myself for whom I’m and I’m not ashamed of my identity.

  4. When I started schooling some boys would not even play with me, the called me off as “a child who was bought” just because I was adopted. this traumatized me so much and worse I feared to ask my mum the reason they called me so. I only learned the reason several years later when my younger brother was adopted.
    What however hit me hard was that I felt that the kids must have learned that from grownups or even their parents implying that whatever they called me was was the society percieved me to be. You can as well think what that did to my self esteem.
    It took me twenty years to come into terms with my situation and pull myself back together. Thank God today I’m proud of whom I am and not ashamed to say that I was adopted.

  5. Zack says:

    A hearty stori

  6. Fatma Athman says:

    Interesting that there is always two sides to a coin. So its not always about the little “black” girl but surprisingly it can also be about the little “white” girl. Sorry for that dent in your color dreams Julie. Unfortunately the color coding which was in existence at the time of our great grannies will be with us for a long time yet. It will take perhaps many Julies to make a complete turnaround in the years to come. Kudos for the excellent selfless color-codeless work that you do Julie. God bless you abundantly.

  7. Saluki magazine says:

    The thing about skin colour is that it makes one stand out, like a black bean in a heap of brown or red beans. And while most of us want to believe, with MJ (RIP) that “It doesn’t matter if you are white or black”, the truth is that the [human] heart is deceptive above all things. For example, black people are constantky reminded that they are black, dark or different when they visit countries inhibited by Caucasians. The same happens to whites in “black” nations. I find that those who taut others the most haven’t been isolated, in another culture or country that’s radically different. I hope things will get better as we travel further and wider, in space and virtually. Thanks for sharing your story Julie, you inspire me; us.

  8. Msupa sasa?da stori is very touchin bt why julie 2 write da story dat mkes mi weep n weep .it ws by an accidnt God md it happen so as we cn learn that who base their lives on da believe that a lovin God is actin in their behalf tend 2 c problems as opotunities 4 growth.

  9. Thanks Julie for sharing this.
    This ever vexing issue of despising others on the basis of their skin color affects a vast majority of us, from both sides of whatever divide the unreasonable boundaries are drawn. I keep hoping that everyone dispenses with petty prejudice and see humanity as one… http://is.gd/BG2qpd

    That said, I have this month, been watching films & documentaries on Nazi atrocities, e.g. Escape from Sobibor, Nazi Concentration Camps, After Mein Kampf etc.
    Even as I continue to read David Martin’s ‘General Amin’, I cannot help but wonder why we can’t understand that our differences should help unite us.

    We all need to realize that we need each other. Everybody counts. Everybody exists for a reason. We should live and let live.
    After all, it is the presence of short people that makes others tall.

  10. Very true, life repeatedly tries to inculcate division, fear, hate, anger and blackmail but the best of all experiences is to emerge out with a life-changing lesson for oneself and to serve out to others for free. Thanks for the share.

  11. Wow! Thank you all for sharing such amazing personal stories, challenges and experiences. I am happy to say that our challenges shape us/mould us into greater beings if we accept the lessons and move ahead.

    I just found this amazing quote from Madiba…
    ““No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
    ― Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

  12. SUSAN GATHONI says:

    Wow Julie.I hope everyone realizes we are all made in the image of one God who has no color.

  13. Jane Tarus says:

    Hi Julie,

    That’s truly deep, sorry about the hostile experience in your early life….

    Looking at it from different point of view, we’ve all suffered at some point in life……and the source being different colors ( symbolic), these colors represents factors affecting us in life and the way we keep on blaming ourselves or others on our failures………..it’s high time we realize what we are capable of and moving forward to hit the road expecting both Positive & Negative feedback to harden us and acknowledge the presence of God in every step we take in life.

    with Love
    Chebichii Jane Tarus

  14. Lucy Njoki says:

    Julie, what an inspiration you are, and what a positive outlook you have on life. Wonderful! I once read a quote somewhere “As I grow to understand life less and less, I learn to love it more and more.” Despite life’s obstacles, disappointments and struggles, let us embrace the goodness and wonders that that life has to offer.

    Thank you so much.

  15. cynthia says:

    God has purposed that you b great somewhere n also work or campaign against racism.God taks you through some experiences that He may prepare you to perform a duty related to that

  16. Naomi Elise says:

    That story brings back so many memories from my childhood. I am the (wonderful) product of an African man and and American woman, and our experiences growing up were so different being the ‘point-fives” and colour ALWAYS came to the fore for every event, even the most simply and mundane activity like going to the kiosk was affected. Having travelled extensively I was made very aware of my skin colour as I was always out of place from the normal sea of people. I can remember that only in Amsterdam did I melt into the crowd because I found there was a complete mix of people there, so nobody had to stare. After a few rough experiences as a child, my mother taught me that those people who make comments/hate/stare/mistreat/judge me because of my colour are simply ignorant and backward. That’s what carried me through and so I decided that I would seize every moment where I felt different and use it to my advantage. So the world became my oyster.

  17. Sarah says:

    Hi Julie,

    This story resonates so much with me, especially the part where you say you thought we changed colour every year. I had my own experience when I was about 6 or 7 too. I had been brought straight from the village in Mumias, and into a school in Nairobi – in Ngara to be precise. It was the first time I saw children and people with a different skin colour from mine…and different hair.

    My dear mama asked me if I wanted to be like the children I saw (they were mostly Asian and a few Arabs). I got the notion that, if I stayed in this school long enough, I would also change colour. But as I learned much, much later on, this was never to be. The innocence of being a child.

    At least I wasn’t the only one with that idea as a child.

  18. Julie,honestly speaking,u r such a nice lady. Like many other successful people of today,you convincingly have had your fair share of tribulations. Yours has not been an all-smooth and ditch-free journey to success. In other words triumph is the sum of efforts of everyday attempts to do well amid hurdles. My story has not been any bit different.

  19. Florence says:

    This story is touching i can only imagine the impact it had on you. We should all live as one race loved by God. God bless Julie.

  20. Chelmis Muthoni says:

    Julie, you are an inspiration and an icon to me and many young people out there. I’ve also come to realize that there is also discrimination of kids born with defects like clefts and I’d love to see a Kenya where no one is discriminated on the basis of anything. We are all God’s children

  21. Gregory Mabele says:

    Julie,

    Oh Goody Goody, Goody Goody Goody! (I still hear that advert in my head)…. I have a confession (dunno if it’ll pass he moderation test); I used to have a crush on you before you assumed the Gichuru name, when still a new-kid-on-the-block of tv, so I’m seated here wondering why those boys would do such a thing…and who their parents were – to socialise a child in such a manner is extremely irresponsible!! Well, I’m married now (still going through the traditional steps). My wife Gloria has a child from a previous relationship – a factor that has really been a thorn between my father and her grandmother (my wife was raised by her grandparents after the death of her mum). I jus find some levels of thinking difficult to understand – why should I dislike someone for a characteristic they had no choice in getting? Skin colour is God-given, no-one chooses their race. Just as my daughter (don’t have it in me to use the “step-daughter” terminology) didn’t choose to be born out of wedlock. We now also have a 18-month old son who adds joy to our lives. We’re taking it one challenge at a time – and I hope to be the best daddy to these two (and possibly some more….ahem).

    How I look forward to the day my dad would come round to accepting my whole family.

  22. Obadiah says:

    Behind the hatred of others of a different colour is a failure of self acceptance and gratitude to a creator who in His wisdom gave us the different races, tribes, nations and all the diversities that make this world an interesting place to live.

  23. Rashid Salim Al-zakwani says:

    Julia,

    I have always despised Kenyan politics and to some extent some individuals but yes yesterday I was very Impressed by way of moderatiopn world class standard. Thank u for the Job Welldone.

    Thanks to my friends on Uganda at hearts who advised me to watch the the dabate.

    Am also from a mixed family- Arab/ Muganda – all I got from the Baganda was to eat Matooke .

    Unlike you, Mwaraba mimi made ahell of people who attempted to do harm to me and my people. I could fight and i was very terrifying – so i must say i don’t fear myself or those around me.

    Today I live in My fathers’s country Oman, I have kids and I live in acountry where almost all the kids resemble my kids. This country is very secure and police services is one of the best. Unfortunatly I feel so insucure to leave my kids all alone – outside the house, going out to the shop.

    Rashid

  24. Obadiah says:

    It was a fantastic job Julie at the presidential debate.

  25. Angela Hatier says:

    Julie thanks for sharing! I remember once I was at an older kenyan couples’ home ( I am over seas) and the looks I got for having a “mixed kid” you would have thought I committed a crime!. I have learn’t to raise my daughter and son to not view “color” but for kids society unfortunately taints that picture. When children have a strong foundation then the picture of color becomes a foundation of strength

  26. Felix Njeru says:

    Julie thanks for the nice piece.Any one who has studied abroad or went to a school in a different province and got beaten because they are from a different tribe or coz of colour can ‘feel’ the flow of your piece!
    Its unfortunate when people feel you stand out coz of either skin colour or tribe…. out of ignorance they percieve you as a threat hence the cold and sometimes violent attitude.
    Irrespective of what happens to us its better we keep going and persue our dreams…keep going Gal
    You inspire me/us and very many viewers. Simply keep on doing your thing! Luv it!

  27. Console says:

    Hongera sana!

    I am congratulating you because your journey in life and all the challenges along that road made you strong!
    Look at you now! Stay Blessed.

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