Greater Understanding.


It was escalating and there was no way I was going to back down – it was a matter of principle! I stood my ground with a crowd of students jeering around me and wondered if anyone would have my back. On that sunny and pleasant afternoon, under the clear blue Thika sky, the mood at the Imani School dorms was explosive. A terrible emotional storm was brewing and I was right in the centre of it. It needed to happen though. It had been a long time coming, and this was my chance to handle the issue once and for all, God-willing.

It would however be important for me to start at the very beginning. I had spent most of my formative years at Loreto Convent Msongari, this was a familiar and secure environment. Many of the Nuns had taught my mother years before at Loreto Convent Valley Road. Mum was quite the good student and the Loreto Sisters had doted on her, they were delighted to have the second generation under their capable wings, and so this was literally family to me.

In my second year of high school I realized that my environment was far to comfortable, I felt I needed a challenge. I wanted to shake things up, seek a new environment, learn new things. I wanted to grow. So I took the bold step of selecting a mixed gender boarding school in the ‘bundus’, out in the heart of a Del Monte pineapple plantation, with a highly diverse group of students from all over the world. Broken hearted at my own decision I cried buckets on my last day at Msongari and all the way to Thika. But this was my decision. This was my new home and I would have to get used to it.

The first 2 terms were very difficult. Getting my bearings, understanding the environment and settling in. It was during this phase that I started to hear the discussions and references that made my blood boil and contributed to this huge fight on that beautiful afternoon as we relaxed outside the dorms.

What is the issue you might be asking? Well, over a period of time at a very international school I started to observe a very negative attitude towards all things local. A general disdain of all things Kenyan (and in many ways it extended to all things African). To put it quite simply, this attitude pissed me off! And so whenever referring to anything backward, bad, negative, unfortunate many students, particularly the older, trendy students, would say,
“That is so local!”
“You are so local!”
“That’s such local thinking!”

Well, on this particular day I’d had enough! The details of the afternoon are pretty hazy after so many years but I remember challenging the thinking and saying it was disrespectful. It had to stop! There are many amazing things to celebrate in Kenya… The beauty of the land, the warmth of the majority of the people, our athletes globally celebrated, our heritage rich and diverse, even our Thika pineapples distributed globally to much acclaim. They fought back though, sneering and jeering, and as we painfully continued the explosive debate-come argument I was even more convinced I would not and could not give in. After what felt like a heart thumping eternity (truth be told it must have been less than half an hour) I felt a couple of people come up behind me, they joined in, taking Kenya’s side, standing up for Africa. It went on… And on… And eventually the culprits, as i saw them, flung their hands in the air and walked off. They laughed as they walked away but there was an element of relief, the air was different. It felt like the skies had opened up and the clouds heavy with expectation were finally able to release their burden.

It was an important day for me, for all the local and African students, and even for the staff who must have heard all the derogatory references but did not know how to address the issue. It was important because we took our dignity back. It was important because after that afternoon those students stopped using that word local in that derogatory manner. It was no longer acceptable, and if they did they had to whisper, knowing that the acceptable norms had changed.

I don’t know why that afternoon has come back to me so but I am stuck by the urgency of the moment. The urgency to reframe the thinking around Africa, recognizing our triumphs and strengths as a continent… but even as we do, ensuring that we deal with the devastating conflicts in various countries, that we uplift each African so that we may all stand tall and proud of who and what we are. So that we all strive to measure up to greater standards, for ourselves, our communities, the continent and our maker.

As we headed back to our dorms from the stormy encounter heart racing, feeling both triumphant and shaken, I was struck by the beautiful orange African sunset…
“There is no place else in this world that I would rather be…” I thought, “This place is so beautiful, so incredible…”

Perhaps they felt the same…
Perhaps they had not realized just how nasty their negative references were…
Perhaps they had opened their eyes finally to the stunning beauty of the land that was hosting them…

Indeed, it is my hope and prayer – even today – that we all come to that greater understanding.

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

11 Comments on "Greater Understanding."

  1. Muraya Joseph says:

    Julie, that was great of you…Proud to be Kenyan and African.

  2. Africa is home. No other place I’d rather be. Well, it’s unfortunate that some Africans look down upon themselves and Africa itself. They never believe that good things can come out of where they come from. It’s no wonder we don’t have a continent with people who are fearless for change. It’s taking time. I don’t know if we’ll get there, but you and I do our part.

    • Githua Mwangi says:

      its true that bone day we will catch up with rest of the of the world in terms of developments. but we have a lot to be proud of..

  3. Mohamed Jafar says:

    A great write up on a complete fed up by a master of the written word…..

  4. Githua Mwangi says:

    it is said that africa was the first to wake up but we went back to sleep hence we were over taken by other continents. even the philosophy that is credited to the mainly to the Greeks has its origin in africa. so we got all it needs to shine bet with kind of relationships that exist between us we can only achieve very less. am a proud African son and thanks for being a defender of our heritage’

  5. Bulle Jarso says:

    Julie, thumps up! You are indeed a role model to many, my four daughters included. Your stories are really inspiring. I remember following your televised report on post election violence as it happened. I felt the pains you felt for our bleeding country then … and the command from the powers then, that televised news must first be approved…leading to black out on what was happening. But you never gave up on this country, and our continent. You are a rare being and soul, keep up Julie!

  6. N.M.Wambugu says:

    Hi .now I see the roots of the afro-optimist…maybe it started farther back..most things usually do.i clearly do see the passion often times when you present all your progrmmes e.g the Africa leadership dialogues .i feel it is high time those who believe in the infinite ability and potential of the African to caucus and share their view points.This could be a permanent fixture in the calendar.You have already planted the seed.I hope my website will convince you that you are not alone.Best wishes…..Wambugu

  7. N.M.Wambugu says:

    A crisis always presents two angles.One is discomfort and the other is opportunity to grow…How we handle a crisis all depends on our perspective on life,our stage of growth in life…Mostly we don’t see or hear the opportunities…Remember Jesus’s statement?…Blind and deaf are our nature…by a large measure…Are you then surprised in the state we are in???You are in??

  8. JOSEPH RAMSON says:

    Thank you JULIE, you’ve done and you are still doing a good job,Thank you TONY FOR loving her all along…GOD BLESS U

  9. lewis kimathi says:

    That was a great sense of jingoism Julie. It portrays high level of boldness to stand against all odds of humiliation and fight against cultural bias and negative perception towards our eminent continent rich in beauty, talent, cultural values, creativity and great innovation. kudos for such great step

  10. Alice Kimonge says:

    Proudly Kenyan, and African.This attitude too, needs to be adopted by our little ones.
    Thanks for sharing.

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