Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hawk on Sill

Tamar called us into the room. She pointed to a red tail hawk sitting right outside her window looking out towards Amsterdam Avenue. We were afraid of disturbing him, but did make some noise and he turned around and looked at us intently. He seemed perfectly calm. Just turned his head back to his business of watching for pigeons and rats on the neighboring roofs.I looked up red tails and found this site: and wrote to this expert. He seems to know this hawk and replied to me:"That little stinker looks very familiar. I missed him over the last week or so. Thank you for sharing and please tell me if he/she visits again. Here is whom I believe it is:

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sequel to Losey/Mozart

One of the best (perhaps the best!) film versions of any opera is Don Giovanni by Joseph Losey. Made in 1979, this film was shot in the many buildings of Vicenza which were designed by the great architect Palladio. Thomas Jefferson was greatly influenced by Palladio, especially for his home Monticello, which is paterned after the rotunda design which Palladio pioneered in Vicenza. This historic Italian city is now the target for US base expansion. The 173 Airborne already has a huge installation in Vicenza called Caserma Ederle. As the the US military puts it:
Caserma Ederle (Camp Ederle) in Vicenza, about 25 miles west of Venice, offers the usual amenities -- post exchange, commissary, theater, clubs, and extensive morale, welfare and recreation opportunities.... The US Army Health Clinic-Vicenza is a large clinic that serves a population of approximately 8,000 personnel. Caserma Ederle is located on the east side of Vicenza, not far from the Vicenza East (EST) exit off Autostrada (A4) which runs from Venice to Milan...

The Vicenza Exchange is the largest Mall Complex (over 80,000 square feet) south of the Alps. The complex offers a large assortment of facilities to include: One Hour Photo, Amusement Center, Optical Shop, Specialty Vendors, Power Zone, Food Court, Car Rental, Beauty/Barber Shop, Flower Mobile, Italian/German Gift Shops, German Clocks/Shrunks, and Full Service Main Store....Burger King, Military Clothing Sales/Tailor Shop, Launderette/Dry Cleaners, Shoppette, Theater, Auto Parts/Garage.

The US wants to build more installations in Vicenza. Today, February 17, 2007, there was a huge protest against this expansion.FROM THE BOSTON GLOBE:
"I don't want any more Americans here and I don't want a new base. They should just leave us alone," said Pucci Mori, a resident of Vicenza, who lives near the proposed base expansion.
"Wherever they go in the world, Americans cause trouble."
The new barracks would be on the other side of the city from the existing one. That has raised worries about new roads to handle military traffic linking the two parts, loss of green space and strains on public services.
Residents fear it could even put Vicenza in danger.
"The people of Vicenza are concerned. The base would be in the heart of the city and in the case of a military conflict it could become a target," said Nobel literature laureate Dario Fo.The plan for expansion from an Italian newspaper.

The move is part of the U.S. Army's overall transformation into a lighter, more mobile force...Under the plans, elements of the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade, a rapid reaction unit now spread between Italy and Germany, would be united.

"I think it is a done deal. I don't think there is any turning back. This is what Prodi has said and what the local authorities have said," said David Bustamente, a spokesman at the U.S. Consulate in Milan. "This demonstration is about process."

Construction is scheduled to begin later this year and to be completed by 2011 at a total cost of $576 million. Before construction begins, a task force run by Italians has been set up to hear community concerns and make adjustments to the plans where possible.Tens of thousands marched this weekend to protest the expansion and Prodi's complicity.
There is a good discussion at

College Art Association: Invitation to think

Stopped by the Hilton Hotel where the CAA was in full swing. Seated on the floor outside one of the meeting rooms was a nervous grad student checking her power point on a lap top. So many presenters. So much gobbledegook. I got that word from Hans Haacke who did a "conversation" with Dennis Adams. Star Gazing by Haacke
These are excerpts from my notes at Haacke's presentation:
Asked about teaching:
It was only through teaching that I could retain some understanding with people that are much younger than I am—and I really learned from them. They forced me to translate some of the "art speak" gobbledegook into a language that is accessible to undergraduate students… the gobbledegook is not useful.. Asked about art criticism:
These are people whose profession is to look.... But there is so little attention to what you pay attention to.
They focus totally on the a kind of "content management"
but they overlook the context and the decisions that I made in creating my work.
Asked about his form that sometimes uses what could be called a "marketing style" or be associated with "Pop Art":
Well, you can overcome a lot of things.
Asked about a recent piece in Berlin, a memorial to Rosa Luxemburg:
I tried to make it an invitation to think.
(Steel plates with quotations from the work of Luxemburg.)
I allowed her to speak in her own voice...I wanted people to be exposed to her thoughts, to be provoked to think themselves... not only about Rosa Luxemburg, but about the times in which she lived and worked but also about the present.... We ourselves are particpants in a history… there is no bottom line.
One of the quotations is about the US War in the Philippines, which was happening at that time and she could be talking about Iraq today...Some of the people gasped at how topical these could be.
And speaking of Berlin: the final session of Dictionary of War will be next week. You can stream it live or archived.
Dictionary of war, a two-day performance event featuring artists,
scientists, activists and theorists
February 23 and 24 2007, starting at 5 pm and 2 pm
Sophiensaele Berlin, Sophienstrasse 18

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I'm OK

Several people have asked me if my face has healed.
The bruising from my fall is all gone.


This was taken last weekend by my grandson Tolan.

See "Nairobi: First Impressions" in this blog to see the bruises, or "Punch Drunk" in the January archive.

Responding to the Crisis in the Middle East

In August, Joel, myself and many others in this region formed a group to protest the bombing of Lebanon. Rather than just be a transient one-time protest, the group has evolved into a serious presence-- hosting many meetings and coordinating vigils and protests. It is called the Mid-East Crisis Response and has a website designed by Fred Nagel at This is a banner made by Pia Alexander, Woodstock artist.
On February 9, the group sponsored two speakers from the West Bank in New Paltz at the Methodist Church-- Mohammed Khatib and Feryal Abu Haikal. Feryal is a teacher and the mother of eleven children. This is Feryal speaking with Jane VanDeBogart of Woodstock. Feryal lives in Hebron and has struggled to protect her children and her students against violence by Israeli settlers, who harass the children on their way to and from school. She screened amazing footage of the violence. Especially upsetting was seeing the way that Israeli soldiers just watched and seemed amused as the Palestian children were kicked and hit with stones.Mohammed Khatib told of his efforts to organize non-violent protests about the wall construction.
Here is a web site about the village near Hebron:

Friday, February 09, 2007

Indymedia in Nairobi

Finally found the url to the story Jim Ellinger wrote about the indymedia robbery at the World Social forum.
That site also includes an audio file with an interview with one of the three women who was robbed.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


We stayed at the Methodist Guest House and then at Cathy Scott's. I tried to click through the TV at both places just to see what was available to TV viewers in Kenya. There are at least two right wing Christian channels. One is the Family Channel, playing US cartoons and the 700 Club, and one channel called God TV which claims on their web site ( that they want to reach one billion souls for the Kingdom of God. They are on 12 satellites and say they cover 4/5 of the world's surface. In Kenya they claim three transmitters reaching over 15 million people. However this "reach" may be only a signal that skims across the shacktowns, as there are barely a million TV sets in Kenya.

Three of the TV channels (STV, CITIZEN TV and KBC TV) schedule regular programming from the Voice of America, especially a program called Africa Journal, which is hosted by Vincent Makori. In addition to Africa Journal, VOA plays many old Annenberg educational series, especially ones about entrepreneurship and global business. Most of these series are at least 10 years old, which makes VOA look like a relic from the past century, and quite a contrast to the snazzy graphics from another Kenyan channel, NTV (Nation TV), which has daily programs from Al Jazeera English.KBC, in addition to Voice of America, plays classic sit coms featuring African Americans, such as The Jeffersons, Sanford and Sons and Different Strokes. They even play Martha Stewart's daily program, presumably for the embassy/CIA wives. And of course there is the BBC World News and CNN everynight.

There is very little local news, and even less local drama.

The Voice of America is initiating a new service to the Horn of Africa, where the recent U.S. bomb attacks on "terrorists" have killed many Somali civilians. I guess they'll need a lot of information from VOA to understand that.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Sarah Sarai

At the final ceremony at the WSF there was a banner with a picture of Sarah Sarai. I found this on the web about her, written in July 2003:

Long before modern non-governmental organisations "invented" and popularised the terms transparency, accountability and affirmative action and gender activism, one woman was already working towards achieving them – in pre-independence days.

She was Sarah Sarai Thara Njomo – the 1913-born founder of the National African Women's League – who died this week at the Presbyterian Church of East Africa Kikuyu Mission Hospital.

The child of Njomo wa Gichanga and his first Maasai wife Berewa, Sarai ran away several times to go to the Church of Scotland Mission school at Thogoto where she educated herself and her younger brother by weaving and selling ciondo (sisal baskets).

She completed "normal school" under the tutelage of the Reverends Musa Gitau and Jackson Njiraine and in April 1928 she was baptised Sarah Sarai by the Rev Dr John William Arthur, who had difficulties navigating the conundrum of biblical, Maasai and Kikuyu names such as Sarah, Selaine, Thara, Tharaine–.

At a time when Africans in general, and women in particular, did not venture beyond their home villages, Sarai was among a small band of educated Africans who broke out.

She started her activism by joining her mentor, Dr Arthur, in his crusade against female circumcision in Kikuyuland, and the Kikuyu morans riposted by ritually blacklisting her by cursing her in their muthirigu songs. Nonetheless, the crusade succeeded in eliminating female genital mutilation (FGM) among Kikuyu who had been converted into Christianity.

In the late '30s and early '40s, Sarai worked in hospitals in far-flung corners of East Africa including Msambweni, deep in the South Coast; the Native Civil Hospital Makadara, (now Coast General Hospital), Mombasa; Kilifi (where she learnt perfect Kiswahili); and Mulago in Uganda (where she learnt Luganda).

She encouraged women to free themselves from traditional practices that affected their reproductive health and self-esteem. In Nairobi, she was the first African woman allowed to perform nursing duties at His Highness The Aga Khan Hospital (then a clinic) and the European Base Hospital (currently State House Road Girls School).

After the Second World War, she joined the Municipal Council of Nairobi as a social welfare assistant and initiated social and child welfare programmes in the low income residential areas of Pumwani, Ziwani, Kaloleni and Shauri Moyo.

She served as the first African woman in the Nairobi African Advisory Council from 1949 to 1951 and worked tirelessly for the rights of African women. Her struggles led to the granting of maternity leave to African women workers in the council.

She agitated for African workers in the council to be allowed to have their families in town as council staff housing in such places as the former Kariokor and Shauri Moyo were constructed in a way to discourage Africans from bringing their families to the city.

Unable to make an impression on this front, she did several things at both personal and public levels, buying herself a bicycle to avoid riding in segregated buses. When she was breast-feeding, she would take her baby’s cot on the bicycle to her office at Social Hall Pumwani, against all regulations.

But Sarai was not only an activist.

A perfect seamstress, she was the epitome of elegance in her day. She impressed upon the Europeans that Africans were also equipped with the "finer sensibilities", and that style need not be the preserve of Europeans. Sarai spearheaded the formation of the African Women’s League, whose mission was to exact more political space for African women and to also support African women leaders to be more effective, transparent and accountable.

Covertly, she was actively involved with other nationalists in organising to bring down the colonial rule; overtly, she intensified petitions and led peaceful demonstrations for improvement of the condition of African women.

Due to her covert operations, she was arrested on the night of October 20, 1952, on the day the women's league was planning a rally in Nairobi and detained at the Governor’s pleasure at Isinya, Kamiti Prison, Gitamaiyu and Kirigiti.

Sarai was "released" in 1960, not back to Nairobi where she lived before the arrest, but into another 12 months of restriction in her home village of Kinoo, where she was required to report to the local chief’s camp every week.

Even under torture, she refused to buy her freedom through confession of the Mau Mau oath, and she almost died from the effects of torture and food poisoning at Kamiti. The extreme hardship only served to deepen her Christian faith and her political engagement.

The authorities, having failed to beat a confession out of her, enlisted her services at the prison dispensary.

Because of her status as a Governor’s prisoner, who could therefore not be permitted to die from the reckless behaviour of her jailers, Sarai was spared the back-breaking labour into which women prisoners were forced, like digging trenches in which hundreds of dead freedom fighters and villagers brought in by truckloads from the forest were buried.

While in prison, she taught fellow inmates about personal hygiene and how to read and write, and treated the warders for sexually transmitted infections. She wrote for them letters that were smuggled out to families and preached the Word of God, strengthening the resolve of the women prisoners politically and spiritually.

She would fire off petitions to the Governor, the British Prime Minister and even the Queen, which probably never passed the prison gates, it seems, because she never received an answer. But she never tired or despaired in her quest for freedom.

Because of her incarceration, she was separated from her children when they were still young.

On the night of her arrest, when the white police officers broke into her house in Ziwani Estate, they found her breast-feeding her fourth child, David Solomon Njuguna. They threw the boy on the bed and handcuffed her. In the first place of incarceration at Athi River, she suffered terrible mastitis.

Her four children (all aged under 10) and older nieces were subsequently thrown out of the council house and were accommodated by family members, institutions and political allies.

Her first and last two sons suffered the brunt of the separation. Aged 9, the first child started a life on the streets and the last one ran off from her when she was released, confused about a new mother.

He grew up on the streets and though he returned home to Kinoo in 1988 after the only sister returned from overseas, he failed to grow into a mature, independent person, preferring to remain near the mother and be cared for as well. The second son grew up in a Salvation Army orphanage.

Earlier after her release, Sarai became deeply involved in the groundswell of multiparty political activity of the early 1960s and was elected to the Governing Council of Kanu Women’s Wing in June 1962.

During this time, Sarai was also recruited by the Moral Rearmament (MRA) - an American-initiated movement whose mission was to destroy Communism but preached love, honesty and forgiveness.

On realising what the mission of the MRA was, she embraced its aspect that was spiritual and ignored the Cold War ideology. The settlers despaired when she proceeded to visit Eastern Europe, USSR and China, observing the socialist model at work Ð especially those aspects related to social and gender justice. She was to enthusiastically use discourse from both convictions to pursue the struggle for social justice and the rights of African women in general and Kenyan in particular.

After independence, Sarai was sidelined in the post-colonial dispensation of office, status and fortunes as it became clear that the politics of personal consolidation, patronage and clientelism, meant jostling for positions in the increasingly male-dominated power structures.

Sarai was a leader who straddled the rural-urban and class divides, with an extraordinarily deep love for her people. So much so that during the student airlifts of the '60s, she broke a trip to the Far East to help Kenyan students stranded in Cairo.

She was active in trying to prevent the Shifta War by persuading Somalia to back down from its expansionist (Greater Somalia) ideology.

Sarah Sarai Thara Njomo, a women's activist, freedom fighter, educationist and nurse passed away on July 14, 2003, aged 90.

She never married and is survived by her daughter and sons Njomo, Gichanga, Berewa and Njuguna, 11 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

For more about Mau Mau women, check out the url by Terisa Turner, who was in Nairobi with Joel and myself at the WSF.