Thursday, November 15, 2007

Staring out the window wondering about White people

When I was a child I used to sit in my room, stare out the window into the clouds and wonder about people who lived in Europe and America. I knew they were white. But that only made me more curious.

I only knew one White person in my childhood. The local priest. Father Thomas who ran Buru Buru parish in Eastlands. I went to nursery school at St. Josephs nursery school which was a Montessori school run by, and at the church.

I remember Father Thomas came and blessed our house when we moved in. I must have been about four years old and I remember him sprinkling holy water around the house trailed by my parents and then we kids. They said a prayer in every room and then again in the living room. I think father Thomas was from Denver because when my father traveled to Denver in the 80s father Thomas was invited to come see the pictures.

Now I'm married to a White man (well Jewish but are Jews White? We've had many long conversations about this one) and teaching at a Catholic University.....

anyway, I would sit for hours staring out of the window into the clouds and wondering about airplanes and what it was like to live 'abroad'.

My dad was an engineer for Kenya airways and he got to fly to foreign countries sometimes. He would bring back foreign newspapers and I would stare and marvel.

My middle name is Nyaguthii. In Kikuyu it means 'one who travels' or 'one who goes'. Guthii is to go. I was named after my paternal grandmother. I wonder if, when they named me, my family had any idea. An inkling? A wish or a hope?

Its amazing the journey from spending hours at the window staring at clouds and longing to see the world beyond my neighbourhood to living in America. Its amazing how many places 'abroad' I feel comfortable in. Its amazing how many cities I can navigate with the ease of a native. I am thankful for that. The dreams of a little girl did come true. And 'abroad' is a complicated term for me.
Coming to America
Coming to America was a gift. A huge gift that changed my life forever (ya don't say!)!
For some years I had been penpals with my cousin and we had written about how we were doing in school. I remember drafting and re-drafting those letters before I thought they were perfect enough to merit the expensive postage that would take them 'abroad'.
I was a bright kid with academic potential. I was not the brightest kid in my classes (Ashiali, Richa and Tatua made sure of that!). But I was in the top pack consistently.

Recognizing the potential, my uncle (father's brother) and his family invited me to come live with them while attending high school. Being in the U.S. would make it easier for me to look for college scholarships. The offer was made and my family hesitated for only a second before taking it. I was 14 years old. I had only ever been away from home for one year of boarding school during the first year of high school and It had been a rough adjustment.

But this was the offer of a lifetime and we all knew it presented unbelievable opportunities for me. I was barely into my teens but off I went. On my own to relatives I had never met in a country I had only seen on T.V. and pictures.

That first trip was a collaborative effort and a joint investment. My parents tried their best to get me emotionally ready while hiding their fears. They must have been so anxious but I had no idea! Only now can I think back and imagine what it must have felt like to them.

The Ted and Sylvia Hatfield not only paid for that first ticket, they also met me in London, showed me around and made sure I got on the right plane to Denver.

Then of course my Uncle's family was going to be my new family for the next four years.

The impact of this past on Akili Dada is that I’m excited to find potential and to support and nurture it. My uncle saw potential in me and offered me opportunity. I think that’s an incredible chain reaction to continue. Akili Dada is my attempt to magnify the investment in young Africa’s potential.

For the right people, the right opportunity can unlock magic. With Akili Dada I want to find young women thirsty for an opportunity. I want to find tenacious, hardworking dreamers and give them the opportunity to just rocket into the stars.

And of course Akili Dada is a collaborative effort and a joint investment. Many give their money and even more encourage me and nurture my spirit so I can keep doing this. I tell our scholars that their lives are like an IPO and we are buying stock with a hope that it will appreciate in the future. We are investing in them and the profit is the success that they make out of their lives.


akiey said...

This is a grand, timely idea with an inspirational story behind it. It's a noble act you're embarking on to give back so others could be a success just like you were given and made the best of those opportunities.

I would like to assist in any way possible. Please get in touch at your convenience and we may be able to work something out. I've been engaging in multimedia production, brand marketing, graphic design as well as publicity among other things and I think there are ways we can help deserving youth in Kenya.

Wishing you peace and prosperity,

Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg said...

OMG so nice to hear from you!
I'm having a bit of a down day today. overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done before the fall fundraising season begins. I definately definately want to collaborate with you. I checked out your blogs and you've got skills we desperately need.
I already can think of some different projects that you can help us with.
email me at wanjiru@akilidada.org and we can really talk.

Thanks for your comment which is cheering me up on a difficult day

sunnyK said...

Greetings,Just came across Akili Dada, and think it is a timely initiative. I would like to get in touch with you on educating women, especially with opportunities like you have had.