Thursday, December 12, 2013

Recounting my Kenyan half-life on #KenyaAt50

I really got to know a lot more about Kenya when I first went to MIT. Two of my best friends during my time there were Kenyan, +Eric Mibuari & +Edward Mabonga. We used to do homework together. We were not concerned about competing, we were concerned about succeeding. We'd help each other, together with other African students, with our homework. The Kenyan students were together a lot too, they'd have their Kenyan shindigs with their Harvard friends and they had their own mailing list. Many of the Kenyan students were studying computer science and electrical engineering while the Ghanaian students were studying different majors. Today, Kenya's ICT industry is ahead of Ghana's and is seeming to stay so.

The very first concert I ever went to in my life was by Kenyan musicians. +Samuel Gikandi+Chilongo Mulanda and co were going to a Nameless-Wahu-Mr.Lenny concert in Worcester and I tagged along. By the end of the night, I was saying wha-who! and singing many nameless lyrics, words I didn't understand. My interest in Kenyan music helped me learn more and more about Kenya. I knew who their musicians were, and that aided me in building +Museke. It also really helped me learn Swahili. I started learning Kiswahili from some of the people I've mentioned above, and from folks like +Bilha Ndirangu & +Flora Amwayi. I met Kenyans in Wellesley, Harvard, and Yale as well. Swahili was all over. Wellesley had a Harambee house and Harvard had a choir called Kuumba.

When I moved to Stanford, I took extra interest in Swahili and took some classes in it. I enjoyed Kenyan barbecues, but I never quite made to Rugy Sevens. No, I am not Nelson Mandela like that :-) I spent time with +Wilson Irungu and co. While in Stanford, Museke really took off. That enabled me to get to know Kenyan music more intimately and know Kenyan musicians even more. I attended more Kenyan concerts and met 2 different Kenyan women named Nyokabi. I saw the success of Makmende and studied the brilliance of Kuweni Serious. I knew the soundtrack that would be played as I 'safiried' to Kenya for the first time, it would be singing "I'm coming home! Home where I belong! Narudi Nyumbani!"

The first time I visited Kenya was in September 2011 as part of organizing G-Kenya 2011. Being in Nairobi felt like home. I didn't feel like a visitor. I spoke Swahili at every opportunity and it helped me grasp more. I had lunch with with folks like +Arthur Buliva who I knew via +kasahorow but had never met. I hanged out with +Corine Onyango who I knew via the "From A Whisper" movie and Facebook. +Buddha Blaze who I'd met through Museke helped me meet many artistic and cool Kenyans, primarily +Wanuri Kahiu, the award-winning filmmaker. I learnt a lot from my Kenyan Googlers and I had the chance to go on a safari with the Googlers who had assembled in Kenya that week. I met +Ory Okolloh (one of my biggest role models) there as well. I met many Kenyan friends I knew in the US in Nairobi - +Ciku Kimeria+Kanyi Maina+Jisas Lema, etc. One of them told me, "As for we Kenyans, we move back". Many Kenyans who traveled abroad are back home and are building the country. Mrembo. By the time I left Kenya, I was getting a Kenyan alter-ego. You know him as David Ochieng Mwangi.

Ochieng is a Luo name, Mwangi is a Kikuyu name. You'd know those 2 tribes from the violence that marred the Kenyan election from before. I chose these two names because I wanted a United Kenyan. I want a united Kenya too. On this day of Kenya's Golden Jubilee, I wish more unity, collaboration and togetherness in Kenya. I want the tech community working together more. I want to see Luos and Kikuyus mixing like we do in Ghana. I want to see bigger companies and institutions coming from Kenya as well. Kenyans already support their own very well. It's part of the reason Safaricom has been very successful. Kenyans are very hardworking and driven as well and many are ingenious and inventive. This must continue in every sphere of Kenyan life.

I've been to Kenya 3 times. Each time, I've felt safe and a part of it. I've visited the malls and ridden a matatu. I've visited the iHub and partied in Westlands. I've shown that I am a carnivore and had nyama choma. I've seen Bobo Simo play and been on radio, twice. I've had MightyAfrican observations. I can't wait to visit again. It feels just like home. I watch movies like Nairobi Half-Life and try to see what I can recognize. "Pamoja, twasonga mbele". This is the motto of today. It's the motor of the future. For Kenya to grow better, further and stronger, Kenya has to work together. I've told many of many Kenyan friends this already and this is for you reading this - "Happy Jamhuri Day!"
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