For Kenyans, December 12, is a special day. It is the day Kenya got independence, in 1963, and became a Republic (Jamhuri) the following year. Kenyans at home and abroad celebrate this important day. As luck would have it, this year the Organization of Kenyans in Kansas City invited me as a guest at their celebration of Jamhuri Day. I warmly embraced the opportunity and traveled to Kansas City.
The celebration was scheduled for the evening. After a wonderful dinner, with a rich variety of East African foods, the formal program started. Mr. Ali Nassir, the chairman of the OKKC, gave an account of the Organization, reiterating its goals, achievements, challenges and vision for the days ahead. He called for a membership drive and more involvement by the members in OKKC programs and activities.
Then he asked Mary Mwangi, seen at the far right of the photo above, to introduce me. Mary is the person who had contacted me, to arrange my visit to Kansas City, and she had been happily reading my Africans and Americans book.
In my remarks, I paid homage to the ancestors of the Kenyans, who fought against colonialism and brought about Kenya's independence, enabling Kenya to be where it is today. I said that the Kenyans of today have their own historic obligation to fulfill, whether they are in Kenya or abroad, and we, as neighbours, are with them.
I talked about my wonderful visits to Kenya, starting in 1989, for research and conferences. I said I owe much of my reputation as a scholar to Kenyans, who welcomed me and shared with me their knowledge of Swahili classical poetry, folklore, and culture.
I highlighted a memorable encounter I had in Witu, a small town on the Kenya coast. I was sitting with a group of men one morning, in 1990, at a small restaurant. The old men asked me why we had a border between Kenya and Tanzania, while we were related by blood. Several of them said that their ancestors came from Tanzania. They compared that border to the Berlin Wall.
The celebration went briskly. It was delightful to see children actively involved, singing and playing games for the audience. I think it is very important for children to have such opportunities to be seen, heard and appreciated. I said as much in a blog post about a West African cultural celebration I attended.
The OKKC got to know about me through Dr. Mbaari Kinya, seen in the photo above. She is the director of WEET Institute, who had heard me speak a few weeks earlier at Principia College.
It was good to meet and get to know members of OKKC, who represent Kenya's diverse population, and to know about their activities. I heard much about the OKKC soccer team. Meeting Kenyans, whether in their country or elsewhere, always brings back fond memories of my visits to Kenya, and I look forward to the day when the border between our two countries will disappear.
(My thanks to Mary Mwangi, who took the photos seen here, except the first one at the top).