Words from Forbidden Undergrounds

Hello there!

Thank you for coming by. Sit with me for a while. Mkawasi.Com is a place of familiar confessions and self-discovery. It is a stream of consciousness in various literary genres. I hope it stirs you up sufficiently, entertains you profoundly, and surprises you with new knowing. Share it freely as you journey on.

Me

I am a storyteller, teacher, writer, thinker, agitator. These are my chosen life assignments – WHAT I do. WHO I am is a human being, an earthling sharing this startling experience of consciousness with countless other lives and lifeforms.

WHAT I do is incomplete without your participation. I need an audience to tell my stories, students to teach my lessons, readers to discover my writings, minds to think together, and changemakers to agitate. So stay with me a bit longer and come back again and again.

Finding Home

I was born, raised and educated in Kenya through my first college degree. I mention this as an important marker of my transition into a different belonging – a “diaspora” Kenyan. You will find that “finding home” or the question of identity and belonging, is a running theme in my works — WHY I do the things I said I do.

Moving to the United States was an act of willful self-exile that gave me a second home where I was not prepared to find one. We get shut in these little solid boxes of belonging and are warned not to break out of them. Constructing parameters of what Home must be is a function of institutional power — the institution in this case being Culture. My stories and reflections are heavily themed with the politics of breaking through barriers and boundaries of assigned Homes.

Finding home far from home. Walking the promenade of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is a regular ritual that replenishes this African mind.

I grew up with the notion that I cannot have a home outside of my ancestral land. Even the city next door where you lived and worked for years was/is considered a wilderness. You had a house there, not a home. It all protected the Identity that gave a community meaning and value — in this case, the African ethnocultural community that we are born into. Straying from it was an act of betrayal that diminished the community. Learning to call a land far away “home” is an act of rebellion, my breaking away from the little steel traps of assigned belonging that perpetuated otherness.

My deeply personal experience of transnationalism has led me to extensive contemplation, study and writings on Identity and Belonging. It is how I see the world now – through the lens of creating, protecting and perpetuating identities that are worthless without the deliberate instilling of calculated values – for good or bad.

To be black or white is as meaningless as being male or female, Zulu or Bambara, Christian or Muslim, vegan or pescatarian… All our lives, we are sojourners looking for home. We “come home” wherever rejection is not a calculation. You will find both creative and analytical works on this subject in this literary journal.

May I suggest you start with the ongoing episodic narrative, A Tale of Exile since it was my first work on this subject.

What the heart feels profoundly, what the mind dwells on obsessively, and what the muse inspires feverishly, all come together to explore my sojourn as a human with multiple belongings in a transient existence.

Linguist

Growing up in post-colonial Africa, it meant nothing to us that we were polyglots. Only later in life did the question of language become central in exploring this preoccupation with Identity and Belonging . I speak four languages – three fluently, the fourth functionally. Kidawida, from my Dawida (Taita) people; Swahili, my regional African people’s lingua franca; English, the language we inherited from the colonizer; and Kikamba, the language from the Akamba people we lived amongst in my early childhood.

I am fascinated by the capacity of African languages, especially as thoughtprints that identify a people’s consciousness over centuries. If the values of a people are to be discovered, their studied view of humanity, those values and views would be hidden in their languages.

There has always been an argument from modern-day western-influenced pseudo-Africanists that certain phenomena or human behavior is not “African” because there is no word for it in African languages. This is a fallacy of grievous proportions. African languages were also ritualistic. For things, behaviors or identities that were viewed as primarily spiritual assignments, the linguistic signifier was expressed through what the subject did. Perhaps a semiotics approach on this issue in a more extensive blog is needed.

Somewhere along my life’s journey, I took a detour into becoming the accidental linguist. My years spent teaching African language and cultures at Howard University grew my theorizing on Identity and Belonging as the key factors in global structuring.

Power, Influence and Story

By global structuring I mean the current nation-state setup the world operates in. Western scholarship still suggests our world is structured by struggles for power, protection and privilege. This idea dooms the weak nations into that perpetual Thucydidean subjugation — “the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must”. That implies the most powerful nations must always balance out their power and keep each other in check to avoid world destruction by a single superpower. This point of view has always turned a blind eye on the revolutionary power of those tired of subjugation, the so-called “weak”.

Talking “Irrational Belonging” in one of my sessions with military leaders. /Unclassified image

The theory of Balance of Power is still the one applied to analyzing wars, creation and fall of empires, birth and occupation of nations. As late as the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Putin still explained the need to maintain Balance of Power against the NATO alliance as his reason for going to war.

This theory needs serious revision. It is deeply flawed. It is why I’m taking a crack at introducing a new theory that explains why our troubled “family of nations” is structured as it is. I’m also tired of listening to old man oyinbo as the intellectual authority on all matters theory– how we view our world; especially theories that have a direct effect on my survival and value system. Theory is the software you upload into your mind to update how you think. You can change your world by changing how you see it. Theories are also the lenses through which we rearrange our experiences into mainstream stories. Storytelling is the skill that has helped me see flaws in dominant theories and the need to weave new ones. Keep reading.

Not for the faint of heart

Over the years, I have explored different modes of storytelling, informed especially by my experience as a playwright and stage director. This part of life has been intense, sometimes a birthing through fires that have charred and chiseled me. But like the gods of our sacred mythologies who pass through chthonic realms to emerge with rare insight and gifts of redemption, the life of a storyteller can bear similar resurrectionesque experiences.

The tension that comes with standing in front of an audience is the spark that lights a fire. Some will retch, others may freeze, even ran off stage. Then there are those who will walk through the fire they light up and shift something in the minds of those listening. Photo: On the Theatre of War

Storytelling is not for the faint of heart. Think of it as story masonry where you have to descend to the depths of quarries and bring up stones.. words you can use for erecting thought monuments that will change the human landscape and last for generations to come. Perhaps it is the kind of feat a storyteller achieves in their third lifetime. Surely, one must resurrect again and again!

In later years, I expanded my platform to documentary making. Our production studio, Tictocmind, released our first short documentary, Abundance of Being. It explores the singularity of a crowd and the voice of the individual in that crowd.

Running into familiar faces (L. Madowo) while documenting the Biden Inauguration in Washington DC.

Everything I have taken on as a scholar has converged beautifully at the story structure. I did not plan it this way, but it seems to me there’s a higher power that steers the most discordant footsteps towards a synthesized destination. I’m beginning to understand the possibility of a coexistence between free-will and predetermination. “Man proposes, God disposes”, right? We will debate that in a blog.

My fields of study – Performing Arts; Diplomacy-International Terrorism; and African Studies – have all equipped me with the best way to story our human journey and the world we create, dismantle and recreate. This perfect convergence of these three fields of study has led to the ongoing development of an International Relations theory I’m calling Irrational Belonging. The story structure is central to this future magnum opus.. the storyteller is allowed to dream!

I can see that the individual caught in the theatre of war; the family venturing in to new lands and fighting for belonging, or a nation in the throes of a devastating pandemic, are all experiences that seek a narrative the mind can digest. As a storyteller, I come in to map out the narrative structure and hopefully allow us to locate our lost selves in it.

An Unlikely Audience

One of the audiences I’ve spent significant time with is leaders involved in the theatre of war and who seek an understanding they may not have. I use the the Story Structure to introduce new approaches to critical thinking in war and diplomacy. That my work makes it to their capstone strategies speaks, without question, to the power of Story and the fortune of this storyteller.

Post-independence Africans have an unflattering view of the storyteller — as someone without “office”, an idler who whiles away their time fibbing and fretting about the next meal while she looks for a “real job”. Ask me, and I will tell you that the storyteller is a teacher, philosopher, strategic thinker, paradigm-shifter, change-maker, a miner of words from undergrounds deep and forbidding.

When those you stand before honor you, then you know you are in alignment with your life’s purpose. /Unclassified images

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