Everything is Possible: Secrets from an African Mama

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father’s Tribe

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Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father’s Tribe
I am Luo. My mother decided I would be. Kenya is a country of over 40 distinct ethnic groups. This is a blessing and a curse. At it's best, it makes for a fascinating country with a rich and diverse history. Different tribes have brought different strengths to the country. It has led to a multicultural, multilingual society with a greater understanding of the way in which different people live. However, at its worst it has led to horrific clashes, scores of people killed or internally displaced. There have been numerous injustices: from casual discrimination to systematic persecution.  Read more »

Why African Toddlers Don’t Have Tantrums

We live in times that are increasingly out of synch with natural rhythms.  Read more »

How African Societies Protect the Innocence and Magic of Childhood

There is a new boy in my daughter’s class. He told her a thing or three that resulted in us having to have ‘the chat’ at bedtime last night.  Read more »

How to Start a New Language with Your Child

Language is all about communication and if you or your child do not experience or believe in the benefits of deeply communicating with others, it is a lost cause before you even start.  Read more »

Why Most African Kids are Multilingual

The average Kenyan child speaks three languages. This figure is even higher amongst children in urban deprived areas who regularly speak five languages. This is no mean feat considering many children growing up in these areas do not have indoor plumbing or easy access to basic education. What they do have however is a high density of people from different ethnic communities living cheek by jowl all with a huge impulse to communicate.  Read more »

I Was Wrong. Manners Do Matter.

I have previously written about how I would rather my daughter only say thank you and please from the heart, rather than because of societal enforced politeness. Well, I lost that battle and I have to admit that I am rather pleased I did.   I am a thoroughly modern mother in that I read a wide range of parenting books. However, I also made the decision to return to the land of my birth, Kenya, so that she would be raised by a community.  Read more »

Speak Up for the Animals, Mama! A Vegetarian in Africa

It is an argument used by parents of picky eaters the world over: think of the starving children in Africa. But in Kenya where those starving children can be found on your doorstep, such admonishment applies to nearly anyone with a self-imposed dietary restriction. For instance when I tell people that I am a vegetarian they assume it must be for medical reasons.  Read more »

Why Being a Working Mother is Better

In Nairobi, working mothers are the norm, regardless of social background.  I have met many women the world over who like me are working mothers in their thirties who tell me that they are the first women in their family to hold down two jobs (that of being a mother as well as paid employment).  I find it hard to fathom because I am a fourth generation working mother.  Read more »

The African Children’s Fire: Why There is No “Child-Friendly” in Kenya

The children's fire was a reminder of the promise: “No law, no action of any kind, shall be taken that will harm the children.”   At a Resurgence Readers Ecological Camp a couple of years ago, I only caught the end of an inspiring talk by a man called Mac.  Mac runs Embercombe, a social enterprise in the U.K. In his talk he mentioned the Native American concept of the children’s fire.  Read more »

Why African Time is Best for Children

“Haraka, Haraka Haina Baraka.” (Rushing, rushing gives no blessings) –Kenyan Proverb There are many jokes about African timekeeping. On one level it is true—the continent is full of buses that run behind and meetings that start late. Certainly African time is much softer than European or North American time. Part of this is historical; there is a unique African concept of ‘no time.  Read more »

10 Tips on Living with Chronic Illness

As I write this piece I am sitting in a health clinic that my daughter and I attend. When we were here yesterday, a woman who suffers from the same condition remarked how badly her mother felt at having passed it on to her (our condition is genetic). Before I had a moment to think, I blurted out that I didn’t feel badly. Don’t get me wrong--I hate seeing my daughter in pain and like any mother I would love to remove the word "suffering" from my child’s life.  Read more »

Why I Don’t Want My Children to Be Happy

I came to Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and its controversy late. Even though I never had parents who hit me or called me garbage, I could relate to a lot of what Amy Chua had to say. Like Amy Chua, my parent’s held an unfailing belief that I would succeed. The more I read, the more it seemed that her detractors were mainly critical of her certainty, more than anything else.  Read more »

A Kenyan Perspective on the ‘Lost’ Children of Intercultural and Interracial Adoption

A number of years ago I read an article that interviewed adults who had been interculturally and interracially adopted in the 1970s. Though all of the people interviewed appeared to be happy with their adoptive families, they all expressed a sense of loss. They all also talked about the ways in which they had tried to make sense of their identity as adults.  Read more »

Sharing Our Dreams with Our Children

I recently had the opportunity to go to a two-week filmmaking workshop. It meant that for the first time in my daughter’s life (she’s four and a quarter) I was going to be away from her from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. There were many reasons that the workshop was important to me, especially because it would fulfil my childhood dream of having my first short film screened.  Read more »

Mama, What Colour is Me? How My Child Defines Race

Disclaimer: Please note that this piece is not intended to make light of the serious issue of race/ethnicity. Its aim, however, is to explore what happens if we allow ourselves to look at skin colour afresh in the way that children do. I am black. My skin colour may be brown but as far as talking about race or ethnicity or whatever the current politically correct term is—I am black.  Read more »

Developing Social Customs in Young Children

In Kenya, like many other African countries, greetings are incredibly important. Handshaking is customary as are kisses on the cheeks and hugs for people one is closer to. The very least of the greetings is to ask after someone’s news. It is a moment of connection in the day and carries far more weight than just a social pleasantry. Even in busy Nairobi City (unlike upcountry where greetings are an integral part of the social fabric), people will take the time to tell you what is going on and the to and fro of a greeting can be like a social call and response.  Read more »

Top 10 Ways to Party With Your Child

1. Throw a birthday party for them every year: children love to be celebrated. 2. If a party seems daunting you can follow the age rule of thumb: one guest per year of the child’s life. 3. Combine sleepovers with formal adult dinners: the children will love having lots of friends to play with and adults can relax and share the childcare. 4.  Read more »

African Parenting: The Sane Way to Raise Children

There is an oft-quoted African saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Less cited is the second half of the saying, “...and a community to keep the parents sane.” I started my pregnancy in the U.K. but one of the reasons I returned to Kenya—the country of my birth—to raise my daughter was for community. Community in Kenya takes many forms.  Read more »

Do manners really matter? Why I hate making my daughter say please and thank you

I hate having to make my daughter say please and thank you. There, I have said it—does that make me a bad mother? I am also well aware that she will be judged on how she presents herself in public. Most societies place a high value on manners and politeness whether the person is sincere or not, so I find myself repeating the words that no doubt drove me crazy as I was growing up: “What do you say?”, “What’s the magic word?” and so on.  Read more »

Top Ten International Travel Tips with Children

1. Train them to sleep anywhere: This is more of a pre-preparation. Most advice focuses on creating the ideal sleeping environment. While helpful, it doesn’t allow your child the benefit of one of the biggest gifts you can give them for their whole lives—being able to sleep anywhere. This is usually easier if you breastfeed and co-sleep. For handy tips see The African Guide to Co-sleeping.  Read more »

The African Guide to Co-sleeping

Disclaimer: Please note that this article is not about discussing the pros and cons of co-sleeping or to give the myriad forms of evidence that:   (a) A lot more parents co-sleep than admit to it (depending on their societal norms).   (b) Co-sleeping can have lots of health and safety benefits for both parent and child.   This article is to provide practical tips for parents who wish to co-sleep or are already co-sleeping and would like further support for their decision.  Read more »

The Power of Touch

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is, why was it so important to me for my daughter to be born and spend the early part of her life in Kenya? By the time I fell pregnant with my daughter, I was living in the UK and had been living away from Kenya longer than I had lived in Kenya. Although Kenya was home, the UK had also become home. I had a community in the UK, family, friends a house and a business.  Read more »

My Daughter’s Initiation Into African Hair Braiding

Just before the New Year, my brother spotted my car in the parking of our local shopping centre. He called to find out where I was and as I was at the hairdressers, he popped in to say hello. My daughter (aged 3 years and 8 months) was sat perched on a couple of cushions in the seat next to mine. She had already been sitting perfectly still for over an hour.  Read more »

Multicultural Art: Learning to Draw Alongside my Daughter

I am not altogether sold on the idea of school. I was before my daughter was born however like so many other aspects of my life, my world view completely shifted with her arrival. My own schooling was entirely conventional: kindergarten, primary, secondary school followed by university and post graduate osteopathy college. In my usual manner, during my pregnancy I had already identified a kindergarten and primary school that I wanted her to attend and then after she arrived something strange happened; I wasn't sure I wanted her to go to school anymore.  Read more »

Why African Babies Don’t Cry

I was born and grew up in Kenya and Cote d'Ivoire. From the age of 15 I lived in the UK. However, I always knew that I wanted to raise my children (whenever I had them) at home in Kenya. And yes, I assumed I was going to have them. I am a modern African woman, with two university degrees, and a fourth generation working woman, but when it comes to children, I am typically African.  Read more »

Four Generations of Multicultural

I am fourth generation multicultural. On my father's side of the family there is a long history of people marrying outside of their tribe. Africa is so often referred to as "Africa" that the rich diversity of tribes and cultures within it can be overlooked. Tribes can be as different in their language, culture and customs as an English person can be from a Hungarian.  Read more »
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From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
For quite some whenever there was articles circulated on the internet concerning whether it is appropriate to breastfeed in public. As a Mongolian, I was so shocked that some countries considered i...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
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Another great African American children's book is "Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters" Book by Fredrick McKissack, Jr. and Patricia McKissack A great DVD is Santa and pe...
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This is really great! I wanted to do a book list for some of my friends and family about Kwanzaa. Thank you for this articl...
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From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
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From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep