Monday, 26 September 2011

Fare Thee Well, Mama (Eulogizing Professor Wangari Maathai)


“As I conclude I reflect on my childhood experience when I would visit a stream next to our home to fetch water for my mother. I would drink water straight from the stream. Playing among the arrowroot leaves I tried in vain to pick up the strands of frogs’ eggs, believing they were beads (emphasis mine). But every time I put my little fingers under them they would break. Later, I saw thousands of tadpoles: black, energetic and wriggling through the clear water against the background of the brown earth. This is the world I inherited from my parents. Today, over 50 years later, the stream has dried up, women walk long distances for water, which is not always clean, and children will never know what they have lost. The challenge is to restore the home of the tadpoles and give back to our children a world of beauty and wonder (emphasis mine).”

--Nobel lecture of the late Professor Wangari Maathai  (10 December 2004)

As I was walking to school today, I froze in my tracks when I heard from Maina Kageni, a commentator at Classic 105 FM, that Professor Wangari Maathai had passed on. This was hard news for me to swallow especially considering that I had honoured Wangari Maathai in this blog sometimes earlier this year. To be precise, on 5th March this year, I had written a poem to honour her and had even made an effort to send it to Greenbelt Movement Kenya for onward transmission to her. I remember feeling so good to have her read the poem. I knew she was busy as a "citizen of the earth" and that just her smile was enough though I would have saved her reply as some sort of an "autograph" had she replied to it. You could read it here.

All that Mama Wangari has done in her life is public information and I need not enumerate them here. But I had always dreamt of one day meeting her in person, shake her hand and tell her most sincerely “hongera mama” and encourage her to keep up the good fight.

I always hoped that I will sit with her and talk with her about what inspires her and draw from her cheer.

But last night, my role model, as I am told, succumbed to cancer in Nairobi Hospital. My sweet mama was no more.

This however doesn’t stop me from decorating her even in her death. For I know that mama will still watch over and smile on us, maintain her cheer. In fact, I will plant a tree and call it after her, water it and watch it grow. 

I refuse to believe that Mama is dead. She lives among us. She lives in my poems. She lives in the trees. She is the air I breath. Her soul is in Uhuru park. Her soul is roaming all over the world. My mama still lives on.

Meanwhile, the world continues to decorate her. CNN captured it thus:  World Mourns Passing of a 'true African heroine'


Fare Thee Well, Mama
(Eulogizing Professor Wangari Maathai)

Mama, when the cowardly cells of malignance
Put you down, multiplying
Slowing down your spirit
Stilling your spin of action
How I wished they knew you

You had been in the struggle before,
Though in different circumstances
And even with greater selflessness
You would have been put down then

Why not?
They pulled your hair
They could have fooled with your air
Silence you, torture you even

So here I am, mama, writing this poem
On a chilly, sun-less Nairobi morning
Wishing to see you hug a tree
Or walk with Obama
Or planting trees
Or telling us to obey nature

Now that you are gone, mama,
You are here, your voice in the winds
Of Karura Forest
When I caress a treebark, I feel your imprint
When the birds chirp, that is you, mama

So, why should my eyes well?
I will go to the forest, feed a baboon
Wash my face in a waterfall
Then I will plant a tree for you mama
I will call her “mama” after you

I am only afraid that
There will be a 21-gun salute
To “honour” you
As if those gun powders are mulch!
Then some kind soul
Will read  a “treatise” eulogy
As if your life was spent on brickwalled forests!
Mama, I refuse to admit you are gone
Because I see you everywhere
Pity those cancerous cells
They don’t kill a “phoenix”.

Here's a youtube video titled 'I will be a hummingbird' about our sweet mama. Enjoy it.


Sherry Blue Sky said...

This is so beautiful and moving, Salem. I love it that she is now in the air, the trees she so loves, that she chirps among the birds. She showed us what ONE PERSON WHO CARES and does something about it can do. She remains heroic. Plant that tree, and in your lifetime, plant many more. That will continue her important work.

echoesofthehills said...

Yes, Koko, I will plant more than one tree, spin her environment love tale in order to get more audience. What a difference she made.

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