Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part Three, Kenya, Chapter Seventeen: Safari To The Great Rift Valley With A Reluctant Auma.
Barack decides to go on a safari to The Great Rift Valley and convinces a reluctant Auma to go with him. They join a small tour group led by a guide and two Masai warriors for security. The Masai still clung to their old ways as herdsmen and warriors. The young males had to kill a lion to gain their manhood and cattle raids still occurred.
The Valley is remote, beautiful and teeming with wildlife like a Henri Rousseau painting. Barack and the others sleep in tents and get to know one another.
One of the other men, who was English, tells him that he was born in the central highlands of Kenya but his family had to give up their farm, after independence, and return to England when he was nine. He studied medicine and has returned to Africa but not Kenya to practice where there was a surplus of doctors. Instead he and his wife settled in Malawi and practiced under a government contract where there was a dire need for doctors as there were only eight doctors for half a million people and a constant shortage of supplies. People were dying of preventable or curable diseases and now the region was beset with Aids. In some villages fifty percent of the people had the disease. The doctor was grim in his assessment of conditions.
Noting his pessimism Barack asked why he had come back. The man answered, I view Africa as my home with its open spaces and ecological beauty, London was too crowded and confining for him. This said, he knew he would eventually be replaced by a native doctor and have to go back to England where he felt out of place.
On their return they find that Roy has come back from the United States. He is the eldest son and the women treat him with respect catering to his every whim. Auma is upset at this treatment and sees no reason for it other than the fact he is the first born male.
Barack learns the facts of David’s death. Roy and David had gone to a club where Roy met a woman he took a fancy to and a man objected saying he was the woman’s husband. A fight broke out and Roy was arrested for lack of identification papers. David came to the jail and asked for the motorcycle keys. He had been drinking and Roy didn’t want him to drive. David convinced him he should go back to the house and get Roy’s papers so he wouldn’t have to spend the night in jail. Roy gave in and on his way David got in an accident and was killed.
Seeing Roy’s remorse, Barack says it was an accident Roy and not your fault. You should let it go. It seems that Africa was a place of great hope and beauty but of many heart breaking stories.
Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part Three, Kenya, Chapter Sixteen: Nairobi, Kenya. The Dilemma Of Responsibility.
Barack tries to mentor his younger brother Bernard. However he senses the seventeen year old only wants him to leave him his basketball sneakers and is not interested in any advice to work hard in school and get an education.
Barack begins to see what his father was up against as the oldest son responsible for the extended family when his grandfather died. Auma has made a place for herself in life as a teacher while his sisters Jane and Zeituni eke out a living as clerical staff. Also no one seems to have a husband much like the situation in Roseland.
The family is split over Barack Sr’s meager estate. Aunt Sarah claims that Barack, Auma and Bernard are not Barack Seniors children. Auma says there is some question over who Bernard’s father is because Barack Sr. and his mother Kezia had long since separated and he had married Ann and had Barack and Mark and David with Ruth but he would sometimes spend the night with Kezia after these marriages. Bernard is aware of these facts.
Auma drives Barack and Zeituni to Aunt Sarah’s house located outside of town. On the way they pass a vast squatters town of jury rigged shacks of wood scraps and corrugated tin. No one seems to know the population and guess at 500,000 or one million. Auma says that people continually drift there from the countryside looking for work and the government seems unwilling and unable to cope with the poverty and the unhealthy conditions much less provide work for the inhabitants.
Sarah lives on the far side of this slum called Mathare in a nine story unfinished cinder block building. She is a bitter woman leading a Spartan life and desperately asks Barack for money. He gives her all he has in his pocket.
On the way back Auma tells him that his father saw to the welfare of everyone when he had a good job with the government. However when he lost that job he was repudiated by the family members he had helped even to the extent of giving him a nights lodging when he needed it.
Barack goes to meet Ruth, the woman his father married while at Harvard. She had two sons by Barack Sr., David and Mark. David the youngest has died from leading a profligate life. He was a protégé of Roy who Barack met in Washington D.C.
Mark the eldest is a student at Stanford and appears to be headed for a fruitful life. Ruth has remarried and lives in a wealthy enclave of Nairobi with her new husband and her child by him. She is still bitter about her divorce but this anger is tempered by fond memories of Barack Sr.
Auma tells him Ruth is the only one with a clear claim to Barack senior’s estate as she has kept the proper paper work.
Later Barack has lunch alone with a reluctant Mark. Mark discloses his desire to wash his hands of Kenya and all his ties there.
Barack wonders what his responsibilities are to these people he is related to but hardly knows. Auma and Mark seem to be the only ones who have or will make something of their lives. The broader question implicit in his thoughts is what are one’s responsibilities to those who will not or cannot help themselves?
Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part Three, Kenya, Chapter Fifteen: Nairobi, Kenya. Exuberance and Reality.
Barack flies to Nairobi, Kenya after a brief sojourn in Europe. At the airport he is at first disappointed when he doesn’t see Auma who was supposed to meet him. However he soon finds her but is disappointed to find out his bag has not been unloaded and is bound for Johannesburg, South Africa.
The British Airways attendant assures the bag will be sent back to Nairobi on the next flight and it will be delivered to him. He buys a necklace for Auma and learns there is one price for locals and a higher price for tourists or white people. Auma corrects things and takes him to her apartment. He takes note that there is a gleaming Nairobi of high-rise commercial buildings and apartments and there is an older section where Auma lives. The new area is for the educated Kenyans who have entered the global and mainstream economy and the other is for the less educated who are a part of the local economy. Why Auma lives where she does is not explained as she has obtained degrees from a German University and is teaching in Nairobi.
He meets his relatives including Aunt Jane who is childless but takes care of the family children along with other cousins, nephews and nieces. A younger brother Bernard is introduced. He notices that their standard of living is close to those living in Altgeld Gardens. Also there is the same lack of men that Mary, Father Wills’s parishioner, mentioned on the South Side.
Bernard at seventeen is having trouble in school and appears to be aimless. All his relatives all seem to be living on the margins of the commercial economy of Kenya, even Auma who is as well or better educated as he.
When his bag is not delivered he and Auma go to the airport to retrieve it only to learn that no one knows anything about it. He is rudely told to take his complaints downtown when Auma chastises them for their indifferent conduct.
At the downtown office they receive the same treatment until an uncle unexpectedly shows up who is a friend of the manager. He intercedes and then the bag is immediately found and sent to Auma’s house. Barack learns that even though he is black and was at first exhilarated to be in Nairobi where almost everyone else was also black it turns out Nairobi is a place that you must have personal or tribal connections to accomplish even minor things like retrieving a lost bag. Also when he and Auma go to a restaurant they are treated indifferently while the white tourists get all the attention from the staff.
Later he is told that he must visit his Aunt Sarah but Auma can’t go because there is a dispute over the small estate of Barrack Sr. Sarah is claiming that Auma, Roy and Bernard are not Barack Senior’s children.
One wonders how Barack fits into all this particularly the estate disbursement. Are only the children of the first wife qualified to inherit?
Kenya does not seem to be that black paradise he thought it was when he first arrived. In fact it is very much like the South Side.