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.

October 11, 2011 by
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MATHARE, KENYA

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?

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