Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part Three, Kenya, Chapter Nineteen: Barack Returns To Home Squared And Learns Of His Father’s Life In Kenya.
Barack: Harvard Law Sch0ool
He learns that his paternal ancestors were strong, independent men. His great grandfather was a skillful and disciplined farmer and he learns that his grandfather worked for the British and taught himself to read and write. He also was a cook in Burma during the war to an English Captain. When he returned to Home Squared he built his own house and cleared his own land and made amends with his father with whom he had become estranged. He taught Barack Sr., his letters and numbers at an early age.
Barack Sr. was a bright boy but willful and independent. He attended grammar school and middle school but he was dismissed before graduating for misconduct. His father was furious at him and sent him to work with an Arab trader on the coast. This didn’t work out and he had problems at other jobs.
However he was befriended by two American teachers in Nairobi. They recognized his potential and urged him to finish his high school education by a correspondence course and said they would write letters of recommendation for him to attend college in the United States.
Barack Sr. took their recommendations seriously and enrolled in a correspondence course and graduated. Then he wrote over thirty letters seeking admission to American colleges. Since he lacked funds he also needed a scholarship and living expenses. After many rejections or non- responses he succeeded in gaining a scholarship to the University Of Hawaii with living expenses. Afterward he went on to Harvard and obtained a Masters Degree in Economics and returned to Kenya.
His expectation was that he would be among the leaders of a new independent Kenya. However he fell out of favor with Jomo Kenyatta the President of Kenya because of the open criticism he made of the favoritism of the Kikuyu in receiving government posts. Barack Sr. was a member of the Luo Tribe. However The Kikuyu had suffered more under British rule because their land was in the highlands coveted by the British farmers who immigrated to Kenya. So this might have played a part in Kenyatta’s thinking.
Later he was hired as a minor bureaucrat but he had spent many years unemployed because Kenyatta blocked him from finding employment in the private sector as well the government.
In the end, a disillusioned man, he turned to alcohol and died early.
Barack Jr. recognized his father as a lonely man, unsupported in his quest to be a leader in Kenya by his father, relatives and other Luo. He had been estranged from his father who in turn had been estranged from his great grandfather who had gone so far as to travel widely and even embrace Islam.
However Barack implies that he embraced his black identity in Chicago which he now considered home among the blacks of the South Side. Also implied is that he was going to seek out the same leadership goals his father had through that community.
Why he thought he had to start out a new in Chicago is left unsaid. However he physically had the appearance of a person with black genes and that may have shaped his thinking. Also settling in a major American city located in a major American state, the one time home of Abraham Lincoln, may have been perceived, consciously or unconsciously as the most likely way to achieve his goal.
However he could have settled in Hawaii with his white mother, Indonesian half sister and his white grandparents just as easily as they were people he grew up with and nurtured him. Also he would have the similar political opportunities as in Illinois where outside the South Side of Chicago the population was predominantly white.
In this respect, going off on his own seems to be a reflection of the way his male ancestors led their lives.
This book was written after he had graduated from Harvard Law School and he had been the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, a distinction that opened many doors for him. This was especially true when he returned to Chicago where he obtained a teaching position at the University of Chicago Law School and had his pick of the cities law firms to join.
In the end he chose to be a leader in government a dream his father also had.
Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part Three, Kenya, Chapter Eighteen: Trip To Home Squared and Alego His Grandfather’s Farms. Transitions.
Barack’s grandfather had been a cook for the British Army and during the World War a captain before he returned to the farm. His grandmother still lived on the property and greeted him with warmth as did of all his relatives there. The grandfather is referred reverentially to as the “The Old Man” and was remembered as a skilled farmer as well as a cook as well as a stern no nonsense man. He also had other wives. Barack is shown a picture of Akumu with a daughter Sarah. She lived on another homestead called Alego. Grandfather Hussien apparently was in Burma with the Army because Akumu looks Burmese.
Grandfather Hussein Onyango Obama (1895- 1979) is buried with a marker on the property and alongside his grave is Barack Sr.’s grave yet to have a marker.
Yusef and Sayed explain to Barack that the land is fertile but no one has the agricultural training or expertise to raise the yield above a subsistence level. Much of the land has been given away because the family has been unable to work it.
Roy and Barack journey to Alego to see their cousin Abo a descendant from their grandfather’s other family. His cousins Salina, Kizia and Billy are there also. At night the men drink together and discuss the weaknesses of the Obama clan in Africa. These turn out to be too much drink and more than one wife.
Later back at Home Squared, Sayed opines that Barack Sr.’s problem was that he tried to live the life of an educated bureaucrat and also follow his ancestral ways and this caused him to fail as an economic planner in the new Kenya. Barack senses that his father never fully made the transition from the rural farm to be the educated economic leader he stove to be. (It was probably too great a journey to achieve in one generation.)
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.