Archive for February 2013

when the promised land isint all promising

February 5, 2013

It was a journey reminiscent of the Israelites leaving Egypt for the Promised Land.

On that dusty September afternoon, last year, residents like Ruth Njeri left their mud hovels in the sprawling Kibera slum, and took a 20-minute ride to their ‘paradise’, where more than 300 little palaces awaited them.

 

The relocation was the first in the slum, and part of a series of slum upgrading projects in the country that are hoped to phase out informal settlements.

The Kibera high-rise flats dwarf some of the shacks residents moved from. Photo: Evans Habil/Standard

Although months have passed since that exciting afternoon for Njeri and dozens others who left their shacks for high-rise flats, an aura of nostalgia still hangs thickly over the new estate.

Njeri’s nostalgia has nothing to do with the surroundings of her former home, which was often awash with rivulets of sewage, rubbish heaps and muddy alleys. It is the camaraderie she once shared with her neighbours in the slum, that she misses most.

“I miss my old friends,” she says.

Sharing house

For Njeri, life in the new flats has been smooth but coupled with the challenges of adjusting to an ‘unfriendly’ environment.

The married woman, in her mid 30s, says she is yet to get used to sharing a house with people she can hardly get along with.

Njeri isn’t alone in the predicament. Other residents also find it hard to live with what they describe as ‘unfriendly housemates’, with whom they have to share facilities like kitchen and bathrooms.

Besides unfriendly housemates, a closer look at the flats reveal a life that is different from the once rosy picture etched onto the minds of the occupants earlier on. More than six months down the line, some flats are yet to be supplied with electricity… Read more

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The dying reading culture

February 5, 2013

Family literacy day,  an annual event aimed at raising awareness for the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy activities as a family was marked on Sunday last week. The day almost went unnoticed in the media except for a highlight by one TV station on Martha Karua’s presence in a function at Kawangware Primary School in Nairobi.

The presidential aspirant encouraged the pupils to work hard. Good advice indeed – but how often do young people engross themselves in books outside the classroom? How often do we read for our own self development?

English poet Samuel Johnson put it succinctly – that one should read as inclination leads him. The author further advises young people to dedicate at least five hours to books in order to acquire a great deal of knowledge.

Another inspiration for reading comes from history’s notable military hero Alexander the Great. He did not only conquer many lands but read a great deal too. He was so much in love with Homer’s Illiad that he knew it by heart and regarded it as a ‘portable treasure of all military virtue and knowledge.’

When his tutor Aristotle published some of the profound philosophical teachings that he had taught him, Alexander was furious. He wrote to the philosopher that he would rather ‘excel others in the knowledge of what is excellent, than in the extent of power and dominion.’

Today, such passion for books; such quest for intellectual nourishment especially among young people is dissipating.  Blame it on ‘cut and paste’ trend and addiction to social media.

I recall with nostalgia those days when tech gizmos were absent, when studious reading habit was prevalent. Those were the days when you could not miss inspect a dog eared copy of The Drum, True Love and The Readers Digest in a salon or kinyozi especially in the countryside.

The Moses series quenched our appetite regularly in primary school. The aim was to sharpen our English language kills – but the texts did more. They also shaped our careers.

Technological advancement has even made it easier. Books are now available in digital formats, downloadable from the internet.

You will expect our generation to be reaping bountifully from this development. It however seems to be a curse – young people spend much time filling their minds with filth while browsing the internet.

Our higher learning institutions, which are supposed to be the kilns for baking intellectual bricks, are slowly turning into grade mines. Students read only when it is assigned as a task. They read only to pass exams but not to imbibe knowledge for intellectual nourishment.

Libraries are lonely place except during exam time. Imagine reading a whole semester’s work within a few hours to exam time. Or researching and preparing a PowerPoint presentation that is a few minutes past due date.

For those who fail to beat deadlines, there are many excuses. Often, it is about the computer – how it crashed just seconds before the student could ‘click on the ‘print’ icon and accomplish the task.

Gone are the days when university students articulated key concepts in their academic province with clarity and competence. Those days seem to have gone with the falling of the Berlin wall – as one writer posited.

The young scholar is no longer the epitome of intellectual rigor. With much focus on good grades, the scholar has perfected the art of shortcuts just to color the transcript.

It is seldom in his genuine interest to feed his spirit with the bread of books or quench his thirst at the wells of thought.

Indeed, we are a Facebook, Google and Wikipedia generation. A ‘cut and paste generation’. Shall we really have anything substantial to show when ‘posterity will vainly ask for proof of our intellectual merit?’

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February 5, 2013