Tuesday, 31 July 2018


                                                                        Joseph Weche Waweru's Home at Circle Art Gallery

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 31 July 2018)

Four exceptional exhibitions of Kenyan art just opened this past week in Nairobi, illustrating once again that contemporary Kenyan art is thriving. It’s also surprising since all four are group shows (two at one venue) displaying recent works that haven’t been shown in public before.
The most socially relevant of the four is at Circle Art Gallery featuring ‘Recent’ works by three artists based at the Wajukuu Art Project. All three, Lawrence ‘Shabu’ Mwangi, Joseph ‘Weche’ Waweru and Ngugi ‘Googs’ Waweru are founder members of Wajukuu, which is a community-based cultural centre set deep in Mukuru slum. All three critically appraise various aspects of urban life in their art. Weche is sensitive to the congestion of city life and the struggles that hardworking Kenyans face just to survive. Creating seemingly abstract patterns in his work, his message gains clarity if one appreciates the way his creatures (ants apparently) serve to symbolize human experience.
Googs, on the other hand, had first-hand experience with gun violence when his grandmother got shot. She survived but that hasn’t stopped him exploring the issue of gun violence in his art. And Shabu’s paintings often reflects on the plight of the oppressed and disadvantaged. Their show will run through August 21th.
In sharp contrast to Wajukuu’s gritty but graceful approach is the exhibition at Polka Dot Gallery entitled ‘Why I love Kenya’. Filled with idyllic images of the most exquisite natural features of Kenyan landscapes, one will find images of some of the most beautiful spots in the country by painters like Patrick Kinuthia, Yony Waite, Coster Ojwang, Nayianoi Sitonik, Anne Mwiti, David Roberts, Caroline Mbirua and Leah Njenga.
At the same time, the show reflects aspects of urban life by artists like Wycliffe ‘Wiki’ Opondo, Kennedy Kinyua, Nelson Ijakaa, Damba Ismael and Wilson Matunda. In all, it’s a lovely showcase of the country’s beauty. Most of it’s in paintings, both oils and acrylics, but a few, like Wiki’s images of Kibera, are etchings.
Finally, it was at One Off Gallery that one saw the opening of not one but two very different exhibitions. Ever since Carol Lees transformed her stable into gallery space, she’s brought a diversity of works together. In this case, the art in the ex-stable was curated by Thom Ogonga and Jonathan Solanye. Meanwhile, she assembled the recent artworks by some of her favorite artists, including Anthony Okello, Olivia Prendergast, James Mbuthia, Harrison Mburu, Collin Sekajugo, Naomi van Rampelberg inside the original gallery, The Loft.
But the newest works that stole the show last Saturday afternoon were in the Stable, where Thom had invited several artists to submit works to an exhibition he’d entitled ‘Line: the Basic Element’.
Those who responded included everyone from Mercy Kagia, David Thuku, Florence Wangui, Wanjohi Maina, Longinos Nagila and Sebawali Sio to Ndeithi Kariuki, Janice Ichi, Patti Endo, Agnes Waruguru and co-curator Jonathan Solanke.
The simplicity of the artists’ works contributed to the wonder of this show. Some worked in silkscreen (like David Thuku and Wanjohi Maina), others in acrylics (like Janice Iche), others ink and watercolor (Mercy Kagia and Patti Endo) and still others in charcoal and pastels (like Florence Wangui and Jonathan Solanke). Longinos Nagila and Agnes Waruguru both worked in mixed media. But possibly the most surprising works using this basic element of a simple line, were aluminum wire sculptures by Ndeithi Kariuki. A marketing manager by day, he does his art at night and on weekends. One can see how music has inspired his art since one’s a silhouette of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar, the other two hands on piano keys playing jazz.



                                                                       Kilifi by the Indian Ocean by Nayianoi Sitonik

BY Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 31 July 2018)

‘Why I love Kenya’ Is a visual art exhibition that opened last weekend July 29th at Polka Dot Gallery in Karen.
                                                                                             By Coster Ojwang

The show includes artworks by a dozen Kenyan artists, including Yony Waite, Wilson Matunda, Patrick Kinuthia, Nayianoi Sitonik, Leah Njenga, Kennedy Kinyua, Elias Mong’ora, David Roberts, Damba Ismaeli, Caroline Mbirua, Coster Ojwang and Anne Mwiti.
Most of the artworks were landscapes, colorfully amplifying the brilliant natural beauty of the countryside. Most were filled with multiple shades of green that was splashed across lots of rolling hills. Such are the paintings of Patrick Kinuthia, Coster Ojwang and Caroline Mbirua. A few captured hues of Kenyan waterways like Lake Naivasha (Leah Njenga), Lake Baringo (David Roberts) and the Indian Ocean (Nayianoi Sitonik). Meanwhile, Yony Waite paints Athi Plains using shades of black and white and a bit of ochre brown.
                                                                                              By Kennedy Kinyua

All that beauty clearly revealed why many people love Kenya. But then a few of the paintings display other dimensions of the country’s city life. For instance, Wilson Matunda’s ‘Players’ are deeply engrossed in playing checkers (be it in an informal or a gated community) while Elias Mong’ora’s  and Damba Ismaeli’s Boda Boda (motorcycle taxi) drivers expose the fact that many urbanites (including myself) appreciate the convenient transportation that the boda bodas provide. Nayianoi’s tuk tuk offers the same sort of aid to us who don’t want to endure Kenyan traffic behind a wheel of our own.
                                                                                               By Yony Waite

But it’s Kennedy Kinyua’s congested yet colorful rural bus stage that displays a totally other side of Kenya that is to be loved. For not everyone can afford to enjoy the game parks and scenic sides of the country since we are working to put bread on the table and pay our children’s school fees. Such workers can also see the beauty of Kenyan daily life in the fellowship we find rubbing shoulders side by side our friends and strangers.  

Thursday, 26 July 2018



BY Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted July 26 2018)

Both Clinton Kirkpatrick and John Silver Kimani are storytellers and visual artists, with a special penchant for both painting and printmaking. What sets the two apart (besides one being from Northern Ireland, the other’s from Ruiru) is the way their surrealist minds work to interpret and filter through the facts and fictions of their everyday lives.

Their distinctive styles of printmaking have been on display all of July in Nairobi Museum’s Creativity Gallery in a massive show that they aptly entitled “Life and other Fictions”.

It’s a joint exhibition that might have been in the cards ever since 2012 when Silver gave a printmaking workshop at Kuona Trust and Clinton attended. The Irishman (who’d worked the previous year in Western Kenya with a public health care NGO) had been a painter practically all his life. But he’d never been involved with printmaking until Silver showed him how to make woodcut prints.
 That workshop and the artist running it made a mighty impact of Clinton who’s been practicing printmaking ever since. What’s more since 2012, he’s been back and forth between UK and Kenya several times. Silver’s also gone to Belfast to share an exhibition with his former mentee at the Seacourt Printmaking Workshop in early 2016. And two years before that the two had their first joint showing at the National Museum. That one was so successful the gallery’s curator Lydia Galavu encouraged Clinton to consider coming back this year.

‘Lydia planted a seed [with that suggestion] that inspired me to think seriously about the story I’d like to tell in such a show,” says Clinton who realized it wasn’t his story that he wanted to share. It was Kenyans’ stories that would constitute the best sort of exhibition that he could create.

With that realization in mind, he began collecting stories from everyone who’d take him seriously when he asked them to ‘tell me a story’.

“I set no limits on the stories I wanted people to share. They could tell me fiction or fact, folktale or fantasy, ancestral sagas or personal life dramas,” he says.

In all, Clinton collected nearly 90 stories from all sorts of characters. He got them from children and friends he’d cultivated since he’d first come to Kenya in 2011. He listened to friends of friends, fellow artists, waitresses, MDs, peace makers and even a few journalists. A number of people got emotional as they related traumatic tales from their pasts. Others told folk tales while quite a few reflected on their life journeys. 

Clinton’s commitment was to create a painting for every person who shared their story with him. “Initially, I was intent on creating a piece for every one I’d interviewed, but then I realized the time was too short,” he adds.

He did create wood cuts for all 88 people whose stories he’d collected. But ultimately, he could only complete 64, all of which he produced three prints for: one for this exhibition which he also ‘gifted’ to the National Museums “since I wanted the works to remain in Kenya”. The second one he’s giving to every interviewee although it’s proving to be a daunting task since his storytellers came from all over Kenya. But he’s committed to giving back.

His portraits seem almost as surreal as Silver’s works do. But in every case, Clinton has drawn upon the most powerful impression that each story made on him. For instance, one friend told him the Lwanda Magere’s legend which he conceived vividly in a semi-abstract style. Another man told him how classmates used to call him ‘the art doctor’ so there’s a bit more realism in that painting. Another print was filled with sleeping goats, reminiscent of one friend’s childhood memory of sleeping in straw with the family goats.  

Clinton’s print/paintings reflect the degree to which the artist has delved into the depth of Kenyans’ souls. Having a rare capacity to not only listen attentively but also to generate an air of genuine interest in his subject’s storyline, Clinton’s artistic response in every case has been a fascinating blend of impressionism and fantasy. There’s also quite a bit of humor in his portraits which stray far afield from realism. There’s also a great many vibrant colors infused in nearly all of his prints so that while he’s created portraits that feel vibrant and alive with feelings and insight, they also convey a sensitivity and appreciations for Kenyan people’s openness, honesty and spontaneity of expression.

What makes Clinton’s gift to the National Museum all the finer is that he’s documenting each story so it will accompany each painting. That way we’ll not only be able to more effectively discover the meaning behind the paintings; we’ll get to appreciate the scores of stories contained in ‘Life and other Fictions’ that Kenyans freely shared with this wide-eyed Irishman.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The President is Missing

By Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Reviewed by Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 25 July 2018)

The president is missing’ shot to the top of the New York Times best sellers list practically from the day it came out in early June.  In part it was because former US President Bill Clinton was said to have penned a political thriller for the first time and folks were curious what he’d reveal. Not only that, he’d teamed up with the block-buster novelist James Patterson who’s got an immense fan-base to begin with.
But the best reason the Clinton-Patterson ‘collab’ has done so well is primarily because Patterson knows how to spin a splendid political thriller and Clinton knows the in’s and out’s of Washington. Some say Patterson is the one who approached Clinton so he’d be assured to have insider authenticity to his story about cyberterrorism, espionage in and outside the White House and various other details related to issues like impeachment of a president.
For instance, could it even be plausible for a US president to ‘go missing’, having so extensive a security service and surveillance system in and around the White House? Yet President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan pulls it off.
The former Army Ranger and Gulf War veteran has little choice if he means to save his country from a cyber-attack that will conceivable shut down every computer system across America, including all the military, financial, infrastructural, telecom and even health care services. Having foreseen such a threat, the Code Name of which is ‘Dark Ages’, the President allows only a select few in his inner-most top security circle to know what he’s up to and how he’s trying to waylay this ultimate act of cyberterrorism.
Yet the President (who’s a widower with a severe hemoglobin problem of his own) has an even more immediate problem than the prospect of being impeached for conversing with a known terrorist (which he did) or witnessing the chaotic havoc that would surely ensue if and when the triggered countdown of the attack clocked out. It was his discovery that there was a traitor in his inner circle, leading him not to trust anyone but his Chief of Staff.
Surrounded by brilliant women, including the number one Ukrainian cyberterrorist who’d created a practically impenetrable cyber virus, this president’s life titters on a viral edge virtually throughout the novel.
But with the typical Rambo-like rugged individualism that Americans are supposedly renowned for, Patterson’s president second-guesses all his foes though not before the suspense has kept you up a night or two till you find out whodunit and why.
It’s complicated to say the least, but the book’s perfectly timed to answer various questions you might have about America’s current president. Read the book and find out how that could be.


                                              Soweto students including Sarafina (Elsie Akinyi) vow to resist Apartheid

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 25 July 2018)

The theatrical production of ‘Sarafina’ that we saw this past weekend at Kenya National Theatre wasn’t a revival of the original live musical by South African playwright Mbongeni Ngeme which made it all the way to Broadway in New York.
Nor was it the film version of the original tale about that historic moment when in 1976 the youth of Soweto rose up and literally rocked the Apartheid regime at its roots.
Nor was it even like the 2004 Kenyan interpretation of the original show, the cast of which came to see Nairobi Performing Arts Studio’s interpretation of Sarafina last Saturday night.
But what that version did was to take the actual history and set it in a context meant to make the story relevant both to the past and the present day when freedom is still ‘coming tomorrow’ for many people of color the world over, including in South Africa.
All four versions of Sarafina are grounded in the actual history of that moment when the children rebelled against Apartheid and played a fundamental role in ultimately bringing down that oppressive racist regime. It was also grounded in the young people’s affection for their absentee anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela.
Yet anyone watching the show over the last fortnight at KNT needed to recall that when the script was first shaped, Mandela was still in prison and Apartheid was just as violently racist as it ever had been.
Plus the Soweto youth understood that being spoon-fed a curriculum fashioned by Afrikaners in their language was next to useless in the wider world,  so their burning schools down was not just an act of resistance to the system. It was also a symbolic deed mean to show the State that what they wanted was a real education.
What was stunning about the NPAS production was its mixture of dreamy romanticism and violent realism. It was a mix that got impeded a bit by technical flaws in Saturday’s show, especially in terms of sound since there was a bit we couldn’t hear, either because the microphones were too far from the cast or the music overwhelmed the actors’ speech.
The choral renditions of much-loved songs were excellent as was the choreography. But parents should have been advised not to bring their babies to this show since it was far more violent than anticipated and kids (in the front rows especially) loudly complained.
Director Stuart Nash clearly went for realism when he allowed the ‘Torturer’ (Gilad Millo) to literally water-board Teacher (Mkamzee Mtawali) on stage. Indeed, with the children in the audience, I too was scared for the actor’s health and safety since the ‘home guard’ equivalents’ appeared painfully powerful. Plus the riots resulted in actual ‘murders’ on stage, which was disturbing not only to the Torturer who took revenge for his lackey Saboti’s (Patrick Oketch) murder by ‘killing’ Teacher and several student leaders as well as torturing Sarafina before our eyes.
For me what made those painful performances both poignant and powerful came at the end of the show when cast members stood up and recited moments in history that reflected on people’s resistance not only to the racism of the apartheid regime but to the racism that still oppresses people of color worldwide as for instance, when neo-Nazis and other white supremacists preach hate speech in this day and age.
Sarafina (Elsie Akinyi) with Teacher (Mwamzee Mtawali) and Crocodile (Fanuel Mulwa with students praying for Mandela and freedom
So while the NPAS production of Sarafina was radically different from what audiences might have expected, its message resonates much further than anticipated since the formal system of Apartheid may be gone, but the challenge of achieving racial equity is still alive and apparent to this day. That is why one must appreciate the sacrifices that not only Nelson Mandela made (celebrations of the centenary of Mandela’s birth were thoughtfully timed to coincide with the NPAS show), but also the selfless sacrifices that the courageous youth of Soweto made. That was for me the resounding message of this truly memorable production of Sarafina.
                                                                                              The Sarafina cast

The good news is that the show is likely to come back to Kenya Cultural Centre quite soon. Many thanks to KCC for producing this original interpretation of the South African modern classic.
                                  Stuart Nash, director of Sarafina and Artistic Director of Kenya Cultural Centre and Nairobi Performing Arts Studio

Monday, 23 July 2018


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 23 July 2018)

Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and officially marks the first day of summer. It also occasions the first day of winter in the Southern Hemisphere which gets the shortest day of sun.
This year’s summer solstice was on June 21st, a few days after which I made my way with friends Robin and Jolly to the Chicago Botanical Garden.
It’s a place I’ve visited before. But since it’s no less than 385 acres of exquisitely landscaped gardens, it’s no wonder people like me go back often to witness its natural beauty.
And especially at the height of the Chicago summer when everything is in full-bloom, it’s a treat to see so many natural sun-kissed colors all enveloped in seas of shaded green.
Of course, those 385 acres include a number of waterways. Or more precisely put, the Garden itself is situated on and around nine islands inside the Skokie River Corridor. Sometimes described as a ‘living plant museum’, the Garden is actually made up of 27 displays or mini-gardens which you can walk around using a myriad number of nature trails.
Or you can take the open-air electric tram which snakes its way all around the outer edge of the Garden, stopping off at the Education Center established in 1976 and now known as the Regenstein Center. It also passes by the Rice Plant Science Conservation Center where one can find nine laboratories and a science Library containing scads of rare botanic books.
The Garden, which is owned by the Forest Preserve of Cook County but is actually run by the Chicago Horticultural Society, only broke ground in 1965, just over a half century. But it only opened to the public in 1972 after having enlisted a host of high-powered horticulturalists and landscape architects to create what could very well be one of the wonders of the world.
I have yet to see all 27 gardens but the one I wanted especially to view again was the renowned Japanese Bonsai Tree Collection. The Bonsai are the gracefully shaped ornamental mini-trees, some of which are dated between 600 and 1000 years old! No joke!
My friend Robin, seeing I loved the Japanese motif which somehow has its roots embedded in the religions of Shintoism and Buddhism, steered me towards the three Japanese landscaped islands which one can only visit by crossing a zig-zag bridge and then trek across another one. But the third island was said to be ‘sacred’ so nobody but the grounds-keepers could tread on it. We could only look.
I was satisfied since there was still enough light to go and see the Aquatic Garden as well as the English Walled Garden and even the Dwarf Conifer Garden. There was even an elegant display of orchid paintings inside the Regenstein Center which my other friend Jolly (from Kenya) was equally enthralled with.
But before we could leave, we had to walk around the Rose Garden which is one of Robin’s favorites. What we saw was a wide spectrum of colored roses, nearly all of which were in full bloom. But since the summer solstice had just passed and the sun was gradually shifting into cooler hues, a few of the blooms were already fading. That’s how fragile these flower can be.
The one other feature of the Garden that I wanted to investigate was the larger-than-life bronze sculpture situated squarely in the heart of the Garden. It was a youthful interpretation by the American sculptor Robert Berks of the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778). Linnaeus is the scientist considered the Father of Taxonomic Botany. That means he invented a system for naming and classifying plants according to their genus, species, Latin and common names. It’s thanks to him that virtually all the plants in the Garden are labelled for curious people like me to check out and actually read.
One of my favorite plant labels that we passed by on our way to the Walled Garden was the Black Coral Elephant Ear Araceae. In fact, those leaves really looked like elephant ears.
So as we walked across one last bridge leading to the mainland (which itself is just down the road from one of the five American Great Lakes, Lake Michigan), we felt refreshed having had an afternoon of clean air, organic as well as artistic beauty and fellowships with friends, one of whom I’d see soon back in Nairobi.


                                                                       by one of Brush tu founder artist Boniface Maina

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 23 July 2018)

In less than five years, Brush tu Art Studio has become one of Nairobi’s leading cultural venues for the visual arts. That was plain to see last weekend when they held one of their annual Open Houses, humbly entitling it ‘Pyenga’ (the Sheng term for ‘small’).

But there was nothing small about the display at Brush tu’s Buru Buru space, which the resident artists recently expanded by renting the next door-duplex and tearing down an adjoining wall. Now it could easily accommodate the most recent works of all thirteen artists based at Brush tu, eleven of whom are part of the permanent crew plus two interns, twins by the name of Joe and Andrew N’gang’a.
One of the most successful, democratic and open-minded groups of artists around, Brush tu’s amiable atmosphere of inspired artistry is infectious as one could see last Sunday when the corner house on Ol Leleshwa Road in Buru Buru Phase 1 got jam-packed with a slew of leading local artists.

There were poets, photographers, painters, sculptors and print-makers who came visiting, all intent on seeing how well their creative peers are doing. Trekking upstairs, one could see the genius works of Michael Musyoka on one side and those of Peteros Ndungu on the other.
                              Peteros Ndunde above and Michael Musyoka with his 'Contemplation of the Righteous'

But it’s downstairs where the Studio has most effectively maximized their space to accommodate everyone from Boniface Maina (one of the Brush tu founders along with Musyoka and David Thuku who’s currently based at Kobo Trust but is a proud alumni of BTAS), Waweru Gichuhi, Kimani Ngaru, Moira Bushkimani, Elias Mung’ora, Abdul Kipruto, Sebawali Sio, Emmaus Kimani, Lincoln Mwangi and the twins.

One key to Brush tu’s success is the modesty of the artists. Despite their having both solo and group shows at Circle Art, Nairobi and Polka Dot Galleries, the Attic, the Art Space, Kenya Art Fairs and elsewhere, each artist retains his or her commitment to their art, to their process and to moving forward fearlessly, experimenting with new ideas and media.
Indeed, there was a wide range of both experimental work and works in progress at the Open House. The surrealists in the house, Boniface and Michael each are moving on their own tracks (downstairs and up). Meanwhile, the ‘brush tu’ concept (of brush referring to ‘painting’ and tu meaning ‘only’) has expanded to now include sculptors like Kimani, print-makers like Kipruto, photographers like Emmaus and even a few so-called ‘junk artists’ who work with recycled ‘found objects’. Those include artists like Moira who recycled goat jaws and cow bone to create a fascinating work like ‘Bearer of Inspiration’ and Joe Ng’ang’a who transformed rusty mabati (metal) sheet into a ‘painting’ enhanced by acrylic paint and a sharp knife.

Even Boni Maina refashions found objects, including an old damaged toilet seat, although unlike Marcel Duchamp who deemed his toilet seat a ‘work of art’, Boni simply covers over the seat with bubble paper and uses it as a sort of throne from which he can contemplate new ideas for his art.
There are still several painters among the group. They include Elias Mung’ora (although he’s lately been experimenting with pencil and ink), Sebawali (who with Moira is one of the first female artists to join BTAS), Peteros, Lincoln, Waweru (whose nudes have a luster, alluring line and bronze glow to them) and of course, Michael who’s already creating frame-worthy ‘sketches’ to follow from his recent exhibition at The Attic Art Space.
One key turning point for BTAS came in 2016 when they got assistance from the Danish Embassy enabling them to conduct a year’s worth of artist residencies in 2017. Inviting both Pan-African and Kenyan artists to apply, the group quickly upped their game. They were already working well together, developing an arts library made up of both books and DVDs, and sharing ideas. But now they began opening up to the whole city and arts community, intent on informing their guests about the wide range of talents at work around Nairobi.

In a sense, Brush tu has done more to bring together a fiercely independent Kenyan arts community. It’s not a formally organized group that they intentionally fashioned, but by their openness, artistry and genial wit, they’ve brought lots of fresh air to the local art scene.

Just ask the women. Both Sebawali and Moira have been warmly welcomed into the fold, each finding the space both mentally and physically to produce original works that add flavor and feeling to the Studio.

Friday, 20 July 2018



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (20 July 2018 for Business Daily)

Some people go to Chicago specifically to visit the Art Institute to see its vast collection of Impressionist paintings. Others go to see the city’s spectacular skyline with all its myriad skyscrapers, including the gigantic Trump Towers. And still others go to Chicago to visit its illustrious universities, including Northwestern (with its Medill School of Journalism) and the University of Chicago (home of more Nobel prize winning scientists per square foot than anywhere else in the world).
I go to visit family and dear friends. But in the process of seeing them, I recently heard about The Dollar Tree (one of many brands of Dollar stores scattered across the US).
I had just spent $25 on a pair of magnifier reading glasses when I sat with a good friend who also used magnifiers on occasion. She pulled hers out and I admired them, complaining in the process about how I had just spent a bundle buying mind in Whole Foods, Jeff Bezos’s (of Amazon fame) recent acquisition. She then told me about the local dollar store where she got her magnifiers for literally one dollar!
Our glasses looked exactly alike. Only the price tag differed. So I confess, from that moment on, my addiction to the Dollar Tree took root. I initially went for the magnifiers, but then something happened. I am normally not a shopper, hate hanging out at dress shops and malls. But I further confess, I was raised by a ‘bargain hunter’. That was my mother who could never pass up a good bargain. She wasn’t hard core, meaning she didn’t clip coupons like some. But she liked to save money whenever she could, so I grew up appreciating the idea of frugality rather than spending lavishly.
Nonetheless, the change that came over me that day was stunning. The store itself was huge with many aisles, each labeled clearly so you didn’t have to think hard. All you had to do was open your mind and remember what you’d previously convinced yourself you really didn’t need to buy.
Like those sunglasses and the magnifiers that came in all sizes, colors and magnifying powers. But after that, with all those aisles to meander through, there was no telling what you rediscovered you really ‘needed’.
Like the ear phones (or buds) that you tended to break after a fortnight. They came neatly packaged, again in assorted colors and designs, and each costing only a dollar. There were assorted kitchen items, from utensils to dish towels to hot-pads and welcome mats. There were bath items of seemingly limitless variety, cosmetics good for the skin, eyes, hair, toes and nails. There were even aisles filled with canned foods, from tuna and sardines to chicken, turkey and spam. Drinks were also in abundance, only they were all soft drinks, no alcohol.
Nonetheless, one could easily get intoxicated if you had a few extra dollars to spend. There were a wide variety of school supplies, assorted cleaning soaps, liquids, lotions and pads. There was even a frozen food section where one could find pizza and what Americans call ‘TV dinners’, meals with scoops of corn and beans and beef or chicken wrapped in thin aluminum trays that you could stick in an oven for maybe half an hour, and then you’d have a meal and no dishes to wash. You’d just toss out the aluminum tray in the trash.
But then you have to ultimately ask yourself how did dollar stores come into being and how come everybody doesn’t save money by buying at these convenience stores that can save you a fortune if you stop before all your cash runs out.
First, I guess the dollar stores exist because of overproduction (the problem that capitalism was bound to have, according to Karl Marx who wrote over a century ago). The machinery is capable of producing so much, but the demand rarely can meet the supply provided by the manufacturers. So rather than destroy all those unsold goods, why not make something (rather than nothing) for all the trouble. Thus, the dollar store was born
But why don’t more people shop at dollar stores? Well, be assured, you will find all kinds of people shopping at The Dollar Tree. But there’s far more prestige and social status shopping at the Mall or on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile than at the Dollar Tree. Either way, if you have a little cash, Chicago can be a consumer’s paradise.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Parenting to maximize children’s full potential

By Margaretta Swigert-Gacheru, Ph.D (3 July 2018)

Practically every parent that I know in Kenya wants their children to have an education that will maximize their child’s full potential.
They are invariably prepared to make tremendous sacrifices to ensure their children get into school, which is not an easy proposition since the best schools cost far more than most families can afford.
Even the most humble local schools compel parents to pay for school fees (equivalent to tuition) plus school uniforms and books.
Many a young Kenyan has dropped out of school for lack of funds to cover those costs. Ironically, that’s when many young men and women have no choice but to enter the informal economy and devise ingenious means to earn an income. There is much that has been written about Kenya’s informal sector workers and their resourceful ways of surviving. And again, one would have to say that those informal sector (known as jua kali) workers have learned that technique of inventing ingenious means to earn a living from their parents, particularly their mothers who tend to be the main breadwinners in many African homes.
But even before children go to school, their home environments tend to be highly enlightening. Kids learn to take responsibility for their siblings’ child care since their parents (mainly their mothers) are either working outside on their farms or looking for basic essentials like water and cooking fuel in the form of firewood.
Children learns early on how much their parents sacrifice to get them into school so they tend to feel responsible for working hard, doing well academically and maximizing their own potential. They understand education is the key to their future success and the main means for fulfilling their human potential.  
In many African homes, grandparents still live in the same household as their children and grandchildren. Often, those elders have stories to tell, be they in the form of folk tales or family histories, songs, riddles or poetry. If children are blessed with having a wise grandparent at home, then evenings are not filled with TV and computer games. They are filled with storytelling that enriches children’s imaginations and equips them with wisdom and knowledge that may have been passed down over generations.
In many cases, parents may not have funds to buy their children toys. But this reality often leads children to create toys of their own. Many Kenyan artists that I know have stories to tell about how they created cars, buses, trucks and even toy bicycles by recycling bottle tops for wheels, tin cans for vehicle bodies and wires from sundry sources to make the skeletal infrastructure of their vehicles.
Then they’d have car competitions, inspired by the annual Safari Rally races that were started during colonial times and which thousands of Kenyans still stand by roadsides around the country just to see the competing cars drive by.
Meanwhile, I know mothers who wanted their daughters to have toy dolls which they would make out of old socks and yarn unwound from old sweaters. None of those daughters pestered their moms for the latest iteration of the American Girl doll. They would just be happy to have what their mothers created for them.
Most Kenyan youth tend to grow up out of doors since the climate is temperate (given the country stratles the Equator). Parents often provide them with plastic bags that the youth can use to create their own footballs so they can play soccer (which Kenyans call football) throughout the school holidays.
If families are in town, one important gift that parents give their children is a love of books. This applies mainly to families having educated (literate) parents and who also live in towns having libraries (which are relatively rare). I know parents who drop their children at the library and promise to return after two hours of shopping. The children love having the library to themselves. Depending on the size, structure and library policies, the youth love to explore the book shelves and discover the love of learning and reading on their own time in that conducive space.
If parents are more affluent, one of the best things they can do is find out what sorts of afternoon and weekend classes are available in the community for youth. Ideally, the child loves the possibility of learning a new musical instrument, new language, new sport or even a new style of dance after school. Allowing the child to see that he or she has options (rather than pushing them into what the parent wants them to do) is a good idea. But then there are times when the parent can see their child is being influenced by peer pressure to try none of the above. That’s when the parent may want to step in and encourage the child to do one project or other.
It always helps when a child sees his or her parent practicing what they preach. For instance, if they take their child to the library, does that child see his/her parent reading? Do the parents play musical instruments, belong to a ballet company or sing in the community choir or amateur theatre group?
There is nothing more enlightening and enriching for a child, nothing that can stimulate an incentive on their part to maximize their own potential than to see one or both of their parents practicing some particular skill, be it in the form of a hobby or professionally. The child picks up on their practices implicitly, like a sponge. So it makes sense for the parent who wants their child to maximize and fulfill his/her full potential, to continue striving to fulfill their own potential and learn new things on a daily basis.