Authors and Book Reviews  

October 09 - 15, 2009


 Coastweek   Kenya

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Coastweek -- 'Ostriches, Dung Beetles And Other Spiritual Masters'. Author - Janice Mclaughin M. Price Ksh 1,260/=. 148 pages. Published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll , New York , U.S.A.


African stories can change
the world to be a better place


Coastweek - - African stories have been told, and they are always being told, when children are going to sleep or even when the sun sets.

An Africa child who thinks that their grand mother or grand fathers are the only 'best' storytellers will soon realize that there are also some other 'best' ones outside there.

Most of he stories are remembered during the days when children are going to school or going for the water in the river or lake streams.

It is always very important to listen at the stories very well.

Some are very rich, some witches stories, others are real other are mythology.

But the fact remains that African stories are very rich and if there is any thing to go by it is that African stories can change the world to be a better place.

Recently a friend of mine bought me book of stories written by a long time friend Sister Janice McLaughlin.

The book is one of those that reminds me of my childhood growing up in the Eastern Africa countries of Tanzania , Kenya and Uganda .

Stories have been told at the time of war and peace time also.

In a recent interview with Petina Gappah - a Zimbabwean writer and author of 'An Elegy for Easterly' - she told me that in Zimbabwe stories are told even at the time of death.

It reminds people of many things in the life of the dead and children must be allowed to listen to the stories.

Stories bring the realities behind the latest headline of newspapers.

That is exactly what Sister Janice has done the collection of 26 stories that offer a moving and disturbing portrait of contemporary Zimbabwe and Africa .

It is a continent she knows so well on her tip of her fingers.

Sister Janice's character are mainly animals found in the wilderness of Africa and this animals sometimes are used by an Africa clan - for example buffalo, that you cannot eat it.

The book is full of such animals like buffalo, cheetah, and crocodile.

Also eland, giraffe, great kudu, hammer kop, hippopotamus, hornbill, impala, lion, ostrich and dung beetles.

With all the names above the book is an excellent reading - it gives reader more detail and explanation.

The book is recommended to be read at bed time where there is peace.

For teachers especially the one in Kenya should use it to tell their literature students that there is yet another excellent book that addresses the African Animals.

The book was written in Zimbabwe and in some difficulties with day-to-day life under President Robert Mugabe - insane inflation, cholera outbreaks, an aids epidemic - all are brought painfully to life.

Most of the animals used as characters are caught up in their own politics with 'climatic change' that is currently ravaging Africa .

It warns that if Africans don't watch out this book will remain a 'history' for children because the animals will perish - one can even take the case of Nairobi people who have built houses all the way into the national parks.

So we may thank God that 'Ostriches, Dung Beetles and other Spiritual Masters' will remind the generations to come that there were actually these animals living during the time of the author.

Personally I have revelled in the breathtaking beauty of the African continent.

From Kilimanjaro to Cape Town , I have been privileged to interact with people, who live in harmony with nature, and with abundance of wildlife that make Africa such a garden of Eden .

This also where l have experienced the deepest connection and communion with the Creator of such bounty.

In this book stories represent human character in the form of animals - like the little hare which is physically weak, but clever and full of tricks, or the huge elephants that possess enormous strength but seems a little weak in the head.

The question one may ask who Sister Janice McLaughlin is?

She is native of Pittsburg in the United States of America .

She was known as 'Twiga' [Giraffe] when she started her work in Kenya .

She is well-known in the African continent for more than forty years: she loves this continent - whether it is the people, the animals, the trees and the plants.

In this little book she sums up the wisdom she has gained from her long life in Africa , and which has now turned out to be her farewell gift.

Since then she was elected to the President of her religious congregation (Maryknoll sisters) and had to leave for her native America .

She was also at one time an information officer for the Kenya Episcopal Conference.

Sister Janice also served during the liberation for Zimbabwe and after she lived through in side and sided with the fighters in their camps in Mozambique .

She also found her self in prison during Ian Smith, who was then the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe: that last white man in Africa leadership.

She was arrested and tried and then deported back to the United States .

It was then she made her mind to help the freedom fighters for Zimbabwe and until recently she was working for the leadership in Silveria house in Zimbabwe and further authored the book 'On the frontline-catholic missions in Zimbabwe '.

In a careful reading we come to admire her resilience and this brings us to a letter written by emeritus Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu in advance praise for her writing:

"In the Genesis story of creation, encounter God resting and viewing the whole of magnificent creation-rather than the power we most associate with the lion."

Archbishop Desmond Tutu observes in this great beast joy in playfulness and spiritual renewal through relaxation "in this the shade of a thorn tree" relish this warm and wonderful book, truly a gift from Sister Janice has given.

The book also deals with justice and peace and here is where many African countries are caught in conflicts and it often seems there are just never ending wars in Africa .

Every day one reads the newspapers feels and see the pain Africa is going through.

As organization dealing with peace in the horn of African and Great Lakes we have learnt some lesson from this book.

Sister Janice is a towering figure of world communications.

She exemplifies belief now seemingly forgotten in a literary culture which has been under attack by the ubiquity of the superficial that writer can be the mouthpiece of a time.

A spokes person to crusade and a tireless examiner of moral and psychological truth.

She has been a fervent campaigner against injustice and has long held an iconic statues here as a champion of tolerance, free speech and understanding.

She has been able to display great conviction.

A few years ago, when Sister Janice lived in Kenya and was having a workshop for the writers in Coastal city of Mombasa , she told her listeners that:

"Learning how to write sent me falling, falling through the surface of African situations and ways of life".

She added in her work there is always 'affection' - for she has been a missionary and a writer to Africa , its people, epic landscape and potent past.

She has also suffered with and felt the devastating psychological effects of journalist, writers' persecutions on the lives of ordinary writers - like father Clement Kigundu of Uganda and many that suffered during the apartheid regime and under Ian Smith.

In this book one sees Sister Janice as a writer of extraordinary power and acutely.

Sister Janice deals with problem of belonging in then a segregated society.

She shows a place as prison.

How do you feel apart or a society which is founded upon wistful mistreatment of millions of its citizen?

What do you do when your very country has been stolen from you?

Janice fables are testament of her belief in the redemptive power of humanity.

It's ability to overcome what she has called, the 'violence of pain' even if that pain is inflicted by the state.

The individual, if brave and willing enough, is able to triumph against seemingly in unobtainable odds.

On hope Janice shares the most powerful 'Story of Hammerkop' (page 55-57) where she looks at some of the most extraordinary people, like Judy Mayotte - who she describes as a friend.

Judy who lost her leg and hand has never allowed her missing limbs to define her or limit her dreams.

She has accomplished more than most people with two legs and has not been deterred by the physical challenges she faces each day she moves about her wheel chair.

This kind of ambition enables her to overcome difficulties, to touch, any people who lives and to have appositive impact on the wider world.

Janice recent work has been controlled, powerful and affecting as anything she has written.

The book should be used more in intuitions, youth groups and small study groups.

Joseph Adero Ngala is a writer with 'People for Peace in Africa' (PPA), P.O. Box 14877, Nairobi 00800, Westlands, Kenya .





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