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Archive for September 8th, 2010

Man killed over pool game

Posted by Administrator on September 8, 2010

By PHILEMON SUTER psuter@ke.nationmedia.com
Posted Wednesday, September 8 2010 at 22:30

A man was killed on Wednesday after he was shortchanged in a game of pool.

The dispute arose after his colleague conned him of his Sh20 at Sangach trading centre in Marakwet East District.

Following the killing of Kipkemoi Chepkong’a, 25, at least 15 houses were burnt down and over 50 livestock driven away by his clansmen avenging his death.

The group also raided the home of the area chief, Mr Joseph Lokanda, where eight cows were stolen and property worth thousands of shillings looted.

Police sealed off the nearby home of area MP and assistant minister Linah Kilimo in Marich village. The officers said the home had been targeted by the enraged clan.

The chief’s younger brother, Mr Wilson Lokanda, a teacher at a local school, said his home was burnt, property destroyed and animals stolen.

The chief, Mr Lokanda, termed called on the community to discard the practice of avenging killings.

According, to witnesses, Mr Chepkong’a had quarrelled with his assailant moments before he was shot with a poisoned arrow as he rode on his motorcycle.

To stop more violence, over 20 General Service Unit officers were sent to the area to restore order.

Marakwet deputy police chief Zachary Kimani said the man suspected to have killed Mr Chepkong’a was still at large and police were looking for him.

The rioting mob however, prevented the police from retrieving the body.

 Daily Nation



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Top marks for Kenyan film “The First Grader”

Posted by Administrator on September 8, 2010

TELLURIDE, Colo. (Hollywood Reporter) – Stories about inspiring teachers have tantalized moviemakers and movie audiences since the era of Mr. Chips and Miss Dove. The latest incarnation, “The First Grader,” proved to be one of the biggest crowd-pleasers at this year’s Telluride Film Festival.

Although the arc of the story might be familiar, the setting and characters are fresh. Art house audiences are likely to discover and embrace the film.

“First Grader” is set in Kenya and recounts the true story of an 84-year-old farmer and former Mau Mau tribesman who decided to go to school when the country introduced universal education. Screenwriter Ann Peacock introduces Maruge (Oliver Litondo), an old man with a walking stick, as he approaches the new school in his village and asks to enroll. The school authorities are reluctant to admit an octogenarian alongside 6-year-olds, and we gradually learn there are tribal rivalries that also contribute to their suspicion of Maruge.

Teacher Jane Obinchu (Naomie Harris) is equally skeptical, but when she observes Maruge’s unyielding determination to learn to read, she becomes his ally, even as she alienates her husband and government authorities who are just as bureaucratically rigid in Kenya as in so many other societies.

The film paints a vivid picture of rural and urban Kenya — Maruge eventually travels to Nairobi to plead his case — and it also sketches some of the forgotten history of the country. Flashbacks reveal that Maruge suffered in a British prison camp and even lost his family at the hands of the British occupying forces. His past makes it painfully clear that he faces so much discrimination at the hands of his own countrymen.

Director Justin Chadwick — best known for his superb BBC miniseries adapted from Dickens’ “Bleak House” — insisted on filming on location, and he enlisted locals for most of the roles in the film. Working with cinematographer Rob Hardy, he brings the countryside alive and also provides fascinating insights into a forgotten chapter of British colonial history.

Scenes in the classroom are entertainingly vital, aided by the natural performances of the Kenyan children. But the film shares the failing of many other films about inspiring teachers: It asserts that Jane is a marvelous influence on her students but doesn’t succeed in dramatizing revelatory moments in the classroom that might change the course of a young person’s life.

Because the writing falls down in some of these scenes, it helps that Harris — a veteran of small British movies as well as the gargantuan “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise — brings so much passion to her performance. She conveys Jane’s utter dedication while always leavening her performance with convincing moments of doubt and vulnerability. Litondo’s innate dignity is another major asset to the production.

Chadwick strikes a perfect balance between humor and tragic gravity, and the result is that an unknown story seems certain to stir the hearts of audiences worldwide.

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20100907/review_nm/us_film_grader_1

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The stark truth about Kenyans’ frenzied rush for love and marriage

Posted by Administrator on September 8, 2010


By now, everyone knows the story, but it still sounds sweet no matter how many times it is repeated.

Last Friday, thousands of (probably) single women scrambled madly at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre to hear the “apostle of marriage”, Nigerian Pastor Chris Ojigbani.

As the one account put it, “For several hours, business came to a standstill as police and security guards from the KICC and the Covenant Singles and Married Ministries struggled to keep the thousands of women at bay”.

Pastor Ojigbani was obviously buoyed, and he preached for more than four hours. A KICC official told the Africa Review website: “I have organised events for the last 10 years, but I have never seen one like this.”

The marriage scramble at KICC surprised many people, because if you mostly listen to FM stations and read the lifestyle columns by the fashionable women of Nairobi, you would have been labouring under the impression that marriage is out of fashion. So how does one explain what would seem a great hunger to get hitched?

I am one of the most hopeless commentators anywhere in the world on this matter, so I will just go by what other people’s research says on the intricacies of courtship and the yearnings of the heart.

The Kenyan market research firm, Consumer Insight (CI), does a lot of off-the-beaten path research on various social trends. They discovered several things in a series of their recent researches. First, that more Kenyans – and East Africans – are going to church.

However, they are also less religious. That is contradictory; it shouldn’t happen. However, the findings suggested that they go to church mostly because they are lonely and looking for love, not because they are seeking spiritual healing.

There is a disconnect here, because priests and pastors still preach the message of salvation. The genius of some people like Pastor Ojigbani is that he realised that the souls who come to prayer are not all looking for God, but are in a relationship market.

Again, there is one problem with that conclusion. Recent data suggests that divorce has risen sharply among young Kenyan couples. CI also reports in one of its surveys that the numbers of married people, and those who are happy in their relationships, are declining.

Even more interesting, the data shows that there is a big rebellion among women towards the things associated with a traditional woman’s role in the house – stuff like shopping, and doing chores around the house. The girls just don’t like that stuff.

All this leads us to some tentative conclusions. One is that the reason so many people are surprised and confused by the events at Pastor Ojigbani’s marriage and love-fest is not because so many frenzied women turned out.

It is because we men are generally not used to women being so assertive about seeking marriage. Kenyan society still expects them to sit around, braiding their hair and polishing their nails, waiting for Mr Right to come along.

The real story at KICC, then, was really about the rebellion against convention. The other, is something that CI might want to try and capture next time. If lonely people are going to church to find someone, they are probably looking for companionship, not marriage.

I sense that the real value of men today is mostly as companions, not husbands. Okay, I know it might be hair-splitting, but recent developments in many parts of the world at the height of the global financial crisis might help us here.

Two things happened. First, many marriages collapsed when couples lost their jobs. Nothing surprising there. However, the number of new marriages also shot up, as people sought the support of someone else to help them ride out the crisis.

In times of economic uncertainty, marriage is a good way to hedge your bets – for both men and women. Marriage is the new sacco.

The surprise about Pastor Ojigbani’s show, then, is not that there were so many women, but rather that they were not many more. Then, that there were so few men!


 Daily Nation


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School fires teacher for eyeing MP’s seat

Posted by Administrator on September 8, 2010

A young man near campaign posters in Starehe. The by-elections are set for September 20. Photo/SULEIMAN MBATIAH

A young man near campaign posters in Starehe. The by-elections are set for September 20. Photo/SULEIMAN MBATIAH

A teacher has been sacked for vying for the Starehe parliamentary seat. Starehe Boys Centre director, Mr Matthew Kithyaka, on Wednesday said that Mr John Opot, a teacher at the centre, was sacked over conflict of interest.

Mr Opot is contesting for the Starehe seat on a Social Democratic Party ticket. Mr Kithyaka said in a letter to Mr Opot that he should have resigned before engaging in active politics.

Mr Opot, however, said the school erred by dismissing him as it is a non-governmental organisation.

Mr Opot, who was the school deputy games teacher before being demoted to swimming teacher, said the school had used his involvement in politics as a scapegoat to sack him.

On Wednesday, Starehe deputy returning officer Mumina Bonaya said preparations for the by-election were in top gear.

She said the Interim Independent Electoral Commission met all the candidates except PNU’s Maina Kamanda who sent a representative on Tuesday and they had agreed to conduct peaceful campaigns.

Ms Bonaya said 414 returning officers and their deputies and 886 clerks had been appointed. In Makadara, returning officer Florence Kwamboka said preparations were going smoothly and staff were being hired.

Meanwhile, former assistant minister Dick Wathika, who lost the Makadara seat following an election petition, on Wednesday took his campaign to Lunga Lunga where he donated chairs to Star of Hope Secondary. Mr Wathika is vying on a PNU ticket.

The Starehe, Juja and Makadara by-elections will be held on September 20, while the one for Wajir South will be conducted on October 13.

The deadline for nominations for Wajir South is September 13. All the seats were left vacant following court petitions.

Source: Daily Nation

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Priest’s ‘love affair’ lands him in court

Posted by Administrator on September 8, 2010

A priest who allegedly attempted to pass off a ruined love affair as a robbery incident has been charged with giving false information.

Mr Meshack Zedi Shiundu, a priest at Nyamasaria church in Kisumu, appeared naked at Mumias Police Station on Wednesday to report that he had been robbed.

He was later arraigned before Mumias senior resident magistrate Hazel Wandera who released him on a cash bail of Sh10,000.

Report time

According to the police, the accused arrived at the station at about 1am panting to report having been robbed of his car, Sh1,500 in cash, mobile phone valued at Sh8,000 and a watch all valued at Sh409,500.

Police investigations revealed the priest was on a drinking spree at a popular bar in Mumias Town before a barmaid he had fallen for led him to her house.

He is said to have been found by another man who threw him out before the man of the cloth walked without clothes for about one kilometre to the police station to report a fake robbery.

The case will be mentioned on September 22. The hearing will be on November 3.


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When beauty means more than the shape of the face

Posted by Administrator on September 8, 2010


Miss World Kenya 2010 Natasha Metto (centre) August , 22,2010, is all smiles after being crowned during the pageant's finals at the Braeburn's Auditorium,Nairobi on Saturday evening. She is flanked by the 1st runners up Farida Diba (left) and 2nd runners up Ndarasho Mshila Photo/Elvis Ogina (Nation )

Miss World Kenya 2010 Natasha Metto (centre) August , 22,2010, is all smiles after being crowned during the pageant's finals at the Braeburn's Auditorium,Nairobi on Saturday evening. She is flanked by the 1st runners up Farida Diba (left) and 2nd runners up Ndarasho Mshila Photo/Elvis Ogina (Nation )

A fortnight ago, Ximena Navarrete was declared Miss Universe 2010 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. In the same week, Natasha Metto was declared Miss World Kenya 2010 and drove off in a Toyota Ist.

But, what would it take a Kenyan girl to be Miss World/Universe this or that?

If you wish to contest in the Miss World Kenya pageant, just drop those marriage plans. Also, you should never have been married.

And you should be armed with a gynae’s certificate indicating that there is nothing growing in your womb. Scars, traditional markings and tattoos are out.

You must also be sweating 25 and below, but not as far down as Sweet 16. It means beauty might as well not just be in the face. Or on your face. It took half a century for judges in the Miss World beauty pageant, for instance, to spot it on a black African woman.

That was Nigeria’s Agbani Darego, the 2001 Miss World. When the psychology major at New York University was crowned at the finals in South Africa, she enthused “…it’s a wonderful feeling and it’s indescribable…. I have made history…. Black is beautiful.”


No other black-skinned African has won the crown in the competition’s history. Okay, there were three other African Miss Worlds — Egypt’s Antoine Costanda in 1954 and South Africa’s Penelope Coelen (she later married wealthy sugarcane farmer Graeme Rey) and Anneline Kriel, who were crowned in 1958 and ’74 respectively. But they were not black.

It seems a patented cutie is likely to win Miss World — the oldest surviving international beauty pageant — if she comes from anywhere but Africa.

Consider this: Of the 52 Miss Worlds since Eric Morley mused up the idea, 25 have come from Europe, 13 from the Americas, 10 from Asia-Pacific, seven from the Caribbean and a measly four from Africa.

The sheen of being declared “the fairest of them all” is likely to shine with a visible patina if you were born in Venezuela. Or India, for these countries boast the highest number of Miss Worlds — at five crowns apiece.

Of course it is debatable whether the winner is really the planet’s most beautiful, as Catharina Lodders opined when she was crowned in ’62. “I don’t think I’m the most beautiful girl in the world…. I am the most beautiful here.”

Miss World aside, there has been only three Africans who have claimed the Miss Universe title: South Africa’s Margaret Gardiner in ’78, Michelle McLean of Namibia in ’92 and Botswana’s Mpule Kwelagobe in ’99.

The human body could be a great work of art, but are the parameters of judging “beauty” in these contests squinted through Western eyes?

Well, beauty pageants are symbolic representations of collective cultural identities. The concept of beauty varies from culture to culture.

In the West, beauty equals tall and rim-rod skinny. In traditional Africa and Asia, it’s big, bigger, biggest — proportionality notwithstanding.

Blame the Stone Age man. The chubbiest wife was her own insurance against famine. Today, in Mauritania for instance, girls are deliberately “fattened” since high are the chances of getting a hubby if you’re barreled enough, love tyres and all.

In Africa, the concept of what is beautiful has little to do with being not taller than 1.68m, or being a “leggy-rover” with high cheekbones on a moon-shaped face.

Enter the Greeks, who believed beauty has mathematical properties. Beautiful things, they postulated, are usually symmetrical and proportional. Hence, the 36-24-36-body radio required of today’s contestants, who must also exhibit talent, poise, intelligence, resourcefulness and social consciousness.

But hey! Where do you place the belief that “our culture,” and therefore perception of what beauty is, “is superior to yours”?
Unlike Miss World or Miss Universe, Miss International Beauty Pageant, the “Festival of Beauty”, is not based on how fetching one is in the looks department.

Contestants are expected to serve as “Ambassadors of Peace and Beauty”, oozing tenderness, benevolence, friendship, beauty, intelligence and ability to take action, besides having a great international sensibility.

But, even, here, in the “Olympics of Beauty”, no African has ever been crowned. Unlike modelling pageants, where the winner must have angular features, hanger-like shoulders, a lanky frame and that elusive “X” Factor that makes Kenya’s Ajuma Nasenyana and Sudan’s Alek Wek such fashion and image marketing machines, the Miss Anything winners — say, Miss World — spends a year travelling.

The current Miss World, Kaiane Aldorino of Gibraltar, represents the Miss World Organisation in its various charities. The organisation, which is franchised in more than 100 countries, has raised millions of dollars for children’s charities over the years.

But, in spite of its large constituency of 22-carat cuties, Kenya has not performed beautifully on the global stage over the years.
And the only Kenyan “Miss World Something” in a global sense was crowned by default.

Winfred Omwakwe, the First Runner-up during Miss Earth in 2002, was crowned after the actual winner, Dzejla Glavovic from Bosnia Herzegovina, failed to fulfill her duties.

The farthest a local contestant ever went in the Miss World contest was Khadija Adam, the 1984 Miss Kenya. “Katie” sashayed to the semis in the 1984 Miss World, where she was crowned Miss Africa.

Khadija Adam, a product of African Heritage, became the first and only Kenyan beauty to have graced the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine.

That feat of securing a semi-final slot was equalled 16 years later by Yolanda Masinde during the Miss World beauty pageant in 2000.

She was crowned Miss Africa, and could have legged further were it not for that small matter of choosing Mariah Carey as her role model “because I also sing on the side.”

Contestants are judged using an inimitable scoring system that awards points up to 110 per cent: personal interviews with the judges (50 per cent), national gown evening wear (25 per cent), swimwear (25 per cent), and an optional 10 per cent for achievement portfolio.

Then there is stage presentation and the random Question-Answer session. This is the trickiest part that requires a scholarly effort.
In the 1980s, the pageant was repositioned with the slogan “Beauty With a Purpose” and added tests of intelligence and personality.

The first man went to the moon in 1969, the year Filipino Gloria Diaz became Miss Universe. She was asked, “If the man from the moon landed in your hometown, what would you do to entertain him?”

She replied: “I guess since he has been in the moon so long, he would enjoy anything that an ordinary man would.”

The question calls a contestant to think on her stilettos.

During the Miss Universe of ’94, Charlene Gonzales was asked, “How many islands are there in Philippines,” she retorted: “High tide or low tide?”

We can’t forget Miss Serbia in the 2003 Miss Universe. The question posed was: “If you could be either water or fire which would you be and why?

Her response? “Well, I’m a human being and I don’t know how is it to be fire or water and for that reason, I really don’t have an answer to that question. I’m human being, a girl that has emotion that fire and water don’t have.”

Daily Nation

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Kenya’s first Saint imminent

Posted by Administrator on September 8, 2010

Cardinal Otunga

Cardinal Otunga

NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 7 – The long road to the beatification of Maurice Cardinal Otunga that will see him become the first Kenyan saint is well underway, with only one stage to go.

Speaking after the seventh memorial service of the late cardinal on Monday, Postulator Anthony Bellagamba told Capital News that the church was currently studying documents that had been written on him as well as by him.

He explained that three commissions had been set up to look at the said documents before making their report.

“We are now in the second stage where we have the theological commission which will analyse any written material on the Cardinal to find out if his faith strongly came out. A historical and medical commission is also looking at the works and each of these commissions will have three people,” he said.

Father Bellagamba further explained that after the documents were studied and a report submitted, then the process of Cardinal Otunga’s beatification would get into its final stage. This stage would also be facilitated by the three commissions.

“This involves having an oral interview with the people who lived with the Cardinal and pretty much shared their life with him. Was he a prayerful man? Was he gentle? These are some of the questions whose answers we will be seeking,” he said.

If the majority of the commissions held the same positive attributes on Cardinal Otunga, then all the paper work would be forwarded to Rome to the Congregation of the Saints.

“The process would start all over again and they would re-do what the Kenyan commissions did. If they agree with the judgment, the Dioceses in Rome would declare Cardinal Otunga venerated and people can now start praying through him asking him to intercede for them,” he explained.

But before the Pope gives assent to the decision, a miracle would have to be performed: “A miracle is an action performed on an individual that cannot be explained by present knowledge. It could be a very sick person getting healed after asking Cardinal Otunga to pray for him.”

He added that there was no set time line for the works as it would only create false expectations: “The time element has so far been respected but there is no hurry. We get confronted by people who do not necessarily believe or think Cardinal Otunga should be beatified so we cannot work with specific time frames.”

Cardinal Otunga was born on January 31, 1923 and was the first Kenyan to become an archbishop and Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. He served the church for 53 years as a priest, a bishop and Cardinal before his demise at the age of 80 on September 6, 2003.

He was the son of a traditional tribal chief in Kakamega (Sudi Namachanja) who had 40 wives. His mother who was a diviner was called Rosa Namisi. He graduated from Mangu High School before proceeding to the seminary in Kakamega. He was ordained into priesthood at the age of 27 in 1950.

Source: http://www.capitalfm.co.ke/news/Kenyanews/Kenya%27s-first-Saint-imminent-9725.html

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Runaway Kenyan maid describes Saudi ordeal: “I worked day and night and was never paid”

Posted by Administrator on September 8, 2010

In Saudi Arabia, many Asian and/or African maids work in terrible conditions. Their most fundamental rights are violated: they are held against their will, humiliated, sometimes even tortured. A young Kenyan woman, who has fled her Saudi employers and is now in hiding, told us her story.

The account of a Sri Lankan maid who was tortured by her Saudi employers is far from being an isolated case. Some 1.5 million foreigners work as housemaids in Saudi Arabia. According to the Damman police spokesman, 20,000 of them fled the homes where they were employed after being mistreated.

“I live in fear of being found by my employers”

Christine is a 26-year-old woman from Kenya. She has been living in hiding in Saudia Arabia for the past six months since fleeing her employers, who held her against her will. She was stripped of her passport and cannot return home. She is currently living with our Observer, Mohamed, who, alerted to a plight, has decided to try to help her.

I arrived in Saudi Arabia in 2009 at Jeddah’s international airport. I had obtained my work visa at the Saudi embassy in Nairobi, where I was promised a job as an children’s English teacher. I arrived here with seven other women, all in the same situation as I was. My “sponsor” came to pick me up at the airport. I found the fact that he was accompanied by his wife and mother-in-law reassuring. They told me that, for the time being, I would be teaching English to their own children. But I quickly realised that I had been tricked. Instead of taking me to their home, we went to the home of friends of theirs where several Kenyans were already working as maids. There, they removed my passport and my cell phone (with the all of my contact numbers in it), saying they would be returned the day I went back home.

Then I was sent to work in the mother-in-law’s home. There, I met another Kenyan woman who had been working as a maid for two months. She warned my of what lay ahead. One month later, I was sent back to my main employer’s home. There began a truly horrible period that lasted around four months. I slept in a tiny, cramped room with a thin, hard mattress on the floor. I had to ask for permission to eat. I worked like crazy, doing all of the housework, from ten in the morning to five or six the next morning non-stop.

“I wasn’t allowed to make a single phone call for two months”

I wasn’t allowed to call home for two months. When I finally did, I learned that my father was very ill and had been hospitalised. I asked my employer – to whom I’m not supposed to be allowed to talk to – if he could pay me my salary so that I could return home to see my father. I hadn’t been paid anything so far – my monthly salary was supposed to be of 800 rials [around 160 euros], which is next to nothing here, you can barely afford even the lowest of rents. But he and his wife refused, going so far as to tell me that, even if my father did pass away, it wouldn’t be too serious!

That’s when I understood that my only chance would be to run away. Once out of the house, I took a taxi that brought me to the Guinean consulate (the driver understood Guinea instead of Kenya, but anyways there is no Kenyan consulate in Jeddah). I had a lot of trouble getting officials there to understand what was going, given that I only speak English. I finally ended up waiting for two months in the consulate’s courtyard.

Finally, I met Mohamed. He took care of me and put an end to the worst of my troubles. But it’s still not over, because I haven’t retrieved my passport yet so I can’t leave the country. I live in the fear of being found by my former employers.”

“I think it’s disgraceful that the Kenyan embassy isn’t doing anything about this situation”


Mohamed, 27, was born in Africa but lives in Saudi Arabia. He teaches foreign languages at a school in Jeddah.

I discovered that situations like this existed after meeting Christine. It’s absolutely scandalous. I know at least 25 women that are in the same situation as she is: with no money, no papers, with no way of ever going home. Some end up turning towards prostitution, others manage to find a new job after running away from their first employers. I think it’s disgraceful that the Kenyan embassy isn’t doing anything to stop this from happening. I’m aware that I’m running a risk by openly criticising these practices, which are frequent here. I didn’t even contact Christine’s former employers to get her passport back, because they’re powerful and well-connected people.

But I’m determined to fight for these women’s rights, nothing will discourage me. I’ve already created a Facebook page to raise awareness to the problem.”

Source: http://observers.france24.com/en/content/20100908-runaway-kenyan-maid-describes-saudi-ordeal-held-by-employers-not-paid

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From Kenya, with love

Posted by Administrator on September 8, 2010

To feed themselves and their community, a hard-working East African couple raises their native vegetables on a Wisconsin farm.

Sarah Nyamari, center, assisted by Helen Misaeli Ondari, left, and Salome Moraa Onsongo, both visiting from Kenya, pick chinsaga, a leafy green and a cornerstone of the Kenyan diet. Tom Wallace Star Tribune

Sarah Nyamari, center, assisted by Helen Misaeli Ondari, left, and Salome Moraa Onsongo, both visiting from Kenya, pick chinsaga, a leafy green and a cornerstone of the Kenyan diet. Tom Wallace Star Tribune

By Rick Nelson

MAIDEN ROCK, WIS. – From the road, the small farm resembles its neighbors, at least at first glance: a weathered red barn, a well-kept yard, a few hard-working vehicles parked in the gravel driveway.

But unlike the rest of the fields lining the hilly river valley a few miles east of the Mississippi River, this acreage is tended by elegant African women, their figures wrapped in vividly patterned fabrics to keep the insects at bay. Look closer and you’ll see that bedrock of American agriculture’s neat-freakishness — strict, militaristic rows of monoculture crops — has been willfully cast aside for a melange of plants seemingly spreading out, willy nilly. Look even closer and wonder: Just what the heck are they growing, anyway?

Chinsaga. Rinagu. Egesare. The Kisii-language names of these East African greens roll off the tongues of farmers Albert and Sarah Nyamari like operatic lyrics. The couple, aided by an extended clan of fellow Kenyan family members and friends, are cultivating a dozen or so greens and other vegetables that may be unfamiliar to American eyes and taste buds but, “are like hamburgers to us,” said Albert.

Albert and Sarah Nyamari met as students in Kenya, then reconnected and married in Minnesota. “We picked up where we left off,” said Sarah.

Albert and Sarah Nyamari met as students in Kenya, then reconnected and married in Minnesota. “We picked up where we left off,” said Sarah.

To the uninitiated, it’s tough to discern what’s a weed and what isn’t, at least until one of the women working nearby starts quickly plucking finger-sized leaves off a knee-high plant, deftly stuffing them into paper bags.

Chinsaga,” said Albert, passing a handful for a taste. It’s chewy and slightly bitter, and while the leaves can be eaten raw, they’re usually boiled until tender, and often sautéed with onions and tomatoes.

“For Kenyans, nothing is cooked unless it has tomatoes,” said Sarah with a laugh.

Teardrop-shaped rinagu looks and grows a bit like basil, and for Kenyan cooks it’s the most versatile of the three staple greens. “It’s tastier, more tender,” said Sarah. “You can get more recipes from it.”

A stretch of egesare, its diamond-shaped leaves a favorite for sweetening soups and stews, is the farm’s prettiest field, each plant forming a gentle green dome; hundreds of them create a kind of bubbled carpet. “This is how I see it in Kenya,” said Albert. The plants’ root structure thrives when it has room to spread out, rather than forced into neat rows, so its haphazard beauty only accentuates the dull predictability of linear, by-the-book agriculture. Grant Wood would have never painted this farm. His loss.

A growing marketAlbert estimates that there are 7,000 to 10,000 Kenyans living in the Twin Cities, far away from their native home, their families, their foods. Many are gardeners, but no one, at least locally, is growing beloved Kenyan staples on the Nyamaris’ scale, and certainly not on a commercial basis.

The couple don’t sell through traditional farmers market channels, or via the Community Supported Agriculture farm-share model. Instead, theirs is strictly word-of-mouth marketing, filling orders from more than 100 customers (“people see me and they see vegetables,” said Sarah with a laugh) as conditions on the farm dictate. Demand is so great that there’s a waiting list.

Other crops include a variety of spinach called emboga, and dark green pumpkins called omwongo that thrive under a protective canopy of weeds and are prized for their enormous squash, hand-sized leaves and sweet seeds. Amarabwoni, a white sweet potato, could be the farm’s Next Big Thing; while his fellow East Africans favor its crunchy root, Albert plans to cultivate a larger crop next year to cater to West Africans and Asians, who prefer its leaves.

Most of the farm’s initial seeds were sourced out of an expensive California-based specialist, but Albert cannily supplemented his inventory by foraging, post-harvest, in Minneapolis community gardens, searching for familiar plants among Kenyan gardeners. With permission, of course.

Lake Pepin via Kenya

The farm is a unique partnership. The land, a series of basketball court-sized fields tucked up against steeply wooded hills, belongs to Marge Lorayne and her late partner Helen Johnson. The two couples met several years ago when Albert, then a hospice worker, was caring for Lorayne’s dying son. At the time, Albert was farming a small rented plot near Zimmerman, Minn., but the arrangement wasn’t working out. Lorayne’s son asked his mother to find a place on her underused Wisconsin acreage for the part-time farmer who was making his last days comfortable.

She agreed, but was unsure how to proceed. “I knew that there would be a lot of cultural things that would come up,” said Lorayne. “We sit down and talk about them, and then we laugh. We laugh a lot.”

This is how close the families have become: the Nyamaris’ three children call Lorayne “Grandma,” and Sarah calls her “Mum.” “We’re close,” said Lorayne. “We’re family.”

Their first encounter was something of a baptism by fire. Lorayne and Johnson returned from a party at midnight to unexpectedly find 15 Kenyans crowded into their kitchen, using every knife in the house to carve a goat on the kitchen table. “What else could we do but join in?” said Lorayne with a laugh. “It was fabulous. There was singing and dancing and they wouldn’t let us go to sleep without eating their food. That was our opening with them, and since then, there have been a thousand wonderful, delightful things.”

That was three years ago. With each growing season, Albert has ambitiously expanded, tilling more land, adding more crops. He handles the planning, plowing, planting and weeding (their produce isn’t certified organic, but the Nyamaris steer clear of chemical fertilizers and pesticides), while the painstaking picking process is strictly women’s work. “Men are more slow,” said Sarah with a laugh. “They don’t have the patience to get one leaf at a time.”

Many of the women harvesting at the farm are the mothers of Sarah’s friends, visiting from Kenya. “They’re used to doing this every single day at home,” said Sarah. “It’s a pleasure for them. Watching TV is not their thing.”

That the industrious Nyamaris find the time to farm at all is something of a mystery. Along with raising their three young children, Albert, 34, who grew up on a farm, just launched Kastone Mobility Services, his own patient transport business. Sarah, 32, works as a nurse and is also in school, working toward an advanced nursing degree.

Their carefully planned commute to the farm from their Brooklyn Park home is a 90-minute drive, although they make the trip so frequently that “it now feels like 10 minutes to me,” said Albert with a laugh. Still, any time in the car is time not tending to the land, and each trip is viewed as an escape from the pressures and sounds of urban life. The family’s long-term goal is to relocate to their own farm in the Lake Pepin area and expand the business they are so carefully nurturing.

“I don’t want to let this opportunity pass me by,” said Albert. “Always my blood is at the farm.”

Rick Nelson • 612-673-4757

Source: http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/taste/102441059.html?page=1&c=y

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