Inspiring Vines of the Pergola - Oloipung'o - Part III

Published August 23rd, 2016

This is the third piece in a series — Out of Africa back to America — where I am sharing my take on what it was like, is like, to come back to the country I was born. Seeing the United States of America again, from 2012 until today, with African lenses…


I was somehow merrily going along that Autumn season in the northern hemisphere 2012. I had my daily and weekly rituals including long visits at the Coconut Grove Farmer's Market on Saturdays chatting with the fellow yogis in my tribe, writing, cooking, fundraising for my projects in Tanzania, and nurturing old and new friendships. If I didn't go for morning coffee out in the village, I would have my coffee in my home while attempting to replace human interaction with the screens. One morning in December, a few weeks after arriving back in the States, I was having my coffee and papaya while scrolling the Facebook on my iPad. I noticed a few alarming posts from friends I went to high school with in Redding, Connecticut who had stayed in the area with their families:

"Trying to reach my husband, he's been called to duty in Newtown, please send prayers."

"School's are on lockdown."

"Please pray for our children."

I found my remote and turned on the television. It was December 14, 2012.

I watched CNN reporting from Sandy Hook Elementary School, just a few miles from where I spent my childhood years. As I listened to the story unfold, I paralyzed. My body-mind just collapsed, I didn't know what to do. I needed to talk, to share, to cry, all of which I did in the days that followed. But the shock and trauma took months to alleviate, it is still not completely gone, as so many more tragedies have happened since then, adding layer upon layer of sadness, grief, anger, and more.

Why did I paralyze that day of the Sandy Hook shooting?

Well, of course, it hit so close to my childhood home. But also, because I was concerned about the reporting of the killer. So much focus was on the kid and what could have gone wrong with his individual mind. I immediately thought of what happens in traditional Maasai communities when a crime is committed by children. A village meeting is called and everybody talks, sometimes for days, about what has gone wrong in the society that could have caused a child(ren) to steal, injure or harm others in some way. The parents of the child are typically fined heftily and 'sentenced' to re-educating their child to be a good person.

Thus, I began to wonder what may be happening in Connecticut since I had left, and how could it be possible for the killer's parents not to have seen this coming.

I think I paralyzed because my mind, body and spirit all went into overdrive, too much emotion and analysis happening at once. I needed answers, as I always do, in order to start the healing process.

I could go on and on with my analysis of the Sandy Hook shooting, but here I summarize:

  • It was not surprising to me to see how the killer lived, in materially comfortable conditions, as I was raised that way too in that area of Connecticut;
  • I was not surprised to hear the killer spent a lot of time alone, on screens, disconnecting from human beings and not many people noticed anything odd about that. From what I was seeing since my return to the States, the majority of people were doing the same thing;
  • I was hopeful, after seeing our President tear up, that new policies would come into place to restrict the acquisition of guns. I hadn't followed US national politics too much over the years and was shocked to learn that nothing could, or would happen in this regard;
  • In fact, in the subsequent years, after more and more school shootings, there has been talk about arming teachers with guns! I can't believe what I am hearing. In 'primitive' Africa people talked about re-educating their criminal children, while in 'developed' America we were talking about using weapons instead of words, in our SCHOOLS!!!
  • It does seem positive to hear all the talk about improving resources for mental health care in our society. All these tragedies come from the mind. I hope though, there is more conversation about our collective mind, our society, our community, and what is seeding the culture with whatever evil that gives rise to such widespread mental unwellness.

There have been so many more mass shootings in the USA since I have been back, some related to larger ideological organizations and others to mental illness. To me, they are all acts of terrorism. And they are symptoms of an unwell society. I truly believe that ignoring the news stories or glossing over them without really feeling them is not a good way forward. Anymore than taking painkillers each time a new pain pops up does not actually cure the root of the problem.

What can we do then? What can you do?

I go back to the amazing ritual of the Maasai when a crime happens in their community. Get your tribe together and talk, and talk, about what is happening. Make some commitments to do better, as an individual, and as a member of your tribe.

Spend quality time with friends and family as much as possible, interacting in-person. Really listen to each other and check in with moods, and places of concern. As the Bushmen of the Kalahari say, we are all here to help heal each other, and, healing makes our hearts happy. This, my friends, is not awful, dark, work. It is deep, yes, and deeply joyous.

[to be continued...]

Maasai meeting to discuss problems in extended family and community

The majestic, ancient Baobab tree, native to mainland Africa, this one at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables, Florida

“Innocent Victim” Shona sculpture by Zimbabwean artist Nicholas Kadzungura