Posted: 16th September 2013 by kenny in Uncategorized

Hello everyone!


First, let me please apologize to those of you who have sent me notes in the past, to most of which I haven’t responded because I never saw them!  Please forgive me – it’s a lame excuse – but I didn’t scroll down far enough or pay enough attention.  In any case, I am sorry but so happy that you did write to me and share your news about Kenya, and I will try to respond to all of you, even though your posts are several years old.

I am happy to report that my film BEAUTIFUL TREE, SEVERED ROOTS, a documentary feature film about my family in Kenya, is now finished.  It took about 25 years -actually longer – to research and make.  As always, the problem was lack of money, but a greater issue was trying to figure out how to tell this amazing story.  Why would anyone be interested in seeing a 70-minute long film about my family?  What’s so special about US?

Nothing really.  But my parents were Jewish refugees who arrived in Kenya in 1942.  Very few Jews saw Kenya as a destination during World War II, but Mama had always wanted to “explore those areas in the atlas that were still white – terra incognita” – and she and Papa had the guts and the gumption to actually get themselves to Kenya.  Not only that, but they devoted their lives to fighting against hunger, poverty and disease.  My dad was Chairman of Freedom from Hunger for years, and he also founded the Animal Health and Industries Training Institute (AHITI) in Kabete, which became a world model.  So those are interesting stories, on the surface.
What fascinated me most, however, was how these Jews from Poland and Romania adapted to Africa almost overnight.  They were not in any way religious – we know very little about being Jewish – and they had had to escape from Romania on the eve of the Germans’ arrival – but it seemed as though they had an instinctive understanding of the African paradigm.   Papa even loved to dress up as an African “witch doctor” – mixing artefacts and costume elements from many African countries and painting his body dark brown with shoe polish – but it wasn’t just a joke.  He keenly felt the African spirit and more than that, he saw African culture and social systems as in many ways far superior to our western ways.  He once wrote that “a piece of land and an extended family have more value than a bank account.”

So my story is really an examination of how each family member relates to Africa and Africans.  It’s also a story of my coming of age just as Kenya was reaching towards Independence in 1963.  Far from rejoicing with everyone else, I was utterly miserable because every single one of my friends in Kenya had hurriedly left the country for fear of a bloodbath.  I attended the Independence ceremonies with my parents and came home that night feeling that I was a refugee in my own country.

The film includes some fascinating archival footage, by the way.  Remember Queen Elizabeth II coming n 1952, just after she had been made Queen?   Remember the fireworks at Independence, and the Kenya National Anthem being played for the first time?  Remember the assassination of Tom Mboya and Bruce McKenzie- both very close friends of my parents?  It’s this archival footage that helped me to piece together the story of our family and of Kenya as we knew it.

And not only that:  to find Kenya again in my own heart and realize that I never really left.  Physically, yes, but mentally, no.  So now I’m planning to reconnect and will be in Kenya in January and February.   I am so excited!!

More later,

Kuaheri kuonana