Reliving Moments with Maathai Wangari
It’s been over three weeks since Wangari Maathai passed on and I am for the very first time since the occurrence, putting my thoughts together in her honour. I had made up my mind that I was not just going to write about her for the sake of writing; but rather write as a mark of honour to a woman I prize.
I recall the morning of September 27th, 2011. We had been discussing about so many things that morning. From family issues, to church, politics and then about what was on news that morning. Suddenly he said, aha, it was on news yesterday night that Mata passed on. Who is Mata I asked? I guess they said something about her winning a prize some years back. Yes, now I remember. The woman environmentalist you frequently spoke about, what’s her name? Maathai Wangari, I responded? Yes that’s the one. What about her, I asked? It was mentioned on news that she died yesterday. Are you sure Grand-Prof? Yes, positive! This person that died, did they mention anything around her winning the noble peace prize for environment in 2004? Yep! No it can’t be; Maathai Wangari is late?
Shortly after that I received a call from a friend who expressed her condolences about Wangari’s death. Then came in a text message that read: “So sorry about the death of your friend Maathai Wangari”. Speaking to no one in particular, I asked, was she my friend? Later on I put a call through to a friend who ended up also expressing his sympathy about Wangari’s death. He even went on to say he had planned to call me, the moment he heard the news.
Not a few would be wondering what the connection is with her, especially since I am a Nigerian and she is of Kenyan descent. Well, sometime in 2005, I was interviewed by a Nigerian journalist working with the New Nigerian Newspapers. The discussion centered on my activities as an environmental activist. At some point he asked if I knew who Maathai Wangari was. Who’s she I asked? She’s the one who won the Noble Peace Prize for environment in 2004. The first woman ever to win that prize, he added. I would find out more about her, I told him.
Beyond that interview, I started following Wangari by welcoming and looking out for information about her. By the day, I got really interested in her as well as her causes and coveted an opportunity to meet her. It was a dream come true for me when in 2008, I was invited to the 1st African Women and Water Conference held at the Greenbelt Movement Facility in Karen Nbi, Kenya. It was going to be my second time in Kenya, and I sure looked forward to it; especially because I saw it as a long awaited opportunity to meet the “Green Queen” in reality! My excitement was, however, short lived when upon arrival at the venue of the Conference, I, alongside other participants were informed that Maathai Wangari was away in some other country, to attend an all important gathering.
I consoled myself and took solace that at least I was at her facility, a place she must have walked and worked in, times without number. I was also reassured by the fact that the organizers took us on a tour of some of her projects outside Nairobi. I could never forget the rain harvesting and sand dam projects that ensured that some disadvantaged communities had access to water. Interestingly, the night before our departure, during an interactive event scheduled as part of the Conference, an announcement was made that the Amazon herself had arrived.
The whole world seemed to stand still around me at that moment. Dead silence filled my head and the whole room seemed to spin. When she was eventually called up to address the gathering, everyone stood up and became hilarious. The applause was deafening. At last I was meeting the superwoman herself. I enjoyed every moment of being in the same room with her, around her, and eventually the golden occasion and liberty of embracing her and even taking snapshots with her. The bonding was amazingly instantaneous; it seemed we had always known one another. These instances were very important to me and my work and I will live to remember them.
A TRIBUTE TO WANGARI MAATHAI, THE GREEN QUEEN:
Wangari you live on because of all that you stood for: the environment, women’s rights, justice, equity and democracy.
You understood how interconnected these issues were
Beaten and thrown into jail for daring to speak yet you remained unbroken and peaceful
You shouted yourself hoarse because you believed in securing today, the future of our planet
You were energetic and passionate and even cried at the felling of trees, strange many would want to think
Many a tree stands today because you stood, you greened your community
The water sources you helped protect and create continues to quench the thirst of many and they live because water is life
Hunger is a thing of the past for many because of the knowledge and skills you transferred, livelihoods have become sustained and secured
Your sterling leadership qualities stood you out even among those who called the shots
You became the first African woman and the first environmentalist to win the Noble Peace Prize, truly a first among equals
Honour came to women and your country because you spoke up, took action and stirred others to do the same.
Women celebrate your feminism
Biodiversity approve of your bravery
Unborn generations shall learn of and keep in mind all you did to secure their future
To the whole world, your Mission remains priceless
You live on because your vision and legacies continues Martyr Maathai Wangari!