Nyack Sketch Log: Kenya on the Hudson

by Bill Batson

Kajogo Iguna imports crafts from Meru, Kenya to support families in that country being ravaged by AIDS and Malaria. The fact that a man born to a Kenyan father is now President of the United States could bring increased attention to the public health issues in the east African country that inspired Kajogo to open his store. Buying crafts, like this sculpture of a family helps secure a better future for the Meru, while preserving their cultural traditions.

Iguna opened Africa Arts and Crafts in June of 2012 in the mini-mall at 85 South Broadway. Twenty percent of the profits go to families in Meru, a community that is 350 miles east of Nairobi, the country’s capital city.

“We contribute directly to the economic and social well-being of these Kenyan artisans and their families. “ said Iguna. “Kenya does not have a social welfare system like the United States. My local church in Meru teaches families who have lost a bread-winner how to earn a living by making arts and crafts. It is by selling these arts and crafts that they are able to buy food, clothes and pay school fees.”

Kajogo came to the United States in 1987 to attend the Garrett –Evangelical Theological Seminary at Northwestern University. An ordained Methodist minister, he was recruited by the seminary after he attended the World Methodist Council meeting in Nairobi, Kenya in 1986 as a youth representative from Meru. Kajogo went on to attended Drew University in New Jersey and studied sociology and now teaches the subject at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry.

The bond between Kajogo and his village has never broken, strengthened by frequent trips back home and sales of Meru merchandise in his store. Iguna hopes to provide an additional revenue for his former neighbors, who rely heavily on tea and coffee farming for income.

Kajogo chose to open his store in Nyack because of our reputation as a center for the arts. “There are so many artists here and people looking for art,” Kajogo said.

The small sculpture that I sketched is a Meru family in traditional attire. Meru is a name of both a district and a people. The robes that they are wearing would be red, the color that symbolizes a successful hunt. The sack that the female figure is clutching would be used to carry milk or water and the crisscross pattern around her neck represents beads that are embroidered onto animal hide.

Barrack Obama’s father is a Luo, from a region to the west of Meru that straddles the Kenyan and Ugandan borders. But the elevation of the Kenyan offspring to the presidency erases any regional rivalry as the whole country has embraced the American head of state. Kajogo describes the streets of his hometown breaking out into pandemonium on the occasion of both Obama inaugurations.

“I feel very proud of President Barack Obama, his courage and his intelligence. He is a good leader and he has done the best for the country,” said Kajogo. “If the Republicans joined him, the recovery, and the creation of jobs would hasten,” he continued.

Kajogo and his wife have raised four children, sending them all to college. His daughter Kendi was an active campus activist for Obama’s reelection at the State University of New York at Oswego.

His oldest two children were born in Kenya, so they can’t follow their countryman’s footsteps and aspire to the presidency. But like Obama, Kendi has a long form birth certificate that gives her the right to one day hold our country’s highest elected office.

The odds of a presidential visit to Nyack are slim to none during the next four years. But you can learn more about the east African country where our president traces his heritage, and help alleviate the economic impact from that country’s malaria and AIDS pandemics, at 85 South Broadway where there is a little Kenya on the Hudson.

Africa Arts and Crafts is located at 85 South Broadway. Store hours are: Tues: 10a – 6p, Wed. 3-6p, Fri.-Sun 10a-6p. Or you can contact Kajogo Iguna at 845 598 9185.

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: ” Kenya on the Hudson” © 2013 Bill Batson.

The Nyack Sketch Log is sponsored by The Corner Frame Shop at 40 South Franklin Street in Nyack, NY.

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