2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai during the interview for Nobelprize.org in Stockholm, 2 April 2009. Photo Annalisa B. Andersson

TODAY, I TOOK A SUNDAY MORNING walk through Wangari Maathai’s Freedom Corner at Uhuru Park.

My! What a delightful walk it was! Memories of her face brought a delightful smile to my heart and salty tears of a life snatched from our midst too soon flowed freely down my face. How I missed her. Yes, she went too soon!

A walk through Wangari Freedom Corner is an exhilarating experience.

If you do not know Wangari Maathai, then you must be the only stranger in Jerusalem. Well, let me introduce to you this great lady. She is the great conservationist, the great environmentalist, the great human rights activist, she of the little Hummingbird, the great Nobel Laureate from my country Kenya. She is the mother of trees. She tends to trees in the same way a mother tends to her children…with love and warmth and tender loving care. She stood up to power, refused land-grabbing and ousted a greedy former president Moi government that wanted to turn Nairobi city’s parks into a multi-million skyscraper for their own gain. They mocked her and tortured her like Jesus on the cross, but she took a firm stand and weathered a tortuous storm with dignity and pride. She died of cancer Sunday night, September 25, 2011 at 71, amid eulogies flowing from the world.
She was mother of the Green Belt Movement that planted millions of trees across Kenya to alleviate poverty and conflict. A million women benefited from her tree planting campaign by selling seedlings for reforestation.

She is the mother of trees. She tends to trees in the same way a mother tends to her children…with love and warmth and tender loving care.

I met Wangari Maathai’s ghost this morning. It was a dignified, friendly ghost, kind and sweet as we walked through the lovely evergreen little forest of Freedom Corner. Wangari loved trees and such a serene scene would have warmed her heart and made her smile. Wangari Maathai’s spirit lives on. I could feel her all over the park. I could feel her in the spirit of a happy family – father, mother, four little ones, their housemaid and a picnic basket. All happily unpacking their snacks and playing under the cool breeze of Wangari Maathai’s shady tree. Wangari Maathai must be smiling with me to see such a happy family truly practicing family values.

A walk with Wangari Maathai’s spirit of commitment and creativity took me to her other family of trees where a young artiste, lying on his belly on the cool grass wrote a script. Inspiring, that is what Wangari did. She inspired. Wangari would have encouraged the young man with her often positive spirit, “Plod on. Do not give up. I also started by planting a single little tree as the little Hummingbird sang in the huge forest of trees”. She did inspire the young man as he wrote on and on quite oblivious of the walk Wangari Maathai’s spirit and I took next to him. A cool breeze blew over his creative head, and yes he had encountered Wangari Maathai’s ghost, too.

A young woman sat in meditation and prayer in yet another of Wangari Maathai’s Africana tree facing the Grand Hotel Serena, her favorite tree. Such a spirit of peace and quiet flowing gently from the Africana to this prayerful mother’s soul! A young lad with an old torn rucksack, probably thrown out of his house by the landlord or a relative, slept deeply under another shade. Oh Wangari Maathai, that this young man should find solace and hope and some rest under the tree planted by your own little hands. The gentle background voices of the church choir at the adjacent All Saints Cathedral, soothingly joins the whispering trees – Wangari Maathai’s trees.

I also started by planting a single little tree as the little Hummingbird sang in the huge forest of trees.

Daughter of Tetu, look at how happy that group of youth are. They have formed a circle under yet another shady tree. They bond as they dance, sing, hold hand and play games. Freedom Corner is so cheerful and alive with Wangari Maathai’ spirit. I did not see the little Hummingbird that normally sings next to the vendors who sell soda and scones at the park. How could I? The Hummingbird was a spirit in the air, a breeze of comfort and peace. But wonders never cease and even in the animal world there is competition. I was impressed to see over 50 Marabou Stork claiming space under four huge trees, Wangari Maathai’s trees. I learnt the spirit of tolerance from them as they let me take their pictures without flying away on me. Yes! Birds have moved from the dusty Mombasa Road to Wangari’s corner where the grass is greener and the worms fatter and tastier! Yes. She lives on.

Copyright. Omwa Ombara. 2012

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