Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The harm in writing we don't think twice about

 Before you write your next phrase that you take for granted, ready this:

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Kuldip Raj Sondhi: Death of a legend in Mombasa


Kuldip Raj Sondhi was born in Lahore Punjab in what was then India in 1924.

He was the Little Theatre Club board of Trustees Chairman, hotelier and play writer. Among his 10 plays written when he was already in his 70s all were produced to great acclaim at the little theatre club in Mombasa. His themes were brave takes on multicultural mixed African Indian European love stories that were often Taboo subjects not always comfortable for the audience at the time.

After taking a break from being a handsome beach bum and writer when he started his family he began one of his many enterprises that were to become his legacy as a hotelier.

He was brought to Mombasa Kenya as a young boy with his grandmother and they moved into a house near the railway station. Kuldip’s mischievous behaviour worried his mother enough that she decided to send him and his brother Jagdish to India to boarding school.

In what was not uncommon in those days they did not return to Kenya for 8 years or see their parents all that time. In 1942 at the height of the second world war Kuldip was admitted to university in New York. He crossed the Atlantic with a convoy of 70 ships to New York. Only after arriving did they find out some of the ships in the convoy never made it having been sunk by German submarines.

He graduated with a aeronautical engineering degree in 1946 and went to England and joined the prestigious firm of Bristol aerospace working on turbines. It was in London that he met his future wife my mother Aase Jorid Haugberg. She was a post war nanny from Norway working in London .

Kuldip soon regretted the decision to migrate to England finding its colonial attitude to people of Indian descent uncomfortable and demeaning so he decided to return to Kenya. A few years later and many letters delivered by ship helped to convince my mother to follow her Indian Prince to Africa and she took the steamers across the Mediterranean down the Suez Canal and into the port of Mombasa. By then Kuldip’s brother and sister were all settled as well in Kenya. .

Soon after their reunion in Kenya they moved in together and tied the knot. Kuldip veered away from his engineering education and discovered his passion for writing and went on to write many short stories and was awarded several BBC prizes for his radio plays.

In 1972, he opened the Reef hotel in Mombasa and continued to build and manage several hotels over 50 years.


He passed away in Mombasa inside the Reef Hotel facing the gardens he loved so much with the Indian Ocean breezes over his body. His legacy is a testament to the multiple influences of the Western and Eastern, Western and African.

Dr. Peter Odote past Chairman Little theatre club says this about Kuldip Sondhi: Very sad day indeed. Kuldip was a pillar of strength in play writing having started with award winning radio plays. When I adopted his award-winning play on BBC " Beach Access" in 1997 for the stage at Little theatre club there his appetite for writing stage plays grew and he wrote about 10 plays for the theatre. With a background in aeronautical engineering, it is amazing how he juggled his life through the hospitality industry and the Arts. As a trustee of Little theatre club, he lived the part. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

(Little Theatre Club)


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Princeton Award for Dr Toni De Mello

 In recognition of the many contributions of the late Edward P. “Buddy” Bullard, III. Awarded annually to Princeton's School of Public and International Affairs alumnus who works professionally with communities of colour and who serves as a mentor to current students of colour at Princeton SPIA. 

Bullard Award Recipient 2021

Toni de Mello (MPA '08)Dr Tanya (Toni) De Mello (MPA-URP '08)

(Toni's family were originally from Dar es Salaam)

With a background that includes finance, management consulting, public policy, urban and regional planning and law, Dr Tanya (who we call "Toni") De Mello has spent much of her career researching and addressing equity, diversity and inclusion with a focus on bias in the workplace. She is a human rights lawyer who has worked on issues of discrimination, harassment and sexual violence for the last decade. Through her extensive research, work and advocacy, Toni has become a leading expert in equity and inclusion in Canada.

Toni holds two Bachelors Degrees of Economics and Political Science from the University of Waterloo; a joint master’s degree in Public Affairs and Urban and Regional Planning (MPA-URP) from Princeton University; and a dual law degree from McGill University. She holds a Master of Education in Counselling and Psychotherapy from the University of Toronto. In July 2020, Toni completed her Phd in Social Justice Education at the University of Toronto, where she researched bias in the hiring of racialized people with a focus on Black candidates. 

Currently, Toni  is the Assistant Dean of Students at Canada’s newest law school, the  Lincoln Alexander School of Law at Ryerson University. The Lincoln Alexander School of Law is built on four pillars – a commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion; increasing access to justice; stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship; and providing sound academics with innovation pedagogy.  In Toni’s role as Assistant Dean of Students, she is responsible for Admissions, Careers and Student Experience and is leading the law school’s charge to create lawyers that work for the public interest and are committed to increasing access to justice. 

Toni’s focus on equity, diversity and inclusion is tangibly evident in the school's admission offer and acceptance data. Law schools in Canada and the United States are notorious for being elite and exclusive institutions with few racialized students relative to the talent pool available. Compared to other law schools in Canada, Ryerson’s Faculty of Law has among the highest number of racialized students, Black students and Indigenous students per capita in the first-year class and also boasts a high number of students that identify as woman, LGBTQ2SI+, people with disabilities and mature students, among others. 

Toni has also set up a scholarship at Ryerson for Black and Indigenous students to have greater access to studying law and has currently raised close to $100,000 for it. In her leadership position, she has hired and manages a team of 20 people, 80% of which are racialized, Black or Indigenous.

In addition to her work in the law school, Toni also teaches a course about global issues that focuses on inequality, poverty and climate change at Ryerson University.

Prior to Toni’s current position, she served as the Director of Human Rights at Ryerson University and she has also worked in human rights at the University of Toronto. In 2019, she was awarded Ryerson University's President's Blue and Gold Award, which is the highest honour for employees, for her work in human rights.  

As a consultant, Toni  works with major multinational corporations, government branches and non-profit organizations to improve hiring and retention practices of equity deserving groups, with a focus on increasing the representation of racialized people. In addition, she is an executive coach and works one-on-one with senior leaders ranging from vice-presidents to directors to deans to increase inclusive leadership in all sectors. She has worked with over 1500 organizations and businesses in the last 20 years. She is also the President of the Canadian Association for the Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment in Higher Education. 
Toni is deeply committed to working for access to justice and in human rights. In 2018, she was nominated by a national organization for the MAX Gala (Muslim Award for Excellence) as a Friend of the Community. This nomination was made by the Muslim-Canadian community to recognize the work of non-Muslims who are devoted to being allies and advancing the rights and representation of Muslim people in Canada. Although she did not win, the nomination, coming from the Muslim-Canadian community, meant more to her than the award.

In 2015, Toni ran for federal office in Canada in the area in which she grew up. She ran on a platform that fought for universal day care, affordable pharmacare, raising minimum wages and supporting public education and the universal health system. She lost (badly!) but it remains the hardest and most important thing she has done in Canada. She never even thought about running for office before then Dean Anne Marie Slaughter brought Toni into her office in the fall of 2005 and told her she had to run for Prime Minister in Canada or for a position in the United States. Toni thought it was outlandish at the time but now knows that was the first seed planted. 
Toni became interested in public service through grassroots volunteering. She grew up working in shelters and emergency relief. She has worked with the United Way, Habitat for Humanity and started a volunteer arm while at Princeton to engage graduate students to work in community service in neighbouring Trenton while at Princeton. In addition to founding two NGOs, Toni has served in the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the World Food Programme in Geneva (Switzerland), Senegal (West Africa) and Columbia (South America). Today, she focusses her energies outside of work on local projects; as a trained psychotherapist, Toni volunteers at a programme that offers low-cost therapy for community members. 

At Princeton, Toni led two major service trips. The first engaged members of her first year class to travel to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to work in emergency relief with local community organizations. The second engaged members of her class  to go to Pakistan after the earthquake in 2005 to work in Kashmir, the area hardest hit. For both of these initiatives, and other work, she was awarded Princeton's International Service Award in 2006.
In addition to these major service trips, during her second year at Princeton, Toni initiated and led a trip where 25 undergraduate students campaigned for the various US primary election campaigns in 2008. Students worked in New Hampshire for a month on various campaigns and she worked for Barack Obama’s campaign. After completing this initiative, Toni continued her work for Barack Obama through several state-level primaries for the remainder of 2008 while finishing her degrees at Princeton.
Toni has been an avid supporter of SAOC and of racialized students on our campus. She has only missed two SAOC reunions since 2005 - one because she was working for the UN in Senegal and another because she was running for office in Canada. She has been active in speaking and helping with the organization of SAOC, mentoring current students and alums and working with Princeton to create sessions, conferences and panels that speak to issues of injustice, racism and other forms of systemic and institutional violence.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Bertha de Souza: a rare human being


Dr Bertha de Souza

A rare human being


By Cyprian Fernandes

ONCE IN A lifetime, sometimes more than once, we are privileged to meet an extraordinary personality. More often than not, when we do, we celebrate them from afar and when we are in their company, we can sense the air is filled with a kind of magic. The English poet Thomas Ford once wrote:

“There is a lady sweet and kind,

 Was never a face so pleased my mind;

 I did but see her passing by. And yet I'll love her till I die. Her gesture, motion, and her smiles,

 Her wit, her voice my heart beguiles …”

I won’t go that far. Yet, I always felt that the person I have in mind was special. Her smile could light up a darkened evening, her kindness, generosity, elegance and personality were the stuff of superstars. She always wore a sari and epitomized all that is great in Goan womanhood. I always admired her. Yesterday (April 6, 2011), a packed church, five priests, and several attendants bade farewell to a very special friend: Dr Bertha de Souza. It was one of the longest church services, nearly four hours before the hearse left the church. Her patients are legion and most of them were at the church in Cronulla.

We often say of one’s passing that the world is lesser for it. In Bertha’s case, it is absolutely true. She also very blessed and en route to join her husband, Dr Pat de Souza, she had what one of her sons described as a “happy exit” after a brief illness.  I spoke to her a couple of weeks ago and had arranged to meet “this week or next week”.

The thought that I will never see her again breaks my heart. She was a rare human being, pure.

Bertha was born in the village of Aldona in 1932, at her grandparents’ house. Her renowned father Dr Benedito de Souza delivered the baby. Her family lived in the village of Ucassaiam. She went to the local Portuguese school because Goa was still a Portuguese colony. Later she moved to Holy Cross Convent in Bardez, an English school in a nearby village where she learned to speak English.

She changed schools yet again and went to the St Thomas School in Aldona which offered science as a subject,

In 1949, she went to St Xavier’s college in Bombay to do her inter-science levels, years 9 and 10. She then qualified for entry for a medical degree but the colleges did not approve her admission because she was a Portuguese citizen of Goa and not an Indian National. Instead, she began her dentistry degree.

In 1952, after completing a year in Dentistry things changed, and Bertha was admitted to Grant Medical College to study medicine.  She once wrote: “I enjoyed the challenge of learning about what wonderful machine the human body is. The creator of this body is a genius without comparison.”

In 1958, after finishing her internship, she was forced to go to Aden to join her brother there and practising as a doctor but not before she had learned to speak Arabic. Here she met Pat de Souza (also from Aldona) among her brother’s friends. Pat and Bertha married a year later. She was given away by her mother because her father was unable to attend.

A clause in her contract stipulated that her position would be terminated if she got pregnant. They had three children, 15 months apart and a fourth a year later.

In Aden in 1960, the country was beset with political violence. They deiced to move to Australia but made a three-year stopover in Bangalore where a fifth child was born.

In 1969, they moved to the beachside suburb of Cronulla. They had been sponsored by a childhood friend of Pat’s, Mark Wade, the only person they knew when they arrived.

They soon bought a house in Cronulla, coincidentally named “Dela-Goa”. They made this a treasured home. Bertha lived there for 50 years. Pat de Souza died in 2012.

They were very popularly doctors in Cronulla.

They were one of the most popular couples with people of all colour and religions and generous supporters of community causes. They were godparents of the Goan Overseas Association of the NSW from its infancy. Pat and Bertha attended every event they could and Pat asked his daughter Susan to promise him she would attend every anniversary dance.

She keeps this promise diligently (COVID permitting of course).

The late Bertha and Pat de Souza

The de Souza dynasty:  

Children: Mark, Susan, Dunstan, Melanie and Nigel. In-laws Amanda, Glenn, Peter and Raelene. Grandchildren: Emily, Sophie, Thomas, Harry, Justin, Liam, Christophe, Andrea, Claudia, Lucy and Isabelle. Great-grandchildren: Florence, Harriet, Beatrix, Lottie and Josephine.

Monday, April 5, 2021


Sultan Somjee: One who dares

to dream is a prophet

Saturday, April 03, 2021


One who dreams is called a prophet

Published by Amazon

616 pages



Author Sultan Somjee who now lives in Burnaby, Canada, accepting a peace staff and leaves of a peace tree from a Pokot Elder

A forever thinking Sultan Somjee. 




This book is not for peace sceptics or peace unbelievers. Academic Evelin G. Lindner sums it up quite nicely and others have given comments on Sultan Somjee’s work in similar voice, especially, the venerable author and academic Prof Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, who spoke in a glowing voice at the virtual launch of the book in November 2020.

Dr Lindner, the founder of Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies, writes: The book “is indispensable reading for every citizen of this world who wishes to work for a worthwhile future for our children. Somjee presents his profound insight into the peace building traditions of Africa (my words: particularly Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan) in a deeply touching narrative of dignity and humiliation. Reading this book is a life-changing experience.”

Even as child, a schoolboy at St Teresa’s Boys’ School in Eastleigh, Nairobi, Somjee was always a thinker. He was a quiet classmate and someone everyone called a friend. He was a dedicated student, too. However, he was not much into sports or the social hijinks some of his other friends got up to each day. He was special, but we did not know exactly just how special he was. He has Kenya’s red soil running through his veins, even though he now lives in Vancouver, Canada.

One Who Dreams is Called a Prophet is a work of fiction but anyone who knows that the protagonist, old man Alama, is Somjee or a representative of everyone who has walked the path of seekers of peace during conflicts, especially his assistants. Central to the Kenyan peace experience are the peace museums which are home to traditional cultural artefacts of peace such as the Pokot woman’s waist belt called leketyo, going back a long time. All these are described in the book.


Peace exists

Every page has a charm of its own. Here’s a little sample. “Alama was so excited that he forgot about the woman with the calabash. He would put his questions with caution lest he offended the wise one of the Council of the Sovereign Tree of Peace. When he was little his mother used to tell him. “If it is wisdom you seek from the elder, then ask as if you are eating hot ugali. If you plunge your hand in the middle of the steaming cake, you will get burned. You break hot ugali from the side, a little at a time.” Little by little I will draw wisdom from the Mukwe man, thought Alama.

 “I beg you my age mate, please give me the knowledge of where peace exists.

“Let us walk west together. I must reach the Council of the Sovereign Tree of Peace before dusk,” said the Mukwe elder as he picked up his staff ready to walk. Alama’s finger tapped to count the four-notched bulges along the banded waist cloth that had the bills. Then he felt the sharp edge of his plastic identity card at his navel alongside the mother knife and horn container, all tucked into the folded cloth band. He was ready to walk now but he did not see Koko Kigongo at the spot by the fire that belonged to the woman with the calabash.

Alama looked around the bush, and around the fire again and again. He even went to the rock where had prayed just in case he had carried Koko Kigongo with him to the Dawn prayers …

Every page is filled with poetic wonder. It is another world that we did know existed. There is majesty in the simplicity in Alama’s mighty long search for peace. The good news is that Alama/Somjee found it and you can find the answers in 617 pages of a pure kind of magic.

For four decades, Sultan Somjee has worked on material culture. He introduced learning about indigenous knowledge through material culture in the Kenyan school curriculum (1985-1990). While he was the Head of Ethnography at the National Museums of Kenya, Somjee started village peace museums.

The museums highlight indigenous languages, material culture and the arts used over generations for reconciliation and social cohesion. Today, the peace museums have spread from Kenya to Uganda and South Sudan as a people-to-people civil society movement.

 In 2001, the United Nations named Somjee one among the only twelve ‘Unsung Heroes of Dialogue Among Civilizations’ worldwide in recognition of his work. In 2002, Somjee was appointed on the Global Advisory Board of Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies.


One Who Dreams is Called a Prophet is inspired by the author-ethnographer’s journey into the world of material culture, storytelling, indigenous African knowledge and nature that describe Utu, Swahili for ‘being mtu’ or simply ‘being human’. All over traditional Africa, the principle of Utu or Ubantu is used in reconciliation and sustaining peace.

Somjee wrote a few years ago: “I started working on Kenya’s material culture in early 1970s at the Institute of African Studies, University of Nairobi. My work centred on collecting, exhibiting and teaching that did not involve the communities whose artefacts I was gathering and using. They were the subjects of research, not the participants.

“Then 20 years later in 1994, having collected thousands of objects, made over 20 exhibitions ranging from ten to 60 items, and having worked among many ethnic groups, and having taught and introduced the teaching of material culture in the school curriculum, I began working on a Kenyan Material Culture Project with a different goal. The difference was on the focus that changed to the role of material culture in inter-ethnic face-to-face meetings. The project covered eight pastoralist groups.

“It was at the National Museums of Kenya where I was the Head of Ethnography that we began exploring knowledge of peace building that inhabit cultural memories... This material became the nucleus to develop the new Kenyan Material Project that was initiated in 1994...We then documented this information, organised, and presented it back to the communities to foster conversations both within and across ethnicities.”

 Many stories about reconciliation were told. In real life, the little boy from Eastleigh has walked many thousands of miles in search of peace heritage among the indigenous people, may he continue to do so many more thousands of miles to sustain his dream.

Somjee, In the beginning: In the mid-1970s while working with workers and peasants who were the backbone of the rural theatre at Kamirithu (Ngugi wa Thiong’o described this as bringing the theatre to the people as opposed to people coming to the theatre), I was confronted, as it were, by community-based knowledge, creativity and power of the collective intellect vis-a-vis the Western academy I was trained in. I came to understand how ‘grassroots work”, so often idealized in academic tests and workshops, was done. I became immersed in the embodied arts of the worker-peasant drama group speaking to itself and to the authorities at the same time.

Their bodies and voices expressed historical memories in their mother tongue questioning the misinterpretation of their culture, history and the legitimacy of the kinship rulers who kept them divided and poor. In that, it was a civil society formed around the arts. Jomo Kenyatta’s paramilitary razed the theatre, but they could not erase Kamirithu from our memory.

While setting up museums of peace during the conflicted times of the 1990s. I used the Kamirithu methodology. I remember Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Miri, the writers of the banned play Ngahika Ndeenda. I remember Kimani Gecau, it is director and acknowledge the Kamirithu community with gratitude for setting me on a life-long journey where the community is the school.

It was not always an easy ride. Ngugi was Thiong’o spoke at length about Somjee’s heroism in the face of persecution by successive governments. Somjee may have even saved a few lives by helping frontline colleagues escape to nearby African countries. He writes: “Along the way we faced obstacles like sometimes the repressive government would not allow us to plant peace trees to manifest and commemorate a site of massacre.”

Secret police would monitor workshops and Somjee and the members of his team would often be followed by these secret policemen. However, many of his students and assistants continue the walk today despite enormous difficulties.

“The continue to dream and expand the project with occasional funding from NGOs ad through people-to-people efforts across cultures and borders. They are the proud curators and initiators of their own community museums of peace in Kenya, Uganda, and South Sudan,” Somjee writes.

Their journeys gather, save and pass on community narratives about wide-ranging found in material culture, storytelling, songs, dances, parables and riddles. For generations these varied indigenous arts and language traditions have informed villages how to live as communities with other communities, according to Somjee.

“This book is about my journey with my field assistants and student curators. It is told in one voice as one continuous journey that merges many voices and many journeys over a period of 30 years.”

According to Somjee: “The curators (of peace museums and other peace projects) are the true prophets because they dare to dream amid inequality and injustices, misrule and corruption that has gripped Kenya for decades and does not seem to go away.

The writer is a former ‘Nation’ journalist and Sultan Somjee’s classmate at St Teresa’s Boys' School, Eastleigh.



The harm in writing we don't think twice about

 Before you write your next phrase that you take for granted, ready this: