Flamingos are not born pink, they become beautiful.

I come from a place where our flamingos are made of plastic, painted pink, sold mostly in 2 packs for $20, and used to decorate yards and the occasional garden. It's a processed flamingo, created in a factory - some standing upright and some leaning forward in a feeding position. First created in 1957 by an art school graduate, these birds were early on something for the middle classes to enjoy in their delightful tackiness. As time went on they were embraced by higher classes as a sort of way to mock the tacky tastes of their social counterparts. The popular birds were said to lower property values and not always allowed by some home owner's associations. It's interesting how a plastic bird ornament designed from photos referencing a bird on the other side of the world can become a socio-political tool, but like rumors say about this place, anything is possible in America.. I suppose.

I booked a flight to Kenya in April of last year, 2018. At that time I had no idea about the existence of real flamingos in the country I was heading to visit. Why Kenya? Long story short ways, I came up without a dad and an illegitimate last name. I've lived my life coming to terms with my identity as a human - and as a man - like most Americans, especially like those with fragmented family ties. I thought of Malcolm X a lot in my journey. Over the last 10 years I've had numerous East and West African clients and friends suggest I visit and encourage the experience I would have. Many of them were Kenyans, so now here I am with a round trip ticket to visit their home. It was in studying the place that I crossed a film documenting the Great Rift Valley, and learning how its native flamingos gain their color by feeding from alkaline lake waters. The better fed the bird, the healthier and more colorful it becomes. The color, the beauty, the natural decoration all takes time. It's not born into a flashy, saucy, smart, pink coat of feathers.

For 33 years I've been engulfed into this life, a society, the ways of a culture that puts great credence into the stripes we paint onto ourselves to represent who we are. From rural places to suburban and urban ones exists this sense of comparison and competition. It's a culture addicted to fashion, ego, colonizer's vacations, media, entertainment, and we've been conditioned to believe that our worth is based in our institutional credentials. We fall short-sighted in our scope of education and many don't like their job - often jobs. Still, we paint our stripes on, one prideful stroke at a time with no consideration for the source of paint, just in our effort to feel better. Another ist and another ism. Our lives here are highly decorated. We are the flamingos, the plastic ones. Deep down I think a lot of us wanna be the real thing, whatever real is.

We're dying, all around the world we're going to age out if we're blessed to go naturally, however I'm convinced that there's life in the process of death. I'm convinced that our culture here doesn't define greatness or quality of life and happiness. America isn't the measuring cup by which a good and equal life is

defined - because we have so many paved streets with a growing population of potholes, or because of our excess gmo foods letting us throw away as much as we may eat. We have our own laundry list of crisis and cancers here. This life of abundance we've projected onto the world is a mere Hollywood, California show. Much of our ailments lie in the roots to our food. From mid 2015 up until my September 2018 arrival in Kenya, I have been fighting for mine. Not fighting for my food, but for my nature, my life. In fact, from what I see, most people around these parts are dying to live.

I have suffered for many years with digestive issues, and they came to a head in the year 2015. Through various dietary and health efforts I was fighting to gain just 5 to 10 pounds on my already slim body, slim my whole life. As a military veteran, I've been afforded the privilege of free medical care from the Veteran's Affairs hospital. What medical care means here is medicine, often times a change in medicine, and likely a combination of medicines. There's no true conversation about food, herbs, or oils. I saw a nutritionist and the information I was given was Google printouts and an elementary food chart, presented by a college student under supervision. Many of our VA doctors are students getting residency hours, I've learned. We're prescribed capsules that sometimes give us a sense of better health, and often times not.

The solution to the not is going to be a different set of capsules, a new combination of them, a new quantity, and eventually the threat of surgery if we don't get "better." At my peak of going under doctor's orders, I was taking (trying to) 16 anti-inflammatory capsules per day. I later talked my doctor into a smaller quantity, but to no legitimate improvement with only 12 per day of a new medicine. Food is the medicine, and our food here is largely chemical-laced and artificial. It makes an autoimmune disease even harder to live with and to heal from. In so many senses of its essence, we're far detached from our nature here. From the food we consume from our tables, laps, and drives thrus, to what roots we've descended from. Kenya - Africa - the culture made me better. I gained 20 lbs in what we sit over here and call a "3rd world"

country. Mental, spiritual, and physical health - landing in Nairobi and settling in for a few days, Kenya felt like a sort of religious salvation, the weight from my shoulders lifted. You're being told by strangers "karibu sana" and "karibu nyambani rafiki yangu," you're so welcome, welcome home my friend. All the while I'm thinking of these flamingos to the north of the city, white ones, slowly.. polepole turning pink in all their natural, healthy, magical glory. For the next 40 nights I rested with foods from the earth and water from their mountains on my belly. I shopped local, from neighborhood kiosks and Naivas, and that was all it took for me to get better. Nature, eating with my fingers, getting in touch with food on a level I'm never experienced. In touch with my nature - in touch with nature itself. A new vibration. Asante mungu, thanks to God for this new chance at life and the fearlessness instilled in me to pursue it.

The pink flamingo is a representation of what we are and what we can be. It's a portrayal of what life really is, and what life isn't. It shows us how life can be if we could just turn and tune to our natural selves, rather than this world of perfectly red tomatoes, processed breads, syrups and sweets. The sweetness of life, the bitter sweetness of leaving home and all we know, the tenderness of new chances and fresh meat, the grains of our character and Supa Loaf bread, the sustenance of what our earth can provide. The flamingo... the white one that breathes, flies, survives and feeds to become beautiful and pink is everything we are meant to be.

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