“Dreams” excerpt re: barry’s brother Mark

November 18, 2009

barry meets with Mark and his wife in Beijing

barry’s encounter with half-brother Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo in Kenya. They have the same father – barry Sr aka “Old Man”. Ruth, of Jewish-Lithuanian descent, is Mark’s mother.

barry’s family tree

Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
© Barack Obama 1995, 2004
Crown Publishing (Random House)
From Google books
Pages 339 – 344

Relevant conversation page 343-345

The following week, I called Mark and suggested that we go out to lunch. He seemed a bit hesitant, but eventually agreed to meet at an Indian restaurant downtown. He was more relaxed than he had been during our first meeting, making a few self-deprecatory jokes, offering his onservations about California and academic infighting. As the meal wore on, I asked him how it felt being back for the summer.

“Fine,” he said. “It’s nice to see my mom and dad, of course. And Joey–he’s a really geat kid.” Mark cut off a bite of his samosa and put it into his mouth. “As for the rest of Kenya, I don’t feel much of an attachment. Just another poor African country.”

“You don’t ever think about settling here?”

Mark took a sip from his Coke, “No,” he said. I mean there’s not much work for a physicist, is there, in a country where the average person doesn’t have a telephone.”

I should have stopped then, but something — the certainty in this brother’s voice, maybe, or our rough resemblance, like looking into a foggy mirror — made me want to push harder. I asked, “Don’t you ever feel like you might be losing something?”

Mark put down his knife and fork, and for the first time that afternoon his eyes looked straight into mine.

‘I understand what you’re getting at,’ he said flatly. ‘You think that somehow I’m cut off from my roots, that sort of thing.’ He wiped his mouth and dropped the napkin onto his plate. ‘Well, you’re right. At a certain point, I made a decision not think about who my real father was. He was dead to me even when he was still alive. I knew that he was a drunk and showed no concern for his wife or children. That was enough.’

‘It made you mad.’

‘Not mad. Just numb.’

‘And that doesn’t bother you? Being numb, I mean?’

‘Towards him, no. Other things move me. Beethoven’s symphonies. Shakespeare’s sonnets. I know — it’s not what an African is supposed to care about. But who’s to tell me what I should and shouldn’t care about? Understand, I’m not ashamed of being half Kenyan. I just don’t ask myself a lot of questions about what it all means. About who I really am.’ He shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Maybe I should. I can acknowledge the possibility that if looked more carefully at myself, I would …’

For the briefest moment I sensed Mark hesitate, like a rock climber losing his footing. Then, almost immediately, he regained his composure and waved for the check.

‘Who knows?’ he said. ‘What’s certain is that I don’t need the stress. Life’s hard enough without all that excess baggage.’

We stood up to leave, and I insisted on paying the bill. Outside we exchanged addresses and promised to write, with a dishonesty that made my heart ache.

Continues with page 345.

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