The Real Profile of Mark Ndesandjo
- Senator Obama's Other Brother Who Lives in China
A recent UK Times Online news headline reads: Barack Obama’s brother pushes Chinese imports on US
Media in the US have focused on Barack Obama’s half brother living in Kenya. George Hussein Onyango Obama, Barack’s half-brother, is said to be living in poverty on a dollar a month in a Nairobi shantytown. This article is about Barack Obama’s other half-brother, Mark Ndesanjo, who lives in Shenzhen, a southern Chinese city bordering Hong Kong. While we believe the Times used such a headline to help attract readers, we wonder how those words relate to Mark’s real life in China.
To clarify in readers' minds the true subject of the story, Chinationreport editors translated an online article from the Mandarin, as it appeared in the South China Daily. The article was written based on interviews with Mark's close friends and partners. Below is the English translation of this article:
Slim, healthy, vegetarian, over 6 feet tall, strongly built, short-cropped black hair, often seen with a baseball hat on, dark brown skin, black eyes with very clear facial features. This is Mark Ndesandjo, the half brother of Senator Obama, the US Democratic Party presidential nominee. Mark has been living in Shenzhen in the past six years and wishes to continue to live in China. He is married to a Chinese woman from Henan province. Mark shares the same father with Senator Obama but carries his mother's last name.
The Nanfang Metropolitan Paper reports that - after Mark’s relationship with Senator Obama was revealed - he has gone underground, avoiding public attention. Mark is a pianist. 18-year-old Long Ben, who was raised in the Shenzhen Social Welfare Center Orphanage, is his piano student. On the evening of August 1st 2008, Long Ben received a text message from Mark, saying: “I have a very urgent matter to take care of immediately. Very sorry that I couldn’t make the lesson that I promised last time. After I deal with this matter, I will try to call you. Okay?”
From the date of that text message until this edition of the paper hit the street, Mark hadn't come to the Orphanage for classes, a period of three weeks. This is the first absence since Mark started teaching at the orphanage in 2002. Long Ben has no idea what the Mark’s ‘urgent matter’ was, however, he admits the media has recently taken an intense interest in Mark’s young student. “I don’t want to be interviewed, especially by those who would use me to learn something about Mark.”
From Sui Zheng Jun, Mark’s best Chinese friend in Shenzhen, who owns an online information service called Worldnexus, reporters worldwide are gradually learning more about Obama’s half brother Mark.
Since July 27th 2008, when Mark received the phone call from Times followed by the publishing of article, an outpouring of interview requests has interrupted his normal life. In Shenzhen, Mark’s relationship with Obama was exposed at the same time. While Senator Obama lives as a public figure, Mark prefers to lead a quiet, ordinary life in the big, bustling city of Shenzhen.
After this 'breaking' news, reporters, including those from Hong Kong, were searching Shenzen for any possible clues about Mark. According to Sui,“Some of them found the company where Mark used to work. Several dozen reporters were waiting outside the building, collaring anyone they thought might know something about Mark for questioning. “What does Mark look like? How to find him?” were the questions, an old colleague of Mark recalled. “The reporters even found the bar Mark frequented.”
Interestingly, on March 18th, 4 months before the UK Times article appeared, there was a report on Xinhuanet indicating that The New York Times reported on the 17th that Obama’s younger brother is in China. Missing catchy headlines, both Xinhuanet’s piece and the original The New York Times article completely passed under the radar screen.
In order to evade the irritating reporters, Mark and Sui Zheng Jun have chosen to leave Shenzhen. Sui still found it hard to believe that the media are trying everything to tie his friend of six years with now the very famous Obama.
Mark and his six years volunteer work at an Orphanage
Before the revelation of the relationship between Mark Ndesandjo and Barack Obama, the only media article found about Mark dates from March 2004. The Nanfangnet Daily’ English edition reported in an article entitled Not Just a Donation that Mark “...had successful experience in remote communications. He is also a self-taught musician.”
In the article, Mark is quoted as saying “Here the children have enough food. What they are lacking is art and music. Music unites humans in a spiritual level. It has a long and deep effect on children. So I decided to teach music here.”
Since 2002, Mark has been closely connected with Shenzhen. Ever since making their acquaintance Mark’s and Sui’s life in Shenzhen have been closely interconnected. Sui said, “Before coming to China, Mark had never taught school. He came as a member of a Sino-American culture exchange program. As part of this program, Mark worked in a Shenzhen foreign language school. During this period, he nurtured the idea of establishing a non-profit organization in China to help orphans.”
According to Sui, before coming to China, Mark tried contacting a lot of people, including some media and even Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He sent them his proposal but nobody replied. Back in 2002, who knew the name Obama, let alone Ndesandjo? Finally, Mark got some donations from his MBA classmates in Emory to bring to China. When he first arrived in Shenzhen, he even didn’t know where the orphanage was located. He knew Sui through an English teacher in Shenzhen. Sui brought Mark to the orphanage. They brought milk, milk powder, DVDs, etc to the orphans.
Mark doesn’t have much money. His goal is to bring the art of music to the orphans. He believed an orphan’s life needs not only the essentials. The arts are needed, too. Mark began teaching piano lessons at the orphanage every week – at least until events of this year overtook him.
The orphanage workers were all moved by his persistence. He came almost every week. No other volunteers gave of themselves as much. Since 2002, Mark has taught several dozen piano students. Two of his students studied with him for more than two years, one is Xing Yun, who went on to college in Guangzhou. The other is Long Ben.
So, who is this Mark? He is a very talented, self-taught musician The only printed material that can be found is on the sleeve of a compact disk which was sent as a gift to Long Ben in the Orphanage. It’s printed in black and white, titled Nightmoods and includes some Chopin pieces. On the dedication, it says, “To my most trustworthy and best friend Ruth Ndesandjo”
Ruth Ndesandjo is Mark’s mother, the third wife of Mark and Barack Obama's late father. When Mark was very young, they divorced. An honor student from Harvard, Ruth runs an upscale daycare center in Nairobi, Kenya.
Within this CD, the short biography of the performer says:
“Mark is a writer, painter and composer who spends most of his time in Asia and USA. He was born in Kenya. He studied at Brown and Stanford Universities. He published 3 CDs and one book. The book’s title is Observations in Africa and others. This (semi-autobiographical) book is about a young Kenyan man who immigrated to the US and lived in a metropolitan city there. He studied Communications and worked at Lucent Technologies and Notel Networks in high positions. His hobbies included sky diving, skiing and surfing.”
Mark’s friends know that he moved to the US after spending the first seven years of his life in Kenya. He graduated from Brown University with a mathematics and arts degree. Then, he attended Stanford University in Palo Alto, California for a Physics degree. After that, he received an MBA degree from Emory University. In 12 years, he worked for several companies in the US.
After playing a piece of Chopin, Long Ben revealed to the article’s reporter, “I have become a lot happier since I started taking piano lessons from Mark.” Long Ben was born in Shenzhen in 1990. He came to the orphanage at the age of three. After finishing middle school in 2006, Long Ben started to take piano lessons from Mark. Before Long Ben, Mark taught several other kids. But none of them continued for various reasons. Mark taught Long Ben every weekend, no matter how busy he was. He always seemed to be in a hurry. On the evening of August 1st, Long Ben received the short text message from Mark saying that he had something very important to deal with and he would call after he handled the urgent matter. At 10PM, Long Ben called Mark and chatted to him about his own small issues. At 1:19AM, Mark left another message saying: 'Don't worry. I support you. Try your best to practice piano.'
Teachers at the orphanage noted that Long Ben has become confident and strong thanks to Mark's help. Long Ben says he loves music, especially classical music, particularly Chopin to whom he feels emotionally connected. Long Ben says he received a lot of support from others and he will also try to help people in return. “I am happy and content with what I have.”
Mark's real passion and life in China
Sui Zheng Jun said, “You will never guess what Mark imagined about China before arriving there!” Before 2002, Mark felt that China, though beautiful, was undeveloped. He thought that China was a very poor country with many orphans. He wanted to walk in the country with a backpack, getting to know China while helping them. After he settled in Shenzhen, he realized there was a big gap between his old perceptions and reality. It was a lot better than he had thought. He liked Shenzhen very much. More than one time he expressed his wish to live and work there.
Not Just a Donation mentions that Mark wanted to organize a charity concert performed by foreign musicians in order to collect donations to buy musical instruments and equipment for the orphanage. To prepare, Mark and Sui strategized and planned for a long time. It did not happen for a variety of reasons. During this time, both of them cemented their friendship. They decided to continue to do something together.
Sui used to be a branch manager of a bicycle company. When he met Mark, he was planning on getting his MBA and needed someone to help him improve his English. He was also making his next career move. He registered an information consulting company under the name Worldnexus. Sue was the owner. He appointed Mark chief consultant. “We are partners!”
Business was very tough. Day after day they worked hard but made no profit. Sui, Mark and other partners worked for free, receiving no salary. Each was using up savings. In the evenings, after an exhausting day, they got together to have a beer and barbeque from street vendors. Mark always ate dried tofu and potato chips. He is a vegetarian and always wondered why Chinese grilled tofu tasted so delicious.
While dining, Sui came up with a plan: Instead of just consulting, why not also open a barbeque stand? This idea excited Mark a lot. He said he wanted to open such stands in Kenya to introduce grilled tofu and potato chips to his countrymen. While enjoying their beer and chips, they drew up a business plan on a piece of scrap paper. They even designed a menu. Mark insists that it has to be natural. He wanted a very simple, unpretentious hut instead of a fancy restaurant. They named the hut-restaurant Cabin BBQ. At the end of 2003, the first Cabin BBQ was opened in Shenzhen, adjacent to their existing information consulting office.
As of today, Cabin BBQ has seven branches, including one in Yingchuan in the northwest of China, far away from Shenzhen. They are also planning on entering the Kenyan market with their next Cabin BBQ. Sui said, “From a simple joke out of desperation to a viable business, we feel like we’re in a dream!” Thanks to the opening of their first Cabin BBQ, which became a very successful, profitable business, they were able to pay themselves a salary while covering the overhead of the consulting firm, which is still not profitable.
In the beginning of 2006, Mark said he wanted to leave our team to start learning Chinese. Mark spent a whole year just studying Chinese at Shenzhen University. He is very capable of learning. After just more than one year, he started reading A Dream of Red Mansions, the most famous work of Chinese classical literature. Mark’s Chinese friends often tease him when they see him read the book (as reading this book is often considered old fashioned by the young generation -ed.).
Although they are not working together any more, Mark and his Chinese friends get together often. They go hiking, swimming, and especially, all activities involving nature and Chinese tradition. Sui asked Mark to come back to work with him again. Mark promised that he would come back after 2008. Sui was pleased to hear that but had no clue why he needed to wait until after 2008. Sui felt that it was probably a personal issue.
Regarding Mark's personal life, Sui knows very little. He knew that some of Mark's siblings are in the USA and some are in Kenya. Mark rarely spoke of his family. He only talked about his career, education etc. Sui learned more about Mark's family only after his mother's visit to Shenzhen.
Mark's mother Ruth came to visit Mark about three years ago. She left Sui deeply impressed. She is a woman, but one almost has to borrow the word gentleman to describe her. She plays the piano beautifully. She was Mark's first piano teacher.
There is something in which Mark put Sui, a real Chinese, to shame. Mark started to become interested in Chinese calligraphy. Mark thought this was an authentic representation of Chinese culture. Once making up his mind, Mark soon found a teacher. He even learnt the Xing (cursive) style of calligraphy. Sui remarked, “I first thought he was just kidding. After he showed us his work, we were all shocked. I admit, although I am Chinese, his Chinese calligraphy is much better than mine.”
Not long ago, Mark visited his brother Barack and gifted him with his Chinese calligraphy. “I saw Mark do the Chinese idiom in calligraphy. But I promised him to keep its content a secret. It is between him and his brother.”
Mark's friends did not find out about his relationship with Senator Obama through the media. Mark revealed it by himself after he had been exposed by Times. (Note: Although Mark’s Chinese friends did not read the story published by Times, Mark had to admit his identity to his friends to explain the foreign media’s intense pursuit of him. He feared that they would find out about it sooner or later – ed.) On July 27th, some friends invited Mark to go to an outdoor photography event. The organizer of the event was a Chinese-American, ‘Hua Jiang,’ (meaning a gardener) who had heard from Sui a few times about this American friend of Sui's. What intrigued Sui and ‘Hua Jiang’ was that Mark was trying to avoid having pictures taken all day long. They all knew he was a passionate photographer, but he refused to pose as the subject before anyone else’s camera.
Everyone was puzzled by Mark's actions on that day and wondered what was wrong with him. On the way home, Mark started talking: “You know that I am from Kenya. You know that I have a brother in America. My brother is Barack Obama” Sui stopped breathing for a moment. “What? How come you never told us?” Mark explained that he never wanted to tell anyone, but now, referring to the news article from the United Kingdom, the cat’s out of the bag. Everyone stood there awestruck in mute silence.
On the same evening, some pictures from that day's event got uploaded to the Internet. At midnight, Sui called ‘Hua Jiang’, asking him to delete all pictures containing Mark. Sui had to explain the real reason.
Since then, Sui has not been left in peace. He gets hundreds of messages and phone calls daily. Everybody wishes to get information about Mark through him. He has even received girls’ love letters addressed to the married man. Mark's Chinese friends all share the same view about Mark. He is intelligent and well educated - an intellectual with high class wishing to keep his modest, simple, anonymous life in a rented apartment in Shenzhen, a city with a population of millions. Mark's Chinese friends also believe that Mark likes China, especially now, since he married a Chinese girl from Henan.
Chinationreport is not responsible for the accuracy of the content of this article.
The original article in Chinese was posted on www.wenxuecity.com with credit to Nangfang Daily
Copyright 2008 Chinationreport