Category Archives: kenyan writers

Five writers, One voice.

 1500 hrs: Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

It was one of those days when time just stood still, my SAA flight to Jo Burg was either running late, or I got to the airport too early, traffic on Mombasa road isn’t the sexiest place to get stuck in on a Friday Afternoon.
So with extra hours to kill, I roamed the duty free shops inside the Jomo Kenyatta international Airport, wishing I had an Ipod, however much I hate the way those cords stick out of people ears. I had packed in a hurry, and forgot to pack a good book. So I look for a book store, passing by some Nigerians speaking rather loudly sitting on the floor, their plane must have been running late. Either that or they had been left, they were not happy, Nigerians are very loud people, that’s normal, but when they are angry, the voice meter hits red and stays there.

” Oga? how you think am gon go home now, me I had a godam meetin in abuja tonight, now am still here, how many dollar you think i lose , are you gon pay me now, this airways of yours should learn a lesson, ours is called Virgin, maybe you should make that your national airline!! You behave like silly uncivilized Africans…”

Being Kenyan, and black, I walked quickly past, peeking into the duty free perfume shop, glad I did not carry my credit card. I reached the book store, and I got excited again, I love the smell of new books, rows and rows of freshly unpacked hard and soft covers. I have always admired Nancy Friday for the crowds she manages to pull, and as I flip through ‘My Mother, My self”, another title catches my eye.” Africa, the Shackled Continent.” Africa’s past, present and Future.

Being a journalist has taught me three things,
• Look all you can
• Ask the right questions
• Doubt all the answers

I have high hopes for Africa, Zimbabwe may be a disaster, and Darfur may be an eye sore, but deep down I am a dreamer. Because there must be a reason why when world economies continue to tumble, our growth rates act as if we live in our own little world, and may be we really do, so when that yellow soft cover book titled the Shackled continent caught my eye, I knew I had to get it, even if I realized in anger that the writer was in fact a foreign journalist who had “studied the African continent”.

Why would I read from a man who thinks he knows Africa? With great restraint, I did. It made a great read, new insights on how a non African looks at this continent, and an urge deep inside me curled up, hoping that next time I read such a book, the writer will be a name I identify with.

1900hrs: Kengeles, Lavington

It’s a cold evening, the Kwani literary festival had began and tonight was special, the line up of writers taking on the mic was impressive, and I was hosting the event, I was nervous, It was a first in many ways for me, I have continuously shied away from hosting public events, crowds make me jittery, but this time, my friend and mentor, Ndoro, told me once, ” if you know you should do something, and you are not sure you can, then you must do it.” That changed the way I look at life these days, so when Mike of Kwani asked me to host it, yours truly said, “Yes, Anytime.”

‘Grandmothers winning smile’ was the first book of the night, and the writer, Stanley Gazemba has this beautiful way of making me feel like am back in my grandmothers kitchen in Kapkatet, Kericho district. It’s after dinner, and the embers are dying away, and the stories of hares, and hyena’s and Luanda Magere, a hero from the neighboring tribe, who fell in love with a Kalenjin girl.

Gazemba hopes selling Grandmothers winning smile will enable him buy a Mercedes that will drive him to the readings instead of connecting several matatus to the Sunday Salon. Something Bantu Mwaura dismisses as a pipe dream, saying you can’t live on writing in Kenya today. The book is only 200 bob, but the true worth of history that African books tell cannot be measured, just like the stories gogo used to tell us in those young days.

The Luo from Uganda, David Kaiza, who had been teased about speaking backwards by our own proud folks of the lakeside boda boda country, was in the house tonight, his story was a journey, deep and questioning, on ethnicity and asinine sovereignty of tribes, something Kenyans have refused to look at in the eye.

He took me through all the emotions a human being is allowed to feel at a literary event, laughter, anger, sometimes contentment and lots of questions. I had been in the places he talked about as an African, felt the things he had felt, and when I heard his story has been picked up for Kwani 5, I knew it is a must buy. African stories, told by African Voices, that’s what gets me going these days, believable stories of Boda Boda Mayhem, and the role that history and perception play in shaping present day East Africa.

He has the X factor this next gentleman, has the calmest of voices, and the most penetrating eyes, Kalundi Serumaga, and his story, unsettled, appears in the little kwanini? I got in my gft bag after buying a ticket for the fashion for peace event. It is a very unsettling read, I find out he is the son of Robert Serumaga, the man who courted controversy in Idi Amin’s Kingdom in the early years, a chip of the old block this one, he reminded me of a crush I once had on a butcher back home in Kitale when I was 8 years old. But that’s a story for another day.

When he read out “unsettled,” the events of early this year flooded into my mind in the most disturbing way,(I wrote about my experience in an earlier blog here called My Brain, My Tribe) He may be from Uganda, but I felt like an idiotic Kenyan that day, me and other Kenyans present knew the truth in that story. Just because the Brits called it Kenya and some big shots wife thought Nigeria is a good name to give a blocked out huge tract of land does not mean we belong here, Serumaga says, we are either visitors or servants. Some of his writing also appears in a new anthology that Rasnah talks about below. I wanted to hear more, so when he gave me his card, I promised to look at his website, www.serumagacentre.org.ug and www.ashrineformyfather.com.

Trust me, when a man has that X factor, you click ‘browse internet’ on your phone just when you are out of his sight.

Missionaries, Merceneries and Misfits.
Voices of Rasna Warah and Bantu Mwaura speak from this anthology that pokes big holes into the aid system from the developing world, questioning their role in developing the very third world they in blindfold. Theater for Development got its fair thrashing, and anyone who has been in the theatre world must hear him out. An article about this book quotes that aid stunts growth, feeds corruption and oils the cogs in the wheels of a highly dysfunctional development industry, I couldn’t say it better.

Sunday salon really is a meeting of great minds, as the evening wore on, I asked for dry white wine, which the waitress had loudly told me, “Mia Mbili”, as if I was a little girl on daddy’s budget. I joined Betty Muragori ( Better known as Sitawa the 3rd Namwalie) and Kalundi for a drink, but left for home shortly after, wishing I could stay on, but I had to be at work at six am in the morning.

Life goes on.