Grace ogot - Promised land

I first ‘met’ Grace Ogot through her short story anthology ‘Land Without thunder’ when I was just thirteen years old.

I do not remember where I go that book from but I loved how she wrote.

At the time, I was on an Enid Blyton “Famous Five” and Francine Pascal’s “Sweet Valley High” series and Mills and Boon permanent High, with my only interaction with African writing being the class text book “Read with Us” which I read when I was seven years old.

One of the stories “Tekayo” stood out for me.

I remember the story like it was yesterday. Never mind that I first read it 18 years ago.

Tekayo, accompanied by his son Opija, saw an eagle flying around with a piece of meat. It was a piece of liver, still dripping with blood. He wanted to throw it away but decided against it and roasted it instead. It was the best-tasting meat he had ever had.

After this incident, Tekayo goes on a mission to relive this taste, killing one wild animal after another with disappointing results. He stopped the hunt after his wife died but stayed at home to look after his grandchildren as members of the family who were younger went out to the fields to till the land.

The craving for the sweet liver came to him again, and overpowered him to the extent of him killing his grandchildren and extracting their liver. This was the taste that had his taste buds singing in joy. He killed his grandchildren one after the other, until the day he was discovered.

I remember what he said as his son dragged him away: “Atimo ang’o? Atimo ang’o?” (What have I done?)

Tekayo eventually committed suicide.

I remember reading and rereading the story. I remember retelling the story to my small sister and my older sister. My copy got dog-eared, worn out.

I did not understand how human beings could be so cruel, and my 13 year old heart bled for the kids.

I ‘met’ Grace again in my second year of study in campus. I was all of 23 years. Ten years later and the beauty of the story was still ingrained in my memory. It was a class reader at the time in a Literature unit where we were studying East African Literature.

As a 13 year old, Tekayo to me was just an ogre but I looked at him differently at a 23-year old.

I considered the possibility that Tekayo may not have been an ogre after all but a pedophile. That what he was stealing from the children may not have been their hearts after all but their innocence.

That is how I ‘met’ Grace Ogot.

She whetted my appetite for African literature in a way no other author ever has. I dabbled in short story writing for a while because I assured myself that if I could write even one story as good as “Tekayo”, then I would be home free as a writer to reckon with.

These are the memories of Grace Ogot that I will be carrying forward.

Rest in Peace Grace Ogot.

(A lost chapter from One Day I Will Write About This Place)

11 July, 2000.

This is not the right version of events.

Hey mum. I was putting my head on her shoulder, that last afternoon before she died. She was lying on her hospital bed. Kenyatta. Intensive Care. Critical Care. There. Because this time I will not be away in South Africa, fucking things up in that chaotic way of mine. I will arrive on time, and be there when she dies. My heart arrives on time. I am holding my dying mother’s hand. I am lifting her hand. Her hand will be swollen with diabetes. Her organs are failing. Hey mum. Ooooh. My mind sighs. My heart! I am whispering in her ear. She is awake, listening, soft calm loving, with my head right inside in her breathspace. She is so big – my mother, in this world, near the next world, each breath slow, but steady, as it should be. Inhale. She can carry everything. I will whisper, louder, in my minds-breath. To hers. She will listen, even if she doesn’t hear. Can she?

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Poetry contest - Nation 7

Writers in Kenya are not paid very well. Poets especially aren’t paid very well. It therefore is a kick in the shin for a newspaper to go ahead and ask poets to pay for their poems to appear in the newspaper. The said callout was by the Nation newspaper. The advert read:

“Send a 50 word love poem to and stand a chance to win a valentine to remember!! Once the email has been received, you will receive a reference number that allows you to pay Ksh 1000 for your poem to appear on 14th February 2014 in the Friday Nation. The winning poem will be picked by the editor . No correspondence will be entered into thereafter.”

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PAWA 254 is one of the premiere art spaces in the country. Many people know of it, but few know where it is. Getting to PAWA254 is a long journey to me. Located off state house road, getting there from town is literally an uphill task. As exhausting as it is getting there, I like the location of the environment.

There is something amazing about the serene and quiet environment around it. There is no struggle to walk into the gates or pushing people as you walk into the building. Once you get there, the YMCA, which holds the building is very inviting. It’s a place that makes you get in-touch with your inner self and truly enjoy whatever reason brought you there. I get a sense of calmness embrace me when I’m there. Continue reading

Imagine having a friend you can always talk to without spending phone credit, or data bundles, or bus fare to go and meet them. All it takes is a kasuku notebook and a Speedo pen and you can rant all you want. It won’t stop you with impatient glances towards their watch. It won’t criticize you for whatever you are saying. And maybe one day, ten years down the line, it will transverse across space and time to whisper to you words applicable to your dilemma or predicament at the time.
You don’t always have to go to Ranting Mode. Sometimes you can go to Recording Mode, just tell your diary every boring detail of the day. Including what you ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Maybe you’re already a writer. Maybe you’ve written on an air sickness bag 15,000 ft above the ground or on a tissue paper inside a coffee shop; writing is an OCD you are not interested in treating because you know treating it would bring about more serious ailments of the mind and heart.
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You will find all sorts of people in Nairobi and in my opinion, they make the city move. If you go looking for a person with certain traits then you can almost be sure to find them in Nairobi. Some are extroverts who are celebrated for their speech rather than actions while others are great handymen. The successful but uncelebrated introverts will often be forgotten because they live an extremely private life but they are definitely a force to reckon with. You will find a few people who are very knowledgeable and more people who think they know it all.

What’s common about all these people is that they have a hustle/means to earn a living, and those who don’t are actively searching for one. It fuels their aspirations gives them reason to work and hope for better. There’s always someone who’s working at creating something new or making better what already exists and another’s thinking about a Continue reading

The problem with being a reader is you don’t just read black text against white paper. You read gestures and body language. You read characters and choice of words. You read what is being said and what is not being said. The silence between the words carry on as much weight as the words themselves, and the interpretations of dialogue…they can be pretty endless. Three tiny words with one syllable each may carry fifteen different meanings, and the thing is, you can’t help but think of the negative meanings and those may give your self-esteem a blow especially if it has a history to reinforce it.

The problem with being a reader is that you tend to link random objects. Specific words get linked with real memories. Continue reading

Is it just me or is there a guy for every job you need done in Nairobi? You need a device and you’ll be referred to a guy who can get it at the best price. There’s a guy who repairs phones he has never used because he cannot afford them. He has no form of formal training but he learns fast and knows his way around devices. The tailor, designer and artist too work out of talent and practice skills not harnessed through training. I applaud these people and the city for letting them thrive!

Enough people pursue careers different from what they specialized in in school and the fact that Nairobi gives such people a chance to excel at what they are good at, even without formal training, makes me proud. Sure, education is important and the city boasts of many prestigious schools. However, there are many more ways to learn like apprenticeship and the city accommodates all. In Continue reading

Nairobi to me is about pushing the limits of creation and innovation. The limits of the imaginable are pushed and just when you think someone can’t get any more creative, they surprise you. Think of Sheng, the language in Nairobi that evolves so fast that you risk using obsolete words if you don’t keep up. Each generation brings new words to life and the innovative spirit takes a different edge. One generation produces tyres while the next makes shoes out of them. One person talks of going green and the residents see opportunities to make money from recyclable products. The impossible is truly made possible in Nairobi.

I would give a lot for a chance to experience Nairobi nights every so often. You will love and hate the days in almost equal measure but just when you think you can’t take any more of the hustles, Nairobi gives you its lovely Sunday nights. There aren’t too many people walking around and the few who are pace arm in arm. There’s almost always a breeze if it isn’t raining and it will refresh you and make you dream and evaluate your goals. It’s those deserted streets that remind you that everything is possible really; that you can find peace even in the loudest of places.

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A while back, some  friends and I went on an out of the city weekend road trip to visit the legendary Lord Egerton Castle in Nakuru. While on our way, I discovered that one of  my friends had carried her copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s  (face book COO)  recent book ‘Lean In’. Inevitably, during our three days there, I stayed up late after the others had retired to read this amazing anecdotal inspirational book that I believe every working woman needs to read.

Having worked in the corporate world for a while after graduating from college, I nodded and was thrilled to find out that I, and my friends too, could actually relate to most of the issues and challenges Sheryl encountered at  her workplace even though we are continents apart; the issues mentioned therein included lacking self confidence, not speaking up(especially when in the company of very loud and aggressive  colleagues who technically take over the meetings) and even settling for lesser pay than  the male counterparts in exactly the same job position(because women, having been raised to care for others first, find it selfish  and improper to ask for a higher pay). With each chapter I read, not only did I discover my blind spots, but also  felt better knowing exactly how I could work on my weak areas , progress in my career and even achieve an amazing   work and family balance.

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