Just a little seed of Resurrection Faith, Dear Lord.

I need a little seed of hope, dear Lord,

Because  I stare death in the face,

And turn away too often,

In despair,

In hopelessness,

In self pity,

tiredness  and defeat.

 

For I am blinded,

I fail to see the light of resurrection,

And life seems so hopeless

And in my humanness,

I feel helpless.

 

At such times, I am called

To a faith response

That defies reason.

 

For I am a child of hope,

And death is not the end,

For it has been conquered by Christ

And eternal life exchanged for it

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A WRITER OF THE PEOPLE: Tribute to Chinua Achebe

Tuesday this week, I presented my maiden play at the Rift Valley Drama festivals. It was  titled ‘there was a county’. (from Achebe’s latest book there was a country ).

 Two days later when I was called with news of his demise, I wouldn’t let it sink in.

We writers always have an unexplainable bond, especially if an author graced your formative years. So, I still consider Achebe’s passing; in Shakespeare’s’ words, an untimely frost in midsummer.

Even in his death,  I cannot shrug off the sense of betrayal that I  hangs onto because, fine writers like Achebe need not die; they should forever be cast in an immortal paradise where their modern  day counterparts will stare dreamily, refusing to write about them because no one can fathom what colors to paint their lives with. 

An old Igbo proverb says of God, ‘he holds the knife and holds the yam ‘. This resilient and controversial man refused to let life break him. Even when about twenty years back, he was confined to a wheelchair after a bad accident abroad. He lived on, in our heads and hearts. Refusing prestigious presidential awards because he was convinced’ the trouble with Nigeria’ was in its poor leadership.

Refusing to sell the title of his book things fall apart to 50 cent who had done a movie by that name  and wanted to buy title right was because  Achebe found 50 Cents ignorance about the existence of his book inexcusable.

Achebe mentored youthful Nigeria n writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who coincidentally moved into a house that Achebe had lived in while lecturing at the University of Ibadan.

Like the biblical king David of old, Achebe lived to a good old age and as I listened to my colleagues reminiscing over Okonwo in Umuofia, I am without a shadow of doubt convinced that he made his mark. This man who is now gone to join other fine writers like T.S Elliot, Barbara kimenye, Enid Blyton, ken Saro- Wiwa   and Bessie Head.

This legendary  writer who never won the Nobel prize for literature.

 

There was a Writer : Homage to Chinua Achebe.

He has bitten the hand that feeds him’ chief the honorable M.A Nanga cried loudly from the his seat; then an unknown backbencher ..(paraphrased from A Man of the People)

He lies cold and dead. This Igbo man born in Ogidi  in 1930.

This  man  whose zeal of  decolonizing  African minds through books for Africans by Africans was actualized 55 years ago when he started the African Writers Series and wrote the first book, ‘Things Fall Apart, that would turn out to be the most widely read  and translated book in the history of the African novel.

This man whose ideas   shook the western literary world. When he accused the great English writer Joseph Conrad of being a racist.   This author who embarked on a lonesome journey to correct the west’s distorted view of Africa ; convinced that a novelist is a teacher who needs to re-educate people.

This man, who attended the University of Ibadan, worked as a civil servant, a broadcaster then an acclaimed writer and academic.

 This man whose writing is full of satire, dark humor, and skill spiced in  Igbo proverbs.

This man who took us with him to Biafra in post war malice; when Biafran pounds  were being converted to Nigerian shillings in ‘Civil peace’. This civil servant who made us laugh with a beautiful goddess christened   mamiwota in uncle Ben’s choice. This writer who made us share in Rufus Okeke’s dilemma when he took a bribe to vote for another candidate and not the one he worked for as a chief campaigner in ‘the Voter’.

 The man who, despite his talent and proven craft in narration, took over five decades to tell the story of the Biafran war, a sad history of his people called ‘there was a country’. Released less than ten months before his demise.

This man whose talent did justice to the African tale in an amazing accuracy and a good sense of humor that left every reader with a moral question embedded in their minds

The author who brought us the typical African leader in a man of the people ‘Chief the honorable Nanga’  and an over enthused village school teacher named Odili Samalu.

So today ,even as I awake to the bleak feeling that I have lost something invaluable. (the sort of feeling one gets  the morning after a breakup. I take comfort in the fact that his was a life fully lived.

This morning, as I head to the kabarnet public library. I plan to spend the whole day reading  a copy of ‘Chike and the River’  that I  saw in the children’s’ section a couple of month  back.

 

A bad poem by any other name is still bad.

I write this in response to one Daniel Miriam who poetically states that poetry entails speaking your mind on what goes on in the community around you and hence every poet has literal freedom of expression because a poets’ mind is diverse and complex. I wouldn’t get into the philosophy of his argument about the poets mind being complex . I’ll only say that a hungry literal ear can detect a good piece of art from a bad one.

I agree with Daniel that as poets, we are a community and we ought to encourage each other as we build our talent. My question is, by critiquing, are we not building each other?  When I say a piece of poem is bad and a lot more work needs to be put  to better it , isn’t that positive criticism?

Yes, it is true that many poet and writers speak of their community and poetry is deeply personal. This doesn’t however; give poets freedom to speak whatever is their mind in what I can only term as an ‘unromantic fashion’. Tony Mochama once said during a literature forum, that a writer or poet is not supposed to payuka (speak carelessly) on paper. Just because a thought is in your head doesn’t mean it needs to be spoken out raw and fresh from the mind. Love your work enough to clothe it in the most plausible, awe-inspiring, breathtaking language you possibly can then bring it to us and watch out for our approbation.

Every game has its rules that it’s played by and standards have to be met. So, dear poet, speak your mind yes, tell us of what you feel. But for pete’s sake do your research, go through your work a number of times, edit ad re-edit it, get insight on the same from others and then stand up and give us a poem or a  spoken word piece that has come of age.

 

TALK IS CHEAP TOO, FOR PUBLISHERS AND EDITORS.

I read Nduta Waweru’s article ‘TalK is cheap for aspiring  Writers’ .  (Saturday  Nation March 16th)  with curiosity and mixed feelings . Curiosity because I too happen to be an enthused writer waiting to be ‘discovered’ ( in this sense I guess I can be called ‘aspiring ‘ too). Mixed feelings because I agreed with one half of what he says  and disagreed with him on the other half.

I agree that writers do complain about publishers a lot.  But I do not blame the writers for this. Are publishers aware that even talented writers need a lot of mentorship to grow and write better? Even as publishers’ reject a lot of work that they term sub-standard without giving a good reason they ought to ask themselves this .  How is a writer supposed to know the standards expected for their work, if publishers do not spell it out to them?

Take me for example. A year back, having worked on a children’s poems book, I approached   a friend who referred me to an editor in a renowned publishing house in Nairobi. The editor was kind enough to go through my work as I waited. He told me that some of my poems were too ‘English’ ( blame it on the Enid Blyton  Famous Five  books I read growing up). He said that when I write a poem for a local audience, I should be careful to write of things that all Kenyan children, regardless of location, can identify with. He was referring to a particular poem I wrote about an ice cream man. His advice rang true this year because I happen to be working in a rural area away from the city. It is true that not all readers can identify with certain analogies.

What then is a writer supposed to do? Do you stick strictly to what is in your readers’ vicinity or do you employ the use of vivid descriptions and give the reader a chance to activate their minds and use their imagination?

These are questions that many writers have but there is no one to answer them. I might have been lucky enough to have a sitting with the editor who rejected my work. How many writers get an explanation before their work is rejected?

Therefore, I believe that publishing houses need to work together and organize writers workshops where they  talk to writers of their expectation and even get successful  authors  to meet budding writers for such deliberations .

Thumbs up to Kwani because they did this last year. They had a whole weeK workshop termed the ‘Kwani Lit Fest’  in December. Muthoni Garlands’ Story Moja is well known to do this every year when they host their Hay Festival towards the close of the year. They try to bring really polished authors like Nigeria’s Ben Okri alongside our own established writers.

 Where are mainstream publishing houses in all this and how do you expect writers to be grow if they do not stimulate this growth through such avenues? They only wait with baited breath  for the book-fare festival  for a chance to sell their books to all-too-eager school children (after all academic books sell more and hence anyone with an entrepreneurial mind should focus on them, right?)

I agree with Waweru’s second point that most Kenyan writers play in a crowded field and they hate challenges and competition.

Most writers hide in cliques of writers who agree with them and anyone who doesn’t shower them  with praises coated in  flowery language is considered a hater, a bitch or an ‘old fashioned person of the  literally era gone by’.

Are Kenyan writers ego’s too huge to take any sort of criticism whatsoever? Are critics wrong in disagreeing with writers? Do friends have to agree with your style of writing?  These are questions writers should ponder over before lashing at critics. To me ,critics should be appreciated because they help writers raise standards. Let us not misinterpret the phrase ‘great minds think alike. In literature, they do not. 

Perhaps we have learnt from the ‘best’, our politicians that criticism is bad and anyone who critiques you wants to ‘finish you and your people ’ but hey, we ought to embrace something called positive criticism to enable literature to bloom in east Africa just like it does in west  and south Africa.

 On the issue of cliques, publishers should grow from the habit of taking seriously  ‘famous’ authors and ignoring upcoming ones.

I know of a local publisher who collects short stories for their annual editions. Theirs is a ‘do you know anybody’ syndrome  and they seem to expect authors to now people’ so as to be published in their much coveted series. The said publisher never calls for submissions. They always already have a clique of writers whom they publish and rarely inject new blood in their ‘new’ editions. Is it any wonder that the Caine prize for African writers  last came to Kenya over a decade ago?

 

Finally, the local media is appreciating Kenyan Writers when they are still alive, ThanK God.

Fifty years after independence, Kenyan media is finally coming of age. At last, in 2013, the Kenyan print media has decided to give some attention to Kenyan legendary writers while they are still alive.  We no longer have to wait for writers to die to see their photos splashed over our local media for a couple of days before they are forgotten again. In the past couple of months, I have been privileged to read informative articles on renown writers like  Francis Imbuga and  David Maillu. The former’s story appearing just two days before his demise. I am looking forward, with baited breath to more literature on other authors like Marjorie Oludhe Mcgoye and proficient Meja Mwangi who, unlike his peer Ngugi, seems to be suffering a double blackout from both the media and  K. I E( how come  Mwangi’s work which is quite good is never read in schools? ).

On March 16th, I immensely enjoyed Saturday Nation’s interview with Asenath Bole Odaga. Asenaths’ story inspired the would-be author in me as she told of how she, alongside other acclaimed authors like Ngugi and  Maillu  braved the  literary desert of the 1960s to 1980’s and in a bid to decolonize African minds and liberate Kenyan children from western literature, wrote and published quite a number of  books.

They say a dream only becomes reality when you wake up from it and do something about it and we see a writers’  steel intent in Asenath who, when the children she wrote for grew up’ she let herself grow too as a writer by writing them adult books.

In this story of the mother of African folklore who gave up her position at the institute of African studies at University of Nairobi to focus on writing and publishing in English and her native language, I see a resilient achiever whose dream of authorship wasn’t quenched even when the highest royalty she has made so far is 120,000 only.

That she set up her own publishing house in 1983,’Lake publishers and Enterprise’ in Kisumu city, is a lesson to today’s upcoming authors,  not to give up even when thousands of publishing houses reject their work.

‘Even as they venture out to be pretty imaginary and experimental, youthful writers should try and maintain high standards’ says the 74 year old author who mentors young women at the ‘Gender and Development Center’ which she founded to encourage women to publish their  stories.

 Asenath turned down acclaimed Nigerian children’s writer Florence Nwapa suggestion that she should move to where people ‘actually read and buy books’ (Nigeria).  

I do hope that with the ongoing literary discourse, Kenya will also become a  place where people ‘actually read and buy books’ too. Where youthful writers will hold workshops and book signing ceremonies across the country just the way Nigeria’s talented  youthful  writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie does in her country.

 

 

Of Failing Systems and Kenyan pre –election Euphoria.

I am standing outside the Coop bank ATM outlet on El Roy Plaza at Odeon in Nairobi’s central business district. It’s only ten thirty in the morning but the sun must be at least 90 degrees above my head. Being the first of March, most city natives have come to withdraw their salaries. , Some plan to travel over the election period. Others want to Mpesa their relatives in the countryside or if the rumors around town are true, then people are sweeping the supermarkets clean buying all the things they can so as to avoid the food shortage like the one experienced in 2007 after the elections. The queue is moving at a snail’s pace and a certain young lady comes out of the room shaking her head. ‘The ATM’s aren’t even working,’ she says walking away.

There are no two ways about it. My hair just has to be made today. I make a mad dash to Coop bank Aga Khan walk and queue up. At least the ATM machines are many and so the queue is moving.

I reach the machine and instead of getting the cash, I get a message. Sorry. This machine is out of service. Yeah right.

I get into the banking hall. Well if I can’t get my cash, the least I can do is vent. I see a corner ‘managers’ desk and move there. ‘Excuse me sir. How come two of our ATM points aren’t working?’ He looks up from his computer screen. Complete with a killer smile and a perfect set of teeth. ‘Oh! madam, sorry about this. Imagine all our ATMs in town are not working. Our systems are down’. His tone, nkt! You’d have thought he was welcoming me aboard a Kenya Airways flight.

‘So what should we do? I am stranded in town’.  Asked a lady who had followed me from the queue.

‘Okay then, I guess I’ll withdraw from across the counter, how much more will it cost me?’  I chirp.

‘Ha, madam all our systems are down, even the ones across the counter’. Okay, I am officially pissed off. And I blame myself for having all my accounts with cooperative bank.

But hey my card is a visa, so, I’ll go to KCB or Pesa Point…..’Eeh madam, we are advising our clients not to use visa cards, because it may credit your account but refuse to reflect later.  I walk out. No further questions your honor!

I get my phone and call my banker friend. ‘Chick, what do I do? I’ve undone my hair, no money.

‘’Oh , Kwani you don’t have an account with standard bank, si I thought you were getting a diva account?’’

I call up my sister and she promises to go to town and Mpesa me 1500/- . ‘‘Aki please make sure you send before two because I’m starting to plait my hair right away.’’

I board a 35/60 blaring with loud reggae (or is it riddim) music.  The driver is swerving dangerously off the road and for a moment, I am certain we will hit something or someone. Whatever happened to the ‘new’ traffic rules and heavy penalties?

Less than twenty minutes later, before I even alight, I am surrounded by a horde of market women .

‘’eeeh sista rembo, kuja nikushuke,..haraka haraka na ndogo fit( hey sister, come to my stall, I’ll plait you well.)

At first it was one lady, then two, in three minutes I am surrounded by a swarm of not less than eight. Some have yellow aprons written SAMFAT , a ‘creative’ name twist, as I learn later, from the owners Sam and Fatuma first names. Others have white aprons. I can smell hair food. Dax,  nice and lovely, Sulphur , coconut oil , miadi…… I see a familiar face and thank to my good memory ,remember her name. ‘Ahhh Phenny, sasa ?

The rest of the women take cue and disperse and I am left with a beaming Phenny.

‘’Oh mrembo, siku mob, sasa twende kwangu.’’ She veers me off to a different direction and at the surprise look on my face, hastily explains  ‘ you can’t always build someone else, at some point, you need to break off and build yourself.

I am quite impressed by this woman who is able to convey such understanding of entrepreneurship even without attending a business class.

I sit and feel three pairs of hands on my head. Time to get lost in my short stories book.

The Mpesa message comes a few minutes later. Now I can relax, problem solved.

Four hours later, my hair is done. I excuse myself and rush to the Mpesa agent. Can I withdraw?

Sorry, Mpesa is out of service.