The ballot box has a hole

“Mweshimiwa, Mweshimiwa—listen, listen to me,” said A., “you have not lost! I—”

“Aa-aa, I am sorry to say…” said B., glancing at Mheshimiwa’s face, and looking away straightaway, ‘I am sorry to say, Mheshimiwa—I think you lost.”

It was the night after the election, it was 10 o’clock on B.’s watch, it was 9:55 on A.’s watch; it was raining outside, it was hot in Mheshimiwa’s house—and he had locked himself in his spare room, and his chief agents, mentioned as A. and B., flanked him.

A. stood on the left side of Mheshimiwa, who sank in a sofa, and reposed his head upon his right-hand palm—by the cheek, of which hand he elbowed upon his knee, of the leg which tapped the floor—tap, tap, tap, over and over. He, Mheshimiwa, who’d contested the MCA seat, stared at the table in front of him, and he permitted his head to sway, up and down, with the tapping of his foot, as he wondered, and wondered, and wondered—and his mind flew back into the campaign season…and the funds he had spent—10 million and more…and the loans he owed, 5 million and more—and next his mind flew forth, into the future—the next five years, during which time he’d wither in the cold, and a sound issued from the eye of his heart, and travelled out of his mouth, not to A. who stood on his left, nor B., who sat on the table, on his right—but shrank into inaudibility.

“Mgr-mgr!” said B, clearing his throat. “Mheshimiwa, did…did you say something?”

Mheshimiwa did not answer, but said, more to himself, “A, a, a!”

“Mheshimiwa, you lost this one square. I know. Call Mshindi (the competitor whom the R.O. declared winner, by 20 votes), and congratulate him. It is—”

“You, B., wait—” said A.

“—aa-aa. You listen, A.—”

“No! You worked for Mheshimiwa,” said A to B, “you work for Mheshimiwa, ya? ya—?”

“Of—of course. Of course I do—”

“—then you defend his candidacy! You—”

“—aa-aa. This one we have lost square. Mheshimiwa—Mheshimiwa,” said B., touching Mheshimiwa on the shoulder nearer him, “this one…this one we have lost. Asiye…asiye kubali kushindwa si nini? Eh, si nini—?”

And between their altercation, Mheshimiwa only but said, more to himself, “A, a, a!”

                                                                                ***

Then at once, reader, A.’s phone rang. Away from the table he stepped, to one corner of this spare room (the political room). Therefrom, he received his call, cupping his right-hand palm about his mouth, and speaking in the lowest voice, as not to agitate Mheshimiwa.

His conversation, went as follows, as his voice rose, by and by:

Yes? Who is this? Yes—yes, I know you. Things have not worked well…

Yes? What, 992? Or 929? Yes? Are you sure? Yes? I know—I know.

I understand. I will. I will not. I will. I will not, I promise…thank you—haya, bye. Haya, bye—thank you. Bye.

When he concluded the call, to Mheshimiwa, back at the couch, he dashed. “Mheshimiwa, Mheshimiwa,” said A., joggling Mheshimiwa’s knee, to rouse him out of his breakdown, “Mheshimiwa, look, we have a problem—you did not lose! Look at me—” and Mheshimiwa raised his head for the first time, and looked into A.’s eyes, his own eyes, teary and dark and deep “—trust me, Sir, something was done—” yet Mheshimiwa did not utter a word, but B., who jerked at A.’s arm, and straightened him up by it, so that they looked at each other full in the face, and next, B. said, in a hiss, “You know Mheshimiwa has ulcers! Why are you trying to mess with his mind—you work for him, right—?”

“I am his chief agent—why wouldn’t I—?” said A. in a loud voice, which disposed B. to pull him away from Mheshimiwa, to the same corner, wherefrom A. received a call earlier. And there B. said, “Look, don’t stress him more—”

And A. said, “Don’t be silly! Truth has nothing to do with ulcers—or—or stress—if—if he won, he won! Period!”

“He did not win!” said B., suppressing his voice under a whisper.

“He did!” from A.

“He did not!”

“He did,” said A., “polling station 12—polling station 12—this, this was under your supervision—what did Meshimiwa get there? How many?”

“Station 12 or 21?” said B.

“I said 12—how many votes?”

“900—and something…”

“Confirm, confirm, call. Call the person who was there—” said A.

“…it was 900—and twenties, yes. And twenties—”

“—confirm!”

Thus agent B. pulled his phone from his pocket, and called someone. When he made as if to walk away, so as to speak at the other corner, A. restrained him, by the arm. From his conversation on the phone, B. said the following:

Ya? Can you hear me? Hallo! Yes. What was the number? Yes—yes, 919? 929…919? Ah, yes. Yes. Ok.

And then he deposited the phone into his breast pocket.

“929,” he said.

“Ya!” said A., “there’s the problem! It was not 929—it was 992! Tulicheswo! He did not lose,” he said, pointing away at Mheshimiwa.

“What did you say?” said from Mheshimiwa, leaping from the couch to the two, at the corner.

“Mheshimiwa,” said B., “it is nothing, please go sit—”

“His votes were reduced and you tell him to sit down!” said A., snatching B. by the collar, “were you working for Mshindi—?”

“Leave me! I will hit you—leave me—” said B., liberating himself from A.’s grab. And Mheshimiwa, who now planted himself between them, as to avert a brawl, said to A. again, “what did you say?”

Before A. answered his boss, B., who clicked his tongue and mumbled to himself, rushed out of the room in protest, “People have decided!”

And now A. said to Mheshimiwa, in a whisper, “Sir, tulicheswo. Station 12. In station 12, you had 992—”

“Ah?” said Mheshimiwa, covering his mouth with a palm.

“—but in form 36B—”

“36A, you mean, 36A,” said Mheshimiwa, widening his mouth and eyes.

“—yes, yes. Instead of 992, they wrote 929…my source told me—you defeated him, Sir—”

“—yes?” said Mheshimiwa, clenching his fists, preparing for a reaction.

“You defeated Mshindi!”

“Yes!”

“Yes!” said A., hugging Mheshimiwa, who did not embrace back. “We will file a petition, Sir. This win is yours!”

“Is this,” said Mheshimiwa, holding A. from him, so he could observe his face, “is this source reliable?”

“Yes! I trust her, Sir. I will give you the full details tomorrow. But one thing you should know, Sir, mgr-mgr! Agent B., though he is your nephew, Sir…I think he betrayed you. He was working for Mshindi all this time, he was a mole!”


 

BOY IN THE CAMP LEARNS TO TELL A STORY_07

Anybody could write, if he understood how to sort his thoughts, select the verbs and nouns most fitting.

Anybody, anywhere—in Africa or America South, in Syria or Singapore, in Korea North or Kenya, Karen or Kakuma—could write, a poem or story, if it blazed in him, and the smoke smoldered his heart and incited his thoughts.

He could tell a story.

These sentiments, more or less, a boy, of sixteen or seventeen at the time—an estimation I reached given the vibration of his voice and the density of his beard and the texture of his face and the style of his conduct—infused in me one evening, in the accent of his former country, while he and I sat on a bench, at the edge of Napata grounds, Kakuma Refugee Camp. He was a boy of tall stature, and dark complexion, out of South Sudan, in search of safety; I was a young man of twenty-and-seven, on a mission for my media company, in search of news. He was a boy who had encountered this and that and all, as happens in a zone of conflict; I was a young man who possessed views of life as can be absorbed by kids who live in places devoid of conflict . He was called Biel, and I, then, and even now, Taifa Mkenya.

“My Friend, your work is finished?” said he, on that bench upon which we sat side by side that evening, the third sitting since we met. And the sun was still hot, and the rain was still missing, and little boys were still playing on this ground.

“No, no. I am here for three months more,” I said.

“You say to me yesterday you write for newspaper?”

“Mh-hm.”

“Which one? Me, I hear Nation¸ Standard…and even of outside, like Guardian and New York Times. Which one is—?”

“I don’t work for any of those. Mine is small—it is a startup company. One that is just beginning.”

“Me, I understand. You say you write story of life in this camp, but let me tell you—”

“Wait—” said I; he never allowed me to expound what I did there.

“—no, you wait, my Friend. Me, I read stories on this—” said he, lifting his smart phone and tapping it “—I read stories here. Many is not correct—”

“What is not correct?” I said.

“The stories I read here,” said he, tapping his phone still.

“How so?”

“My Friend. You come here, and talk to one, two, three people. Then write story. But me I live here, many years, since I was like this—” he estimated the height of an infant with his palm, off the ground “—you see. So me I understand. But you come here, talk to small people, and write story which has many wrong. Maybe you only write story of Somalis, or Congolese, or Rwandese, or even of Dinka only. So the story is true on small side and wrong on big side. I—”

“Ok. So, in your view—” said I.

“No, it is not to do with my view. And don’t feel bad, my Friend,” said he, tapping my shoulder, “me, I don’t say you are bad person. I don’t say your work is bad. Me, I know ni kutafuta unga. In Kiswahili you say like that, sindio? You understand? Me, I want to write stories of here, because me I live here. I understand what happen. So I have one beg. Can you help me?”

(we have so far covered 01 to 06)


TO TELL A STORY_07

That evening, after I discovered that Ayen helped Biel with his practice writing, I admonished the former. Then we agreed to skip a day and meet Friday of the same week. When we met again at the bench, the following happened.

Biel arrived first and a few minutes on, Ayen appeared. This time she wore a black trouser and a white blouse, and she came along with a small girl. The small girl whom Ayen came with had a white flower stuck into her hair, at the top of her head, and Ayen had her own hair bound by a white band. The two sat on my right, and Biel on my left.

As far as I noticed, the small girl knew Ayen, and the small girl knew Biel, but the small girl had not seen me, of course. She glanced at my face at one moment, and the next glanced at the ground. The next she checked my nose or chin, and the other my shoe. So she engaged herself, and meanwhile, Biel, Ayen and I, exchanged pleasantries. It then got to the turn where Ayen should introduce the small girl.

“Nana,” said Ayen, holding her by the shoulder, “greet my friend [me]. Tell him your name. Tell him.” But the girl submerged herself in shyness.

Ayen then prompted her to stand before us. “Nana, don’t be shy. Speak. What is your name?”

“Nana,” said the girl. She, the girl, was tall when she stood, she was slender, and she was introverted, or so she seemed.

Now I recalled what Ayen mentioned prior Wednesday when she read to me the names of her girls. I remembered she said Nana hailed from Burundi, she the girl who wrote. “Hallo,” I said to the girl, stretching my hand for a handshake, “hallo, Nana?”

“Hallo to you,” she said in a little voice, with a tinge of an accent, and looking at my shoes. Those days I wore these shoes with pointed and curved tips. Now Ayen continued the conversation from here. “Ask him his name,” she said to Nana the little girl.

“What is your name?” said Nana, fidgeting her fingers before her dress. I told her, Taifa. And she said, “Taifa who?” I told her, Taifa Mkenya. Then she said, “Are you from Kenya?” I said, Yes. Then she looked at Ayen, as though to secure permission to say a word. Ayen nodded, and Nana next said to me, “Do you know Anne?”

“Which Anne..?” I said, “Ah, Anne from Nairobi? Yes, yes, I do.” Then I waited for her to speak next. Few seconds passed and then she said, “I wrote her a poem titled Hear my Voice.

I then asked her if she could recite it. And she looked at Ayen again, who nodded, and Nana continued thus, I remember.

Girls were scattered across the world

By Him who created soul, flesh, and blood

Some girls fell in the desert, of Syria and Arabia

Others fell in cities, in Berlin, Tokyo, and Brasilia

Wherever she is, she needs care and schooling

This she gets in some places, elsewhere, fooling

Here at Kakuma we get the former, mostly

Though the latter erupts sometimes unexpectedly

I am Nana, hello to you, Anne

Your friendship I wish to earn

Nairobi, for me

For me, greet Nairobi

I followed her poem from beginning to end, and told her to repeat it, which she did, with more gusto. Nana sat down after her second recitation, and Ayen hugged her and brushed her hair in commendation. “Has Anne replied to your email?” said Ayen, and Nana shook her head, upon which Ayen advised her to allow Anne more time to respond, and expect the response over the weekend latest.

Ayen and Nana having stopped conversing now, I turned to Biel and asked him how things fared. “My Friend,” he said, “me I have been fine. My brother in the house was sick of malaria, but he is good now. Me I got drugs for him from the clinic and give him to swallow, though he vomit most of the tablets but I force him to take. I block his nose and put the last tablet in his throat and pour a jug of water inside. He cough but he swallow finally. Thank God. But me myself I am very good, and I have written more pages, see—”

“Ah, let me see,” I said, receiving his practice book, from which I read the following narration.

When the four South Sudanese came from the mud of the White Nile they walk faster-faster to the restaurant of The Nile Queen. The lady Adut walk with the young man Luok, in front; while, the two young men—Gat and Deng, follow them tudup tudup. They pass through lines of shopping structures on both sides of the path they walk. And some of these shops and buildings, the war charred dark, and left broken, because of the arson and looting that fly on the wings of war. Along the path they see boulders, and tires—some burnt, some planted on the road as barriers. These were the remnants of the war, because at this time, today, nobody stopped them. On the steps of the shops they see people seated. Some old, some young; some female, some male; some curious, some relaxed. “Those people look at us funny. They think we are refugees,” said Gat to Deng, whom he walked by, behind the pair of Adut and Luok.

They covered one corner of the path and then the restaurant revealed itself. And they hurried there. In, they entered, and sat around one table, Deng and Gat on one side, Adut and Luok on the other. At once Deng said, “Waiter! Waiter, bring ‘Kisra’.”

Against this, Adut said, “Kisra makes me vomit. No Kisra on this table. Or I will move.”

#To be continued…

A week goes and languages grow; my stories so.

[The typer of these words is a breaker of English. Creator of words. Attempter of waggish things. Marveler of nature. Enjoyer of life. Lover of strangers. Taster of cultures. Writer of Tom James. Editor. Snap-shooter. Storyteller. Future husband. Teacher. Learner. Soon a traveler. And he wants to entertain you]

BOY IN THE CAMP LEARNS TO TELL A STORY_06

Anybody could write, if he understood how to sort his thoughts, select the verbs and nouns most fitting.

Anybody, anywhere—in Africa or America South, in Syria or Singapore, in Korea North or Kenya, Karen or Kakuma—could write, a poem or story, if it blazed in him, and the smoke smoldered his heart and incited his thoughts.

He could tell a story.

These sentiments, more or less, a boy, of sixteen or seventeen at the time—an estimation I reached given the vibration of his voice and the density of his beard and the texture of his face and the style of his conduct—infused in me one evening, in the accent of his former country, while he and I sat on a bench, at the edge of Napata grounds, Kakuma Refugee Camp. He was a boy of tall stature, and dark complexion, out of South Sudan, in search of safety; I was a young man of twenty-and-seven, on a mission for my media company, in search of news. He was a boy who had encountered this and that and all, as happens in a zone of conflict; I was a young man who possessed views of life as can be absorbed by kids who live in places devoid of conflict . He was called Biel, and I, then, and even now, Taifa Mkenya.

“My Friend, your work is finished?” said he, on that bench upon which we sat side by side that evening, the third sitting since we met. And the sun was still hot, and the rain was still missing, and little boys were still playing on this ground.

“No, no. I am here for three months more,” I said.

“You say to me yesterday you write for newspaper?”

“Mh-hm.”

“Which one? Me, I hear Nation¸ Standard…and even of outside, like Guardian and New York Times. Which one is—?”

“I don’t work for any of those. Mine is small—it is a startup company. One that is just beginning.”

“Me, I understand. You say you write story of life in this camp, but let me tell you—”

“Wait—” said I; he never allowed me to expound what I did there.

“—no, you wait, my Friend. Me, I read stories on this—” said he, lifting his smart phone and tapping it “—I read stories here. Many is not correct—”

“What is not correct?” I said.

“The stories I read here,” said he, tapping his phone still.

“How so?”

“My Friend. You come here, and talk to one, two, three people. Then write story. But me I live here, many years, since I was like this—” he estimated the height of an infant with his palm, off the ground “—you see. So me I understand. But you come here, talk to small people, and write story which has many wrong. Maybe you only write story of Somalis, or Congolese, or Rwandese, or even of Dinka only. So the story is true on small side and wrong on big side. I—”

“Ok. So, in your view—” said I.

“No, it is not to do with my view. And don’t feel bad, my Friend,” said he, tapping my shoulder, “me, I don’t say you are bad person. I don’t say your work is bad. Me, I know ni kutafuta unga. In Kiswahili you say like that, sindio? You understand? Me, I want to write stories of here, because me I live here. I understand what happen. So I have one beg. Can you help me?”

(we have so far covered 01 to 05)


TO TELL A STORY_06

Wednesday approached, and evening followed. When evening followed, Ayen and Biel arrived at the bench by Napata Grounds, where I had waited for them, thirty minutes past.

Image:photopin.com
Image:photopin.com

This time Ayen wore a white dress and black slip-ons, and she carried a notepad; while Biel, a black t-shirt and a grey short, with sandals. On one side of me, the right-hand side, they settled after greetings, and Ayen begun:

“My brother, I told you the other day that I have three little girls whom I mentor?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Yes, so, brother, these little girls have years between nine and thirteen, and they all go to school—in that primary school at the center of the camp. I tell you brother, these girls love learning, and so when I leave Arrupe Centre on weekends mostly, I go and sit with them in one of their houses, and teach them math and science, and in turn they sing for me folk songs from their countries. By name, the girls are”–she opened her notebook–“Jetti, from Congo—well, she was born here. Her mother came to the camp when she was seven months pregnant. She is the funniest, she sings Ndombolo Ya Solo (which she said her mother teaches her), and dances as if she has no skeleton. Then we have Nana, from Burundi. She is the tallest and lightest, and a runner. She is very good at writing. Then we have Bilan, who came all the way from Baidoa—”

“Somalia?”

“Yes, brother,” said she, continuing the enumeration with her fingers, and checking from her notebook time to time, “she is shy, this Bilan, but very sharp. Then we have…we have Nyabol from Sudan. Her father was Nuer, and her mother is Dinka. But when the war broke, as she remembers, I am not sure if she remembers correctly—because it happened when she was five years—but she said her father was killed during the skirmish in Malakal, by a Dinka man who was seeing her mother. The last one is Uwimana from Rwanda, we call her Uwi for short, and she is the most beautiful of the five. Now brother, as I have told you, these girls, Jetti, Nana, Bilan, Nyabol and Uwi, are very promising girls as I see it, and with your help, I would like to give them hope. I want them to get the picture”—here, placing her notebook on her lap, she raised her hands, and formed a globe with them—“I want them to get the picture of the world, so that they may know that…that there is more beyond the camp. One time some woman from UN came here, I was still young, but what she said I still remember. I remember she said,

give a girl education and hope, and the future of the world is guaranteed.

“So my brother, as I told you, through your support, I want to connect these girls to other girls outside of this camp, for them to exchange letters, emails, books, and stories. Maybe I can even start a blog, and call it something like…something like—Voices from the Camp, or A Girl Speaks…or something like that, and then…and then post their stories there. What do you think—what do you think, Biel—” said she, jostling Biel’s knee with hers.

“Me,” said Biel, “Me I think that is a very good idea—what do you think, Taifa?” he said to me.

“I don’t know what to say—it is…is a very good idea!” I said. I remember. “In fact, Ayen,” I said to the girl, who sat between Biel and me, “Ayen, I got the list I promised–of the names of the girls we can pair with your girls, for pen pals.” From my pocket, I removed a paper on which I had scribbled some notes, “Here, this, this—” said I, pointing at the first name “—this.”

“Anne,” said she, observing the list.

“Yes, Anne. She is from Nairobi. She studies in a private school there, in class seven. I am a friend of her father. And, this is her email. And this is the father’s email. I have included the emails of their parents, to be copied in their correspondences. Just for…just for—”

“Yes, I understand,” said Ayen.

“Then this is Alice, from South Africa. This, Jude, from Romania. Eva, Brazil. Aiko, Japan. Here, take. So,” said I, joining my palms, “you can go ahead and link them up. And share with us the stories and the songs they write. About the blog, as I see I want to run out of the camp just now, let’s talk about it next time.”

She folded the paper and enclosed it with her hands. Biel, all this time had held his practice book in the hand, and so I stretched mine to receive it from him. I flipped the pages to where the current writing started, and intended to close it, and carry it with me. But I saw the first words of his writing, which attracted me. The sentence begun thus:

Only eternity, but everything else ends. Love ends, hate ends. Wars end, peace ends. Drought ends, floods end, and even a boat ride, but at the instigation by someone. To the other bank on the east of the White Nile they reached, and Gat paid Kamau—the boat rider from Kenya, who had recounted to them about his experience in Kisumu, while they rowed. Now the four, Gat, Deng, Luok and Adut left the boat and waded onto land…

Upon reading these beginning sentences, I turned to Biel, and asked him if he wrote them himself. He lowered his head, and rubbed his sandals against the dust. “Did you help him?” I said to Ayen, and she nodded.

#To be continued…

A week goes and languages grow; my stories so.

[The typer of these words is a breaker of English. Creator of words. Attempter of waggish things. Marveler of nature. Enjoyer of life. Lover of strangers. Taster of cultures. Writer of Tom James. Editor. Snap-shooter. Storyteller. Future husband. Teacher. Learner. Soon a traveler. And he wants to entertain you]

BOY IN THE CAMP LEARNS TO TELL A STORY_05

Anybody could write, if he understood how to sort his thoughts, select the verbs and nouns most fitting.

Anybody, anywhere—in Africa or America South, in Syria or Singapore, in Korea North or Kenya, Karen or Kakuma—could write, a poem or story, if it blazed in him, and the smoke smoldered his heart and incited his thoughts.

He could tell a story.

These sentiments, more or less, a boy, of sixteen or seventeen at the time—an estimation I reached given the vibration of his voice and the density of his beard and the texture of his face and the style of his conduct—infused in me one evening, in the accent of his former country, while he and I sat on a bench, at the edge of Napata grounds, Kakuma Refugee Camp. He was a boy of tall stature, and dark complexion, out of South Sudan, in search of safety; I was a young man of twenty-and-seven, on a mission for my media company, in search of news. He was a boy who had encountered this and that and all, as happens in a zone of conflict; I was a young man who possessed views of life as can be absorbed by kids who live in places devoid of conflict . He was called Biel, and I, then, and even now, Taifa Mkenya.

“My Friend, your work is finished?” said he, on that bench upon which we sat side by side that evening, the third sitting since we met. And the sun was still hot, and the rain was still missing, and little boys were still playing on this ground.

“No, no. I am here for three months more,” I said.

“You say to me yesterday you write for newspaper?”

“Mh-hm.”

“Which one? Me, I hear Nation¸ Standard…and even of outside, like Guardian and New York Times. Which one is—?”

“I don’t work for any of those. Mine is small—it is a startup company. One that is just beginning.”

“Me, I understand. You say you write story of life in this camp, but let me tell you—”

“Wait—” said I; he never allowed me to expound what I did there.

“—no, you wait, my Friend. Me, I read stories on this—” said he, lifting his smart phone and tapping it “—I read stories here. Many is not correct—”

“What is not correct?” I said.

“The stories I read here,” said he, tapping his phone still.

“How so?”

“My Friend. You come here, and talk to one, two, three people. Then write story. But me I live here, many years, since I was like this—” he estimated the height of an infant with his palm, off the ground “—you see. So me I understand. But you come here, talk to small people, and write story which has many wrong. Maybe you only write story of Somalis, or Congolese, or Rwandese, or even of Dinka only. So the story is true on small side and wrong on big side. I—”

“Ok. So, in your view—” said I.

“No, it is not to do with my view. And don’t feel bad, my Friend,” said he, tapping my shoulder, “me, I don’t say you are bad person. I don’t say your work is bad. Me, I know ni kutafuta unga. In Kiswahili you say like that, sindio? You understand? Me, I want to write stories of here, because me I live here. I understand what happen. So I have one beg. Can you help me?”

(we have so far covered 01 to 04)


TO TELL A STORY_05

The next time we met at the bench was Tuesday, and it was about to rain—and whenever it rained in Kakuma, it poured. This time Biel had not come, but he’d sent Ayen to submit his practice writing on his behalf. The previous day Ayen had asked me if I had any friends outside the country, to which I agreed. At first I had thought she wanted to leave the camp, and so intended to obtain a list of foster homes from me, or something like it; but I realized I was misguided. As we talked on yesterday, I learnt Ayen mentored some little girls in the camp, five in number, and she wanted to find pen pals for them, in other countries, so they could share stories through letters. We left the matter standing, at which point I promised to reach to anyone I knew in neighboring countries and even far away in other continents, and revert to her Wednesday, latest.

Why today she represented Biel, she said, “My brother,” referring to me, “my friend has gone to take his share of food, because it is about to rain, and if he misses today he will stay two weeks without. If he finishes early he will come here, if not, he will meet you tomorrow. That is why he sent me. How are you doing, my brother?”

I said I was doing well indeed, at which point I received Biel’s work from her, and read it as follows:

Image: photopin.com/ivan.zanolla
Image: photopin.com/ivan.zanolla

Chwaa chwaa the oars pushed the water; now left side, next right, next left, now right side of the boat; and on they moved; all quiet but the water, chwaa, chwaa. Gat and Deng sat on the back of the boat, and Adut and Luok in front, and the boat rider at the middle, rowing, chwaa, chwaa. The four, all from Malakal, were going to Lul, to look for Gat’s sister, who had escaped during the confusion in the war in Malakal; but now the war in the whole South Sudan had ended, including Malakal.

It was now late morning, and the sun had risen and faced them from the front, for they headed to the east, crossing the White Nile from the west. The four had intended to visit The Nile Queen restaurant, to drink breakfast there, before continuing with the journey northward. But all the four were silent, not because they lacked stories to share, but because Adut (a fine Dinka woman) disliked Deng who was Dinka, and Deng who I have just said was Dinka, hated Luok who was Nuer, and friend of Adut.

Chwaa chwaa the oars pushed the water; now left side, next right, next left, now right side of the boat; and on they moved; all quiet but the boat rider, who now cleared his voice as if he prepared to speak. On they moved, and now the boat rider said, midway the river, “I must ask you, you people, where are you going?” He must have noticed the four acted in manner indicating they had quarreled or fought, or that one, or two of them, was held under duress of some kind. This boat rider obtained an answer from Deng, who had sat behind him, which went like this:

“Mind your own rowing business.”

After a while however, Gat, who had sat next to Deng at the back of the boat, elbowed him on the ribs and now said to the boat rider, “We are going to Lul.”

Chwaa chwaa the oars pushed the water; now left side, next right, next left, now right side of the boat; the boat was long, the boat was wide, the boat was black—like the water, the boat was of oak, and the oars so. And on they moved; all quiet but the boat rider, who then asked Adut and Luok, who sat in front of him, their names. To this question Luok answered for himself and Adut, and the boat rider in turn said he was called Kamau, from Kenya.

Chwaa chwaa the boat rider rowed, without talking, then soon he said to all of them, “Are you all Nuer? Or all Dinka?”

Gat, who led the team, identified his comrades, to which Kamau from Kenya said, as he rowed, “My friends, let me say something. You see me…me I grew up in western Kenya, in some place called Kisumu, at the shores of Lake Victoria—”

“I know that place,” said Adut, the Dinka lady who had not spoken so far on the boat.

“Haiya,” said Kamau, the boat rider, “you have been there?” and chwaa chwaa he rowed, on and on.

“Yes. We went for university exchange program, in a university called Museno.”

“You mean, Maseno?” said Kamau.

“Eeh, yes! Yes,” said Adut.

“Aah, Maseno…Maseno, it is a very nice place. So,” said Kamau, “me I was saying, I grew and lived in Kisumu for many years. The Lord blessed me with a wife, a child and boats. Many boats. These boats, I used to rent them to fishermen, young people, of about your age. And they would pay me. I lived like that.” Chwaa chwaa, on and on, he rowed, sweating and talking: “one day, some years ago, clashes started, after a general election, and now everybody turned against everybody. Me I can tell you my friends, war is bad, very bad. Mgrh, mgrh!” said he, clearing his throat. Then on an on, kamau rowed, not speaking.

“What happened to your family?” said Adut, after some moment of silence.

“My friend, me I tell you, in short, they died in the clashes. Me I don’t like remembering it. I just say it to you my friends because I know peace is good. To cut the story short, me I came here, because there was a brother of mine living in Malakal. He bought for me this boat and gave me some money to start with. So my friends, we thank God for life.”

#To be continued…

A week goes and languages grow; my stories so.

[The typer of these words is a breaker of English. Creator of words. Attempterof waggish things. Marveler of nature. Enjoyer of life. Lover of strangers. Taster of cultures. Author of Tom James. Editor. Snap-shooter. Storyteller. Future husband. Teacher. Learner. Soon a traveler]

BOY IN THE CAMP LEARNS TO TELL A STORY_04

Anybody could write, if he understood how to sort his thoughts, select the verbs and nouns most fitting.

Anybody, anywhere—in Africa or America South, in Syria or Singapore, in Korea North or Kenya, Karen or Kakuma—could write, a poem or story, if it blazed in him, and the smoke smoldered his heart and incited his thoughts.

He could tell a story.

These sentiments, more or less, a boy, of sixteen or seventeen at the time—an estimation I reached given the vibration of his voice and the density of his beard and the texture of his face and the style of his conduct—infused in me one evening, in the accent of his former country, while he and I sat on a bench, at the edge of Napata grounds, Kakuma Refugee Camp. He was a boy of tall stature, and dark complexion, out of South Sudan, in search of safety; I was a young man of twenty-and-seven, on a mission for my media company, in search of news. He was a boy who had encountered this and that and all, as happens in a zone of conflict; I was a young man who possessed views of life as can be absorbed by kids who live in places devoid of conflict . He was called Biel, and I, then, and even now, Taifa Mkenya.

“My Friend, your work is finished?” said he, on that bench upon which we sat side by side that evening, the third sitting since we met. And the sun was still hot, and the rain was still missing, and little boys were still playing on this ground.

“No, no. I am here for three months more,” I said.

“You say to me yesterday you write for newspaper?”

“Mh-hm.”

“Which one? Me, I hear Nation¸ Standard…and even of outside, like Guardian and New York Times. Which one is—?”

“I don’t work for any of those. Mine is small—it is a startup company. One that is just beginning.”

“Me, I understand. You say you write story of life in this camp, but let me tell you—”

“Wait—” said I; he never allowed me to expound what I did there.

“—no, you wait, my Friend. Me, I read stories on this—” said he, lifting his smart phone and tapping it “—I read stories here. Many is not correct—”

“What is not correct?” I said.

“The stories I read here,” said he, tapping his phone still.

“How so?”

“My Friend. You come here, and talk to one, two, three people. Then write story. But me I live here, many years, since I was like this—” he estimated the height of an infant with his palm, off the ground “—you see. So me I understand. But you come here, talk to small people, and write story which has many wrong. Maybe you only write story of Somalis, or Congolese, or Rwandese, or even of Dinka only. So the story is true on small side and wrong on big side. I—”

“Ok. So, in your view—” said I.

“No, it is not to do with my view. And don’t feel bad, my Friend,” said he, tapping my shoulder, “me, I don’t say you are bad person. I don’t say your work is bad. Me, I know ni kutafuta unga. In Kiswahili you say like that, sindio? You understand? Me, I want to write stories of here, because me I live here. I understand what happen. So I have one beg. Can you help me?”

(we have so far covered 01 to 03)


TO TELL A STORY_04

At the bench I arrived earlier than Biel and the girl he’d talked about. Biel came next, and after salutations, he gave me his practice writing, and the story ran thus:

On and on the four walked. And after an hour they reach The Nile Queen restaurant, though they were on the western side of the White Nile, and they had to take boat to cross to eastern side, on Gat’s suggestion. On the western side of the river there was bushes and shrubs; while on eastern side there was settlement and rough roads. Luok and Adut had walk together, and now they stand together near the bank of the river, and Gat walk to them, leaving Deng a distance away. He said to them, “Me I think we need to cross to the other side and take something, me I know you stomach is hot.”

“Yes, we’re hungry,” Adut say, “but we shall use separate boats. Luok and me, and you and Deng.”

“My sister,” said Gat, “that is no necessary. We can fit all of us in one boat. No need to use two, and waste money for nothing.”

“Why do you think I did not want Deng to come?” said Adut, “it is because of this. But you let him come.”

“My sister—” said Gat.

“No, do not say ‘my sister—my sister’ and you do not do what I want,” said Adut, waving her hands against Gat. Now Gat look at Luok who had stood next to Adut but looking at his own feet, and wink to him when he look up, for him to do something.

And soon Luok step close to Adut and said, “My dear,” and he touch her on the waist, “we are going to get Gat’s sister. Let’s climb the boat and go, it will not harm—”

“You have never,” said Adut to Luok, though Gat could hear, “you have never asked me what he did to me, that beast. Do you know what he did?”

“My dear, this is not the time. It is not the place. Let’s go and we will talk about it in the evening. Please,” said Luok.

Meanwhile, four boat riders had risen from the water and climbed the bank to talk to Deng, who had stand alone in the distance. Those boat riders they wore shorts, or trousers cut into shorts at the knees, which looked jagged, and orange life jackets. They seemed to bargain about the prices, but Deng could not pick on any of them, and he keep looking at his colleagues, since he was uncertain whether they would continue with the journey at all.

With the other group, Adut now agreed to climb one boat with the rest. And Gat whistled to Deng to arrange for one. The boat rider who Deng chose, rush to the water to untie his boat, and immediately push it close to the shore where the four could board. Luok and Adut entered the boat first, and she and he sit on the plank at front-most part of the boat, and Gat and Deng entered next, and sat at the back of the boat, so that the boat rider rowed from the middle, and separated them so. And so the cross-over started from the west to the east, all of them four silent, only the oars pushing and slapping the grey water of the White Nile, chwaa chwaa.

The quality of Biel’s story had improved, and I told him so. “Biel, this is getting better—”

“Thank you, my Friend,” he said.

“—probably you need to make it clear,” I said, “why the four characters have difficulty traveling together, and if there is any history to, and why Gat wants them to be together—”

“Yes, me I understand. The reason why Adut does not want Deng on the trip is because—”

“—no, don’t tell me now. That you will capture in the next writing.”

“Me I understand.”

“Then.”

“Yes, my Friend.”

“Then, also work on the setting. Make the place where the story happens as real as possible—”

“Like a true place, my Friend?”

“—no, no. Not necessarily a real place. Whatever the place, make the reader live it. Then—”

I stopped at this point, for someone had tapped Biel on his back, at which point he turned his head, and induced me to do so. There, behind us, stood a tall and a dark girl, of slender body and modish clothing, who carried some goods in a black polythene bag. I supposed her Ayen, and what she carried my books, and soon Biel confirmed this. ‘Ayen!’ he said, ‘I had beginning to think you will not come.’

‘There was something that delayed me at the Centre,’ she said, in a soft and level voice. She now walked round the bench to the front side, so she faced us. Waiting, and suppressing smiles, she expected Biel to introduce her, and seeing that he did not, she issued her hand to me, and said, ‘I am Ayen.’

Her hand I shook, and returned that she could call me Taifa. Now Biel tapped the space between us on the bench, he sliding away, that Ayen should sit on the space so created. After sitting, she unwrapped the books from the black bag, and raised them to me. But, Biel snatched them, saying he hadn’t finished reading them. And a period of silence began.

Biel perused his books, Ayen kneaded her fingers, while I tapped a foot of mine on the dust, waiting for Ayen to state her reason for seeing me. The reason however, never came and we’d have remained thus till nightfall, had I not said, “So…Ayen.”

“Yes, my brother,” she said.

“How do you do?”

“Fine, my brother.”

“Aah…you wanted—you are a friend of Biel?”

“Yes, my brother,” said she, and another duration of silence followed. In the interim, Biel perused the books he had, and whistled as he did. And then when he noticed Ayen and I had quieted, he said, “Ayen, tell him what you wanted to say.” Upon this, Ayen kneaded her fingers the more, and focused her sight on my shoes, that I stopped tapping the ground, and then she said, without raising her head, “My brother, do you have any friends out of the country?”

#To be continued…

A week goes and languages grow; my stories so.

[The typer of these words is a breaker of English. Creator of words. Attempterof waggish things. Marveler of nature. Enjoyer of life. Lover of strangers. Taster of cultures. Author of Tom James. Editor. Snap-shooter. Storyteller. Future husband. Teacher. Learner. Soon a traveler]