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?”
“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.
“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]