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 the first)
…TO TELL A STORY_02
“Ok. Listen, we have agreed that you must love what you write, ok?” I said.
“Me, I understand,” Biel said.
“The next simple thing you need to do, is to use action verbs and nouns—”
“Me, I don’t understand,” he said.
“Look here,” I said, pointing at a sentence in the story, “you say here, ‘One early morning, in the town of Malakal, the morning not very cold and not very dark, Gat come down from his home hurriedly-hurriedly’, what is ‘hurriedly-hurriedly’?”
“Then, just say, he came down from his home fast, you see?”
“Or better yet, he hurried from his home down the hill or he hurried down the hill from his home, you see?”
“Most important, use strong verbs and nouns, don’t forget that.”
Biel went away to his camp, among the Nuer people, and left me there at the bench, as I watched the kids play football late into the evening. That night, I thought about Biel, and his concept about the world within the camp, and the notions about the camp without.
As agreed when we parted previous evening, we met again the following day, which was Tuesday; and he had written five pages more in his exercise book, in pencil. The story ran thus:
When Gat reach splitting path near White Nile where he told Adut to wait, at the spot where the path made a folk, he found Adut standing on the path that lead to the right, and saw another man standing on the path that lead to the left, some distance away, but he could not know who that man was, because the man wear a hood and look away from where Adut stand. “Adut, how are you?” Gat ask Adut.
“I am fine. I hope I am not late one minute?” Adut ask Gat.
“No, it is perfectly fine. I have come down fast, I was thinking I might have kept you waiting here,” Gat say.
“No,” say Adut, “I think we are on time. But you see that man there…” Adut say, pointing to the man of hood, “he stand there and give me fear from my legs up to my teats—”
Before Adut finished her speak, Gat walked on the other path to the left to talk to the man of hood. When he get close to the man of hood, the man of hood hear footsteps of Gat and turn. When he turn, Gat saw he was Deng. Deng, who I said was one-time boyfriend of Adut, say before Gat say hello, “My Brother, why do you tell her to come?”
“Who?” say Gat to Deng, “Adut?”
“Eeh,” say Deng.
“Look, Deng, she know the way to Lul, on foot. Me, I don’t know. Me I have not gone there.”
“My Brother, tell her to remain. I have Google Maps. She is not come with us to Lul.”
“Because why?” said Gat to Deng.
“Because I don’t like her.”
“Me, if she do not come, me I will go alone. And let both of you remain.”
Seeing that Gat was resolute in his decision, Deng agreed that Adut should go too. Now both of them walked to where Adut stand. Very fast, Adut notice who the man of hood was. And she say, “Woi! Gat, why you bring him here? Is he also going to Lul?”
“Yes,” say Gat.
“No! No, no. If he must go to Lul, me I will not go. He is bad man—”
Gat did not want to ask why Adut hate Deng, and why, in turn, Deng dislike Adut. He knew they were once attached, like arrow roots to a stem, but why they come to dislike each other that way after the war, he did not know. So he said to Adut, “If Deng go not, I will go alone to Lul and leave both of you here.” And seeing that Gat was resolute in his decision, Adut agree that Deng should go too.
Once they all agree that all was going, Deng tell Gat they should start journey right away, and use the path that go to the left, because someone told him it was shorter route. When Adut hear this, she say they should use the path that lead to the right, because she know it. If Gat did not ask them to stop shouting, they would have caught the throat of each other and fought. Gat say, “We are waiting for another person to come, and we will use the path on the right, because Adut know it. Is that good, Deng?”
“Is no problem,” Deng say in tone of surrender.
The three waited not more than few minutes when they saw a young man of equal size with Gat, hurry down the hill from his home, wherever that was. When he reach close to the three, Deng, who had the eyes of eagle, notice him first and say, “Woi! Gat, why you bring him here? Is he also going to Lul?”
Gat had stood facing the two, Deng and Adut. And these two had stood apart by strides. When Deng ask Gat if that new man was going, before Gat reply, Adut hope to where Gat stand and say, back to Deng, “Yes! He is going”—and then she turn to Gat and say—“is it not like that? He is going, eh?” Gat reply not to Adut, but look at the new young man who was hurrying down to them.
This new young man who the three now identified, was Luok, son of Machar, he who was young man of same age as Gat, and he lived nearby. Deng, who was becoming angry, walked from where he stand to another point, then to another point, then come back to where he stand at first, and now say, “If he go, Gat, me I will not go.”
To this, Luok, whom Adut had now touched on the shoulder, as if they were boyfriend and girlfriend, say, “If I am problem, then Gat, three of you go without me.”
“No, no,” say Adut, now touching the small beard of Luok, “if you remain, me I remain also.”
At this point, Gat walk to Deng and say something to his ear, and Deng nod his head like a gecko. All them in agreement of going, they started their journey along the path to the right, Luok and Aduk leading, and holding hands, while Gat and Deng following, and not talking.
I paused at this point. Recalling the story in my mind, I found it confusing, if not complicated. Biel read my judgment, and in consequence said, “My Friend, how is the beginning, if you compare with yesterday?”
“I know you say I should use many verbs, but I try yesterday night, and the story not flow—”
“Listen, wait…” I said, pulling some material from my suitcase, “I have brought you some books…here, take. Now, I want you to start with these. Read them. When you finish, you let me know, ok?”
“Yes, my Friend. The River Between,” he said, sliding the books over each other, to read the titles, “Dust…Long Walk to Water…I will Marry when I Want…me I have not read these. But me, I thank you. Asante sana. So me I want to know, how is the beginning?”
“Listen, Biel, don’t worry about the beginning. What I want you to do, enh, what I want you to do is to get the feel of how other writers write. Enh? See how they structure sentences, see—see how they develop the story line, generally feel how a good story grows, ok?”
“Yes, my Friend,” he said, nodding.
“Then we can meet next week.”
#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]