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?”
…TO TELL A STORY_03
On scorching days, as was the case in Kakuma Camp then, and even now, time crawled. On dusty days, as was the case everywhere you stepped, inside or outside the camp, the eyelashes thickened. And if you lived with allergy like I, you sneezed tsia tsia tsia. The sun rose and fell, Wednesday and after; and my work progressed, Thursday, Friday through Sunday. Meanwhile I hoped Biel read the books I gave him Tuesday evening, for I saw him play basketball at the court most times of the days that succeeded. And we would meet Monday.
On more scorching days the brain sleeps, and the body wears and whines, and begs for rest. Up until then, for the time I had stayed outside the camp for my assignment, no day had scorched as hard as Monday, and I went to meet Biel at the bench that evening, a weary man. However, on his part, he displayed such agility of body and spirit, if by adaptation or mettle I couldn’t tell then, that it activated me at once. So then, he and I having sat at the bench, he never handed back any of my texts (though he had come with his practice exercise book), but said, “My Friend, how was your week?”
“Very good. What have you been up to?” I said.
“My Friend, listen, the books you give me, I give a girl. She come to our house one day, in the evening, and I give her all books. She was very happy. She will bring back tomorrow, and I will bring them to you, my Friend. That is not make you angry?”
“No, no. That is perfectly ok,” I said, tapping him on the shoulder, for he had sat close to me on the bench. Then I waited for him to speak further.
In a while, he said, “Me I have not write many words from last time…”
“Listen, my Friend, me when I want to write, there in our house, this girl called Ayen, who I give the books, she come and tell me stories. She is Dinka. Me I am Nuer. But you see, my Friend, she come from her camp to our camp, and enter our house there.”
“How do you relate?”
“Me I cannot say. Because, because first time I see her in the Arrupe Learning Centre. She was learning Computer. Almost one week ago. The second day I go to Centre, I see her. The third day I see her. When I leave the Centre she also leave. When I walk slowly she walk slowly behind me. When I walk fast she walk fast behind me. So, day go and day go, she do so. But me I did not know that she see where our house is.
“So, the day you give me books to read, I go home and sit and read. Then I hear nok nok on the door. And I say, ‘Welcome!’ then the girl come in, head first, and I see the head of Ayen, then her body. She say, ‘Biel, can I come in?’ but she was already in. So I say Yes, and I stop reading. And I start wondering why she come?”
“Go on, go on—” I said.
“I wait for her to say something. But she stand there not saying anything. I tell her to sit down. She sit on the plastic chair near the door, but still saying nothing. She touch her fingers and smile a little. Me I wanted to give her something to eat, but there was no food that day in the house. You see they give us food for fifteen days. When it get finished we wait for next round. She saw me looking at the house as if I wanted to make food for her, and now she say, ‘Don’t bother,’ in voice like that of very small girl. But she does not look me on the head. So I say, ‘What brings you to our house?’ and she say, ‘I want to be your friend’, and I say, ‘Why?’ and she say, ‘Just like that.’”
“Ehe…how old is he?”
“Me I don’t know. But she is almost of my height, and size. She has big breasts also, and small waist. I tell you, my Friend, so we sit like that without talking. She then say, ‘What are those?’ putting her hands forward, and I give her all the books which you give me last week. Me I had put them on the stool by the chair where I had sit. She open one book and look inside. The second she open few pages and look inside. The third, like that. The fourth. Then she say, ‘Please give me these.’ And I say, ‘No, books are not mine.’ She ask who they belong to, and I say ‘To my friend.’ And she say, ‘The one who carries a bag and camera, and wears black cap?’ So me I wonder how she know. And I so ask her if she follow me everywhere-everywhere. But now she tell me she think you are a journalist. And she want to talk to journalist—”
“If she wanted to talk to me, why couldn’t she just approach me?”
“She say she fear new people. But me she say she does not fear, even though me I am Nuer, she see me many times so she is not afraid. So, my Friend, she send me to ask you if you can agree to meet her. If you can tell me to tell her to come here in this field, because she want to talk to you. Can you accept that, my Friend?”
“What does she want to talk about?”
“Me I don’t know. She just tell me that she want to meet you. Because she know you are journalist.”
“Ok. Come with her tomorrow evening.”
“Thank you, my Friend…here, me I write few words for the practice. Here, take,” said he, handing me his practice writing.
I opened the book and followed the story of Gat, who, with his friends, one morning began the journey to Lul on foot, to locate his sister after the South Sudan war. The story continued thus:
Gat and Deng walk behind Adut and Luok. Deng carried a backpack with things inside, and Adut, the only female out of the men, carry no bag, no purse. They walk for some minutes, all of them not talking. They walk fast along a path, which was raised, and down yonder when you look you saw the White Nile, flowing slowly. They walk to the direction where the water was going, down, down, toward Egypt. After some minutes, Deng say to Jack, “My man, why you bring these others when you know you and I can go to Lul ourselves?”
And Gat say, “The war is over my friend. Me I want us to return to be friends the way we all were. We are young people. If we become friends again, we cannot fight again.”
“Let me tell you, Gat,” said Deng, “if you don’t know, it is friends who fight badly, and cut off heads of each other, I tell you.”
#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]