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_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:
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]