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_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.”
“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]