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PROSE A PUBLICATION OF EPSILON PUBLISHERS

AUGUST - SEPTEMBER 2017

MAGAZINE

THE FINESSE ISSUE

The face of leadership Regina-Re Gitao

Reading culture

Thoughts on Literature and Stereotypes

Photography George Ogutu

Travel

Road to Grahamstown


Stop clubbing baby seals! Stop clubbing, baby seals! we know that a comma can save a life


CO N T E N T S

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14

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CO N T E N T S

09

Peer Review

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Leadership

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The Finesse of Leadership

Book review The Poisonwood Bible

The diary of a budding writer Solitude in the boondocks

PROSE M A G A Z I N E

MANAGING DIRECTOR R. Mumbi Gichuhi OPERATIONS MANAGER Mary Wagura EDITOR Mark Muthiora LEAD CREATIVE Patrick Waswani ACCOUNTANT Joyce Mbugu

EPSILON PUBLISHERS Gemina Court George Padmore Road Kilimani, Nairobi P.O. Box 1175-00606 Nairobi Kenya Tel +254 (0) 733 333 600 publish@epsilon.co.ke www.epsilon.co.ke

@publisherkenya facebook.com/epsilonpublishers Epsilon Publishers

Prose is published six times a year by Epsilon Publishers. The opinions expressed therein are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of Epsilon Publishers.

42 Silent Graves

Š 2017 Epsilon Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission from the publisher.

Epsilon Publishers is proud of its commitment in embodying the spirit of the United Nations Global Compact whose fundamental pillars are to their strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. To this end, Epsilon Publishers has signed the letter of commitment to the United Nations Global Compact, pledging to align our efforts to operate responsibly and to advance societal goals in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

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PROSE MAGAZINE | AUGUST - SEPTEMBER 2017


W E LCO M E

N OT E

Of leading with finesse, literary prejudice and a colonial town.

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watched a show some years ago in which a group of professionals (doctors, lawyers and the like), were dressed in casual garb; dungarees, miniskirts, hoodies and so on. The converse was also done to a group of blue-collar workers who were dressed in sharp suits, crisp shirts and expensive haircuts. Both groups were photographed and their photos shared to an audience. The audience was asked who they would trust with their wealth and health, and naturally, they pointed to the photographs of the blue-collared workers because, naturally, they were well coiffed. The audience was asked to pick out from the photographs who they thought the lawyers and doctors were, and who they thought the blue collared workers were. Once again, they

identified the photos with the wellgroomed people as the pros. The point of the exercise was to demonstrate how in leadership, how we dress is also how we are perceived. A leader who has executive presence will be trusted more by his subordinates than one who doesn’t. But is that all there is to it? A well-groomed but foul-mouthed leader does nothing for his/her credibility. In this issue, Regina-Re, shares her views on what it takes for 360o leadership; outward appearance is only part of it. Executive presence comes with its (close) relatives; public speaking, etiquette, understanding one’s personality and personal branding. Elsewhere in the reading culture pages, we explore literature

and stereotypes. The question that begs, to what extent have the stereotypes that we have read, heard, or watched influence our individual and national outlook? Do we try to understand readings through our own interpretation or do we allow others to form opinions for us? And in our travel pages, our destination this month is South Africa’s Grahamstown, a rustic town in the south, and home to the world famous Rhodes University. Remember also to catch up with our budding writer to read what shenanigans he has up his sleeve this month.

Enjoy.

Mumbi Gichuhi

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Nemophilist (noun) One who is fond of forests or forest scenery.

A little bit of trivia Mind your language Ambiguity

Achilles’ heel

Ambiguity occurs when a word, phrase or sentence is open to more than one meaning. Ambiguity can lead to vagueness, confusion or even humour or deception when employed intentionally. At times, providing context can resolve ambiguity. To quote Groucho Marx, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

An Achilles’ heel is a weak point or fault in someone or something who is or which is otherwise perfect. The expression is drawn from Greek mythology in which Achilles, a Greek hero, was dipped in the River Styx when an infant to become invincible. However, his mother held him by the heel and hence, it did not come into contact with the river. This proved to be his downfall as he was shot in the heel during the Trojan war.

MOTHER TERESA

Famous quotes 6

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each .” - Missionary and Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1910-1997)

PROSE MAGAZINE | AUGUST - SEPTEMBER 2017

DAISAKU IKEDA

Nothing is more precious than peace. Peace is the most basic starting point for the advancement of humankind.” - Buddhist philosopher and peace-builder

Scripturient Having a strong urge to write

Kairos A propitious moment for decision or action

Velleity A wish or inclination not strong enough to lead to action

Lugubrious Looking or sounding sad

RALPH J. BUNCHE

The well-being and the hopes of the peoples of the world can never be served until peace - as well as freedom, honour and self-respect - is secure.” - American political scientist, academic and diplomat (1903-1971)


Stylistic Devices Stylistic devices are rhetorical elements out of which the author creates his work of art; that is, the technicalities of composition. These rhetorical devices spice up literature apart from soaring the reader’s imagination. They include:

Images

Images or mental pictures are the imaginations we perceive in our minds when we read a piece of prose or poetry.

Simile

A simile is a figure of speech in which one thing is compared to another using ‘like’ or ‘as’. For example, ‘Juma is as brave as a lion.’

Metaphor

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is used to imply a direct comparison with another word or phrase. For example, ‘Juma is a lion.’

Symbolism

Symbolism is the representation of a concept through symbols or underlying meaning of objects or qualities. For instance, the dove is a symbol of peace.

Allegory

An allegory is the personification of abstract qualities, virtues, vices, human characteristics, and political or religious institutions by characters or figures.

Irony

Irony is a statement that, taken in context, means something different from, or is the opposite of what is written literally.

C-Sectioned Climate change A long-term change in the earth’s climate, especially a change due to an increase in the average atmospheric temperature.

C

limate change is real and affects everyone on planet earth. Its effects? Unpredictable weather patterns leading to droughts, floods and famines, rising sea levels that pose a threat to the lives and livelihoods of millions of coastal inhabitants and other weather catastrophes such as hurricanes that cost billions of dollars in damages. Organisations too are affected by the effects of climate change. This is so as their facilities, water and energy sources, markets, distribution channels and human resources are prone to these effects. As such, organisations, as corporate bodies, have a role to play regarding climate change. This consists of ensuring that they are run sustainably – whether by recycling their products and by-products,

enhancing their production processes to consume less energy, planting trees and sensitising their personnel, suppliers and clients on the need to conserve the environment. To this end, organisations can commit to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They can do so by joining and pledging their commitment to the United Nations Global Compact; “A call to companies to align strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption, and take actions that advance societal goals.”

Mariakani

Mariakani is a coastal town in Kilifi County. It is said that long ago, Kamba tradesmen would leave their quivers (thiaka - in Kamba, riaka – in Swahili/ Mijikenda) here on their way to Mombasa. As the quivers were many, the place was referred to as ‘Mathiakani’ in Kamba, with the Swahili/Mijikenda equivalent being ‘Mariakani’. PROSE MAGAZINE | AUGUST - SEPTEMBER 2017

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P O E T RY

The lustful wanderer The lustful wanderer He looks up, knows his time is up That all adventure must come to an end This wandering wanderer, of deserts and meadows And with a smile, he dies a content man. This smile, it enchants of a life full Of bar brawls and accounts settled in the bordello A free man, countries’ borders could not contain him They declared him a fugitive, a price on his head He lived free, he chooses to die free. The deputy sheriff, him a cocky man An eye for an eye, his credence Bloody bounty, him a collect And the wanderer? This his life he’d have lived it no other way.

Their peace His piece is conditional, transient Elaborately captured and nuanced In documents, cleverly worded A façade of gentility. Her peace is whole, unfettered It neither promises, nor denies Embraces all, tramp and king Its price anchored in justice. His piece manipulates Cloak-and-dagger, backstabbing Conspiracy, its whispers Ever restless, goalposts shifts. Her peace is calm, reasonable Appeals to the heart and the mind That humanity is above else A truth eternal and all is bliss.

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R E A D I N G

Peer review “In 399 B.C. Socrates was accused of introducing new gods and questioning accepted gods. He was sentenced to death by a jury of 500 of his peers. His philosophy did not pass peer review.” -Don L. Anderson

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erhaps you have come across this riddle or its variations. “You enter a room. Inside the room, there is a bed. There are three cows, four goats, and two horses on the bed. Flying above them are six hens. How many feet are on the floor in this room?” I digress. In the course of your school or work life, you may be required to review literature – an essay, article, book or report – done by your peer or peers. How then do you go about it while ensuring that your feedback enables the author or authors to revise his, hers or their literature and bettering it? The following pointers can help you in your peer review.

The author’s intention: Reading through the literature, what do you perceive to be the writer’s objective? According to you, has this objective been achieved successfully? By thus perceiving the author’s intention can you then be able to advice accordingly in case you feel the author has been unable to achieve his intention. Perhaps, suggesting the need for the author to employ a more persuasive approach to his writing in terms of arguments or tone. The author’s central idea or thesis: Reading through the literature, is there a central idea that the author is communicating? Is there a need for the author to spell it out with more clarity or more forcefully? As the author

argues out his thesis, is there a logical flow to it, perhaps, as the author takes you the reader, from one point to another? Back to our riddle. At face value, the answer is ‘six feet’ – yours and the bed’s. Then again, suppose you come in riding on a tricycle, are wearing shoes or the bed rests on blocks of wood (assumptions and technicalities to look out for when peer reviewing)? Then again, how plausible is such a situation as presented in the riddle? In view of which you can advise the author to be plausible in the employment of his or her arguments, examples or case-scenarios.

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R E A D I N G

C U LT U R E

The single story 10

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Photo credit: Quasarphoto PROSE MAGAZINE | AUGUST - SEPTEMBER 2017

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R E A D I N G

C U LT U R E

“The whole idea of a stereotype is to simplify. Instead of going through the problem of all this great diversity - that it’s this or maybe that - you have just one large statement; it is this.” - Chinua Achebe 12

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Thoughts on literature and stereotypes

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rites Zora Neale Hurston, How It Feels to Be Coloured Me (African American author best known for the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God): “I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with other bags, white, red and yellow. Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small things, priceless and worthless. A first-water diamond, an empty spool, bits of broken glass, lengths of string, a key to a door long since crumbled away, a rusty knife-blade, old shoes saved for a road that never was and never will be, a nail bent under the weight of things too heavy for any nail, a dried flower or two, still a little fragrant.” Narrates the Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “I am a storyteller and I’d like to tell you a few personal stories about what I like to call the danger of a single story. I grew up in a university campus in Eastern Nigeria. My mother says that I started reading at the age of two, although I think four is probably close to the truth. So, I was an early reader and what I read were British and American children’s books. I was also an early writer. And when I began to write at about the age of seven, stories in pencil with crayon illustrations that my poor mother was obligated to read, I wrote exactly the kind of stories


I was reading. All my characters were white and blue-eyed. They played in the snow. They ate apples. And they talked a lot about the weather. How lovely it was that the sun had come out. Now, this despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria and had never been outside Nigeria. We didn’t have snow. We ate mangoes. And we never talked about the weather because there was no need to.” Perhaps a good place to commence on the topics of literature and stereotypes would be to define the two. What sort of creatures are these two then? Literature is defined as the body of all written works or the collected creative writing of a nation, people, group or culture. I imagine the concept of literature to be a Western notion, hence the stress on the written word. This notwithstanding, such a concept has also been expanded to capture the oral traditions and stories (hence the term oral literature) of peoples who did not possess the written word in days of yore. Plus, the advent of colonisation witnessed writing – and reading – spread throughout the world. And with technological advancements, it seems that we have come full circle in regard to oral traditions. Now, the spoken word (be it a folk tale, a political speech, a song, dance or movie), buoyed by moving pictures, that is, video, has regained prominence. And once recorded, we have a multiplicity of the same narration availed to different audiences in different times and different places and at their own convenience without the need of the narrator being physically present. Pretty much a revolutionary idea as was the case with the written word. On to stereotypes. A stereotype is defined as a conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion or

image applied collectively to a group of people, culture, nation or ethnicity. Examples of stereotypes include the dumb blonde, the money-loving Jew, the keffiyeh-clad terrorist and the socially awkward geek. And with stereotyping comes prejudice in how we interact with the stereotyped communities or individual members of the said communities. So, how do the two – literature and stereotypes – relate? It is my contention that literature is used, overtly, covertly or accidentally, to propagate, and to a relative extent, counter stereotypes. Unfortunately, the kind of literature that propagates stereotypes is inculcated in us at an early age, whether in an informal setting such as the home or in a formal setting that is the school. This when we are at our most impressionable stage of growth and which stereotypes are hard to shake off even when at a later stage when we get a good education. From my Sunday school classes, I came to abhor Egypt as a place of slavery and embrace Israel as God’s chosen people – thus identifying as an Israelite, despite not having ever travelled to either of the two countries and my skin being of a darker hue than the peoples of the Middle-East. Only much later did I come to question this logic. That in the spirit of PanAfricanism, perhaps it is only logical that, if I were to choose between the two countries, then Egypt it would be. Then again, the geopolitics of my country dictates that neither is an adversary, so, I am not obliged to take sides. As to the smaller matter of slavery, particularly the kind that saw thousands of black people put in bondage in the Americas, I later learnt that it was more nuanced than what we were offered in history classes. Then again, there was the other kind

of slavery that we were never taught in history classes à la Robert C. Davis’ book Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800. At home, the stereotyping was subtle, more so, to a growing mind. That you could not eat from such and such a home - though, in all fairness, it was more of a blanket ban to not eat anywhere else, including at select relatives’ homes, but home. Later, it was revealed that such and such a home was occupied by people of a different tribe, political opponents, and they could not be trusted as such. There was even talk of a community that fed on human flesh and as a result, we gave the home of our Ugandan neighbour a wide berth. Even today, such stereotyping continues in the print media and online (and it’s online where it is exhibited fully, particularly on the comments section as contributors post behind a veil of anonymity). At school stereotypes did creep in too in the form of the reading material. To be fair though, the primary textbooks, more so, those on English and Swahili, had been tailored for the Kenyan context. Then again, most books in the school library were Western. Thus, we got acquainted with Snow White and The Seven Dwarves, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Beauty and The Beast – and the subsequent stereotype that fairness (complexion) was beautiful, beautiful hair was long and straight, pretty damsels solely existed to be rescued by gallant gentlemen – preferably as knights in shining armour and never the common farmer that fed the nation, and that stepmothers were wicked. Perhaps the reason we look down on menial labour and why beauty is a billion dollar industry in the East African region.

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L E A D E R S H I P


The finesse of

leadership

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arly in my career, a saleswoman told me that to succeed in the corporate world, I needed to fake it until I made it. Forgive my naivety but this was the first time I had ever heard of that phrase. Even to my young ears it sounded phony at best and hypocritical at worst. What bothered me the most was the “fake it” bit of the phrase. However, to give her the benefit of doubt, I asked her what this meant. Apparently faking it till you make it means projecting an air of success so that people can think that you are the bees’ knees, and hopefully this will open doors for you. The erstwhile saleswoman had a brand-new car, wore clothes with the right labels, ate at the right restaurants and knew the right people. To a very small extent, there is merit in saying that we are drawn to people who are dressed well. It increases one’s executive presence. In particular, leaders who are impeccably clad command respect and inspire

confidence to lead and to manage an organisation. However, this cannot be done superficially. Aura emanates from the inside out. Therein lies the fallacy of faking it till you make it; fakes can be sniffed from a mile. And while on the subject of leaders and leadership, ‘fakeness’ outs sooner than later. You can have the fanciest of titles, your company may have the catchiest of taglines, but ultimately, your workers will rat you out. Why? To quote Sunny Bindra, “It may be a great thing to have your employees looking happy all the time, but you can’t fake it. It just doesn’t work. If any business wants its business to be founded on employee happiness, those employees need actually to be happy. It cannot be done by edict; it cannot be a performance requirement; it cannot be demanded.” The full article can be found at http://www.sunwords. com/2016/12/04/6226/. So, how are leaders to really

succeed? The answer lies in being genuine, hence finesse – that the outer should reflect the inner person. In short, comportment. This calls for leaders exploring their whole totality as human beings by pursuing their other hobbies and interests beyond the office, spending quality time with their loved ones, developing their full potential, deriving purpose from the everyday, and generally being true to themselves. Further, a leader has to be a reader. This is so as books are distilled wisdom from others with a diverse array of insights, perspectives and knowledge. When it comes to matters reading, a good place to get inspiration is to join a book club. Such a good book club pushes one away from one’s comfort zone in matters reading – perhaps being slanted towards a certain genre – hence being exposed to a widening horizon. Plus, friendships whose seed is the word are bound to last a lifetime.

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T H E

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FAC E

O F

L E A D E R S H I P

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REGINA-RE

GITAO

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egina, popularly known as Regina-Re, is a creative and performing artist, and an effective communication, soft skills and self-awareness trainer and coach. In our engagement with her on finesse and leadership, she says that she branded herself as an image consultant way before she started her programme, P.E.P.P. Talk. Then, she says, the tagline for her company was ‘Your Image is our business.’ Regina adds that at the time, a lot of her clients came for the outer image – how they looked on the outside. However, she would also embark on the inner image. She states that this is because she had learnt a long time ago that one’s physical appearance – how one presents on the outside – is affected by one’s state of health and of mind. That this correlation between our inner image and our outer image projects as to how we go on with our lives, more so, regarding leadership. To quote the bible, “… out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34) About her journey as an image consultant, Regina says that she started off as an artist trainer and coach – training models and

actors – as this is the space she came from. As to whether this was what she studied, she clarifies that she did mass communication, and under the umbrella of mass communication, she studied journalism, photography, developed film, acting, theatre – basically, anything to do with communicating on a global space; with a focus on public relations (PR) although she has never worked as a PR-anything, as she terms it. That aside, she adds that she has always been a performing artiste professionally or otherwise and that acting, modelling or singing is part of communicating. Having been out of the country for some time, Regina returned to Kenya in 1996 and where she landed a job at a career and modelling centre. While there, she realised that her training was not confined to models and actors only. On the contrary, she was teaching all kinds of professionals including housewives and flight attendants drawn from the Kenya Airways. This being an extension of what she had been doing in the USA and where she had also been certified as a teacher. As to whether the emphasis on personal branding has made people to

be narcissistic, Regina proffers that you have to contextualise the issue. She thinks that Kenyans, unlike Tanzanians, Ugandans and the Rwandese, have not put enough emphasis on physical appearance. And from her stint as a models’ and actors’ trainer and as an image consultant, she opines that they are learning what the average citizen should be learning. Etiquette. And how to put yourself together and dress for success. It was around this time that she decided to expand her horizon by taking lessons in psychology and trainer of trainer (TOT). She admits that, even then, she felt boxed in as she could not limit herself to just being an image consultant. Still on her transit from modelling and acting trainer to the corporate space, Regina states that she went through a series of repackaging and rebranding. This saw her brand herself as a personal growth and development coach as she sought to brighten the scope of image consultancy in light of her new skill and experience in psychology, coupled with communication. She adds that she used to train as an image consultant even as she hosted Who’s Smarter Now? and continued acting and auditioning

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for various roles. This is because she has always liked sharing information. Regina says that being a stage actress was useful to her as a trainer as it had helped her develop a certain amount of confidence on stage and lack of inhibition. This saw her land a role as a trainer and performance coach on Tusker Project Fame. She had auditioned for the role of the host and as a trainer as she states that auditions are akin to interviews. It was from this show that she picked the tag of a performance coach. Regina explains that P.E.P.P. Talk is a culmination of a lot of what she has been doing for the greater part of her life, namely, performing and training. Regina expounds that P.E.P.P. Talk is a personal growth and development programme and that it is specifically designed to help its participants who she has targeted to be high-achievers, self-motivated and self-driven individuals. She says that such individuals are basically leaders by virtue of being self-driven and include doctors, students, CEOs, politicians and businessmen. Realising that something is missing in their steps to leadership or success or moving forward, P.E.P.P. Talk enables them to refine how they reach out to others by enhancing their confidence. As such, they are able to communicate with confidence, with skill, and with impact. She states that the programme transmits or helps build skills in communication, like specific dos and don’ts that enables one to be an effective communicator irrespective of his or her background. As an example, Regina says that one of the most oft-delivered speech in one’s life is the self-introduction and which is a mini-speech though most people are oblivious to the fact. Further, such a speech gives one’s audience sufficient time to decide whether to engage with you or not. P.E.P.P. Talk equips one with the skill to deliver one’s speech effectively, thus enabling one to communicate with impact. In summary, she says that confidence can be

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developed, skill is something you get and when you combine the two, one is able to impact others. Regina adds that P.E.P.P. Talk, being a personal growth and development programme, is anchored on self-awareness. Self-awareness then translates to self-management and which then spills into dressing, grooming and so on. She further states that the programme encompasses public speaking, presentation and a performance. On her other role as a performing artist, Regina states that she is in her element while on stage. Moreover, for her, it is transformative – more so – when she sees the impact it has on others. In addition, as a creative person, she states that she finds it so powerful being able to string words together. This in the sense that she feels it does something for her in a cathartic kind of way whether she is being paid for it or not as she still feels so good about it. Having recently taken up photography, she says that it happened almost by accident. She had gone to a photo studio to check on some of her work when she chanced on a photography class open day; with classes scheduled to commence the next day. She sat through the open day and soon signed up for the class. That aside, Regina states that she has always liked pictures and she has always been taking pictures whenever she has the opportunity. She adds that she has been in front of the camera for so long that it is refreshing being behind it. Moreover, she considers her interest in photography a rebirth as she had studied the same in college when doing mass communication. Further, she adds that this will enable her continue with film. Why? Tying it with her training and following her vision to be a positive influence on the masses, she knows it will afford her to be on the world wide web thus allowing her to have greater impact. This is because the training will equip her with the skills to operate the

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photography hardware and software currently in use. In response to whether Kenyans have been socialised to specialise in a particular endeavour, Regina concurs that it so. Further, she quips that this philosophy is not limited to Kenya only but has found expression globally since time immemorial. She refers to the proverbial 10,000-hour rule which states that if you spend 10,000 hours on a particular craft, you become good at it and which is succinctly captured in the book The One Thing. That said, Regina opines that such single-minded focus may rob one of a full life such as having the time and the ability to spend time with one’s family or developing social skills. And while on the subject, she states that the issue is not clear-cut; rather, what is important is operating from a sense of awareness as pertains to focusing on a single endeavour or pursuing diverse interests. Drawing from her personal experience, Regina says that she has never been formally employed – in the sense of an 8 to 4, 5-day, year-round job. On the contrary, she enjoys work of a contractual nature as it gives her the leeway and space to do the things she enjoys. She is quick to add that how she does things may not necessarily be how somebody else may do it and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. Regina proffers that the same principle applies to leadership too. That it all comes down to choice – whether to focus on one thing or pursue different interests. Again, about focus, she states that inasmuch as she pursued different areas of interest, there was still the element of focus in a particular stage of her life as she chose where to train her focus. She adds that for the last couple of years, her focus has been on her training programme, P.E.P.P. Talk. That said, Regina categorically states that she does not make apologies for being an artist. This is reflected in her introduction as a creative and performing artist


before she then turns the focus of her audience into her programme. Queried on what she reads, Regina picks different books at different times based on where she is and what she is doing. At the moment, she is focused on psychology. Aside from The One Thing, other books she has read recently include Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the creator of the Nike brand. In the same vein, she has read something on Arnold Schwarzenegger and Collin Powell. Regina says that she is a member of two clubs. One is called the LYP Book Club - LYP stands for League of Young Professionals. She adds that this league has a mentorship arm, an investment arm and a book club arm. In the book club, she says that they go through at least three books a month and then do presentations. It is here where she lends her skills too as her CSR as she is their communication coach. She adds that the league is a leadership kind of programme and that it is their belief that for one to be a leader, one must be a reader. Regina says that being in a book club forces her to explore other genres away from her reading preference, namely, selfhelp books. The book club is two years old. The other book club is called Carpe Diem Book Club and which celebrates its 17th anniversary this month (August 2017). The book club is made up of 14 friends who meet monthly to review the agreed upon book. In this book club, Regina says that they delve on every other genre - including autobiographies, love stories and sexuality - except sci-fi. In addition, she states that these sessions are a great way to catch up and socialise. Of note is that their kids have literally grown up with the book club and look forward to the meetings as much as the book club’s members. And with some of the members living out of the country, such sessions afford an opportunity for travel. Regina states that one such session was held in India and which was hosted by their friend

Bella Omino who serves as the Kenyan Deputy Ambassador to India. In their next meeting, she says that they will be reviewing as well as hosting Evelyn College of Design founder, Evelyn Mungai, who recently launched her book From Glass Ceilings to Open Skies (her daughter, Molly Mungai, is a member of Carpe Diem). Away from books, Regina says that the book club has given them a platform to laugh, travel, bond grow and also support each other in challenging times. Some of the other books they have read and reviewed include Desert Flower by Waris Dirie (who she was fortunate to meet in Ethiopia), Unbowed by Wangari Maathai, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and This Child Will Be Great by (President) Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Her last word on the book club? ‘I love it! Long live Carpe Diem!’ Still on reading, she explains that one of her goals is to have a home library. And while at it, Regina says that she would really love to gift her daughter and leave it as a legacy that in books is knowledge. This include books in both hard and soft copy, though she has a preference for books in hardcopy and which she is hard pressed to loan out as she likes her books in pristine condition even if she has read them. These include Who Moved My Cheese, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, Family Wisdom and Blink. Regina adds that Malcom Gladwell, the author of Blink, is one of her favourite authors as he is quite powerful. She opines that Gladwell’s other book The Tipping Point is quite profound and she has reread it a couple of times. She says that she is always reading as one cannot give out what is not in one’s possession. Reading, she says, equips one with new information, new ideas and new ways of doing things so that you can also qualify as that person of excellence in your chosen sphere. Her projection on where she sees herself in the next ten or so years? Regina states that she would still go

back to her mission and vision. She enunciates her mission as to entertain, enlighten and inspire. And her vision? To be a fearless, positive influence on the masses, whichever form that takes, within now and the next ten or twenty years. That aside, she believes we are spiritual beings, that we are driven by an ultimate power, a force and that, sometimes, we are not aware of where our lives are destined. That aside, Regina is intrinsically clear that she wants her legacy to be to have influenced people. And done so fearlessly as a fearless influencer. And influenced more people than imaginable.

CURRENTLY READING

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P H OTO G R A P H Y


GEORGE OGUTU

In a nutshell, who is George Ogutu?

I am a Nairobi based photographer and videographer. I am also a husband to one wife and a father of three.

How did you get into photography and videography? What is your style? Mentors or other photographers and videographers you look up to?

I've always loved photography and when I got an opportunity to train with one of the best photographers in town, I didn’t think twice but abandoned everything else that I was doing. Regarding style, I prefer taking candid photos instead of posed photos. My mentor is Peter Njuguna of Creative Studio.

What goes into a photo or video shoot?

A lot of preparation, communication with the client, sometimes research and so on. The photography equipment and gear must also be checked to make sure that it is in working condition. If not, I have to find alternative equipment.

How does photography and videography fare as a business in the country? In the region?

Just like any other business, photography and videography has its own challenges too.

What is your most memorable shoot?

My most memorable shoot involved shooting a documentary in Konso, Ethiopia. Aside from the shoot, the experience was fantastic as we were adopted into families in the village for nearly a week. This involved immersing ourselves into the Konso culture in terms of farm, household and community’s chores, diet and folklore.

Kindly walk us through the process of generating footage to the final product that is, say, the wedding video or advert?

Shooting weddings is fun and at the same time tiresome. The day starts very early as you have to capture the bride (and sometimes the groom) as they do their preparations. Then comes the wedding ceremony, photoshoot and the reception. Then the real work starts; that is, previewing the footage and editing. You also need to back up the footage just in case. Finally, you deliver the final product to the client and everyone is happy.

What equipment and gear do you use for photography? I mostly use Canon DSLR cameras. On that note, though, it is not the cameras that take pictures.

What equipment and gear do

you use for videography?

For videography, there are many options out there regarding equipment. There are brands such as Sony, Panasonic, Canon, etc. Again, as with photography, what matters most is the person behind the camera. What tricks does he or she have up in his or her sleeve?

Any observation into the Kenyan psyche during your travels around the country as you conduct shoots? Anecdotes during travels beyond the country? My observation is that Kenya is a beautiful country with beautiful people and diverse cultures. Then again, more often than not, the challenges faced by the villagers deep in Siaya are the same ones facing that guy in Murang'a. A word of caution: It’s always good to travel incognito. Don’t carry bags that tell you are carrying equipment.

Where can one access a portfolio of your work?

My work can be accessed at Geopix Video Productions on Facebook. There is also a website coming soon.

Any advice to aspiring photographers and videographers?

Learn, do your best, be reliable and work will come.


Photo: George Ogutu Photography

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Photo: George Ogutu Photography

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George Ogutu Photography Photo: George Ogutu Photography

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George Ogutu Photography Photo: George Ogutu Photography

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George Ogutu Photography Photo: George Ogutu Photography

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T R AV E L

ROAD TO GRAHAMSTOWN


Photo credit: Michael Jung


The Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint George Photo credit: Michael Jung


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n my generation, going to Europe or the United States was the ultimate go-to destination. This was way before the Near East (read Dubai) and the Far East (read China) became popular. As a school child, I remember going green with envy when some of my classmates would regale us with stories of holidays spent in London, Rome or some other European city. I love travelling and it wasn’t until four years ago that I realised that I still held on to this outdated and ridiculous belief. I will even shame-facedly admit that prior to my maiden trip to Nigeria, I had never set foot in another African country. However, all this changed after spending close to a week in boisterous Lagos, home to roughly 20 million inhabitants. What opened my eyes was that the hitherto misconceptions that I had went out of the window as soon as we arrived in Nigeria. After this, I made a promise to myself to visit at least one African country every two years. And this is how I found myself Jo’burg bound. I realised that we over rely on “Western media” for news about other African countries. For example, if there is an outbreak of disease in a country, we shall hear of it through the international press before it is reported by our own local media houses. Ditto, documentaries, politics and state of economic affairs. I try not to over read too much about a destination before I travel so that I do not visit the country with a jaundiced eye. Apart from the usual weather, hotels, car hire and the like, I try to see a new place through my own eyes. And so I push all thoughts of South Africa as being crime-ridden and xenophobic firmly behind. Each time I travel, I never seem to learn. I always promise myself to eat well before my departure and each time I find myself in the back of a taxi, asking the driver to giddy-up because I only have a nanosecond

before boarding time closes. What makes it worse is that I have never bothered to familiarise myself with the intricacies of online booking. Anyhow, by take-off, I am flustered and famished (in that order) and I eagerly await the stewardesses to do the rounds with the food trolleys. We fly with a certain airline, which I am told is well known for serving parsimonious food rations. I look in dismay and disbelief at what is meant to be my dinner. I make a mental note to carry ugali on my next trip to top up the miserly portion that is set before me. I am tempted to ask the stewardess in true Oliver Twist fashion, “Please may I have some more.” My travel companions and I are only going to be in Johannesburg for a few hours because our destination is Grahamstown, a small town in the south. The idea is to take a fly down and to drive back up. We shall catch a flight to Port Elizabeth then drive up to Grahamstown, which is about 2 hours away. The flight to Port Elizabeth is uneventful. I make good my promise and ask the stewardess if I could have two dinner portions. My travel companions look at me in utter disbelief but I have the last laugh as I lean back contentedly after my “heavy” meal. We get to Port Elizabeth (or PE as it is popularly known) after dark and so we don’t get to see much of the city. The drive to Grahamstown in uneventful. It is early spring and the chill of winter is still rent in the air. I wonder how people got to destinations before Google Maps! Grahamstown was founded around 1812 by Lieutenant-Colonel John Graham as a military outpost meant to protect the British against attacks by the Xhosa, whose ancestral land lay to the east. The Xhosa led by their leader Nxele, launched a vicious attack against the British in 1819. Despite the Xhosa being in their thousands, they were easily defeated by the British because firepower

carried the day. Much of the architecture is a blend of Victorian, Georgian and early Edwardian. It is a quaint town that is reminiscent of rural English towns. The town has retained its colonial charm. On our first day, we have lunch at a quaint club house in the heart of town. It reminds me of the golf clubs in Nairobi. There is a big cricket field, as this sport remains popular in South Africa, alongside rugby. We follow this up with a walk in the city centre, which is not very big. In about three or so hours, we have walked around the town. We also get to tour Rhodes University, which was founded in 1904 and named after Cecil Rhodes, a prominent businessman of yesteryear, who also, named Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) after himself. Grahamstown is essentially a student town and much of the commerce there is supported by the student population. The nearest commercial town, so to speak, is Port Elizabeth. There is not much by way of nightlife and so we buy some steak from the local supermarket, and we proceed back to the rented house where we are staying to make our very own braai. What I am most looking forward to is our drive back to Jo’burg. The distance from Grahamstown to Jo’burg is roughly 1000 kms and it is a nine hour drive. The most that I have every travelled is 4 hours so this is something that I am really looking forward to. We set off early the next morning. One of my companions drives from Grahamstown to a little town called Cradock, where we stop for a quick bite. I volunteer to drive on the next leg of the trip, which will see me drive from Cradock to Bloemfontein. Bloemfontein is regarded as the judicial capital of South Africa and it is its 6th largest city. It was founded in 1846 as a British outpost although it was predominantly an Afrikaner settlement.

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Rhodes University Photo credit: G Spencer

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The drive up has one of the most scenic and spectacular views that I have ever seen. For one, the road network is very sophisticated and well developed, so the drive is very smooth. The roads are winding, with breath-taking views of what look like flat top mountains. One almost feels like one is driving into them. We also see the Orange River, which rises from the Drakensberg mountains and drains into the Atlantic Ocean. We also pass through several kraals that are painted in the brightest colours that are reminiscent of brightly coloured caravans. I cannot help but think the enormous difference that infrastructure makes to a country, and indeed to an economy.

Several hours later, I drive into Bloemfontein so that my other companion can take the final leg into Jo’burg. It is now going to 10pm and we expect to be in Jo’burg after midnight. I take in the sights and sounds of the night. We get to Jo’burg at almost two in the morning. I expect to feel completely knackered but instead I feel completely exhilarated. I spend the whole of next day in my hotel room. I have breakfast and lunch at the hotel garden as I reflect on my four-day trip. I reckon that South Africa needs to be visited in bits or visited over a long vacation. All in all, it is somewhere that I hope to go back to soon.

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B O O K

R E V I E W

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened. First, picture the forest. I want you to be its conscience, the eyes in the trees. The trees are columns of slick, brindled bark like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason. Every space is filled with life: delicate, poisonous frogs war-painted like skeletons, clutched in copulation, secreting their precious eggs onto dripping leaves. Vines strangling their own kin in the everlasting wrestle for sunlight. The breathing of 38

monkeys. A glide of snake belly on branch. A singlefile army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen. And, in reply, a choir of seedlings arching their necks out of rotted tree stumps, sucking life out of death. This forest eats itself and lives forever.”

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hus, begins Barbara Kingsolver’s bestselling novel, The Poisonwood Bible. The novel is split into six sections in the fashion of the Bible: Book One, Genesis; Book Two, The Revelation; Book Three, The Judges; Book Four, Bel and The Serpent (named after Bel and The

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Dragon from The Book of Daniel, the Apocrypha); Book Five, Exodus; Book Six, Song of the Three Children; and Book Seven, The Eyes in the Trees.

Told from the viewpoints of members of a missionary family, the Prices (Orleanna, Leah, Rachel May, Adah and Ruth), the book is set in the Congo. In Genesis, the novel commences with Orleanna, the mother, ruminating about their time in the Congo evangelising. Father, Nathan Price, had set his eyes on doing missionary work and consequently, his wife and their children accompanied him. In hindsight, Orleanna mediates on the mental imagery she had of Africa – a place unformed and where only darkness moved on the face of the waters – and the reality they encountered while there and which spills into the rest of the book. Which


reality mirrors her life as the wife to an overzealous missionary. Leah then takes over the narration. She recounts their preparations as they embark to the Congo – Betty Crocker cake mixes, a dozen cans of Underwood deviled ham, a stainless-steel thimble and a few odds and ends that mother, Orleanna Price, thought the family would need just to scrape by. This despite father pointing that such items would probably be of no value in the Congo. And true to father’s word, once in the Congo, these items seem out of place. Ruth, the youngest of the Prices then interludes in the narration before Rachel takes over. In her own understanding, she equates Africans to Ham’s children. She narrates that after the flooding, Ham found his father naked and laughed his head off as his two brothers, Shem and Japheth, covered Noah up. Consequently, Noah cursed all of Ham’s children to be slaves and hence the reason they turned out to be dark. She tells us that back in their home in Georgia, coloured children have their own school, are forbidden to dine at Whistle Castle where mother takes them for soft drinks and can only access the Zoo on Thursday- all these being spelt out in the Bible. Rachel goes on to narrate their welcoming party once in the Congo. She thinks that they are the ones supposed to be calling the shots, which is far from the truth. After being swept to some rickety contraption constructed from mud, father makes the first of many faux pas. Some of the women here have their bosoms exposed, a fact that jars father to no end. Hence, when he is called to offer a word of thanks for the welcoming feast, he embarks on condemning the womenfolk – zeroing in on a particular woman – for their nakedness and which he equates to darkness of the

soul. Unfortunately, this sets the tone of father’s evangelising and which ultimately proves to be his downfall. In Revelation, the Prices comes to terms with the fact of their being in Congo and adjust accordingly. For Orleanna Price, she comes to the realisation, in a rather rude and embarrassing way, that she is merely an extension of her husband – his instrument, his animal. In the Congo, her life revolves around the task of feeding her family; an arduous task considering that she has to relearn new foods and their preparations. Meanwhile, her stubborn husband, Nathan, relentlessly pursues his sole objective of saving Kilanga – their adopted community in the Congo. Nathan needs the chief’s approval to gain a congregation and which makes him compromise on such things as baptism, albeit for a while. Sooner, he becomes set in his stubbornness and which further alienates him from the very people he is intent on saving. For Leah Price, she has to relearn everything- the names of animals, fruits, birds, insects and so on. She is also observant as pertains their neighbours – Mama Mwanza who is lame, Mama Nguza who has goitre, Tata Boanda – the fisherman and who is perpetually clad in a pair of bright red trousers. And while at it, she also seeks to reconcile her faith with the reality of Tata Boanda having two wives, an outright sin in her view. For Adah, prone to wonder off on her own, she chances upon young men practising drills and who are not drawn from the Belgian Army which is tasked with protecting the white people in the country. These young men are also being addressed by Anatole, the village schoolteacher and who, at one time, informs them of impending freedom from their colonial masters. A prediction which soon comes to pass and which touches on the lives of the Prices in unimaginable

ways. In the Judges, the Congo has gotten independence, and with independence, the Prices’ fortunes have taken a hit. Orleanna equates this time with her upbringing as she reminisces on the Great Depression and her chance meeting and subsequent courtship and marriage to Nathan Price. Shortly after their marriage and with the bombing of Pearl Harbour, Nathan was drafted into the army. Shipped to the Philippines, Nathan is struck on the head with a shell fragment as they fight their way to Luzon. He flounders around blindly before being rescued later in the day – which event leads to a confidence crisis and ultimately leads him to volunteer as a missionary to the Congo. Leah then takes over, narrating to us just how hard hit they were as the Price family with the advent of independent. Close to penury, they are even obliged to accept help from their neighbours such as Mama Mwanza, their lame neighbour. In her words, “Whenever you have plenty of something, you have to share it with the fyata {the poor}.” Which act impresses Leah considering the fact that Mama Mwanza is not even a Christian. In the end, though, life goes on. The Prices move out of Congo, with the daughters moving out of the roost to pursue their own lives. That said, however, the Congo has made an indelible mark on every one of them. This in the form of new perspectives, experiences, learning a new culture and language, and so on. Yet, in all these, against a backdrop of preconceived notions on what Congo and Africa is or ought to be. Does every one of the Prices find his or her salvation at the end of the story? Well, you have to read the whole book and find out for yourself.

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T H E

D I A RY

O F

A

B U D D I N G

W R I T E R

Solitude in the boondocks I

should be in the middle of penning my greatest novel ever. I am not. My reason this time round? The general elections. Thing is, the elections were held a month ago. And general elections – or any election for that matter – are a do or die affair here in Africa. Literally. Whereas in Europe and other mature democracies elections come and go as people carry on with their lives (I might be wrong, though), here everything grinds to a halt. Some background. Now, being a struggling writer, I cannot afford to live in a fancy address. Consequently, I dwell in an area in the city that is constantly referred to as a hotspot by our media anytime elections lurk about by dint of it being an informal settlement. Rural to urban migration dictating that newbies to the city are first hosted by relatives as they find a grounding, such dynamics has led to zoning of neighbourhoods. Hence, in a certain neighbourhood, say Mashimoni Estate (the term ‘estate’ being loosely employed in this context), tribe A inhabits Phase 1 while tribe B inhabits Phase 2. Of course, invisible borders separate the two neighbourhoods but which are perceived to be there by the inhabitants. Plus, the subtle infractions as commercial interests and nationbuilding efforts gain inroads, which said deviations are quickly obliterated whenever electoral violence flares

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Life in the countryside is doing me wonders. Plus, I am thinking of erecting a greenhouse as veggies are in high demand in the city. My health is greatly reinvigorated, though my lungs did hurt a bit in the beginning at all that fresh air in contrast to what they consume in the city. And the tranquillity that is upcountry is what is really needed to pen the greatest novel ever. In addition, I am getting better at making a fire without inhaling much smoke as I transition from gas and paraffin to good ole firewood.

up. All this depending on the political alignments of the day as our politics are tribal in nature. Hence the different tribes may find themselves on the same side or on different sides come the general elections. Now, on this particular elections, the two tribes that populate our neighbourhood were on opposing sides, taunting each other on this or that stereotype. And as the election day neared, the tension became unbearable. Hate leaflets denouncing this or that tribe started circulating at night and I knew it was time to head to the boondocks. No need to risk

life and limb to get virtual strangers jobs as my representatives, was my reasoning. Plus, my parents had gone home to wait for things to settle down in the city though they lived in a more affluent section of the city and which was insulated from the vagaries of the city’s politics. And nag me they did, chastising me for wasting my vote as I had registered as a voter in the city. ‘This city is not my home, I am just passing through…’ – their refrain. As expected, there were the usual expected cases of electoral violence here and there. Some won, others lost and things are going back to normal; meaning that money has started circulating again and the economy is picking up. City dwellers have left for the city and the rural folks are back on their farms now that the political excitement has dulled. I too could have gone back to the city, but no. Life in the countryside is doing me wonders. Plus, I am thinking of erecting a greenhouse as veggies are in high demand in the city. My health is greatly reinvigorated, though my lungs did hurt a bit in the beginning at all that fresh air in contrast to what they consume in the city. And the tranquillity that is upcountry is what is really needed to pen the greatest novel ever. In addition, I am getting better at making a fire without inhaling much smoke as I transition from gas and paraffin to good ole firewood. So now, I was getting tired of the daily rations of githeri – breakfast, lunch, supper – even after dressing up the simple meal exquisitely to succotash and guacamole (says my friend Tosh, a meal of succotash and guacamole is simply a meal of githeri and avocado that attended a private academy). Further, knowing my county folks, the 20 litres of cooking oil (‘mafuta ya salad’ – salad oil, as we call our cooking oil), would have expired by the time they came around to using it

up. That, and the fact that I come from Potato County. I gathered my firewood, peeled my potatoes and scrubbed clean the metal basin used for bathing. I then kindled fire and when it roared to life, heated my oil. Now, I must confess that I did overlook a small but crucial detail. That our potatoes are big and round and are the pride of city eateries that deal in chips and upmarket joints that dole out French fries. In short, the smallest of our potatoes are as small as oranges while the bigger ones weigh as much as a small pumpkin. Which meant that I was to cut the peeled potatoes into thin strips. I did not. In my mind, I was going to make finger-lickin’ chips ‘mwitu’ – wild chips, you know, the kind prepared by the dusty roadside and having a smoky sweet aroma courtesy of the firewood used to cook them. These chips would be topped with a generous amount of ‘kachumbari’ and home-made tomato and chilli sauces. (By the way, Mexican cuisine addresses their ‘kachumbari’ as ‘pico de gallo’ or ‘salsa fresca’ – terminology which evokes the imagery of one’s taste buds doing a tango to the heavenly music that emanates from partaking ‘kachumbari’). Taking care not to spill the sizzling oil as I dipped my potatoes into the metal basin, I lovely turned them this way and that way until they were burnt to a crispy golden brown. Ten potatoes in total and which translated into about 2 kilogrammes of chips. My dilemma? The fire had gone cold, the cooking oil cooled down and amalgamated and my potatoes not cooked on the inside. And grandma and a few cousins were soon to arrive and start taunting me on the need to get married like yesterday. Now, do I restart the fire and boil them or do I chop them into small bits and refry them as fritters? Perhaps, I should return to the city and stick to penning my greatest novel ever.

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Silent Graves F I C T I O N

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J

uly. Juliet. Justice. These words, she runs them over and over again in her head. July, for its cold when she most misses her husband. Not dear husband in the sense of holding hands in public and chocolates and calling each other sweet names. No, that is what young people now do. Rather, as father to his children. Her children. Their children. Juliet. Her daughter. Her mother. All of 22 years old when they killed her. They raped her and then they killed her. But first, they maimed her. Took turns at her, taunting her for her snubs, that she was haughty and village boys were beneath her. Then they killed her. Now she rests next to her father. Bless her soul. Justice. Juliet’s father. How ironical his name and his fate! They said he was an outsider. In their dialect, a spot. That he had enriched himself at their expense. That such a spot had to be uprooted – cleanse their land- lest it took root and domiciled them and their children. His end was swift, for though they had envied him, they had admired his industriousness. In their act of killing him was shame. July. Grey. Blues. The weather. Her mood. A month when she listens to sad songs. Sad, sorrowful songs for her melancholy and her memories. Spent and wasted, she lies on her bed on many a day, making the occasional foray outside to forage for firewood and water and feed her only cow. Then, the cold creeps deep into her bones and gusts of wind – hard, cold and numbing – whisper maddening things that makes her question her sanity. Juliet. Her darling. The spice of her life; bubbly, mischievous, playful. A prank here and a neighbour’s goat’s leg broken there. A princess, a doctor, an airhostess, a rebellious teen as they are wont to – which is to say that she was mostly a joy as she grew up. The revelation that mother knows best when her first love broke her heart at 19 years… Now, she lies cold outside

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and mama can’t embrace her and keep her warm like she sometimes did when July visited. Night descends. Still, silent, surreptitious. But now it is campaign season and drums beat into the night. Faint. Crescendo. Disturbing. They recede, then advance, then mute. On repeat. Conspiracies. Now and then a shriek and a shout. Walkers of the night lurk about. Terror grips her and her nights are rife with nightmares.

Dusk. Crickets chirp. Leaves rustle. Footsteps shuffle. Her heart skips a beat. The bleating of a lamb. Whispers. A pause. The whispers move away. The night is long. Thankfully, she does not fall asleep and hence, her night is devoid of nightmares. Daybreak. Misty, hazy, dreamy. Days bereft of promise. Days spent on worry and imbibing tea. Days when the body and the mind and the spirit are alert but the weather demands she remains indoors. Days spent gazing at the family portrait – herself and Juliet beaming, Justice stern as was his habit. A picture etched in a thousand beautiful memories. Dusk. Crickets chirp. Leaves rustle. Footsteps shuffle. Her heart skips a beat. The bleating of a lamb. Whispers. A pause. The whispers move away. The night is long. Thankfully, she does not fall asleep and hence, her

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night is devoid of nightmares. Dawn breaks. Birds flit about, their melodies heavenly. The sun, weak at first, dissolves the mist as it ventures out. It’s gonna be a bright, bright sun shiny day. Jimmy Cliff croons on the radio. Today, she feels alive and there is purpose in her sprightly steps. The church. The cornerstone of the community. Her first stop. A first step. She asks after the welfare of the father. Fit as a fiddle, says he. It is tranquil, alright, he concurs. A tranquillity that could herald a mighty storm on the horizon. They talk on many a thing. Farming and cattle. Children and their education. Community welfare. A new roof for the church. Politics. Peace. Peace is her purpose. Yes, on Sunday, he will request all the womenfolk to remain behind after the main service and which is the third mass. The chief. The village headmen. The council of elders. They all converge at the chief’s compound and from whence they issue decrees and settle disputes among neighbours. Their blessings also determine which candidate makes it to the August House, of course, with room for exception. Indeed, they are the will of the community. Her mind wanders. Possibilities. Perhaps, she should have pressed the father to cede more ground. Encourage him to detain the women in the first mass and the second mass too such that all could be party to her peace evangelism. Her mind wanders further still. That in the village, they have this private joke as to the attendance of mass. First mass – business people and employees who are engaged on Sundays. Second mass – landowners and landlords; she and Justice had a hard time fitting in with this crowd as they were considered outsiders, ‘those who have come’, though they had purchased land and settled here. Third mass – tenants, farmhands and other allied workers and where she and Justice found


refuge. Fourth mass – the occasional European, a band of refugees, but mostly, drunk fathers and sons who slept till late in the day as they wean off hangovers. Patience. She is well versed in matters patience. And patience is what she does at the chief’s camp. The chief is a busy man – signing this or that document for further processing. Adjudicating this or that land or marital dispute. Taking a hush-hush bribe here and there. Now, it is her turn. The chief greets her warmly, enquiring after her health. He is intimately acquainted with her loss and so he is a lot more patient with her than is his norm. Cancellations. Send them away. Let them come back tomorrow. The chief issues firm instructions to his askaris and they do as commanded. He orders a couple of sodas, jesting how it is a pleasure to deviate away from the usual hot cup of tea that is the norm during this season.

Dead. Painfully too. The brother’s chief. At times, he blames himself for his brother’s death. He could have secured him government employment as a clerk. He didn’t. The chief’s brother too was a fatality of the election violence that rocked the nation shortly after the previous general elections. He knows pain when he sees pain. The elders. They are key. And they are in his confidence. It is they who declare war and it is they who declare peace. But the fighting and the dying is left to the young men, with women and children as collateral. The world is changing, the chief agrees, and all – elders included – must change with it. They must see reason beyond age-old traditions and customs. He must make them see reason. In this will he keep the memory of his brother alive. The market. The market madman. The gossip as the market

women wait for customers in their stalls. Loud and abrasive, the market men cry for their wares to be purchased. The traders, some are clad in the colours of this party or candidate, others are clad in the colours of the opposing party or candidate. They sit next to each other, bantering and bartering. The political t-shirts are freebies and the wearer not beholden to the party or the candidate he or she wears, is the collective wisdom. Nenda. Ajima. Celine. The powerful troika that conducts the affairs of the market. Chair, sec, treasurer, it is no small coincidence that their stalls are lined next to each other. Upon seeing her, they let loose. Then, they are a spectacle to behold. A jig, a shout, a hug, pecks, high-fives… They admire each other’s frames and clothes and her handbag and their hairstyles. The market stills and bends to their mirth.

PROSE MAGAZINE | AUGUST - SEPTEMBER 2017

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Five. Five clans. The five clans of Jembo. They make up Jembo community and they all converge at the market. At the market, new alliances are forged, old rivalries rekindled and political positions shared. Then, when all is decided, the elders solemnly append their signatures by way of blessings and declarations. As is to be expected, though, there is the occasional objection as the elders strive to stamp their authority. Whereas the elders represent the old, formal ways of conducting the community’s affairs, the market women have shaped the community with their politics of commerce. These two groupings, theirs is a subtle dance, yet, one cannot simply wish away the other. Flowers. Flowers are beautiful. And they do not seek praise for their beauty as a beautiful woman would. Now, she places flowers on the two graves. This, after tending to them; uprooting stubborn weeds that emerge from the concrete and sweeping the slabs that covers the graves. Today, though, there is symbolism in her action. The graves have spoken and sent her forth to cultivate peace amidst her adopted home. Peace. Peace wanted. Peace wanted alive and alive only. Her people, they do not demand retribution. They are not after blood, seeking their pound of flesh. They only seek peace. True peace. Peace. Peace everlasting. For such peace comes with justice and forgiveness. And harmony. Only when there is peace will their spirits rest. Sunday. Sunny Sunday. A Sunday that lives up to its name. The church. First mass, second mass, third mass – peace, peace, peace. The priest’s message is ready and forceful. Peace, peace, peace. Peace wanted alive and healthy. Peace like our Saviour sought. For in peace, there is love and joy. He invites the womenfolk in the third mass to remain behind

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after mass. There is lunch prepared for them and a visitor wants to talk to them. The chapel. Serene. Comforting. It sits a few metres from the main church. A place for contemplation. It has been her refuge for the last three years when she did find herself after the trauma. She waits for mass to end here, gathering her wits, her thoughts, her words. A peace like no other engulfs her and comforts her. Pleasantries. Chuckles. The visitor is no visitor. Still, they are intrigued. And once the bustle mutes, they listen to her keenly, the way a participant in a gaming show would listen to a 64-million-dollar question. 20 minutes max, will she address them, else their mind will wander to the lunch that beckons courtesy of the father. He is the best, they all agree. She is soft. Her voice, her demeanour. She is soft. Her smile and her words. Soft words carry trust and confidence and people listen and act on them. Her story, his story, their story is what she is telling. She tells these stories softly; and in her words, they see themselves as they are and as they can be. A stranger. Hopes. Dreams. Pursuit of a better life. They have sons and daughters. They are husbands and wives. Mothers and fathers. They have kith and kin in America and China and Indonesia and Iran. Relatives in pursuit of better lives for their families. Relatives in the diaspora who live amidst strangers. Would they want them welcomed in these far-away lands? Her story is his story. Justice’s story. Their stories. That of a stranger settling in their midst; hoping, dreaming and working hard while at it. Her story is their story; that of wandering into unfamiliar territory as they seek escape from the shackles of penury in the lands they were born in. Seeking friendships and fortune in foreign lands. Chasing

PROSE MAGAZINE | AUGUST - SEPTEMBER 2017

dreams elsewhere and which could not be realised in their places of birth. Wherever you go will I go, and your people will be my people. And though your people be strangers, together will we seek their friendship and their acceptance. And our love will be stronger for it. Softly, she speaks still. That amidst strangers, they toiled. In the unwanted lands that outlined the village, did they seek redemption, for such was their reach. Rocks and grit and ground that repelled their hoes, they toiled with nary a complaint. For in these lands, amidst strangers, now friends, there was hope and the whisper of a better tomorrow. The church. This church. It became their church. Weddings and funerals. Baptisms and confirmations. Committees and community. Happiness and sorrow – what they said, that shared is doubly enjoyed and halved, respectively. This church that failed them in their hour of need when they sought refuge here. For then, the father in charge at the time had sent them away. He did not want trouble, he said. Silence. Pin drop silence. She speaks the truth and they own it. Softly, subtly. That she had stopped going to church for two years. She had stopped believing in humanity, in God. Yet, when at her lowest, when on the verge of suicide, it is the same church that had come to her rescue. Yes, this same church that had once disowned her in her hour of need had been her salvation. Peace. Peace, she says, is a deed. And like faith, if it is not accompanied by action, then it is dead. She tells them that they have to consciously cultivate peace. Speak against ethnic strife and electoral violence. In doing this then will they be ambassadors of Christ. And in doing so will the voices in the grave – victims of polls’ chaos – be stilled.


Prose Magazine August - September 2017  

Prose is a bi-monthly publication of Epsilon Publishers. The magazine delves into industry trends and insights of publishing.