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PROSE A PUBLICATION OF EPSILON PUBLISHERS

DECEMBER 2017 - JANUARY 2018

MAGAZINE

STORY TELLING ISSUE

The face of leadership Mwihaki Muraguri

Reading culture

The power of Language

Photography Gurveer Sira

Travel

Road to Tharaka Nithi


"After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.� -Nelson Mandela

Editorial | Translation | Publishing | Printing


CO N T E N T S

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34

14

40 20


CO N T E N T S

09

Peer Review

14

Leadership

40 42 44

Driving change through persona disruption

Book review

The Burdens by John Ruganda

The diary of a budding writer Heartbreak hotel

Nemesis mine

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. 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 | DECEMBER 2017 - JANUARY 2018


W E LCO M E

N OT E

Of story telling, selfless giving and holidays.

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elcome to the last edition of Prose for 2017. It has been a tumultuous year for Kenya, what with the extended election period. But the one thing that has to be said about Kenyans as a people is the resilience that we demonstrate over and over again. Now more than ever, we need our leaders, be it in business or in government, to paint a picture of what 2018 will portend. The more this picture is vivid, the better for us because it will guide us collectively on where to focus our energies in the year to come. Storytelling forms an integral part of leadership. It takes the listeners on a journey of what could be. Of the possibilities that abound. It outlines for its audience the dream, and what ought to be done to actualise the dream. The storyteller inspires. The storyteller articulates how the dream will unfold, and what

each person needs to do in making the dream come alive. Stories inspire. Stories give us the courage to see beyond our own circumstances. People who have gone before us. The challenges that they have faced. And how they have overcome them. Our leader in this issue is Mwihaki Muraguri, story teller extraordinaire. She has used her organisation, Paukwa, as a platform to inspire, to impact and to influence. Still on storytelling, our featured photographer is Gurveer Sira. A civil and structural engineer by profession, Gurveer describes himself as an amateur wildlife and landscape photographer. Nonetheless, his resplendent photographs tell the story of the abundant beauty that is our Kenya. They also bring with it the onerous responsibility to conserve our natural resources, so that we may bequeath this beauty for generations to come.

The December holidays are usually the season that we travel the length and breadth of Kenya. Accordingly, our travel destination this month is Tharaka Nithi, a sleepy town on the foot of Mount Kenya. I had the opportunity to travel there about four years ago. Not a rich county by any stretch of the imagination, I was awed by the generosity and loving spirit of this community. On my way back to Nairobi, my car boot was filled to the rafters with goodies that the locals had put together for me. The lesson that has stayed with me since that visit is that giving has nothing to do with how much money one has in the bank. As we approach the festive season, may we embrace the same generosity to our loved ones and more so, to those who cannot repay us. I take this early opportunity to wish you a joyous Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Mumbi Gichuhi PROSE MAGAZINE | DECEMBER 2017 - JANUARY 2018

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Marmoreal (adjective) Made of or compared to marble.

A little bit of trivia Mind your language Dichotomy Archetype Dichotomy is defined as a division or contrast between two things that are, or are represented, as being opposed or entirely different. As a literary device, dichotomy is used to create drama or conflict in a story; with dichotomy being manifest in a single character or in two opposing characters. Examples of dichotomy include good versus evil, soul versus body, and rich versus poor.

An archetype, or universal symbol, is a typical character, situation or action and which is representative of universal patterns of human nature. The literary device has roots in Jungian philosophy in which it is argued that the archetype is based on ‘the collective unconscious’ and which refers to experiences shared by a people. Such experiences include life, birth, death, strife and struggle.

JOHN F. KENNEDY

Famous quotes 6

FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE

Lagoon A small gulf or inlet

Pyrrhic Said of a victory won at too great a cost to have been worthwhile for the victor

Pastiche An art work combining materials from various sources

JAY SAMIT

Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive.”

I think we build resilience to prepare for whatever adversity we’ll face. And we all face some adversity – we’re all living some form of Option B.”

When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”

- Jamais Cascio, ,American author and futurist

- Sheryl Sandberg, American technology executive, activist, and author

- Helen Keller (1880-1968), American author, political activist, and lecturer

PROSE MAGAZINE | DECEMBER 2017 - JANUARY 2018


Microfiction

C-Sectioned Chaos (n) Any confused, unorganised condition or mass of matter before the creation of distinct and orderly forms

Microfiction, a subset of flash fiction, is a type of fiction that employs a minimum of words, typically, with the words maxing at 100-300 words for each single piece. Microfiction forces the author of a story to employ conciseness to create forceful impact as he is limited in the words of words at his disposal in telling his or her story. When writing microfiction, think of it as being analogous to writing an ad and where you are charged per word as you compose your message. This is best illustrated in the story where a man died and his wife leased space on the local daily, classified section, on this. ‘George Lucas dead. Burial on 26th October.” When told that what she had paid for allowed her to put in four more words, for instance, ‘will be sorely missed’, this is what she ended up with. ‘George Lucas dead. Burial on 26th October. Mercedes Benz on sale.” For she always had this nagging feeling that he cherished his car more than he cherished her.

The word ‘chaos’ originates from Greek mythology and where it referred to the most ancient of their gods. In effect, it personified the infinity of space preceding creation of the universe. In the business universe, chaos can manifest at many levels; at the start of a business, the launch of a new product or when the business has peaked or is on a steady or sharp decline. Is chaos bad for a business or for an organisation for that matter? It is and it is not. If not arrested in good time and properly managed, chaos can sound the death knell for a vibrant organisation or a promising product. Else, it calls for a strategic rethink and appropriate response to salvage the situation. This is certainly true in the

present era where technological advances require organisations and by extension, how they conduct their affairs and the products on offer, to rapidly revolve instead of evolving. Global examples in recent history of how organisation handled chaos abound. Kodak and how they went down for not embracing the digital camera despite having a head start on matters patent. Yahoo and their uninspiring response to hacked emails and even more uninspiring and cluttered search engine. At the other end of the spectrum, we have Apple and how it bounced back with their iconic iPhone. The bottom-line? That chaos is inevitable and that what matters is how an organisation responds, not react, to it.

Emuhaya

Emuhaya is a constituency in Vihiga County. It is said that the name ‘Emuhaya’ is a corruption of the English phrase ‘aim higher.’ Apparently, there used to be a European missionary who was in charge of a Friends church in the region and who used to encourage the kids in his charge to always ‘aim higher’. PROSE MAGAZINE | DECEMBER 2017 - JANUARY 2018

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P O E T RY

Hazy eves Crisis mode, hazy eves Tomorrow not guaranteed The capitalist is unfazed If he can turn a profit The crisis can wait. Sirens, then it stills An uneasy calm lingers Dreams fade away Hope now a commodity Sold a dollar a piece. The warmongers states Peace is a drug It seduces to a quiet A people oppressed When they must be awoke.

The earth claims last The earth was here first And everything belongs to her Even that which man calls legacy Strafing and straining for empires Is but a speckle soon swept away In earth’s many memories. She is a gentle mother, earth Longsuffering and forgiving She gives man plenty a chance To change his erring ways At his feet laying nirvana. Yet, like an impetuous child Man slights her mother again and again Forgetting from her dust is his being Till mother raises her hand to strike Wreaking catastrophes in man’s world.

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PROSE MAGAZINE | DECEMBER 2017 - JANUARY 2018


R E A D I N G

The Audiobook “When you read a book, the story definitely happens inside your head. When you listen, it seems to happen in a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled down over your eyes.” -Robin Sloan

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ith the smartphone as a staple in today’s world, the gadget has revolutionised how we live. From how we communicate to banking to telling stories, we virtually organise and run our lives by the modest smartphone. This, courtesy of the thousands of applications that power the device and which are readily available to us. Enter the audiobook. Basically, an audiobook is an audio format of the printed or e-book. Naturally, this entails comparison between the three. On its part, the printed book has the magical element of touch added to it – the feel of the pages, a nicely done cover and layout, perhaps some illustrations by a particular illustrator that turns it into some much sought-after collector’s memorabilia, that sought of thing. The

e-book, to a large extent, is modelled after the printed book, minus the physical experience. Whereas the printed book and the e-book depends on the reader’s active engagement with the material therein, the audiobook borrows on the art of storytelling, enchanting the reader into a listener. How to get the best out of an audiobook? It boils down to the narrator. Find a good narrator and you find a good audiobook; with the converse being true. A good narrator being one that enthrals and holds your attention through such methods as good diction, voice modulation and so one. In essence, the narrator holding the forte for the author, the designer and the illustrator in painting vivid imagery of the story in your mind as it unfolds. Get a bad narrator and your mind will ultimately resist the audiobook.

Where to begin? When it comes to audiobooks, they can be found online on various sites. These include Amazon’s Audible, LibriVox, Lit2Go and Open Culture. The audiobooks here range from the self-help book to the classic and cover all sorts of topics and subjects as pertains to the infinite nature of human knowledge and imagination. When and where to listen to the audiobook? At home, curled on the sofa as you smooch on a cup of coffee. During the morning and evening commute, with the audiobook acting as a welcome, more productive activity away from the vulgar morning and evening drive shows on the local FM stations. The Saturday morning jog or powerwalk. As you wait for someone running late for your meeting, and so on.

PROSE MAGAZINE | DECEMBER 2017 - JANUARY 2018

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R E A D I N G

C U LT U R E

The language of power

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PROSE MAGAZINE | DECEMBER 2017 - JANUARY 2018


Photo credit: Quasarphoto PROSE MAGAZINE | DECEMBER 2017 - JANUARY 2018

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R E A D I N G

C U LT U R E

“Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation.” - Angela Carter

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ome time back, there was public outcry when the gender-neutral bible came out. Its proponents argued that the bible should be as egalitarian as possible and that, as it were, it continued putting down women. Its opponents said that it was tantamount to changing God’s word and which the scriptures warned against. Vern S. Poythress and Wayne A. Grudem’s book The Gender-neutral Bible Controversy: Muting the Masculinity of God’s Words is a thought-provoking treatise on the subject. As with all matters faith, and by extension, politics, the conversation around this was, and still is, a touchy affair. Yet, to a casual observer, the proponents were on to something, though, how they chose to go about it polarised more than it united. That patriarchy as espoused in the bible and how it trickled down to everyday life in predominantly Christianmajority countries contributed to the perception that women were inferior to men. Drawing from religion, this practise of referencing the masculine pronouns as a stand-in for a human being (of either gender), has distilled into everyday speech and literature.

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Religion, like any other activity involving interactions between human beings, employs language as it primary method of communication. And with Christianity as the major religion in the world today, its impact is huge and shapes perception and action. This includes its reference to God as a ‘he’ – a male, and by inference, that males are superior to females; its portrayal of Israelites as God’s chosen people and the others as gentiles, a people unworthy of God’s love (The Old Testament); which actions prevents women, more or less, from serving at the highest echelons of religious office. Muslim countries too continue putting down women. A case in point being that Saudi Arabia is set to allow women into sports stadia for the first time in their recent history. That said, though most countries in the world subscribe to the secular state creed, the effects of Abrahamic religions (monotheistic in nature) and how its language is utilised continue to trickle down to legislation and the socio-economic and political spheres. And this informs the oppression of certain groups in the society such as women and those who do not subscribe to the prevalent

PROSE MAGAZINE | OCTOBER - NOVEMBER 2017

faith. Examples include the burqa ban in France, the persecution of Egypt’s Coptic Christians and the persecution of the Rohingya who are predominantly Muslim. In contrast Hinduism revere female goddesses, and by extension, at least in theory, this translates into a healthy respect for women. Then again, the language of the religion characterised human beings into castes; with attendant oppression of those from the lower castes. Certainly, this article does not seek to bash religion; rather, it criticises the way language is used by religion to oppress by dint of acts of omission, commission and perception. Away from religion, language too is used in propagating sexism. Women are weak and should submit to their husbands is taken to mean that they should not speak at men’s gathering and which translates into few women being elected into leadership positions. Men are strong and should never cry translates to men dying from the inside-out due to stress or suffering from domestic violence in silence. Colour too has been assigned a gender – pink is for girls, blue for boys. Girls should sit with their legs crossed


and should not climb trees. Boys should not play with dolls. Girl and women empowerment. The boychild at peril. By and by, sexist language ingrains itself at the corporate level where few women hold positions of power at the management or board level. Which again translates to women earning less than their male counterparts for doing equal work. At the apex of the two – sexism and unequal pay for equal work has been recent developments at Hollywood; that bastion of American culture that continues to package and ship off American culture to be imitated in all corners of the globe. (Which means that your favourite series might have halted production as male actors and directors continue being called out – and being replaced or fired – for sexual harassment. Again, employing language to shift power dynamics from the oppressor to the oppressed.). As such, American culture has had a profound effect on diverse cultures around the world. Hollywood has sold us it version of beauty through the kind of language it employs. Petite and slim when it comes to the body size of female models. Slick and no kink when it comes to matter hair as evidence by Lupita’s recent protests where a magazine smoothed out her hair when it featured her on the cover page. Fortunately, lobby groups and ordinary people continue to push back, and we now have fashion shows and pageants for plus-size models. That, and continued advocacy and lobbying for agencies not to employ anorexic models. Again, Hollywood when it comes to whitewashing, #OscarsSoWhite and the Magical Negro. Then again, the portrayal of the black background actor as a thug, maid or janitor character while his or her equivalent white character is cast as a doctor. Whitewashing being covert language where white actors are cast in

the roles of, say, a Native American or Asian role such as a tribal chief or the Genghis Khan. #OscarsSoWhite, on its part, being a clarion call for Hollywood to embrace diversity at every level that is the film industry.

In Africa, language too was employed to subjugate Africans and steal their resources during colonial times and now, in the neocolonial era. Referred to as the Dark Continent – dark in the sense of a savage people whose only redemption lay in being civilised as espoused by their colonial masters. In the Americas too, dark and black has been used interchangeably to refer to something bad, evil or subhuman. The devil resides and operates in darkness. Black heart, black sheep, the Black Hole of Calcutta (now, Kolkata). By extension, the Magical Negro debate centres on why black actors

continue being stock characters whose role is to support the white protagonist – a kind of appendage or prop for the white main character. Eventually, these practices reinforce the ideology of white supremacy. As you will notice, such practices are propagated via subtle language and creeps into the consciousness of the moviegoer at the subliminal level. In Africa, language too was employed to subjugate Africans and steal their resources during colonial times and now, in the neo-colonial era. Referred to as the Dark Continent – dark in the sense of a savage people whose only redemption lay in being civilised as espoused by their colonial masters. In the Americas too, dark and black has been used interchangeably to refer to something bad, evil or subhuman. The devil resides and operates in darkness. Black heart, black sheep, the Black Hole of Calcutta (now, Kolkata). The effect? A billion-dollar beauty industry build on the premise that the fairer, the lovelier. All hope is not lost, however, on this front. Partly, this has to do with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s seminal work Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. And in an increasing interconnected world, language is used to disenfranchise others and empower others. At the political front, the most obvious use of language as power is euphemisms. Collateral damage in a war situation is used to sanitise the death of civilians; and if you think about it, climate global warming should really be referred to as global environmental genocide to elicit urgent action to address this. Lastly, using language as a tool to exhibit power is not limited to verbal exchange. Body language too plays a crucial role – from power dressing, body posture, effective use of voice to command attention and exercise authority and so on.

PROSE MAGAZINE | AUGUST - SEPTEMBER 2017

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L E A D E R S H I P


The dance of

leadership

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n my view, leadership is a bit like wooing a woman. Boy meets girl. Boy tells girl sweet nothings, from the way her flawless skin looks, to the way her eyes sparkle, and it goes on. The more consistent boy is, the more she trusts him. The relationship progresses. One date leads to several others, phone conversations go late into the night. In this our digital times, there’s also the near mandatory selfie on WhatsApp with the emoji of hearts in the eyes, with boy declaring to girl how much he misses her. He paints a picture of a rosy future that leaves girl breathless. After the first few heady months of the relationship, rubber meets the road. Girl waits to see if boy is walking the talk. Does he call when he says he will? Does he keep his word? Does he follow through on what he says he’ll do? At this crucial point, girl keenly observes whether or not boy is serious. Depending on whether boy delivers determines how the relationship will go.

Leadership is very much like that. Like in relationships, it’s not for the faint of heart. Leadership paints a vision of what possibilities lie yonder. Leadership tells a story. Leadership is matching the story with action. Just like in a relationship, leadership is not for everyone. Every five years or so, politicians go to wax lyrical to the electorate in the hope of garnering votes. The ones who make it are the ones who have painted the rosiest picture. The most idyllic. The most romantic. Thereafter, the populace keenly observes their every move. Are they delivering what they said they would, in the manner that they said they would and in the time that they said they would? The ones who do get reelected. The ones who don’t get rejected. It’s as simple as that. It is not much different in companies and in organisations. The leaders who deliver on their promises are promoted or are retained. Those who don’t get fired. It’s

as simple as that. Storytelling forms an integral part of leadership. The story ties together the thoughts and the dreams of the leader. Stories inspire. Whether or not the story is negative or positive. Hitler’s speeches were one of the most prolific speeches ever written. With his compelling stories, he convinced an entire nation to go to war. By the way, that’s how propaganda as we now know it was born. In the same epoch, Winston Churchill’s speeches were equally compelling. He led the Britons through a most trying time during the war. Incidentally, Churchill was a brilliant war time leader but a poor peace time leader so to speak. He was also known for his unorthodox leadership style, but that’s a story for another day. Coming back to boy and girl, the boy who walks the talk gets the girl. The one who doesn’t, because he doesn’t follow through, oh well he lives to fight another day.

PROSE MAGAZINE | DECEMBER 2017 - JANUARY 2018

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T H E

16

FAC E

O F

L E A D E R S H I P

PROSE MAGAZINE | DECEMBER 2017 - JANUARY 2018


MWIHAKI

MURAGURI

M

wihaki Muraguri is a writer, storyteller and moderator at Paukwa. Paukwa’s vision is to be an interactive national story platform that is an archive of the positive spirit of Kenya’s people, products, places and projects that inspires young people towards re-imagined positive national identity. Its vision is to collect, curate and distribute positive Kenyan stories to inspire hope, and contribute to a positive national identity. What follows is Mwihaki’s, and by extension, Paukwa’s, story. Mwihaki states that, though she was writing stories, she did not know what she was doing. This as she was jumping from one activity to another such as writing to singing. Around this time, a friend informed her that Bikozulu (Jackson Biko, a writer for the Daily Nation and Business Daily and who blogs as Bikozulu) was offering a writing masterclass. She took three days off at her place of work and signed for the masterclass. Once there, she found that it

was about blogging, which she says that she wouldn’t have attended had she known beforehand as she did not understand what blogging was all about. Mwihaki states that Biko took them through blogging and that, by the end of the day, she had set up a blog. At the onset, though, she admits that she used to blog anonymously as her workplace constantly monitored one’s online presence to ensure their staff did not post anything that would bring disrepute to their institution. She says that blogging took over her life as she was always writing. This was in August 2015. In September-October of the same year, she says that another friend informed her of a fellowship in the United States. The fellowship required her, as an applicant, to list the project she would be working on as well as people who could bring it to fruition. But before that, Mwihaki states that she has always loved to write right from high school and that when she cleared high school, she could not follow her passion to be a video editor as she was the firstborn.

That, and the fact that her dad used to teach at the university while her mother was a civil servant and had a bachelor of arts degree. She states that she was admitted at the University of Nairobi to do a BSc. in Maths and Geography, with her parents being gracious enough to let her do photography at the Alliance Française and which she loved. Mwihaki says that she studied at the university for a year before her parents sent her to South Africa due to the incessant riots at the University of Nairobi. There, she had to compromise by doing a double major in Economics and Geography. After her studies, she came back to Kenya and got a job at a non-governmental organisation working in the health sector. She then moved on to another organisation, also in the health sector – doing a two-year stint at both organisations. Mwihaki then did her masters, centred on public policy, but with a focus on international health, in the United States. Once through with her graduate degree, funded by three scholarships,

PROSE MAGAZINE | DECEMBER 2017 - JANUARY 2018

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Mwihaki came back to Kenya and found a job at her former organisation, this time, working with a different set of people. Back to the fellowship, Mwihaki says that as she completed filling the application form, it dawned on her that this was the better version of life and that this is what she would like to do irrespective of whether she got the fellowship or not. Before that, she states that what she had been doing was merely applying for jobs as this was expected of her even though she was not wholly into the job. The crux of the matter being that no one had ever asked her before what she wanted to accomplish in life. This as the project was not tied to what one was currently doing or one’s position. On the contrary, it was a whiteboard and served to free her mind. Then again, Mwihaki states that the fact that she had started writing again made her aware of what energised her. Then she also shared her desire to transition to other things with a family friend, during which she got deep insights. That, when ego moves out of the way by one doing something altruistic, one can be very powerful. Two, after working so long, what were one’s transferable skills? Basically, that careers do not have to be linear and one can sidestep into a different career altogether. For Mwihaki, this translated into the skills she could use outside the health sector. She states that shortly after, after much reflection and soul-searching, she handed in her resignation although she did not have a contingency plan. Among her reasons for quitting was that she was on teams that were not engaging, besides lacking time to bond with her family due to work commitments and the need for her to continue writing. As a compromise as she winded down her unfinished assignments, she wrote a handbook on how to be an effective project officer. Mwihaki states that she also requested God for three things:

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To know when to leave, to leave in good terms with her employer and to be cushioned in terms of meeting her family obligations. She says that her employer was understanding in that they gave her the flexibility to write her handbook in addition to providing her with an editor. Queried on the advice she would give a woman at crossroads on whether to resign her job and raise a family, she states that it is quite a difficult and subjective question, though she would advise the woman to make a choice she would not regret. She says that she continued working on her writing job for another four months as she also attended interviews for the fellowship and where she was among those shortlisted. Although she was not chosen for the fellowship, she states that in applying for the fellowship had she found her purpose. In due course, Mwihaki says that she got a job as a writer in the form of a consultancy as she wound up her work assignments. Reluctant to let her go, her employer suggested that she continue working on part-time basis as she fulfilled her writing consultancy as a partners’ events was in the offing. At the end of the year, her boss let her go with full blessings; with her handbook having been launched as well as the partners’ meeting having been carried out successfully. Mwihaki says that she could now realise her vision – as it dawned on her when she was applying for the fellowship – now that she was out of the employment scene. She says that, in applying for the fellowship, she had realised that Kenyans did not celebrate themselves. This, in part, because they did not know their history and if they did, it was a very standardised version that did not connect with contemporary happenings in the country. She states that this was the root for Paukwa. The gist of it being to collect and curate Kenyan history so that Kenyans could appreciate and celebrate themselves in regard to how

PROSE MAGAZINE | DECEMBER 2017 - JANUARY 2018

far they had come. In part, this was informed through her travels around Africa and the globe and seeing how far Kenya had progressed even though Kenyans continued putting themselves down. This was to be accomplished via storytelling. She soon registered Paukwa as a limited company; envisaging it not as a social enterprise per se or as a for-profit, but as an entity for social public good. Essentially, utilising her transferrable skills to do this. She says that she also got a visual identity for her entity comprising of earth colours for her logo and which also features a hummingbird in tribute to the late Prof. Wangari Maathai. Mwihaki’s says that Paukwa is tasked with storytelling to bring about social change. She adds that in this, she is guided by the realisation that she is a daughter of this country (Kenya) and is also a daughter of this continent (Africa); which translates into her being the one to promote her continent. She relates this to her experience overseas and where she felt that her African culture was undermined – epitomised by her narration that when she was getting married, and the whole space of ruracio, her classmates equated to her being sold. Mwihaki observes that the further she is from Kenya, her identity changes in degrees. While in Kenya, she is considered a Kikuyu which she is proud of though it does not make her feel superior to others. In Tanzania and South Africa, she is perceived as a Kenyan; while in Europe, she becomes an African. She adds that there is a tendency to identify as the other and which might be through the tribe identifier at the country level or the citizenry, regional or continental identifier the further you move away from the Kenya. She states that her mission is to get young Kenyans to love Kenya and appreciate it as this is where they come from and stop minimising their success. When queried on one of


Paukwa’s projects, #44Strong (crafted after Kenya’s 44 tribes), coming in the heels of the Kenyan general elections, she observes that Kenyans have a problem with their diversity where it is used as a tool to bring Kenyans down, more so, when the country goes to a general election. Mwihaki says that it is high time Kenyans started celebrating their diversity as a source of strength. To exemplify this, she states that Asians anchor the manufacturing sector while the Kalenjins have put Kenya on the global map due to their athletic prowess. Generally speaking, she states that there are different things which different communities bring to the table; only that, Kenyans keep being led down the path of negativity instead of the positivity associated with their stereotypes. In essence, the campaign being that, though Kenya consists of 44 communities, at the end of the day, they are one nation. Mwihaki says that the campaign was received positively by and large, though there were some ambivalence and negativity from a few quarters. She seeks to reach out to schoolgoing children through this campaign so that they can embrace their diversity as Paukwa strives to counter the negative narration peddled all along regarding Kenya’s diversity. But only if they get to see positive models and hear positive stories. In part, this was informed by a recent study in which most of the young people polled in the region cited money as the most important thing in their lives irrespective of the means employed to get it. Why? Because most of the successful people shown on media had acquired wealth through dubious means. This was reflected in a local bank where 75% of fraud cases were committed by the youth and who had worked at the bank for about four years. Mwihaki states that Paukwa does consulting work for developmental organisations and

helps them in their writing and documentation projects. In essence, utilising her transferrable skills from her background to derive an income as she is conversant with the technical writing required of projects. Second, that she emcees and also facilitates as she loves words and she loves training in words. She adds that there is also the missionary aspect to Paukwa’s work concerned with putting out positive stories on Kenya. Concerning Paukwa’s second campaign centred on women firsts, #KeFemaleFirsts, Mwihaki says that her friend shared with her a piece on Time magazine and which showcased American’s women who were changing the world as firsts. She borrowed this concept to showcase Kenyan women who were first in this or that endeavour and were impacting society; which stories she crowdsourced via referrals and social media. The lesson from this campaign? Let the great not be the enemy of the good; this, in regard to get the project rolling as it keeps getting refined as they feature more and more women in the campaign. Mwihaki adds that, initially, they were doing Facebooks ads to push the campaign but that, by day six, the organic reach was far more than the paid ads. As such, by day seven, they stopped doing ads as people kept sharing. Through this, Mwihaki observes that the number of likes does not matter and that what really matters is the number of shares as they get to reach out to an even bigger audience. About the next phase of the campaign, she adds that plans are underway to have a printed version of the campaign through which the featured women will go back to their high schools and inspire students there that they can be achievers irrespective of the school they are in. (FY1: Jamhuri High School, presently, a boys’ only school, will be featured as it once was a mixed secondary school). As to where she sees Paukwa

in the next five or so years, Mwihaki says that she wants the platform to be known for its positive stories such that it is the go-to-place for drawing inspiration. CURRENTLY READING

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P H OTO G R A P H Y

Self-portrait by Savdeep Kundi


Gurveer SIRA A Nairobi based Civil and Structural Engineer with a passion for wildlife and conservation.

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urveer Sira describes himself as a Nairobi based Civil and Structural Engineer, with a passion for wildlife and conservation; a hobbyist photographer. He says that he cannnot really call himself a “Wildlife Photographer” as yet, that he is more of an upcoming amateur Wildlife and Landscape Photographer who is trying to find his stride. Gurveer says that he loves to be at one with nature, taking every opportunity he can to travel around our beautiful country. He also gets to see the amazing surroundings whilst on his cycling routes. A big sports enthusiast, apart from cycling, he also does rock climbing, runs marathons and hikes. Gurveer states that he was born in Ilford, London, but moved to Kenya when he was about a year old and that, definitely, he has no regrets at all about being raised in Kenya! He adds that, from a very young age, during his school holidays, his friends would spend them abroad whilst he would travel to different parks around

Kenya to experience the wild, camp and enjoy Mother Nature’s finest. He states that the most memorable and hair-raising experiences were always on the first night, whilst everyone would be gathered around the campfire and you would hear the sound of roaring lions, a marvellous sound indeed! Gurveer says that the older he got, the more trips there were, and that each trip was a learning experience, everyone unique in its own way. He says that, slowly, he managed to get his own car and began to equip it for safaris. He further states that, with the setup that he has now, he can be ready to head out for a trip within a few hours. He adds that having a national park so close to the city centre was also an advantage for him as during the weekends when he was in Nairobi, he would head to the park for a few hours with his camera. After high school in Nairobi, he went to university in the UK, which made him realise how lucky he is to have grown up and to be living in Kenya. He states that, every

holiday, he would be back at home and that - usually the weekend that he arrived - he would head out to some remote part to camp in the bush. He quips that he was known as “Tarzan” in university, and that as he would replicate some of the African animal sounds, my friends thought he could talk to the animals! Whilst at university, Gurveer says that he managed to get the chance to hire out some photography equipment to experiment and see what worked best for him. He then did some town and architectural photography with different lenses at different times of the day. He states that the results were not that bad, although he prefers the outdoors and wildlife capturing. Gurveer says that the years in the UK solidified the love he has for Kenya. He observes that people have no idea about what this country has to offer, and that through his work, he hopes to portray what Kenya is about, especially for those who are unable to experience a true Kenyan safari. He also hopes to raise awareness

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about conservation and protection of our animals and lands for our future generations. Gurveer says that his heart is truly at home in the wilds of Kenya, and that these life experiences play a major role in his personality, and in some way reflect through his photography. He adds that he balances his work and family life, and gets to the photographic side in his own time and at his own pace. He observes that photography has become more of an obsession now than a hobby. How did he venture into photography and how has the experience been like? Gurveer says that it all started when he used to mess around with his dad’s Pentax camera when dad was not home. His dad finally decided to buy him some film, a 12 exposure Fuji film. He says that his dad taught him how to load the film and handed him the camera, with the words, “You have 12 pictures. Make them count”. Gurveer says that, in true youngster fashion, he ran out into the garden and within 15 minutes he was back in the office telling dad that the camera was not taking any more pictures. He says that dad told him that he was done with his 12 pictures and that they then had to take the film to get it developed. Gurveer recalls that in those days, they had to wait for almost a week for the pictures to be processed; which week felt like years. He says that when he finally got them back, all but one picture were either over- or under-exposed and slightly blurry. He quickly learnt that it is not as easy as just clicking the shutter; that there was a lot more to it than just “Click, Click”. He states that as a child, he could never sit and read instructions and that he was more of the do-andlearn-from-your-mistakes type. So over time, he fathomed it on his own. Gurveer says that on every camping trip that he went, there was always

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a camera packed in his bag as the first item. That this was his way of bringing back something from the trip; of bringing back something that he could share with others. He states that photography is not just about clicking away like how most of the smartphone generation does; that according to him, taking a picture is about capturing a moment in time that you will never ever be able to recapture. He observes that it is something more than just a piece of paper; it is a moment in time that you and only you see through that lens. That it history. Next, he progressed to a Minolta film camera. Gurveer says that, unlike the digital age today, with film cameras you did not know what you got until a week later once the film was developed. Because of this, he devised his own way of learning how to use the different settings on the camera. He says that he started carrying a little note book with him to jot down the setting of the camera with each picture that he took. This way, when he would develop the film and go through the pictures, he could see why and where his settings were going wrong. This greatly improved his skills as he also learnt a lot about aperture, ISO setting and more. With the coming of the digital age, Gurveer moved to a Kodak (Nikon) DSLR which he says was a total game changer. He says that he still feels that a lot of the modern age photographers don't understand photography properly. That you can take a picture and see the results straight away, and if you don’t get it right, delete and try again straightaway. Personally, he feels that this is cheating and not really understanding what the camera is doing and which he equates to shooting in the dark and hoping for the best. Gurveer adds that as the digital age advanced, so did he as

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you have to move with the times. He states that he made the transition to Canon and bought the 5D MK II, which he is still using to date. He adds that he heavily invested on the lenses as they are probably a photographer’s biggest asset. A piece of advice he gives to anyone who is starting out in photography is that it is much better to invest in the lens, learn how the camera works, then upgrade the body once you are ready and truly understands what you are doing. He observes that though his camera body is 10 years old, he is still able to get the results he needs. He says that his most commonly used lens is the EF 100-400mm 1:4.5-5.6 L IS. He also owns a Canon Macro EF 180mm 1:3.5 L, and a Canon EF 16-35mm 1:2.8 L II USM. As to his style of photography, Gurveer says he doesn’t have a particular style per se, that it is his own unique style, though he is leaning towards Black and White Wildlife Photography. Does that make him old school? Personally, he feels that if you get it right with a Black and White picture, you have a timeless, classic piece. He adds that time, in essence, is not there, that the photograph could have been taken yesterday or a couple of years ago on film; and that, as you will never know, it makes it more exciting and tinges it with a sense of inquisitiveness. He says that there is a certain depth and definition with Black and White that he loves as it tells a story. With Landscape Photography, Gurveer prefers more dramatic shots. He states that if you look at the landscapes shots that are on his website, you’ll get a feel of what he means; the colours, the skies, the surroundings. What goes behind a shot? He says that, to be honest, he started by literally going with the flow and taking pictures of what they came across. In essence, not worrying much about


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George Ogutu PhotographySimba Photo: George Ogutu Photography

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lighting, time of day, background, framing etc. Which he terms as more of the point and shoot type. Gurveer says that as he progressed and became more serious about photography, learning about lighting, framing, background, foreground, totally changed the game. He adds that when shooting wildlife, you have to be up early, you have to catch the “golden hour”, when the light is at its best, especially if you want to get the big cats. Over time he discovered that he needs to be in a certain position with the car to get the best light and angle. That patience is a major factor in getting the shot, especially with Wildlife Photography. If you don’t have it, you won’t get results. For instance, he sat with a sleeping leopard for 4 hours, only for her to wake up and make a kill right next to their car, bring out her young male cub, and their car was the vehicle car there! With experience, Gurveer says that you begin to understand the behaviours of the animals, the sounds they make, their actions, their body language. This assists in positioning oneself ahead of time, setting up and hopefully getting the shot you are thinking of. This also doesn’t disturb the animals as you are stationary, not chasing them around the park, which they do see A LOT! As his photography career set off (well not really a career as this is not his full-time job), Gurveer trips were based on certain animals. He states that he researches on when the best time of the year would be to see what he is looking for, the time of day where appearance would be maximum, the location. So far, he has been pleased with his results. He says that he has recently gone into Nightscape Photography, which take a fair amount of forward planning. Again, he says that it boils down to researching the best locations, the perfect window timing for taking the

shots, the weather, the angle. He ventured out a few weekends ago and where he managed to get some really pleasing nightscapes for which he was impressed! His summary on getting the best shot? Always be prepared, make sure your camera equipment is charged, fully functional and you have backup memory cards, and a backup for the backup, as you never know what you are going to see. That it is always different out there and that nature always likes to throw one or two curve balls at you. So be prepared. On his perception of photography as a viable career in Kenya, Gurveer opines that photography is a very vague term. You can go down any route, be it portrait, fine art, wedding, wildlife, fashion, food, architectural, the list is endless. Regardless of which it is, he feels that there is definitely a market for a viable career as long as one is passionate and committed. His guess is that you can say that about any career; to be successful, you have to be willing to put in the time and effort. That Kenya is a growing diverse country and that there are so many windows of opportunity that they don’t take advantage of. He adds that he personally knows a number of Kenyan based photographers in different fields who are successful with their career choice. Gurveer’s take on using photography as a medium to create awareness and conserve wildlife and wildlands? Photography is no longer about just taking pictures. They should tell a story, create an impact. From the beginning, he says that his photographs were taken for his own satisfaction, bringing back a memory, a piece of what he had experienced, craving more of these amazing adventures. Gurveer states that he is concerned about the high and

increasing level of poaching and slaughtering of innocent animals. He observes that extinction is rapidly encroaching upon us and that the next few generations won’t be able to see a rhino roaming in the wild, or an elephant, and will only do so in a picture book. That they won’t have what we have grown up with. He adds that no matter how much education and technology we have worldwide, this inhumane activity is still ongoing. He says that his objective through his photography is to inspire his audience to take an interest in wildlife and conservation. To show those who may not be fortunate enough to visit the national parks and game reserves how these wonderful animals live in their natural habitat, and to appreciate their beauty. The more photographs he takes, the more he anticipates that he has made some impact somewhere in raising awareness on the need to protect this beauty for our future generations. He says that he never wanted his work to retail, but that, realising the opportunities that he has had, and which he would love for everyone else to have, he decided that he wanted to give back. The only way this was possible was by selling his work. He states that with every sale that he makes, a percentage goes to the Big Life Foundation, who are a major contributing factor to conservation in Kenya. He adds that it might not be much at the moment, but that every little helps. This way, the client is directly helping the fight for protection and conservation. Using his social media, Gurveer posts current headlines concerning their fight towards conservation, hoping that people will join and make a difference. He quotes David Attenborough that, “People are not going to care about animal conservation unless they think that animals are worthwhile”. Gurveer’s wish is that through his work, he can

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prove that these animals are worth fighting for. As he asks, if we don’t make a change now, who will? When tasked to expound on the Big Life Foundation, Gurveer says that it was co-founded by photographer Nick Brandt and award-winning conservationist Richard Bonham in 2010. Using innovative conservation strategies and collaborating closely with communities and partners, Big Life Foundation seeks to protect East Africa’s wildlife and wild lands. The first organisation in East Africa with coordinated anti-poaching teams on both sides of the Kenya-Tanzania border; Big Life recognises that sustainable conservation can only be achieved through a community-based collaborative approach. Big Life’s philosophy is to provide conservationrelated benefits to local communities, and through this to change attitudes and behaviours in favour of wildlife protection. Gurveer adds that Big Life has established a successful holistic conservation model in the AmboseliTsavo-Kilimanjaro ecosystem that incorporates wildlife protection and job creation through employment of community rangers; support for communities dealing with crop raiding wildlife; conflict mitigation between humans and predators through livestock compensation; improved education through support for local teachers and scholarships for children; and creation of the Maasai Olympics, a sporting event aimed at providing conservation education and reducing traditional lion killing. The Maasai Olympics, started in 2012 is Gurveer’s favourite Big Life programme. The backstory? That it was tradition for a young Maasai warrior to go out and kill a lion to compete for recognition, impress women and to express bravery. In 2008, the Maasai cultural “fathers” of the new warrior generation asked Big Life to help them eliminate

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lion hunting from the culture. An organised sports competition based upon traditional warrior skills was thus created. Here the warriors compete against one another to help shift the attitude of the Maasais toward a commitment to wildlife conservation. Gurveer adds that, over the years, Big Life has made huge strides in educating the community, and they have come to realise the benefits of the hard work and efforts. Through their particular programmes, they have definitely raised awareness on the conservation of wildlife and their habitats and have a tremendous amount of support from the local communities. The anti-poaching battle is as ever continuous, but Big Life have a major part to play in preventing animals being killed for their assets in the Amboseli-Tsavo region. He says that contributions can be made to Big Life directly via their website (www. biglife.org), or via his website (www. gurveersira.com) where there is also a link to donate. He adds that it doesn’t matter how small the contribution is, every little will help in some way. Exhibitions he has taken part in and accolades won? Gurveer says that he held his first ever photography exhibition, a solo one, earlier this year at the Tribe Hotel in Nairobi entitled “The Heart of Darkness”. All the images in this portfolio can be seen and are still up for sale on his website. Being his first exhibition first, he states that he learnt a lot from it and that he hopes to hold more exhibitions in the near future being as successful, if not more, as the first. Gurveer states that he was very fortunate to be invited by Karen Lawrence-Rowe, a renowned Conservation Artist, to partake in the “Artists Against Extinction Exhibition” which was held at the Polka Dot Gallery in Nairobi earlier this year. He is also a supporting artist of the AAE group (https://www. artistsagainstextinction.org/gurveersira). He also anticipates to exhibit

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his work on a global scale, hoping it will create a worldwide impact on conservation. By far, the biggest opportunity Gurveer has had, was to have the honour of meeting world renowned photography Nick Brandt, where he critiqued his work. He says that Nick’s advice will be cherished for life. Gurveer says that a separate portfolio was created for the Four Points Sheraton Hotel near JKIA Nairobi, where his work has been used as room art in the suites. Gurveer states that photography is definitely a reward in itself. ‘You are capturing a moment in time that you will never get back, what is more rewarding than that? – he poses. He adds that he finds it so self-satisfying to achieve an amazing shot after all the planning and preparations that have gone in to it. Moreover, he takes every single opportunity that he can to pick his camera and go. During this process, he has been asked to advise and help beginner photographers. Which, he adds, is probably more rewarding than actually receiving awards; that is, being acknowledged for his skills, his methods, his way. Gurveer’s last word on photography is that the equipment you use does not determine whether you are good at photography or not. It is all about the individual and their “eye”. The image you capture should tell a story, raise questions. Capturing that moment in time can never be replicated. He says that his obsession for photography has lead him to new and exciting places, with the opportunity to meet people from different walks of life. So many life changing experiences, it has helped him grow into who he is. Gurveer’s parting shot? If you love it, you love it and will put your all into it.


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T R AV E L


Road to

Tharaka Nithi


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haraka Nithi is one of the 47 counties of Kenya. Jocularly, it is referred to as ‘stronghold’ due to acting as a swing state in Kenya’s 2007 and 2013 general elections. The county is located on the semi-arid area of what was formerly Eastern Province about 175 kilometres north-east of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. The county lies at the foothill of Mt. Kenya and its neighbours include Meru County to the north, Kitui County to the east and south-east and Embu County to the south. The county’s name is derived from two sub-dialects of the Ameru people, the Tharaka and the Nithi. Tharaka Nithi County has three constituencies: Maara, Chuka/ Igambang’ombe and Tharaka. It is my first time to venture into this county and I look forward to the trip. We set out on a Sunday morning, in my head, to the beat of The Commodores’ Easy (like Sunday morning). We will be travelling in a convoy of three vehicles, of which the other two are waiting for us on the outskirts of the Nairobi metropolis at Thika Town. But before that. Sunday being a day for prayer, I woke up at the crack of dawn and set for church. Though the first mass of the day would not be commencing till an hour later, we have an adoration chapel next to the main church. I really wouldn’t be comfortable missing church, plus, that Kenyan ritual of praying for journey mercies is ingrained in me. Media reportage of road accidents on the evening news on a daily basis has brought us closer to our Creator in how we commune with Him. Back in the house, I do our Kenyan version of a full English breakfast, taking care to maximise on the solids and minimise on the liquids. Years of long-distance travel as I traversed the breadth and length of the country visiting aunties scattered all over the republic has taught me a thing or two. Namely, that a runny stomach and a full bladder can otherwise ruin a wonderful travel experience. Which means that it is wise to feed your stomach with agreeable stuff. Second, that it is advisable to always stick to the dictums of matters bladder. The first dictum being that never ever pass a chance to take a pee. The second dictum stating that never ever pass a second chance to take a pee. With my tummy full, I take a quick shower, brush my teeth, change clothes and pack for the weeklong stay in Tharaka Nithi. Then I double check whether I have my wallet, and by extension, my ID card with me as well as my smartphone charger. In the meanwhile, I also take a pee and only then am I comfortable leaving the house. As I leave the house, I meet my neighbour coming out of hers and after exchanging pleasantries, inform her that I will be out of town for a week. In essence, telling her - in not so many words - to keep watch over my house. I also pass by my caretaker and inform him of the same as two pairs of eyes are better than one. You can never be too vigilant

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when it comes to Nairobbery. Normally, if on a weekday, we would have taken a detour to avoid passing through Nairobi’s CBD. As it were, being on a Sunday, and an early Sunday at that, we cruise to the CBD in minutes, then join the Thika Superhighway. Now, I have travelled on this road tens of times as I go upcountry to see my folks. Then, it was simply Thika Road and it was frustrations galore using it. Nowadays, every time I use it, I can’t help but marvel at what the right leadership can accomplish – and that nagging thought that it is high time we renamed the road. Back in time, the road consisted of two strips of parallel roads that were inadequate, perpetually gridlocked and which were the epitome of bad planning by the concerned government ministry.


Thika Superhighway too is smooth cruising. Further, there are no traffic police on the road; meaning that we cannot be stopped for this or that misdemeanour as they actively seek for a bribe. You know, that joke where the cop tells his wife to bring water to the boil as he goes out to ‘shop’ for flour and a kilo of beef. We take a detour to Thika Town – taking utmost care not to miss our turning – to join the rest of our fellow travellers. Once there, quick pleasantries are exchanged as we then commence the rest of the journey in our convoy. In the meantime, I stick to my first dictum on matters bladder. Now, Thika Superhighway has morphed into a dual carriage, then gradually, it turns into a single road. Thika-Garissa Road, Nairobi-Nanyuki Road, PROSE MAGAZINE | DECEMBER 2017 - JANUARY 2018

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Nairobi-Meru Road, its variants. At Kenol, I take a mental detour and travel to my ‘shaggz’ – my ancestral home. Meanwhile, we move past Kenol to Makuyu and onwards to Sagana. Our vehicle is fast and first on the convoy and so we pull up at Isaac-Walton Hotel for lunch as we wait for the others to catch up. As it were, the itinerary was for us to refresh there before getting to Tharaka Nithi. Once refreshed – again, I employ my dictums on matters bladder – we are back on the road. Now, this is where it gets interesting.

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The hitherto smooth and carpeted road comes to a sudden halt. It continues as a rough road as major roadworks are ongoing, with tractors having cleared and levelled a path to demarcate where the road will pass through. But no, this is not to be our road. Rather, perpendicular to us is another stretch, smooth at first but swiftly ending up as rough and desolate terrain. Soon enough, we are slogging through dry riverbeds as the road merge into riverbeds and riverbeds merge into the road. Meanwhile, I am drafting various movie scripts in my head;

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fashioned after famous horror and thriller movies. The first one being The Hills Have Eyes in that our electronic devices cannot pick up signals and the land looks deserted as far as the eye can see. Then again, we are travelling on dry riverbeds and the skies are dark and angry and heavily pregnant with rainclouds. It starts to drizzle, and we fly through the riverbeds as we seek higher grounds so as not to be washed away should the heavens open. My mind is forced into the second movie at short notice. Turbulence, you know, that feeling


FACT FILE

when a plane suddenly loses altitude and you feel your organs sharply rising through your body. For we were keenly ascending up a hill before it suddenly turned into a sharp descend; like how a cartoon character jumps off a cliff, is suspended mid-air for little while before it plunges to the sea beneath. Only that we do not plunge anywhere as our driver – really, she could fare well in the Safari Rally circuit – brakes sharply. We all heave in relief. We reach Tharaka Nithi, Marimanti, to be exact,

slightly after dusk. It really is a ‘stronghold’ as we discover in our weeklong stay there. From their traditional jam prepared from the seeds of the fig tree to their roast goat liver. From their traditional gruel that leaves one feeling a bit intoxicated to their traditional dances, we soak all the scenes, scents and sounds in wonder. The highlight? Tracing the scenic Kathita River from Meru to where it joins the Tana River.

Tharaka Nithi County, popularly known as The stronghold is one of the forty seven (47) counties in Kenya. It borders the counties of Embu to the south and south-west, Meru to the north and north-east, Kirinyaga and Nyeri to the west and Kitui to the east and southeast. The county has a number of Hills in its landscape, these includes: Kiera, Munuguni and Njuguni in Maara constituency, Kijege and Ntugi in Tharaka constituency. The topography of Chuka/ Igambang’ombe and Maara constituencies is greatly influenced by the Mt. Kenya volcanic activity leading to formation of ‘V’ shaped valleys within which the main tributaries of River Tana flows originating from Mt. Kenya forest.

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B O O K

R E V I E W

The Burdens by John Ruganda

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amala: Nice view you command from here, Mr. Kanagonago. The city sits well on its concrete haunches between trees and electric poles. Must be exalting at night: neon lights and stars and the breeze carrying the rose scent…

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This excerpt is from John Ruganda’s play, The Burdens, Act II. Wamala, a former minister who fell from grace to grass in a political purge is playacting a role. Assuming the role of a minister, really, carried away by memories of his glory days, he reminisces with his wife, Tinka. Wamala hobnobs with the high and mighty, making small talk here and there as he moves from one VIP to the next and who have all come to attend a rally. From Wamala’s banter, we learn that the rally is being held away from the city. We see him jesting with a fellow VIP as to

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whether he is here to be of service to the nation, or rather, so as to claim his mileage allowance. Though said as a private joke, such banter is a pointer to endemic corruption in the government. Moving to another VIP, we see Wamala whispering into the ears of another person, this time, in a state of reverie as he points to a spot in the audience. This time, his query is on a striking young lady in a blue skirt. He is informed that the lady in question in question is a refugee, with the implication that she could easily be taken advantage of. Wamala comments that the lady


possesses the kind of beauty that unsettles wives. He then proceeds to mount the rostrum to address the gathered crowd as his wife intervenes to shake him out of his reverie. Shortly before, Wamala was getting ready to go and meet an old acquaintance who has aspirations of seeking political office. He is to sell him an idea that can mint both of them millions as Wamala seeks to replace lost opulence and fame. Tinka has brought him a parcel containing a black suit, white shirt, black tie, black shoes and socks. Which new attire he clads in exchange of his old tattered clothes as Tinka disappears into the children’s room in search of part of her distilling equipment as she now makes ‘enguli’, an illicit drink, and weaves mats to support their family as Wamala has taken to drowning his sorrows in the local bars. When Tinka reappears, she is pleasantly surprised at Wamala’s transformation as he looks reborn. In essence, resembling the Wamala of old who was a powerful minister. It this transformation that sends him to relieve his heyday as a government minister up to the moment where he was to munt the rostrum. Once back to reality, his wife, Tinka, informs him that he will be late to the meeting at which he is to pitch the business idea, during which his confidence takes a hit. Wamala admits that when he sold the idea to Tinka, it might have been drink talking. However, Tinka is having none of it ang goads him to go and meet the aspiring politician, Vincent. (Vincent, at the bar, Mr. Kanagonago, at the office). This Vincent, a polygamous retired Saza chief, who Wamala, in the company of other drunkards, had met at the Republic bar. Vincent had then proceeded to inform them that he was going to run for elective office as a member of parliament at which they all burst with laughter. Vincent had then gone on to make promises of building schools and constructing roads and dispensaries. This had

prompted someone to state that they were familiar with such promises – illustrative of a sceptical people weary of politicians and their promises that are never fulfilled. Another person had said that Vincent had arrested him for poll tax at which Vincent had pleaded that he was only following the law in executing his mandate then. On his part, Wamala had reminded Vincent that he did not belong to the Party, at which Vincent had replied that the Party would welcome him into its fold with a hundred hands; probably, due to his immense wealth. Vincent had then proceeded to drown them in drink, as Vincent puts it. Realising that Vincent was serious, Wamala had pulled him aside so as to teach him a trick or two about campaigning. Wamala had told him that people were tired of pleas and promises and long speeches and that what they wanted were catchy slogans. Wamala had then demonstrated his Three Vs Dimensional Attack: ‘VOTE VALOUR; VOTE VALUE; VOTE VINCENT!’. Vincent had tried it in the Republic and it had worked wonders and at which he had rewarded Wamala with fifty shillings. Wamala had then used ten shillings to buy a second-hand bed for their son, Kaija. On her part, a rather unimpressed Tinka deflates her husband by stating that opponents could inflict much damage on what she dismisses as his Vs rubbish: ‘VOTE VAPOUR; VOTE VIOLENCE; VOTE VENGEANCE; VOTE VINCENT’. She opines that the mad reception at the Republic was the effect of the free drinks Vincent had bought them. Act II ends with Wamala trying to strangle Tinka and attack Kaija as he is carried over in his play-acting. The Burdens is divided into three acts. In Act I, the curtain rises to the spectacle of Tinka weaving a mat and where we are invited to speculate as to whether she is passing time or waiting for Wamala. Her son, Kaija, joins her to lodge a complaint, but not

before Tinka reprimands him for not being in bed at that hour. Kaija says that he is unable to sleep as his sister, Nyakake – they share a bed – has wet their bed. Kaija is wearing badlypatched shorts and a nylon shirt and carrying a hurricane lamp. As they converse, Tinka orders him to blow out the lamp – all of which goes on to illustrate the state of poverty that has befallen Wamala’s family. When Kaija complains that he should be sleeping on his own bed like his agemates, Tinka asks him to ask his father why he can’t have his own bed. Later, Wamala voice is heard faintly from without and which signals his return from his drinking and womanising forays. When let in, he drags a second-hand bed for his son after him. By and by, they will fight as Tinka accuses him of promiscuity and drinking himself silly as he abdicates his husbandly and fatherly duties. They will then make peace and head off to bed together. In Act III, following developments in Act II above, Tinka is packing their household goods in readiness to move elsewhere. She is joined by her son, Kaija, and her daughter, Nyakake, who pester her as to the whereabouts of their father. As the conversation escalates, with Kaija narrating a horrible dream he had, we sense that something is amiss. A dastardly act committed in the dead of night? The act comes to an end as distant police sirens gets louder and louder and a police car stops outside their house. Themes portrayed in the play include debauchery, corruption, poverty and domestic violence. Which themes, as portrayed in John Ruganda’s play, resonates with Africans across the continent. In the play, politics is depicted as a means to amass wealth and an opportunity to indulge in debauchery while debilitating poverty has men shirking their responsibilities as husbands and fathers for the bottle.

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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

Heartbreak hotel L

Photo credit: SergeyNivens

ately, I have been having a crisis of confidence. My friend Dick says that it is normal and which he refers to as a quarter-life crisis. Perhaps, it was triggered by Naserian’s impending marriage to another. Perhaps not. Dick says that every man should go through at least one heartbreak so as to grow up. I am not sure he has ever experienced one to know that it hurts as hell, but there we are. So, Naserian is getting married to a fellow doctor. Partly, it was my fault. Always nagging her that she never found time for us to spend together. Said she, that her work had crazy hours and she needed to first build a career before she could think of settling down. Or perhaps, if I am honest with myself, she found my lack of ambition rather unsettling. That, or my chosen career a dead end. She had moved to another town, found her fellow doctor and now they are to have a church wedding. Everyone, including my sister, is invited. The exception. Me. I will consider it the greatest betrayal should my own blood sister attend that wedding. Which is how I find myself in Okriga. Now, Okriga is one desolate land inhabited by nomads who keep cattle, goats and camel. In the middle of the despondency, though, is an oasis where residents and travellers can find respite. Okriga town is served by two springs of cold fresh water and is slightly elevated compared to the rest of the region. It is the only area that receives rain regularly and is fairly green. It also has a river where the residents have dammed a bathing area. The government is planning to build a modern road to connect the region to the rest of the country. As such, forward thinking fellow have purchased or leased land

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for development as they anticipate this. One such fellow is Mr. Mukobo and who has put up a resort here. I managed to convince him that I could push tourists his way via blogging and social media, hence the residential writing gig here. I have never worked so hard as I do now in the whole of my life. So far so good as I have managed to pull a group of tourists to the resort. A drawback, though, is that the resort lacks a swimming pool – under construction at the moment – and it can get pretty hot in the day despite the aircon in the rooms and at the hotel lounge. A minor inconvenience, really, as I have managed the tourists to saunter past the resort’s confines and mingle with the local populace. This, mainly, in the form of bathing at the river together with other Okriga residents. Now, back in the city, my European tourists would have been hounded by all sorts of characters for a handout. Not so Okriga residents. A proud and hospitable tribe, begging is alien to them. They would rather exchange trinkets with the tourists after first hosting them in their homes. Mr. Mukobo has agreed to my idea of integrated tourism whereby the tourists spend a night or two at the home of a tribe’s elder. We have already engaged in such an activity and where a goat was slaughtered for us and the village children and youth danced away the night for us. In exchange, the villagers got such trinkets as packs of cigarettes to share among the elders, odds and ends for the children and a couple of t-shirts for the host family’s matron. In exchange, the tourists got beaded belts and traditional regalia among others. In the meantime, I have had time to reflect on the course of my life. Admittedly, Naserian’s recent engagement has occasioned a major detour and calls for a rethink of where my life is headed. Consequently, I have

shelved drafting my greatest novel ever. It is a sure bet that a heartbreak is not the optimal time to pen a bestselling epic novel. I could do a romance novel in which the spurned lover ends up with a worthier, richer partner; in essence, trading the village girl for a princess, but thanks no. The memories would kill me. Plus, my friends and family would think me to be rather petty when they read it. In the end, a stoic me has decided to draft a how-not-to book to address quarter-life crisis. Some pointers that will make it to the self-help book. How not to handle a heartbreak: A heartbreak is the end of the world. It brings to a crash one’s life and everything comes to a standstill. So many emotions, some many memories, such great turmoil. My advice on how not to handle a heartbreak? Show up every day, preferably in the middle of the night, at your former lover’s residence. Shout and cry and generally make yourself a nuisance as you plead and cajole and beg that you be reunited in love. If this does not work and results in you being thrown out of the gate unceremoniously by security, move to Plan B. Start showing up at their workplace on a Wednesday when they are at their busiest and plead for your case. You may end up getting a restraining order against you, but at least, you tried. How not to behave on a first date: At some point, you will have to get over your spurned lover and move on with life, more so, with a restraining order filed against you. In the course of which you will get back to dating as, after all, your parents are pressuring you to get hitched so that they can hold their grandkids. They have even quoted a verse or two on their need to see their third or fourth generation. So, how is one not to behave on first date? Tell her how much she looks just like your former lover. Tell her how she smiles

just like your former lover. Suggest that she cut her hair short and get herself a Harley-Davidson riding jacket so that she ends up as an exact replica of your former lover. End the date by crying. How not to pick up a restaurant for your second date: Understandably, your first date after the breakup with your lover will never pick up your calls ever again. Still, there is that small matter of parents wanting to be grandparents, so you will relent and go for another date. To your credit, you will not pick up someone that looks like your former lover and which goes to show that you moving past the breakup. Here is not how you will choose a restaurant for your date: You will take her to the same restaurant that you, your former lover and friends used to frequent. You may or may not bump into her there. And should you bump into her, you will serenade her and tell her that you two should get back together. You will ask her to bump her loser husband for her and call him some rather choice words, should he be present or not. Then again, you will bump into her friends should you not chance upon her. You will then proceed to harass them, loudly, wanting to know every detail as to how she is coping miserably with your breakup. You will then demand that they put up a good word for you – how you have reformed and how you are doing well in life – so that you can get together. In both instance, your date will end up slapping you and running out of the restaurant. Then again, you tried.

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F I C T I O N

Nemesis

mine

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I

’ve always wanted to ask roadside shoe sellers why they pair different shoes; with the first shoe in the first row, first column, having its partner on the extreme right on the ninth column, third row and so on. I guess I could have asked him, but I didn’t. That said, this story is not about shoes. So, here I was fresh in town. I had been transferred from my workplace in Joika – big, bustling town, to this slow town that is Mento. Really, I should be grateful that I hadn’t been transferred to the frontier district of Kiberege, our Siberia, and where a civil servant had to do make do with a tent for living quarters. Worse, it meant risking life and limb as one moved about in the course of one’s duty as rebel fighters and mines planted in the ground lurked about. Perhaps, I should have been sent there as they did not sell shoes. They did not need too. Then again, as I said before, this story is not about shoes. My troubles had started with Mr. Igego, my immediate supervisor. When I had first been employed in the Ministry of Geologics and Survey away in the capital city, Weru, Mr. Igego had preceded me to the workstation by a week. I had to share a cubicle with him and pretty soon, we were fast friends. Soon, I was calling him Igego, then Ige. We had a lot in common; graduating the same year though from different universities that were friendly rivals, we were both bachelors and we loved life. As newbies, Ige and I pretty much kept to ourselves, in and out of work, as most of our colleagues were our parents’ age. At work, we had to defer to them, which meant getting the bits of work resisted by everyone else. Socially, there was a caveat to sharing a drink with one’s parents as it was likened to seeing their nakedness and so there was general separation of joints across the generations. Which is

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not to say that work was all gloom and doom. Far from it. As her sons, Mama Aduma brought us the occasional home-cooked meal as she said we were all bones and spirit. The menfolk gave us lifts in their cars and bought us lunches at mid-month when we looked lean and Idda tried to make Ige marry her daughter as she saw him to be a most responsible young man bound to go far in his career. Soon enough, a private joke between Ige and I. Then, on the third year at our jobs, Ige was transferred to Joika. A fellow there had retired, and they felt prestigious if they could get a replacement from the big city. News and fashion updates and that kind of thing, my guess, for the big city was the pulse of the nation. Still single, Ige thought the experience would do wonders for his resume, plus he could do with the added money as he would be moving up the ranks. On my end, I got another co-worker to share my work cubicle with. A bit older than me, he kind of seemed occupied with maintaining peace at the home front judging from the numerous calls he got from his wife enquiring on his whereabouts, with said wife causing a scene once or twice at our workstations. And so, in a years’ time, I was all too ready to move and join Ige in Joika when a vacancy opened there. Abebi. Bright and beautiful Abebi. A being created first thing in the morning when God was still fresh. She came from the south where we have our coastal towns. Arab looking with a perfectly chiselled smile and jawline, her hair could have reached her waistline if only she had let it grow. As it were, the local beauty salons had corrupted her to wearing her hair short and applying paints to her eyes and lips that we – ‘we’ being all the men employed by the ministry at Joika - thought could cause her cancer. Subsequently, we set to rescuing her

PROSE MAGAZINE | DECEMBER 2017 - JANUARY 2018

and restoring her to her natural beauty. Abebi, it was she who made me start referring to Ige as Mr. Igego. It happened this way. When Ige had been transferred to Joika, he had a head start when it came to winning Abebi over. After all, he was from the big city, his promotion had seen him discard the mere title of a clerk, he was well-informed, fashionably dressed and he knew all the coolest dance moves. In fact, in our few correspondence, he had hinted at the possibility of marriage. Naturally, I was to be the chair of their wedding committee as well as their best man. To be fair, I did send him a couple of designs for their wedding card at which he said he would have to consult with the subject of his desire. I landed in Joika on a Friday and Ige was mighty glad to see me. He helped me arrange my things in my new abode and we caught a cold one as we reminisced on deeds past in the big town at the local. He also informed me that he would be my supervisor at my new work station, which, in my mind, would have me having perfect job appraisals and a promotion very soon. He would have liked very much to hang out with me on Saturdays and Sundays like in the old days, but he had some errands to run and I probably needed the rest. Monday morning came and I presented myself to the new workstation. The usual formalities and niceties followed and I was assigned to a cubicle which I shared with Abebi. In the course of the week, I soon learnt that there had been some minor reshuffles as accords one work desk, hence the reason I found myself paired with Abebi. Namely, I was to keep Abebi’s safe from the other predators, seeing to it that I was Ige’s best friend. About Abebi, she was as Ige had described her in our correspondence, and some more.


I

There is something about spending time with another being for considerably amounts of time on end. If of the same sex, a firm friendship develops, as was my case with Ige. If of the opposite sex, a mutual attraction that can lead to slip ups on the work front. Recognising this, the ministry had guidelines that forbade office romance as part of wider steps to maintain professionalism and discourage sexual harassment.

quickly settled in my new workplace, partly aided by Ige. Lunch would often find us three – Ige, Abebi and I – together, with Ige normally volunteering to take care of the bill. Privately, once in a while, I would give him the money to settle our lunches as I understood he was wooing Abebi. On his part, Ige had introduced me to her as his best friend and we had struck off on friendly terms. There is something about spending time with another being for considerably amounts of time on end. If of the same sex, a firm friendship develops, as was my case with Ige. If of the opposite sex, a mutual attraction that can lead to slip ups on the work front. Recognising this, the ministry had guidelines that forbade office romance as part of wider steps to maintain professionalism and discourage sexual harassment. To be fair though, they were routinely

ignored, acting more of a liability clause to indemnify the ministry should it be sued in the event of this. Confronted by the possibility of an office entanglement, what is a man to do? In my mind, I had weighed such a possibility and concluded that my friendship with Ige was much more valuable than a doomed fling. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak, said the good book. In my naivety, I had consented to visit Abebi at her house one Saturday afternoon. Ige was out on some conference at Weru and being mid-month, I was running low on funds to catch the sporting action down at the local. Still, I had read all my novels and Abebi insisted that I come over to her place as her laptop was acting up and she needed to finish her Monday’s morning presentation. About my naivety. As I said, there is something about spending considerable amounts of time with someone, more so, in an office setting.

For one, everyone is at their best while at the office – well-groomed, courteous and so on. A smile that flickers for a second longer. An innocent touch that quickly hovers on the shoulder and is gone. A handshake that extends beyond the elbow. Chocolate biscuits to accompany one’s mid-morning tea – basically, an invitation to live dangerously. In all these, though, my fast friendship with Ige saw me persevere. Yet, it must be said that that which cannot be gotten merely adds to its mysticism and allure. And so it was that Abebi pursued me; subtly, off course. I did go to her place and she did fix me lunch. We also did a movie and that was that. Ever the proper lady, and I pretending to be a proper gentleman, we observed the maxim of a first date. Taking things slow. That said, she did give me a present. A nice pair of office shoes – rubber soles, calf leather on the outside with leather insoles. Which gesture I thought to be most thoughtful as my one and only pair of office shoes was starting to manifest my poverty. Then again, walls have eyes and ears as I soon found out. Monday morning and Ige was back. When I greeted him, his reply was grumpy and which I put down to exhaustion. In the evening, he came to my place, breathing fire and brimstone. What is this he was hearing that I had spent the weekend at Abebi’s place! How could I be so treacherous and betray the trust he had bestowed on me? She had requested me to go and help her sort out her laptop to get ready for a presentation, my defence. What about the new pair of shoes Abebi had bought for me when she had never even bought Igego a neckerchief? On Tuesday, me and Abebi were separated and she was given another female staff as my replacement. That was not all, Ige

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insisted that I had to refer to him as Mr. Igego sir from henceforth and that I would be required to wear a tie at all times to reflect the stature of the office I held. In short, putting me in my position and demonstrating to Abebi that he was superior to me. Of course, I neither called him Mr. or sir or wear a tie. At first. Which saw me hauled before our department head on Friday mid-morning for insubordination. Now, our department head was a rather mellow fellow who did not care to be bothered outside of his assigned duties. His pension was beckoning and he looked forward to retiring in the village. That, and the fact that I had procured a favour for him once or twice of a discrete nature. Then again, he did not want to be perceived as taking sides. All of which I meant that I put up a spirited defence on the accusation of insubordination. Mr. I could do, though I drew a line at calling anyone sir. Sir was a vestige of colonialism which my grandfather had fought against in the war for the country’s independence. That I had never called anyone sir before; not my father nor any one of my teachers before and that I’d rather resign from the job than do so. I was being a bit dramatic but our head conceded to my point. Which said argument I did against being required to don a tie and that our wonderful weather decried this practice. Well, we scoured the regulations and established that I was not required to do either. Still, Mr. it would be, said the departmental head. Well, just to spite Ige, now, Mr. Igego, I resorted to dating Abebi openly. He may very well have the titles and the prestige, but I was the one who made Abebi laugh and that counted for something. Not to be outdone, Mr. Igego bought a nice car (on loan, I must add) and which made Abebi disappear from my sides for a couple of weekends. I could have dismissed the car as a jalopy and to be of an inferior brand, but I didn’t. I reasoned that to do so would make

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me seem jealous in Abebi’s eyes. In all fairness, though, I did contemplate and even approached my bank manager for a loan to buy a bigger car and outshine Mr. Igego. In retrospect, it is as well that the bank refused to saddle me with a loan that would have seriously crippled my financial self. Instead, I commented to Abebi on how nice Mr. Igego’s car was. On her part, she complained of how Mr. Igego was also showing off the car that you’d have thought he was the first person to one a car. And with that, I played the fact of Mr. Igego owning a car to my advantage. Still, though I may have been winning the war for Abebi’s affections, I suffered at the work front. My people have a saying that he who competes with an elephant on matters excreta is bound to end up splitting his arse. As my immediate supervisor, Mr. Igego resorted to handing me workloads with impossible deadlines that saw me toiling way past midnight on weekdays and the whole weekends. The weekends were a bit bearable as Abebi sometimes volunteered to assist me and which irked Mr. Igego to no end. On weekdays, though, Mr. Igego, in the company of our department head, would catch me napping at work for which I would be given a warning and a threat for employment termination. Of course, the department head always delayed to sack me, though he did call me in private to pull up my socks. Naturally, things came to a head one day. I had a rather splendid weekend in the company of Abebi and where we visited the local museum and dined out. I reported to work on high spirits, ready to toil past midnight as I was determined to wear Mr. Igego down with my resilience. Lately, whenever he gave me my impossible assignments, I would always request for more work. I had recruited other colleagues to assist me in this, arguing that I was basically being loaded with part of their assignments. Now, if each one of us could toil for an extra day

PROSE MAGAZINE | DECEMBER 2017 - JANUARY 2018

each day, Monday through Friday, it would open their Friday’s to attend to other personal and business matters. Government pay being what it is, many ran businesses on the side to supplement their incomes and they were most agreeable to my idea. So now, Mr. Igego came on Monday morning slightly inebriated. He passed by our cubicle and greeted us. My colleague promptly replied while I pretended not to hear him, being fully immersed in my work and all that. Things might have ended well, only that he decided to pull a Fight Club on me. You know that part of the movie where Brad Pitt’s character beats himself up in the boss’ office and the company agrees to pay him off so as not to be sued. Mr. Igego hurled himself into my desk, sending everything flying about in the cubicle, all the while shouting for help. In no time at all, our cubicle was crowded by other colleagues and the department head. Shell-shocked, my cubicle partner stood muted as Mr. Igego accused me of beating him up. Perhaps, I should have held my restrain at these wild accusations. Or it is that my arm had an independent mind of its own. For on impulse, I jabbed Mr. Igego a right uppercut that sent him sprawling on the floor with tens of colleagues as witnesses. Half a man’s troubles are caused by a woman, said my old man. The rest are caused by another man pursuing that woman, my lesson. To cut a long story short, I was hauled before the disciplinary committee for action. I could have been sacked were it not that my departmental head stuck to my side. Plus, I had to call in a few favours from Weru. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I found myself in Mento. Now, I buy my own shoes and I am a big hit with the roadside shoe sellers.


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Prose Magazine December 2017 - January 2018 issue  

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

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