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PROSE A PUBLICATION OF EPSILON PUBLISHERS

FEBRUARY - MARCH 2018 ǀ 9TH EDITION

MAGAZINE

SOCIAL ISSUE

The face of leadership Lucy Wambui Kaigutha

Reading culture

Rethinking education

Photography Joe Barasa

Travel

Road to Mauritius


Editorial | Translation | Publishing | Printing

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CO N T E N T S

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CO N T E N T S

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Reading

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Leadership

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Movie or the book

Leading with the heart

Book review

The Ugly American by William J. Lederer & Eugene Burdick

The diary of a budding writer New beginnings

The Penthouse

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 | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2018


W E LCO M E

N OT E

Of new beginnings, new insights and touching lives.

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elcome to our first issue of the Prose magazine for the year 2018. From baby steps, to crawling to full flight, ours indeed has been a remarkable journey and learning experience up to this our 9th edition. And in the spirit of a new year, new beginnings, we are making subtle changes to the magazine to enrich our readers experience. As such, we will be introducing our readers to new contributors with vast experience in their respective industries and which wealth and insights they will be sharing in these pages. In this issue (and subsequent ones) we welcome Lucas Marang’a, a mentorpreneur and storyteller who will be sharing his vast experience on life and entrepreneurship. Karibu sana Lucas. Now that we have heaved a collective sigh at bidding farewell to Kenya’s maddening electioneering period, we hope that our 9th edition – the Social Issue edition – will offer you some respite. In this issue, we feature Lucy Wambui Kaigutha. But before that? Ever been on the

streets and encountered a shabby, glue-sniffing street urchin? Was your first instinct to walk away hurriedly as you clutched tightly at your purse à la Phil Collins’ Another Day in Paradise? Or perhaps, you sat down with him and listened to his story. Well, the above are not quite the circumstances under which Lucy Wambui founded Toto Care Box. Still, that encounter with the woman in a little village in Marich, West Pokot, was Lucy’s epiphany. She says that this woman– five children, the fifth barely two weeks old, and nothing to her name – stayed long on her mind even after she left the village. Lucy knew she had to do something for the woman and the baby and thus was the seed for the Toto Care Box planted. We also have our regular columns. In the photography section, we meet Joe Barasa, a keen photographer, illustrator, writer and biker – the complete storyteller, if you will. Our poetry section ruminates on the rising cost of living and the wily ways of the politician who feeds off the state. We also

encounter our budding writer. This time, it seems as though he is slowly healing from a relationship gone south and which brings to mind the saying that ‘Better a broken engagement than a broken marriage.’ Perhaps, he will finally get to penning his greatest novel ever, after all. There is the penthouse and there is a penthouse. One screams opulence while the other is witness to nefarious activities and which is our fiction piece. Our travel takes us to Mauritius right to its heart at the capital city that is Port Louis. Quintessentially, the country is as postcard perfect as postcard perfect can get. And while we are on it, though women continue to advance in the careers and in life, a lot still need to be done. The theme to mark this year's International Women's Day (March 8, 2018) is #PressforProgress. It calls for concerted effort towards gender inclusivity. We hope that you enjoy the read.

Mumbi Gichuhi PROSE MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2018

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Sigil (noun) -

A seal or signet.

A little bit of trivia Mind your language Cockaigne Foreshadowing In medieval literature, Cockaigne refers to an imagined place of extreme luxury and concerning physical comforts and pleasures. It contrasted with the harshness of peasant life in medieval times. In modern times, such a place is aptly captured in the Big Rock Candy Mountain, a song derived from various American folksongs and which is akin to a hobo’s paradise.

Foreshadowing is a stylistic device in which the author drops clues on what is to happen later on in the story. It eggs on the reader to finish the story so as to find out how the story unfolds. Oftentimes, it appears on the beginning of a story, or in the case of a novel, on the prologue or first chapter. Foreshadowing is created via the title of the story or novel, character dialogues, a particular event or via symbolism.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR

Famous quotes 6

MARIA MONTESSORI

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

Now, what really makes a teacher is love for the human child; for it is love that transforms the social duty of the educator into the higher consciousness of a mission.”

- Martin Luther King, Jr (1929-1968), Baptist minister and social activist

- Maria Montessori (1870 -1952), Italian physician and educator

PROSE MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2018

Rebarbative Unattractive and objectionable

Costermonger A person who sells goods, especially fruit and vegetables, from a handcart in the street

Porringer A small bowl, typically with a handle, used for soup, stew, or similar dishes

GRACE OGOT

When you are frightened, don’t sit still, keep on doing something. The act of doing will give you back your courage.” - Grace Ogot (1930 –2015), Kenyan author, nurse, journalist, politician and diplomat


Philosophy Philosophy is defined as the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline. It includes:

C-Sectioned

Creature comforts (plural noun):

Creature comforts are the things that you need to feel comfortable in a place, for example good food and modern equipment.

African philosophy

African philosophy is philosophy produced by African people, philosophy that presents African worldviews, or philosophy that uses distinct African philosophical methods.

Bioethics

Bioethics is the study of the ethical issues emerging from advances in biology and medicine. It is also moral discernment as it relates to medical policy and practice. Bioethicists are concerned with the ethical questions that arise in the relationships among life sciences, biotechnology, medicine, politics, law, and philosophy.

Capitalism

Capitalism is an economic system and ideology based upon private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. Characteristics central to capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labour, voluntary exchange, a price system and competitive markets.

Communism

In political and social sciences, communism is the philosophical, social, political and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of the communist society, which is a socio-economic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money and the state.

In an organisational sense, creature comforts traverse the domain of occupational safety and health as well as requisite equipment and tools to enable staff to work. Creature comforts are an essential ingredient towards staff productivity and morale. They include modern equipment, facilities such as clean washrooms, a staff canteen in the case of huge organisations having tens or hundreds of workers housed in location, airy workrooms and water dispensers among others. Creature comforts and their impact on staff morale and productivity are best exemplified in the bathroom speech scene in the movie, Hidden Figures. The story

is about three black (coloured, in the movie) women mathematicians who are recruited into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during the Space Race era. One of the women, Katherine Johnson, is promoted to join the group tasked with plotting trajectories for the space shuttles. Despite this, she is forced to walk over half a mile to use the coloured bathrooms. This makes her lose precious time when every second count as the US seeks to beat the USSR in the Space Race. Ultimately, she makes an impassioned speech, and which leads to the abolition of bathroom segregation.

Utopia

A Utopia is an imagined community or society that has material abundance for its inhabitants and who have high morals such that vice is absent in this community or society. By extension, Utopian ideals emphasise egalitarian principles in regard to economics, governance and justice. The term is coined from Sir Thomas More’s book of the same name and which described such a fictional island society in the south Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South America. In turn, he had coined it from the Greek word ‘Eutopia’ and which translates as ‘good place’. PROSE MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2018

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P O E T RY

Citizenry Ba ba… or is it ta ta? Hers is poetry jelly beans She doodles today The day before devoted to cupcakes Her recipe, rather simple, annoyed ma Flour on her head, mixed with drool Sugar and oil and washing powder Oh, the joy of being a toddler. Tomorrow she is all grown up Surly, her middle name She is a bore to be with Complaining this, complaining that The price of flour, hiked rents Her face has not smiled in ages But you sympathise with her ilk For even death does not come cheap.

Scavengers See their eyes, their evil eyes, their dark, evil eyes Feel their talons, sharp and cruel and merciless Hear their cries, wicked and deadly and deafening Even the ruffling of their feathers is not soft Oh, the accursed scavengers that roam this earth. They poach all – babies and mothers and carcases Their dance, their famed dance, Danse Macabre You can feel their approach – cold and numbing You can hear their presence – a trill of a thrill For they are labourers of the Grim Reaper. Their council – a council of machinations Devising new ways to torment the human spirit Concocting avarice and pride and hate For they are adept at poisoning men’s minds And for these, are men choice pickings.

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PROSE MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2018


R E A D I N G

Movie or the book? “The book is a film that takes place in the mind of the reader. That’s why we go to movies and say, ‘Oh, the book is better.’” -Paulo Coelho

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hich is better, the book or the movie? This argument is as old as the hills, and if not, at least, it is as old as the advent of turning bestsellers into movies. Which is to stay that it really is a subjective question; much like asking which tastes better – coffee or tea? A question I was once asked and which quickly degenerated into a fiery political debate. Apparently, I was expected to settle on either coffee or tea and ‘it depends’ was deemed not to suffice as an answer. In my defence, I expounded that there were many factors to determine which beverage was the better. Top of this was personal

preference, the grade of tea or coffee, brand, method of preparation and so forth. And so it is when it comes to answering our question. In my opinion, they complement each other. A good movie is a good movie regardless of whether it was derived from a bestseller or not. In the same breath, a good book is a good book whether it is a best-seller turned great movie or not. On the other hand, a shoddy movie or book is just that, shoddy. That said, both have their distinctive elements. The book has the pleasure of delving into various themes and subthemes, thus having a richer subtext, while fully developing its

characters and letting the imaginations of readers soar. On the other hand, movies can be much more compelling in their dramatic portrayal of the book as they have an average of an hour and a half to do so. Plus, as a book person, some great movies have directed me – as they should you - to great books. These include the Game of Thrones titles (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast of Crows, and A Dance with Dragons) and Cloud Atlas. On the same subject, I have had a great book series not live up to expectation on the big screen. The Harry Potter series. Anyone feels the same?

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R E A D I N G

C U LT U R E

Rethinking Education

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PROSE MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2018


Photo credit: Quasarphoto PROSE MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2018

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R E A D I N G

C U LT U R E

Change is in the air and Kenya is to gradually overhaul, beginning this year, its education system away from the old 8-4-4 curriculum to the new 2-6-3-3-3 system. We have been here before, moving from the 7-4-2-3 curriculum to the 8-4-4, the emphasis on Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology (STEM) spearheaded by the Centre for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education in Africa (CEMASTEA) and so on.

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rom Standard One to Grade One. From the Kenya Institute of Education to the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development. Change is in the air and Kenya is to gradually overhaul, beginning this year, its education system away from the old 8-4-4 curriculum to the new 2-6-3-3-3 system. We have been here before, moving from the 7-4-2-3 curriculum to the 8-4-4, the emphasis on Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology (STEM) spearheaded by the Centre for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education in Africa (CEMASTEA) and so on. That said, when it comes to a change in curriculum or emphasising some disciplines over others, we are not alone. In the US, there was the New Math – an initiative to catch up with the Soviets during the Space Race era – and which sought to boost knowledge and skills in Science and Mathematics among the general populace and from whom the scientists and mathematicians for the space project would be recruited. Still in the US, in the recent past, arguments for and against the Common Core State Standards Initiative have been articulated in different publications and forums with the overarching theme being that a change is as good as a rest. And what has necessitated

PROSE MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2018

this change in the Kenyan curriculum? Going by media reports and reports from education officials, the running thread is that the education sector has to be overhauled. This so as to meet the aspirations of the country, namely, to be an industrialised nation in the near future and which is currently pegged at 2030 (Vision 2030). The other reasons advanced being that it has to match with the needs of the job market, produce holistic individuals and enhance creative and critical thinking individuals who can generate innovative ideas and be employers as opposed to the current system whose default setting is to churn out jobseekers. Add to it the employers’ laments that many of these jobseekers are ‘half-baked’ graduates who have to undergo additional training at the employers’ cost and you can begin to appreciate the need for educational overhaul. As such, the new curriculum will be more skill-oriented as the country moves towards being an industrialised nation. At present, emphasis has been put on acquisition of ‘papers’ – the coveted degree, MBA or doctorate – leading to rote learning and unorthodox means of acquiring these and the prestige they command. Perhaps, it is time we had a rethink of the constitutional requirement to be a degree holder for candidates aspiring to be governors or president


or deputising them. That said, discourse continues that education is not only meant for gaining requisite skills for mere employment, but that it has to produce a civilised and ‘woke’ citizenry; that is, citizens who are aware of their rights, obligations and social issues around them that need their active participation such that they can improve their lives and the lives of others. Such education should be guided by the following parameters.

Change

Education should bring about a paradigm shift in the way people think, converse, act and generally conduct their affairs. In the Kenyan context, the new curriculum offers a chance to equip students with entrepreneurial zest and citizenship skills. These are vital to address the challenges of rampant unemployment among the youth and negative ethnicity that continues to plague the country.

Character

Basically, character is the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual. To quote H. Jackson Brown, Jr. “Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.” Seeing to it that education is the foundation upon which the Kenyan youth are to weave their dreams and actualise their potential, it must emphasise on character formation. This will equip the youth to be resilient and persistent in pursuing their goals – as employees, employers and as members of the human race – as well as address the national scourge that is corruption.

Creativity

Variously referred to as imagination or innovation, creativity

entails coming up with solutions to problems around one’s environment. Consequently, education should nurture a creative student populace who are able to come up with innovation solutions to their communities’ problems. Doing so, they will also be able to create employment for themselves and for others. Of course, it goes without saying that such education should couple creativity with business skills to ensure there arise sustainable businesses as a product of such creativity.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking calls for objective analysis of information to arrive at a logical conclusion. It ties in with creativity in that it explores connections between words or ideas and which spawns amazing concepts that can further be processed into solutions for various challenges. Further, education that emphasises on critical thinking allows its learners to be able to have honest and spirited discourses on even the most uncomfortable of subjects without resorting to violence. Ultimately, this allows for betterment of society as critical issues such as tribalism can be discussed candidly and solutions to it found.

Confidence

In a nutshell, we can think of confidence as belief in the self, and by extension, the base upon which other life-skills are built. Education that builds confidence in its learners allows them to be able to stand up for their rights, express themselves diligently and with conviction, and be able to run with ideas into products and services that provide solutions and employment to themselves and others. Further, such education enables them to be open-minded in their approach to

concepts and arguments, thus, they are able to co-exist with others who hold divergent opinions in harmony.

Conservation

Conservation entails the preservation of nature and cultural heritage. This means that sound education should emphasise on the preservation of these and which are critical for man’s survival. Instances of nature conservation include tree planting, gabion construction and construction of bio-gas cookers; in which case, educational institutions can create awareness on this, impart the necessary skills and knowledge, and mobilise their learners to actively participate in this endeavours at the home and community level.

Contentment

Contentment is a state of being happy and satisfied with who you are and doing your best where you are. As such, education should be able to equip its learners to be satisfied with who they are and be bold in pursuing their dreams. It should be able to dispel the notion of mindless acquisition of wealth as the gateway to nirvana. It should be able to do away with the false dichotomy that is whitecollar versus blue-collar occupations. Instead, it should stress on humane and ethical living as the standard by which its learners should be measured against. Ultimately, education should be able to mould learners into wellrounded individuals and responsible citizens and who invest much more into the world and their communities than what they derive from them. In the words of Shakuntala Devi: “Education is not just about going to school and getting a degree. It’s about widening your knowledge and absorbing the truth about life."

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L E A D E R S H I P


Leading with

the heart

I

n times gone by, leadership was authoritarian, top down leadership as it were. Leaders of yesteryear run a tight ship and ruled with an iron grip. They were feared and revered. Leaders were alpha males par excellence; beta females were few and far between. Romance movies, action movies, sci-fi movies were all about the enigmatic honcho at the top. The kind of stuff Mills and Boon and a plethora of other books was made of; my high school teacher called Mills and Boon and other titles “cheap thrills”, but that is a matter for another day. It didn’t stop me from devouring from under the covers, the going-ons of Mr.Much-older-boss and his 23 year old secretary, instead of studying for my exams. On a serious note, in the recent past, with all the cultural changes that have happened the world over, mostly due to the information age, the face of leadership has changed. It is the onus of leaders to adopt to new leadership styles, if they or their companies stand a fighting chance of success in the exceedingly competitive market place. A leader

with an authoritarian style will find himself deserted and isolated. Enter the social leader and his or her management style that is social leadership. In a nutshell, social leadership entails devoting one’s life and talents to improving the society or one’s community irrespective of social standing, wealth or privilege. This can range from volunteering one’s time and skills to teach underprivileged kids at the nearby primary school how to play the guitar to running a huge philanthropic organisation. Irrespective of the magnitude of one’s endeavour to improve his or her community, social leaders share the following traits.

Stature

Your stature or repute concerns how other people perceive you and thus, ultimately respond to you. Do they perceive you as someone who is trustworthy and thus, well-meaning? Social leaders are inherently altruistic by nature and thus the community in which they are running their social enterprise embraces them readily and buys into the enterprise.

Storytelling

Social leaders are great narrators. They are able to own their narratives wholeheartedly and thus, easily generate enthusiasm in various stakeholders to commit to the success of their social enterprise. In voicing their narratives, they weave possibilities, carrying along their audiences from how the situation was before their interventions, to how it is and ultimately, to how it should be.

Social capital

Social capital is derived from one’s network. As such, social leaders cultivate and are able to tap into a vast network of family, friends and professional colleagues in their quest to ensure the success of their enterprise. This translates into this network contributing in kind and in cash towards the success of these social projects; this by volunteering their expertise, time, or by way of material assistance.

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T H E

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FAC E

O F

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L E A D E R S H I P


LUCY WAMBUI

Kaigutha

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ucy Wambui is a public health specialist with a big heart for maternal and new-born health. She is a fun loving, compassionate person committed to seeking and delivering proven life-saving interventions that can benefit and save the lives of the most vulnerable groups of our society. Queried on the story behind Toto Care Box, she says that Toto Care Box Africa Trust (TCBAT) is a community health-based company that provides incentives to expectant mothers aimed at improving ante-natal care attendance and reducing child and maternal mortality in Kenya. She adds that the Toto Care Box (TCB) is a behavioural change tool that contains 18 bundled low-cost high-impact items for optimal newborn care. It incentivises behaviour change by adopting hygienic practices in new-born care and complimenting post-natal care. Further, TCB not only compliments behaviour change in preventative care of new-borns at the health facility level but continues to do so at the household level. It is a simple and cost-effective community empowerment tool that saves lives. The initiative supports the first 100 days of life. As the Founder and Director of the Toto Care Box Africa Trust

(TCBAT), what inspired her to found the trust? Wambui says that the story began in 2012 in a little village called Marich in West Pokot and where she was working as a public health researcher collecting data in integrated management of childhood illnesses. She had to conduct focus groups among women from this village. She states that one mother stood out; the mother had five children - her fifth being barely 2 weeks old - and she had nothing. This woman stayed on Wambui’s mind long after she had come back from West Pokot. She knew that she needed to do something for the mother and her baby. One day Wambui stumbled upon an article about “Why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes” as she was browsing the internet. That was the inspiration for the Toto Care Box. In Finland, babies have been sleeping in cardboard boxes since 1939 after the Second World War as a government initiative to reduce maternal and infant mortality. She adds that, currently, Finland has the lowest maternal and infant mortality in the world. The box is offered to all expectant mothers who attend four ante-natal care visits. She thought that a similar box could be used in Kenya where, every year, roughly 39 infants die per 1,000 live births, and 510 mothers die per

100,000 live births - even though most of these deaths are preventable through relatively inexpensive public health interventions. And for this reason, Wambui’s TOTOCAREBOX initiative was birthed for 2 main objectives: 1). As an incentive offered to mothers to improve ante-natal care attendance and institutionalised delivery: • To help health service providers provide extra support to expectant mothers who may be experiencing various factors that affect pregnancy, for example, HIV/AIDS, high blood pressure, diabetes and a history of pre-term labour. • To identify high-risk pregnancies which can result in multiple complications and give referrals to the nearest hospitals. 2). To reduce the four major causes of mortality in infants in Kenya which are pneumonia, neonatal tetanus, diarrhoea (gastroenteritis) and malaria; as well as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Where does she see Toto Care Box in the next, say, five, ten or twenty years? Wambui says that Toto Care Box is 18 months old and that they have managed to give out 350 boxes to date. Their mission is to give 1 million boxes by 2022. She would like

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Toto Care Box to be a national strategy where every mother - irrespective of where they come from - will receive the proven life-saving boxes that will help them look after their new-borns. They want to change the narrative for the new-born in the continent of Africa. They would also like to create champion mentor mothers who would promote for safe motherhood, breastfeeding, post-natal care and new-born care at the household level. Wambui subscribes to the adage that “Charity begins at home�. Therefore, they are looking to form a solid foundation for the TCB programme in Kenya. Once this is done, they can strategically replicate it to other countries, starting with the East African countries. She says that if the availability of even one Toto Care Box saves the lives of one mother and

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one infant, their mission will have been accomplished. They hope that working together with the public and private sector will facilitate towards saving as many new-borns as possible across Africa. This as they want to give every new-born a dignified start to life. Her take on leadership? That leadership is about answering to your calling which is aligned to your purpose. It is about serving people and being a positive role model. It is also about integrity, listening to people’s needs, sacrifice, perseverance and faith. Wambui believes in serving people, especially the less fortune, and in equality in all aspects of life. On prior experience before founding Toto Care Box, she states that working as a public health researcher for Sheffield University made her understand the importance of integrity

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and patience by not fulfilling a short-term need. It also gave her the opportunity to understand the need deeper and formulate a long-term solution. Wambui adds that she shared her vision for Toto Care Box with her family and friends and five amazing ladies; Angela Kavila-Kwinga, Jacky Gachihi, Helen Kariuki and Catherine


Gachihi and who partnered with her to make the dream a reality. She says that they are the most amazing, resilient, hardworking and selfless women she knows. That their passion for people, coupled with skills from their professional background, has generated amazing results and tremendous achievements. They have taught her what to live in purpose means. She states that she is eternally grateful to them. Her opinion on the role of data in formulating and executing sustainable projects? Wambui says that data helps make targeted and specific management decisions. This is because data collection provides evidence that your programme is working (or not). Key areas in formulating and executing sustainable projects, including initiation, planning, and execution

phase and project closure all rely heavily on accurate data. Queried on her take on worklife balance, she says that work-life balance is CRITICAL to Toto Care Box Africa Trust (TCBAT) and that they encourage a healthy balance among all their staff. She adds that being a woman, there are many other responsibilities that demand for their attention. That these responsibilities should not be allowed to suffer due to a rigorous work schedule. She realised that effective time management allows for this work-life balance to be achieved. She adds that success for her at TCBAT should reflect in all areas of her life, not just at work. What would she advise other aspiring leaders and innovators? Just get it done; Start with what you have; Don’t wait for perfection, attain it as you walk the journey; Follow your dream and don’t focus solely on the “naysayers”; LISTEN to your intuition; Love what you do; Be BOLD; Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, learn from them; and, FOCUS. Her take on the hue and cry that the boy-child has been neglected in favour of the girl-child? Wambui still feels like this is a grey area. She says that Toto Care Box seeks to address the needs of all babies regardless of their gender. She agrees that though there are many girl-child interventions, she has not found evidence that supports the statement that the boychild is neglected. For instance, she says that 60% of the students who did the KCSE exam in 2017 and scored C plus (C+) and above were boys. Further, she says that two-thirds of Kenyans earning more than KShs.100,000 are men. She believes in the allocation of services and opportunities to all. Currently, they are giving the Toto Care Box in Mukuru area, an impoverished informal settlement in Nairobi’s Eastlands and which they have been doing so since April 2017. Wambui states that a box with all the essential items is Kshs. 3,000/= and is given free of charge to a needy mum

from an impoverished background and who is unable to look after her newborn. By doing so, they are able to secure the first 28 days of her newborn. A household follow-up is then conducted in the first 2 weeks to make sure that the mum and the new-born are in good health. She appeals to well-wishers to assist in this noble course of securing the welfare of needy mums and their new-borns. They can do so via Toto Care Box’s M-Pesa Pay-bill number 891300, Account No. TOTOCAREBOX; or via their M-Changa platform via the following link: https://secure.changa. co.ke/myweb/share/10008 . For more information or any other query about the trust, you can email Lucy Wambui at info@ totocarebox.org or at totocarebox@ gmail.com . You can also call her via their number, 0719313712, or by visiting their website at www. totocarebox.org . CURRENTLY READING

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P H OTO G R A P H Y

Self-portrait by Joe Barasa


JOE

Barasa

A photographer, illustrator and story teller par excellence with a passion for biking.

J

oe Barasa is a storyteller. He tells stories through drawings (comics, cartoons and illustrations), writing (fiction, travel reports and anecdotes), film and photography. How has his photography journey been like? Joe says that he has always loved taking photos since the days of film cameras. He adds that where he grew up, photographers only took photos of people. Thus, his friends found it really strange that he would “waste” film taking photos of flowers and landscapes, and of people who were not posing. About 10 years ago, he got his first digital camera and continued taking photos of flowers, landscapes and people who were not posing. He says that his has been a wonderful

experience as photography has inspired him to travel and venture into places he would otherwise be too lazy to. Concerning his photography style, Joe likes candid photography, unposed photos, photos that tell a story and photos that inspire questions. As to the impact of his photography at the personal or community level, he says that he has met people who thought they were not good looking, and strictly forbade him from taking their photos. He has convinced some to let him photograph them, on assurance that if they don’t like it, they can delete it themselves from my camera. He says that it is always exciting to see people discover how good looking they actually are, and start insisting he take more of

their photos. He adds that it gives him pleasure if his photography can make just one person appreciate themselves. What are some of the opportunities for photographers in the region? Being a hobbyist, Joe says that opportunities to capture beauty are found everywhere, from items in your living room, to the places you travel. He adds that there are career opportunities too, especially in the wedding photography industry, if that’s your kind of photography. Moreover, there are also opportunities in product photography, real estate photography, wildlife photography, and many others. He even knows one photographer who makes a living photographing insects.

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As to some of the challenges facing photographers in the region and how can they be overcome, Joe says that one challenge is the red tape hurdles. This is because, to do photography in some places, one would need to pay for licenses to the tune of up to Kshs.10,000 a day, or risk harassment and arrest. There is also the general feeling that public photography is linked to terrorism, so it is difficult and risky to photograph our public spaces and showcase them to the rest of the world. The authorities should make it easier to do this by scraping some of the requirements, and educating security personnel on photography as an art medium. Joe says that another challenge is the cost of equipment. This is so as the more specialised one gets in the field, the more costly the equipment needed. He wishes that there were more established equipment hiring companies to overcome this. As to the kind of equipment he uses, Joe’s camera is the Canon 80D. For lenses, he uses the following: Canon 24-135mm, Tokina 10-17mm and Canon 50mm f1.8. Joe also does illustrations and queried as to how the two compares, he says that they feel similar to him, only that illustrations are labour intensive and can capture scenes photography cannot. That aside, both are visual storytelling mediums. As an avid biker, which is his most memorable trip? He says that his most memorable trip is riding to Moyale, through the Chalbi desert. It was an eerie feeling and exciting, battling winds that, he was told, had caused car accidents. His last word on photography? That we walk past so much beauty every day. Photography discovers and freezes these moments for us to enjoy indefinitely.

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LU C A S

O N

L I F E

So... Simple.

H

appy New Year good people. First of all, good manners dictates that I thank the PROSE team for inviting me to be a contributor for this classy magazine. I look forward to first having fun as we interact with stories and secondly to learning new stuff from you all. I’m sure many of us can breathe a sigh of relief now that 2017 is over. It was a difficult year for most Kenyans and I was no exception. Sometimes I felt like days were moving in slow motion and the months were more than twelve. Many of us had personal, work and business challenges. The politicking silly season took forever and the consequent damage to the economy was becoming unbearable. It felt like we were moving from living hand to mouth to the hand leaving the mouth altogether. I even stopped watching TV which was a big deal for me for years especially prime time NEWS. It was getting too toxic plus all these so called experts giving endless views and arguing about the same thing said differently got too tiring to watch. After it all ended I also felt like a graduate of constitutional law too. The New Year is here. So what? Now what? There are good vibes in the air. Everyone I’m meeting seems upbeat about the economy, our country and life as a whole. “Things are looking up” – I keep hearing. I even heard on radio this morning that we are going to have new, brightly coloured currency notes. Maybe that’s a good sign of the future we hope for

in 2018 and beyond. However, as I look back at the year that has been and zoom in at the happenings of 2017, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. This time last year I decided to adopt a word that will guide my actions in the year. That word (ok, phrase) was 'positive action'. Have I achieved that? To some degree I believe. For instance, I started writing and launched my blog (lucasmaranga. com) in March last year. It’s been an eye-opening experience sharing my thoughts with people, some of whom I have never met. Thanks to social media we can share with people from all over the globe. I was honoured to be invited for a few speaking engagements last year and I loved each one of them as they gave a sneak preview of what part of my future will look like. I also finally reconciled that it’s time to exit my events business and pave way for new, young and more exciting talent to take the business to the next level. Who said African leaders don’t hand over smoothly? Hehe. Tuko wengi. Just shine the light on us too. To confirm this, I am finally ready to have a new business card that introduces the new Lucas. Some of my newest and most meaningful relations at this stage in my life (I call it halftime – it sounds better than midlife crisis) came last year. So, you can see it’s been a good year where a very important seed was planted. Now in 2018, I just need to ensure that seed is watered well so as to grow. And grow it shall, it has to. No weeds allowed to grow here.

The word that comes to mind this year is SIMPLE. I’d like most of what I do this year (if not all I do) to reflect that word. I hope for my investments, relations, engagements and conversations to be simple. Just a simple life will do it for me this year. Not that I have lived a complicated life previously but I do feel I over stress about situations sometimes and that complicates matters because an issue tends to look bigger than it actually is. Like when I stress that I have no money to fix my car, the energy spent worrying about that is equivalent to someone stressing that they are being auctioned over unpaid debts. So, SIMPLE is my 2018 word. I now need to work on the mental discipline to run all my decisions by that word. The word you choose also needs to stretch you and make you uncomfortable but towards a greater good. I hope that by the end of 2018 I will look back and be proud of growth achieved living by this word. I also hope it will then give birth to my next word for 2019. So, what’s your word for this year good people? Keep it simple, pun intended. Feel free to adopt mine if you have none that comes to mind. My daughter always reminds me that sharing is caring. So, I can share my word. Here’s to a Simple new 2018 ahead. Lucas Marang’a is a Mentorpreneur, Public servant and Storyteller. Email: lucas@lucasmaranga.com

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T R AV E L

Road to Mauritius


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n a nondescript Tuesday afternoon, I excitedly make my way to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. I sit impatiently at the back of the taxi, watching the cars around me to stop me from gazing at my watch for the umpteenth time. I am meeting two of my girlfriends at the airport. We are going to Mauritius! I try to contain myself from doing an impromptu jig at the back of the car, lest the taxi driver think that I am hopping mad. I have only ever seen Mauritius in postcards and on those documentaries that show the pristine beaches around the world. Once at the airport, we hug animatedly as we meet at the airline check in counter. This is my first “girls only” trip since I got married very many moons ago. I cannot wait to explore the capital Port Louis. What is interesting about Mauritius is that it is possibly the only country in Africa where French and English are both spoken. I have no intention of speaking English during my stay there. I hope my now rusty French will come back to me once the plane touches down on the other side. I intend to be très French for my entire stay there. Mauritius has an interesting history. It is said that its earliest inhabitants were Arabs in the middle ages, and that the island was hitherto uninhabited. The Dutch and later the French came a-calling in the 17th and 18th centuries. The British landed there in the 19th century. They went into war with the French in what was the naval battle of the Grand Port. Even though the French won, the Britons forced them to surrender the island in December 1810. However, they (the French) were allowed to keep their land, the French language and the French laws. Under the British rule, Mauritius was the main sugar producer for the British Empire. Sugarcane continues to be a major cash crop in this tiny island. By the way, Mauritius has about 1.2 million inhabitants. The total area of the island is roughly 204,000Ha. Of this, sugarcane is cultivated on 72,000 Ha, which represents roughly 85% of the arable land of the country. From this, an average of 600,000 tonnes is produced annually, most of which is exported to the European Union. The flight itself is uneventful. I am never able to sleep on daytime flights and so I try to busy myself with a book because I don’t like to listen to the drone of airplane engines. My girlfriends and I are seated at different places but I bump into one of them on the aisle when I get up to stretch my legs. It’s a good precaution to take when travelling. We go the end of the plane, from where they store the food, and collapse into giggles like school girls. It’s only a flight I know, but I haven’t had this much fun, since I was, well, a school girl. The irritated sidelong glances of the stewardess make us reluctantly walk back to our seats.

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I don’t know about the rest of Mauritius but the heart of Port Louis, which is where one would say is the central business district, is very mountainous. I believe that it is the only country in the world whose capital is surrounded by mountains. It is quite a sight to behold. For this reason, the airport is quite a distance from the city itself, say, unlike Jomo Kenyatta Airport that is a 20 minute drive from the city centre, if one does not encounter any traffic. Our hotel is less than 10 minutes away from the airport. We settle in early for the night so that we are bright and early for adventure the next day. Shopping is the first item on the agenda. Not the high street shopping as it were, but buying little crafts and knickknacks from quaint tourist shops. We drive to a charming quartier of Saint Louis. The architecture


is delightful. It has a south of France feel to it. The influence of French architecture is apparent from the window lattices, the doors to the grander designs of the buildings. My friends bargain for deals in English, whilst I am still determined to pull an air of je ne sais quoi. After a few false starts in what is left of my French, I give up and switch to English, thank you very much. The next day, I leave my friends in the hotel; one of the things that I like most to do is see the sights and sounds of a new place by myself. For this, I take a taxi and ask the driver to take me to the heart of the central business district, which is about 45 kilometres away. He advises me against going into town, so to speak, for fear of getting caught in traffic. PROSE MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2018

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Visions of the nightmarish traffic of Nairobi cross my mind and I am quick to acquiesce. As I wrote earlier, the heart of the capital is surrounded by mountains. Known as the Moka Range, it forms a semi-circle around the capital. It is for this reason that the airport is situated on the opposite end of Port Louis. The weather is pleasant and the streets

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are spotless. There is not a sign of any littering; its cleanliness reminds me of Kigali. I see many French brands, for clothing, automobiles and so on. Having said that it is also worth noting that Mauritius has a robust economy. With firm fiscal and legal policies in place, it creates a conducive environment for commerce and industry.

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Furthermore, transparent investment policies makes for a safe bet for foreign investments. I get back to the hotel, ready to meet my friends later in the afternoon on the beach. It is my last day as I have an early morning flight. We have the time of our lives. We don’t swim too far from the shores. The beach that we are on is rather rocky, so one has to be


FACT FILE Mauritius, officially the Republic of Mauritius (French: République de Maurice), is an island nation in the Indian Ocean about 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) off the southeast coast of the African continent. The country includes the islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues, 560 kilometres (350 mi) east of Mauritius, and the outer islands (Agaléga, St. Brandon and two disputed territories). The area of the country is 2,040 km2 (790 sq mi). The capital and largest city is Port Louis. Formerly a Dutch colony (1638–1710) and a French colony (1715–1810), Mauritius became a British colonial possession in 1810 and remained so until 1968, the year in which it attained independence. The people of Mauritius are multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multicultural and multilingual. The island's government is closely modelled on the Westminster parliamentary system, and Mauritius is highly ranked for democracy and for economic and political freedom. The Human Development Index of Mauritius is the highest in Africa. The dodo is the national bird of Mauritius. The bird was once plentiful on the island but became extinct due to predation hence the saying "dead as a dodo".

careful when swimming. It is a delightful afternoon no less, filled with mirth, laughter and joy. We seem to be having so much fun, a tourist asks if she could take a photo of us. It is only later that at the hotel we reflect on the fact that we have entrusted a total stranger to taking a photo of us; we don’t ask her to send it to us, neither do we ask what she intends to do with it. We have

dinner later that evening and stay up late because this is our last night together. My friends leave on Saturday and Sunday respectively. I smile inwardly all the way to the drive to the airport the following morning. That’s got to be the shortest yet most varied sojourn I have had in a very long time. Mauritius, I will be back. PROSE MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2018

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B O O K

R E V I E W

The Ugly American by William J. Lederer & Eugene Burdick

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ubtly, so subtly that it was beyond the capacity of the eye to tell what was happening, the line of men seemed to become straighter, more firm. Their backs went straighter, their hands stopped playing with twigs and pieces of dirt; they looked up at Finian. The tiny invisible things that make up a posture of decisiveness, Finian could not detect. He only knew that it had happened. 44

It is said that the more things change, the more they remain the same. And with current developments in the international arena, the novel, The Ugly American is as poignant today as it was when it was first published during the midst of the Cold War. Then, it attempted to address what the United States of America was doing wrong regarding its foreign policy and which had it ceding ground to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This, in relation to the ideology war pitting democracy and capitalism on one side and communism on the other.

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The USA may have had emerged the winner with the fall of communism, but today, as then, there are other ideologies competing with its ideologies. These include religious extremism and terrorism among many others. That said, The Ugly American has messages relevant to leaders outside the political sphere such as business leaders; more so, in how they cultivate relationships with their clients and suppliers to ensure the sustainability of their businesses. The novel opens with the reaction of the American


ambassador to the imaginary country of Sarkhan, The Honourable Louis Sears (Lucky, Lucky Lou #1), to his caricature on the editorial page of the Sarkhan Eastern Star. The cartoon depicts a short, fat American man leading a thin graceful Sarkhanese man by a tether on his neck towards a Coca-Cola sign. Underneath the cartoon is the word ‘Lucky’. The American ambassador is indignant at the caricature and at being addressed as Lucky by the Sarkanese media. Back in the US, however, he took pride at being addressed as thus and which name depicted his meteoric rise in politics through providence. As he ruminates on the caricature, cussing as to why there is no single American seconded to the embassy that can speak Sarkhanese to expound to him the contents of the editorial, in comes the embassy’s press attaché. She is here to report to the ambassador about an American civilian who had been beaten up by a mob. The civilian is John Colvin and who had been setting up a powdered milk operation in one of the Sarkanese villages. Apparently, as reported to the Ambassador, John had been molesting Sarkhanese girls. The scene then shifts to a recuperating John Colvin. He is in hospital and he is swathed in bandages. He remembers the events that had led to his present condition. John had parachuted into Sarkhan with two other American OSS agents and who all knew the Sarkhanese language perfectly. However, two weeks later, he was the only one alive out of the three. The Japanese patrols had finally cornered him when he chanced upon Deong, a Sarkhanese farmer, watering the family water buffalo. Instinctively, John had trusted him and Deong reciprocated by saving his life. He had done this by hiding John in a ditch filled with water. Then, he had John breath through reeds as a rock placed on his chest held him still under the water. The Japanese soldiers had come by and seeing no

sign of him, went in search of him elsewhere. A grinning Deong had then alerted him of the Japanese departure by gently tugging at the reeds through which John was breathing. For the next eight months, the two of them traversed over most of Sarkhan as they blew up Japanese munitions trains, military bridges and river patrol boats. Their last assignment had been to introduce ipecac, a vomitinginducing drug, into the food of the Japanese army in preparation for the landing of the US marines. During this time, John had fallen in love with the country. After a long hiatus, media reportage that Sarkhan is having internal difficulties and is leaning towards communism spurs John to action. He writes several letters to his Congressman explaining how the Sarkhanese ought to be handled. John gets back letters informing him that his suggestions have been forwarded to the State Department. However, the policy of the US towards Sarkhan does not change. This prompts him to return to Sarkhan to intervene by way of introducing the Sarkhanese to milk and milk products. He sets up a milk distribution centre and which looks set to be successful. That is until Deong, whom John had tried to establish contact with, returns. Apparently, John’s initiative is making a buzz and is bound to change the outlook of the Sarkhanese towards the Americans. However, the communists will not have John succeed and send Deong – now a communist – to make the project fail. Deong plan is simple; forcefully make John introduce ipecac into the milk. John resists and as the two men fight, a group of Sarkhanese women chance upon them. Deong tells them that he is fighting John as the American was about to put cocol – a powerful aphrodisiac and which folktales had it that it was used to lure Sarkhanese girls to lose their maidenhood or become prostitutes.

The women descends upon John in fury and that is how he finds himself in hospital. The scene now shifts to the ambassador’s office and where he is complaining to the Sarkhanese protocol officer, Prince Ngong, that cartoons like the one caricaturing him are bound to hurt relations between the two countries. Later on, the Sarkhanese cabinet convenes over this. They agree that though they are willing to take aid from anyone, they desire Sarkhan’s independence and development. Which means that they have to be tactful with how they relate with the US and the USSR. The effect of which is to have the Eastern Star run an editorial next day that flatters the ambassador. That same afternoon, a jubilant ambassador goes to sees John in hospital and tells him that he is making arrangements for John to be transported back to the US, though John stubbornly declares that he won’t go. The novel then contrasts the American ambassador to the Russian ambassador. Whereas the ambassadorship of his American counterpart is a soft landing for losing elections and as he awaits a judgeship to open up back in the US, the Russian ambassadorship is more deliberate. Louis Krupitzyn – Lucky, Lucky Lou #2 – is a highly-trained diplomat. Not only can he converse in fluent Sarkhanese, he is intimately acquainted with Sarkhanese custom and culture which eschews grandiose and praises humility and modesty; virtues which he ardently practises while stationed here, thus earning the respect of Sarkhan’s leaders. The gist of the book can be summarised in one quote by Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” The novel was turned into a major motion picture starring Marlon Brando.

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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

New beginnings F

Photo credit: SergeyNivens

ebruary is that month when you know whether your new year’s resolutions will stick or not. For then you have run out of the January steam and January too has exhausted you with all its cares and worries. Which means that, henceforth, you will run on sheer determination and perseverance if you are to achieve all or most or a few – we are fickle like that – of your goals. And which were my new year resolutions? New beginnings and goodbye to old hurts. So, half of my Christmas holidays were spent commiserating on things that could have been, in the process, making me miserable and bad company. All things considered, some good came out of this as my fed-up friend George brought me some inspirational DVDs to watch. His exact words: “I will just not have my holidays spoilt by a moody and gloomy you. Here, have these videos to cheer you up and if they don’t, then you are on your own, mate.” Consequently, he excluded me from all his plans for the holidays. Well, I reasoned that I could do without George. Steve had

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Of course, hers is a wound that will leave a scar even when it heals. I even wrote her a letter wishing her happy holidays, a bountiful life ahead and thanking her for all the special memories. And just to be clear that I was not after her pity so that we could get back together, I told her that I had to move on, travelled and Kinoti had been put on curfew by madam. Said she had to have him all for herself as they had hardly had quality time together for most of the year. Still, knowing Kinoti, I knew he was avoiding me. I guess word had gotten around my circle of friends that I were a bore. Which meant that I could as well watch the inspirational videos before popping to our home upcountry on the material day that was Christmas Day or the New Year as I am specific like that. My first goodbye? Naserian. Naturally, this was the hardest. And to help me heal, I listened, really listened, lyrics and all, to two songs that addressed my heartbreak. Milli Vanilli’s Girl I’m Gonna Miss You (It’s a tragedy for me/To see the dream is over/And I never will forget the day we met/Girl I’m gonna miss you) and Blondie’s Heart of Glass (Once I had a love and it was divine/Soon found out I was losing my mind/It seemed like the real thing but I was so blind/Mucho mistrust, love’s gone behind). Of course, hers is a wound that will leave a scar even when it heals. I even wrote her a letter wishing her

happy holidays, a bountiful life ahead and thanking her for all the special memories. And just to be clear that I was not after her pity so that we could get back together, I told her that I had to move on, we couldn’t continue as friends and it would be best if we never called or texted each other again. Rather painful but I just had to make a clean break with her before I lost my mind and did something stupid. ‘K’ – her only reply, via text, to my letter. Which just goes to show how much she valued me. My second goodbye? Friends with a false heart. Mostly, these are those friends, like me, who are still single. I did my analysis and found out that if it wasn’t for them, I would be far ahead in life. At least, even if I was still single, I would have built a house upcountry. For when I calculated the costs of our tipples at the local and tipples outside the county as we chased this or that cool event, driving car-hire, I would have saved a lot. And which said savings I matched with the price of cement, iron roofing, nails, stone and soil bricks, and other materials that go towards the building of a house. Trust you me, I could have had myself a nice three-bedroom self-contained and tiled unit. Really, a springboard for launching a political career there as I would have been seen as the progressive type and likely to spur developments there when they elected me councillor. Top on the list of these friends to discard is Nyang’au. In their local dialect, the name translates as hyena. And he could be one seeing that he loves the good things in life; and which good things have tended to dent my pockets whenever I accompany him to his many missions. Like that time we found ourselves in Nandike, a forsaken place in the middle of nowhere and we just had to run out of petrol and trek for twenty kilometres before we encountered the first person. Then, we had to trek for another five kilometres before we could find petrol. And no, not at a petrol station, rather, we had the petrol siphoned off a truck that had

stopped for the day as the crew rested. Nyang’au’s continuous encouragement that exercise was good for me being rather an irritant. And how did we find ourselves in Nandike? See, my friend Nyang’au told we, weaving a fable of untold riches, that a little bird had whispered to him of the next frontier of treasurers. That in a dry, remote village in Nandike, villagers had been perplexed by a sticky, oily and dark substance that oozed from the ground. The little birds had whispered to him that land there was going for a song, more so, in the places with the oozing substances as the locals there feared it would poison their livestock. Oh, happy day… for we were going to be petroldollar millionaires. What did Nyang’au do? He killed a relative, killing a relative in the sense that he told his boss that a father to an uncle of an in-law on his mother’s side had died. Consequently, we hired a pickup, a tent, some sleeping bags, packed a change of clothes and some snacks. In hindsight, we should have carried with us extra petrol. But then, we were not going to petrol-land? The first irony. The second irony. Now, our fire has gone out seeing to it that we have run out of firewood and tinder – rather small quantities of both as anything hardly grows here. We are the three of us – Nyang’au, I and the scrawny fella who had enabled us access petrol for the pickup. Says he, there is no oil and no reports of oil here. And if we are still interested, he can sell us a hundred acres though he is not sure it would do us any good. In the distance, sometimes closer, we hear strange, stifled cries. That’s a hyena, says the scrawny fella. A rather hungry hyena. And men have been known to wake up minus a leg or a hand here. We quake in our boots, the two of us who are outsiders. Nyang’au. Hyena. The irony when one eats its brother. Which is why Nyang’au is at the top of the list of the friends I have to discard with the new year.

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F I C T I O N

The Penthouse 48

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t really is not a penthouse, but a woman can hope. And it has secrets. Let’s first describe it. It sits atop the eighth floor and which is basically the roof but with a two-bedroom structure in one of the corners, clothes lines, a couple of water tanks and railings all around. Actually, the alleged owner of this building used to live here before relocating to a more upmarket estate. Now, it attracts a premium for those who seek to rent it. The building upon which this penthouse sits is one among tens of others lined on both sides of the roads that snake in and out of this area. Eighth floor is the standard, though the council’s regulations are that buildings in this area should not go past the fourth floor, and if they do, they must be equipped with lifts – which regulations are roundly ignored by developers here. You should watch Jerusalema for the politics by which the slum landlords here blackmail the city fathers with. The land upon which the building containing the penthouse sits has a history. That it was owned by an elderly woman who sold it to a civil servant who sold it to the present owner. Or the other version that the well-connected present owner grabbed it from the city council whose property it was when he served as a council man. Or that, as a ruling party stalwart – when the ruling party was the law before its fortunes dwindled – he had been gifted the land for his skilful mobilisation of voters. Or that the land was owned by a widow whom he swindled. Better yet, that he had forged papers to the piece of land and that the true owner had died a suspicious death – a poisoning at the local when he threatened to go to the courts. Yet, the owner remains faceless. So now that we have the plot of land, 50 by 100, or an eighth as it is referred to in the land buying/land selling business, let’s now move to the construction of the building. Two

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floors up and the houses were rented out – singles and double rooms, with shared amenities that is bathrooms, and bedsitters. Quantity over quality. And shared internet and satellite TV – sluggish internet prone to timing out and TV channels dictated by the caretaker of the building; what he likes, you watch. The next two floors were then constructed out of the rental proceeds, and the next two after them. Or if you are to believe people, they are owned by two other different landlords who approached the owner and came to some sort of agreement so that they could extend his building upwards. Or the whole building could be owned by a certain city MP seeing that it has a crack or two, has been listed for demolition and it is never brought down. Which then means that most of the buildings here are owned by politicians as they are in similar conditions. Again, politics. Anyway, now that we have the building and the penthouse on it, let’s check out the present occupants of the penthouse. There is Baba Nanai, the household head and his wife, Anshe – she severally reprimands anyone who addresses her as Mama Nanai. They have four children: Musee, Lyne, David and Nanai, and a live-in house help, Sherry. Anshe and Musee hardly get along as Musee only comes around whenever he is low on funds, funds spent on dubious activities since he dropped out of college. Then again, Anshe is not his biological mother. Lyne, a teenager in high school sometimes gets on her mother’s nerves while David is the silent and dutiful son. Nanai, the lastborn, as expected, is the family’s egg, meaning he is pampered every which way. Sherry has been procured from the village as Anshe had to fire the last house help for reasons best known to herself. Or it had something to do with the fact that the particular house help was well

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Sherry, the house help, is the one who spends most of the time in the house. She has been with the family for three years now and Nanai calls her Auntie. She has rather plain looks and which is subject to debate as to her suitability as wife material. endowed and had a lilting voice likely to confuse a weak-willed man such as Baba Nanai. Baba Nanai, what does he do? Nobody knows, not even his wife. For ease of reference, the family says that he is a civil servant, though the ministries may vary. Anshe says that he works at the Ministry of Defence – she has a thing for military men having dated one in a previous life. Lyne and Musee really do not care while Nanai has it that he works with the president, and when he forgets, he says that he is an intelligence officer. Sherry, the house help, is the one who spends most of the time in the house. She has been with the family for three years now and Nanai calls her Auntie. She has rather plain looks and which is subject to debate as to her suitability as wife material. While one group of men says that homely wives make for good wives as they are loyal seeing to it that they


consider themselves lucky to have been made wives, the other group differs. They say that a plain looking wife is easily seduced by any other man with skilful words as she is always seeking validation that she is beautiful. And no, inner beauty just does not do for them. The caretaker watches a lot of Afro-cinema and nil Premier League action. As such, Baba Nanai is hardly to be found in the house on the weekends and which means peace for Sherry. For you see, come the weekend, Anshe has a busy schedule as she operates a hair and beauty salon. And as good money is to be made on weekends for her trade, she personally has to supervise her crooked workers on such days. And Musee comes around the house only when he is sure his old man is likely to be around. He could come for the

Premier League as he supports Arsenal F.C. avidly, but again, the caretaker does not do Premier League. Lyne operates more or less independently with her clique of high school friends while Nanai is content to be constantly fed and to spend time in his room with his PlayStation. And while on the subject of the occupants of the penthouse, it would be remiss of us not to talk about the caretaker. Essentially, the caretaker is an invisible occupant of the penthouse as well as all the other houses contained in the building. For besides internet and TV-subscription, he is the all-mighty gatekeeper to the hallowed sanctuary that is this building. Offend him and you get inflated utility bills. Then again, he decides who gets to let here and who has to move out. Let’s call him Kokayi, he who summons people.

Kokayi, where are we to begin? Yes, his shabby self. If you were to describe him, you would say he is a dilapidated man. That aside, you can see he has the potential to be a proper man, but only if he got a woman for keeps. Then, he would shave regularly, he would buy new clothes and he would adopt bathing as a second hobby; for his first hobby is a tipple of the illicit, cheap kind. Now, households here and their fancy wives are likely to dismiss him as a poor body. But house helps, single ladies, bachelors and men who drink are more strategic in how they approach him. To examples now. How does Baba Nanai treat or think of Kokayi? He ignores him. To be fair, though, he is not discriminatory when it comes to snubbing people as he has a healthy disregard for most of their neighbours. He is only passing by as he machinates his way up to joining

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top cream society. Anshe runs the occasional errand, strictly cash, by him while Musee and Kokayi are bosom friends seeing that they frequent the same joints that deals in illicit liquor. As for Sherry, she is more strategic with Kokayi – a lunch here, a supper there and so on. Which is how the occupants of this building are always tuned to Afro-Cinema while nil Premier League football is Sherry’s way of having the whole penthouse to herself on weekends, Sundays included, as members of Baba Nanai’s household have parted ways with the church. So, when the days are long, Baba Nanai and Anshe are at work and the children are at school, what is Sherry to do? First, she does a heavy breakfast – not bread and tea and eggs, more of nshima and greens or whatever else was left of yesterday’s supper. She says bread makes one weak and she has to eat properly and compensate for all those drought years in the village where she was rather intimate with manioc. One thing Sherry likes about Anshe is that she is not fussy and it takes little to keep her happy. That the house is clean and food is served on time, Anshe’s basic requirements. What they eat, Sherry gets to choose, the only compromise being that Sherry makes the rest of them tea and eggs and bread and jam for breakfast. She is not poor, and her household will not eat poor, she says. She too was raised in the village and she knows manioc too well. So now Sherry has eaten breakfast, done washing and other household chores and done shopping if it is a market day. Now, she plumps herself on the sofa for a couple of Nigerian or Ghanaian movies. The children eat at school and the parents eat at work, lunch, so she does not have to cook again as what remained of her breakfast is her lunch. And when

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you find Sherry by the living room, you would think that she is the madam of the house. Nice clothes and hairstyle – every fortnight, she has to pass by Anshe’s salon on Thursday when they are not busy to be done her hair. After which they go shopping – having known manioc that well, aren’t the ladies allowed to indulge and forget poverty? Now that she is bored with TV, she sits outside. Sometimes, she invites Becky, a house help in one of the houses below, for some gossiping by the railings, a sort of balcony, if you think about it. Or else thinks about reading – she has bought a few books to improve how she talks with Baba Nanai, but she just never gets around to reading them. Too much bad memories of being caned at school for those who could not read well, is her defence. Mostly though, she watches and imagines. And so, she sees things she should see and things she should not see. In her mind, day time viewings and dusk horrors as she lights the jiko. Like that body that was dumped by the river a mile away in the swamp. Yes, that time she appeared on the news and was some sort of neighbourhood hero for a couple of months. So now, she was lighting the jiko with which to cook nshima – gascooked nshima just never does it, everyone in the household agrees, now that they have tasted Sherry’s nshima. Now, the back of their building had a vacant lot, or what could be considered a vacant lot save for the rickety wooden structure in the middle. It is here that she witnessed two suspicious characters carrying a suspicious gunny sack. Said the judge as she sentenced the two men to five years in prison each. “Did you stop to consider what her family would go through by your negligience?” These two men, Mugira and Ndhakame, they did put up a spirited fight as a renowned

PROSE MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2018

city lawyer – a criminal lawyer – had taken up their case for the publicity it would do for his practice. These are the two men that Sherry had identified as culpable for the death of Leli, the daughter of The Disciples of Jesus Ministry’s pastor, a local outfit that promised to accelerate heaven for its adherents. Well, in a year’s time, Sherry will have to disappear from this neighbourhood as the two men will be freed and are likely to come after her to exact their revenge. Prison changes a man, as she can attest by the fact of her brother’s incarceration. This brother, he had sung in the choir and the family had high hopes that he would rescue them from penury. Then he had been careless and found himself in jail, and when he came out… it really is an abomination to think of what he did when he came out. This then is the summary of Mugira’s and Ndhakame story. That they were both known to Leli and to her father as they were members of Leli’s church. That Mugira had fallen in love with Leli and Leli had reciprocated this love accordingly. That the decrepit structure had been their rendezvous, their secret hideaway to love. So, they had loved, Leli had an asthma attack – the city lawyer had his independent pathologist suggest that her death happened this way – and she had fallen to the ground. Which said fall accounted for the trauma on her temple and back of head. Panicking, Mugira had waited for dusk before calling his accomplice, Ndhakame, to help him rid of the body by dumping it in the swamp. Now, on that lot stands a new building and it too has a penthouse – could be the same owner.


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Prose Magazine February - March 2018  

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

Prose Magazine February - March 2018  

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

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