Elsaphan Njora- © Japicha
January 11th, 2018. Members of the Too Early for Birds crew are seated inside Kenya National Theatre, just off the stage. They are unable to rehearse because of delays with the décor. There is a familiar reggae track playing in the background, a work song for the carpenters and painters onstage. The crew is talking, with Abu Sense (real name Abubakar Majid) using his phone as a microphone. Abu is a handsome man, with a small build and a light brown complexion. His face, about which a lot has been tweeted and posted on Facebook, and which is not-too-subtly used by the show as a marketing gimmick, meshes with his beard in a way that suggests a cute chubbiness when younger, and at the same time somehow confuses one as to whether he is Swahili, Arab or Barawa. Whenever he gets on stage, one is surprised at how loud he becomes, but at this point, neither his face nor his voice are important. What is important is the conversation that has developed this evening as an alternative to the full run of the play they were supposed to do. This conversation, which Ngartia J. Bryan, a cast member who alongside Abu is normally accepted as the public face of Too Early for Birds, keeps on interrupting with his puns, is supposed to be turned into a podcast later. The conversation, conducted in Sheng’, centres on domestic violence. Elsaphan Njora, another cast member, swears to stay out of other people’s fights. Brian Ogola, a cast member who plays Patrick Shaw, the extra-judicial-killing supporting, underage-student-recruiting white supremacist settler Patrick David Shaw, as loud and abrasive offstage as he is onstage, is regaling his listeners with tales of the fights he has witnessed. At one point, he talks about his parents. “That shit, it confuses you. And you end up hating your mother. On the one hand, she is telling you be strong, to be a man. On the other, she is staying in this violent relationship. Hii mambo ya we belong together is absolute nonsense.” Elsaphan asks, in a Ndii-esque manner, “Would you rather stay in that relationship and die? Because sometimes that’s the choice.”
Our sense of self is normally tied to a picture of what home is for us. To many of us, home is defined by a particular location and with reference to a particular group of people. Should any of these factors change, then our entire conception of home, and therefore, our ideas of self, risk being destroyed. Think Jende and Neni, the main characters in Imbolo Mbue’s Behold The Dreamers, losing themselves in the United States because the US is not Limbe. Think Isaiah Bolton in Yvonne Adhiambo’s Dust travelling to Wuoth Ogik to pursue the memory of his father. But what does it mean when the physicality and demographic of home remain constant, but neither of the two can remember the person? Is the person’s home still their home?
The back story of poems is rarely known. What we are stuck with are suppositions and probabilities, and the boring work of interpretations. There are poems that are mindfully open and direct the reader to a specific interpretation of their work. They leave lampposts along the path, and a reader can pierce the journey, chalk it on their palms and glimpse at meanings. Other poems are labyrinths. Getting lost is the norm. But like, Jane Hirshfield says, “to step into a poem is to agree to risk. Poetry is a trick of language-legerdemain, in which the writer is both magician and audience. You reach your hand into the hat and surprise yourself with a rabbit or memory, with an odd verb or slant rhyme or the flashing scarf of an image.” This reading attempts to make sense of the #Babishai2016 Poetry Shortlist.
The five entries shortlisted for the 2016 Writivism Short Story Prize (available on Munyori Literary journal) are stories we should all be eager to read since they explore an array of pertinent issues. Each of the stories boasts of a certain singularity and portrays the individual styles of the writers as they bring to us tales that leave us both in admiration and jealous of their talents.
Gloria Mwaniga’s “Boyi”, is a beautifully penned story that reminds us of the ravaging violence meted out on the people of the Mount Elgon region in Kenya by the militia group known as the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SALADEF). The story, narrated in first person by Boyi’s sister, follows Boyi’s family as it grapples with pain after their father, accused of betrayal when he lends the government surveyor a machete, hands over Boyi to the militia leader so as to save his family. And that is where the story begins. Grief engulfs the protagonist’s home and through this limbo and uncertainty as to whether Boyi is alive or not, we get to know more about his family.