Saturday, January 14, 2017

Creative writing- How do you do it?

Soft, easy pealing chapos, how do they do it?

Mery and Me

This is my friend Mery. I call her Meery and she calls me Sesilia, for the last 11 years. Her couch is my  best friend, and whenever anything doesn’t sit right in my head: decisions, confusion, celebrations, I always find myself on her sofa.

We trade narrations until her child has to be picked from school. I get up to clean utensils, then her husband comes home and me and his wife continue our talk to the bus stop. Then she will tell me, sisi tuko wawili tunatafuta, shika, and give me a busfare.

So the other day, as I sat on her couch, cutting Sukuma wiki for lunch she folding laundry, she stops and asks me- where do you get your stories? Unanjua, there is a man who told me that people who write songs, hawafikirii, uwa wanakunjiwa na hizo nyimbo wakiwa wamelala. Is it the same, aw do you do it?

It is the same, when I start to write, it just comes, I tell her.

Unaona, that man told me the same, ati it just comes. Why does it come to some people and not to others?
Unayua Sesilia mtu anaweza kuwa muchawi na ujui...

When she says mchawi, I start to think of the many times I have staggered out of bed to scribble down something that-just came- I don’t tell her incase she gets more reason to claim I get visions in the night. I start to defend myself.

 Maybe it’s because I read a lot, Maybe it’s because I spent a big chunk of my life not talking, just observing, things, people, buildings,clothes,old furniture, people with hair that starts as circle in the middle of their head and spirals to cover the rest of the head. 

Feet, climbing plants, tree trunks, market women with large, checked aprons with a cream front pocket bulging with cash and a face towel that works as a handkerchief to wipe sweat, blow the nose and wipe nyanya so they gleam like someone smeared Valon on them.

Young boys standing at street corners, where the wall is brown with mud from last season’s rain, they’re dancing to music from their infinix. Old men with folds of skin and a distinct smell, street hawkers with black plastic bags sticking out of their back pockets, one eye watching out for kanju, one eye making eye contact with customers.


 Big red fires dancing under oversized aluminium barrels of boiling intestines, and cow tongues, and ears, outside meat shops, with boda boda drivers, clutching tin mugs of meat soup.

 A donkey with knees and shoulders bruised, nibbling on grass growing on the sides of dirty drainage canals. Donkey owners who think donkeys know only one English word- oh, ooh, oh.
Supermarket attendants so worn out at 8.00pm, they startle when you smile at them.  Check out girls with pink lipstick, always on the bottom lip, and thin drawn line for eyebrows, looking fresh at 8.30pm.

 Dogs fast asleep outside the bar, legs wide apart.

 Bougenveilia, cascading down the wall of the kindergarten. Female school teachers in short pencil skirts, with a light blue cotton lace of the petticoat’s slit, cutting in the middle of the skirt’s slit.

 Tanzanian Maasai playing security guards at the new flat, looking misplaced, they just learnt to wear the dressy pants and Chicago bulls T-shirt.

 Teeth. Long teeth, short teeth that look a bit like a cows jaw.  Rice sellers with rice in polythene papers stuck high, you start to look for  a pin in your pouch,  white rice shower.
Two luo women having a serious discussion in Luo, you nod in agreement.

So I told Mery:
 I observe what is going on around me
 And when I get home, the sounds, the sights, the people, the language, it refuses to stay in my head.
So I write
 How do you do it? You can tell me .

Saturday, January 7, 2017

8-4-4 System, how it almost ruined our lives had we let it, and the teachers who never gave up on us.

When I was growing up, I was often worried that I would be sent to Wamũmũ- this is a correctional facility for kids who: 
  •  Kids who forget to water the cabbage nursery 
  •  Kids who use a quarter of sugar and flour to make chapati in shoe polish tins behind the house.
  •  Don’t talk right away when spoken to (even now I still have to think before I answer)
I would imagine how the Wamũmũ guards would come for me dressed in navy blue uniforms and drag me down the kitchen ceiling where I’d have been hiding. And in the process the firewood stored there would come tumbling down hitting one of the guards on the forehead, he would scream and call me -ngomeno. Calling people satan was a normal term those days.
I would not be allowed to bring my pink dress or my orange one, just the green school uniform, a gray sweater and leg warmers.
I would get that vision every time I did something wrong, like that time I cut the blue fringe off my granny’s bed sheets to make dresses for a doll. And she told me she would hang me on the kitchen ceiling.
But I did serve time, when adolescence hit. I was Renegade the Hound, I was the new sheriff from Blazing Saddles, fearless, Nemakũhĩa. 

First term standard seven. My class teacher sat me down and gave me a one on one talk, how I should take my education seriously and be respectful to the teachers. In term two, he tried to train me. He gave me books and answered my questions in class, he was the class teacher so I behaved, but other teachers complained about me. Even the English teacher.
My wrongs
I wore marashi from moyale
I read novels in class during the Science and Agriculture class
 I was receiving letter writing lessons from a boy in class 6
I didn’t wince when beaten, I just gave my hand and wore a stubborn face
I was still scoring 32% in Maths
I didn’t speak loud enough
I smelled like-koo- all the time, who was supplying me?
Actually it was just Aquafresh.

Trimming horns
Term three, Mr. Gg decided to take my discipline into another level. I had grown horns and they needed to be trimmed urgently. He prescribed 20 strokes every day. I got five every time there was a break during a school day.

He would stand at the staff-room door and I at the standard 7 door, that was located directly opposite..
and call out:
Shishilia Gathoni!
Yes Teacher!
Give four characteristics of the Majimaji Revolution.
 They bathed in special water to prevent bullet shots.
I can’t hear you! Name four freshwater lakes in Africa
Four? Teacher I don’t four
ũka nagũkũ, Nyakang’a mũka Kĩraka!
And he would stroke my hand five times
I would feel annoyed. But strangely, I didn’t hate him.
And when he asked me to write an apology letter, I wrote it on a strip of paper (I donno why honestly, I was just naughty). He finally got very annoyed and told me he didn’t care if I got 300 marks in KCPE.
Now that got to my tiny head. I had to pick myself up. If he had given up on me, I was beyond repair. I went to him and asked for a study program, I started to read novels on Sundays alone and washed the perfume off my blue jacket. I studied Maths and made 62% for the first time in my life.
I wasn’t properly reformed but I was trying. I wasn’t naughty bad, like cheating in exams bad, no. So I only needed to bring down my imagination a bit.  I would try to pay attention in class, or pretend to, while really my mind was outside running with dogs. Then I would be called to answer and get up with a start, upset my desk and get a caning out of it. But I improved, So much so that in college, one teacher said that Kenyan students are very respectful to teachers and polite, I was the only Kenya student.
Adolescents are difficult creatures to deal with, and to have a class of 34 male and female adolescents to manage and be accountable for is a big responsibility. Mr Matiang'i, please give upper primary teachers a  consolation benefit, where they can withdraw a hundred K in November and go skydiving or just sit at home watching Blakish.
Mr Gg saved my life. He showed enough interest in me to make me want to try, and when I felt I would disappoint him, I tried, and it worked.
I guess  this humble teacher is stuck in my brain because regardless or all my escapades, he never alluded my indiscipline to my upbringing. He never said anything about me being brought up by a grandmother, in spite of her coming to check on me every other week in her maroon and white polka dress, he never once made me feel like I was any less human compared to my two parented classmates, or such other nonsense I had to put up with from some teachers who could never see beyond my last name.
 He treated me as an individual human child who had been brought to his class to get an education. He had a daughter in class four then, I sometimes think he might have adopted me unconsciously. He deserves a medal for his patience. I wonder if he still teaches, and why didn't we take pictures with our teachers, 8-4-4..nkt.

Next up on translations- teacher teacher teacher we by Kamande wa Kĩoi.

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