Though wishing to, why I do not write

1

Beginnings

I turned sixty on 8th July 2021. Though I believe that I have never transitioned emotionally beyond age 21, I must also acknowledge that the more days I have lived on this earth, I have gathered more experiences, more knowledge, and perchance for wisdom.

Growing up in Malaba, Uganda, my first experience of learning was from my elder siblings who practiced with me what they learned in school. These were my brother Nicholas – whom I have always called Nikolai and my late sister Hellen whom I always called Hellenic. They spoke to me only in English. I grasped the language fast. The lingua-franca in the house was a pendulum – oscillating from Kiluhya and Kiswahili to English spoken mostly with my siblings.

The family business, which my aunt, my mother’s Elder Sister, and my uncle, her husband, ran was a bar. The Kenya Uganda Railway and the road to Uganda crossed each other right in front of our compound. The bar was frequented by the elite of the area – civil servants, mostly working for the East African Community, teachers, the newly rich, long-distance truck drivers, and even priests. My aunt, though illiterate, was a shrewd businesswoman and staffed the bar with nubile women from Kenya. This saw many priests spend many nights there and sometimes even left what I believed to be sisters’ habits with their favorite girls. There were also fights of which I remember one vividly.

A smuggler called Macharia got a bit rowdy with other customers prompting my uncle, acting as the bouncer, to order the bar closed and for the customers to leave at once. Macharia did not budge and attacked my uncle with a beer bottle. That was a bad mistake that he lived to regret. My uncle was a veteran of the Second World War and a Nubian to boot! I did not witness the details of what happened afterward for I was pushed into the adults’ bedroom and commanded to keep quiet. Only what I remember was the whole place being thrown into pitch darkness and the sound of beer bottles breaking as they hit some target. Then I heard Macharia’s voice beseeching: ‘Apana ua, apana ua. Ua tu, ua tu’ I figured out that must have been my uncle doling out a measure of punishment to the man. I think my ‘parents’ must at some point feared my uncle might indeed kill the guy and they hid themselves. The man then stumbled into the bedroom I was, found me, and demanded that I give him matches. Even before I could utter a response, he was violently dragged outside. That was the last I saw or heard of hat man. Come morning, the whole place was reeking of blood and stained with sputters of blood. This memory is important for it is because of the bar and one teacher who patronized it that I got to go to Standard One at Koitang’iro Primary School – a distance of about 3 Kilometres from our home.

One time, this teacher, known by everyone as ‘Somebody’ chanced upon me questioning my siblings about their day in School in English and inquired whether I was attending any school. Upon learning I wasn’t, he promptly ‘enrolled’ me and took the responsibility of ferrying me to school until I was able to go on my own. My aunt relented. At school I was introduced to a few more languages; Ateso, the local language and language of instruction in lower classes, and Luganda. There I also learned another language, that was close to Luhya – Lugisu. It was not long before I was flowing with the current. The ‘home-schooling I had received from my siblings and occasionally my ‘parents’ gave me an advantage over my classmates when it came to reading and general behavior. I read every book that I came across in our class reading box. Before long I was borrowing from other classes. I read in English, Ateso, and Luganda. There was nothing to read at school in Kiswahili. This was compensated for by the weekly reading of Taifa Leo. I was the acknowledged storyteller among my playmates at home for I retold them what I had read in the books.

Why I do not write

It is interesting that I should even consider this question. I do write, in fact, I write a lot. But then there is research writing and there is creative writing. What I write mostly is research based on some Terms of Reference. This kind of writing results in questionnaires, reports, proposals, even materials for facilitating workshops and seminars. But this is not the writing about which I have to answer the question: Why don’t I write?

To write, one has to fantasize, to see the acclamation following the unveiling of one’s literary production. To write one has to have a plot, a theme, a character, and an imaginary target audience. Most importantly, however, to write, one must have courage. I read a novel titled, The Bestseller by Olivia Goldsmith. One of the characters in that novel is a budding writer who ends up killing herself because her manuscript had been rejected about 60 times. Her mother managed to have it published after her death! It took her death for the book to be published.

To write, one has to be in control, in charge of not just one’s time and wits, but also one’s ‘writing environment’. I was once taken by the Rockefeller Foundation to Bellagio, Italy to their facility designed and maintained for the writers they support who wish the serenity to complete a book or even a chapter. I was in the company of professors, retired generals, and dissidents. When I asked to know what I was doing among such a distinguished audience, I was politely asked to focus on the topic of the discussion, listen to others and make my own contributions. The topic was, ‘Re-centering the Periphery’. During my free time, I completed the report of some work we had done to improve child protection in Somaliland. By the end of the Conference, I had learned to appreciate cheese and made some important contacts, and heard some tales about African superstitions.

The first time I thought seriously of writing was in 1984 when I served a stint in prison for possession of marijuana. Suffice it to say, it was at a prison that I realized that completing form four was not the same thing as completing education. I vowed to go back to school upon my release. There was enough to write about from my prison experiences. Upon my release after successfully lodging an appeal, I attempted to write a chapter in the life of a fictional chokoraa, a child on the street, from Meru known as Oscar. But life had other plans. My return to school soon got me head hunted from Butere where I was teaching in a madrassa to Nairobi where I was handed a national portfolio. It was the period of great reckoning in our country in which I found myself openly criticizing government policies, starting with the ‘verification certificate’, queue voting, and the dictatorial one-party rule. We read The Weekly Review, Society and Finance Magazines, and listened to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The Forum for the Restoration of Democracy, popularly known in its acronym FORD was formed at that time. On our part, we found the Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK) with yours truly as its Secretary-General. A partnership between IPK and Ford Kenya propelled me into the inner sanctum of formal opposition politics in Kenya.

The second time I reflected seriously about writing was in 1992 when I served as the Executive Director of Ford Kenya. I had been notified of an impending exchange visit with students from the United States of America wishing to know about the political landscape of Kenya since the return of multi-party politics. I prepared and presented well in which I was given a standing ovation by the audience. I had a bonus too. I fell for a girl who alter on when she had I was visiting DC requested to visit me from New York only to turn with her boyfriend. I was too heartbroken. But, oops! This is a story for another day!

Then came the stay in Sintra, Portugal in a liberal academy where we studied political strategic planning. The total number of participants was fifteen. There were three girls, thirteen boys, and plenty of wine for those who partook it. Two of us were from Kenya, again courtesy of Ford Kenya. We arrived late and appropriated the two girls who were yet to be taken. The Latinos had kept their girl for themselves. We claimed the remaining girls, one from Slovakia and the other from Taiwan. My colleague ended up marrying first in Sintra, then in Kenya, and finally in Slovakia. He even sired children as a result of those marriages. This was the third time I revisited the matter of creative writing. Maybe it had something to do with a girl called Renatta for I promised her I would start writing seriously once I got back to Kenya.

Then we realized that a mere multi-party election does not make a country democratic. So we started the fight for Kenya we want through the Limuru Conferences, then through National Convention Executive Council (NCEC), through Ufungamano Initiative up to the Bomas Constitutional Conference which I was sucked in right there in the middle. Before I knew it, I had kids who required College education, which I could only afford through gainfully earning some income. That’s how I got into the world of consultancies.

Then my parents die, I hit the fifth floor, my kids are out of college and I question myself what am I still doing in Nairobi. So I start relocation to my rural area, acclimatization, hospitalization, and recuperation at some point; adaptation to virtual communication and wham, again the urge to write stricks.
Then, why I am not writing yet? Another story for another day.

Written at Number 5, Wandatisville, Butere on July 15th, 2021
*The author is a social change activist

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