Friday, 28 February 2014

I am Ogyek

By Juliet Jacqline

My father named me Ogyek,
I was born here in the Mau,
Grew up and learned the art of hunting,
My uncles call me a brave warrior,
Is this what you call bravery?
Our houses are burnt in our watch?
I helplessly stare in stupor.

They are protecting the source,
Source of water and life for many,
Tell me, what wrong do I,
My sisters and mother commit
When faithfully we gather
Roots, fruits and shoots?
I helplessly stare in stupor.

Mau is my land, my heritage,
My proud father,
Who was taught by his father,
Taught me to be a responsible father,
To teach generations to come,
Of our ways, conservation before
Self-preservation. I helplessly stare in stupor.

Oh! this land of honey, meat and insects,
Fresh water, roots and shoots,
Never dig, cut trees, said my father,
Respect this land, it’ll respect you,
Aliens invaded the land of our heritage,
Cut trees with abandon, and did the never,
That’s why today, I helplessly stare in stupor.

The great warrior, lost all fight,
A brave coward stands helpless,
Men, women and children once happy,
Laughter replaced by teary faces,
Homes once warm with fireside stories,
Now hot with flames as chief’s men stand,
How do I fight them? I helplessly stare in stupor.

Can fish live out of water?
Can Ogyek survive without Mau?
This once brave warrior, fearless in all ways,
Now stands defeated by alien greed
The kind that looks at trees as millions,
And land as an asset to be devoured,
Aliens’ curse! So we helplessly stare in stupor.

I am Ogyek, the rightful descendant,
Mau my heritage, of milk, honey,
Streams snaking fresh water,
Trees and shrubs! My home all my life,
Chief men, please! Don’t do this!
Greedy Aliens deserve this brutality;
Harmless Ogyek helplessly stares in stupor.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Big Snake Corporation

I am standing here on its trucks thinking to myself, "I am early enough for the 8:15 a.m. snake, I am early for my task of building the nation". I had a hard time adjusting to the early mornings. There was a time not long ago, when I used to run after the snake all to no avail. It would leave me, yet I was so close. I would try my best to run after it, yet I only managed to limp. Sadly, the snake has to be on schedule and cannot wait for one slow person. The secret is be an early bird.

Oh! How I remember the snakes in Canada and China.  The ones I read of in books, magazines and watch on TV. Those ones with sliding doors and lowering stair cases that fold back after people get in. This will one day be the reality in Kenya, perhaps in a vision dubbed 2050. Just this morning, I saw on the news that the government wants to build a standard gauge railway from Mombasa to Nairobi. They were complaining about it and I did not understand why. These adults are complicated.

 I wonder why they did not think of people like me who are not that swift. They made the stairway too high up making it difficult to climb. One day as I was running after it,  when it suddenly stopped. I tried boarding the big snake and my foot slipped. I was so scared that I decided to let the snake go. My mind quickly raced to the countless casualties that the big snake had either crushed or cut into two. I did not want to end up as mince, like them.

I start singing so as to keep busy, people casting suspicious stares at me as if to say that I have something loose upstairs. I keep on singing and smiling to myself because there are not as many people yet. I think it is safe if a few think I have lost it. They don’t know me after all. We are just united here by the cheap fare of forty shillings, and the desire to beat Nairobi Jam. Matatus at this time charge at least sixty shillings, not to mention the traffic that would see one spend up to two hours on the road. With the big snake fifteen minutes is enough. That is why even huge men in sharp suits would prefer to wait for the snake.

More people are gathering along the track. Boy! Aren’t they many? Some of them are silently meditating- probably on the job they hate and have no choice but to go to. Some listening to music from their phones through earpieces, yet others are with company.

There is a couple that has daily been at the track; they appear to be so much in love with each other. Talking intimately facing each other always- Today they appear to be going to town together. They are both dressed sharply, the man in a white shirt, black half sweater and navy blue trousers. All these have been accessorized with pristinely polished black shoes. The lady is in a beige figure flaunting blouse and a dark brown skirt, with matching beige wedges.

Her choices of colors compliment her light skin. Brown must be her favorite color, the other day she wore a dark brown and beige leopard skin patterned long skirt with a show through beige sleeveless top, and the same beige wedges. She still has the afro hair she had last week. Her companion appeared to be escorting her. He had a white t-shirt on with black trousers and sandals. My eyes wander and leave the lovebirds.

I see a very pregnant lady in a long green and white dress, that appears to have reached its threshold and would burst open at its seams. She has golden braids on that look rather disorganized, but a pregnant lady can get away with anything. She has a black coat on and brown flat open shoes. She too has company today. A tall man in a black leather jacket, white t-shirt, black trousers and black shoes- he has black sunglasses propped on his forehead. They are conversing with the pregnant woman, both of them facing my direction. Perhaps after you get married, you need not maintain eye contact when talking to each other.

There are several sounds in the busy morning background. But there is a distinct hum of an engine coming from the direction of the air force. A short haired, light skinned woman in grey skirt suit approaches me and interrupts my train of thought.

“What is that sound?”

“I guess it is an aircraft”

“Why is it making such a noise?”

I answer reluctantly appearing to be as polite as possible, “The Air Force is just nearby and they are probably fixing the plane”

She keeps on at it, “The sound makes me think there’s a problem there, and I wonder what the children in the schools nearby are going through. If it is that loud that we can hear it here, what of the people near it?”

I smile politely thinking to myself “really, like the 1982 military coup that we hear stories about? Oh! Kenyans are so pessimistic. Can you really blame them for that? They have had some nasty experiences to put them on the edge”…….

Hoot! HooooooT!  There it comes, majestic as ever. Run down yes but still carries the pride of Kenyan civilization history.

People strategically place themselves in readiness to jump in. I wonder if I’ll be lucky to get a seat today. The snake slows down and comes to a stop. Immediately, the swift ones scramble for the door. I also get to one door and manage to hold the handrail while other people get in. I have to hold the rail to keep others off until I enter, otherwise, I would not even get a good place to stand. I then lift my left leg about one meter above and place it on the stair entrance. I know my limitations very well, so I am careful enough not to slip. I have become good at this! With one quick movement, I lift my body and step on the lower stair with my other leg. In record time 30 seconds, I enter the snake and throw glances around to survey the available seats.

I see people running to get the few empty seats. I know they are so close to the seats that moving to the direction of the seats would be a futile exercise. One must always arm themselves with plan b, plan b is particularly important for the big snake users. I immediately turn my glance the opposite direction and see an unusual spot. Which snake have I been using? I have never seen this spot. The spot looks like the power center with all these ancient fuses, the good thing with the spot is that it has a window and provides a perfect view of the scenery. I rush and take the spot, I am glad to be standing today.

On other days, I try to go near the signs written, “PLEASE RESERVE THESE SEATS TO PREGNANT WOMEN AND DISABLED”.  I then stand so near making it obvious that I am unstable due to my right hand which cannot hold the rails for support and my weak right foot. Someone would eventually be merciful and leave the seat to me.

Today I do no such thing; I am fully content standing in my corner. Normally, people stand in lavatories like the one opposite me. Sometimes they reek of strong urine, and a gaping hole that should your phone or shoe fall into, they would get crushed by the wheels of the snake. The usually dusty lavatories fit about four to five people.

After one minute, hooooot! Hoooooot and the engine starts, with one jerk, it starts moving. I enjoy the fresh air from the window vantage point. You know the cocktail of smells cheap perfumes, some smelling good others just irritating to the nose and mixed with the odor of sweat from someone who was in a hurry to get to work that they forgot to take a shower. No! Today I am spared of that.
The short haired, light skinned woman in grey skirt suit stands next to me. She too is among the unlucky that have missed seats. As we move, we see various high-rise flats that are coming up. They look so beautiful, but they are being built on swampy ground. My talkative neighbor starts again,
“Why do these people build houses in such a swampy place?”
Again I try to maintain my calm and be polite, she has done it again! She has interrupted my train of thought. I quickly think of a response so as not to appear absent minded. “The houses are very beautiful, but do not make a mistake of living on the ground floor”……
“It is not only the ground floor; those houses are damp no matter the floor you live in. These people are just after money.”

To be continued

Sunday, 9 February 2014


February 8, 2014

Othello, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet….. All these are literary works that leave an impression of admiration in the minds of lovers of the stage. William Shakespeare was a great playwright of his time who is still celebrated the literary circles.  On February 8, 2014, we had our Kenyan version of ‘Shakespeare’ take the stage. You probably remember him for his recent program JSO @7 on Kiss TV. The almost 60 year old John Sibi-Okumu wears many hats- he is a thespian, a veteran journalist and a playwright.
The topic at this past Saturday’s Creative’s Academy was considerations of writing for the stage. Who better to take us through this journey than this eloquent master of the stage? We had a riveting session with JSO, who chose to take the class on his own. This was unlike the previous sessions which have been handled by a panel of writers. He even said that the three hours were not enough to impart the wealth of knowledge.
He deliberately changed the topic from how to write a play, because one could easily Google that. What he gave us were ideas on how to come up with relevant plays for today’s Kenyan society- thought provoking plays that talk about the ills of today’s society. His love for the theatre could be seen in his energy during the lecture. It was an interactive, practical time with role plays, questions and answers on his profession.

A role play during the creatives academy

His career as a playwright came as a dare from the Phoenix Theatre actors. They were tired of doing plays that were not relevant to their current existence. He had then risen from a thespian to a director. He together with a number of the who’s who in the literary arena had enacted plays by famous writers like John Ruganda from the 1970’s. Ever since, he has an agreement with the Phoenix Theatres to write for them plays. His writing is largely influenced by his experiences growing up. He is privileged to have grown up with Kenyan history and the themes of tribalism, nationhood and even the liberation struggle feature in his plays. In October 2009 he directed the musical Mo Faya, shown at the 2009 New York Musical Theatre Festival.
He says one has to have a point of reference from which they tell their story. Everyone has a topic that is of relevance from which they draw inspiration. He draws inspiration from his experiences growing up and from the rich history over the decades. ‘The artist is the seer who sees the future and links it to the past’. He is currently working on a play titled Meetings, which joins the diversity of a Kenyan family brought together after separation from their father during the 1982 coup. The March 2013 elections unite them after being separated for years. His play brings the idea of Kenyan children born in the Diaspora, without the notion of ethnicity. He will release it in six months.
Kenyans are not keen on watching plays and it naturally goes without saying that the younger generation knows little about plays. The situation is different in countries like England. On any given night, there are at least a thousand plays showing at theatres in London. They also have well developed theatres that host hundreds of people.
The situation is different in our country with small theatres and a handful of plays that are written by Kenyans. Some of them are written in vernacular for a targeted audience.  What’s worse is that the only experience that students have with plays is enacting other peoples’ plays during the drama festivals. These are plays that most often do not depict the Kenyan reality.
The ideal situation which JSO envisages is where there are fresh ideas being put down and enacted on the stage. In fact, his desire is that through this creative academy, plays may emerge. Consequently, he does not support the idea of writing plays that only exist in books. He concluded that we need to keep the momentum going by coming up with plays. To do so, we need to develop intellectual humility by reading the works of other writers. There is also need to develop a culture of going to theatres to watch plays in order to appreciate this literary genre. This is the generation that has to ensure the continuity of theatre.
It is getting better as the weeks go by at the Creative’s academy. More things are in store ever for the next ten Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 11.00 a.m. The sessions held at Daystar University’s Nairobi Campus- Allen Grove wing, are open to the public at 500 shillings for attendance only and 1000 shillings for a certificate per session. Come and kick start your career in creative writing.

Saturday, 8 February 2014


January 25, 2014. 

Today’s Creative Academy session was moderated by Prof. Mike Kuria of Daystar University. The topic was Finding Inspiration and how to structure your ideas; facilitated by both Kinyanjui Kombani and Richard Crompton- renowned authors. The session was relaxed unlike the usual formal lecture setting; all were sited in a circle, and asked questions which were addressed satisfactorily.

In attendance were John Sibi-Okumu an actor and journalist, Mwalimu Andrew a humor columnist with the Sunday Nation; Edward Khaemba the voice director of XYZ show, Ng’ang’a Mbugua- a journalist and writer of Different Colours among other books and a diverse audience of aspiring writers.

Inspiration seems to come from different quarters for different authors. Kinyanjui who is the writer of The Last Villains of Molo;  said that he gets his inspiration from daily life, reading other authors and even listening to music. Crompton shared of how real life issues of the 2007 election and the violence thereafter inspired him to write his debut novel, The Honey Guide. As it emerged, they both have a lot in common, like having a board where they write their ideas on, as they develop their books.

On how to remain faithful to the plot and still capture the audience’s attention to the end, Crompton said, “Plot is the most important and least important tool to a writer. To make your story believable, you may need to change your plot at some point, but make sure it has an ending. Readers also need to have a reason to pick your book- theme”. Kombani also focuses on developing characters, not so much on the plot. As it emerged, there is no single rule to writing.

Next week we shall be discussing telling our stories across generations with authors Muthoni Likimani, Binyavanga Wainaina and Alex Nderitu. Come join us at #‎CreativesAcademy.


The writer’s academy at Daystar University had its third session on Saturday February 1, 2014. Participants were treated to a cocktail of seasoned authors, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Toni Onita Michama and Alex Nderitu. This week the session was all about developing a good story idea. An idea is defined by the Oxford advanced learners Dictionary as a plan, thought or suggestion especially about what to do in a particular situation.
Everyone who has a conviction that they are writers must have a story to tell. The big question is how do you come up with a story idea, sustain it and remain interesting throughout a book?
Yvonne Adhiambo author of Dust and a Caine Price for African writing winner of 2003 said that you have to kill the voice that tells you it is not good enough and write on. Yes she also goes through similar influences of perfection, probably due to the Kenyan system of education that aims for nothing short of perfect. That’s the reason why it took a longer time to release her first novel which won her the award. Yvonne said that an author needs to hold on to a book until they are satisfied that what they are releasing is satisfactory to them. She also said that ideas are chameleons, so one has to flow with and not be tense about them. You have to let the characters speak and you should get out of the way of your story.
Toni Mochama last year’s Burt Award for Literature winner and among the three African authors to be awarded the Miles Moorland scholarship for writers this year through his upcoming novel about Nairobi in 2063, and a columnist for the Standard Media Group said that we are privileged to live in a country that has a lot of drama happening. From politicians who think that single women should not be leaders to mysterious murders. This stuff, he said is good manure for novels. He also said that publishers do not care about pitiful stories that are told every time in Africa. One can tell a sad story in an appealing way.
Alex Nderitu the E-Books guru and author of innovative titles like Kiss Commander promise and The Moon is Made of Green Cheese said that catchy titles attract the eyes. A book is judged by the cover and title so as a writer; one should avoid boring titles that could send people to sleep. He reiterated the fact that every author has been stressing- a good writer must be an avid reader. He was the first Kenyan author to release an E-book in 2001.
The Creative Academy is the place to be as an aspiring author. Come next Saturday from 8 am at Daystar Valley road Allen Groove campus and let your ideas flow.