Category Archives: Essays

A Ghost in North Legon

By William Saint George

My spirit this morning was as severe as the North Legon sky, as the wind that raised the curtains up and let them fall while I lay in bed staring back half bemused by their haunting manner, severe as the silence in the hostel that reminded me of my sudden loss.

It was sunnier in my sleep, I recollect. There were people. Many people. I called them friends. We had things to talk about, stuff to do, smiles to exchange. It was sunnier in my sleep. I heard laughter too and she was there.

That thought made me smile. The curtains raised themselves high and I caught a vision of the stark Madina skyline; the zongo spread into the distance, a hundred corrugated sheets above which was a dense forest of low hanging power lines and jutting antennae, the ragtag estate was held back by our high wall protected by a razor fence. The world had lost some colour, or I was going mad with grief. Either way, my reality was not what it had been yesterday. I loved my sunnier dreams. I had friends there.

An hour must have passed. I heard the sound of rain outside. The smell woke me up. I don’t remember what dream I had this time, but the feeling lingered: it was the warmth of humanity, the belongingness that I longed for so much it drove me mad to think that some god had preordained this present lot.

I slithered out of bed and sat on the cold floor. I stared at nothing for a while, then, I shook the spell of sleep from my eyes. It was eight AM. I should be getting ready for work. The curtains agreed with a frantic nod. The rain was still falling outside.

I got up and briefly considered my austere room. There are two beds at each end of the square room; one for myself, the other for my quiet roommate. He must have slipped out while I was asleep. He always woke up at six, bathed, dressed, sat at the edge of the bed closest to the window to check his email and then, without rousing me, exited. My dearly beloved roommate is a specimen of mechanized humanity. His unchangeable routine annoys me more than it should. No, it isn’t that I am jealous of him, far from it! I am rather glad that I am not like him. He is a machine, programmed to be productive and religious and clean and generally dutiful. He executes his internal instructions with passionless accuracy. He is good at what he does; he is manufactured to be normal.

I am not, and though right now I am beset by demons on all sides, I feel more at home with them, understanding that they are in truth on my side and together we make my life more fascinating.

Beside his bed is our only study desk. Beside my bed is the chair. Between the beds is just the bare, concrete floor. In the middle of that, in a little heap, are my clothing. I left them there last night after my last frustrated evening with her. My dutiful roommate did not disturb them while performing his morning ritual. The good boy that he is, he knows not to interfere with my personal matters. He knows as little about my life as I know about his. I don’t care much for him beyond having his presence constantly remind me that there are people most unlike me. And he cares little for me beyond what is generally acceptable to whatever social algorithm he lives by.

We like our arrangement as it is.

Our room is dark and spartan as the love in my heart. It contains all that is necessary and nothing more. It smells because most of my clothing are unwashed, the bathroom door is left open, and no one bothers to flush the toilet these days.
I dropped my underwear in the pile of clothing and walked naked, in dejected fashion, to the bathroom to stare at myself in the mirror.

After five minutes of deep consideration, I concluded that I was not a happy man. My eyes were red and hungry, my cheeks empty. I wore a fierce scowl because I must have been angry at myself. My skin was dry and peeling. I had dark spots where pimples of days past had been removed. The aesthetist in me thought that I was ugly. He wanted to avert his eyes but you see, the flagellant in me was stronger. He held my face to the mirror. All my past selves looked at that face with pity. Were I another person, they would have spat on me.

At last, having had enough of myself, I splashed cold water on my face and buried it in my towel. The water stabbed my face like a knife. It dripped like the tears I was unwilling to shed. It was too cold for a bath, I convinced myself, and hurried out.

I glided like a ghost to the pile in the middle of the room and, without much thought, slipped on the same old black trousers, two months unwashed and muddy, the same old shirt filled with her scent from our last embrace, and I tucked an old handkerchief in the back of my pocket.

Beneath the pile of clothing were my sandals. The straps were torn, the soles were pealing from overuse. I did not care. The fabric of my soul was in tatters and that needed mending. I have no time for torn sandals and smelly shirts.

In five minutes the last bus will arrive. I will have to go out and sit among people. They will shun me as they often have and wonder in their minds what a queer sort of individual I am. They will have conversations around me but not with me. I was nothing but an afterthought to them.

Strange as it seems, this gave me some immense comfort. I had become a ghost, thin as air and unseen. I left my haunt with one hope, that the day will swiftly pass and night will come so I can sleep once more and dream my sunny dreams.

Bio
Jesse Jojo Johnson writes under the pen name William Saint George. Among his several interests are world history, philosophy, photography and amateur music composition.
He works as a software engineer at Asoriba. He publishes on his personal website.

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Mitigating The Silence, A (Re) view On Mawuli Adzei’s Taboo

Title: Taboo
Author: Mawuli Adzei
Publishers: Kwadwoan Publishing
Year : 2012
Pages: 245
Reviewer: Kwabena Agyare Yeboah

‘’ Places are ghosts.’’ ‘’ Memories are ghosts.’’ ‘’ To name something is to bring it to life.’’ These sentences appear in different times in Yvonne Owuor’s eloquent, language-dense debut novel Dust. Owuor provokes the amnesia of a nation in a straight-forward term, showing and naming. Mawuli, on the other hand, shuttles in subtlety in the Ghana project. Both, however, have the common trait of bearing witness to history. Something that Kwesi Brew puts it better in Ghana’s Philosophy of Survival – But we have always been here on this land of ours./ Our country is our home and will always be here at home/ To watch, listen and take our suffering/ ‘til true happiness comes naturally and without bitterness.
Taboo as a word comes from Tongan tapu or Fijian tabu which literally means ‘’prohibited’’, ‘’disallowed’’ or ‘’forbidden.’’ Taboos can either be behavioral or verbal. This essay will explore verbal taboos (in the context of the novel) which are deemed as ‘’inappropriate to say aloud or to print.’’ Say ‘’F-word’’ instead of ‘’Fuck.’’ This background is important because even though Mawuli invites us to remembrance, the title of the novel is a form of verbal taboo. In Akan verbal taboo system, there is a variety called ammodin (unmentionables). The title speaks to something without saying it. It is euphemism. It is verbal taboo. Too.
The novel opens with the death of Togbi Somadza, known in private life as Gabla Gakpanya who was the chief priest of Tugla in Sembe and the religious rift that ensued thereafter. After the failure of the Traditional religion gate to arrest his soul, he proclaimed from the land of the dead through Afa (Ifa in Yoruba) divination –
I have crossed the threshold. In vain those kinsmen at the crossroads ululate and shout my name across empty spaces. [5]
Set in the late 1950s, the ensuing religious rift is one that is familiar, especially with the Achebe-Ngugi archetype of African novels. The Gakpanya household is microcosm of what occurred in southern Ghana as Troare Household is what happened to Africa in Maryse Conde’s Segu.
Gabla left twins, Ata and Atakuma, seeds of his loin. Ata always admired the father and wanted to succeed him after his death. And he failed. Atakuma strayed to the white man’s religion, Christianity. But it was his internal conflict that he would battle with, one that started in his younger days.
How could he have forgotten to make the sign of the cross? He wondered. He felt guilty. Perhaps he hadn’t internalized the practice of frequently making the sign and invoking the name of Jesus in every propitious situation. It was the same the Tugla adherents did routinely – swearing by Tugla and pointing their forefingers heavenward. [39]
He was leaving home to study as a Christian priest. As a priest, he pursued intellectualism. He read books of virtually every human endeavor. It was not for knowledge sake. It was for validation of his (in) actions. He read Liberation theory or Christianized Marxism as its distractors call it. It was his impetus for questioning the church. He read David Rice’s Shattered Vows. He read all those who were against celibacy in the Catholic Church. He quoted and studied at length, certain portions of The Bible. He thought about Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalysis. He read reports of other priests who were perverts, homosexuals, had children et al. All were to justify his sexual nature and why he was what he was.
Meanwhile, at the turn of the millennium, many African countries had yielded to the economic pressures of the international community. The dictators of old bought new clothes from Kantamanto Market. There were to be elections. The doomsday prophets were having a free day. So were armed robbers and alleged ritual killers. Everybody forgot about the armed robbery. The real political meal was the serial killing of women. Inspector Oduro was tasked to solve the latter. The Big Men at the top were breathing fire.
It is hard to think about the main plot in Taboo, nothing gets resolved. I have never read any novel that mimics the Ghanaian life so closely. In Ghana, nothing gets resolved; we just move on. ‘’Amnesia. Collective amnesia,’’ Insp. Oduro called it.
On the pages of Taboo are glimpses into the lives of public servants who work under poor conditions yet the public expects them to perform at the highest level, the top official who is a puppet of the executive, the activist and the everyday Ghanaian people who dream dreams.
Manyo, the twins’ paternal uncle is an interesting character. On pages 16 and 33, he talked about the hypocrisy of the Christian converts. Yet, when his nephew Atakuma, later Father Shakana, sought for his help, he did not criticize him. He did what fathers do. It was not the case that the traditional religion won. No. In fact, none of them won. It is a novel about a man’s daemons told through religion.
Manyo’s endearment for his brother’s widow Ablewor enforces Catherine Acholonu’s Motherism theory as opposed to the kind of Feminism conversation that was going on during the election in the urban area.
In the real life situation, Charles Papa Ebo Quansah was convicted for the serial murder of nine women, including his girlfriend, in Kumasi and Accra in 2002. In 2004, he spoke to the press and said that he was being used as a scapegoat. Even if Charles indeed killed the nine women that he was accused of murdering, what about the twenty-five or so whose cases remain unresolved?
Like Taboo’s ending remark, the question is a simple one. Who killed the women?
If I were a bookseller, I would clutter up my desk with copies of this novel and when anyone walked in, I would ask; do you want to read some fiction? If that does not happen, something else should. When the author dies, his tombstone should read ‘’WRITING IS BURIED HERE.’’

Changing: Kenya’sLiterary Landscape: Introduction

By Alex Nderitu

‘Tick-tock, I want you to remember me
Tick-tock, but the day don’t have no memory.’
– ‘I’m Coming’ (song), entrance music of WWE wrestler, ‘MVP’

A cocktail party at the British Council, then. This one is to celebrate the successful conclusion of the 2012 StoryMoja Hay Festival. I have arrived unfashionably late. I had gone to the wrong venue. When my sister, Caroline Nderitu (Play Your Own Drum), and I used to stage productions at the British Council, at the dawn of the millennium, it was inside town, along Kenyatta Avenue. I had left Nairobi for some years – in which I wrote a couple of books and co-founded A.C.T Theatre/Film Group – and I didn’t know that the Council had since moved. I called up Moraa Gitaa (Shifting Sands) who gave me instructions to the new location in Upperhill, near the British High Commission; and even then, I had difficulty finding it in the darkness. Still, I was not the only one making a late arrival – Sitawa Namwalie (Cut off My Tongue) and others were streaming in, no-hurry-in-Africa-style, when I arrived.

So here I am, finally. There are some short speeches as the attendees are served drinks and hors-d’oveuvres. The StoryMoja founder, Muthoni Garland (Attack of the Shidas), stands humbly off to one side and doesn’t say much.

After the speeches, I do a little mingling. There are a lot of foreign visitors in attendance, like Giles Foden (The Last King of Scotland) who was the main draw during the festival. I have a chat with a really tall Welshman who tells me he is working on a novel. I take this opportunity to present him with UK comedian Rhod Gilbert’s theory that the Welsh language is killingly difficult to learn, even for natives of Wales. No, it’s not that hard, Tall Guy asserts. But, yes, it does have ‘mutations’ (The spelling of a word can change depending on context, tense etc).

The Welshman is rejoined by some effervescent British friends and they all move off. Looking across the room, I spot my friend, motivational speaker Bonnie Kim (Born Without A Choice), talking to a middle-aged mzungu woman in a flowery green sun dress. He’s smiling like a politician on the campaign trail. I join them. Bonnie introduces me as an e-book writer. The lady, who appears to have sunburn on her upper body, informs me that she also has an e-book on Lulu.com. No, she’s not a professional writer – she works for an NGO based in Malindi at the Coast (That explains the sunburn!) As we discuss literature, and e-books in particular, she suddenly asks, to wit: ‘What is your overall objective with your books?’ I pause, an hors-d’oveuvre half-way to my mouth, and gaze at her Kazuri Beads necklace as if it is a charm that can link me to my wisdom-spouting African ancestors for answers.

I have never actually thought about this before. Writing books for me is like giving birth – I just feel there’s something big in me and eventually I have to let it out one way or another. I wrote my first novel when I was only 19. I have since engaged in every kind of writing – from scripts to poetry to web content – but I have never actually had an ‘overall objective.’ ‘I guess I just want to be remembered as one who made a major contribution to literature,’ I tell the Malindi lady, and she seems satisfied.

Even now, having had time to think about it, I believe I would still give the same answer if asked a similar question. It is part of the reason why I wrote Changing Kenya’s Literary Landscape (2012 Onwards) – a blueprint for aspiring Kenyan writers – and released it for free. And it is also my motivation for compiling this second part of a non-fiction series of ‘papers’.

This collection of essays, research material, quotes and pictures covers some of the subjects that I either skimped on or didn’t address at all in the first volume of the series – things like political literature, humour writing, the live theatre business (locally and internationally) and deaths of authors. I trust that university students/lecturers, journalists, researchers, publishers and writers from all walks of life will find something of value here.

As with Changing Kenya’s Literary Landscape (2012 Onwards), this material is issued for educational purposes and has been released free of charge (for 1 year – future downloaders will have to pay). After reading my first research paper on Kenyan literature, many people asked me why I didn’t publish the material in book form or at least sell it instead of giving it away. Understand this: it is my pleasure to present you with this information. I enjoyed researching it, I enjoyed writing it and I hope you will enjoy reading it.

Given the enthusiastic reception of Changing Kenya’s Literary Landscape (2012 Onwards), there’s no doubt in my mind that these non-fiction documents are bringing me ever closer to achieving my dream of making a major contribution to world literature, something that will outlive me. Some people want money. Some people want power. Some people want to be loved. Me, I want to be remembered.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Name: Alex Nderitu
Profession: Author/Script Writer/IT expert
Country of Origin: Kenya
Books: When the Whirlwind Passes, Kiss Commander Promise, The Moon is Made of Green Cheese, Africa on My Mind
Papers: Changing Kenya’s Literary Landscape (2012 Onwards), Journalism Under Fire!, Changing Kenya’s Literary Landscape 2: Past, Present & Future
Movements: The E-book revolution, PEN International
Career: Social Media Consultant at Office of Public Communications, Editor at Matatu Today magazine, Founder/CEO of Websoft Interactive, Website Designer, Author of Africa’s first digital novel

Silence, Solitude and Poetry

by  Richard Oduor

Comrade, this is no poem,

Who touches this

Touches Doctor Barky’s patented magic cabinet of

certified, strictly guarantee simplicity and truth.

–          Kenneth Fearing

As usual, I’m sitting in the study. It’s quiet; pin-drop silence, except for the tap-tap music of my fingers raining instructions on the keyboard. I have nothing in particular in mind, but I hope that as I write along, my thoughts will flow like the silent rivers of servitude that hide beneath the cursing of a tormented self; that they will unclothe my pretences and urge my self to tip-toe into the nether regions of the mind, where the library of life is housed.

I still my nerves and wait for a lullaby from the dead past to remind me that the future sleeps unlived. Once in a while we need our own space, just to sit calmly and meditate on the beauty of life. I watch my steps, carefully like a baby making the first steps amidst laughter and encouragement from older siblings. I can see the lines of thought congregating behind monstrous walls of artificiality. Each with a hammer, they begin to chisel out obstacles – sweat by sweat.

How long is patience? How long should we persevere? No. Not again, I disregard the entreating discourse and debar myself from tackling any topic that will force me to outline the ugliness of our personal lives, our neighborhoods, our country, our world! Well, TVs and newspapers are already doing a splendid job in informing us about our world. Of course they lie sometimes, but their lies are a reflection not of the white writing sheets or the silver screen, but of the morality of our society.

I will hide in poetry today. I will revel in the beauty of this sacred form of art and glory in the simple things in our lives. However, I won’t run to the classics and scream names that we’ll have  the pleasure of screaming out to a dead world, rather the poems I’ll throw in the jungle are jumbled and dissociated. Some poems are seemingly demented or their authors were obviously drowning in creative feats to be able to say so much, in so few words.

No poem epitomizes how I feel now than Charles Reznikoff’s “Te Deum” (1998).

Not because of victories

I sing,

having none,

but for the common sunshine,

the breeze,

the largesse of the spring.

Not for victory

but for the day’s work done

as well as I was able;

not for a seat upon the dais

but at the common table.

More often, we tend to disregard the simple pleasures and hang our lives achievements on the tall trees of our titles.

“Professionally, I am a Biomedical Scientist,” so says Richard, “but I also do A, B, and Z.”

Sometimes all that bullcrap is what we know of ourselves. Such titles give us prestige and comfort. Such titles keep some people from getting close to us and having a good genuine conversation because the main value of titles is that they serve as a tool for differentiating individuals, of classifying people into specific predetermined classes of abilities. Rob,  of all the knowledge he has gained in academic books, you’d know the colour of his heart. I’ve also learnt that all human beings are intrinsically intelligent. With the right questions, you can get answers (even though simply structured) from one you had condemned to the dungeons of stupidity. To connect with people, at a more personal level, you have to do is to know yourself. Every stranger is a potential teacher.

Rarely do many appreciate the precious moments that sugar-coat the solitude of own-space. Yet it is during these silent moments that we honestly create, that we build the creative notes to something worth reading. Don’t worry about finding inspiration. It comes eventually. Just understand that inspiration usually precedes the desire to create something new. Sometimes an idea pops up when you in the middle of doing something. Sometimes when walking down the street and I suddenly get the itch to draw something, I just stop and pull aside and write that beautiful line. Just like that. In most cases, if I don’t stop and jot the damn line, it will pass and get lost among the billions of unfulfilled creative prompts heaping at the back of my brain. If you let that moment pass then you’ll end up writing a memory, which we all know is sometimes not very pleasant. Never put the cart before the horse. Don’t get into that trap of “I must write something today”. Feel the itch, get to work – as simple as that. To be very productive, you must find a way of creating that takes full advantage of your inspired moments. They never hit at a convenient time nor do these moments last long.

Writer’s block is another excuse we love stitching to the procrastination bag. Don’t fret too much about these damn blocks. If you have a piece of paper before you or a Word doc and nothing comes, go do something else – you can call your girlfriend or make your wife some sumptuous dinner. Hugh McLeod says that writers block is just a symptom of feeling like you have nothing to say, combined with the rather weird idea that you should feel the need to say something. For heavens sake if you have something to say, just say it. If not, enjoy the silence while it lasts – the noise will return soon enough. Trying to create something when you don’t feel like doing it is like making a conversation for the sake of making a conversation. We all know it never really connects, it’s just droning on like an old drunken barfly. Of course what I’m talking about is nothing new. So many other people have said the same.

And when you write, please do so from the heart. When you write, assume you are writing only for one person. Connect with that one person. You can’t love a crowd, but you can love a person. You want to be intimate with the crowd. Good idea, but intimacy doesn’t scale. Intimacy is a one-on-one thing. So when you are writing for the whole damn world, connect with just a single person. To do so, you must write from the heart. Another thing, learn to sing in your own damn voice. Don’t write like another does. Nobody is interested in a pretentious conversation. The world wants to hear your true voice. That is what people respond to, because it carries your self with it.

Damn! Now this is degenerating into some I-know-it-all kind of motivational hullabaloo! Stop. Poets love solitude and it’s during such moments that they produce some of their best works. Emulating Wittgenstein, Emmanuel Hocquard took up his own solitude on an artist friend’s firm in Bouliac. There he wrote a set of unconventional sonnets and practiced other literary forms as well. One day he wrote a poem addressed to a single recipient, a woman named Vivian known to the poet because he bought  bread from her in Fargues. The deceptive simplicity of the poem entreats, confuses. Enjoy;

That which separates two words is like that which separates

two loaves or two wasps.

Region of fluctuating limits.

Viviane with her breads in the broken space of the

boulangerie like me with my words facing

the screen.

This says: “I remember Viviane.”

Bits of bread or bits of language between which

connections

Traces of the wolves that sing between the canale and the

burnt trunk.

January first,

my table a waste land

under the sun.

I need to close, and an excerpt from George Oppen’s DAYBOOK will suffice (the structure;

Clarity for my sake. That I may remember my life.

The images: small narratives within the poem.

“avant-garde”: I have no liking for the word and no need of it One

does not need the word, it is obvious that there is little use

in repeating what has been adequately said before. I am

concerned with ‘thinking’ (involuntary thoughts) that

requires the poem, the verse.

…the poem is NOT built out of words, one cannot make a poem by

sticking words into it, it is the poem that makes the words

and contains their meaning

I would like the poem to be transparent, inaudible

This seems no time to argue poetic technique or poetic principle. That

has all been done. …

I do not care for “systems,” what concerns me is the philosophy of the

astonished.

ON WRITING A POEM; NOT TO MAKE NOISE: TO KEEP

ONE’S  ATTENTION  OUTWARD  TOWA R D

SILENCE

POETRY: Openness:: it opens

The event does not take place in the word. A different event takes place

in the word. The word must dissolve to reveal the event

the words must be slowed down … If the words chatter, the poem

moves slowly: if the words chatter the poem may take

pages to say almost nothing…

I don’t mean that the poetry will serve as politics: I know it will not.

a poem is written to test, salvage, restore — two or three words. Or

one word. More likely one word.

Richard Oduor is a poet, critic and  writer. He is a holder of a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biomedical Science and Technology, Egerton University. He works as a Research Consultant and lives in Nairobi, Kenya. His first poetry collection is with the publisher. He is also working on a novel and a number of short stories. He also runs Grand Debate where he posts regularly on anything worth writing about.