Dial-a-delivery (of good news)

With Richard (left) and Moses (right) at the equator line in Kayabwe, Uganda during the March 2017 Jalada Festival.
With Richard (left) and Moses (right) at the equator line in Kayabwe, Uganda during the March 2017 Jalada Festival.

Planning a festival can be a daunting task and ours has been nearly two years in the making. The Jalada Literary and Arts Festival kicked off on March 3rd and ran to March 31st with visits to five countries in-between; Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and DRC.

It was essentially a festival on wheels, the first of its kind in Africa.

But Pan-African collective, Jalada Africa is known for many first. This is a digital publisher with five well-received anthologies and an annual Translations Issue where a new story by a renown author is translated into as many languages as possible. Fittingly, this first honor went to Prof. Ngugi wa Thingo’, the foremost proponent of decolonizing the mind whose story is presently at 61 languages. With a joint print publication with Harvard-based magazine, Transition in the works, Jalada is truly barrier-breaking.

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Remembering the railway

Image by Tatiano Chao
Image by Tatiano Chao

I wore a red t-shirt and green and white shorts on my first trip to Mombasa by rail. This memory is clear, as is that of my father strapping in the security harness as I settled in to sleep on the top bunker in our compartment.

In the 1990s, it was a special thing to travel to Mombasa, anywhere really, by train. It was always a longer, hotter trip but the rattle and wobble of the train as we chugged across changing terrain were magical to a child of 10.

The snaking railway lines seemed to stretch on forever but that wasn’t to be.

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Fundi Not Frank

Sandra Cisneros writes in The House on Mango Street: “Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man’s house. Not a daddy’s. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody’s garbage to pick up after. Only a house as quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before a poem.”

I don’t have a porch and pretty purple petunias just yet but I do have a little space of my own. One where that chapter opening cheers me on from my fridge door. This home is filled with many things that I love.

My books and my stories sit in wooden crates that hold magazines, family portraits and prop up my projector. There’s a creaky secondhand sofa, a fluffy carpet and rectangular blackboard patches on the kitchen and bedroom walls where my dodgy calligraphy and drawing skills are on display. Currently, what’s supposed to pass for eggs in a frying pan has the caption, “you are eggcellent”.

Last year I decided to add a dining table to the mix. It needed it to be flexible enough to sit two people and the hotpot riot of a larger gathering. It struck me that the ideal table would need to fold in half and have detachable legs. That way, one side could serve as the top as the other portion (with one set of legs unscrewed) would provide the balance required. It would fold out and stand on all four legs.

Granted, this was an ambitious project but I imagined that all I had to do was find a good fundi and walk him through the idea.

There was a workshop close to my bus stop and the items on display looked pretty good.

I approached the fundi one afternoon and discussed the table design. He seemed to get it, nodding along as I described how it needed to work two ways. I even showed him images I’d found online (thanks, pinterest!) of what some of the pieces were to look like. I was assured the table would be ready in a week’s time.

Week 1
I passed by the shop and work hadn’t yet began. Apparently he’d been called away on an emergency.

Week 2
The table top was ready but the two segments were of differing lengths. The fundi didn’t cut the piece exactly in half. We argued back and forth and it’s obvious this guy hadn’t jotted down any of the measurements and instructions we’d previously discussed. I asked him to do so and although he assured me that he understood my instructions, I got home and sketched out my dream table. I slipped this drawing under the shop door the next day.

Week 3
The fundi informed me that the table is ready. At this stage, I was hopeful but don’t know what to expect. It’s Friday mid-morning and since the guy would be away for the weekend he delivered the table to a kiosk close to my place. I arrived to find one side had been replaced but the resulting table top was misaligned and very heavy.

Once in my house I attempted to assemble the whole thing but it was a disaster. It didn’t stand up even once. The legs were uneven. In full distress mode, I loaded up data on my phone and turned to Twitter to express my woes.

Sharing our stories helps us gain new perspectives. For instance, I learnt that not only was this all faulty workmanship but the choice of wood was also questionable.

Table ting 2

I confronted the fundi and pointed out all the obvious faults but he didn’t care. He promised to atleast level out the legs but the table only gathered dust in his workshop for another week. He kept lying to me over and over again about when I could collect it and what progress he’d made. Frustrated, I went by when he was out and collected the pieces.

I pass by his workshop every day and he never meets my gaze. Would you if you’d made this nonsense?

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Here’s to finding a frank fundi some day.

These languejs of ours

Wrote an essay for Jalada, a writers’ collective I’m part of, in the bonus edition of The Language Issue. This piece has been rolling around my head for a few years now.

How far?

That phrase made me fall in love with pidgin right there in the backseat of a taxi in sweltering Lagos as I listened to an exchange between the cabbie and a mallam, a security guard.

I’d heard it before but it wasn’t until then that I realized the power in reassigning meaning. It called to mind radical feminist and writer, Audre Lorde’s belief that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. Here was a challenge. Here was, in fact, a clever subversion of the Queen’s English.

Nigeria, like many other West African nations, managed to mutate what would become a bitter and crucial component of colonial rule to create a veritable new language. Remoulding the language until it rolled off their tongues to their taste.

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More than Just A Book

Just A Book
Ever since Just A Band released Hey! 7 years ago, I’ve felt a strong kinship with these guys. I loved them (and Hey!) so much I once designed for Boflo (the puppet in Hey!) a cousin called Shokolokobangoshe, a foul-mouthed diva.

I’ve written about them a few times in my journalism career with the latest and most exciting being for Just A Book, their newly launched art book that focuses on the visual art the band does i.e. the graphic designs, artworks and videos. The book also includes a lot of behind-the-scenes material from video shoots and that 5,000-word profile on JAB that I was commissioned to write.

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