Category Archives: African Literature



As a kid my mother always told me, “Just continue playing with me and the next thing you know you’ll be feeding on tripe and ground maize meal for breakfast in Migori”. I always thought this was her way of keeping me in check (it did work) because I had truant tendencies. She taught me to always evaluate my answers before responding. Looking back now, I look at the threats and they seem to have rubbed off on me to date.

In my mid-early twenties (it exists), my friends find it awkward that I can’t swim and have no interest whatsoever in learning how to defy God and move in matter that wasn’t designed for me. Don’t get me wrong. Swimming is cool and if I could flap my feet in water my mother would probably be grandma by now. So two weeks ago I had an experience that made me re-evaluate my stand on large and semi-large water bodies (tubs included). Up until last week the reason I gave for not being able to swim was seeing my friend almost drown while in primary school. Well, it is a partial reason but I couldn’t swim even then.

The last straw before I was shipped off to boarding school at the tender age of 9 involved swimming. I lived in an area where friends weren’t a common scene, so when I found friends, I was going to ride or die with my homies. My new friend, Moses, was a light skin boy with a face you’d think was stung by bees. He was light for days and had a really chubby face. He cried a lot in every confrontation and would turn pink thus the bee analogy.

The biggest thing at the time was rabbit rearing and if I kept on going right now I’d be a millionaire or a plenty- thousandnaire. We’d sell our rabbits for double the price we bought them and my mum thought this was the best way to keep me out of drugs (truancy) and teach me about the value of money. For the better part of our trade, I got to understand that money earned must be spent.

During one of our rabbit sales, we had to deliver the furry beasts to an individual that lived near a man-made dam. As juvenile delinquents (I was the Tupac of kids), we decided to dip our feet in the water just to get a feel. In no time, things escalated and we were in the water splashing around like rabid dogs. For the first time in my life I felt one with water. That evening I got home, ashy as macadamia nuts and eyes bloodshot. My mum, thought this was all part of my running around and dust allergy so she didn’t pay much attention to it.

Every time I took a dip in that murky water I felt at one with nature as much as I could feel the weeds frolicking my bottom. I was the king of the self-generated waves and I loved it. I’d always find a reason for being late and my mum probably knew I was fooling around but she couldn’t put her finger around it. These escapades went on for around two months before ego took it all to the wretched ground it came from.

My neighbour’s kid (The loudest hungry kid you’ll ever meet) one day asked if he could accompany us to our liquid state. He was probably four years younger than us so that was out of the question. A taboo of sorts. What did he know about diving in water with nothing but your skin to cushion your splash? Apparently plenty since his school had an actual pool. In my denying him, I didn’t put into account of how he knew we were non-youtube trained swimmers.

So on this day I get home jovial as ever. My neighbour said hi, something she only did when she’d snitched on me. I knew I was in trouble when I could smell fries but I couldn’t see them. My mum didn’t even smile when she saw me (What happened to unconditional love?). I made my way to the bathroom and all through the shower I could feel the belt land on my back. I cried myself to the point of coiling my body at one end of the bathroom.

True to my instinct, she knew about my Olympic training classes. I played it cool and this time, the belt was nowhere in sight. “I can smell chips mum, have you brought me one?” Before I could be directed, I had a conversation in my head on how this was going to play out. I was brought back to earth with these words, “If I ever find you in that water, you won’t be coming back to Nairobi! I’ve packed your things. You’re going to Migori tomorrow.” I thought I’d beat her by crying in the shower but my nasal passage had other ideas. I dry cried myself to the kitchen and sobbed through my fries and sausage.

After spending the week with my grandma, which was surprisingly better than I thought, I made my return to the city. I was sent to boarding school immediately after. For all I can remember, that was the last time I voluntarily immersed over one-third of my body in anything other than a shower. From that one week, I learnt two things. Never respond without thinking of the consequences and swimming isn’t cool.

So on my behalf of my mother I’d like to apologize to every girl that invited me for swimming and the most I did was stare. I’m sorry to any girl that thought sharing a bath tub was romantic and I turned down that chance, I’m reforming. I can do half a tub now. And to my future kids, I’m sorry but you aren’t swimming under my watch and if you go tell your grandma, you won’t even play in the rain. To my mother, thank you for preparing me on Tsunami avoiding tactics.


Fiction Tuesday – Accounts of A Street Urchin

Apologies for the late posting of Tuesday’s fiction piece.

            Accounts of A Street Urchin.

by Jude Mutuma 

You remember thinking as you stood there beside the road that you looked so much like your mother. Your mother, who disappeared into the night’s shadows a long time ago, leaving you in the hands of fate: the cruel act of a pitiless God. You remember hearing your dead mother’s voice uttering whispers into your ear. “Look right. Look left. Look right again,” then you crossed the road.

You remember shedding a tear from your left eye as you thought of the family you never had. Thoughts of the father who abandoned his pregnant wife and ran away into the night. Thoughts of the mother who had enough of this world and so sought refuge in the next. Traitors, both of them, bloody half-wit traitors. But then you quickly took a hold of yourself. It was no use wallowing in self pity.

You remember thinking as you walked through the alley, how desperately you needed to take a nap. Not because your eyes were heavy, but because the painful pangs inside your empty stomach could not allow you to stay on your feet much longer. But you knew it was impossible to sleep at that time of day. You would have to wait till late in the night, when the souls of the city were no longer strutting through the alleys. Then you would sleep peacefully with the dogs.

You remember hearing someone call your name from a distance.

“Jonte, fom ya Leo?”

It was Yusuf, jolly as ever. There was something about him; beyond that ugly flat face with the huge hairy nostrils and a missing set of front teeth. He was always smiling, that ugly bastard. You could swear you’d never seen the guy sad or angry in your life. You then remembered something you’d heard your mother say once. The widest smiles hide the most grief.

“Jonte cheki hii maneno.”

He said as he let you take a peek into the black paper bag he was carrying. It was food. Food. It was probably leftovers from some rich people’s party last night. You laughed inwardly as you remembered that parable in the Bible: the rich man and Lazarus.


He asked you as he extended his arm to offer you a piece of half-eaten chicken wing. He was always so generous, Yusuf. You quickly received the chicken wing and bid him goodbye. He just smiled at you, with that toothless grin.

You remember the silent shouts inside your head when you saw the bicycle parked at the street corner. This had to be your chance. A bicycle like that would sell for nearly as much as three thousand shillings, maybe more, which would be enough to keep you for three months. So you quickly made up your mind, sauntered in pretentious glee toward the lone bicycle, and applied the basic principle embodied in your mother’s words. “Look right. Look left. Look right again,” then you slowly picked up the bicycle and tried to walk away casually, whistling away the tension inside you.

You remember the severe bouts of panic that hit you when you realized that someone had seen you. Still you moved on, pulling the bicycle along, hoping beyond hope that he would not make it a big deal. Too late, the chap was screaming his lungs out.          “Mwizi!Mwizi! He is stealing my bicycle.”

He had gotten people’s attention, and you knew you were in trouble. So you dropped the bicycle, and for one last time took heed of your mother’s very dear words. “Look right. Look left. Look right again,” then you ran. And ran. And ran.

You ran like a rabid dog. But the crowd was catching up, and it was getting bigger and bigger. So in one last desperate attempt to save your breath, you muttered something, a hopeless cry to an unseen existence.

“God… help me,”

And at that very moment the coarse firm grasp of a police officer clutched your arm. A stroke of good luck had saved the day.


Chai Masala Reads

Here are the articles that this blogger enjoyed reading today. Sharing them with all the Monday readers out there…enjoy!

Taiye Selasi on discovering her pride in her African roots

The crisis began – as crises are wont to do – at my best friend’s wedding. Jamaica wasn’t the obvious choice for what Jess likes to call “the whitest wedding on Earth”. But there we sat smiling at the Rose Hall Ritz-Carlton, the hotel’s all-brown staff smiling too. The salad had been served, the bread rolls broken and buttered, and now the reception began properly with polite conversation: how do you know the happy couple, where have you flown in from? I’d been placed between Clara, fair fellow alumna of Milton Academy and Yale University, and Percy, the third and presumably final husband of Jess’s grandmum. With graceful concision, Clara told our tablemates where she came from: Brookline, prep school, Harvard Law School. Percy turned to me. Read more.

Bye-Bye Barbar

It’s moments to midnight on Thursday night at Medicine Bar in London. Zak, boy-genius DJ, is spinning a Fela Kuti remix. The little downstairs dancefloor swells with smiling, sweating men and women fusing hip-hop dance moves with a funky sort of djembe. The women show off enormous afros, tiny t-shirts, gaps in teeth; the men those incredible torsos unique to and common on African coastlines. The whole scene speaks of the Cultural Hybrid: kente cloth worn over low-waisted jeans; ‘African Lady’ over Ludacris bass lines; London meets Lagos meets Durban meets Dakar. Read more.

Ghana Must Go- extract (side note: Requested for this book from the library and can’t wait to read it.)

Dr Wei started also, his deep, bossed gong laugh. “I say this to say that I admire the culture, your culture, its respect for education above all. Every African man I have ever encountered in an academic setting excelled, barring none. I haven’t met a single lazy African student, or a fat one for that matter, in 40 years here. I know it sounds crazy, we laugh, but believe me. I teach undergraduates. I see it every day. African immigrants are the future of the academy. And the Indians.” He paused here to finish his tea. Read more.

Chinua Achebe = Greatness

Chinua Achebe, one of the greatest writers of our time passed away on Thursday evening in Boston. 

If you are an avid reader you have probably come across one of Achebe’s books and/or articles. If not you need to seek them out as a matter of intellectual emergency. In case you are among the few who have never heard of the man himself you can familiarize yourself here.

One thing that I love about Chinua Achebe’s writing is the fluidity with which the words flow. He had a way of transporting the reader to a different time and place. He painted scenes so vivid that in reading his work one would think they had actually witnessed what he wrote about. His words came to life and his stories captivated hearts and minds especially across Africa.

Chinua Achebe = literary and political greatness.

Oh Chinua Achebe…here’s to you sir! It’s through your brilliance and sentence weaving genius that some of us fell in love with reading. Thank you especially for:
1) Things Fall Apart (first novel I ever read)
2) A Man of the People (still relevant today + made literature classes exciting)
3) There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra (many of us wanted to read your take)