Stori za kuandika: Ndinda Kioko & Makena Onjerika

What are the rituals of writing? Ama, listen, what are the rituals of living? In this conversation, Kenyan writers Makena Onjerika and Ndinda Kioko invite us into the contours of their lives, sharing with us the strands of their existence across several months, and, while being separated by time zones, here, they distill their lives together. 

 

Ndinda, 04/04/2020:

How’s everyone doing? How are you all creating pockets of stillness? Is 8:45 am too early to make fried rice? 

Makena, 04/04/2020:

I am not being exactly still, Ndinda. I alternate between reading/writing and binge-watching Korean dramas. 

How do you make your fried rice? Have you ever tried Korean fried rice with Kimchi? It looks delicious in the shows. That and Korean barbecue with soju. I am a bit of a fanatic.

Ndinda, 05/04/2020:

Today, I am depressed. But Wairimu called me and we laughed about a vibrator and some cigars she is supposed to mail. The cigars, not the vibrator. Then I took a walk at 10 p.m while the white people were asleep. This small town is crazy. They cross the road with their dogs when they see me approaching. I have much more to say about this. But how do I make fried rice? I just parboil rice then fry it. For me, cooking is less about the cooking and more about repetition and the music I listen to while cooking. I was listening to Rose Muhando. I have been thinking about gospel music and the meditative nature of it. More in the morning. 

Kimchi! I love the taste and texture of Kimchi. 

I will go to sleep now.

Ndinda, 05/04/2020:

Makena, are you getting any writing done in this pandemic? 

Makena, 05/04/2020:

I am, surprisingly. I started a new project. A novel that is based on the Korean romcom style. Fun to write, not too serious and something I have wanted to do forever. I put aside my short story collections and literary fantasy novel work. My mind is not in the right space for the intense kind of writing. What I love with this project is that I am rediscovering the joy of writing. That enjoyment of characters and eagerness to return to the work. I am following the words over terrain that feels like home.

It’s not something I am writing to publish formally, so I am posting a chapter a week on Facebook and hoping to create a fanhood around it and get someone interested in taking it on for T.V. or a web series.

I wonder if this will become my kind of writing, away from the Fanta Blackcurrant type of literary fiction I think people expect after the Caine Prize.

How is the writing going?

Makena, 05/04/2020:

I also recently came across the snowflake method of novel writing and it has made novel writing so easy and straightforward. I now understand how some writers pop out 4 novels in a year.

Ndinda, 06/04/2020:

Makena, this project sounds so wonderful! Have you started posting these chapters? I can’t wait to read this. 

I love that you’ve found a project that’s taken you to this joyous writing place. Isn’t it wonderful when the making of work feels like this? I’m curious why the experience of writing the short story collection and the novel is different. What takes the joy out of it? There are definitely stories I’ve enjoyed writing more than others, writing journeys that feel freer than others. I had so much fun writin Little Jamaica and Some Freedom Dreams. I think for me it’s about freedom. I only started enjoying writing the novel recently, after abandoning the idea of a novel as a thing that can be defined, one that will someday exist as a product in the book market, and one that will somehow validate me as a writer. There was so much pressure coming from different corners, from within the work and without, and that made the process simply unbearable. 

I’ve never heard of the snowflake method. Is this the magic? I write from a place of utter recklessness. If my writing was a house, you wouldn’t want to live in it. There would be brassieres inside cups and shoes on top of the coffee table. Tell me about the snowflake method.  

How is the writing going? It is slow. I am a very slow writer. I’ve been trying to navigate a bout of anxiety spawned by our present moment. I wrote a few sentences today, so I rewarded myself with a bottle of wine. What feels more urgent at the moment is my health, and one could argue that this too is writing. I’m not worried. The writing happens when it happens. I’m reading a lot though. This afternoon, I reread E.B Dongala’s The Man for a class I’m teaching tomorrow, and I realized I’ve been misreading this story since Form 3. 

Have you read this story? 

Makena, 09/04/2020:

Dear Ndinda,

I have read Dongala’s The Man and wonder what you discovered. Please share.

This novel is an experiment for me: a novel I cannot sell because I am squandering away my first serial rights, but one I am forced to deliver chapter by chapter every week, making the time between conception, writing, editing, and publishing very short. I do not have time to second guess myself or procrastinate.  As you said, this book needs not be a product in the market. It is simply an expression of myself. That is freeing. I have tried to write a novel in the dark, as other writers do, at labor for years, but found I cannot commit to that process. There is no end to it and without an end, I get stuck in the marshes.

There is, however, a separation in my mind between my serious work and my fun work. The Good Girls and the City, my Facebook novel, is fun work. Even as I write and publish it, I am aware that it will not withstand serious literary gazeit is not airtight in terms of craft. But it is sufficient for the job I want it to do: allow me to complete one novel this year. 

I want to work on each of my short stories for years on end. I want to create real enduring gems. On the other hand, my fantasy novel is simply a monster. I have spent twenty-one months trying to define it because it needs to be excellent. I must write something N.K. Jemisin would want to engage with. Something meaningful that turns my readers’ minds inside out. A lofty ambition, of course, but what else is one to do in this life but find difficult mountains to conquer? 

A strange thing happened yesterday. I have been desperate to write fantasy and sci-fi, but my mind has refused to bend in that direction. Why these genres? Why desperate? I think that fantasists and sci-fi writers, at least the ones with a literary bent, do something mindblowing. They create worlds and then they make stories of those worlds. The sci-fi/fantasy short story is a form I bow before in worship. Imagine how small that space is for creating a world and then a story. So yes, here is my ambition laid bare. And what happened yesterday was that a sci-fi novel just pinged fully-formed into my head. When will I write all these stories? 

I was just thinking now that I need to disentangle myself from the notion of writing as careful creation and start privileging words. Words, words, words on paper. I must see myself not as a special category of worker, but as a person whose job is to write, read and study, in the most mundane, butt-on-chair, timetable-led kind of way.

About my speed of writing. I write fast when a story arrives fully dressed and is willing to be a gentleman.

What I feel is missing in my life is reading. Consistent, careful reading. Copious amounts of it. Where does the time go? I was thinking today that I need to reread One Hundred Years of Solitude and every other damn book I have ever read. To reread and to really see each word, each sentence, each paragraph. When will I do this?

What I love about the Snowflake method is that it creates a structure that allows me to see the middle and end of my novel. I am unable to write without knowing these things. Here and very quickly, I establish the disasters my character could face and her false moral premise, and voila, the thread of the story begins to roll and other things follow.

Are you closer now to finding the center of your novel?

Ndinda, 13/06/2020:

Hi Makena, 

Two months since my email to you. So much time has passed! 

Thank you for suggesting the snowflake method. So neat! I tried it for a short story I was working on a few weeks ago, and although I found myself seduced by my old messy ways, this method helped me answer a question I always avoid. What exactly is happening in the story? I rarely know what happens when I set out to write a story. I only know one thing. Everything else I discover in the process. But this has only worked for much shorter fiction. In the novel, one can only move blindly for so long. 

Have you finished the novel you were writing on FB? I am curious if your relationship with it has shifted in any way since the last time we emailed. Have you stuck to the original plan? Any other exciting discoveries about yourself as a writer and your sense of story? 

I want to return to the idea of serious work vs fun work much later because I find these classifications interesting. 

You asked about Dongala’s The Man. I was really surprised to find out that E.B Dongala has accumulated a body of work which I knew nothing about. I felt the same way when I found out about Yvonne Vera. That I have lived all my life not having read Yvonne Vera. Can you imagine? But back to the man. The story was and is probably still banned in Congo. When we read it in high school, the discussion was mostly about the man’s selflessness, that power of the individual, and the lone revolutionary who breaks into the impenetrable fortress to kill the country’s all-powerful dictator. But while teaching it this semester, I couldn’t help but think of the man’s actions as self-serving. Yes, he killed the dictator but the next dictator will not stop looking for him, will not stop killing until he finds him. When the military comes to his village, looking for him, the man watches in silence as the people suffer. Eventually, he dies with his secret. It’s possible that the man only kills the dictator to prove to himself that it can actually be done, that a one-eyed man can penetrate the impenetrable fortress. I’ll stop here. I’m curious if you share my views. 

Am I closer to finding the center of my novel? I think so. Although this novel has mutated so much! I kind of stopped talking about it because how do you talk about something that’s still mutating? In the beginning, the woman I am writing about was just a girl with a dead mother and that was so boring to me. But to answer your question: yes we have a center. We have an ending. It’s what happens in between that we’re still figuring out.

Yesterday, I was thinking about the space you hold for writers in Kenya, and to be specific, the work you are doing in the Nairobi Creative Writing Workshop. Why is this important to you? Why did you decide to do it?

Did you drink water today? What are you reading?

Makena, 16/06/2020:

Hi Ndinda, 

I am grateful to have this email to reply to this afternoon. Today is my son’s birthday.  I attempted to bake him my signature black forest cake and it flopped. The center just refused to rise. And that deflated all the energy I brought into the world this morning. So I am back in bed, bundled up and pondering the meaning of life. How quickly depression creeps in. No salutations. No advance warning. It’s just suddenly there, huddled beside you. I think I will take a nap. Do you nap during the day? I sleep in and then I nap. My day only really begins at around 11 am and even then I percolate for long hours, clearing errands, editing, and submitting stories. I only become a person at around 6 p.m. I then spend the next 6-7 hours immersed in writing, reading and thinking. And everyday I think I could be more productive. 

 

A recent event, involving romantic rejection, has spurred me to return to my web novel. It made me realize that I may not get all the things I want in this world, but writing is mine and will always be, Inshallah, as long as I keep at it. My faithful dog, writing. Since our last conversation, I have moved my novel off Facebook and onto my personal website. I am six chapters in. There was a whole month between chapter 4 and 5. But I am now back to it. Chapter 6 is in the oven. I should be done by August, at which time I intend to attack the unknown of yet another novel.  I have decided this is my year of manuscripts. 

 

I have certainly moved away from my original ideas about this novel. It was supposed to be light and fluffy and full of troupes, but some heavy topics have crept in: depression and its treatment, relationships, sexuality, the lives of women in corporate spaces and creative spaces, bodily movements, death and guilt. It’s a flood really. I already know that I will rewrite and significantly change the manuscript once I am done posting all the chapters. It is a different kind of serious work, actually. The patron saint of the Opus Dei, Jose Maria Escriva (I went to Kianda school), is said to have stated that rest is not doing nothing but doing something different. Through this novel, I have rested from my concerns with literariness and saying something meaningful. And, strangely, I am now you, moving through the work without a plan or orientation, which has been difficult to do in my novel writing thus far. I am enjoying this exploration of the land. Perhaps this novel will teach me how to write a novel. And funny thing: I now cannot remember what happened to that fully formed sci-fi novel that I claimed pinged into my head in our last email. Did I jot the idea down in a notebook somewhere? 

 

Interestingly, I have also recently returned to the same collection (Encounters From Africa) in which you probably first read Dongala’s The Man. I am typing out Ogot’s Tekayo (and judging her sentences). I agree with you that these texts were poorly taught to us, although I never thought of the man as a hero. He seemed a cruel coward to me even then. Or perhaps Dongala meant to challenge the idea we have of heroism now that we live on a continent where heroes and liberators quickly transform into oppressors. It is always someone’s turn to eat. But he who dies with his secret leaves behind the terror of his possible return and gives the dictators no peace. Yet, this kind of story does not move me. It feels to me too didactic. Too held up by its subject matter; too preachy. Do you teach The Man in a literature class or a fiction writing class? I have lost all interest in reading for anything but craft although I am aware that good sentences can seduce us away from very important context. Re: the MFA obsession with Flannery O’Connor although she was blatantly racist. Re: Elnathan John’s strong words about the appearance of Scholastica Mukasonga’s “Grief” in this week’s New Yorker. I have never enjoyed O’Connor, so good riddance. I am still debating whether Elnathan John’s rebuke was for the institution known as the New Yorker or for Mukasonga herself. These taboo categories we now have—trauma porn,  poverty porn—are they diminishing or challenging us? 

 

With reference to Encounters from Africa, I wonder what you thought of Saro Wiwa’s ‘Africa Kills Her Son’ as opposed to more character-centered stories like Ogot’s Tekayo or Kimenye’s The Bewitching of Damieno or Kahiga’s The Last Breath or Salih’s A Handful of Dates? One thing I would like to do is publish a compilation anthology of short stories from the continent written over the last 100 years. Would that not be something incredible? 

 

I have always wanted to teach, ever since I ran away from standard two to teach the standard ones, years ago. Marcus Gladwell named my type as The Maven in his book Tipping Point – we greatly enjoy uncovering, packaging and disseminating information to people who would benefit most from it. I am aware that many writers on the continent will probably never have access to the kind of formal writing training I had in the USA as both an undergraduate and MFA candidate.  NF2W is about making a distilled version of that training available to Kenyan and African writers. Equipping us all with the foundational stuff. I therefore focus on craft and on intensive editing and analytical reading. When I have adequate experience with writing novels, I will teach novel writing too, right from generation to editing. I am intensely interested in the mechanics. The story to me is a machine and its elements are cogs. How they are positioned in order to turn on each other and create a harmonious effect, now that is fascinating.

 

Teaching allows me to make additional income while continuously studying the craft. I needed that push after my five-year hiatus from writing. Our 45-person WhatsApp group,  encompassing all persons who have undertaken NF2W classes, and some guests, is a place of love, respect, meaningless chatter, memes and heated debates on literary topics. Not everyone in the group is an active participant or even an active writer, but exits are rare. My prayer is that we will not implode and fracture as so many other communities have on the continent. For the past two years, pre-covid, meeting up with my workshop participants was the highlight of my week (he he he, not much of a social life).

I am drinking water and thinking about my pending core strength exercises which I will get to at some point. 

Love,  

Makena. 

Ndinda, 04/07/2020:

Hey you!

Happy belated birthday to your son! I hope the birthday was glorious and full of all the love and tenderness. Ah, the depressions. They don’t knock at all. Are you feeling better now? I hope you are. This morning, I woke up full of language and freedom dreams. There’s a new story that’s been baking in my oven head. I woke up thinking some of it was ripe, and sat down with my tea, excited to write. Ghafla bin vuu, the darkness descended and I could barely hold a sentence to the end. I suppose this is happening to many of us. I took a nap and that helped. I love naps. Have you ever had a nap so good it left an aftertaste in your mouth? Oh, naps are glorious. Don’t you think the world would be a little bit better if everyone napped at least once a day?

Can we talk about gossip for a minute? Have you listened to good gossip lately? I miss gossip so much. There’s not much happening in the world right now, so gossip production is slow. However, the point is, I have been trying to be less literary and more gossipy. I really love gossip, mostly for how it’s told. A good gossip knows what it means to desire their audience. They know how to tell a story so good you won’t wait to tell it to the next person, and the next one. I think gossips allow themselves the freedoms we’ve been speaking about here. I’m glad this project is mutating. So excited to see where it all goes. Isn’t it interesting what happens when one rests one’s concerns about what fiction should say or how it should be? Did you ever Tumblr? Did you ever do blog-overs? I have been thinking about the audacity I had back then, before I started thinking about character and what-not. And perhaps this is my nostalgia speaking, but I remember caring very little about how a story should be and what the story should do or say. I just said what I wanted to say. Sometimes the story was three sentences long. I let language wash over me. I was much more playful with my constructions, much more daring. I feel myself moving towards that direction once more, and I’m excited about that.

I teach The Man in the workshop, and the story’s didactic nature always comes up. It seems more interested in the commentary it’s making than in the narrative events, and unapologetically so. I admit my bias, because this collection is at the very beginning, when Ndinda falls in love with writing. Africa Kills her Sun by Ken Saro-Wiwa is of course a personal fav. I remember reading it and feeling wrecked, but also so pleased by the discovery that one could write a story in the form of a letter. Also, Papa Snake and I, what a title. 

Trauma porn. Poverty porn. My thinking about this is all over the place. I’ll need to come back to this because it’s also an ongoing conversation I’ve been having with myself. On one side, I’m so bored by these lazy renderings that feed into that stereotypical image. We can have this conversation. But we can also have a conversation about how poverty is a reality, one we should render in fiction, and another conversation about how writing is how some people face their past demons, a way of processing past traumas.

 

It’s 12:29 am now, and I’ll go to sleep, then I’ll say more tomorrow. Carey tells me we have until July 10. 

Ndinda, 05/07/2020:

Makena,

How is your heart?

I’m thinking about what’s happening in the world right now, the pandemic and protests against police brutality. Has this affected your writing in any way? I feel so completely transformed. I can no longer tread carefully. I feel this push to punch harder in my work. And to imagine freedom more in my fiction. Maybe this partly answers that question you asked about trauma. As we engage the horrors of our lives I think it’s also important to imagine what a different world might look like. 

What are you reading? I have been having such a hard time focusing lately, and I’m even considering audio books. Do you listen to audio books? I always worry that I’ll like them too much and never hold a physical book ever again. Anyway today I got the vibes back and read Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks. Oh that book is a beauty of a thing. Okay it’s 1:26 a.m where I am. I’ll shut my eyes now. I hope you are doing ok and remembering to drink water.

Makena, 08/07/2020:

Hi Ndinda, 

Are the white people still crossing the street when they see you? What is it like living like that, thinking that you are the norm and everyone else is some aberration, some inconvenience? What happened and continues to happen to Africans in China is so upsetting to me. I really just stopped thinking about it. But I have decided to keep storming the towers, in publishing especially. Because walls eventually fall. When I lived in the USA, I thought often about the fact that I could be there as a scholarship student because others had paved the way for me, with lives and blood, as far back as slavery. Do you remember when you first realized that our people had been enslaved and how that felt like? I think every African/Black child comes to this realization, akin to the discovery of your heartbeat. It must have been about the time I watched “Escrava Isaura”. I remember being ashamed of my ancestors. Even now, I know people my age who struggle with this same. People who ask questions like: “What were we doing when they were doing all that?” and “Why did we not have this or that?” and “Where are our histories, civilizations e.t.c?” Story is a powerful thing and the West has bent itself to the making of story or myth for a long time. And those worlds seem to have infiltrated all stories. How do we extract ourselves from those walls? What is us? What is them? And does it matter? The small/big questions of some of my afternoons.

 

I am suffering some guilt over my non-involvement in some big things happening in Kenya e.g. #SabaSabaMarchForOurLives. I am truly a keyboard warrior. I won’t go face the guns; I am a coward, through and through, in this area. One of my workshop participants was arrested and spent several hours at Central Police Station. I feel that I betrayed her somehow by not being out there. Why is peaceful protest not possible in this country? What is democracy? I remain a keyboard warrior. I hope to infect—yes, infect—Kenyans with new ideas that transform us from the inside even as others axe down the edifices. We will always need to be vigilant, but change will come. In our lifetime, Ndinda, we will have education, food, healthcare, housing and employment for all. Our generation will make it happen and is making it happen.

Yesterday was more or less a nap day for me. I cannot work when it is cold. But I started work on my first sci-fi story. I really want to write speculative fiction. There are so many possibilities there, but my brain does quite work like that. Small attempts. I am now doing a big rewrite of my novel. One of the main characters needs a whole new storyline. Redoing that is taking some time. I need to do some research among female tech entrepreneurs in Nairobi but there are not so open to talking. A bit stuck. But this is still fun. I am especially happy that my NF2W participants are completing novels. My next big class project is putting together a novel-writing class taught collaboratively by African novelists. I have already received three tentative yeses. So excited.

My goodness. I am a gossip. I even gossip about myself. Lord forgive me. I have recently made a decision to keep some things to myself. But sadly, gossip is the material of good fiction, is it not? My best stories have a germ of truth, something that happened to me or something I heard from someone about someone else. I was talking to a writer friend the other day who said he feels a bit like a vulture, always listening to others and thinking, now that is a short story. We are thieves, yes we are. I think, like gossips, people fear us. People hide things from us. But, they also want us to see because if we write about their things those things become important events, no?

 

I remember writing my first novel from a place of 100 percent abandon. I was fifteen. There were no rules. For six months I did not touch the group. You might have seen me floating around Nairobi on a story-induced high. I have had this called attaining flow—when the mind does what it does effortlessly. I have never returned to that place, precisely because I learnt the rules. The rules are inhibition. But I believe that the rules only need to become second nature and then they will fall away. I do not want to write as I did at fifteen, no matter the thrill. I want to commune with the universe in a deeper way. I want to turn inside out. It is painful now, like pulling teeth, but it won’t always be. My brain is growing bigger. Okay, I want to believe it is (fingers crossed).

I’ve decided to write whatever I want to write, trauma, poverty, joy, sex e.t.c. My novel is full of sex and it is going to have sex in every rendition I can manage because I want my girls to be bad. I want them to bulldoze the walls we face in Kenya about how to behave, how to handle relationships and jobs and life. It seems to only be African writers who face these kinds of prescriptions. Part of it I think has to do with there just not being enough of us getting published so that each publication means too much. This is yet another reason why I am teaching and publishing. There are stories I will never be able to write so I am giving everyone I can the tools to write them and add to the voices.

I am not reading enough Ndinda, not as hard and as desperately as I did during my MFA program. And time is not the problem really. I am lacking in energy for it, I think. I have three books going now. South B’s Finest by Makena Maganjo, House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma and Scarlett Odyssey by C.T. Rwizi. Now, the Rwizi is a bomb. Fantasy fiction that does African fantasy justice. I will teach this book in my classes someday. This and the Rosewater trilogy by Tade Thompson and Suyi Davies Okungbowa’s work. These guys are killing it. Anyway, may I one day read like I did once before. I need the words. I am empty.

Ndinda, 13/07/2020:

Hi Makena,

The people are still crossing the road like the chicken, but with everything that’s happening in the US right now, something has shifted. There’s this eagerness to talk, and to be honest I miss the former. I still feel othered, still feel constantly observed. I was telling a friend that whenever I leave Nairobi, something tightens in me. I am more aware of my surroundings, aware of that constant gaze, perhaps more fearful, although I have always been a terrified child, which is a story for another day. Then when I come back to Nairobi, I relax my shoulders. This isn’t to say that Nairobi doesn’t have its own problems. It’s a complicated conversation to have because even as I type this, part of me is rolling eyes at the afropolitanism of it all. The reality is, this temporary move to the US has also brought my way writing and teaching opportunities I could never have imagined, but it has also brought me depression and such terrible loneliness. I want to be honest about these things whenever I talk about my writing journey, these constant interruptions. Still glad I had this time away to write and become a better reader of my own work, encounter the world I encountered and expand my sense of the world and add more seats to the room I inhabit with my chosen family. Anyway, really excited about the next chapter of my life. I hope it’s full of community and dance and love and writing. I like to feel alive.

 

Do I remember when I first realized that our people had been enslaved? What a great question. I’ve been thinking about this since I received your email. A lot of memories of my childhood are forgotten and some have been coming back to me in my thirties, perhaps because I’m in the process of excavating my childhood memories for some projects. I’d be lying if I picked one moment and said this was it. I didn’t grow up with electricity or a TV until I was around seventeen, but I remember reading a book about a chief who had eight wives, and some young men who were ‘stolen’. This baffled me, that a person could be stolen by another person. I’d say it’s a combination of things. Even our language contained this history. I come from a family of coffee farmers. If we weren’t in school or in church, we were working in the coffee farm, either harvesting or weeding or doing whatever needed doing. It didn’t matter that it was raining. Play for whomst? I remember my siblings and I talking constantly about how our grandmother had “enslaved” us. As children of course we were just using this word ovyo ovyo. But this history was always there, in the language we spoke.  So later when I encountered it, it wasn’t really new. The knowledge had been accumulating. Or maybe I was shocked and don’t remember. I doubt it. As a child I really didn’t have romantic ideas of the world and those who inhabit it. The world has always been a tragedy to me.

It matters that we extract ourselves from these walls, free ourselves from forms and languages that can’t contain us. I think a lot about how N.K Jemisin’s sentences move, how free they seem to me. “Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.” Look at that first sentence. Look at the audacity in that. How free! How freeing!

I’m really sorry about the workshop participant. And yeah, I feel you about the guilt of non-involvement. I have been feeling a little bit of that, but damn, this year has been wild so I forgive myself already, for all the times I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. I stayed alive, and that’s the best I could do today. I also believe there are many ways to protest. Every little thing we do counts. There are those out there on the street, there are those giving us language to process what’s happening, the lawyers, those sending money to bail out protestors arrested by the Kenya Police, those taking notes for future sense-making, those texting to ask if we’ve eaten, those sending pictures of flowers, those sharing resources locked behind paywalls. A friend used an expression I love, “I’m activated.” I love that. I’m activated when I’m activated. I try my best, but I’m not always activated because of the usual interruptions, and because burnout is a real thing. Those on the other side are banking on our exhaustion so they can return to “business as usual.” We can’t let that happen. We must remember to rest and rekindle.

Like you Makena, I believe this Kenya we are imagining is possible. Did you ever listen to Wembe wa Citizen? I used to think that radio show was radical. I might not have the same views if I was to listen to it again, but it filled my young mind with freedom dreams. We can provide decent education, decent housing to all Kenyans. Food, shelter, clothing: do we still call these basic human needs? How are they basic when most Kenyans are unable to meet them? How is it that in the village, we had tapped water in the 90s through the coffee farmers society, but now that seems impossible? Water. How can we lack something that’s so freely available? I know how, but how? I was reading the news this morning, and saw that the Kenyan rich have done what the Kenyan rich do. ICU beds installed in people’s houses while hospitals struggle. Where does one begin? The selfishness. The logic. 

I’m glad you share my love for gossip. I have some for you. Remind me when I see you next. I really loved having this conversation with you, and so glad to know you! I can’t wait to hug you!

Ndinda Kioko is a Kenyan writer and filmmaker. She has an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) from the University of Oregon. Her works have appeared on several platforms and publications including Masters Review, Black Warrior Review, The Trans-African, BBC Radio 4, Wasafiri Magazine, Africa39: New Writing from Africa South of the Sahara, and Jalada Africa. She was awarded the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship, Wasafiri New Writing Prize and the Black Warrior Review Fiction Prize. Ndinda has also received support from the Blue Mountain Center, MacDowell and Yaddo. In 2018-19, she was an Olive B O’Connor Fiction Fellow at Colgate University. Ndinda is working on her first novel.

Makena Onjerika won the 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Granta, Johannesburg Review of Books, Fireside Quarterly, Wasafiri, Waxwing, Jalada, New Daughters of Africa and others. She  runs the Nairobi Fiction Writing Workshop and recently published the workshop’s first anthology,  Digital Bedbugs. 

 

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