Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Look What We’ve Done

What have we done to the world?
What about all the peace that you pledge your only son?

                                                - Michael Jackson, Earth Song.

Nairobi, Sunday 22nd September 2013

A man whose voice I wanted to meet died yesterday. A soul whose words I was dying to pick floats away to the unknown. This man I never met. I had not the pleasure of hearing him speak. Not once did I have the knowing want to hear him, not once having truly known him.

I remember sitting in the room, staring at my itinerary. Only 6pm, yesterday. Counting the men sat up front in the panel that met East with West, wondering.

Wandering whispers had been going round my electrified world, about gunmen in a mall. Hijackers, the loud repeat went. Custom had me less than kindly about the soft digital voices. It was a happy day, a day of joy.

A first, in many days.

I remember saying that privilege is our problem, our very lack of true being. I remember thinking of privilege as multifaceted – as a list of bubbles we need blow away. I even said, after thinking little of it, that the gunmen were fighting privilege.

It was a happy day, you see. A day of joy.

A first in 3 days for me, since the festive Storymoja Hay had begun. 

It was a sad day elsewhere, I later saw. A day of grey, mere hours into a loveless warfare of disbelieved belief. Awareness everywhere.  Voids of conscience filled up, bit by agony bit, with violent information. 

I was happy. Oblivious. Peacefully lacking awareness, disconnected from the world around, plugged into a literary Utopia. 

Then I saw the missive a friend bottled into my sea of inter-netted waters. 

What about it? They gave a kill order 10 days ago, I had thought. Hijackers are probably dead by now, I breathed in. There couldn’t possibly be more to this than simple burglary-gone-bad. 

Maybe, even, just a sick fundamentalist retaliation for that classist war of emotion and word gone by. A war that was electrified and shared. 

A war whose weapons lay down 4 months before yesterday. A war whose only weapon was a wordy affair laced with shades of class, and the art of Café. 

I was dead wrong.

One call and I realized how wrong I was.

Malli was in the parking lot, looking. Calling. I went out in a haze, slightly piqued at her for getting me out of the world of poetry Fatou had engrossed my self in. The lovely Fatou; a queen of projected soul from Sierra Leone. She sounded, I think, like sex on the imagination. Her words pricked, her bosom heaved, her eyes soaring to the skies of the roof. 

She would later say, of her country’s civil war, how much she felt. How – even whilst away through it all – she was its victim. A window to her mind’s heart would crack open, and she would tell me. She would speak to me of the friends and uncles who died, the mothers and sisters who got their legs undone, their sanctity defiled. Her soul forever soiled by a vivid living memory. A memory of what was. 

A memory of what would soon be, for me?

I could not forgive her, sitting in the car park with a mutual friend, for getting me away from Fatou. 

But the conversation turned, and I did. 

The man beside Malli, with the dreaded locks, spoke. 

“See what your religions do?”

He’s an atheist, Malli explained. I shrugged, indifferent.

“At least your hair would have survived the gunmen, Freddy. Are there any dreadlocked Muslims?” he said, his tired hurt eyes arresting my heart.

The gunmen, I soon learnt, were more fundamentalist than I had thought earlier. Creed killers; killers masked by creed, swathed by hatred, hidden by race, their faces hidden behind their killing shields. Socked, soaked with the blood of dozens of innocent lives they had taken indiscriminately, turned Nairobi into a killing field.

They were Mujahedeen.

A chilly wobble I have not felt in many moons shook my core as I walked back to the room, the haze I left it in replaced by an uncertain daze. 

A man from the West was baring his heart out in word when I got in, gradually levitating spirits, relegating conscience back to the drop. He sang a second poem out, did Kwame, and I felt my conscience ease back into the oblivion of bliss.

If you know your woman
…your sins are enough for her to leave and never return.

                                                                - Kwame Dawes.

Yet the unoccupied seat continued to linger in my mind’s trunk. Where was Kofi?


In an ideal world, where bullets know who’s guilty, I’d say guns were a necessary evil.  In the world I live in, bullets have no mind, but reckless freckled kills of their own. My euphoria dissolves at once. Kofi, it emerges, has become one of these freckles. 

1And death, when he comes
to the door with his own
inimitable calling card
shall find a homestead
resurrected with laughter
and dance
and the festival of the meat
of the young lamb and the
red porridge
of the new corn.

He is now some body. Somebody I did not used to know. Somebody I know now. Somebody I can only now ever know by his documents:

2On this dirty patch
a tree once stood
shedding incense on the
infant corn:
its boughs stretched across
a heaven
brightened by the last fires of a tribe
They sent strangers and
who cut that tree
planting in its place
A huge senseless cathedral
of doom.


If I’m going to die young, it may be from a piece of mechanic metal, tarmac-ridden by intoxicated thought. It may be from a piece of sharp metal, of a shrapnel-led existence making do with my material. 

It’ll be by a serf-inflicted bullet through my brains, not self-inflicted bullets in my mind. 

Free thought. Free to think and think freely, thinking alone. Not with the group-thinking faith that brainwashed a gun into taking away one of the great minds of our times. Kwame Dawes, hours before he found out that his uncle Kofi had been killed in the Westgate Mall terror attack, had said to those of us gathered at Ford Hall, that although our fathers’ “sense of self was so brutalized, they gave us something to hold on to.” 

It certainly was not fear. 

I hold on to the world, and the world doesn’t need to be changed. Change is always evitable unless you can become the world, feel the pain the world does. 

If I am to die young, I will have lived old. I will have been happy; having held on to my bold peace, in bold scattered pieces. 

As will my body rest. 

Unless a writer is extremely old when he dies, in which case he has probably become a neglected institution, his death must always seem untimely. This is because a real writer is always shifting and changing and searching. The world has many labels for him, of which the most treacherous is the label of Success. But the man behind the label knows defeat far more intimately than he knows triumph. He can never be absolutely certain that he has achieved his intention.
             - James Baldwin; Eight Men, in Nobody Knows My Name.

Kofi Awoonor (left) and Kwame Dawes (right)

1-2 Excerpts from Poems written by the late great Kofi Awoonor.

                              Lived 13th March 1935 – 21st September 2013.

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