Abenea Ndago is the author of several short stories, many published here on Africanwriter.com. A prolific, committed writer, he has a bubbling intelligence and passion for knowledge evident in his fiction. He earned a first degree in Linguistics and Literature, followed by a Masters in Literature from the University of Nairobi. A self-described social critic, Ndago writes for The East African Standard when he’s not teaching literature at Bondo University College in Kenya. Abenea Ndago is the author of The Frontier, an unpublished novel, and his constant exploration of language is a dance he obviously takes pleasure in. It makes his stories an adventure to read every time.
Sola Osofisan: You have a series of coming of age stories often situated in out of the way settlements and villages in which you paint vivid pictures of farmers on farmlands, herdsmen, whispering streams, work-weary wise women, and animals wild and tame… These are very intimate portrayals that read as if they are borne of personal experience and not just slapped together from research. Did you grow up close to the land? Tell us about your childhood please.
Abenea Ndago: A touch of personal experience sticks out in my stories. I also feel very close to the land for certain reasons. Well I found myself growing up in a tiny border village between two Kenyan communities, the Luo (to which I belong), and my neighbours, the Kalenjin. The atmosphere I paint in my stories is Odiyo Wang’e – simply, ‘Odiya’ – in skin, breath, and blood. Odiya was very bushy when I was a child in the mid-80s and we lost countless dogs to pythons. From the early ‘90s when I was a teenager we used to keep vigil in the maize fields to ward off wild pig at night. During the day we were panting after monkeys. Our village is hemmed in on all sides by three hills. And then there are two streams which literally bracket us. Birds were a myriad. We had over ten dogs at any given time and we, the children, fed those dogs.
Our parents never failed to remind us that what we were seeing in the ‘80s was a school soccer field in comparison to what Odiya was in 1965 when the land became a settlement scheme. Of course the land had belonged to my neighbours, the Kalenjin, and the British displaced them in the early days of the colony. There are houses in my village, left behind by departing colonisers, and old, rusty pipes that used to serve them water from the streams.
Sola Osofisan: And your characters?
Abenea Ndago: Many are Odiya tropes whose faces I know very well though most have exited. My father had a series of herdsmen. But I need to observe that ‘the wise woman’ and ‘the inquisitive child’ in most of my stories are purely fictional. I saw my mother till 1990, when I was around 12. After writing a story I usually ask myself who that mother and child in the story are and it shocks me that I know neither. But I believe children generally are inquisitive. As for the woman, perhaps it’s an accidental counter-construction.
In short I’m a proud villager who left it when I first went to boarding school in 1993, knocked Nairobi’s doors thereafter, but the symbols and imagery of Odiya have cemented themselves in my literary repertoire.
Sola Osofisan: When did you realise you could write? How?
Abenea Ndago: That’s an interesting question because I’ve never given it any thought. But in 1994, when I was in Form 2, we were three streams of about 200 students in total. There was an end-term exam – the most difficult since we’d ever joined secondary school – where a particular question said, (Rewrite in four words without changing the meaning of the sentence): ‘He lived longer than his father.’ The sentence looked very simple, but it was the trickiest matter I’d had to deal with in the whole of my interaction with language in general – not just English – till then. And we were fairly young at about fifteen years. I sweated, sweated, sweated. In the end I wrote a simple sentence I wasn’t very sure about: ‘He outlived his father.’ When our Madam returned the scripts I saw a tick on that particular question, and a star beside it, with the writing: ‘This is exceptionally good!’ She made me stand. Then she said, ‘Abenea Odhiambo Ndago. You are the only one who got that number right in a class of 200 students.’ Fellow students clapped for me. I think that was the day I discovered my friendship with language; that I could be a gourd and language the milk. But that’s in the written word. I’m a very clumsy speaker.
Sola Osofisan: That is true of many writers, yours truly included. So how did that translate to writing stories?
Abenea Ndago: In college (1998 – 2002) I tried but wrote only a short story. More short stories followed, and my lecturer – one of East Africa’s foremost literary critics, Prof. Chris Wanjala – had a radio programme on the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) where he took me to interview on my writing in 2006. They were seven stories. I said enough about them on radio but I’ve never told anyone that I really don’t know where they went to thereafter. I wrote a 200-page novel manuscript around that time. One day I sat and read it through. I felt ashamed and set the whole pile alight.
Storymoja blog came, and I published one short story in 2009, in my first year of M.A. at the University of Nairobi. Storymoja resurrected me, to be honest, and I’ll always thank Muthoni Garland and Juliet Maruru. Seeing my writing online resembled very liminal witchcraft.
I’ve also actively listened to BBC radio since 2000, and liked the voices of Ngugi, Soyinka, Achebe, Naipaul, Okri, and every Nobel Prize in Literature winner each time they were brought for interview by Harriett Gilbert, and every single thing they said rang true for me, so I always knew I had something inside me to write. I had a single short story in hand last year as I was surfing; specifically for a short stories blog where I could publish, and then I came across Africanwriter.com. I liked the portfolio and the seriousness. If something has made me write seriously then it’s Africanwriter.com – for I’ve finished and spruced up my first novel manuscript – and my short stories come so spontaneously as to shock me, without my barking at them, once or twice every month. I’ don’t intend to stop.
Sola Osofisan: Thanks for the kind words. I think you have a compelling and unusual voice, a philosophical voice steeped in oral history and storytelling. Did that come naturally as a result of your upbringing or did you wholly cultivate it?
Abenea Ndago: ‘Unusual voice’ no, ‘philosophical voice’ perhaps, because I try to strip my childhood experiences of their ordinariness and reach for the philosophical in them. As I’ve said it’s got nothing to do with my upbringing. My father was the tough breed who didn’t entertain lazy banter. My mother was the reticent type. I didn’t know my paternal grandparents much, except the two times we were carried and taken to their burials, because they’d been left in Kano when father bought the Odiya land and settled there in 1965. In short it is cultivated… But I have a vague clue about the philosophical bit. Those over ten dogs, occasionally one would die or disappear, possibly swallowed by a python, and since I fed them I would be sad for weeks because disappearance is eternal. There were times when a puppy was born in our homestead. I watched it grow. It became a full dog. And then age slowly told him, ‘I’m going away with you.’ The teeth went and he could no longer enjoy the bones and the meat. One day the dog would die, and we threw him in the bush, after the smell and the rot we would occasionally sneak to the spot and I wondered, looking at the skull, ‘So this is Omieri, the dog I hunted with the other month! Mk!’ So the ageing process, devoid of any accident, has always pained me.
Sola Osofisan: Your experimentation with language is also highly note-worthy. Your stories often read like words spilling from the lips of a storyteller perched on a stool surrounded by a listening village. Tell us about your approach to language in your fiction.
Abenea Ndago: I sweat gravely to cultivate the style of my writing. My technique revolves around not leaving my reader behind, so when I use a Dholuo word I do so in a context that leaves no doubt as to its meaning. There’s a book of Luo oral narratives – co-edited by Adrian Roscoe and Onyango Ogutu – and I usually dig deep to capture what Dholuo orality should look or sound like. There is a collection of Luo stories by the late Asenath Bole Odaga. I also identify Dholuo words and expressions that are easy to gel with English, and gel. The sweeping, factual prolificacy of the late Ali Mazrui’s prose also interests me. There’s a veteran Luo columnist in one of our dailies, and I’ve been reading him since the late ‘90s. I think he’s managed to wed English and Dholuo in a very accessible church. I disobey grammar sometimes when I’m dealing with ungrammatical characters. I think all good art is about modifying what already exists; I try to create something new out of this collage of voices.
Sola Osofisan: Still on Odiya village, the recurring decimal in your stories… Are these stories connected in your mind? Or are you just one of those writers who gravitate around a fictional place they love in story after story?
Abenea Ndago: You are right on two levels. I discovered that no sooner am I through with a story centred on a specific incident in my Odiya childhood than another tinier occurrence squirts on the needle-point of my memory, so I always just wait for them the way eggs wait to become chicks. I allow myself to be their path. But you are also right that I swore to enrich my writing with local flavour in terms of language and setting.
Sola Osofisan: I can’t help but sense a tone of sadness in your writing. You write like a much older person and sometimes sound as if you miss a saner era that we only hear about in once-upon-a-time stories now. Are you a sad man? Is that the source of the social engagement and maybe anger I see in some of your stories?
Abenea Ndago: I’m not a sad person. I write like a much older person? Well you aren’t the first person to say this. And you know it bothers me because I suspect when I’m finally old people will be saying, ‘You write like a dead person.’ People hold their breath when they discover it’s me, and a newspaper editor gasped one day, saying, ‘Heh, but I thought you were an old man!’ I don’t know how old people are supposed to write. But I suspect it’s because silence is elderly and it has a grey beard. I write under total silence –total. All music is my other lung but when I want to write I kick music the way every chicken kicks litter.
Perhaps my writing is sad. I can guess the reason. My mother died when we were still very young. You know that was the evening of 1990, a Sunday. We’d spent the whole midday just playing rag-ball soccer at the primary school. And we heard some wailing. We knew Mama had been rushed to Nandi District Hospital, tens of kilometres in the hilly Rift Valley. She had delivered at home. I’d seen some blood spilling as she was being carried into the car after midday.
So when the wailing came that evening, air immediately went out of my lungs and I’ve never been able to breathe it back to this day. I was about 12. We ran home. The rag-ball remained. All along I was praying that the crying come from our neighbour’s. That didn’t happen. When I reached the entrance into our homestead I found the whole Odiya there, crying. I’ve never known why I didn’t cry even in the small hut where my elder siblings were all wet (these days I know I was too shocked to). And we slept in pain that night, over one another like puppies. The following morning the cock woke us up and people began crying again. That was when I cried because nothing has ever saddened me more than the sound of the cock that dawn. That the cock was here crowing, and my mother was not going to wake up somewhere in Nandi Hills? That the sun was arriving without her? To this day the saddest moment in someone’s death for me is not the lowering of the coffin; it is the day after their death, when the world chooses to roll on without them.
When the election-related ‘skirmishes’ of 1992 came (I detest the journalistic term because it was real war for us, and we lost neighbours), again we fled to Chemelil, and then to Kano, and my mind buzzed with the fact that Mama was again there in her grave, alone, barely two years, for all the months we were away.
If I sound angry it’s sheer impatience with politics in Africa and anywhere else, where ‘governance’ is confused with ‘politics.’ I think the two should be different. The damage is irrecoverable when that confusion is entrenched. In Odiya for instance, the crime rate is currently terrible. What are the contributory factors? I was there and I can tell you that the period stretching from 1992 – 1997 was terrifying. Luo farmers were partially forbidden – through a very subtle quota – to deliver sugarcane to nearby factories. I saw whole cane fields drying up in my village. Why – because the Luo had been in the opposition in 1992. I saw Kalenjin cane being delivered to the factories. The result was that parents were barely able to take children to school, and the teenagers of those years, my age-mates, are today’s criminals. Politicians think politics is a mere game, but it permanently brutalises people’s lives.
I never wanted to forgive President Moi and his tenure for making me abandon my Mama during the 1992 war, but with time you learn that you can’t carry it forever, and so I did because as a writer I believe nurturing nationhood demands that we make major compromises. And so I’m not angry, but that’s the background of my ‘sadness’ and social commitment.
Sola Osofisan: I understand you’re a strong advocate for writers seeking inspiration from history. Can you elaborate on that a little and let us know if it is something you do often. For instance, your 2015 story, “Memoirs of a Small Village” – is that based on the real “human slaughterhouse museum” article and blog entry you did a few years ago?
Abenea Ndago: I don’t know if I’m right, but I’ve often held that history will forever remain literature’s most intimate mistress. Sci-fi is great, plus any kind of futuristic writing. But history remains the touchstone. I’m a voracious reader of Nobel Prize in Literature winners, and I think the Nobel Committee can bear me witness. The first time I read the Algerian-born French author, Albert Camus’ The Plague, I spent the next several days just smiling all over the place. Binyavanga’s autobiography remains one of my best in spite of its ethnic weaknesses. But it cannot beat Chimamanda’s Half of a Yellow Sun, or Makumbi’s Kintu.
I think it’s in the fact of the despot in history refusing to give us that part of our life which he has dictatorially chosen to remain with. And we are all sad, looking back over our shoulders. However, I don’t decree that you centre your writing on history. I think all writers have all the freedom in the world to indulge in the small things that excite their flighty fancy.
About ‘Memoirs of a Small Village,’ yes it’s based on the history of Odiya and the factual circumstances of the colonial ‘slaughterhouse’ (I think a very serious inhumanity went on there during the colonial times). It’s good that out of that historical might-have-been I now have a 251-page manuscript.
Sola Osofisan: Manuscript? As in a novel?It’s good to know you’re much more than the short stories…
Abenea Ndago: Yes, it’s a novel manuscript that was inspired by ‘Memoirs of a Small Village.’ Hopefully it should be my major launch pad.
Sola Osofisan: Still on commenting on the conversations and hot topics of the times: is your social consciousness a reflection of the role you think literature should be playing in a developing society?
Abenea Ndago: Without a doubt. In the past I’ve in a small way written about the need for the African writer to stand ‘inside the tribe.’ What I mean is that the continent finds itself in a socio-historical cul-de-sac where anything coming from ‘the other tribe’ is instantly deemed evil even when it’s the best idea to have ever happened. Picture a goat receiving a telephone call from a hyena about a possible visit – the goat drops the phone and runs for dear life.
Let me talk about Kenya because I know it. Certainly there are many communities that don’t agree on issues in Kenya, but the best known is the Kikuyu-Luo trajectory since it’s been the most sexed up, though it was partly fuelled by Cold-War rhetoric. Otherwise the two communities were historically the best of friends. In the run-up to the Kenyan referendum of 2005 about a proposed constitution, the Luo were in the ‘No’ camp, while the Kikuyu were in the ‘Yes’. A TV channel went to Nyanza Province’s Kisumu Town (Luo epicentre) and asked a group of Luos why they did not want the proposed constitution. Had they read the draft? I watched people boldly swelling their chests, saying there was no need to read ‘that thing’ because Raila Odinga (the No point man) had already read it ‘on their behalf’ and found it wanting. What unhealthy narrow-mindedness! Unfortunately that flood of political ignorance sweeps people in Central Province too, where the Kikuyu live.
I think the African writer is best placed to mediate in times of such blinding, ethnic ignorance. I’ve occasionally pointed out to the Luo that not all their suffering came from the other camp. There were Luo ministers in the Moi regime, and Kikuyu ministers in the same. Similarly there were Luo ministers in the Kenyatta regime. So there has always been some form of ethnic collusion.
My opinion is that the African Continent will one day have to learn to entrench and internalise dissent if any serious transformation is to be realised (both within the communal sphere, and in the political arena through opposition parties). Right now I think many opposition parties in Africa are being treated with the same old, deadly venom reminiscent of the death-punishment meted out on betrayers during inter-tribal wars of centuries gone past. It’s worse if you rebel against your community. You’re ostracised. You’re branded an ‘andhoga’ – a dangerous Judas Iscariot. Yet if you keenly study the history of Western societies, you discover the golden prize the West puts on internal dissent – they even have the concept of ‘the devil’s advocate.’ Bugging an opposition party headquarters cost Richard Nixon the presidency. The Western society knows that the best way for a society to progress is through constant criticism of its systems. And that can’t happen without home-grown dissenters. I know I’ll be told, ‘Ah, but that’s America.’ My reply is, ‘Ah, but you’ve learnt to swallow a million Americanisms – why’s this particular one peppery?’
If a writer can criticise their community when it needs to be, and defend it when it is unfairly targeted, then we will have moved forward. The community might collectively see the criticism as genuine because it did not come from without – it wasn’t the hyena’s telephone call. And social consciousness also means that I’m able to comment on any taboo state topic under the sun. I don’t want class or ethnic inhibitions to stand in my way.
Sola Osofisan: Narrators are often spokespersons – surrogates so to speak – of the writer in a story, expressing his views. As a self-described social critic, how much of your characters’ social commentary are really Abenea Ndago’s?
Abenea Ndago: They don’t have to be mine. For now let me only say that I try as best I can to read and understand the historical viewpoints of every one of Kenya’s 42 communities. And I’ve discovered it’s very rewarding. I listen to the music of these communities. I’m a Luo, but some of my best musicians are Kikuyu – Joseph Kamaru, Eric Wainaina, Harry Kimani, and Elani. Of course it doesn’t mean that you won’t catch me sweating in a dance hall where Luo ohangla and benga music are being played. I stand for the ethnic transcendence that many invisible narrators espouse in some of my stories.
Sola Osofisan: I’m of the opinion that your work deserves a lot more attention than it has received. What are you doing as a writer to attract the attention of the literary gate-keepers? And how is the publishing environment in Kenya helpful?
Abenea Ndago: No, I’m not interested in attracting the attention of those gate-keepers. I write my fiction and rest. I freelance for one of the major dailies, The East African Standard, and contribute on art and culture. At the bottom of my pieces the author bio reads, ‘The writer is an author at africanwriter.com.’ I also used to share on my face book timeline. That suffices for me. I know enough about the hurdles authors have had to go through before getting properly known and so I don’t want it to bother me. Having said so, let me add that the publishing environment in Kenya is vibrant but tragic – tragic. Vibrant because many blogs publish regularly, but it is as if there is a secret code warning you: ‘Thou shalt write about people’s underwear and the drama of sex before we can publish.’ I have no problem with LGBTQ, but I can’t allow you to dictate to me like that. I’m not a very moral person, but I don’t enjoy being constantly reminded that I’m the living evidence of some bodily intercourse between some two people several years ago. Tragic because the government is dead silent as publishers fleece authors in broad daylight.
Sola Osofisan: In a 2014 article on the state of music in Kenya, you wrote of singers elsewhere who focus on “the purpose of human existence, the nature of the world, and the place of human beings in it” while asking “How can we go global if all we sing about is sex, love?” That is definitely a common theme in much of African music today. But to play the devil’s advocate here: sex and love…aren’t they just as universal as anything else?
Abenea Ndago: Well, sex and love ARE universal. Anything IS universal. But you don’t know that adult Kenyans – donning moustache, beard and underwear, with wives and children – earn monthly salaries by mimicking Nigerians in Kenyan FM radio stations? The context of my criticism was the banal level to which Kenyan singers reduce everything; they over-enact the drama of coitus; too shallow-minded to penetrate the philosophy of it. If you showed me Segi’s Pub I’d clearly see the debilitating, compromising, corrupting influence of all sex. Garcia Marquez’s Buendia family is doomed through a sex curse. And both Kongi’s Harvest and One Hundred Years of Solitude are masterpieces. I hope you don’t want me to consider as ‘universal’ the current trend in much of Kenyan music and writing, where orgasm and paraded nipples pass for art. It’s shallow.
Sola Osofisan: Kenya is a literary colossus recognised throughout the world, with trail-blazing writers like Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Grace Ogot, and more recently, Binyavanga Wainaina. How does that history influence emerging writers like you?
Abenea Ndago: I think you should have added H.R. Ole Kulet, Rocha Chimera, Yusuf Dawood, M.G.Vassanji, MoraaGitaa, Stanley Gazemba, Yvonne Owuor, Ng’ang’a Mbugua, Kinyanjui Kombani, Margaret Ogolla, Rebeka Njau, Tony Mochama, Okwiri Oduor, Eva Kasaya, and a host of other very prolific Kiswahili language authors who still remain obscure in spite of their sizzling writing. But to return to Ngugi, Ogot, and Wainaina, I think they all tried and I appreciate their work.
Ngugi tried to simplify Das Kapital to those who were unlucky not to have penetrated Marx and Engels. We could say the same about Fanon’s work, and also Albert Memmi’s. To that extent Ngugi illuminated class dialectics in a post-colony. Ogot wrote a lot from a feminist standpoint, and I also identify with her traditional Luo milieu. Wainaina arrived with very good prose – we can’t deny that. My only distaste for the three writers springs from their deep conservatism. My intellectual leanings are with open-minded authors such as Ole Kulet, Dawood, and Vassanji.
Ngugi’s oeuvre has all along entrenched the myth that Kenya’s independence was brought by the Mau Mau – even when independence came 6 full years after the painful end of that one-sided war – while intentionally, I think, killing the contribution of the trade unions and the civil society, perhaps because for a very long time it was mainly the Luhyia and Luo communities who dominated the trade unions; and that myth has been at the nerve centre of Kenya’s political hiccups. Ngugi used to scream about ‘tribalism’ when President Moi (a Kalenjin) was in power from 1978 to 2002.To the best of my memory Ngugi hasn’t uttered a single syllable against the same evil even when the Kibaki regime and, currently, Uhuru presidency (both Kikuyus) have continued to sponsor and patron tribalism and blatant ethnic exclusion on a scale never imagined before. To date the Kenyan cabinet is practically owned by two communities – Kikuyus and Kalenjins. Of course, as usual, there’s a lot of holy rhetoric about ‘tribe is not important.’
On the late Ogot, she was a government insider. I think Ngugi was right to have chided her as ‘an African writer eating with the government.’ In her cabinet position, Grace Ogot never raised a finger during the Moi regime, when her own Luo community was singled out for very painful economic marginalisation.
My biggest disappointment has been Binyavanga. He isn’t very much older than I am. But I never imagined that a third generation African writer’s mind could still manage to groan under the weight of ethnic cobwebs which burdened his forefathers. My temporary appraisal of Binyavanga’s Kwani? establishment is that perhaps it was a literary space meant to further an ethnic agenda. If it has helped Kenyans and a Zambian to win the Caine Prize then that’s okay, but it’s by default.
The African writing scene will never have known a shrill ethnic propagandist more shameless than Binyavanga. If you read Discovering Home, you will see the portrayal of the Kikuyu as ‘hardworking.’ But the Akamba are ‘sex pests’; the Maasai are ‘traditional and unintelligent’; Western Kenya (mentally associated with the Luo) is ‘dull and uninteresting.’ The same stereotyping overlaps elsewhere, in Eva Kasaya’s Tale of Kasaya (published by Kwani? Trust – and most Kwani? authors are tightly workshopped) where the Luhyia are ‘greedy’; the Abagusii are ‘witches’; the Luo are ‘fish-smelling, dirty’; a tacit reference to the Luo historically not circumcising (and therefore ‘unfit to lead’) – ignorant that the Bantu rite was historically borrowed from Nilotes, to which the Luo belong.
The Luo-fish metaphor erupts again in One Day I Will Write about This Place, Binyavanga’s autobiography. There is intentional reference to the ‘dirty smell’ of the Luo women who sell fish around Nakuru Railway Station. Not just that, but the author goes to all length in narrating how the Luo community unfairly gave jobs to its members at the Kenya Railway. The observation is right. What makes it suspect is that Binyavanga feigns ignorance of how the trend entrenched itself almost in every sector of the Kenyan economy to this day, majorly in the then Ministry of Lands, then directly controlled from State House by none other than Jomo Kenyatta. Available books are clear evidence of how Kikuyu land-buying companies were favoured over every other community, and that’s how Kenya manufactured the land time bomb (and Kenya hasn’t quarrelled over the railway line recently). What more? Binyavanga lies that President Moi prevented him from going to a national school (he doesn’t say anywhere in the book where Moi knew him). In short, it’s almost impossible to find a Luo character that’s been positively depicted in any Kwani? text.
On a more fundamental level, the author thinks that Kibaki won the 2007 elections (please accept my very low opinion of intellectuals who toy with the idea that ‘there was no clear winner’ or ‘Kibaki won against Raila’). I think that’s a cowardly answer. He writes that the election was 41 communities against 1, the Kikuyu (and he doesn’t put it into context, namely, by observing that in the election before that, in 2002, all 42 communities voted for two Kikuyu candidates, Kibaki and Uhuru).
You can’t win like that – 1 against 41 – in Kenya. Anyone conversant with Kenya’s demographics knows that no single tribe can win a national election. Either Kibaki lost (which I know he did because he won 1 out of 8 provinces, 43 MPs against Raila’s 99), or he stole those votes. Yet in Yvonne Owuor’s Dust (also published by Kwani? Trust), the depiction of the 2007 election is so vague that you wouldn’t know which candidate stole from which (I think Binyavanga breathed down Yvonne’s neck).
Perhaps the lesson for any upcoming Kenyan author is that a writer shouldn’t be a blinkers-wearing diplomat. Frankness and political commitment stand to benefit posterity. Luckily, I think, Kenyan communities continue to share a lot, and I know they will overcome such unfortunate stereotyping from their authors.
Sola Osofisan: My last question. There is a picture in your Facebook and Twitter profiles of you standing beside an elderly woman jubilantly holding up some money. Obviously there’s a story behind it. I like a good story if you will tell…
Abenea Ndago: I’m happy this is the last question because it is relevant to a question I answered earlier. I lost my father on October 12, 2012. I’ve been digging up material for his biography sometime in the future. There was this young Luo girl my father and our herdsman were rumoured to have rescued when someone gouged out both her eyes in the sugarcane plantation. That was in the early 1980s. I tracked the girl after my father’s burial (now a woman) and found her married in Kano. She narrated her painful story. It happened when she was barely 12, and in Primary 6 in 1981. We ran the story in The East African Standard. Guess the only person to send her $20 from London? – a Kikuyu lady called Muthoni Mwangi. So I let my little brother take my picture with the woman that way, to send to the benefactor and show her that the two notes reached their destination. Many people have wondered why I’m a boastful helper but I usually beg them to forgive me because it was meant to be evidence, and also a logo that communities can always co-exist. A friend in America also recently sent some money after reading the feature story online and you’ll be seeing such helpful boastfulness again very soon.