Celebrating East African Writing!
Day 1 – Write Intro to the Tana County piece.
What do you think about when you think Tana County? That’s not a rhetorical question, by the way. It’s a test I’m about to put myself to. I have also decided that I’m not going to do the easy thing. So I unfriend Google and put my recall to work.
Well, technically, that’s a lie. The country is subject to a nationwide blackout as I type this. Actually, since it’s daytime, how’s about we just settle on light-out? Settled?
OK, so what if I lied by calling it a technical lie? It was not technical; it was outright. That should settle it once and for all.
Now, my trustee modem ain’t loaded either, and seeing as this laptop hasn’t been known for faithful power thrusts while unconnected, I’ll have to be really fast listing my stereotypes on Tana County.
Day 2 – Beyond Recall; Imagining Tana County.
The lights have finally come back from where they go when they’re gone. Curious to see how well I aced yesterday’s test, I friend back Google and give her a little lie about how my account was hacked into. By extremist literati who felt my style was unbecoming of Literature’s aspects of it. Settled?
Google opens up her loins, and I peek in.
The title in the results yells ‘Tana County, formerly Tana River district,’ turning my face into quite the enviable smug mug.
“Conflicts have occurred…”
I don’t even bother to complete that statement. I accept my own fortress of recall and move on.
“Generally dry and prone to drought… Rainfall is erratic… Flooding a regular problem…”
Hold up. What? It is generally dry and prone to drought, while being regularly inundated with floods? That’s about it. Tell Wikipedia how she’s no longer my friend, give Google her loincloth back, mumble a quick Slam bam Thank you mum and I’m out the door.
Out into the open… the real world. Not the broadly degenerative generalizations of a hardly specific world that has become our hushed hack jobs of information. I recall the chance reading of a piece from a local daily, and reluctantly call up my favourites on Twitter. Browse through the ladies and find the gem I need.
One quote attributed to Dennis Muraguri stands out. “It’s street art,” he says of Kenya’s matatu culture. “It’s unorchestrated, unchoreographed street theatre. You ask yourself why one matatu gets a passenger and another doesn’t, even if they charge less. It’s because they know how to flirt to get the attention. It’s all part of the business.”
Dennis is a painter whose works I recently had the pleasure of seeing on display at the Village Market, courtesy of the Manjano Visual Art Exhibition 2013. He was, at the time of interview, a guest at an interesting initiative dubbed ‘M/eat the artist.’ I’m sure the sexual innuendos in that catchy phrase were not missed by the idea’s curator either.
The idea behind ‘M/eat the artist’ is to subtly kick the appreciation of art out of gallery, and its ‘stark white lights’, into a private dinner setting. Sometimes you just want to get into a painter’s head. See what the artist sees. Feel what they feel. And while being misunderstood has been the template in an artist’s backpack of an existence, perhaps the initiative also seeks to understand art through its artist’s eyes.
A fortnight ago, I had the fortune of meeting a pack of misunderstood artists at a Rotaract meeting. I had just agreed to write this series of pieces for Storymoja Africa, and in need of a story. One story to piece the pieces I write for them together. I was in search of my story moja.
When he stood up to give his talk, I had no idea what the young man would say. After a long hard day’s work, I think I might have actually been dozing off, when I heard him mention books. How they, the Tana County Youth Association society, believe that there is something about Tana-River County that stirs their soul and fires the imagination.
My immediate reaction? I’m more than slightly ashamed that it had something to do with a fiery pun.
Yet isn’t that what we seem to do to a surprisingly great degree of success? Isn’t it always never that serious?
“It is of fact that a place does not just become great, it is made great: by great minds, great ideas, great leadership, and great industry,” the young man continued; actually, another lie…these words were taken from their blog last week. Another great little trick, the art of the copy paste, in this bold new world of research we call the information age.
Yet here I was, seated with these six young Kenyans from Tana County, who had risen above the harsh descriptions that on their world had been pasted, to a unilateral declaration of ambition: Quality Education.
Quality. A little word we forget to insert into our curriculum, focused as we are on making sure as many Kenyans as possible can string together a bunch of letters to yield an English sentence. How they string it together, and that literature is about learning to read, not learning to read English, is the least of our concerns.
And so for the next few months before the Storymoja Hay Festival begins on September 19, before we Imagine our World, feel free to join me as I steer you through these young chaps’ effort to promote quality education and improved living standards in Tana River County. Every first Tuesday of the month.
Fred Wambugu, preferably known as Freddy, is a writer/ enterpreneur with a liking for agro ways. Both the loud-mouthed angry “for no reason” and arable kinds.
When not farming or talking, Freddy owns of a hard-hitting anything goes blog, the Diary of a Serial Schizo and founder of inThync Kenya.
For more details on the writer, he has suggested that we tell you to scream at him on @french_freddy (Twitter) or Yule Mbois Mndialala (Facebook).
Disclaimer: He will holler right back. Loudly. Or lovably.