Celebrating East African Writing!

My mother’s songs – On the fringes of a nation by Abdinasir Amin

I am three or four; I still remember those days. The heat; the smell of bat droppings emanating from the eaves of the building; the bats flying off at dusk and coming home at dawn. We are seating on the veranda of our old, Arab-style building. Two large rooms out front-the shop and “restaurant”- facing the Wajir-Mandera road. Three others at the back, the living quarters. Many of us crammed in that little space. It is a typical village in North-eastern province. Dry, dusty, on either side of a “main’’, murram road.  The only tailor in the village is also on the veranda, the steady pace of his feet on the old Singer sewing machine adds to the music. The music my mother is singing to.

She’s weaving a traditional Somali mat made out of sisal soaked in an array of natural colours, the multi-coloured strands deftly going through her fingers as one piece of the mat comes together. My father’s old Phillips radio is sitting precariously on the window-ledge; it’s the time of the day I look forward to most. Sitting by my mother’s feet and listening to her beautiful, youthful voice, full of promise.

Magool’s powerful voice wafts through the heat. It’s Radio Mogadishu. Half-yodeling, half singing, she and Mohamed Suleiman are welcoming the New Year “Neyrus” and the promise of love. A group of singers is urging the Somali troops not to surrender to the Ethiopians, to keep on fighting to the last man, to liberate Gothey, to keep pushing till Addis, to get back Ogaden “wrongfully” given to Ethiopia by the Brits. We are living under maajiisii, under Emergency Laws and the askaris would always ask “wapi kipande”?

Growing up in North Eastern Kenya gives one a fluid sense. We are hyphenated Kenyans. Kenyan-Somalis. Or is it Somali-Kenyans? To most northerners, the order does not matter since anything outside of North-Eastern is “down-Kenya”, “down-country” or simply “Kenya”. The trip to Nairobi epitomizes this “otherness”.  It starts with the numerous road blocks dotting the long road to Nairobi, the main clearing-house of those headed for various national schools and all the traders headed for Eastleigh. Nairobi is the place where all the trucks ferrying goats to Kariobangi are headed and that’s all the poor secondary school student can afford. The scanty knowledge of Kiswahili, long-considered by the locals the policeman’s language, the kipande language, with connotations of oppression, does not help matters.

It doesn’t stop there, the well-meaning secondary school-teacher will  call you by various permutations of your unusual name. Soon you’ve cleared seko and it’s time to get a national identity card or that much-cherished passport. The extra documents needed from you, the overzealous immigration official at JKIA trying to shake down the hyphenated Kenyan for some money. Kijana you don’t look like this photo at all, hebu simama kando…please step aside…

My mother’s songs, full of hope, of a young Somalia, of an egalitarian society where all was dandy and everyone got along soon comes to naught. They are all headed for Eastleigh, for “Little Mogadishu”. Now there is no difference between Kenyan-Somali and Somali Somali. The absurdity of it is laughable. Trying hard to perfect your Kiswahili, that askari language again, to escape the night raids by the same askaris.

My mother’s songs still resonate in my head, not for the hope they represented but for the elephant in the room, the feeling of being neither here, nor there.

© Abdinasir Amin 2009

If you would like this piece to be the Story of the Week, please vote below on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak, and 10 being excellent. The numbers will be tallied on Friday and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.


11 comments on “My mother’s songs – On the fringes of a nation by Abdinasir Amin

  1. 06mickey
    September 7, 2009

    I give it a 9.
    Good narration. It almost feels like you are there…


  2. chrispus
    September 7, 2009

    A realistic story grounded on real events, the narration is flowing though the reader’s suspense is left unquenched; there was a promise of a good twist which doesn’t materialise. i give it 8. keep up.


  3. Waswa
    September 7, 2009

    10. And I don’t give my compliments easy!


  4. Stephen Mwangi
    September 7, 2009

    I agree with Chrispus. There is promise. Somewhere. I say 7


  5. Raymond Bett
    September 7, 2009

    I would give it a 6. The narration is good but the story the writer is trying to communicate does not come out clearly.


  6. B.Muchemi Mwangi
    September 10, 2009

    The story is realistic.Once read,ought to feel like if i am in N.E province.


  7. B.Muchemi Mwangi
    September 10, 2009



  8. Nyasili Atetwe
    September 10, 2009

    It’s deep, thematically speaking though I hoped there would be a dramatic plot in which to wrap this in. Otherwise, a narrator with potential. Nine is my take. Good Times!


  9. Christine
    September 11, 2009

    The narration is good, attention to details is nice. One waits for something to happen.. and then it doesn’t. For that I give a 7.5


  10. Kihehe Muigai
    October 1, 2009

    My first impression of the writing on this site was not very encouraging(it is my first time on the site). Then I read Abdinasir’s story. I was impressed to the point that I read it all. I am loath to discourage anyone from writing and I will lose interest if I encounter grammatical errors, overuse of cliches, and other grating linguistic devices. I am keen on my own writing, and I proof read anything that I put down; email, text message, letters. I am very encouraged at finding such a fine piece of writing, and though I would normally not bother to comment, I feel that I must encourage Abdinasir’s work. Keep it up. I look forward to reading from African writers such as yourself; Africa needs a revolution and writers have a great role to play in it.
    Good work Abdinasir.


  11. Max
    October 13, 2009

    I give it 9.

    Good narration and sequence. I hope you deliver the promise in you next piece.

    Suddenly you brought back memories I hardly thought i shared with someone else. Oh! how environment can affect the human in almost the same way.

    Kudos abdinasir


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