Extraodinaire Extraodinaire

Count the Bodies

Wycliffe Nyamweya was murdered.

A few weeks later Kwekwe Mwandaza was murdered in her home. She was shot in her bed after armed men stormed their house with guns.

Both murders were carried out by the police.

“five suspected gangsters were gunned down

they are suspected no more”

-          Something Quite Unlike Myself

I’m tired of writing about death. More particularly, I’m tired of writing about a state that is methodically killing its citizens. I’m tired of shouting into the world that human life is worth valuing. That a life is a life is a life is a life.

It gets harder to find new ways to argue this out. Instead I send out the same links. Use the same sentences; insist.

The police insist that Kwekwe, the 14 year old girl attacked them with a panga. That 8 officers, presumably trained, could only stop a child with a panga by shooting her in the head.

In Ferguson, black disposable bodies continue to be disposed.

In Gaza, bombs continue to drop.

In Nairobi we are given dead bodies and told they are thieves.


Something is happening in the world.


The word is security. This is the imagination shutting word. The thinking stopping word. The “I did it for you” word. The “how else can we protect you?” word. It is the word that keeps us silent.

I tell a friend in passing, if they shoot me – you know people will believe I actually was a gangster. He agrees. It’s easier to imagine that the people who are being shot have done something to deserve it. This is a more comfortable version to tell ourselves.

It’s not true though.

We know it’s not.

We know, because we know, that the police have been killing unarmed people all over the country for the longest time. We know, because we know that a large number of these killings are unprovoked. More importantly we know that the people who die from this violence are lives that we have already decided to devalue, to dismiss.

Wycliffe Nyamweya, Kwekwe Mwandaza and others were murdered. Their killers are still at large. And we’re doing nothing to stop them from killing again.


Drive up the highway. Think to yourself “I really hope I don’t miss the turn.” Get to the market. Think about illegal housing and how such places have been torn down. Think about disposable people. Keep driving. Reach the flyover. Look for the turn.

Miss the turn.

Go further up the highway. Look for a turning coming back down. find it. Come down. See the little footpath that leads under the bridge through the break in the wall. Think about how people adapt to make unlivable situations livable. Find the turn.

Make it.

(If you are making this trip by matatu even better. Miss the stage. Alight at the next stage 100 m away. Walk back down. See children running barefoot in the market. See basins, sieves, lanterns, sweaters and tomatoes on sale. Count cars. Get lost in the music you’re listening to. )

Up, at the place where the flyover meets the road,  ask the taxi guy for directions.

“ukienda mbele, endelea hadi uone left.

Chukua alafu utapata polisi.

Wachana nao.

Teremka kidogo utakuwa umefika”

Follow the directions.

Get lost.

Ask a watchman for directions.

Get lost again.

Panic. Imagine that everyone is there and the food is almost done.

Call and ask for directions.

Get lost again.

Despair. Wander around aimlessly. Ask the watchman next to you “Kenya  iko wapi?”

“Ndio hii.”

Walk through the gate. It’s the sixth gate on your right.

Does it Hurt?

She shivered

“The pain is there

but I can’t feel it.”


warm breath misted

the window.

It’s been days since I read a discussion about #KasaraniConcentrationCamp. There is a thing that is broken inside us. I have written about this before. The numbness bothers me. The refusal to feel the pain of this removal. Instead we look for causes halfway across the world.

“Safe” causes.

We cry for Goodluck Jonathan to bring back our girls from the Chibok even as it takes months for a single rape case in Kenya to get heard by a court. This is the battle that we fight every day.

On twitter a woman gets in trouble for making the outrageous claim that her body is her own.

The knife is shoved deeper, dead things keep crunching.


A blind man

walks into

an existential


He does not

see it.

Even these words feel forced. In trying to find what has been hidden from view I am unbecoming myself. Again we are reminded that Kenya is safe. I lock my door twice every evening. Up the road they present us with dead bodies. Pride gleams in their eyes. “We have caught the thieves.” Pride gleams in our eyes.

I lock my door twice every evening.

President Kenyatta spends time hanging out with Akon. His instagram explodes. Suddenly, he is cool. Somewhere in Kenya another body is crushed by a system that is designed to churn out bodies. The knife plunges itself further. We do not feel the pain.

They were packaged beatings,

behind closed doors,

and broken windows.


Like the tree,

falling in the forest,

they never happened


-          Witness #86

And those who decide to see are ignored. Shot down. Reminded that they are crazy. It is never a problem, until it is. Soon they begin to doubt their credibility. Their scars lose their stories. Then, slowly, they are forgotten. And no one comes up and goes “hey, what happened there?”

Instead broken bodies roam the streets pretending to be whole.

Telegrams on Air

Hewa is the sheng word for loud music. The phrase kupewa hewa that is used to describe how good the music sounds literally translates into giving air. When someone plays you music you are literally telling them that they have given you air.

That you can now breath.


I’ve been thinking about language recently (see here, for example). Language does a work of gathering and of alienation. Imagine being with a group of friends. All of them are from one ethnic group – you aren’t. At some point they begin to speak their language. Immediately you are placed outside the scope. Suddenly you have moved from being the participator in a conversation to an observer of culture. As an observer you realise that even nuances change. Intonations are all over the place (in Kisii, for example, everyone will suddenly be speaking in a higher register). As an observer you realise that, even if you learn the language, you’ll still be on the outside looking in.


In the 2007/2008 post election violence Eric Wainana’s “Daima mimi mkenya” became the social stopgap. It was used by the media to try and erase the notion of ethnicity and focus on nationalism. (We are all Kenyans, we should stop killing each other). It was played in two languages – English and Swahili.


Language moves in different ways. I know songs in several languages. I sing words whose meanings I do not know. I sing “Ndikhangela izulwana…. Lilelam” with Simphiwe Dana and “kuon wang e kendo” with Dela. In Soobax, Knaan talks about translating the vibe of a song.  When you don’t understand a language but just go with the flow.


“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

-          Audre Lorde


The act of giving someone air could be seen as a life saving one. I sit silently as Asa breathes in the background “Orè ti mo mu bi aburo/ Orè, orè ti mo sé daara dara.” I inhale her pain and create my own worlds.


Dead Messengers

A paper floats from the skies.

From a distance its falling looks graceful. Up close, however, we can see it flutter. It struggles with winds that threaten to tear it apart.

It is racing.

Being the bearer of bad prophecies it must arrive before the  prophecy it bears is fulfilled. Already the jets are warming up. Preparing to take off. Final checks are in order. Fuel tanks are being refilled. A group of pilots chat idly. Another stands in a corner, watching –  filling his lungs with sweet nicotine.

The paper knows. The paper knows that this is happening. It saw it as the man pushed the stack of papers towards the first jet. It felt it as the ink slowly seeped its way into its fiber.

(who said the prophets died?)

 Altitude is being lost way too slowly. The paper flutters, fights, struggles to increase the speed at which the ground moves up to meet it. Out of the top right corner the paper can see some children playing football. Way across the field a mother is breastfeeding. Directly below the paper some men sit, passing around a waft of smoke.

(If only they knew)

The ground steadily makes its way up – not nearly as fast as it should. The paper is panicking. A hand grabs it out of the air. It can feel the sweat dripping from the palms of this human. As the seconds pass the grip on the paper gets tighter.

“No…. No…”

“YES!” it wants to scream. “This is true!” But, being a paper and having no other means of communication but showing itself, it only sits in silent despair. The hand crumples it and throws it to a corner of the room.

There are footsteps, many of them. People are shouting. Things are being thrown apart. Drawers are being emptied. Clothes are dumped on sheets and sheets are tied up. In the corner a child cries for an explanation. None is given. There is no time.

(If only I’d fallen faster)

Then, as suddenly as the noise began, there is silence. Outside crowds in the street are frantic. Inside is the paper and the leftovers of already forgotten lives. Way up above – a bomb drops.

P.S – As I write this 227 Palestinians have died, 1685 wounded. Of the dead 47 are children. And 1660 homes have been destroyed. #FreeGaza