The State of Africa


The State of Africa:
The Ghost of Sani Abacha
Bathing under half of a yellow sun
As things fall apart
In the secret lives of Baba Segi’s wives

It’s Our Turn to Eat


Things fall apart
As the ghost of Sani Abacha,
Capitalizing on Catastrophe,
Narrates the secret lives of Baba Segi’s wives

But there is
No God but God
For the bottom billion,
The wretched of the earth
Who under half of a yellow sun
Quietly chant,
‘Its our turn to eat’

Krik? Krak! (Excerpts)


By Edwidge Danticat

Children of the Sea

p10 I cannot help feeling like she will have this child as soon as she is hungry enough.

p11 ‘Yes, I am finally an African. I am even darker than your father.’

p13 ‘He is trying to protect us.’
‘He cannot protect us, only God can protect us.’

‘All anyone can hope for is just a tiny bit of love’ manman says, like a drop in a cup if you can get it, or a waterfall, or a flood if you can get that too.’

p14 Someone says ‘krik’. You answer ‘krak’. And they say, ‘I have many stories I could tell you’ and they go on and tell these stories to you, but mostly to themselves.

p15 ‘At times I wonder if there is really land on the other side of the Sea. Maybe the Sea is endless. Like my love for you.’

The soldiers were looking for her son. Madan Roger was screaming, you killed him already. We buried his head. You can’t kill him twice.

p17 ‘oh yes, you can let them kill somebody because you are afraid. They are the law. It is their right. We are just being good citizens, following the law of the land. It has happened before all over this country and tonight it will happen again and there is nothing we can do.’

p18 People are just too hopeful and sometimes hope is the biggest weapon of all to use against us. People will believe anything….

p21 I know your father might never approve of me. I was going to try to win him over. He would have to cut out my heart to keep me from loving you.

Think of it. They are fighting about being superior when we all might drown like straw.

Nineteen thirty seven

p48 Life is never lost, another one always comes up to replace the last.

A Wall of Fire Rising

p68 ‘If God wanted people to fly, he would have given us wings in our backs…’
‘You’re right…but look what He gave us instead. He gave us reasons to want to fly. He gave us the air, the birds, our sun.’

p74 People don’t eat riches, they eat what it can buy.

Night Women

p85 As much as I know that there are women who sit up through the night and undo patches of cloth that they’ve spent the whole day weaving. These women, they destroy their toil so that they will always have more to do. And as long as there’s work, they will not have to lie next to the lifeless soul of a man whose scent lingers in another women’s bed.

Between the Pool & Gardenias

p92 She looked the way I imagined all my little girls would look. The ones my body could never hold. The ones that got suffocated inside me and made my husband wonder if I was killing them on purpose.

…I saw on Madame’s TV that a lot of poor city women throw out their babies because they can’t afford to feed them. Back in Ville Rose you can’t even throw out the bloody clumps that shoot out of your body after your child’s born. It is a crime, they say, and your whole family would consider you wicked if you did it. You have to save every piece of flesh and give it a name and bury it near the roots of a tree so that the world won’t fall apart around you.

p94 For no matter how much distance death tried to put between us, my mother would visit me. Sometimes in short sighs and whispers of somebody else’s voice. Sometimes in somebody else’s face. Other times in brief moments in my dreams.

p96 I’m old like a piece of dirty paper people used to wipe their behinds, and he’s got ten different babies with ten different women. I just had to run.

The Missing Piece

p116 ‘They say a girl becomes a woman when she loses her mother…You, child, were born a woman.’

p119 ‘My grandmother will be mad at me if I get killed’

New York Day Women

p146 In Haiti when you get hit by a car, the owner of the car gets out and kixks you for getting blood on his bumper.

p149 My mother keeps on walking as though she owns the sidewalk under her feet.

p154 Shame is heavier than 100 bags of salt

Caroline’s Wedding

p163 ‘Don’t say you’ll never dine with the devil if you have a daughter’ she said. ‘You never know what she’ll bring.’

p166 In NY, women give their eight hours to the white man…no one has time to be cradling no other man.

p181 ‘She is my child. You don’t cut off your own finger because it smells bad.’

p185 ‘I can’t accuse you of anything… You never call someone a thief until you catch them stealing.’

p186 ‘Caroline is just like you. She sleeps a hair thread away from waking, and she rises with the roosters.’

p190 If cleanliness is next to godliness, then whenever we had company my mother became a goddess.

p194 ‘Love cannot make horses fly…the heart is like a stone.. We never know what’s in the middle… All hearts are stone until we melt, and then they turn back to stone again.’

p213 ‘The past, it fades a person.’

p215 We were Americans and we had no taste buds. A double tragedy.

Women Like Us (Epilogue)

p219 Are there women who both cook and write? Kitchen poets, they call them. They slip phrases into their stew and wrap meaning around their pork before frying it. They make narrative dumplings and stuff their daughter’s mouths so they say nothing more.

p220 When you write, it’s like braiding your hair, taking a handful of coarse unruly strands and attempting to bring them to unity. Your fingers have still not perfected the task. Some of the braids are long, others are short. Some are thick, others are thin. Some are heavy, others are light. Like the diverse women in your family. Those whose fables and metaphors, whose similies, and soliloquies, whose diction and je ne sais quoi daily slip into your survival soup, by way of their fingers.

p222 Death is a path we take to meet on the other side….we are never any farther than the sweat on your brows or the dust on your toes.

Love letter to Nairobi


I’ll miss you

I’ll miss your ‘I’m fine’s’ to my hellos
Your ‘imagine!’s
Your Swa(g), sheng and silences
Your kenyanisms;
Last week but one’s
You really tried!

I’ll miss
Taking to the streets
Candle lit vigils
Solidarity with Busia, Palestine, Chibok, Garissa
Ranting on the airwaves
Inter-faith iftars

Paying for artists who never showed
Shows where artists never got paid

Your hustle
Your politiks and scheming politikers

Your mats screaming for pedestrians to get off sidewalks
Being duped explaining the dupe
Being held at (toy) gun point

Your social media suave
Your (tech)novations
Your witty hashtags and comebacks

Your sema’s and subsequent woiyee’s
Your kesho’s and majaliwaa’s
Your sawa sawa’s
To my ‘kidogo tu’s’

Your kuku’s and samaki’s
Nyama choma I never quite caught on to
Your Java’s and Ankara’s
Dawa and masala

Self made designers
Your local brass, wood and fabrics
Dressing my fingers, home and shoes

I’ll miss your boda bodas
And your matatu wisdom’s:
“Don’t lose your temper, nobody needs it!”

I’ll miss your bookstores and kahawa spots
Your cinemas and green spaces
Your KICC rooftops
Your Pawa’s and your hub’s

Your book clubs and writing collectives
Movie nights
Lost friendships over taboo

Your hollowed and patched streets
New as they be, making no room for walkers
Your low lit alleys
And moody askari’s

Your wordsmiths and music makers
Your tear drops and Mufasa’s
Your Sarabi’s, Fena’s, Suzanne Owiyo’s

I miss you
Before I’ve even left…

Lamu’s Shella


Breezy Cushioned Rooftops
Canopied by darkened skies
Lit up by constellations and maybe even whole galaxies
I couldn’t seem to trace
Or even attempt to begin to count

Shooting stars (and drones?)
Overlook as
Flirting winds
Kiss blushing trees,
Applauding oceans
Create waves
Romantic spell broken only by speedboats
Rushing noisily to get nowhere

A solo trip
A 12 room house to myself
Yet I’m almost never alone

Startled in the middle of the night
By sad brayings of donkeys
Creaking of open windows
Banging of open doors
As the wind negotiates past…
The night whispers its sweet lullabies
And yet I’m unable to fall asleep to its tune

Waking up to the sweet rising of a sun
I saw setting from a dhow the eve before
A breeze I would buy and bottle if I had the means

7 Muathins call the faithful to prayer from every which direction
Like a staggered chorus,
Echoing each other’s “Allahu Akbar’s”

Business/Entrepenurial tips from
Stranger turned suitor
Announcing news of our unagreed yet impending wedding
Mind you, a self-confessed former playboy

Strikingly absent
Is that why they look at me so?

Marriage/Relationship tips from masseuse turned confidant
‘You’re getting old, you must get married!’
Says host/receptionist/assistant/caretaker adamantly
He’s an Omer-do-it-all sort of Jack who’s been around for close to two decades

Henna painting by a mother turns into
Convo with child about academic pursuits, dreams and how far one should persist
She promises to keep pushing

Collecting shells and stones by the seashore
Getting increasingly excited with every find
Omer indulges my unbounded and child-like excitement
I keep picking until his pockets begin to jingle and sag with the weight

Her/historic visit
First Ethiopian
First meal where host and guest sit together
Feasting on fresh fish neither had caught
Sweet potato mash suggested to chef
Now to be part of menu permanently as ‘Nebila mash’

Transport by all means
Donkey and bare feet tread the land
While sail and speed boats alternate the water ways

Bats hang, as they do, upside down
From the balcony
As I attempt to transform memory into floetry

How does one quell a raging fire?


creative commons license: Flickr (Thomas)

How does one quell a raging fire?

Through silence?
The type that expands to make room for the rage —
Or swallows it whole, leaving (no) room to exhale?

Through attention/acknowledgement?
Does that fan it?
Giving it power to dig its roots deeper –
Or does it dampen its need to scream its presence?

By fighting it?
Does that fuel its desire to emerge victorious —
Or cause it to cower for fear of failure?

Is it for us to quell a raging fire?
Or must we let it run its course,
Even if the result is destruction?
Perhaps giving birth to fertile ground, allowing for new growth and new life?

Breathe beauty


I be fierce.
But also gentle.
And loving.
And compassionate.

I will breathe beauty
Until I can breathe no more.

Night at the Mosque

Last ten days usher in all nighters
In search of the Night of Power
Reprimands and laughter
Communal bitings and conversations
Brief sleeps urged by monitors
Impromptu classes
Arabic and etiquette
Quran and enunciation

Strong personalities clash and coalesce
Prayer mats turned to temporary mattresses
Awoken from deep slumber by faith and devotion
Feet stand and rest follow
Beauty in humility
Submitting body and self to a higher Being

Allahu Akbar!

Upright bodies, side by side
Straight rows
Gaps mitigated with touching toes (sometimes incessantly so)
Waning concentration with wandering minds
Constantly being brought back to present
By melodic, rythmic verses

Ameen reverberating through the entire mosque
Countless voices
One chorus
Many bodies
Single movements
Diversity despite/amongst uniformity

Viewing through Geometric dimensions

Assalam u alaykum we rahmatullah…

Welcoming Ramadan – Day 1


Today marks the first day of Ramadan. Ramadan is the holy month for Muslims by which we fast (don’t take food or water amongst other things) from sunrise to sunset for the next 29/30 days until the month is over. It is a time for increased introspection, reflection, deepening spirituality and developing a greater consciousness of self as well as practicing empathy for others.

May this holy month bring with it countless beauty and blessings, serenity and selam and a will to keep building and growing and improving long beyond the end of these 30 days, if we are so lucky to live them.

Saum maqbul. Selat maqbul. Duah maqbul. Insha’ALLAH.

Some articles on Ramadan:
Facts, History, Dates, Greetings and Rules about the Muslim Fast
Ramadan Guide to Islamic Holy Month
Why Muslims Celebrate Ramadan 


I’m nostalgic for a city
I know in my thoughts
As though my absence for over a decade
Has meant nothing
As though the characters that populate my memories
Are as I left them
Although many are long gone

The city of now is no longer as was
The present has left little to imagine of its past
Whole neighborhoods created and destroyed
Homes, his/her stories crumble with bulldozers
Giving rise to high rises

Our meetings, though frequent, are fleeting
I am yet to acquaint myself with what you’ve become
To relearn who you were
And who I was with you

I fear feeling unhome at home
Of feeling more comfort in places that are not

Is it possible to be outside one’s own world?
Or perhaps it was never mine to claim?
Perhaps notions of home and world wax and wane and take on meanings of their own?

New flower, I wonder if I will grow old with you…or if you will age with me

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