Excerpts – A Lesson Before Dying


By Ernest J. Gaines

A black man in the South of the (not-so-united) States of America finds himself in the middle of a shootout in a store that leaves one white man (store owner) and two black men dead. His own defense describes him as a ‘hog’ to the jury who sentence him to death by execution. The story is of another black man, an ‘educated’ black man, a teacher – who is tasked with turning the convicted into a ‘man’.

A book about deeply rooted injustices, but also about seeking and reclaiming dignity, love, resistance and triumph.

A few excerpts that stood out to me – and some deeper analysis, if that’s what you’re looking for.


We must live with our own conscience. Each and every one of us must live with his own conscience.

Do I know what a man is? Do I know how a man is supposed to die? I’m still trying to find out how a man should live. Am I supposed to tell someone how to die who has never lived?

I tried to decide just how I should respond to them. Whether I should act like the teacher that I was, or like the nigger that I was supposed to be. To show too much intelligence would have been an insult to them. To show a lack of intelligence would have been a greater insult to me.

And besides looking at hands, now he began inspecting teeth. Open wide, say “Ahhh”—and he would have the poor children spreading out their lips as far as they could while he peered into their mouths. At the university I had read about slave masters who had done the same when buying new slaves, and I had read of cattlemen doing it when purchasing horses and cattle. At least Dr. Joseph had graduated to the level where he let the children spread out their own lips, rather than using some kind of crude metal instrument. I appreciated his humanitarianism.”

His eyes did most of the turning. He looked at her as though he did not know who she was, or what she was doing there. Then he looked at me. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? his eyes said.  They were big brown eyes, the whites too reddish. You know, don’t you? his eyes said again. I looked back at him. My eyes would not dare answer him. But his eyes knew what my eyes knew.

No matter how educated a man was (he meant me, though he didn’t call my name), he to, was locked in a cold, dark cell of ignorance if he did not know God in the pardon of his sins.

How do people come up with a date and a time to take life from another man? Who made them God?

They sentence you to death because you were at the wrong place at the wrong time, with no proof that you had anything at all to do with the crime other than being there when it happened. Yet six months later they come and unlock your cage and tell you, We, us, white folks all, have decided it’s time for you to die, because this is a convenient date and time.

We black men have failed to protect our women since the time of slavery. We stay here in the South and are broken, or we run away and leave them alone to look after the children and themselves. So each time a male child is born, they hope he will be the one to change this vicious circle-which he never does. Because even though he wants to change it, it is too heavy a burden because of all the others who have run away and left their burdens behind. So he, too, must run away if he is to hold on to his sanity and have a life of his own.

These old people, you know—all music except church music is sinning music.

It was the kind of “here” your mother or your big sister or your great-aunt or your grandmother would have said. It was the kind of “here” that let you know this was hard-earned money but, also, that you needed it more than she did, and the kind of “here” that said she wished you had it and didn’t have to borrow it from her, but since you did not have it, and she did, then “here” it was, with a kind of love. It was the kind of “here” that asked the question, When will all this end? When will a man not have to struggle to have money to get what he needs “here”? When will a man be able to live without having to kill another man “here”?”

I took the money without looking at her. I didn’t say thanks. I knew she didn’t want to hear it.

Do you know what a myth is, Jefferson?” I asked him. “A myth is an old lie that people believe in. White people believe that they’re better than anyone else on earth – and that’s a myth. The last thing they ever want is to see a black man stand, and think, and show that common humanity that is in us all. It would destroy their myth. They would no longer have justification for having made us slaves and keeping us in the condition we are in. As long as none of us stand they’re safe. They’re safe with me. They’re safe with Reverend Ambrose. I don’t want them to feel safe with you anymore.

I want you to show them the difference between what they think you are and what you can be. To them you’re nothing but another nigger–no dignity, no heart, no love for your people. You can prove them wrong. You can do more than I can ever do. I have always done what they wanted me to do, teach reading, writing and arithmetic. Nothing else – nothing about dignity, nothing about identity, nothing about loving and caring. They never thought we were capable of learning these things. ‘Teach those niggers how to print their names and how to figure on their fingers.’ And I went along, but hating myself all the time for doing so.

Since emancipation, almost a hundred years ago, they would do any kind of work they could find to keep from working side by side in the field with the niggers…Anything not to work alongside the niggers. Dumb as hell, but prejudiced as hell. They had no other place to go to do their drinking—they would not dare go to any of the white clubs—so they would come here and bring their prejudiced attitude with them.

‘You think you educated?’
‘I went to college.’
‘But what did you learn?’
‘To teach reading, writing and arithmetic, Reverend.’
‘What did you learn about your own people? What did you learn about her—her ‘round here?’ he said gesturing toward the other room and trying to keep his voice down.
I didn’t answer him.
‘No, you not educated, boy.’ He said shaking his head. ‘You far from being educated. You learning your reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, but you don’t know nothing. You don’t even know yourself.’

‘Don’t you turn your back on me, boy.’
‘My name is Grant,’ I said.
‘When you act educated, I’ll call you Grant. I’ll even call you Mr. Grant, when you act like a man.
‘You think a man can’t kneel and stand?’

‘You think you educated, but you not. You think you the only person ever had to lie?’

Yes, you know. You know, all right. That’s why you look down on me, because you know I lie. At wakes, at funerals, at weddings–yes, I lie. I lie at wakes and funerals to relieve pain. ‘Cause reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic is not enough. You think that’s all they sent you to school for? They sent you to school to relieve pain, to relieve hurt—and if you have to lie to do it, then you lie. You lie and you lie and you lie. When you tell yourself you feeling god when you sick, you lying. When you tell other people you feeling well when you feeling sick, you lying. You tell them that ‘cause they have pain too, and you don’t want to ad yours—and you lie. She been lying every day of her life, your aunt in there. That’s how you got through that university—cheating herself here, cheating herself there, but always telling you she’s all right. I’ve seen her hands bled from picking cotton. I’ve seen the blisters from the hoe and the cane knife. At that church, crying on her knees. You ever looked at the scabs on her knees, boy? Course you never. ‘Cause she never wanted you to see it.

And that’s the difference between me and you, boy; that make me the educated one, and you the gump. I know my people. I know what they gone through. I know they done cheated themself, lied to themself—hoping that one they all love and trust can come back and help relieve the pain.”

‘Reverend Ambrose say I have to give up what’s down here.’
‘He meant possessions, Jefferson. Cars, money, clothes—things like that.’
‘You ever seen me with a car…with more than a dollar in my pocket…more than two pairs of shoes…then what on earth I got to give up, Mr. Wiggins?
‘You’ve never had any possessions to give up, Jefferson. But there is something greater than possessions –and that is love…’

‘Walk like a man. Meet her up there.’
‘Y’all asking a lot, Mr. Wiggins, from a poor old nigger who never had nothing.’

Yes, I’m youman, Mr. Wiggins. But nobody didn’t know that ‘fore now. Cuss for nothing. Beat for nothing. Work for nothing. Grinned to get by. Everybody thought that’s how it was s’pose to be. You to, Mr. Wiggins. You never thought I was nothing else. I didn’t neither. Thought I was doing what the Lord had put me on this earth to do…Now all y’all want me to be better than ever’body else. How, Mr. Wiggins? You tell me.’

‘And like Reverend Ambrose say, then I’l have to give up this old earth. But ain’t that where I’m going, Mr. Wiggins, back in the earth?’

My head down, I didn’t answer him.

Don’t tell me to believe. Don’t tell me to believe in the same God or laws that men believe in who commit these murders. Don’t tell me to believe that God can bless this country and that men are judged by their peers. Who among his peers judged him? Was I there? Was the minister there? Was Harry Williams there? Was Farrell Jarreau? Was my aunt? Was Vivian? No, his peers did not judge him— and I will not believe.

Yet they must believe. They must believe, if only to free the mind, if not the body. Only when the mind is free has the body the chance to be free. Yes, they must believe, they must believe. Because I know what it means to be a slave. I am a slave.

‘He was the strongest man in that crowded room…He was the strongest man there…We all had each other to lean on. When Vincent asked him if he had any last words, he looked at the preacher and said, ‘Tell Nannan I walked’. And straight he walked, Grant Wiggins. Straight he walked. I’m a witness. Straight he walked.


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.

The Great Debaters

Denzel Washington
Excerpts from a great movie – The Great Debaters – which you must watch and re-watch if you haven’t already:

Find, take back and keep your righteous mind.

[One has a right to] Demand from society just as much as [one] gives to society.

They create desolation and call it peace. They would allow unemployed to die so that the economy can live.

I came [here] to be educated, not investigated

My politics are my business.

Negroes are not just a color in the American fabric, they are the essential thread that keeps it together.

The time for freedom, the time for equality, the time of justice is always right now!

A hungry negro steals a chicken, he goes to jail. A rich businessman steals bonds and he goes to Congress. I think that’s wrong. If that makes me a radical, a Communist, a Socialist, then so be it!

An unjust law is no law at all.

Crime itself is a form of oppression. Negroes fall victim to more violent crime than any other race in America.

The judge is God. Because he decides who wins or loses. My opponent doesn’t exist. Because he’s a mere dissenting voice to the truth I speak.

Why must a citizen surrender his conscience to legislation?

An unjust law is no law at all. I have a right, even a duty to resist, with violence or civil disobedience – you should pray I choose the latter!

Excerpts: And the Mountains Echoed

and-the-mountains-echoedKhaled Hosseini doesn’t disappoint with his third book – ‘And the Mountains Echoed’. He has to be one of my favorite authors, and I look forward to reading his next novel. While some say it seems like he writes about the same thing in all his novels, it takes a very talented writer to capture so many different and engaging personalities, stories and vantage points using very similar geographical and historical settings/context that he sets for his stories. Here are a few excerpts of the conversations, observations and reflections in the book that stood out to me–including the acknowledgement to his wife Roya “without [whom] this book would have died somewhere in the first paragraph of page one.”



By Khaled Hosseini

…country has been sufficiently chronicled…I can sum it up in one word: war.  Or, rather, wars. Not one, not two, but many wars, both big and small, just and unjust, warms with shifting casts of supposed heroes and villains, each new hero making one increasingly nostalgic for the old villain. The names changed, as did the faces, and I spit on them equally of all the  petty feuds, the snipers, the land mines, bombing raids, the rockets, the looting and raping and killing. Ah, enough!

‘Which are you calling me, deaf or lazy?’
‘No need to pick, I’m calling you both!’
‘You have some gall calling me lazy for someone who lies in bed all day.’

Now I was free to do as I wished, but I found the freedom illusory, for what I wished for the most had been taken from me.

They say, find a purpose in your life and live it. But sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind.

The word senseless springs to mind, and Idris thwarts it. It’s what people always say. A senseless act of violence.  A  senseless murder.  As if you could commit sensible murder.

I see the creative process as a necessarily thievish undertaking. Dig beneath a beautiful piece of writing … and you will find all manner of dishonor.  Creating means vandalizing the lives of other people, turning them into unwilling and unwitting participants. You steal their desires, their dreams, pocket their flaws, their suffering. You take what does not belong to you. You do this knowingly.

I was told I could have died. Perhaps I should have. Dying can be quite the career move for a young poet.

..if an avalanche buries you and you’re lying there underneath all that snow, you can’t tell which way is up or down. You want to dig yourself out, but pick the wrong way, and you dig yourself to your own demise.

In my experience, men who understand women as well as you seem to rarely want to have anything to do with them.

I have a theory about marriage… its nearly always you will know within two weeks if it’s going to work. It’s astonishing how many people remain shackled for years, decades even, in a protracted and mutual state of self-delusion and false hope when in fact they had their answer in those first two weeks.

She is furious with herself for her own stupidity. Opening herself up like this, voluntarily, to a lifetime of worry and anguish. It was madness. Sheer lunacy. A spectacularly foolish and baseless faith,  against enormous odds, that a world you do not control will not take from you the one thing you cannot bear to lose. Faith that the world will not destroy you…at that moment, she cannot think of a more reckless, irrational thing than choosing to become a parent.

‘…you  dig a little and you find they’re all the same, give or take. Some are more polished, granted. They may come with a bit of charm—or a lot—and that can fool you. But really they’re all unhappily little boys slothing around in their own rage. They feel wronged. They haven’t been given their due. No one loved them enough. Of course they expect you to love them. They want to be held, rocked, reassured. But it’s a mistake to give it to them. They can’t accept it. They can’t accept the very thing they’re needing.  They end up hating you for it. And it never ends because they can’t hate you enough. It never ends—the misery, the apologies, the promises, the reneging, the wretchedness of it all. My first husband was like that. ‘

The rope that pulls you from the flood can become a noose around your neck.

Markos wants to walk the earth and capture it with his lens.

He had a frozen, wide-eyed look to his face, I remember, the way some old people do, like they are perpetually started by the monstrous surprise that is old age…

The world didn’t see the inside of you..it didn’t care a whit about the hopes and dreams, and sorrows, that lay masked by skin and bone. It was as simple, as absurd, and as cruel as that.

‘James Parkinson. George Huntington. Robert Graves. John Down. Now this Lou Gehrig fellow of mine. How did men come to monopolize disease names too?’

When I was a little girl, my father and I had a nightly ritual. After I’d said my twenty-one Bismillahs and he had tucked me into bed, he would sit at my side and pluck bad dreams from my head with his thumb and forefinger.

..the badly framed poster of the Afghan girl from National Geographic, the one with the eyes—like they had passed an ordinance that every single Afghan restaurant had to have her eyes staring back from the wall.

If what had been done to her was like a wave that had crashed far from shore, then it was the backwash of that wave now pooling around my ankles, then receding from my feet.

…I knew my father was a wounded person, that his love for me was as true, vast, and permanent as the sky, and that it would always bear down upon me. It was the kind of love that, sooner or later, cornered you into a choice: either you tore free or you stayed and withstood its rigor even as it squeezed you into something smaller than yourself.

‘But time is like a charm, you never have as much as you think.’

..she had also very deep sadness. All my life, she gave to me a shovel and said, Fill these holes inside of me, Pari.’

I used to picture us as two leaves, blowing miles apart in the wind yet bound by the deep tangled roots of the tree from which we had both fallen.

They tell me I must wade into waters, where I will soon drown. Before I march in, I leave this on the shore for you. I pray you find it, sister, so you will know what was in my heart as I went under.

Acknowledgements –  Without you, Roya, this book would have died somewhere in the first paragraph of page one. I love you.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell


“Joining with Muslim women would dilute our faith.”
We told them – ‘do bullets discriminate? Do they choose Christian over Muslim?’

At the end of the day, it was all about jobs.
‘I want to be Ministry of Finance. So I can steal.’
Are we supposed to pay you for killing us?

He said to me, ‘I will kill the people of Liberia, take the women with us and replenish the population.’

‘If you were a real man, you wouldn’t be killing your people. Because you are not a real man, they are treating you like boys. Now go and sit down!’

‘We love you. Drop your guns.’



Excerpts from Elegy for Easterly

By Petina Gappah

…with the mangy dreadlocks that are now a declaration of African authenticity if you believe that the authentic Africa is a place without combs or water to wash the hair.

‘..in the short term, law can be an instrument of social change, but ultimately, it is not the consciousness of man that determines his material being, but his material being that determines his consciousness…’

And it is known that the Governor of the Central Bank who has vowed to end illegal sales of fuel is himself involved in sales of fuel on the black market. And the President…well, that which is not spoken or written down is not real. Only the official truth matters, only that truth will be handed down through the history books for the children to learn.

….the government cleaned the townships to make Harare pristine for the three-day visit of the Queen of England. All the women who walk alone at night are prostitutes, the government said—clean them up. The townships are too full of people, they said, gather them up and put them in the places the Queen will not see…..And so the government hid away the poverty, the people put on plastic smiles and the City Council planted new flowers in the streets. Long after memories of the Queen’s visit had passed, and the broken arms of the arrested women were healed, Easterly Farm took root.

In the days before a loaf of bread cost half a million dollars..one hundred cents made one dollar.

‘Before the President was elected, the Zimbabwe ruins were a prehistoric monument in Masvingo province. Now, the Zimbabwe ruins extend to the whole country.’

In Siyaso, it was not unknown for a man whose car had been relieved of its radio or hubcaps to buy them back from the man into whose hands they had fallen. At a discount.

…was a winter of broken promises. The government promised that prices would go down and salaries up. Instead, the opposite happened. The opposition promised that there would be protests. Instead they bickered over who should hold three of the top six positions of leadership.

If the government said inflation would go down, it was sure to rise. If they said it was a bumper harvest, starvation would follow. ‘If the government says the sky is blue, we should all look up to check,’ said BaToby.

His mother was one of three women arrested in Mufakose, two for attempting to take their clothes off in protest, the third, the child’s mother, for clinging to her box of produce even as a truncheon came down, again, again, on her bleeding knuckles.

The car is so close that she can make out the faculty motto below the university crest: fiat justitia ruat coelum. The motto is more than just the words of Caesoninus on a crest, it is a song in her soul, the reason she is a law student, the meaning she wants to give to her life. ‘Let justice be done though the heavens fall.’

She asks Emily what tribe she belongs to. ‘This is what slows progress in this country,’ Emily screams. ‘The notion of tribe is a patronizing Western construction….the Goths, Vandals and Visigoths, those were tribes, they talk of Serbian nationalism, but African tribalism. I do not have a tribe, I belong to the nation.’

Her name is Estelle, and she is a star rising high above the reaches of all that is ordinary and elemental. Nothing can touch her, and nothing does.

In the Annexe, she finds that she is not the only one who is not mad.

Their non-agnatic status in the family means that not only are theirs the lungs that provide the loudest mourning, theirs are also the hands that cook and clean at family gatherings.

‘Why estimate the length of a snake using the bark of a tree when the creature is right there for you to measure?’

Death does not sever the ties; it binds them ever tighter, for it is in death and its attendant processes that kinship asserts its triumphant claims. He had been loaned to us as husband and father, but in death, the clan reclaimed him….Kinship asserted itself through the funeral rites, in the ceremony to release his spirit, and in the accompanying ceremony of inheritance…His family had even attempted to speak on his behalf…But my father’s spirit, however restless, could not undo the will that he had written and signed in his own hand. And when the Master of the High Court pronounced this as the final word, the aunts and uncles could only curl their mouths into their noses.

The government renamed places that the whites had renamed….The changes did not affect people like my grandmother for whom independence was a reality that did not alter their memories.

She told us stories of the war, the guerillas marching to her village in Lalapanzi and demanding food, the soldiers following the guerillas and threatening to shoot the villagers who gave the guerillas food, then more guerillas coming and threatening to shoot all vatengesi, traitors who sold them out to the soldiers or refused to give them food.

I thought no-one had noticed, but SisiBlandina noticed everything. When my period came, SisiBlandina was there to say, ‘Well, you are in Geneva now, and you will be visiting regularly. Better make sure those boys you like to play with keep themselves to themselves.’

My heart longs for you like tea longs for sugar. I wish for you like meat wishes for salt, and I miss you like the postman misses his bicycle.

‘She won’t let me eat any leftovers, imagine, her dog eats better than me. Ufunge, she even rides with her dog in front with her in the truck, and me in the back with the sun and dust.’

‘It may well be that there will be this socialism, Juliana,’ she said, ‘but I can tell you right now that no amount of socialism will make my madam wash her own underwear.’

The Charge Office was a confused mass of policemen in red-brown shining shoes and khaki uniforms, and people complaining about crime, people accused of crime, and people enquiring about people accused of crime.

There is but one disease that drives men to turn their Toyota Camry’s, their Mercedes Benzes, Pajeros, BMWs in the direction of Warren Park. There is only one illness that pushes both the well-wheeled and the un-wheeled to seek out the prophet. It is the big disease with the little name, the sickness that no-one dies of, the disease whose real name is unspoken, the sickness that speaks its presence through the pink redness of lips, the slipperiness of hair, through the whites of the eyes whiter than nature intended.

He had never tried such an arrangement; small house women expected as much money and attention as the real wives. The thought of not one, but two women expecting everything from him, each treating him with that special brand of passive aggression that was fed into women with their mother’s milk, was enough to make him give up sex altogether.

…what was it with really beautiful women? There was something wooden about them, like they had been told so often that they were beautiful that they did not seem to feel the need to make an effort.

…she thought how worn the gloves were along which they moved their quarrels. She could feel herself saying all the clichéd phrases of a thousand injured women before her…she wanted to make it specific to him and her but it all came down to the same thing, promises not kept and not made. Words not said, embraces not given. Their quarrels were never resolved. They were simply postponed to another day. And they were never about what was wrong.

He had not been the first, but he was the last. She had not been his first, and she certainly knew she was not the last.

Nobuhle had died at five years….She had Busisiwe and Nkosana after that, but like a missing tooth that is present even in its absence, Nobuhle remained.

Thulani had once asked for divorce. She had felt then a wave of rage so sharp it threatened to cut her sanity…In his language she had told him, ‘First you undo me this scar, then you can unlearn me this language. After that, you can come back and we can talk about divorce.’

The government will throw anything at the new farmers to make them produce: cheap fuel, free tractors, free seed, free fertilizer—even free labourers; they were using prisoners on farms at one time. Pity they can’t throw in a bit of free motivation because the thing about the new farmers is that they don’t use the cheap fuel for their free tractors; instead, they sell both tractors and fuel to people like me, and people like me sell them on to the vast majority of the unconnected non-preferential-rate-getting masses that can only get fuel on the black market.

I am an all-commodity broker: if it can be bought, it can be sold, and if it can be sold, I am your man.

…No guarantees, no returns, no refunds. No wire transfers, no credit cards—as the sign at the Why Not Hotel, Esigodini says, Mr Credit was Killed By Mr  Cash.

When the Comrades redistribute the land, they also make sure to redistribute any crops on the land, all machinery, any furniture, plates, knives and forks, and any whisky that might be in the house.

Excerpts of the Fifth Mountain

By Paulo Coelho

But most of the prophets, who roamed the streets flagellating themselves and preaching the end of the world for its corruption and lack of faith, had accepted conversion to the new religion.

Criminals, prisoners of war, fugitives were usually accepted as mariners because it was a profession more dangerous than the army. In war, a soldier always had a chance to escape with his life; but the seas were unknown, populated by monsters, and when a tragedy occurred, none were left to tell the story.

Pg 21
Souls too, like rivulets and plants, needed a different kind of rain: hope, faith, a reason to live. When this did not come to pass, everything in that soul died, even if the body went on living; and the people could say: “Here in this body there was once a man.”

Pg 28
“It was part of your apprenticeship. When a man journeys toward his destiny, often he is obliged to change paths. At other times, the forces around him are too powerful and he is compelled to lay aside his courage and yield. All this is part of the apprenticeship.”

“But no-one can lose sight of what they desire. Even if there are moments when he believes the world and others are stronger. The secret is this: do not surrender.”

Pg 33
“..I have never seen the ocean but I know it is like the desert: it slays those who challenge it….”

Pg 53
“Every man hath the right to doubt his task, and to forsake it from time to time but what he must not do is forget it.  Whoever doubteth not himself is unworthy—for in his unquestioning belief in his ability, he commitheth the sin of pride. Blessed are they who go through moments of indecision.”

Pg 75
“The best warrior is one who succeeds in transforming an enemy into a friend.”

Pg 121
“I shall not live a second longer than the Lord desires…It is He who decides, not you.”

Pg 127
“The best [at using a sword] is the one who’s most like a rock…without drawing its blade, it proves that no one can defeat it.”

Pg 128
“All life’s battles teach us something, even those we lose.”

Pg 135
“…the Lord demandeth of people only that which is within the possibilities of each of them.”

Pg 137
“no one dieth. The arms of eternity open for every soul, and each one will carry on his task.

There is a reason for everything under the sun.

“There is no tragedy, only the unavoidable. Everything hath its reason for being: thou needest only distinguish what is temporary from what is lasting.”
“What is temporary?”
“The unavoidable.”
“And what is lasting?”
“The lessons of the unavoidable.”

Pg 149
Courage is fear that preys.

Pg 180
“…they had not found what they were seeking, for they carried with them, along with their bags, the weight of their earlier failure.”

“If you have a past that dissatisfies you, forget it now…imagine a new story of your life, and believe in it, Concentrate only on those moments in which you achieved what you desired, and this strength will help you accomplish what you want.”

Pg 183
“Everything that could have happened but did not is carried away with the wind and leaves no trace…

Life is made of our attitudes. And there are certain things that the gods oblige us to live through. Their reason for this does not matter, and there is no action we can take to make them pass us by.”

Pg 204
From heaven, God smiles contentedly, for it was this that He desired, that each person take into his hands the responsibility for his own life. For in the final analysis, He had given His children the greatest of all gifts: the capacity to choose and determine their acts.

Pg 206
God was infinite in His mercy, and implacable in His severity with those who lacked the courage to dare.

Pg 212
“…a warrior is always aware of what is worth fighting for. He does not go into combat over things that do not concern him, and he never wastes his time over provocations. A warrior accepts defeat…after all this has passed, he licks his wounds and begins everything anew.  A warrior knows that war is made of many battles; he goes on.”

Excerpts from Personality Plus

Excerpts from Personality Plus
By Florence Littauer

‘God made each one of us different, so we could function in our own roles. He made some of us to be feet—to move, administer, to accomplish, like Powerful Choleric. He made some of us to be minds—to think deeply, to feel, to write, like Perfect Melancholy. He made some of us to be hands—to serve, to smooth, to soothe, like Peaceful Phlegmatic. He made some of us to be mouths—to talk, to teach, to encourage, like Popular Sanguine.’

I had never even heard about the four different personalities/temperaments until a colleague handed me this book and told me I must read it.

Although it’s one of those things that you always digest with some salt, I nevertheless found a lot of interesting truths and patterns. I was able to see myself and others reflected so clearly in these temperaments. It’s most definitely worth reading more about these personalities, even if you don’t subscribe to them. I think it’s at the very least much more valuable than astrological signs that people seem to swear by. I’m sure it will help people better understand and appreciate themselves first and foremost and then each other; parents with regards to their children, spouses to each other, teachers with their students and even colleagues; and consequently it has the potential to mend many relationships. Understanding our own and each other’s temperaments will enable us to capitalize on our own strengths, minimize our weaknesses and better complement each other.

Below are a few excerpts from the book that stood out to me:

P35 Popular Sanguines are emotional and demonstrative people…They move, jump, wave and giggle. A Popular Sanguine pastor I know often gets so excited over his sermon that he feels encumbered with one hand holding the Bible and only one free for waving, so he rises up and down on his toes and makes emphatic points with a kick of one foot.

P40 Only a Popular Sanguine could spend two weeks doing nothing and be the only one to receive a commendation for having done it.

P57 The typical Popular Sanguine mother can be talking joyfully on the phone when her child falls off a chair. She screams, “He’s killed himself!” and drops the phone. She grabs the child up and runs through the house, screaming along with him, looking for Band-Aids. The doorbell rings, and it’s the pastor who’s come to call. She lets him in, rushes the child to his crib, throws him a towel to mop up the blood and says, “Don’t you dare cry; that’s the pastor.” She sweeps into the living room with a smile and says sweetly, “Isn’t it a beautiful day!”

P60 As Popular Sanguine and Perfect Melancholy can fill in what’s missing in each other, so will Powerful Choleric and Peaceful Phlegmatic be complementary when they begin to understand and accept each other’s temperaments.

To learn you must want to be taught. (Proverbs 12:1)

P61 Powerful Choleric is the dynamic person who dreams the impossible dream and aims to reach the unreachable star. He feels, like Robert Browning, “A man’s reach must exceed his grasp or what’s heaven for?”

P67 Powerful Cholerics naturally see the practical answers to life’s problems and can’t imagine why no one else has come up with the right idea.

I asked one Powerful Choleric lady to be a committee chairwoman, and she replied, “I’d be glad to be chairwoman if I don’t have to have a committee. Those women get in the way.”

P69 ..so many mothers ignore the potential labor force they have free in their home, because it’s too much work to set up a simple system to delegate responsibilities.

If Powerful Sanguines set out to accomplish a task, and someone says it can’t be done, they thank the person profusely—and quit. Perfect Melancholies regret the time they’ve spent in planning and analyzing the situation, and Peaceful Phlegmatics are grateful it can’t be done, because it sounded too much like work in the first place. But tell Powerful Cholerics it’s impossible, and it just whets their appetite.

P71 …all the lights abruptly went out…my mind immediately went into high gear…lines came to me such as “I’ve gotten to the age now where I look best in dim corners.” “With nothing to look at, you’ll have to listen.”

P75 Six years later she said in Peaceful Phlegmatic dry humor, “The reason I didn’t leave was it was just too much work to pack.”

P76 I asked a young boy about his Peaceful Phlegmatic girlfriend, “What do you like best about her?” He thought for a minute and said, “I guess all of her, because nothing much stands out.” This simple statement sums up Peaceful Phlegmatics; there’s nothing that really stands out, but they are such comfortable, well-rounded people to be with.

P79 Peaceful Phlegmatic doesn’t expect sunshine every day, or a pot of gold at the end of each rainbow, so when rain falls on the Peaceful Phlegmatic’s parade, he can keep on marching.

P81 As the other three temperaments strain and strike, Peaceful Phlegmatic tries to keep peace in the ranks. As men struggle on choppy waters, Peaceful Phlegmatic lifts his head and calms the seas.

P92 Only a Popular Sanguine could spend twenty minutes describing in detail a trip she had never taken on a boat she’d never boarded.

P102 Maturity does not depend on age, it depends on our willingness to face our responsibilities and make realistic plans to meet them.

P106 “I’d rather have phony joy than genuine depression.” Realize no one likes gloomy people. Even if you have every reason in the world to go hang yourself, no-one wants to hear about it.

“My husband is so negative, if we go to see a bad movie, he makes me feel like I produced it.”

P113 “I have never done one thing since we got married that my Perfect Melancholy husband didn’t correct. When I die I’ll have to come back and do it over again, because I’ll never get it right the first time.”

P114 I shared with her that while the Perfect Melancholy felt having everything “just so” was normal, this kind of constant pressure was enough to drive a Popular Sanguine child wild…As she understood this she said, “I thought he was a mental case.” “He will be if you keep this up,” I replied.

P117 “..I would never get impatient if everybody would do what I told them to when I told them to do it!”….and in words only a Powerful Choleric can say with a straight face, he concluded, “Impatience is not a weakness in me; it is a fault in others.”

P121 It’s only logical that we Powerful Cholerics make a business of our pleasure and hire someone to find fun for us!

P122 Because Powerful Choleric values strength in himself, he looks down with little mercy on weaknesses in others. He can’t tolerate sick people and as one friend told me of her Powerful Choleric husband, “When I’m sick he puts me in bed. He says, ‘Come out when you’re well’ and shuts the door.”

P130 In the Powerful Choleric, the tragic flaw is his inability to see that he has any. If only the Powerful Choleric would open his mind to examine his weaknesses and admit he had a few, he could become the perfect person he thinks he is.

P136 Sharon’s mind is like a game of pool. The colorful balls only rolled around when pushed, and had for years clustered cozily in a mesh bag, hanging securely in the corner.

P139 Peaceful Phlegmatic’s problem with making decisions is not that he is incompetent, but that he has made one great decision never to make any decisions. After all, if you don’t make the decision, you’re not held accountable for the outcome.

P151 Understanding our own and other’s temperaments gives us the ability to deal with situations in the future the way we do now in retrospect. As we learn an individual’s temperament, we can anticipate his reactions to different situations and have the available tools on hand to repair the damage before it starts.

We can’t get over something we don’t accept as a problem.

P172 Perfect Melancholies can’t understand that anyone would open their mouths without knowing what they are going to say. Popular Sanguines open their mouths to find out what they are saying…One Popular Sanguine told me, “My husband says my mind is like a gumball machine—all bright colored thoughts rolling around in no particular order and when you press a button, they come pouring out by the handful.

P174 It’s unfortunate for Popular Sanguines that they cry “Wolf!” too often. One lady told me she leaned over a gas burner and her sleeve caught on fire. She screamed to her husband in the other room, “Help! Help! I’m on fire!” and he called back, “You sure are, honey. You’re hot stuff!”

P180 A Powerful Choleric child observed his Powerful Choleric father yell at his Peaceful Phlegmatic mother. Even though he didn’t know the personality differences, he comforted his mother by stating, “When he yells at you, you just yell right back!”

P186 If you use the Peaceful Phlegmatic for a wastebasket today, you may have a basket case on your hands tomorrow.

And be not conformed to this world…(Romans 12:2)
Each one should judge his own conduct… (Galatians 6:4)
Put yourself to the test and judge yourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5)

P191 God made each one of us different, so we could function in our own role. He made some of us to be feet—to move, administer, to accomplish, like Powerful Choleric. He made some of us to be minds—to think deeply, to feel, to write, like Perfect Melancholy. He made some of us to be hands—to serve, to smooth, to soothe, like Peaceful Phlegmatic. He made some of us to be mouths—to talk, to teach, to encourage, like Popular Sanguine.

Excerpts from Halfway Between Nairobi & Dundori

Excerpts from Halfway Between Nairobi & Dundori
By Muthoni Garland

And with too much money in too few hands, in a land of too many people wanting, Naivasha has become a magnet for highway robbers, ethnic tension, and women.

He doesn’t understand that to me Dundori is not a place to grow but a vacuum of a place that sucks the answers out of a father leaving him nothing to offer his children. A rural nowhere so bereft of challenge or entertainment that it thrives on a mother’s cruel testimonies.

“Do you think it coincidence that these clashes happen immediately after the season of circumcision when teenage boys are brainwashed into believing they’re warriors?”

Come the 1997 clashes…the battle lines were drawn as cleanly and dramatically as the fault-line that created the Great Rift Valley.

Murage’s ‘whatever’ suggests that whether I am right or wrong, my point of view bothers him less than any old jiggers infesting anybody’s toes. I am about to lash back when Murage turns over on the bed, presents me with his back. It is shaking. I am shaking. I should crawl into the bed so we can shake together. I want to, and I know it is what Murage needs, but the eight steps between where I stand and where he lies seem greater than the distance between Nairobi and Dundori.

“She’s like those women who keep threatening to leave their husbands by saying their hair will never turn grey in his house while all along making sure to avoid the mirror!”

But in Nairobi a slip can be a great fall.

Clearly, a drowning man will even grasp at a hollow potato.

“As if I can’t afford to go to KU or NU and buy myself a certificate. Even a P Hesh D.”
“Put Him Down…that kind of P Hesh D, right?”

He graduated from Nairobi U-you wouldn’t guess an urban planner from the lack of direction in his life…

…maybe a new baby would only create new worries to drown the old ones.

Accusation has consequence, am I ready for that?

Of course, she named Njoroge after our father, but it wasn’t enough to save Gladys from his fury when she got pregnant again. Especially after Fafa sent an emissary to enquire in the carefully worded ways of the Kikuyu what the man intended to do now that he had invaded a neighbor’s farm and broken the leg of a favourite goat. The man answered, ‘It was already broken’.

When she sprays herself with a perfume she once claimed could only be purchased in dollars, what pops into my mind is that not even foreign incense can disguise something rotten.

His face is dry, and flaking in a way that makes me itch to rub it with a dallop of Vaseline, roughly, like Mama used to rub mine.

…telling him she’s not ashamed of her God-given assets. As though that is good reason to flaunt them.

Guess Gladys knows younger Acacia trees are thornier to protect themselves from being over-consumed.

Gladys and I stare at each other, our history recent and old…young and ancient, clothed and naked. Needy. She, who was so powerful in my house, is a sad old act in this party of young girls and rich white men…and I, who felt so helpless in my home, have the power to destroy her. The stink of our fears stops us from taking this any further. It is better to lose my eyes, I realize, than to lose my heart.

Excerpts from Meskel

Excerpts from Meskel
By Mellina & Lukas Fanouris

I didn’t want to lose that miraculous moment when the sun set the sea aflame and the black night descended to quench it.

Topped with half a dozen mounds of wat in varying colors, our plates took on the appearance of artists’ palettes. An expert had certainly been at work in the preparation of the food.

As it always happened in the rainy season, the heavy storms of the previous three months had left the tarmac roads in a state of total disrepair, their surfaces pitted with huge potholes and the edges crumbling away. Everywhere repair gangs were disrupting the flow of traffic, as they performed cosmetic surgery on the highways…

‘Considering that, although the people of Ethiopia look in good faith upon the Crown, which has persisted for a long period in Ethiopian history as a symbol of unity, Haile Selassie I, who has ruled the country for more than fifty years ever since he assumed power as Crown Prince, has not only left this country in its present crisis by abusing at various times the high and dignified authority conferred on him by the Ethiopian people but also, being over 82 years of age and due to the consequent physical and mental exhaustion, is no more able to shoulder the high responsibilities of leadership. It is hereby proclaimed that Haile Selassie I is hereby deposed as of today, September 12, 1974.’

The staff at the United Nations were stunned by the news. Their compassion was not for the Emperor they had seen the previous night, feeding his pets while his people died, but for a ruler who once had the respect of the world.

A crowd of students who had lined the road began shouting, leba, leba. ..the Emperor stooped forward and asked the driver what were the people saying? ‘They’re shouting ‘thief’ your majesty,’ …without hesitating, the Emperor replied, ‘What do you expect them to call you, when you’ve robbed them of a King!’

In one instance it was reported that Colonel Mengistu had asked the Emperor for his view on the changes that had taken place in Ethiopia. The Emperor had replied, ‘When the people of Ethiopia who have been indoctrinated and deceived by the words of Hebresebawinet (Socialism) have fully understood the true meaning—they and only they will give you their views. Not you, not even Mussolini nor his compatriots ever managed to change or damage our history and heritage.’

A new era of Keyshibir, Red Terror, began. Anyone opposing the new government would be deemed a Reactionary and would be executed, it was proclaimed. The enemies of the regime were to be wiped out, destroyed without mercy. Bodies began appearing in the streets—young and old, men, women and children, left sprawling in the gutters where they had been gunned down the previous night for their anti-revolutionary activities. Students were the main target: Amnesty International later estimated five thousand young people were put to death in a three-month period. Torture was commonplace. People were burned in oil, toe and finger nails were ripped out; suspects were beaten and suspended by wires; women and girls were raped. To add insult to injury, bullet money had to be paid to reclaim bodies.

Even under Haile Selassie, prosecutions normally ran into years, it was not unknown for them to run from one generation to the next, while the detainees rotted in dank prison cells. There was no reason to believe that military tribunals would be any different, if—in fact—they took place at all.

Life was eternal and love was immortal and death was only a horizon.

‘What made things worse was that, with the first slap, my false teeth fell out of my mouth. Without them, there was no way I could make any sense. No one could understand what I was saying. The more I mumbled, the more they beat me.’

‘We’re in a situation which is dragging on and on—like gangrene. It’s eating us up, killing all our hopes and aspirations, leaving only rotten feelings inside.’

Greeks said, I tan i epi tas. Better dead in freedom than alive in captivity.

‘The soul never dies. Anna Maria has just crossed over to the other side.’

‘Not everyone who looks like a gentleman is one.’

‘Useless bit of junk, a car is, without the precious liquid.’

‘My Mellina would never go do anything like that. She’s molded from good paste.’

The smoky blue shadows of daybreak leisurely unfolded to expose the first blushes of sunrise. Dawn came with dramatic African suddenness—a silent explosion of red and gold with ribbons of apricot fanning out across the curve of the eastern horizon.

After he had gone, in an age-old tradition, she fetched a jug of water and poured it where the car had been standing, to wish him a smooth journey. “We’d better pour a whole a whole bucketful this time,” I said trying to make light of the situation….She didn’t fail to comply!

Even as thousands of cases of whisky were being imported for the celebrations, another catastrophic famine—worse than the one which brought down Haile Selassie—was already threatening the lives of millions in Wollo, Eritrea and Tigray. The government did eventually appeal for western aid but before the world took notice, the famine had claimed nearly three million lives.

‘Haile Selassie never harmed youngsters,’ said one parent. ‘He would warn the disloyal but never kill them. This tyrant is unrestrained by laws or religion. He snatches our children from our arms without conscience or compassion.’

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