A Nigerian-American journalist in Kenya

Just another WordPress.com site

Food in Kenya September 5, 2010

Filed under: the journey — Admin @ 1:03 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Throughout my stay here in Kenya, I’ve been taking photos of food whenever I can remember to do so. The foods I have eaten include traditional Kenyan dishes, “Kenyanized” food and international cuisine. Traditional foods are like, githeri, mukimo and ugali. “Kenyanized” dishes include bhajia, samosa and eggrolls. These foods have been in Kenya for decades but are not indigenous. Kenya, well, specially Nairobi and Mombasa, is a blend of cultures. In these two most popular cities, you will find heavy influences of Asian Indian, Arabic, and Portuguese cultures. As far as international cuisine goes, I’m specifically referring to Italian food, Chinese, American, etc. Here we go!  (Place the mouse over the photo to identify the food items.)

Top row, left to right: 1) Mukimo and kuku choma. 2)Fish soup and spinach. 3)Spicy meatballs. Bottom row, left to right: 4) Mboga mix. 5) Pineapples. 5) Bhajia, vegetarian eggroll, stew and mango juice

*                                                                                            *                                                                                *

Before I came to Kenya, I read about a dish called, nyama choma and every blog and website that I read about Kenya stated that every visitor to Kenya must eat nyama choma. Confession: I have been in Kenya now for 10 weeks and I have yet to eat nyama choma. Second confession: I don’t eat meat, with the exception of fish.

Nyama (I have also seen it spelled, nyoma) means beef, or what Kenyans say, “meat” and choma means “roasted. American translation: grilled/barbecued beef. Nyama choma truly is the national food of Kenya because all the ethnic groups eat it. People here keep telling me to try it and I say, I don’t eat beef. After the initial shock of meeting a non-meat eating black person, they usually ask me if I am sick or if I am Muslim (which is strange because Muslims eat meat, just not pig, AKA swine.) I tell them, “no,” and explain that I do it to keep good health.

This reminds me, Phyllis’ 65-year-old father hard a hard time understanding this. He kept thinking that I am not well, or that meat makes me sick. Phyllis had to explain to him that I am trying to prevent illness.

But anyway, I have finally relented and said that I will at least eat chicken choma. But even this act of surrender does little to impress my Kenyan friends. “No, nyama!” Is what they often say next.

“Just a little bit won’t kill you,” Phyllis said to me, not once, not twice, but three times.

I ate kuku choma (roasted chicken) in Njoro while the K24 colleagues who had accompanied me at nyama choma. I ended up only eating three of four bites of the chicken because I found the texture quite…different. Chicken in Kenya is tougher than it is in the States, partly because it is free-range, meaning the chickens on the farm are able to run freely as opposed to being caged. By moving around, the chickens strengthen their muscles, thus the meat is tougher, obviously.  But not only was the chicken tough, but I just wasn’t able to like the taste of it. My K24 friends ate the rest, while I nibbled on the mukimo, which is the green “stuff” in the picture. Mukimo is maize, corn and pumpkin leaves mashed together. It tastes like…very thick mashed potatoes but sweeter.

Good fish is hard to find in Nairobi, and I know this mostly because that’s what Nairobians keep telling me. “If you want good fish, you have to go to Kisumu or to the coast [Mombasa]” is the common explanation. But, since I can’t go to either of those places, I have been eating fish, which is always tilapia, in Nairobi, and it tastes okay, nothing spectacular. A lot of the Kenyans I meet don’t really eat fish and maybe that’s because a lot of the Kenyans I meet are Kikuyu. The Kikuyu people come from the central areas of the country and they don’t really have access to fish. Even Phyllis, a Kikuyu, told me that she doesn’t know how to make fish. She and her family buy already prepared fish because they don’t know how to cook it. One K24 camera guy, Kevin, who is also a Kikuyu told me that he only eats fish in the western part of the country because Kikuyus can’t cook fish; but then again, he said Kikuyus can’t cook that well anyway, with the exception of his mother.

So, I went to a popular restaurant with Tom one day and ordered fish soup. It was the only thing on the menu that I could eat anyway, since every thing else was beef and chicken. I ordered a side of spinach to go along with the soup.

The fish soup didn’t taste anything like Nigerian fish soup, which we call pepper soup. Kenyan food is extremely plain, according to my taste. They use very little herbs and seasonings and almost no pepper. Whenever I make a mention of this to other Kenyans, they agree and they tell me that the food in Mombasa if much more flavorful. So the fish soup didn’t have the taste that I wanted and when I asked for pepper, what the waitress brought was also not what I was expecting. I was looking forward to sprinkling grounded red pepper or crushed red pepper flakes onto the fish, but they didn’t even have that-to my great surprise. Tom had to explain “pepper” to the waitress–who kept asking questions as if she has never heard of someone asking for pepper in a restaurant– and she brought a small bowl of what I believe was a blend of red and habanero or scotch-like peppers. The chilled blend was so raw! The seeds were still in it. It spiced up the food, but it did not add taste. Now, as a Nigerian, I know the difference between hot pepper and good pepper. Good pepper is more ideal, because not only is it spicy, but it has a great taste.

Meatballs. You know what that is. The big, oily balls of beef are served after church at Mavuno.

Mgoba mix. I had this dish in Nyeri on Saturday and I really liked it. Mboga means vegetable and Kenyans like veggies, mostly beans and greens. This dish is a mix of local beans, carrots, spinach, kale and onions. Not only is it filling, but it’s healthy.

On the last day of my visit with Pyllis’ family in Nyeri, I had a simple breakfast of pineapple, mango juice and bread. I found it really strange to eat a sliced bread with fruit, but hey, that’s how they do it here. I didn’t even bother to let them know that for the sake of good digestion, fruit is best when eaten on an empty stomach, without the interference of other foods. The pineapples were delicious (the pineapples in this country taste like candy- so sweet!), but I could only eat a few cuts. Everyone else not only ate pineapple, but oranges. I have never eaten more than one fruit at a sitting. Actually that’s not true- fruit salad. But still, I found this as very different.

My plate full of bhajia, veggie eggroll, and stew was my first “Kenyan” meal. While waiting for Pastor Frida after church one Sunday, I went and bought this and it was good, not great, but good. The fresh cup of mango juice tasted amazing. Bhajia, a flat round ball of fried potato and onion, is an Indian dish that has become well-incorporated into Nairobian cuisine. I’ve only had it twice, and the second time I had it, I was so disgusted with all the oil sliding around the plate, that I threw it away. But at the church, it is not very oily and tastes ok. I think I’d like it better if it had some pepper. I’m going to learn how to make bhajia and then find a way to “Nigerianize” it.

Top row, left to right: 1) beans, fish fillet, chapati 2) Thai stir fry 3) boiled aro root Bottom row, left to right: 4) macadamia nut 5) bhajia 6) vegetarian samosa

*                                                            *                                                            *

Chapati is one of the best flour-based foods I’ve ever tasted. I love bread, and fortunately you can find some variant of fried bread in nearly every culture. You’ve got burrito, pita, flat bread. Chapati, also known as roti, is an Indian unleavened flatbread. It taste just as it looks, thich, chewy, slightly sweet. You can find white or wheat chapatis and Kenyans eat it for breakfast with tea, or with beans and greens. The beans in this dish taste like red beans, I believe it is called nduma.

This delicious Thai stir-fry came from Village Market; I went to that mall with the Shah family several weeks ago. The veggies were fresh and the sauce was sweet. I gotta find time to go back for more.

Boiled aro root taste like chunks of soggy paper. I don’t know any other way to describe it. It is, really, interesting. I saw the actual root growing in Phyllis’ mother’s garden and then Phyllis ordered it at a restaurant so I can see and taste it. She said her kids don’t like it and I can’t blame them. It is really thick, starchy and heavy. It’s unusual white and purple color doesn’t make it look any more appetizing than it already doesn’t. While eating, Phyllis said it is “sweet,” which I didn’t understand. She said it does have a very plain taste, but that is the way it should taste.

I went to a primary school in Central Province and on the school campus is a farm. Macadamia nuts grow wild here. I only know macadamia nut from the little bits you find in chocolate bars.

Samosa is another Indian import to Kenya. Remember, Indians have been in Kenya since the early part of the 1900s. Samosa is a triangular-shaped fried pastry filled with beef, chicken, potatoes and spices. Samosa is like a Jamaican meat patty or Nigerian meat pie, or any of the other meat-filled pastries you find in other cultures.

Top row, left to right: 1)ugali and kale 2) chicken, ugali and tomatoes 3)rice, beans  and fish fillet bottom row, left to right: 4) pizza 5)spring rolls 6) I have no idea

*                                                            *                                                            *

Many African ethnic groups have a food that looks like ugali. In Nigeria, we have fufu/garri/ or what have you. Ugali is maize flour (aka cornmeal) stirred in boiling water. You can also find ugali in Tanzania and throughout eastern and southern Africa. I read somewhere that South Afrians call it pap. A friend told me that in Zambia and Malawi, it is called nshima.

It took me a while to finally taste ugali. One blogger wrote that ugali is “heavy in the stomach,” well, it wasn’t that heavy for me. It has a gritty texture, as if you’re eating fine sand. Kenyans eat it with greens or nyama/kuku choma. At Phyllis’ family’s house in Nyeri, I had some ugali with kale. I think I ate most of it, too. Tom had ugali with kuku choma and tomato salsa when we went to Renalo’s restaurant.

Rice is what I usually eat in Kenya and unfortunately, is is usually white rice. I eat rice with beans and fish. When I first ate rice here, I was surprised that there was no tomato- based stew. I thought tomato-based stew was everywhere in Africa, I mean, that’s the way West Africans eat stew, and even a lot of Central Africans. But, no. there was no tomato-based stew, only the “juice” from the beans to wet the rice.

The pizza came from a restaurant at Village Market. The taste was unlike what you find in the states. I found this tasted like speciality pizza, with artisan bread and juicy green olives. Spring rolls are everywhere in Nairobi, and usually if you don’t want to beef samosa, the alternative is a veggie spring roll. Another Asian import. I can’t remember what the last picture is- but it looks kind of like a banana or bits of sugar cane.

1)mukimo and kale 2) pizza 3) Swahili chicken curry, rice and salsa 4) chapati 5) veggie spring roll

*                                                *                                                *

By now, most of these foods should be a familiar. The first photo of the mukimo looks different from the previous shot of the mukimo because this is the real “rural, homemade”mukimo. I ate this one in Mureru, Nyeri and not only did it look different from the mukimo I ate at a restaurant in Njoro, but it tasted different as well. Before, I described the mukimo as thick, sweet mashed potatoes. It contained corn kernels but I didn’t feel them. The mukimo in Nyeri also contained corn kernels, but they were really hard. When I told Phyllis this, she was surprised because that corn is considered to be the softer type.

The Swahili chicken curry has a very sweet taste. This dish is from Java House. I’ve had it once and Tom ordered it when we met for the first time. What they call “salsa” is really a just a blend of cut tomatoes, with cilantro and lemon juice. I can’t stand the taste of cilantro, but I really love this salsa.


Scenes in Kenya (Part 4)

Filed under: Scenes in Kenya — Admin @ 11:45 am
Tags: , , , ,


Kenya’s Day of pride August 27, 2010

Filed under: the journey — Admin @ 12:08 pm
Tags: , , ,

Around 10:30 am at Uhuru Park, President Mwai Kibaki promulgated the new constitution, making it the supreme law of the land. Dignitaries in attendance included former U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan; former Ghanaian President, John Kufuor; former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo; Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni; Rwandan President, Paul Kagame; etc.

I found a BBC article that nicely summed the story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11106558

*                          *                        *

27 August 2010 Last updated at 10:05 GMT

Kenya president ratifies new constitution

Kenya has adopted a new constitution, more than three weeks after it was overwhelmingly approved in a national referendum.

Tens of thousands of people watched as President Mwai Kibaki signed the document into law at a large ceremony in the capital, Nairobi.

The debate over a new constitution has lasted 20 years.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was present at the event, despite being wanted for war crimes.

Human Rights Watch earlier called on the Kenyan authorities to either “arrest him or bar him entry” if he were to attend.

Kenya has ratified the statute requiring it to co-operate with the International Criminal Court, which has issued an arrest warrant for Mr Bashir.

However, last month the African Union instructed its members – which include Kenya – not to apprehend Mr Bashir.

‘Huge cheer’

The constitution is expected to bring significant changes.

Some have billed it as the most important political event in Kenya’s history since it gained independence from Britain in 1963.

The large crowd gathered in Nairobi’s main Uhuru park to watch their leader promulgate the new document, amid gun salutes and a grand parade.

After Mr Kibaki signed his name, he held the document up and there was a huge cheer from the audience.

The new constitution will bring a more decentralised political system, which will limit the president’s powers and replace corrupt provincial governments with local counties.

It will also create a second chamber of parliament – the Senate – and set up a land commission to settle ownership disputes and review past abuses.

It is hoped that the changes will help bring an end to the tribal differences that have brought violence to the country in the past.


The BBC’s East Africa correspondent, Peter Greste, says the debate for a new constitution ebbed and flowed with each new political crisis until the elections of 2007, which were followed by the worst ethnic violence Kenya has yet seen.

In the wake of the violence, everyone acknowledged that something fundamental had to change if the country was to avoid yet more trouble, our correspondent says.

“The historic journey that we began over 20 years ago is now coming to a happy end,” Mr Kibaki said earlier this month after the results of the referendum were announced on 5 August.

“There will be challenges along the way. But it is important that we look forward with renewed optimism to better days ahead.”

Our correspondent says that the previous constitution allowed politicians to exploit tribal divisions, left courts weak, and concentrated power in the president’s hands.

While many Kenyans say that this is just a start – and that things could still go very wrong – most believe it is a fundamentally better document than the last.

President Kibaki won a landslide victory in 2002 promising to change the constitution within 100 days of taking office. In 2005, he held a referendum but it failed to pass.

The previous constitution was negotiated with the British in the early 1960s.

Constitution key changes

  • Reduces president’s powers
  • Devolves power to regions
  • Creates senate
  • Creates a Judicial Service Commission
  • Includes citizens’ Bill of Rights
  • Creates land commission to settle disputes
  • Recognises Kadhi (Muslim) courts


A Day at Village Market

Filed under: the journey — Admin @ 5:50 am
Tags: , , , , ,

A couple weeks ago, Mrs. Shah invited me to join her and her family to Village Market, a mall in the Westlands area of Nairobi. I know Mrs. Shah because I had done a story on her daughter, Ashni, about the National Youth Orchestra of Kenya. Before and after that story, Mrs. Shah has been extremely kind to me. She enjoys showing me around Nairobi and always offers assistance. She told me to see her “home as my home.”

So, I went with her family to Village Market and met her husband for the first time.  Village Market is a large mall with a movie theatre, bowling alley, miniature golf field and small water park. It is more beautiful than most malls that I’ve seen in the States because it blends the outdoors with the indoors. Large trees are everywhere along with the sound of birds.


Weekend in the Nyeri Countyside: (Part 2)

Filed under: K24,the journey — Admin @ 5:41 am
Tags: , , , ,

I’m not crazy or anything but I have a curious affection for older people and I haven’t figured out where those feelings come from. But they have to come from someplace, because whenever I meet someone who may be at least 30 years my senior, I can’t ignore the force within me that emerges. I first noticed this when a Nigerian family came to visit our home several years ago and my siblings and I came down from upstairs to greet the guest. When I saw the grandmother, I bent down to hug her and did not fail to notice the delight in her eyes.

From that moment, I noticed my ways around the elderly. In Nyeri, Phyllis’ parents were probably the most interesting part of the visit. Her father, 65-year-old Joseph Munyi, talks about the Bible almost nonstop. A retired civil servant, he now tends to his crops of potatoes, tomatoes, maize, and beans. He said he was excited to know that an American was coming to visit him and he asked for me to tell my parents that I had slept in a safe home in Nyeri.

Phyllis’ mother, Grace, is a vibrant woman. I found myself looking at her face for long periods of time, and I finally discovered what it was about her that I found so irresistible… her eyes. Chestnut brown skinned with a softly chiseled face of high-cheek bones, Grace might have been what my mom would call a “local woman” but, I’ve always fancied “the locals,” especially the women. Walking behind Grace through her field of maize, pumpkins and aro root, I watched Grace’s hips sway as her bare feet treaded the soil.

Grace is part of a local woman’s group and from what I understand, women’s groups are prevalent throughout Kenya and the mother is usually the one who keeps the family together. They meet to discuss domestic matters such as health and nutrition, farming, education and how to make more money. I asked Phyllis if fathers meet for such things. She said that men are difficult because when they get together, things go bad. Drinking, ulterior motives and big egos are too often involved. So, it is the mother who maintains the home and Grace was no exception.

Grace and her group of friends, some her age and some younger, are helping each other to construct energy efficient cooking stoves. Actually, it’s a fireplace. Traditionally, Kikuyu women cooked on a stone mantle placed on top of three stone structures. But, even in rural Africa, technology is rapidly changing. Grace and the group of mothers learned a new style of a cooking fireplace that involves less wood, so one can prepare more food with less energy.  One by one, the women in the group go to each other’s house to build the new fireplace. I believe Africa is standing today, simply because of the millions of mothers like these. But as we all know, they can’t do it alone…and that’s another story.

Khanga is the most common of fabric in Kenya. Worn by lower and middle-class women, khanga is easy to recognize because of the scarf-like pattern. I recognized the blue, black and white khanga that Phyllis wrapped around her waist as the exact one that I bought at Maasai Market last week. Phyllis said it is a popular pattern. I paid Ksh1,000 for that, and I HIGHLY doubt that these rural women paid that much for the same. I was ripped off!!!!!!


Weekend in the Nyeri countryside: Part 1 August 23, 2010

Filed under: K24,the journey — Admin @ 3:45 pm

This weekend, I visited Phyllis’ family along the outskirts of Nyeri. We had been planning the trip for the past three weeks, ever since I mentioned my desire to explore more of the country. On Friday, I joined Phyllis and her son and niece for a three hour drive out going north to Central Province. I was also going to arrange interviews for a story on an organization that was helping street children by teaching them how to live eco-friendly lifestyles, so this was K24 Day 33.

The road from Nairobi, known as Thika Highway, was safe as we joined other Nairobians traveling out to visit family.  From Nairobi to Thika town, construction made the drive a little slow, but it wasn’t too bad. Throughout Nairobi province, massive road construction can be seen along with black employees working under the guidance of the Chinese. (The road improvement project contract went to China.)

But never mind all that. I did not know too much about where we were going, Narumoru, only that it was not too far from Mount Kenya, it gets a little chilly in temperature, it is in Kikuyuland, and there is no electricity, well at least there was none in Mureru, the exact location, the village, if you may.

So, we arrived and I met Phyllis’ older son, her sister, her parents, nephew Patrick, and her sister-in-law known as Mama Grace. These are the people I spent my weekend with. (Place the cursor over the photo to identify the people in the photo). I took a photo of the family before I left on Sunday.

Phyllis told me that we were in Mureru in Narumoru in Nyeri district. Her mother gave me another description of the location: Gakawa sublocation in Githima location in Kieni east division of Nyeri district in Central province.

There are few things in this world as peaceful as the countryside. A sprawling blue sky stretched above me and acres and acres of crops, weeds, and dry grass. Sitting with Phyllis and her mother inside Phyllis’ mother detached kitchen, Phyllis pointed outside and said, “this is the electricity.” I leaned out and saw the silver glow of the moon.

Adjusting to the countryside was not too difficult, and I thank the Lord that there were no rodents! Or roaches! While in Mureru, I thought about how I wanted to write about my weekend. And Phyllis, unknowingly gave me a great idea. Emerging from the pit latrine, I walked toward Phyllis who asked me, “Is that your first time using a pit latrine?”

This weekend was full of firsts…

My first time watching a goat being milked. Actually, I thought the goat was small, but Phyllis said it is a full-sized goat. I watched her mother, Grace, pump the the udders as the goat stood quietly.

My first time tasting goat milk. Okay, I don’t even drink cow’s milk, so goat’s milk was really foreign. They used the goat’s milk for tea (Kenyans love tea, by the way-British influence). I once read that goat’s milk is more nutritious than cow’s milk and is easier for humans to digest. Phyllis confirmed and said goat’s milk is cholesterol-free. Holding the cup in my hand, I noticed its warmth. After two tip sips of the boiled milk, I was finished and Grace served the rest of mine to the cat.

My first time brushing my teeth outside and using the grass as a sink. With a mug in my hand, I brushed my teeth with the cow behind me. I was doing what I had only seen in Nigerian movies, people brushing their teeth outside and spitting where they pleased.

My first time sleeping in a bedroom with an earthen floor. I didn’t really understand that this this was dirt. On the first night, I took of my shoes and stood. ”My dear, this is earth,” Phyllis said.  I asked her why did it not seem…well dirty? She said it has been packed tightly to suppress dust.  Hmmm….interesting. Now I understand why people sweep the soil…with a broom.

First time sleeping with a cow on the other side of the wall. I could hear its every move. The walking, the munching, I wouldn’t have known if the cow had passed gas. I’m just not familiar with that sound. Does it sound like a trumpet or more like a train?

My first time using a pit latrine. I’m not going to get very descriptive on this one, which is kind of hard for me, so I will move on.

Actually, okay, I will say that this latrine was much much much much cleaner than I had imagined. It was actually cleaner than most of the restrooms I had seen in Nairobi. And because of the windy, chilly environment, there was no smell…okay, I’m moving on.

My first time using a detached bathroom made of wood. I was somewhat used to the bucket method of bathing and there was a big yellow bucket of hot water inside this bathroom. But, my facial and body wash seemed a bit out of place. This wasn’t too bad…until a fly landed on the back of my left thigh…but really it was ok. Next to the bathroom is the kitchen so I had to hold my breath to avoid inhaling the smoky fumes coming from the other side.

My first time standing in acres and acres of maize. Corn is plenty in America, but it looks different in Kenya and I wasn’t even able to recognize the crop, to Phyllis’ great surprise. But the corn in America is much taller. Phyllis’ mother, Grace, has almost 5 acres of land.

My first time sleeping in a tin-roofed house. This is the house, as in the whole house. It is about the size of my living room. The house belongs to Phyllis’ sister-in-law and late brother. It has two bedrooms and a living room. Detached are the kitchen and bathroom. The woman of the house keeps everything very clean and she’s a very hard worker; I actually never saw her sit down. She didn’t speak English but she always responded to my “thank you’s” and “good morning” with a smile.


Kenya’s literary giant returns

Filed under: the journey — Admin @ 1:38 pm
Tags: , , ,

Last Thursday, Ngugi wa Thiong’o launched a new book, the first in a four-volume autobiographical series. It was an elite affair, with Kenya’s intellects, activists and educated citizens. You can definitely expect such a crowd since the event was held at the National Museum of Kenya in the Parklands area of Nairobi.

Let me take a few steps back, back to the beginning.

*                        *                        *                        *

Reading is an important part of my life, a habit formed in my childhood and nurtured by my parents. In my father’s old collection of books, I saw Things Fall Apart and other titles, some more obscure than others. I began reading my father’s books and then collecting my own to begin filling my own bookshelf. In these African books I could escape into a land of thick forests, mud huts, ancient ceremonial traditions and emerging urban centers. Day after day, week after week, my nose was often hidden between the covers of a book. Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease; Michael Veal’s Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon; Buchi Emecheta’s  The Joy of Motherhood; Waris Dirie’s Desert Flower; Nancy Farmer’s A Girl Named Disaster; Ama Ata Aidoo’s Changes: A Love Story; Beverly Naidoo’s The Other Side of Truth; Cyprian Ekwensi’s Jagua Nana; Fauziya Kassindja’s Do They Hear You When You Cry?

These books weren’t just words on papers. They really were my friends. And I took them with me…on playgrounds, in school cafeterias, in public restrooms, in my bedroom, at church, you get the picture.

And among these great books, I’d always see the name Ngugi wa Thiong’o and in every list of great African books, I saw Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Petal of Blood. Though I had never read any of Thiongo’ books, I knew he was held in the same regard as Achebe, Soyinka and Aidoo.

So, when Moraa Gitaa (Tom’s sister) told me that he is launching a new book, my curiosity led me to begin researching more about this man.

Thiong’o is well loved by Kenyans and was at one point feared by the government during the tumultuous years of the Daniel Arap Moi administration, an administration that efficiently suppressed opposition for more than two decades. Ngugi was a like a thorn in the side for the Moi administration. His words aroused fiery sentiment among the rural poor and society’s intellectuals. Thiong’o became popular when he began writing in the Gikuyu (also known as Kikuyu) language. He is credited for being the first to write a modern-day novel in the Gikuyu language. By writing in Gikuyu, Thiong’o was speaking directly to the people, as the Gikuyu comprise the largest ethnic group in Kenya. His first book, Weep Not, Child (1964) launched his career as an African writer to recognize. Then came The River Between in 1965, A Grain of Wheat in 1967, Petals of Blood in 1977 and over a dozen other works.

For fear of his life, Thiong’o left Kenya during Moi’s presidency. He is now a Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Director of the International Centre for Writing and Translation at the University of California at Irvine.

The event began at 7pm.  Accompanied by Tom and Moraa, I joined others as P.L.O. Lumumba, guest of honor and the new head of Kenya’s Anti Corruption commission, spoke passionate words of praise about Thiong’o.

“I am amazed by your ability to always discover yourself…If you were an animal in the jungle, you’d be a lion…those of you who want to learn greatness, read Ngugi’s Dreams in a Time of War, greet him and don’t wash your hands for several days…I  also encourage you that when you read Dreams in a Time of War, that you should also wake up and realize your own dream.”

Lumumba greatly impressed me. He’s a fiery, petite man with a strong jawline and a tight, round mouth, the type of mouth that seems to be holding something large inside. A colleague of mine at K24 and I have been trying to get an interview with Lumumba to do a story about his rise, but he is a busy man. Tom greeted him and gestured toward me. Lumumba smiled at me and I introduced myself as a reporter with K24. He raised his eyebrows and said he knows we have been trying to get in touch with him.  His speech reminded me of that of an African-American Baptist preacher, with rich crescendos and dramatic pauses. He made references to Patrice Lumumba, Dr. Martin Luther King,Jr., Gandhi and other freedom fighters.

Back to Thiong’o.

The book, Dreams in a Time of War is a childhood memoir that movingly captures the zeitgeist and political happenings of the time. He also writes about the Mau Mau, a revolutionary, now legendary, army of Gikuyu guerrilla freedom fighters who sought to preserve their African traditions in the face of colonial suppression and hardship.

Thiong’o introduced his wife, Njeeri, his brother and sister-in-law. I just may be overtly sentimental, I know, sometimes even maudlin, but I couldn’t help but get a little teary-eyed watching Thiong’o and his elderly relatives. These people were among the many who fought for black Kenyans while their black brothers and sisters were in bondage by the white colonialists who were taking away the ancestral lands of the blacks.

So, of course I bought the book and grabbed another, more-lighthearted read entitled, How to Be a Kenyan by Wahome Mutahi.