Friday, July 10, 2009


I have had a turbulent six months. Left Botswana on the 25th of February - a cold, rainy morning when my friend, Lovemore Kamchira, came home to pick me to the airport. I had sold all that mattered, my sofa, my dining set, beds, fridge et cetera, so whatever remained unsold I gave to the good Batswana workmates I had. One got an iron for pressing clothes, another took a boiler for tea, somebody took a carpet and one friend asked me for the heap of clothes and blankets I was leaving behind to avoid excess charges at the airport (it turned out I still was 20 kg over).

We chatted rather sadly with Lovemore in the checking-in lounge of the small Francistown airport whose building is a little smaller than some of the mansions in Lilongwe's Area 10 (the South African ambassador's residence is actually four times as big, seen it?). After ten or so minutes, I went through the searching process (it is still manual) and proceeded to the departure lounge. I later walked to the small ATR 42 plane on the tarmac. In Gaborone, I connected quickly to Johannesburg where I had less than 50 minutes to get on board a Boeng 747 Addis Ababa bound.

I arrived in Addis at 9 o'clock in the evening, 8 o'clock Botswana and Malawi time. The letter from the African Union said somebody would wait for me at the airport. To my surprise, there was no-one. But then I knew Addis reasonably well, so that saved me. I caught a taxi to the Kings Hotel on Roosevelt Street in Sarbet. I knew this was the hotel closest to the AU headquarters (100m).

Thus began my 75-day stay in Addis Ababa. In general life was boring, though there are specific flashpoints that stand out, like the dinner I had at Sheraton for my 33rd birthday and the farewell party the wonderful Malawi community held for me a few days before I left. There were wonderful people I met, like Celestin from Burkina Faso, Aziz from The Gambia and Imelda from Namibia. I should also have mentioned Chiza, but with this wonderful guy, it was pretty much as though we were not meeting for the first time, like we had met in another life, at another time, if Pythagoras is to be believed. We just melted. Mrs Veronica Gondwe was also so motherly, friendly and always ready to help - few people I have met in life are as helpful. For the life in Addis, I mean those moments you have to lose it a little to gain a lot, I had the honorary Mayor of Addis, Justin, with whom I share an alma mater. Emmanuel, citizen of the world, for he is more in the sky than he is in Addis, was always great company those few moments he came home. There was Hope and Benjamin - two great friends who work for the nations that are supposed to be united, and their spouses. Charlotte, who is a perfect match with Emmanuel in the humour department was always great company whenever all Malawians gathered for special occasions). Mai Kasamale, Mwai's mother, was like a mother to us all. And just as fatherly were the ambassador and his family and the Deputy Head of Mission and his family. All the staff at the embassy, so friendly and always there when need arose, made life easy for me in Addis. The camaraderie of Mr Chisala and Colonel Nundwe was invaluable. Madame Vera Ngosi was also the mother-figure most of us looked up to at any time she was available. Though I met Mr Ngosi only a couple of times (he is the one who saw me off to the airport on my last day in Addis), his company was always a marvel. Nena, a new Malawian friend I made and Dr Paul Thangata together with his wonderful family took part - directlly or indirectly - in the process of making my life in Addis memorable, as did the venerable Mrs Mkwezalamba, the Commissioner himself and his charming personal assistant. Of course, my comrade Moses-Michael Phiri, 'homeboy,' was always a phone call away for any eventualities.

On the writing front, with such an entirely new environment, I was pretty much like fish out of water. I could not write. I only managed to read a lot. I remember reading a huge volume of the complete works of Martin Luther King. It was so rich and gave me a profound insight into the mind of the man who grabbed the American part of the globe by the throat and shook its conscience real hard.

I could not write and that bothered me a lot. The hotel furniture did not help matters. I also did not like the extreme attention I seemed to attract from the hotel staff. If I descended to the restaurant downstairs, not less than six people could come to greet me in between the mouthfuls, asking whether the food was nice. There came a time when I complained to the hotel manager. It was only then this habit stopped.

But now I am in Nairobi. Writing began again last night. For once I have to stop reading and try to build the art once more. Six months is a long time to lose in the world of art.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fascinated by Dylan Thomas, Poet from Wales

Dylan Thomas fascinates me.

I was introduced to Dylan Thomas by my mentor, John Lindley of the United Kingdom. He was trying to introduce me to villanelles. He told me that the best example of a villanelle is Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas that reads:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Since then, I have come to read this poem a thousand times over. I discussed it once with Nyamalikiti Nthiwatiwa, the famous Malawian young poet and his equally famous writer colleague, Shadreck Chikoti.

In the past few weeks, I have been admiring Dylan Thomas's other great poem, And Death Shall Have No Dominion. It reads:

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

It's a pity he died at the age of 39. God knows how much poetry he could have written had he lived to the age of 70.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bye Bye Botswana

After seven months, circumstances demand that I should move on, leaving this beautiful country of Botswana where I was just beginning to understand the language. In the next few years, I shall be working for the African Union. I want to taste the life of a diplomat.

In the impending few months, I plan to undertake a crush course in French. I do speak some, but in Malawi I could hardly come across people to speak with on a daily basis, so the language hibernated a bit. I remember in 2006, when I sat on a panel of judges for a West African short story competition in Accra, Ghana, one judge from Gabon spoke no other language but French. Two other judges spoke no other language but English. So I was like among the blind, as they say. I was the only one who served as the interlink between the Gabonese and the other judges. In one particularly hilarious moment, Benjamin, a driver from the offices of the Pan African Writers Association (PAWA) came to the hotel to pick us. Unfortunately, I was upstairs in my room. Only Sylvie the Gabonese and the other guys were around. Now, the other judges wanted to inform Sylvie about the arrival of Benjamin, the driver. They thought hard but could not figure out. In the few days we had been together, they had somehow been able to pick out from the conversation between Sylvie and me the French definite article 'le,' whidch means "the" but it is used where the gender is masculin. So, to alert the lady, the guys shouted: "Le Benjamin!"

The muse seems to be alluding me these days - I don't know why. But I am not altogether surprised. This happens once in a while. There was a time I spent two years without writing a single line. I hope, however, that this time, it won't have to take that long.