This is a dedication to Binyavanga Wainaina.
To understand why I decided to review One Day I Will Write About This Place, we have to go back in time.
I am fifteen.
I am holding a thick, boldly titled book in my shaking hands. I am overwhelmed by exhilarating disbelief. This is a Kenyan book. Published that year. It contains published Kenyan poetry!
My hands are shaking because I’m lost for words. My mind is shouting incoherent celebratory exclamations! My mind is dancing and jumping and spinning and spinning me dizzy. I’m so excited I can feel my pause opening, opening up to a hope I had only dreamed of.
I could get published one day, here, at home!
For at least four years after that, 90% of my poetry writing would be done with that aim. In the energy of that specific desire.
In my mind, the name Binyavanga Wainaina would conjure an image of an enormous statue of a man. Half the size of KICC. The statue stood with his chin up, a resolute expression and one hand in the air, holding a book: Kwani?.
The book contained the dreams of Kenyan writers who otherwise would be fighting glass ceiling wars with international publishers who know nothing of our local language use. The book marked the beginning of a new age.
To me he was, a front runner, a torch bearer, a hero.
He was an imaginary meeting in my future, in an office with a big window, on which my future as a writer depended. A busy man, who had managed to spare a few moments with a young writer whose dreams are the size of a country. In the meeting I am terribly nervous. Handing over my first manuscript.
I had built him up, to be Merlin himself. The one who would tell me where my sword and stone lie and how to find the power to extract it. What an incredible fantasy. The reality, is much less magical, and much more inspiring.
Amidst the controversy surrounding him at the present, I bookmarked ‘I Am A Homosexual, Mum’ without reading it, and set out to read ‘One Day I Will Write About This Place’ first. I wanted to stay true to the order he released them in.
In all honesty, it is not without determined effort, that I got through the first three chapters.
He narrates his early childhood memories in the way that one remembers them; staggered, fragmented and not entirely coherent.
I could not, for the life of me, imagine how one sees the pink of ones own eyelids, or why he seems so obsessed with the colour pink in general.
There were things that kept me going though.
His imagery is blissfully involving:
Her canopy is frizzy, her gold and green bark shines. It is like she was scribbled sideways with a sharp pencil, so she can cut her sharp edges into the soul of whoever looks at her from a distance. You do not climb her, she has thorns. Acacia.
I also deeply identify with the fascination with words, their forms sounds and meanings. So I continued, and am so happy I did. Before I knew it, I was grabbing every free moment to open up and dive back into his adventurous, happy, and somewhat unsure childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
Once you are comfortably seated in the centre of the book, the need for the introduction becomes crystal clear. Without it, his descriptions of kimay and accordioning would have lost the reader completely. He spends that childhood narration letting you into his mind, the place from which, his story makes the most sense. His story is one of outright honesty. I find myself completely in love with his family and captivated by his experiences, many of which take place in places I have also been. His path, as he describes it is very human. He is very earnest in his ambitions and procrastinations, his ambiguities and preparations towards publishing an anthology that would mark one of the most inspiring moments in my life.
I feel, as I usually do when reading Kenyan stories, that I know my country a little more. This time, it is not in the onlooker kind of way, which is what I felt from It’s Our Turn To Eat. It is in the way that I would hear, from a friend, as we walk down Kenyatta Avenue.
His journey towards and beyond the point when I first held that Kwani? book in my teenage hands has given me fresh fire to get my first book; Speak published.
Ten years after that vivid memory, Binyavanga Wainaina has inspired me powerfully, again.
Binyavanga, if you happen across this post, I would like to say thank you. For progress that you have brought to our local literature world, and for writing your story, without pretence, with authenticity. Thank you, for inspiring me, again.