Odi Ndipume Kaye [Let Me Take a Breather]


Inspiration for a blog post usually hits me when I am the most occupied. Like now- it is a cold, wet Thursday afternoon and thanks to the time of the year, the sky is darkening fast. Nightfall brings with it the sense of urgency that hits me when I realize that the day is just about over and my to-do-list is barely gotten through. The next few days are particularly demanding for me. I am going to go to Boston this weekend and I am going to figure out my way around this city I have never been to. Every one of the handful of people I have told this say, “Wow, good for you!” as if I am going to party all weekend. I am not. But I am, in my own nerdy way, going to derive a great deal of enjoyment from the summit I’m attending.

I suppose that the reason I am writing this is because thoughts are piling up in my head and I need to organize them. Reasonably, one simple blog post is hardly enough to get all my thoughts in line. Consider it, however, akin to straightening your dorm room out because mom is coming for a visit. On the surface, it looks clean, but only you know the pile of clean laundry tied up in a bed-sheet inside your suitcase that you’re going to have to bring out and fold away eventually. This post is that hidden ball of laundry. But it should be enough to keep me sane this weekend. At least until I can breathe and think again with clarity.

  1. It’s Otellia Cromwell day at Smith College. She was the first black woman to matriculate from Smith College. I mentally take a back seat to issues of race, because I am still learning my place in them- at least in America. (I am learning fast that that place is not all that pretty.) It seems to me in poor taste to dive into a struggle that I do not understand. Simultaneously, it seems to me to be in a position of privilege to be able to do so. I could write an entire post and more about race, but now is not the time.
  2. Over the past few weeks, I have alternated between hating being in college and mildly liking it. I am not drowning in work. I am not afraid of the work. I am just not particularly inspired by it all- not necessarily its substance (although in several of my classes that may very well be the case), but in the grander picture of things- the larger system that the work itself is a part of. I am struggling to come alive. I need to come alive. Perhaps this weekend is particularly significant because for the first time, I sense real purpose in my pursuits.
  3. God has made me smile- really made me smile. I will not lie, trying to know him for myself has been strange, but I take a step back from my life and cannot help but see him at work. It brings a smile to my spirit, and an unshakeable assurance. I am, however, longing to find my people.
  4. I have been asking myself with a deep curiosity and a slight dread- what would happen to my world if I gave everything that mattered to me my everything? What if I really poured myself out. There is a vulnerability in that which I cannot help but feel. And in response, Marianne Williamson’s words, which hang written in my unsatisfactory handwriting from my bedroom call for my attention:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us…’’

  1. I am determined to make the most of where I am. For the most part, I am happy with the progress I am making. I am forming some good habits that I am proud of- I have to stop and commend myself. I am loving myself more and more as the days unfold. I am seeking inspiration. I am seeking to grow. I am sensing discomfort and allowing myself to feel it.
  2. One of my friends told me a few weeks ago that sometimes the best way to know if something is right for you is if it is happening. I can’t agree with her more. So for now, my life’s doors are open for every one of life’s visitors.
  3. I feel better now.



If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a ringing brass gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and I know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I parcel out all my possessions, and if I hand over my body in order that I will be burned, but do not have love, it benefits me nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous, it does not boast, it does not become conceited, it does not behave dishonorably, it is not selfish, it does not become angry, it does not keep a record of wrongs, it does not rejoice at unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But if there are prophecies, they will pass away. If there are tongues, they will cease. If there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but whenever the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I set aside the things of a child. For now we see through a mirror indirectly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know completely, just as I have also been completely known. And now these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. (LEB)

1 Corinthians 13

10 Notes For Creative Souls And Entrepreneurs


Priscilla Takondwa:

If you know me well, you have probably heard me shout it from the rooftops more than a few times about how my biggest rejections have been the most precious learning points that have, in turn, opened up some of the biggest opportunities I have had. On that note, I cannot say enough how much I agree with #6 on this list. #1, #2, #3, #4 and #8 also ring true with me!

Originally posted on The Journal:


I get a lot of messages like, ‘I wish I could find the confidence to write more, but English is not my first language…’or ‘I doubt that any publisher would be interested in my silly little story…’ Call me a dreaming fool but I have rarely thought that way. My life has been one of knocking on doors, entering if they are opened or climbing in through the window. If that doesn’t work I call up a carpenter to discuss how I can build my own door.

But I get it. Rejection is horrid and it is that fear of it that frightens people from moving forward. I get it and my ‘ballsiness’ is not from lack of fear of rejection, it is more from perspective.

I always put it this way:

I may produce crap, but there are people who produce even bigger crap than I do who…

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20 Lessons on My 20th Birthday


20 lessons I’ve learnt in life thus far.

1. Self-love. Probably one of the biggest ones I’ve learnt. Like many young girls, I let adolescence barge into my life and steal my self-assurance for a while. I let it crumble my resolve, and morph my opinions into what I thought others wanted to hear. I was good at putting on a facade, and letting people think I was so confident when in reality, I was terrified of facing the world. I have learnt to love myself, and do so ravishingly. I have learnt to dance to the beat of my drum, with no fear of who is looking. I have learnt that I am beautiful.

2. Friends. Treasure these. Love them. Spend time with them. Don’t let them forget that you care when you do.

On a drive home from school one afternoon years ago, my father recounted a friendship to me that had dwindled over time. A friend with whom he was inseparable. Gripping the steering-wheel loosely, he told me, he said, “You’ll lose friends. Friends you never thought you would lose. You’ll gain friends that you never saw coming. And sometimes, you’ll be at a strange place in between, and there, become good friends with YOU.”

3. Tolerance. I am learning, day by day, that tolerance means this: An acknowledgement that there is more than one way of existing, and that each is perfectly valid.

4. Forgiveness. I have learnt to do it, and to do knowing that in it, there is healing. And in it, there is a freed existence.

5. Good music. The soul thrives. The soul sways with the spirit of the music, and it thrives. Your heart synchronizes with beats of good music, and you dance wildly to its melody. You awaken. You refine your tastes. Listen mechanically, to each part of each beat, each ostinato. Hear meaning, and snap passionately when lyrics speak to your soul. Welcome each crescendo.

And listen with the ears of your spirit. Lose yourself to it and break forth into an untamed dance. Breathe it in and sing it loud.


6. Trust. Is good for swimming. Good for loving- others and yourself. Good for birthing hope in your soul, and rejuvenating when the weathers in your world beat you down. Trust the Master of the winds and the waves enough so that as violently as they toss you around, you rest assured that they will wash you on the shores of the land you are to journey.

7. Listening. Good for caring. Good for speaking intelligently. Open us your ears and mind and take words in. Give your offering; undivided attention. Acknowledge. Receive. Appreciate.

8. Quietness and Solitude. Thinking is spending quality time with yourself. Do it over lunch by a lake. Do it by candle-light. Do it curled up in bed when it’s raining outside.

9. Sadness. One of the most beautiful people I know is called Amy. Amy went on a quest to discover herself. She told us about her encounter with a tree, whose size she was in awe by. “To be this grand,” the tree told her, “I must reach up into the sky where it’s bright and beautiful. Where the sun shines, and the gentle breeze blows. But I must also dig deep into the ground, where it is damp, unpleasant, cold and lonely.”

Sadness is alright. Feel it, and notice it. And grow through it.

10. Childlikeness: Sometimes, the best therapy is looking out into the world with the eyes of a child. If you’ll give yourself the freedom to, your soul remembers how to dance like a child’s. Your heart remembers how to have a sturdy, unwavering faith with conviction. Your spirit can joy with wide-eyed wonder at the smallest of things. If you’ll let yourself free from the cages life’s trials put you in, and from the pessimism that they serve to you on a silver platter, life can be wonderful, even if only for a moment. Channel that inner child you have. Let her giggle endlessly. Let her hug big strong meaningful hugs. Let her play in the rain, and cry in the dark. Let her skip along through life every once in a while. It heals.

11. Beauty. IS skin deep. But it matters very much to fall in love with your physical beauty. To love your colour, to love your height, to love the wideness of your nose, and the thickness of your thighs. Love the dip in your back. LOVE, LOVE LOVE,  and let the flames of your love consume any doubt that you could ever have that you are beautiful

Inside, let your heart be a place where beauties intangible converge and make merry. Kindness, and love, acceptance, patience, laughter, hope, compassion, joy, and occasionally, forgiveness, as a guest. Let them linger and interact, and let some of them make love to each-other and birth new, beautiful qualities that only you have. This is what it means to be beautiful.

12. Kindness. Kindness is beautiful. And the world needs more of it. Dish it out and learn to take it with grace. Always, kindness is called for, and most times, it is undeserved. Do not wait to deserve it. And bestow it upon even those who deserve it least.

13. Patience. Equals maturity. Know when to hold your tongue. Pick your battles wisely. And when you do, listen more than you speak. Wait. Train yourself in patience, so that you hone the skill of knowing your time when it comes.

14. The mobility of life. Life keeps on going. You keep on growing. Moments keep on passing. No misery is too deep to climb out of and carry on. Life does, and as long as you have life, so should you.

15. Detours. Most are growth points. They may lead you into thick, scary forests with no paths to follow. But sweeping the branches aside usually leads you a more scenic trail that leads to greater things if you’ll keep going.

16. Love. Trust that you’re worth it. Trust that those who say they love you really do. Do not be afraid to feel. Do not be afraid to let your feelings show. Do not be afraid of loving, but mostly, do not be afraid of being loved.

17. God. Walk your walk. Speak to him, and listen intently for his speakings back. They are in his word. They are in His people. And sometimes, in people in general. Sometimes, it’s in small whispers to your soul. Listen. Keep your eyes peeled. Let your spirit grow, always.

18. Inadequacy. You matter. You are as capable as they tell you. They say it because they see it. It’s easy to worry that you will not live up to the person they see when they look at you. But you do. Every day, you find a way of doing it.

19. Dreams. Have them. And then have more. Open your mind’s door WIDE so that they walk in majestically. Offer them the best seat there and sit and have long, deep conversations with them over good tea. Listen intently to their tales of the lands they’ve traveled before they knocked. Ask them what they saw there. Ask them what tugged at their hearts as they traveled. Ask very good questions, and listen some more. Tell them your heart. If they choose to make your heart a home, offer them a beautiful room in your therein. Come home to them nightly. Go out on dates. Fall over and over in love with them every passing day. Tell them you love them. Do not be afraid of spending your life building them up. Do not be afraid of loving them deeply, or being loved back.

20. Gratitude. There is never a moment devoid of things to be thankful for. Today is no exception. Today, I am thankful. That my lungs still hunger for the air and draw it in with welcome. I am thankful that my heart feels- that it loves, that it hurts, that it fears, that it extends itself to those it’s drawn to. I am filled with gratitude for the people whose beauty I have the privilege to admire. Today, I am thankful for the gift of belief that they give me everyday, for on the lower ones, I open the gift and look inside and see what they see when they look at me. And just like that, the spring in my step bounces back. Today, I am thankful for life, and for the chance to remember that I am alive, and the very fact that I am means I matter. Today, I am thankful for opportunities to give, my love, my joy, my passions, my talents; to those who need them, and to those for whom they will be the most precious of gifts. Today, I am thankful for opporunity to travel- to see new worlds, cultures, and peoples, and to see the multi-facetedness of existence. Today, I am thankful for self-awareness- for the power of introspection, for the power of reflection, and the growth therein. Today, I am thankful for words, because when all else fails me, they always manage to tumble out and tell the story of my heart. Today, I am thankful for faith, for a hope in God, and a trust in his love. Today, I am thankful for joy, for it hides in the strangest of places, and I am giddy when I stumble across it. I am thankful for darkness, and sorrows, and storms that rage- they make the light brighter, the joy sweeter, and the sunny days warmer. They are also, in themselves, welcome, for I find myself grown each time I live through them. I am thankful for loves, known and unknown, received and unreturned- they make me aware of my heart’s conditions. I am grateful for resources, they show up when they are needed, and when they depart, I overflow with an assurance of their return. I am thankful for family- they taught me first what love looks like. I am thankful for the twenty years that I have lived, and I am thankful for the zeal I have to truly come alive in those that I have left.

Happy Birthday, Priscilla :)


The Tragedy of Emma’s Speech (And The Genius of Jack Gleeson’s)


Nothing captures the world’s short attention span to a cause quite like a fair-faced celebrity’s endorsement. Emma Watson’s speech as the Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women is no exception. Described by critics, bloggers, multinational news channels and, of course, fellow celebrities in various ways as a ‘game-changer’, Watson’s speech has torn down the gates and brought in a tempestuous flood of voices into the conversation on feminism.

There are, however, some very fundamental issues to be paid attention to wherever such a move is made by a public figure. The first is the issue of why people are talking. Of the several articles I have read about her speech, there wasn’t a single one that broke Emma’s speech down and critically talked through the issues that it raised, bringing them to light. Most of the reports on the infamous speech are much more concerned with the speaker, her eloquence, the surprise that it was that she has such a good head on her shoulders, comparisons of her to her peers in the celebrity circles, as well as fears of this speech perpetrating hate-filled mail filling her inboxes! To many, it was not an issues of hearing ideas that they are keen to dig deeper in and explore, it was a matter of being impressed by a young, apparently virtuous celebrity doing something philanthropic. Mistaking the praise that we have for an individual because of their position in society with strides taken for the cause that they stand for is something to be extremely wary of.

Secondly, in a world where a movement’s success is best measured by the level of attention the media and social media pays to it, we need to take care to look beyond all the noise being made about the impact of Emma’s speech, and look more critically to quantitative and qualitative proof of the progress of that impact with regards to conversations about and moves towards gender equality. Media’s attention to Emma Watson’s speech is not to become an indication to us of a victory for feminists everywhere. Although it is in itself a very valid indication of conversations beginning, it is not an indication of progress for women. When the very same media that would no sooner to spread the news of a female celebrity’s nude photos leaking, or publish articles in which they mock and publicly shame another for putting on a few kilograms, it is highly problematic that their praises of Watson’s speech and their deeming it ‘ground-breaking’ becomes synonymous with triumph for women everywhere. The media is abuzz, but that buzz is nothing but tabloid chit-chat that will soon fade into oblivion. Conversations and actions are what will truly deem the speech successful, not the amount of attention it receives.

Has Emma Waston’s speech, then, really changed anything besides what the media is talking about? Is the world’s perception of the need for equality changed in any way? These are a few of the questions that we need to seriously ask, because at the end of the day, the importance we place on it should be because of its contents, and not because of its speaker.

When Emma Watson made this speech, she made her presence known in the space occupied by the feminist movement. Finding herself in this space was akin to entering a large room where people are  communicating shouts, each trapped in their own echo-chamber, so that few listen to each-other, and even less are accommodating of any perspective, view, or definition that differs or dares to differ from theirs. Those who do not enter the room peer from the windows and snicker haughtily at the goings-on within. Some of those who do enter the conversation do so on the defensive, ready to catch any assertion made in the favour of feminism as it flies, snap it into cleanly in half, and toss it into the wild fire of their fury. Others, like Emma Watson emerge from the crowd and speak up with the goal of unifying the two fronts, calling a cease-fire and most importantly, inviting the bystanders in to join in. Many have done this before Emma Watson in the past, but the world is suddenly drawn to her speech as though she reinvented the wheel.

While I am of the opinion that Emma’s speech, as any other voice out there, is welcome to join and add to the conversation, I do not agree that it should be deemed as ‘ground-breaking’ because she is one of so many that have articulately spoken up about feminism and its importance. A good example is that by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an award-winning Nigerian novelist who is very accomplished in her own right, but whose accolades seem to hold mere drops in comparison to the water that Emma Watson’s do in the eyes of the media. In discussing the issue, Chimamanda Adichie delivers an eighteen minute talk that is both humorous, as well as thoughtfully constructed to draw listeners in to all the reasons why feminism matters in the world today, and touches on the issues of society’s allergy to the movement. Adichie’s speech started off with a few thousand views on YouTube, but soon started to capture people’s attention. While less celebrated, it has been so impactful that by popular demand, it was adapted into a short book, and has sparked discussion all over the world. An excerpt of the talk was also slotted into one of Beyonce’s hit songs, Flawless, widely broadening its audience. While its new-found fame is great, it is not and has never been an indication of how impactful her speech was. Rather, it is a consequence of how impactful it was. This is only one example, but there are many others of men and women across the world who have spoken up about feminism.

No matter how intelligent Emma Watson is, by virtue of her fame, she has been reduced down to her image, and this renders her commoditized- she, and everything she says, are both consumable as well as disposable. Sadly, this is a consequence of the celebrity status, and her speech is not exempted. (Watch GOT’s Jack Gleeson’s talk about the plight of celebrity below. [start at 23:00) We live in a world where the importance of what you say is determined by your anonymity or your recognition, and even then, the importance is only fleeting. In the world of celebrity, what’s hot now is forgotten as quickly as it came. This, in my opinion is what is most tragic about Emma Watson’s speech.

A Movie Called “Africa”: Angelina Jolie, Popcorn and Elephants


Guess what, everyone?!!!!!! There is finally a movie being made on Africa. FINALLY, somebody has the sense to make a movie about this mysterious land of suffering.

I was SO excited when I heard that once more, Africa’s story is being told to the world through the beautiful art of film-making. And who better to tell Africa’s story than the brilliant, gorgeous philanthropic, and oh-so-talented Angelina Jolie, whose latest “breathtaking” performance in Maleficent was so moving that it had me sitting through a whole 45 minutes of the spin-off of the fairy-tale which I love so very much (thanks, western books which I grew up reading). Angelina Jolie is a saint from heaven for stepping in to tell this story and for having “felt a deep connection for Africa and its culture for much of [her] life”.  I absolutely cannot wait.

See how much she loves Africa?

The movie “Africa” is based on the story of Richard Leakey, a white Kenyan conservationist who “is drawn in to a violent conflict with elephant poachers.” Let’s pause here for a moment and just savour these brilliantly chosen words which are so often used in the description of Africa. “Violent”. “Conflict”.

“Elephants”. (Feel free to replace with African animal of your choice)

The man of the moment, Richard Leakey

Isn’t it brilliant that this story, “Africa” is one of conflict, violence and…elephants? And isn’t it brilliant that this movie, which is based in the East African country of Kenya, is given the title “Africa?” Doesn’t it just put a huge smile (I’m talking really huge- the kind where you feel like the veins in your neck will burst) on your face to know that a continent with people in over 50 countries with thousands of languages, tribes, and tongues is constantly reduced to a place of violence, conflict, and…elephants. It is so absolutely enthralling that if a movie about Africa is not about violence or conflict, it is about elephants! (or any other African animal of your choice). In this case it’s both! Such fun this is!

I am especially looking forward to watching Africans once more depicted as barbaric, ferocious beasts with no regard for anything but themselves and committing heinous crimes. Get the popcorn ready, people.

I am by no means saying poaching is not a big problem. It is terrible that this activity is wiping out entire species of animals as we speak. It is a problem that we have been grappling with for decades, and is still so prevalent that it has been found to generate profits of over $10 billion annually from Africa alone. But it is hardly an African problem. A large number of poached material is smuggled out by organised international criminal groups. Hear that? INTERNATIONAL criminal groups. We forget that where there is the supply of elephant tusks, there very well is demand. It’s elementary economics. With that alone in mind (although I am certain there are many other factors to consider) it is more far-fetched than water in a village “in Africa” (-_-) to title this movie, that is more about the Africanness of poaching than it is of…Africa, “Africa”. How is this the story of Africa in its entirety.

What I do have a problem with is that I am still waiting to watch a movie about Africa that is produced in the west which does not perpetuate the negative preconceptions that the world has of the African continent. And I am not talking about us “not all living in huts” or “not all speaking languages with clicks” as is the usual defense of many Africans when they are faced with ignorance (which I have come to find highly problematic, because it strips those Africans who do live in huts and have tongue-acrobatics in their languages of their dignity and deems theirs a lesser existence nobody wants to identify with). I am talking about zooming into the negative of the African continent, and playing upon these negatives each time that discourse about the continent takes place.

The truth is, Africa is a continent with many countries with many of their own individual, and some of their own collective problems. But it is incredibly inaccurate and unfair to keep telling and retelling only the tales of violence and strife. It is incredibly unfair that the world’s view of us becomes one that constantly shows us as hopeless and without agency, or as mindless people that kill one another (or our dear, dear elephants) all the time. It does not paint us as people who are capable of connecting, of caring, of dreaming, of fearing, of loving- of being human, and having basic human emotions. (As Chimamanda Adichie so eloquently puts it)

Do not get me wrong: I am not saying that we should start producing movies that depict Africans as happy people who dance and sing all the time  and have no worries at all, and ride their elephants into the sunset. Or start painting Africa only as a tech-hub where development is at its peak. What we need is a balance of the rhetorics of the continent. I know it’s a tiresome conversation that seems to still be unheard. I get it.

I get tired of fighting this battle. I get tired of ignorance. I get tired of being asked how I got to America. I get tired of being asked how I speak English so well, and being told I should be proud I do, when I honestly had no choice but to learn it (colonialism, you da real MVP). I get tired of sitting down to watch movies like “Blended”, in which the protagonists scream about going to such a strangely depicted “Africa”. And I get tired of watching others telling our stories, and us complaining about how inaccurate they pan out to be, yet we do not do as good a job of supporting artists and writers and filmmakers when they try to tell our stories to the world. We settle for buying pirated versions of our musicians’ music, and burnt copies of DVDs of films that could be better if their returns were good enough to make good investment in them worth it.

I get so. Friggin. Tired.

But it has got to be done. Each narrow-minded remark has got to be returned with a small dose of education heavily doused in as much patience and grace as I can manage. Each movie has got to be called out. Each battle has got to be fought.

If for nothing else, then for the dignity of all Africans, whoever they may be, however they may speak, and whatever house they may or may not live in.

(I love conversation, and would love to hear more views on this.)

wine glass paintigns

Cheers To The Freaking Weakened


She cannot fully pour herself into the ready glasses of those who wish to drink deep. It is a peculiar sort of fear; that to some, the taste will be unwelcome, and that they will spit her out with faces contorted by repulsion. She is afraid that all of her is a bit of an overdose- a strong drink capable of plunging many into drunken stupor. She fears, for in the past, the little that she poured for them was left half-drunk, some glasses toppled over so that it spilled onto the grimy counter-tops. Some sitting idly at the bar, ready to be discarded. Perhaps those who did not drink up did so because they were connoisseurs- those who know a cheap drink when they taste it. Or maybe they were amateurs, and the blend of flavours their taste-buds encountered was one too complex for them so sit and linger on.

She wonders if the fault lies with the drinker, or with the drink.

She thinks it best to mix- after all, hard liquor must be paired with a mixer. She dreads what would happen if she gave herself – pure and undiluted, without cola and lemonade to ease the burn as she slithers down their hearts’ throats. With time, she has put in less of who she is, and more of what she thinks is good for them. More of what tastes good, and flirts with the tongue’s senses. Less of what tastes bitter and toys with the soul. The less of her there is, the less of her is rejected in those barely-touched drinks. The less of her there is, the less she can be tasted- truly tasted- by those who are experts at swirling drinks around their tongues and peeling back the layers. These are the ones she fears most. These, who sip and sip stretch out their glasses for more.

The connoisseur does not drink the wine- they taste its secrets.

- Salvador Dali

She fears that they will grow addicted- in the most fatal way- and that they will crave more and more of her until she can give them no more. Until she becomes akin to a well whose cool, dark waters are so deep that they cannot be drawn out any longer. She fears that she will wonder if they really love her, or are too drunk to care.

She is a universe of paradoxes. She thirsts to drink deep of them, but fails to serve herself completely. And when she does, she wonders if the fault lies with the drinker, or with the drink.

Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.

- Paulo Coelho, Brida

Learning French, Facing Stereotypes, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and Reflecting on My Prejudices


I am on a quest, more serious than I have been before, to learn French. I remember the very first time that I sat in a classroom to learn this language, which I had very little use for growing up in anglophone Malawi. The first time I started to learn it, I was 7 years old. I went on learning it for the next 11 years. And still, I cannot speak it well.

So you see, my urgency now is fed by the fact that if I never become fluent in this language, I will have learnt it all in vain. I have been thinking, though, about why it has taken me so long to learn. I am reading “Weep Not, Child” bu Ngugi Wa Thiongo. A scene just jumped up at me, I’m which the young protagonist, Njoroge, and his fellow classmates, are lashed by their young teacher for forgetting how to greet in English. The scene greatly mirrored my own experience in learning English. I remember small moments, like when I was hit twice on my small palm at about 5 years old for writing the small letter “A” backwards. I also remember the strict “No Chichewa” rules that governed our speech throughout primary school. Prefects would police the school premises, their ears like sharply tuned antennae that listened for the slightest hint of vernacular spoken at school. I remember watching beatings in front of Monday Morning assembly.

“Samu ovu you childreni! [Some of you children]” Yelled the female teacher in a high-pitched nasal voice, “Havu beeni speaking’i Chichewa ati skulu [Have been speaking Chichewa at school]!” She screamed in her Bad English. She proceeded to call up a prefect, who, in their neat uniform and well-polished school shoes, self-consciously read out the list of offenders. They went up before the school, where they were each given three lashes which were meant to serve as warning to the rest of us of the dangers of speaking Chichewa.

They say you learn language through immersion, and I suppose such was true for me. I was immersed in a new world of English, in which my guides were stick-wielding Teachers whose enunciation was greatly burdened by the weight of their mother tongues on it. It was later, as I grew, that I learned to recognize the difference in their pronunciations, the more I watched television. Eventually, as a result of a rather aggressive approach at school, I spoke English, thought in English, wrote in English, and took pride in the fact.

More remarkably, however, I learnt to loathe my language, and treat it as inferior. So much that I sometimes took saddening pride in fumbling slowly through my father’s Chichewa Bible. So much that I was glad that my first name was Priscilla, an English name, and not Takondwa. I learnt to revoke a part of who I was, and take on an identity that was supposed to make me more valid in the world’s eyes.  I see it with a lot of young people from my country, who openly brag about how hard it is for them to speak in Chichewa. Somehow, some seeds have been scattered in some people my country, especially, so that our language and heritage is seen as unrefined raw material that needs to be transformed into something civilized.

I will be lying if I say that the bitter fruit of all these seeds does not still sprout out in my mind sometimes. I find myself regarding those with English as their second language as less learned. Just a couple of weeks ago, a young Mexican man in my Economics class introduced himself in some of the most broken English I have heard in my life, which he spoke with a strange confidence. I caught myself pitying him, and felt a deeper shame than I have felt in a long time.

Returning to America, I came with an awareness of all the ignorance I will once more have to face. (This, I realize, is a prejudiced position that I have assumed, stemming from my experience and those of many others which has, on many occasions, led me to generalize on a lot of things but which, I acknowledge, is not reflective of all Americans) I have been mentally ready for narrow minded perceptions of who I must be because of my skin color, and because of where I am from. I guess who I am and where I am from have been the victims of so many preconceptions so that I forget that I, too, am capable of such. As demonstrated from my unwarranted pity for this young man, who I do not know anything about besides that he is Mexican, and is taking economics.

It breaks my heart, that years of having my mother tongue bow down to English succeeded at making me think of it as superior, of it being synonymous with being educated (and even then only in the formal sense, which I was taught to view as the ONLY valid way to being educated). But these are conditionings that I can only notice, and be thankful I notice, because having them at the fore of my mind allows me to work on them.

English is not superior. Nor is it inferior. One thing that I am learning is that embracing diversity means this: the ability to come to terms with the fact that there are more ways than mine to exist in this world, and that they are all equally valid.

For now, French is my redemption. It is my therapy. In learning it, I am like a child once more. I am battling against feeling unintelligent, since learning a language the first time was etched into my subconscious as being intelligent. A bulk of what I say is broken, and I can see my professor suppress the sheer urge to cringe when I attempt to explain something to her. I cannot speak this language yet, and just like those who cannot speak English, or Chichewa, or Kiswahili, or isiZulu, and all those who can, I remain valid. I remind myself that.

Nostalgia, Schmaltz and Ease: Bus ya kwa Jali imakoma kumathelero


There is a song that used to boom rustily from the radioes when I was a little girl. I can’t remember any of the verses, but the chorus sang (over and over) “Bus ya kwa Jali imakoma kumathelero.” [Jali's busride feels the best when it's about to end]. I recall asking my mother what it meant. She was cutting something on the old, wooden chopping board in the kitchen. Whatever she was cutting was tough. That, or she was using a blunt knife, for her hand moved back and forth swiftly with the knife in an effort to slice through.

“Every good thing feels the best when it’s about to come to an end,” she said simply.
I remember marveling at this simple fact, and the level of truth I saw in it. Mornings were the first thing I thought of. It was June. The weather was cold, and the most appealing places to be were by the stove as my mother cooked, or between my blankets in The Girls’ Bedroom.

In the mornings, my older sister Mphatso would wake up and steal away from the bedroom to take a bath. I would stir in my bed, especially enjoying my last minutes of sleep. Moments later, she would return, and tell me it was my turn to go and have a bath. In that instance, sleep was the sweetest, and my body was curled up, awash in a new reluctance. I stayed there for moments longer, permitting myself to fall only half asleep, that state in which I could smell Mphatso’s glycerine-diluted cocoa-butter lotion, and could hear her hum as she oiled her limbs. The sound of her palms rubbing together swiftly to spread the liquid over her short, light thighs sounded just like that of my crisp, warm duvet as I shifted in my sleep. Other times, like quiet waves, coming and going breezily in the warm morning sun.

“Wake up!” My eyes fluttered open. She was fully dressed now, her neatly ironed uniform tucked into the dark-green skirt that fell right below her knees as she peered down at me momentarily. The morning sun poured in, blinding, and the smell of cocoa-butter awakened my senses. I got up, my limbs feeling as heavy as large boulders, weighed down by the turmoil of having to wake up. It was true, Jali’s bus ride WAS better at the end.

I could relate this to lots of other things, too. Like the times when my cousins from Lilongwe came over. They came once a year. When they first arrived, there was an expected awkwardness that walked into the house as they did. 

My sister and I made our way to the living-room well after they had, walking extra slowly the closer we got to the open door, whispering nervously to each-other. The smell of visitors emanated from the sitting room. Once we got close, we whispered louder and began shoving each-other savagely, neither of us willing to face the awkwardness first.

Auntie and Uncle sat down on the fat sofas after we had hauled all of their luggage to bed in the guest room (on which my mother had laid the best linens in the house). Emily and Pempho sat down quietly, often squeezed weirdly between their parents on the sofa (until they grew too big, that is). We eyed them, our new playmates, with hungry eyes, minds already plotting the different games we would teach them. 

A week later, our cousins were driving out of our compound, almost breaking their necks to look back at us and wave. Afternoons of frenzied play, scraped knees, dismembering poor grasshoppers who we forced to nibble on blades of grass filled our recent memories. Evenings of getting scolded by our mothers for playing out in the cold too late,  without slippers, or with stones, too close to windows. We waved as they drove out.

The bus ya kwa Jali was, indeed, sweeter at the end. 

I’ve been quite cool about leaving home and starting college, and as the days draw nearer, this is one bus ride I’m savoring. This was going to be a post filled with my longings and bittersweet feelings, and then I remembered a wisdom a dear friend of mine told me the other day. It’s a simple wisdom, it’s depth is not foreboding: This, like everything in life, comes and it passes. My year home is, my life as a teenager soon is, and college, well it’s coming soon but it, too, will pass. 

So here’s to living in the now. Here’s to enjoying the bus-ride ya kwa Jali, as well us enjoying the moments my feet touch the ground and it’s time to walk. Here’s to smelling the flowers, tripping over my shoelaces, breathing the clean air, and getting to cliffs from which the view of the sunset is breathtaking.