Saturday, September 20, 2014

Day 2, Kistrech International Poetry Festival, Kenya: Visit to Kisii village

Day 2, Kistrech International Poetry Festival, Kenya: Visit to Kisii village  

Kissi, Kenya, August 1, 2014

Althea Romeo-Mark and Mariam Mpaata Melloney (Uganda)

Jenny Maria Tunedal and her husband  Nicolas (Sweden),  Tendai Maduwu (Zimbabwe)

After an enlightening and entertaining evening of presentations and poetry readings, some find time to relax and chat in the dining room at Dados Hotel, the main venue of Kistrech International Poetry Festival in Kisii.

In the morning, a simple breakfast is all we have time for as we prepare for our second day of presentations. We learn that we have been moved to a new conference room.

Godpower Obodio (Nigeria)
Godpower Obodio (Nigeria) is first to give his talk,  Ijàlà—Of Hunters and Song Birds, which explores the use of poetry and song by hunters in Nigeria’s Yoruba culture. “Literature in the Yoruba culture does not appear in one form and is a very complex art form made of a ‘tripartite relationship between art, the artist and society.’….Some of the major categories are the epic, hunter chants, bridal chants, testimonies, witch and wizard tales, praise poetry….which are tonally rather than subject based….There are many Ijàlà poems about various birds and animals which the hunters hunt in the forest or in a savannah of Western Nigeria. An Ijàlà artist chants these poems usually when he is in the company of fellow hunters and the occasion calls for reminiscences about the game birds and game animals.”

Godpower Obodio's (Nigeria) informative presentation is followed by Mariam Melloney Mpaata’s (Uganda) poetry reading. 

Here is an excerpt from “I Refuse."

I Refuse

I refuse to be held
I refuse to stay
I refuse to show my ways….

I refuse to be held responsible
for days gone bad….

I hesitate to awaken this
drunken dog
that might feed on my bony cheeks…

I refuse to drink of lies….
that keep me awake at

I refuse non motion
I refuse non dévotion
I refuse what I do not dream
I refuse to stay
But I prefer to go
Forward, a pure and true destiny.

The Language of Music and Poetry and Conceptual Blending is presented next by Dr. Evans Gesura Mecha (Kenya), a lecturer at Kisii University who is also a poet and linguist. 
His paper examines how the relationship between music/song and poetry is dealt with in the disciplines of literature and linguistics. 

It investigates how the language of music relates to that of poetry from a linguistic view especially as explored in generative views of the possibility of conceptually blending the two.

We pass up on our tea break because of extended discussions that follow each presentation. It reminds me of an essay I read on the elasticity of time in various cultures. We have become very flexible with our scheduled programs since day one.

 Godpower Obodio (Nigeria), takes the podium to read his poems.


Your name walks in sleepless
corridors of my memory,

Dark corners, where its footsteps
hurtles fast

Kseniya come with your sunshine,
the glow from your face

But all your name brings
is Armageddon,

Shattering, as it imprisons, my being
in this cavern of loneliness

Kseniya, Kse-ni-ya, Kseee-niii-yaaa!

Your name perches on my lips
 like a Russian kiss.

It smells like cinnamon, your name,
Kseniya, Kseniya,

Is the melody of the thrush throats
of the woods,

Dancing and swaying to the music
 of the wind.

The bamboos, nude and tall
scream your name in silence

Do you not hear how they
Help me call,


Next up to read her poems is Jenny Maria Tunedal (Sweden). Below is a continuation of her untitled poem started in blog 2.

One death is as good as the other
You don’t have to say that I am right
You can’t do anything for anybody
You run into a house on fire
Without somebody
If you die it is for nothing

There is no other world
The wild dogs are eating the dead
There is no meaning
There is the time it takes to die
Till I can’t do us part

You are light
The palm trees are black
The water is black

It is only flesh

To the border
To order
This one and only order

It is quiet, silent
Some of them will come here
I will remind them

Everything is a lie
They want you to die
They want you in their dream
Deceived, deceased

Aggrey Omboki Monayo, a vivacious, Kenyan poet and English teacher, next entertains us with his poems. A line from one of his poems remains stuck in my head. “Make way for progress before it deletes you from the file called life.”

One of the poems he reads is called “Walking Home at Sunset.” Here is an excerpt.

Walking Home at Sunset

Boulders and pebbles run to a dust
Worn fine by ages of man’s persistence
Laboring forth a comfortable sojourn
Around the slopes of the hilly country
Now cascaded with once mighty steams
Aforetimes home to a bounty of fish
The playful children took long to catch
Angering anxious mothers back home
Laughter blends with cheerful shouts
Maidens throw at their lucky lovers
Soon to be young, stressed village fathers
As they tread homewards, proud
To graze cows and push many jerry can
Of lifelong giving water on wheelbarrows
Stuff any girl’s mother would smile at.

The Head of the English Department then treats us to tradional oral, Swahilli poems. 

Unfortunately, I have no translations of these very entertaining poems to share with you.

Obediah Michael Smith (Bahamas), who had presented a paper “Out of What is Painful, What is Beautiful” on day one of the Festival, reads next. Below is “Pietà,” one of several poems he read.


speaks for itself and has already spoken
mother weeping with her son in arm,

is he breathing still, with his head back
with his mouth wide

is he lifeless or just lifeless looking

is he wounded or has his life in his teens
been snatched away

what lead to this day
way to or from the cross

why is the mother alone with her burden
this far away
as well as this long after
she could carry him like a nut in a shell
in the safety of her womb

limbs to strike and kick and kill
arms too short to box with God

in a bout with the devil, unable to win
mother with her loser
with her loss in her arms
asking heaven, why

weeping, brokenhearted
and will not be consoled
certainly not this evening

 Last to read his poems, before we depart to spend the afternoon in a Kisii village, is Dr. Animasuan Kayode Adebanji who reads a poem in Nigerian Pidgin English. 

It requires audience participation and we chime in with my phonetically spelled Pidgin English reponse. 

“See me, see wahala which kin wahala, de baby come de hala,” when called to repeat at interval. It is great fun and lightens the atmosphere as it stirs much laughter as the narrative is revealed.Dr. Animasuan, please pardon me if I didn’t get it exactly right

The poem is a narrative about a man who commits suicide because his life is unbearable. He hopes to be reincarnated and return to a better life.  But he is reborn into misery, and  he, as a baby, recognizing this. He cries constantly. His parents do all they can to pacify him.They bring herbalists, prophets and a priest but they are unsuccessful in putting an end to the crying. They remain clueless as to why he cries relentlessly.

The greatly anticipated trip to a Kisii village is before us and I am looking forward to it. I think of articles on culture shock, polite behavior and body language in other cultures that I have discussed with my students.  Or, articles entitled, “When in Rome, do as the Roman’s do.” 

This special experience will be one of the highlights of the Kistrech International Poetry Festival. We pile onto the Kisii University bus and are transported to the village.

Upon our arrival, we are greeted by village women dancing and singing and we are led dancing to their compound. 

The children are excited to see us too. Some are dressed in their Sunday best. Michael Obediah Smith (Bahamas) shares out some sweets and they are delighted.

Some women entertain us with song and dance while others organize tables and chairs and we are soon seated and comfortable and ready for more cultural entertainment.

They prepare traditional snacks of roasted sweet potatoes and a variety of bananas in large plastic bowls. 

Many are waiting in great anticipation for this very filling snack. 

Some of us snap photos of this very unique event. 
It is my first trip to Kenya and east Africa, so I am very busy taking photos, too.  I want to capture this very special memory.

Snacking is preceded by hand-washing and prayers. This fantastic ritual promotes good hygiene.  

The women offer us a millet drink, a kind of light porridge. I am glad that we will walk to the village after this heavy snack.  We will not be hungry again until supper which is usually eaten around 7:00 p.m. at the hotel.

Dessert, in the form of sugar cane, is placed before us. It is sweet, juicy and delicious.  I had not eaten sugarcane for years, at least not on any of my visits to the Caribbean. Shame on me for ignoring my food roots.

A Kisii university lecturer shows us the art of peeling and eating sugar cane. 
Coming from the Caribbean none of the snacks are strange to me. I know how to peel and eat sugarcane.  I feel at home.

The millet drink, however, is a new experience. The drink has a subtle, sweet pleasant taste. 
I am happy it is not fresh cow’s blood as I have seen in documentaries. 
These are Kisii people; not the Massai.

After the snack, and more entertainment led by a traditional poet, we follow the villagers along a pictureques dirt road. 
I also take notice of the clay colored earth from which brick structures, common in this area, are made.

The women carry the chairs that we will sit on.

We pass locals at work near their homes before we enter a nearby forest.  Here is a local woman drying millet.

Poets, university students and professors are greeted enthusiastically by villagers.

As soon as we are seated and settled, (the villagers, old and young, sit on the grass), we are introduced to a traditional beverage, a very mild alcoholic millet drink.

Here, the men share the drink from a earthen-ware container.

I, however, get to drink from a special container. How lucky am I.

Traditional poetry is performed and the audience responds very expressively to poems recited and tales being told.

Kisii village women dancing

Respectable members of the village speak to the crowd and entertainment begins with a traditional instrument. This is followed by more singing and dancing. I am able the capture many faces of joy with my camera.

The videos below show both male and female tradional dancers.



Traditional music player

Kisii men doing a traditional dance.

We are enthralled by this special experience, introduce ourselves to the villagers and thank them for their offerings and entertainment.

Old and young pose for photos. I wonder if they know that they are part of the Kistrech International Poetry Festival history.

Journeys to and from events and cities allow me time to photograph ordinary people in their environment.

All good things must come to an end. Kisii villagers bid us goodbye. We are gracious for their generousity.

I am inspired by the Kisii villagers, with ready smiles on their faces, to write a poem.

Back in Your Arms Again
(tribute to Kisi villagers)

Every day you walk in dirt and dust
live on the land, live in the warmth
of earth’s bosom, smell daily
her dewy breath as you dig
into her fertile sod.

You share the joys of earth’s giving.
They are the fruit of the seed,
The fruit of the roots you planted.
They are placed before us,
strangers on your soil.

You give us all you have--
plump, roasted, sweet potatoes,
bananas, long, fat, and short,
succulent sugarcane stalks
and cups of millet porridge.

You dance and sing for us.
The joy you spread is measured
by the bounce in our walk,
the loudness of our laughter.

What we have seen,
what you have shared,
what we take with us
is more than postcard memories.

Another life can be lived
if we allow ourselves
to take part in it.
It does not have to be mere fantasy.

We must become like a snake,
shed this modern skin and
begin as a newly baptized child.

We are earth’s children
strayed far from home.
Ready or not, she will
welcome us back.

© Althea Romeo-Mark 08.08.2014

After supper, poetry readings by students, Flow Fulani, Fidel Machel and Dennis Manduku and others, take place.

Before we close for the night, Michael Obediah Smith presents Christopher Okemwa, the organizer of the Kistrech International Poetry Festival, Kisii, Kenya, with his recently published book of poems, You Tube Wives or Stepping Stones.

We go to bed with today’s extraordinary experience of the offerings of humble villagers, word, song and music rewinding in our heads.