Thursday, January 29, 2015

Kistrech Poetry Festival, Kisii, Kenya, 2014, last installment

Kistrech Poetry Festival, Kisii, Kenya, Day 4, Sunday, August 4, 2014

This last installment on Kistrech Poetry Festival is dedicated to Nigerian, guest poet and friend, Prof. Animasuan Kayode Adebanji. Professor Kayode was not only a poet, but an educator, filmmaker and actor. He died unexpectedly at his home in Nigeria on November 10th, 2014. His plan for publishing a book of essays about the Kistrech Poetry Festival as well as executing film projects were those of a man not thinking about permanent retirement from this world. His sudden departure shocked us all and left us speechless. While watching a film after dinner, he was called to play a permanent role in the world of shadows.

Prof. Animasuan Kayode Adebanji. 

Departure to Nairobi

After a hectic four days in Kisi, we, the guest poets at the 2nd. Kistrech Poetry festival, scrap our plan to visit Lake Nakuru National park or Massai Mara. We conclude that rising at 4:00 a.m. to watch the animals in their habitat during the morning and following that with a nine hour drive to Nairobi, would be too exhausting.
We depart to Nairobi at 11:00 a.m. and along the way we make two stops, the first, for a “short” or “long call,” polite Kenyan English for our equally polite English “number one and number two.” After walking through an alley, the toilets are discovered.

The second stop is made to have a late lunch. The crowded restaurant is very large and is obviously a popular place with truckers and passengers in transit. The menu advertising the local food is up on a large blackboard for everyone to see. Since we have no idea what is on offer, we go over to see the and point at what we want. 

There is the usual greens, ugali  (maize, white cornmeal), rice, and meat (beef, mutton, chicken) and sukuma wiki (kale or collard greens) red beans,, githeri (a mixture of beans and maize, matah ( mixture of beans with mashed potatoes)and chapatti.

I buy two large avocadoes as the taste for them had long been lingering in my mouth. I was first tempted to buy some when vendors had surrounded our transport, the University of Kisi bus,  outside Kisii Town. 

A young woman with a basin filled with avocados had offered to sell me the whole basin for two shillings.  But we were leaving Kisii and I had no bag to put them in.

So now, good luck has found me. I cut the avocados in four quarters and share them with my new poet friends. Soon it was time to pay and leave.

We pass roads where baboons line the road and embankments searching for food. We slow down to take pictures, being careful not to interfere with the flow of traffic. Someone flings a banana at a baboon.  I am able to capture it with my camera as it devours the fruit.

Expansive mountain ranges are soon upon us. And we ask the driver to slow down and park so we can admire the beauty and inhale the cool air. There are men and women selling sheep skin and souvenirs. 

I capture the scene on video. 

A insistent vendor persuades me to buy a souvenir of the African continent made of soap stone.

We climb back into the car to continue our journey. It is a few more hours before the dusty outskirts of Nairobi appears. Despite it being Sunday, the roadsides are filled with vendors and shoppers.

Arrival in Nairobi

Nairobi /naɪˈroʊbi/ is the capital and largest city of Kenya. The city and its surrounding area also form the Nairobi County. The name "Nairobi" comes from the Maasai phrase Enkare Nyrobi, which translates to "cold water". The phrase is also the Maasai name of the Nairobi river, which in turn lent its name to the city. However, it is popularly known as the "Green City in the Sun" and is surrounded by several expanding villa suburbs.

[2] Inhabitants of Nairobi are called Nairobians, and the city is governed by the County Government of Nairobi. Nairobi is the most populous city in eastern Africa, with a current estimated population of about 3 million.[1]According to the 2009 Census, in the administrative area of Nairobi, 3,138,295 inhabitants lived within 696 km2(269 sq mi).[7] Nairobi is currently the 14th largest city in Africa, including the population of its suburbs.

Entering Nairobi

Nairobi is a city congested with people, traffic jams, dust and gasoline fumes. The Kisii University bus driver, after stopping at the wrong destination, drops off Tendai Maduwa who is greeted by his new hosts. 

The rest of us are dropped off at the Meridian Hotel, where we, European poets, are booked into rooms for a night or two. The other poets from Nigeria and Uganda are taken to their destinations as well.

We had left poet, Michael Obediah Smith in Kisii, where he would begin a three month African tour. And Godpower Oboido had left earlier to fulfill another obligation in Kenya.

A Day in Nairobi Monday, August 5, 2014-

Jenny, Tendai, and Nicolas

After a good night’s sleep, Jenny Tunedal, her husband Nicolas, Laus Strandby and I have breakfast. I get my laptop sorted after buying an adapter at a nearby shop. The laptop charged, I am finally able to talk with family and friends, and inquire about me new granddaughter, Zöe

We are met by Kenyan poet, Amos Tabalia who arrives after 11:00 a.m. to start a planned tour of the Nairobi Museum of Natural History. Amos also offers us the opportunity to see the poorest and the richest areas of Nairobi but our time is so short, we have to pass the opportunity up. We learn that Erling Kittelsen is not well and would not be joining us. 

We (Jenny Tunedal, her husband Nicolas, Laus Strandby and I) walk to the museum and learn on the way that we have to be alert crossing the streets because, although there are traffic lights, they are ignored by drivers. Amos explains that the lights had had a lot of technical problems and had broken down so often, nobody paid them attention. So we take our chance crossing the road like the rest of the Nairobi population.

The numerous construction sites and dusty sidewalk in middle-class area reflect a rapidly expanding Nairobi City,

We follow Amos along a once beautiful park, and wend our way to the museum. We are checked by security. One realizes that the frequent security checks, even at hotels, is due to the terrorist attacks that have taken place in Nairobi and eastern areas of the country.

We start with a collection of gourds collected from different regions in Kenya, move on to an exhibition of large mammals, then birds.

Kenya is home to one of the largest number of bird species in the world. There are over 1,300 hundred species to look at. 

Next, we look at the stages of the evolution of man and see Lucy’s skeleton that was discovered by Leaky. Dated to be more than three millions years old, she is the oldest hominid skeleton in Africa. After that, we visit an exhibition of Kenya’s political, social and cultural history.

After a few hours in the museum we are dying for a break, but first decide to visit the souvenir shop where we make a few purchases.  Then we have snacks and drinks before going to see an exhibition of snakes.  On our way out, we pause to take photos.

Klaus has to rush back to the hotel. His flight leaves at 10:00 p.m. and he wishes to leave for the airport at 5:00. The 5:00 o’clock rush over guarantees massive traffics jams.  We bid him goodbye as he jumps into a taxi.

Our walk back to the hotel is unpleasant for me as dust burns my eyes and the petrol fumes, sucking up the air, is stifling. I regret not having a mask to cover my nose.

Back at the hotel, Erling Kittelsen is still not well, so Jenny Tunedal, her husband, Nicolas, and I go out to search for a restaurant to have dinner and see a bit of Nairobi nightlife.

One recommended to us by a passerby is too noisy, so we find another opposite.

The food we order on the menu is no longer available, so we make do with something else. Nicolas and I order goat stew as an alternative to the fish we wanted and Jenny orders a vegetarian dish. It is a dish she had eaten several time during our stay in Kenya and is disappointed she can't try something new. 

The waitress warns us that they are closing and we must pay.

We find our way back to the hotel and we bid each other goodbye as they are leaving in the morning at 7:00 a.m. for another destination in Kenya. They will remain a week longer.

Day of Departure, Tuesday, August 6, 2014

I go down to have breakfast in the morning. Erling Kittelsen is up. The worst is over.  He is drinking coffee when I arrive. It turns out that we are traveling on the same KLM flight. We arrange a taxi for 5:00 p.m. Mariam, the Ugandan poet, who works in Mombasa,  is expected to visit him in the afternoon. Our taxi arrives on schedule. Mariam is there to wish us a safe journey.  We take a photo together.

Our journey to the airport is not a pleasant one for me. There is more petrol fumes and dust as the taxi spends a lot of time at a standstill in traffic.  I try to breath as best as I can while thinking about the amount of people who must suffer from asthma in this environment. Not too far from the airport, the traffic eases up and we arrive at six.

Erling Kittelsen and I keep each other’s company. We have something to eat, purchase more souvenirs from shops which have tempting offers. I don’t have many schillings so I don’t buy much.

After a few hours in the waiting lounge, Erling and I are separated by yellow and red stickers. I am seated in the front of the jumbo jet and he in the back. It is the last we see each other. The colossal metallic bird, its ribcage filled with people and suitcases, shakes and rumbles as it lifts into the black sky.


I wish to thank the organizer, facilitators, poets, students, the people of the Kisii village who made our stay in Kisii, Kenya a beautiful discovery and journey.

Director of Kistrech Poetry Festival, Kenya: Poet, Christopher Okenwa

Facilitators:Dr. Michael Oyoo Weche, Florence Nyarenchi, Brenda Mageka, John Omae (Gusii Institute of Technology), Ogari Ombuki George, Amos Tabalia, and Dr. Evans Gesura Mecha (Kissi University)

Poets and Presenters: poet and presenter, Professor Animasaun Kayode Adebanji (Adeleke University, Nigeria, poet and presenter Jenny Maria,(Sweden) poet,Nicolas Tunedal (Sweden), Althea Romeo-Mark (Switzerland and Antigua and Barbuda),poet and presenter, Obediah Michael Smith (The Bahamas), poet and presenter, Godpower Oboido (Nigeria),Mariam Mpaata Melloney (Uganda),Aggrey Ombok Monayo (Kenya),poet, Laus Strandby (Denmark), poet Erling Kittelsen (Norway), poet Amos Tabalia and poet/performer, Tendai Maduwa (Zimbabwe)

Student poets and performers: Agnes Nyamoita Nyambane, Constany Mose Oteki, Josephat Ndege Mauti, Ezra Nyaenda, Lamech Nyamweya, Fidel Machel, Flow Fulani, and Dennis Manduku.
Student escorts/guides: I do not know all of your names but I wish to thank for your companionship and your generosity, especially for the time you gave in honor of the festival.

Althea Romeo-Mark, poet representing Antigua and Barbuda and Switzerland.

Our departed brother, Prof. Animasuan Kayode Adebanji

Because I could not stop for Death 

Because I could not stop for Death-- 
He kindly stopped for me-- 
The Carriage held but just Ourselves-- 
And Immortality.

Emily Dickenson

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Journals in which I was published in 2014.

 I have been fortunate to have poems and essays published in several journals in 2014. They included Poems for the Hazara: An Anthology and Collaborative Poem that features 125 poets from 68 countries, WomanSpeak: A Journal of Writing and Art by Caribbean Women (2013-14), Kistrech: Poetry and essays from guest poets, Kistrech Poetry Festival, Kenya 2014, The Antigua and Barbuda review of Books, The Caribbean WriterWriter’s Works Bern: Prose and Poetry, Tongues of the Ocean special issue featuring Antigua and Barbuda Writers and Artists (, and Moko Magazine (

 You can read my book review of Joanne Hillhouse's novel Oh Gad! in a previous blogpost. This book also features book reviews on Jamaica Kincaid's recent novel, See Now Then. It is a novel which I am also looking forward to reading.  I have ordered my copy. It is waiting for me to caress its pages.

This wonderful collaboration of 125 poets in support of the Hazara people was done to draw attention to their persecution. The Hazara are a people of distinctions - set apart from fellow Afghans by religion, mixed ethnicity and an independent nature - and they have suffered for them. Persecution has shaped and defined the Hazara, particularly over the last 200 years. They face discrimination as Shi'ite Muslims, a minority among Afghanistan's dominant Sunni Muslims, as well as for ethnic bias. Read more about them in the blog below and  at the following website.

This collection of art and prose and poetry brings together 30 Caribbean women under the theme “Voices of Dissent: Writing and art to transform the culture. “This issue is not a movement but it is proof that one can happen.” 

Read more about my contribution in the blog below.

I gladly shared my stories of immigrants in this first edition of Kistrech.

We Do Not Cry For Meat

Yesterday we ate rice and palm oil.
Today we are eating rice and palm oil.
Tomorrow we will eat rice and palm oil.
We eye our bloated bellies
in the shadow of the kitchen fire,
and though not old enough
pretend we are with child,
pretend our fallen teeth will grow,
pretend our limbs are fat
can bear our large tummies
but we wobble when we walk
and do not cry for meat
for the dry land has snatched
our cattle and left us only bones.

© 29.03.10 Althea Mark-Romeo
From dirtcakes (

My essay, "A story of Immigrants", published in The Caribbean Writer, follows up on this theme.  Below is an excerpt from my essay.

A Story of Immigrants

This is the story of immigrants. It is the story of immigration, re-immigration and of continuing immigration.  It is a story which expands to three continents, lasts over a hundred years and, in fact never stops.  It is the story of my family.

My grandmother, Sarah Finch, immigrated from Antigua, British West Indies, to the Dominican Republic in the early 1900s together with her brother, Robert Finch, to seek a better life.  Robert Finch started a family there and made the Dominican Republic his home, while my grandmother returned to Antigua with a son-- my father, Gilbert Romeo. My grandmother and her brother were among many British West Indians who immigrated to the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica to seek work at the beginning of the 1900s. Many settled in these countries.
Decades later, a rapidly developing tourist industry in the US Virgin Islands (USVI) demanded an increased labor force. The islands (St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John) unable to supply the needed labor themselves, therefore opened the floodgates to immigrants.
My immediate family, the Romeos, was part of this next big wave of immigration. We left English Harbour, Antigua in the 1950s. Back then English Harbour supplemented the export of cotton and fishing and farming by smuggling rum from ships. By that time my father had married my mother and they were witnesses to a generation of young men falling victim to alcoholism. My mother, concerned for her son, supported my father’s immigration. He departed ahead of us for St. Thomas, USVI. My mother, my older brother, younger sister and I, followed in 1956. That began the story of our houses and how they became our home.

This effort by Writers' Work Bern is a collection of prose and poetry by a group of thirteen writers who live in Switzerland.  Writers' Works Bern which has existed since 1992 consists of members who come from Switzerland, England, Scotland, Barbados, Ghana, South Africa, Australia, US Virgin Islands-Antigua & Barbuda and the USA.
My poems "Ugly Stories," and "Morning Break" can be found in this collection.

From Ugly Stories

VII  Because I Am A Woman

They fear us
bearers of the human race.
We are all Delilah in their eyes.
Our youth, our beauty, beguiling,
our smells alluring,
our voices, cotton candy.

because I am a woman,
my outcry provoked
a hail of stones,
sparked a deadly crush.


because I am a woman.

"Neighbors Sanderson" can be found in Moko Magazine.

Neighbors Sanderson
Warm summer night.
Windows flung open,
are dressed in curtains of light.

Old Mr. Sanderson across the way,
kneads his wife’s plump arms,
rubs her hands and swollen feet.

The scent of eucalyptus,
wafting into the air,
subdues the smells
of frying oils and salsa,
and settles in our noses.

The fragrant ointment
glistens on Mrs. Sanderson’s
thick, veined hands
and fleshy fudge-brown arms.
Her face, tense with the
hurdles of aging, slackens.

Evening ritual done,
Mr. Sanderson nestles
next to her and reads
from a well-read book
she had dedicated to him.
and made famous long ago.

It is then we shut out distractions,
shush those in mid sentences,
strain our ears to hear elegiac words
that speak and sing for a
voice now stilled by stroke.

In baritone, Mr. Sanderson reads
about seductive flesh and
love in spring shifting into summer.
There is no autumn or winter.
It is a love superior.

© Althea Romeo-Mark, 10.06.2014

 And "Small Island Deprivations" can be found in Tongues of the Ocean.

Small Island Deprivations

When God was dispensing rivers
were my tiny island-homes not yet born?
Were they late in arriving?
Were they still buried
in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean?
Were they just tiny appendages
of a continent waiting to be shaken off
after a rattling quake?

Deprived of rivers and lakes,
tiny islands were handed ponds,
creeks, streams and gullies and
posted on peaks of volcanoes
jutting out of the ocean.

Buffered by the Atlantic Ocean
and the Caribbean Sea.
they are subjected to the whims
of storms racing from Africa.

Small islands are barely noticed
from distant planes,
and no large body of water
patterns their surfaces.
They thrive on the beauty
of small things.

I write because I am compelled to. The stories of immigrants, their suffering and survival are a major inspiration for me This is a dominant theme in my last poetry collection, If Only the Dust Would Settle, 2009. It is also an inspiration for my next poetry collection, The Nakedness of New.