PEN International Kenya takes ‘Its our turn to eat’ by Michela Wrong to Mombasa- KenyanPoet’s anecdote

The talk of my trip to Mombasa for the reading of Michela Wrong’s book, Its Our Turn to Eat, started during the launch of Kwani books over a month ago, as part of a conversation with Khainga O’kwemba, a poet and the Treasurer of PEN International Kenya (PEN is an organization of Poets, Essayists and Novelists – hence the initials)

It is only on Saturday 22nd that a definite confirmation was made that indeed the trip was on and slated for 28th till 30th Aug.

The book reading trip was being fully funded by USAID (kudos to them) as part of a campaign to inform ordinary Kenyans of things that have happened in Kenya through the life of John Githongo as written by Michela Wrong. Similar readings have been held in Nairobi and Kisumu with great success.

True enough, on Wednesday I received my E-ticket confirming the dates and times.

Having worked with Khainga and PEN before, I took a quick guess at who else would be there. The plan was for us all to assemble at Theatre by 8.00am and proceed to JKIA for the 10 o’clock flight. I managed to make my way there before the rest. Due to some reasons that still vary depending on who’s giving the explanation, the rest missed the flight and had to come with a 1.30pm one.

Fortunately Okoiti Omtata (he hates this description but I had warned him I’ll use it – The one famous for chaining himself) was already in Msa having arrived 2 days before. We spent the afternoon editing an article he was writing on Vision 2030 and the deceased Maruge (World’s oldest pupil), look out for it in one of the local dailies. I tried convincing Okoiti that a blog would be the best tool he can ever have for his writing but he still wasn’t sold to the idea. He is still considering my offer of maintaining his blog on his behalf.

The Khainga’s team finally arrived at 2.30pm; Edel Nyambura and Onduko Bw’Atebe (author of The Verdict of Death). I was informed that the rest of PEN team would be coming the following morning.
The readings were set to take place at the famous Tononoka Hall. And true to what is said of Coasterians (sorry couldn’t keep away from this stereotype) The event that was to start at 11am was starting a few minutes to 1pm with lesser turnout than we expected.
This was despite Okoiti having circulated enough flyers around town, 2 interviews with Pwani and Baraka FM stations and an ad in the one of the dailies. (this would have been totally un-necessary in Nairobi as all one has to do is get 2 posters to put at KNT and Alliance Français to get a houseful).

Philo Ikonya- the President of PEN Kenya, Kingwa Kamencu and infamous Smitta (Tony Mochama) arrived on Saturday morning just in time for the final touches.

Hassan Omar of KNHCR was also present and formed part of the panelist that was to do the readings.
I need not mention that by virtue of Mombasa being the home of Kiswahili, we needed to get a quick guide on some Swahili words like Taasisi as Khainga was told when the word ‘Institution’ became a brainer.
It was pure agony for most of us myself included. I blame too much English and Sheng and to some extent my mothers tongue for this public embarrassment. Some like Tony didn’t even bother trying as the more we did, the more they chuckled at our agony.

But, they sat and listened for over 3 hours as we read and discussed Michela Wrong’s book – Its our Turn To Eat. I loved it when Hassan, who hails from Mombasa himself, gave more immediate examples of this ‘eating’ culture.

Nyota Ndogo was fabulous with her live performance of some of her great songs with her band. Her music enchanted Onduko, Smitta and yours truly, who, at the end of the event, proved to Coasterians that Nairobians can truly dance.
Copies of the book were available for sale at 1,000 and we did get quite a number of sales as well as unanimous requests to have a Kiswahili version of the book available for ordinary Kenyans (read – Waswahili). A wonderful idea I thought it to be.

The turnout would have been much better had we placed the event on a date that did not coincide with Ramadhan. We also did not distribute the fliers to estates like Kisauni which would have been more effective as Dennis, a newly found friend from Mombasa advised.

After the hard day’s work, it was time for some of us to explore the famous night life (Mombasa raha).
Sunday was the perfect day to enjoy the sun, sand and swim. Shopping for some souvenirs was also part of the itinerary before heading back to Nairobi on the 9pm flight.

Thanks to Khainga and the PEN family for a lovely weekend but Most importantly for enabling ordinary Kenyans to realize the kind of rot that our country has been shoved into by its leaders.

If you haven’t, get yourself a copy of the book.

(will post photos of the trip shortly)

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