It is a grand street, but I don’t live here.

Not one doorstep stands to shield

me from the harsh rain,

its drab grey tone is a solemn tune.

This is no song worth remembering.

 

Well-kept bikes clatter and topple

under ornate eaves and lush drenched boughs,

stacks of shiny metal frames; jewels

to the children who live in my borough.

I came here to walk and dream.

 

These streets, paved with peppered-stone,

glisten in a loose wild strip of light.

Old street lamps from a bygone time,

stand the tests of gusts and sky spills.

While walking the bare street before me,

never have I felt more alone than now.

 

Doors are rotten mouths,

they shout in wooden frames, “Get out,

you don’t fit here, what’s a sunny

old girl like you doing in these parts?”

 

I look at my sixty-year-old reflection,

windows darken by the ill-shaped

shadows of deformed tree limbs

that heave fists with hard stone knuckles.

Leaves snap and plummet,

leaving some to droop on green threads.

 

This summer’s rain spell is bitter,

time slows. But I will not run or rush

my step, even if there’s no sun that bears

no mind to furnish a glow above my head.  
              

 

Joining the Army

I want to be a stormtrooper, combat ready,

filled with purpose: reason, unfolding.

Pride of place my photo will stand at my parents’ home

where the smell of cornbread and okra drifts.

 

Filled with purpose: reason, unfolding.

I’m apt to fit into the realm of things

where the smell of cornbread and okra drifts.

Into the fray, I will go with my brothers behind me.

 

I’m apt to fit into the realm of things.

At the front, fear will beg me to retreat and hide.

Into the fray, I will go with my brothers behind me.

It wasn’t always so; white troops didn’t crave a black man with a gun.

 

At the front, fear will beg me to retreat and hide,

the honour of duty and service will nudge me through.

It wasn’t always so; white troops didn’t crave a black man with a gun.

With an upright gait, I’ll march and sing “Onward Christian Soldiers”.

 

The honour of duty and service will nudge me through,

commands must spur my stride, no time to tire.

With an upright gait, I’ll march and sing “Onward Christian Soldiers”.

No cosh, no baton, no bullet will touch my temple.

 

Commands must spur my stride, no time to tire.

Pride of place my photo will stand at my parents’ home.

No cosh, no baton, no bullet will touch my temple.

I want to be a stormtrooper, combat ready.

 

*This poem is written in the form of a pantoum. The stormtrooper term refers to the fictional soldier; a super soldier, not the Stormtroopers who were specialist soldiers of the German Army in World War I.

“Onward, Christian Soldiers” is a 19th-century English hymn. The words were written by Sabine Baring-Gould in 1865. The song has been associated with protest against the established order, particularly in the case of the Civil Rights Movement.

 

Breaking Free

A roof sinks while floors rise.

The trencherman’s power is

the confines of narrowness.

“Others” stand threadbare,

 slinging ophidians,

elbows nudge slipstreams of air.

 

They kneel on a jagged platform’s edge

where toes have freedom of movement.

A splenetic tone ignites to warn,

a reply of deep breaths

reshapes the realm spent of longing.

 

Arms move towards solemn hearts,

drenched by solemnity,

and then outwards, curved to embrace.

Harsh light blinds and binds,

no darkness for dreams,

time has etched it from the sphere,

but in the distance evergreens grow.

 

White clothed torsos hide shame,

guilt and a greedy

emptiness impossible to sate.

Asthenia bodies stir with wide-awake eyes,

renewed, they heave and fold lissome metal.

 

A callous-cold ceiling cracks; flakes like plaster.

Bruised skins smash the prison-cube.

Fate is no longer sealed within walls.

Existence lives in shared senses.

 

A new day begins on a rope-clad precipice.

Raw-red suffering is denied a lonesome death.

Doors burst open to a penetralia

to greet those who have struggled free.

 

Maroula Blades (photo by Graham Hains) is an Afro-British multifaceted artist living in Berlin. She was nominated for the Amadeu Antonio Prize 2019 for her educational multimedia project “Fringe”. The Swiss Jan Michalski Foundation for Literature supported the project. She was the first runner-up in the 2018 Tony Quagliano International Poetry Award. Works were published in The Caribbean Writer, Thrice Fiction, The Freshwater Review, Midnight & Indigo, Abridged, The London Reader, So It Goes, Newfound Journal, Harpy Hybrid Review among others. Chapeltown Books (UK) released her story collection The World in an Eye, 2020. The book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She can be found at https://www.facebook.com/Poetrykitchen/, https://twitter.com/m_blades, and http://www.poetrykitchen.com/.

He stood there, looking up at the friend who came to visit him. The forced smile on his lips was crooked, like his yellowing teeth. Standing beside his caller, he looked like a small boy standing beside a gigantic father. These visits had become frequent since word of his ailment went around. Kimani enjoyed the amount of attention he had been receiving since he was diagnosed with the dreaded cancer. It was more attention than he had gotten in his fifty-five years. Rumour had it that his disease was deadlier than AIDs, and either out of pity or curiosity, people wanted to see its effects firsthand.

This particular caller was a former classmate. A man he had shared youthful dreams with, and religiously teased for his squinted eye on their four-kilometer barefooted walk to school. Now the man drove the newest Range Rover and had a pretty lady on his arm. The lady wore four-inch heels and occasionally lost her balance as she walked the muddy path toward Kimani’s small house. Kimani stood at the door observing them. Noticing how his friend tightened the grip on the lady’s arm each time she stumbled. He waved them closer, all the while maintaining a wide smile that now made the edge of his mouth ache. The lady looked young, maybe too young.

His classmate finally standing beside him, Kimani felt every ounce of energy leave his body. He felt small. He literally was small. The loss of appetite from his medications and the constant body aches had left him with little desire for food, and when he was really hungry and tried to eat, his gums hurt. But the smallness he felt had nothing to do with body size but rather his position in society. Kimani was not what people considered rich or even middle class. He had no money or any other kind of significant wealth to his name. Now, he could not even boast of good health when he found himself defensive about his financial status. He had no property other than the small iron sheet house with a thatched roof he had built in his young adult years, and even that had no toilet. He had to borrow toilet from the neighbors. His small piece of land was only enough to grow about thirty head of kale and maize, enough to feed him only. But even that looked unhealthy from the lack of fertilizer and manure. Men his age had large pieces of land, and those who had small pieces at least had fertile pieces. Men his age had stable sources of income from employment or entrepreneurship. Most importantly, men his age had children, a wife, and maybe a girlfriend. His unmarried status was the great thorn to his side on a day too many now. This, above everything else, made him feel even smaller.

But his lack of a wife to order around and children to claim did not always make Kimani feel small. He had for a long time grown into his singleness. He enjoyed his senior bachelor’s existence and the freedoms he saw married people only dream of. But on days like this, when he met his childhood friends and men his age, especially those with a sharp tongue and a boastful ego to accompany ignorant questions, he felt his marital status was magnified.

That night as he lay on his squeaky bed, Kimani pondered over his choice not to marry. It was a decision he made in his late twenties. But if he was being honest with himself, he had made a subconscious decision not to marry in his teen years. His decision was not influenced by any of the reasons people often whispered about, like his purported lack of libido or the popular claims of impotence, and certainly not a preference for men as some people would have it. The subject of a man sexually entertaining another man was taboo in his culture. It was something that was rarely talked about, and when it was, mostly among the younger generations, it was discussed in hushed tones. Kimani was baffled by the naivety of these people who considered themselves to be modern and educated. A week before, he had read an article about how the United States government had passed a Bill that protected the LGBTQ community from discrimination. The thought of the amount of upheaval such a bill would cause in his country made him grin, an evil grin that craved the discomfort the legal tolerance for the LGBTQ would arouse in his community. But Kimani’s decision to remain unmarried had nothing to do with any of the said externalities. It was a personal decision that he could not explain in any satisfactory way to nagging relatives or the ever eager rumor mongers. He was simply among the very small percentage of men who, for no tangible reason, had no interest in ever marrying.

Kimani was not alone in the senior bachelor boat. His friend Mark, albeit five years younger, received similar scrutiny and speculation over his bachelorhood. Mark was a commendable hustler who worked too hard but drank too much muratina and cheap liquor, the kind that could, on a bad day make you lose your eyesight. He took great pride in caring for his aged mother, a role he embraced as his life’s sole purpose. The house he was bound to inherit after his mother passed on was fancier than Kimani’s, with stone walls and tiled floors. His land was also bigger, and he enjoyed fresh milk from his mother’s Zebu cow. The ten chickens roaming the compound, only stopping to bury their beaks in the grass in search of worms, were more than most people could wish for. Still, Mark was unmarried. Kimani remembered something Mark had once mentioned to him in passing, something about how parents can mess up their children. This was after the village witnessed the chief beat up his wife, resulting in a broken leg, and no one dared report him at the police station. After all, matters between people who covered themselves with the same blanket were none of their business. They would work out their issues behind closed doors. Moreover, the chief signed their children’s bursary papers. A chief with a wounded ego meant no signature on the bursary papers, which meant the children would be sent home for school fees, so no one dared anger the chief.

On that particular day, women famed for their closeness to the chief’s wife stood the furthest from the watching crowd. They murmured amongst themselves, their kangas tied hastily around fat waists, only stopping their chatter when their friend screamed from a fresh kick to the ribs or the stomach.  One woman was overheard asking rather ignorantly, “Why does she stay when he beats her like a dog?”

In all the ensuing commotion, the heart-wrenching sight was the chief’s children frantically hovering around their mother. The older siblings trying to pull their father away, to no avail, while the younger ones watched in bewilderment at the man they were expected to respect.

“See, now this stupid man has really messed up the children,” Mark had said in anger, his fists clutched. “Violence is imprinted in their young minds, and the grisly picture of their father beating their mother will never leave them. They are messed up.”

Mark was now staring straight into Kimani’s eyes, his blank face revealing no emotion, the anger that previously overcame him now long gone.

“Kim,” Mark started to say something but suddenly stopped, like someone cautiously picking out his next words, “This is why I will never marry,” he finally stated.

A part of Kimani understood Mark, but he wanted to be sure.

“So you will never marry because the chief beat up his wife?” he asked avoiding Mark’s eyes.

Mark was silent. Maybe, he had not heard the question. His eyes were fixed on the youngest of the chief’s children. A young girl now seated at the front door to the house she called home, unbothered. Her calmness exuded a sense of normalcy, like everything that just happened did not actually happen. Her eyes darted between the people helping lift her mother from the ground and the dispersing crowd. She caught a glimpse of her father disappearing behind the house and her eyes began to water.

  “Mark, did you hear me?”

“I heard you the first time, Kim,” his voice was hoarse, “Men beat up their wives, and children watch. Everyone watches. And no one does anything about it. That is why I will never marry,” Mark was now walking away from the scene.

“But you are not this man, Mark.”

Kimani wanted to keep this conversation going. He, like everyone else, wanted to understand the psychology of unmarried men. Maybe he could better understand himself.

“But I am my father’s son,” Mark retorted impatiently, “And you know what they say about the apple and the tree.”

“What has your father got to do with anything? He was a good man. God rest his soul.”

“Sure, God rest his soul, somewhere deep in hell, with his fellow ‘good’ men.”

The air quotes at the mention of “good” were accompanied by a wobbling head, ogling eyes, and a tongue sticking out. The way children did it when teasing an adult while hiding behind their mothers’ skirts.

“You see that limp on my mother’s left leg? She got that while running away from my father. The man was chasing her with an axe, mama fell and sprained her ankle, and it never healed.” Mark was now walking faster. Like someone hoping that his brisk pace would somehow leave this memory of violence behind.

“Kim, all these people with their perfect marriages are hypocrites. You should witness the monstrosities that happen behind closed doors. Do not let the smiles of these women and their chubby babies fool you. Marriage is a den of lions, and by God, I am not jumping into that trap with my eyes open.”

“But Mark, you can choose to be different.”

“Or I can be exactly the same, maybe worse. I am not about to find out.” Mark suddenly stopped, “What about you? What’s your excuse?” he was staring at Kimani with those piercing eyes.

“My reason will never be as convincing as yours. I simply do not want a wife, children, or anything to do with the institution of marriage for that matter.”

Kimani was now walking away, taking long steps in the direction of his house. Mark did not ask any further. The men walked home, trying to comprehend the reasoning of their unmarried fellow man.

It was half-past ten. Kimani had stayed up too late. He needed to be well-rested when he took his cancer medicine in the morning. Sometimes he forgot how he was required to take the pills. Those pills confused him. Which pills did he take before meals, and which ones were after meals? Which tablets made him nauseous that he had to lick sugar after, and which pill made him feel drowsy? The drowsy pill was particularly important because he could only take it after lunch and at night, but never in the morning. At that point in his life, maybe a wife and children would be good. They would help with the pills.

That woman in four-inch heels he had seen earlier crossed his mind. She had bothered him, and suddenly he knew why. She was the unmarried woman from a nearby town who the village women had begun to talk about.  The lady was almost in her thirties with nothing noteworthy to show for her advancing age other than her two university degrees. Not even a child, leave alone a husband of her own. Kimani knew the women would devour gossip over her visit for a long time to come. Had she no shame parading with a married man like that? But Kimani wondered who was at fault. Was it the married man who took an oath or the woman suffocating under society’s expectations? No, marriage was not for him. Kimani slowly closed his eyes and wished for a sunny day come morning. Today had been cold.


Linda Thotho is an aspiring writer living in Nairobi, Kenya. She writes fiction borrowed from true stories of her life. Linda enjoys reading African stories by African authors. She holds a degree in Natural Resources Management from Egerton University, Kenya. She can be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/thotho_linda and on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/linda_tho_tho/

I

When cries

Sprinkled on the feet of tyrants

They were swept away

When bones sailed the Atlantic

Dreams drowned

Into the womb of the sea

II

Ears are thirsting;

There are neither proverbs

Nor wisdom to sip from

Eyes now mother the ocean

Souls temples

Species of depression

Hope hung between two teeth;

Life and death

III

May our aborted dreams

Decay into dust

So fingers of tomorrow

Sculpt them into art.

Arise


Arise o spirits of the Niger rivers

Set free your waves

Let our scarce flee away

Arise o palate of the gods

Dye your tears into inks

And rewrite our story

Arise

It is time to water your seeds for a new sprout.


Mohammed Salihu is a young Nigerian writer. He holds a Certificate in Creative Writing from Wesleyan University and is presently pursuing his bachelor’s degree at the University of the West of Scotland.  One of Mohammed’s poem was selected by UNICEF to mark World Children’s Day 2020. His writing has appeared in: Fahmidan Journal, Poetic Duel, Praxis Magazine, and elsewhere. He can be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/Ameer_salihu and on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/mohammed_salihu_/

what is a necktie if not a symbol
of white male domination
and decades of cultural oppression?
 
amid diminishing colonial powers
the archaic rules remain
codified in the house of parliament
 
in the land of the young and the free
where the day of invasion
is still a celebrated national holiday
 
when the indigenous leader stands
to speak he is silenced
but refuses to submit to their yoke
 
the issue is bigger than dress codes
it’s about conformity
a whitewashing of past and present
 
what is business attire for one man
is the noose of another
 
‘take the noose
from around my neck
so that I can sing
my song’ – MP Rawiri Waititi
 
 
 

J. Archer Avary (he/him) is a chameleon, a product of his environment, a restless wanderer. In past lives he was a TV weatherman, punk rock drummer, champion lionfish hunter, ocean conservationist. At age 44, he still doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up. Maybe a poet? He is the editor of Sledgehammer Lit. His recent work can be found in Journal of Erato, The Daily Drunk, Skyway Journal, and HASH Journal. He lives on a tiny island in the English Channel. He can be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/j_archer_avary

Standing in front of the gold feline pendant,

I recalled one of my previous incarnations.

The jewelry had belonged to me

and now it was on display in the Museum of Fine Arts,

where I and others stared at it.

I remembered the prescient feeling I had

as a Nubian queen and the accompanying vision

of seeing my pendant in a glass box

and noticing strange-looking humans

wearing funny clothes, eyeing my jewelry with admiration.

I recalled even seeing myself as I currently am

with my tortoise shell glasses, pink-dyed hair,

nose-stud, and black leather jacket,

though of course I didn’t know it would be me.

I cried out and when my royal sister heard

what I was worried about,

she reassured me it was just a hallucination.

She said that my pendant would be buried with me,

along with other cherished possessions.

Suddenly, my present self sighed for my lost kingdom,

the smooth ebony skin I was once had,

and the pendant I now wouldn’t be able to touch

without the alarm piercing the silence.

I clicked a picture to carry with me for this lifetime,

but one of my stray hairs swam in front of the lens.

I fished it out and as I clicked a second time,

I remembered unfastening the cat pendant for the last time,

not knowing it wouldn’t accessorize my clothes again.



Cherishing Their Freedom


Her ancestors come to her in dreams,

in the ships that forced the waves apart to these shores,

in the chains that bound them before they their spirits were broken.

They speak in their African languages,

but strangely she understands them.

They cherish the same thing as she does,

something they slowly stopped taking for granted

and longed for their descendants and themselves to have.

She hears their prayers whispered and chanted through the centuries,

in their quarters, in the fields, in the forests and mountains,

where they escaped with packs of dogs on their bleeding heels.

Her nose smells the drops of sweat from toil

that soaked their clothes or dripped from their backs.

She sees their dances of matrimony,

the brooms they jumped over,

and their children born free

until the young ones learned they really weren’t.

Her ancestors visit her again without the clanking chains

and the scars that mapped their miseries.

Their bodies glisten with perfection,

the downward droop of their necks and spines

replaced with a posture that speaks of blissful afterlife living.

They gaze at her house, the books lining the shelves,

the silk that swishes against her calves,

the ruby against her dark throat, the beads on her braids,

the chilled glass clinking with ice

and they tell her to sometimes sing their songs of slavery

and celebrate their deeds and then they laugh with her,

happy they’re all free now, the dead and the living,

though she knows liberation doesn’t yet mean equal justice.



Tara Menon is an Indian-American writer based in Lexington, Massachusetts.  Her most recent poems have appeared in: Emrys Journal Online, Indolent Books, Wards Literary Magazine, Art in the Time of Covid-19 (ebook published by San Fedele Press), Rigorous, Infection House, The Inquisitive Eater, and The Tiger Moth Review. Menon’s latest fiction has been published in Evening Street Review, The Bookends Review, and Rio Grande Review.  She is also a book reviewer and essayist whose pieces have appeared in many journals, including Adanna Literary Journal, The Courtship of Winds, The Petigru Review, Boston Globe, Green Mountains Review, and The Kenyon Review.

The trees threw away their clothes waiting for harmattan.
He never came.  Who locked the gates of wind?  The sun
 
boiled the oranges into rust & the birds grew gills to swim
the heat.  How many twirling fans died that year when we
 
gathered swollen leaves from sun baked drains?  Even the
air conditioning breathed like a bloated river.  The price
 
of water went up; even kisses were hard to come by.  The
houses grew lean with thirst no matter how greedily they
 
sucked on our skins.  The rivers all looked askance; they
were wet with the sun’s tears yet they could not run.
 
Sometimes the clouds peeped through the keyhole & threw
their laundry water through the window.  Sometimes they
 
gathered as if ready to conquer a city then they fled.  Who
pursued them from the battlefield, does anyone know?
 
Some old wives said if you open your door at noon, the
devil was there cooking.  Who dragged hell closer to
 
here?  Who knew what wounded the wings of dust; they
never did rise with the sun.  Nobody heard the siren of the
 
Sahara.  It was said someone tied her lips with the footprints
of immigrants & terrorists.  Some said she choked on the
 
bones of old sand dunes tired of waiting for the sea.  It was
green into January & he had no teeth to eat December’s
 
children.  Now they are raising the portcullis in the kingdom
of rain.  There must be a war in the heavens because
 
harmattan never came.
 
 
 

Osahon Oka is a Nigerian poet who sees writing as an opportunity to experiment with language, a way to show the world what he thinks, and a means to offer a reflection of his lived reality. His writing has appeared in several literary spaces including, but not limited to, Jalada Africa, Lit Quarterly, Lucky Jefferson, Down River Road Review, Dust Poetry Magazine, Lit Break Magazine, Afreecan Read, and elsewhere. He serves as Lead Correspondent at Praxis Magazine. He can be reached on twitter at https://twitter.com/OsahonOka

I remember in high school, explaining to friends

the racism of the cartoon, Speedy Gonzales. His

“arriba arriba” grito just a Chicano shuck and jive.

His campesino hat too big for even the sombrero dance.

And don’t even get me spit balling about Slowpoke

Rodriguez, Speedy’s boozed out cousin from el campo.


It can be hard telling your friends, in the warmup

layup line before basketball practice, that

imagining being different than the people who came

before them is scary, but may signal a reckoning

a Clyde Frazier crossover of potential.


Then the coach, plastic whistle in the corner

of his mouth like a chewed stub three day old

cigar, asking, “What are you guys talking about?”


And George, the fearless one with a strong baseline move

to the rim, says, “the perpetuation of stereotypes

in our culture.” Which made me smile all the way down

to my Pumas. This was like watching the firemen

arriving at the fire with their gear ready for business.


There are surprises and amazements left in life.


But the coach licked his thin train rail lips,

The whistle dangling covered in spit, “let’s

focus on our practice, our game.” The world is such

an imperfect place consider the ant-eater, the mole.


I am sure the coach was who he told us he was. And

when he spoke sometimes all the team heard

were the bubbles coming out of his head. His

smile looked like it pained his face.


Mota


My favorite word to say in Español

es mota. It is the final word of a wild song

on a long road through

Aztlán tequila lime kisses.

It’s the pan dulce and café

on a cold morning.

 

In college I’d sing the word

with emphasis and my gringo friends

asked, “what’s that?”

I could not suppress my giggles

and belted out the word

blues style slower, louder, dragging

the two syllables over sleeping

dogs, “you sabe, moh….tah.”

 

I often helped others with their

Español tarea. Them thanking me, asking,

“where did you learn to speak Spanish

so good? Really? You don’t look

Mexican…..aren’t you Jewish?”

 

My Spanish was not perfect, but it must

have sounded like a Chavela Vargas ballad

ripped full of damage and desire

to their gringo and gringa ears.

 

Once in high school a teacher yelled

that I spoke Spanish on purpose. His words

confusing and silencing me. And each day

in class I reckoned the smoldering power

of his border raged words.

 

My mother asked why I did not recognize

the historical patterns of oppression. She smiled

when she asked. But it was a counterfeit grin.

 

Español was the idioma

in my grandparents’ casa in Douglas.

 

Espanol was the gritos of my grandfather

and tíos as they watched the 8 millimeter

boxing films my grandfather kept in alpha

order in an old shoe box (Canto, Cuevas, Duran).

Español was the weekly phone conversations

between my mother and grandmother on Sunday

afternoons when church ended.

 

Mota is a one word narrative

of mystery and rebellion. The word

that begins the discovery that no

one is who they want to be.

 

Christopher Rubio-Goldsmith was born in Mérida, Yucatán, and raised in Tucson, Arizona. Growing up in a biracial, bilingual home near the frontera, and then teaching high school English for 28 years in a large urban school with a diverse student body created many experiences rich in voice and imagination. His poetry has appeared in Fissured Tongue, Amuse-Bouche (Lunch Ticket), the anthology America We Call Your Name, and in other publications as well. Kelly, his wife of almost 30 years, carefully edits his work. He can be found at https://www.facebook.com/chris.goldsmith.16

I stand in an American Foursquare

two and a half stories tall

in a space a thousand miles from where lines of my blood have shed.

Currently, I am the last step.

I look up to my ascendants,

though now they are all down in the ground,

wondering if I’ve descended or ascended.

Strayed far from their grace,

in attempts to reach levels that they could not.

With each step,

each lifeline,

my bloodline has shortened.

My greatest ascendant,

great grandmother Neva Nell

nearly six feet tall,

baked the sweetest of sweet potato pies

from her two bedroom, one story Henderson kitchen

where bitter tea in a round red pot sat on her gas stove.

Red was the dirt along East Texas

all the way up north to Texas’ hat.

She cleaned white men’s estates and

cooked their dinner for her dimes,

making their spots shine,

while her daughter was raised by her mother.

Weekend burger dates,

then back to work.

Her daughter’s cries had to be denied

to earn what bits she could give.

Back to work,

back to back.

The same work ethic was not lacked

by her daughter

who left middle-of-nowhere Rusk county and ventured to the big city of Houston –

Texas Southern University

Black excellence sought and obtained by those whose names remained

ignored and exchanged for ‘girl’ and ‘boy.’

Itty bitty, five foot tall Ressie Mae worked

but could not make the grades.

She married a soldier

made a 3-bedroom one-story house a home

with her husband and child.

Not too shabby, not too fancy –

a happy middle class.

As white flight took off

Ressie Mae wasn’t too far behind

after Prince Charming revealed himself to be a Beast.

Laws left her with the home

upkept by work

work, work, work

Waitressing in a diner,

janitor at banks and businesses

night school in nursing

grades never made

stuck scrimping, saving, and fighting

to hold onto the next step.

A second story of her one story.

A life far from the red dirt roots

to sustain the livelihood

where little Alicia flourished

like the landscaping Ressie Mae planted

of banana plants, roses, and ivy.

Her new roots were to stay, at least for one more generation.

The third story is that of little Alicia.

She never made five feet tall,

but lived larger than life itself.

Neva Nell’s girls appeared to slope down from her tall frame

their drastic drop in height jarring to see.

Resemblances lying in moles, smiles, and cheeks.

Deadbeat daddies’ phenotype dominates

but the mighty matriarch mentality moves the line forward

with relentless dedication to thrift and laborious night and days.

The house’s interior unchanged from 1960.

Outdated, but pristine,

the lawn meticulous, but never gaudy.

Little Alicia in uniforms, praying hands, and parochial school

paid for by a relentless mama

who would not allow the line to backslide.

Stepping forward to attain that which her mama could not grasp

as her mother before her,

and her mother before her.

A graduate of Texas Southern University

with an English degree

And membership in Delta Sigma Theta,

a historically Black Greek sorority.

A banker, a teacher, a janitor

because nothing in the big city comes cheap.

Neither do law school dreams 

that she’d sadly never achieve.

Application declined.

I was the second generation born and raised at 11214 Jutland Rd

two hundred miles and three generations away from 1000 Wilson St.

I was the second to put on a uniform and pray my way into educational opportunities.

Another step forward

With each generation there would be an ascension of a descendant,

though not in physical inches.

Another step forward

to the dreams deferred for the one before.

A top Texas scholar, I left home to pursue

that which I could not see, but what I hoped was out there for me.

Graduate school

Another step up

But did I step up,

Or step away?

Praying ended once I left parochial school

Five schools,

Four majors,

Three states

Two graduate programs

One failed marriage

One baby boy

I broke the line of ladies

Bought a two-story house one thousand miles away from home base

My tethers had their lifelines snapped at

78, 72, and 31

I was 11, 23, and 6

Did I run to the future they wanted for me?

Or away from the future I feared would be?

I’m living a repeat of working night and day,

As a single mother

To not only provide,

but to elevate

They held such strength

I felt that I could fly

so I leapt

knowing the ripcord safety net belay were in place

Until they weren’t

Freedom in Their Bindings

Stacks

lines on shelves

organized by the predilections of the ladies of the house

grandmother, mother, daughter

Mrs. Sirles, Ms. Sirles, and Ms. Lyons

in their living room stood a large homemade bookcase

boards cut and sanded

taking up an entire wall

nearly eight feet tall

plain

without paint

housing the paper and heavy boards

printed letters to elevate

escape

educate

the bookcase was the handiwork of matriarch Mrs. Sirles

she had more books than she could ever read

more books than she’d ever need

in possessing them I believe she felt freed

or possibly attaining a key

to a world denied her,

but access granted to descendants

doors unlocked

barriers unblocked

by words both living and dead

A’Ja Lyons was born and raised in Sunnyside, the oldest African-American community in southern Houston, Texas. Her writing centers on self-reflection and analysis. A’Ja was a book reviewer and column contributor for Pennsylvania Diversity Network’s Valley Gay Press, as well as an article contributor for Gallaudet University’s The Buff and Blue. A’Ja’s work has been published in Sinister Wisdom 85’s Youth/Humor issue, and the Lucky Jefferson digital zine, Awake. She is the proud mother of an athletically gifted and animal-loving child. She can be found at https://twitter.com/ajalyonsroars and https://www.facebook.com/ajalyonsroars

Mofongo is the epitome of
Puerto Rican cooking.
It is smashed plantains immersed
in loads of garlic and
Puerto Rican soul.
It is salsa and ritmo. It is plena and
bomba… it is blackness
that lives in our food.
No matter the efforts of the
Spanish to erase the Boricuas,
to whiten them via colonialism,
mofongo, pasteles, and the
countless dishes are additions
to our culture and proof otherwise.
That subverts the notion and
attempts of blanquimiento.
Because this food tells a different
story from the dominant narrative.
 
Mofongo is made in a mortar
and pestle, en un pilón, with the strength
of pulsating hands and strong arms
of the matriarch, who grinds ingredients
together. In this friction, I listen to
the stories available.
This culinary process reveals the
whispers of our ancestors from the
coastal towns and mountainous
campos of the island, across the
Wide Caribbean Sea.
 
Mofongo is the taste of
smashed plantains immersed
in loads of garlic and salt
con chicharrones
epitomizing the
Puerto Rican soul.
It is the archipelago,
the smell of banana leaves
swaying under the sun.
It is diaspora. It is power.
It is an archive of taste and memory.
 
 

Keishla Rivera-Lopez is a poet, writer and scholar. She received a PhD in American Studies at the Graduate School-Newark at Rutgers University where she was a 2019-2020 Dean’s Dissertation Fellow. She was born and raised in Newark, NJ to Puerto Rican migrants and reflects on what it means to be a child of diaspora in her scholarship and writing. Currently, Dr. Rivera-Lopez is an Assistant Professor of English and Latinx Literatures and Cultures at Millersville University. Keishla enjoys writing poetry, short-stories, and essays from her travel and everyday experiences as a Puerto Rican woman. She also enjoys experimenting with different sazons and sofritos, hiking, dancing and traveling. Find her at https://twitter.com/Ohh_Kei

(On May 31, 1959—as she lay dying at the Metropolitan Hospital in New York, aged 44—Billie Holiday was arrested, handcuffed, and put under police guard for possession of narcotics.)


This busy bee, at the end of a life like clockwork,

a symphony of service to everything but herself—

wings snatched in a world blinded by the way it is—

slowly expiring in the sweet nectar of stillness, stung

with bittersweet poison, an alchemy of blinded faith.


And even this they could not abide.

Their white-hot burden, unappeasable,

like anti-gravity drawing light inside

its sense of self: righteous, obdurate,

enfeebled from all their inherited fears.


Who are these men that know nothing

about the blues? Inspiring jinxed history

with officious ink—corrections bled red

outside the margins, ignored or overcome—

their shared voice, warning: Be more like me.


Or worse still, stay separate, apart, unheard;

entitled or at least allowed to live: strange fruit

that rots inside dark spaces, or gets torn down

from trees, weeping their weary psalms of silence,

caustic smoke signals blown from burning crosses.


What do they know about beauty, their hatred the only thing

honest about them? What do they know about the helpless

ones: helpless for song, helpless for love, helpless for a fix,

helpless for joy, helpless for hope? God bless the child that

backward men would scorn, ignore, or erase—if they could.


Sean Murphy has appeared on NPR‘s “All Things Considered” and has been quoted in USA Today, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and AdAge. A long-time columnist for Pop Matters his work has also appeared in Salon, The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, The Good Men Project, Memoir Magazine, and others. His chapbook, The Blackened Blues, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and served as writer-in-residence of the Noepe Center at Martha’s Vineyard. He’s Founding Director of 1455 (www.1455litarts.org). To learn more, and read his published short fiction, poetry, and criticism, please visit seanmurphy.net/ and https://twitter.com/bullmurph

Wearing a black dress she

bobs in and out of rolling waves

and swells. Daily sea bath.

Sea foam sprays and hugs

her frock. Still fully dressed,

she rinses off at the outdoor

shower. Fresh water cascades,

rivulets spiral down to bare

feet.



Now dry and on her way down

Avenida Tacna she stops at the

plaza. Her black shoes, laced up

neatly, show signs of wear and

tear. A street canillita deftly

buffs her shoes, almost new

using rags and bits of

cardboard.


Most women in town wear

mantillas, go to misa often.

Her veil is solid black. No lace

frames her ivory face. She

is well known, but never

seen at church. Doña Maria is

the despenadora, the one who

takes care of the suffering.

La que quita penas.


We all run to the window,

peering above the cornice

and spot her porcelain profile

as she stops in front of the

ornate iron gate of our casona.

Our doorman lets her in. The

entire family is waiting in the

sala de estar. My uncle, dressed

impeccably in a black suit, stands

stiffly. His starched white collar

frames his long stern face.


He hands her a tiny wrapped

bundle, she quickly hides it

within her bosom, discreetly

looking away. He gestures towards

the bedroom.


Doña Maria’s heels click softly

over the ornate azulejo tiles.

She slowly backs her way into

the bedroom using both hands,

carefully drawing the french

doors closed.


We wait and wait.


The adults go in, I catch a

glimpse of my grandfather

laying there. No more moans

and heavy gusts of breath.

Bedding is neatly tucked, ivory

sheets tightly folded under his arms.

A giant gift wrap. Long bony

fingers splay out like branches

of the algarrobo tree. His face

is drawn, eyes now closed.

Bundles of palo santo burn

in a bowl next to his bedside

table. The aroma floats out,

thick white plumes of smoke slowly

make their way up, towards the

tall colonial ceilings.


Veronica Scharf Garcia was born in Concepcion, Chile and lived in several countries of South America, as well as Africa and the Middle East. She continues her itinerant life now in Europe. Her last home base was California, three years ago. Scharf Garcia has read her poetry at the Miami Book Fair, the Rosemary Duffy Larson Gallery in Florida, the OHI Center in San Diego, and at The Table in Hollywood. Her poems and artwork are published in various books and literary journals. She can be found at https://www.facebook.com/veronica.s.garcia.79 and https://www.instagram.com/verogoart/

“Control, prosecute, sanction” –  

These are the words of the French President on October 2, 2020.

Peculiar echo,

unintended I presume,

to Discipline and Punish by Foucault.

It seems that the image of war is the favorite of our Republic en marche,

at the heart of all speeches.

The first time,

in celebration of those who were closest to the hospital reality during the health crisis.

These were gone

at the “front”,

we were told.

I did not know that the choice of the white blouse meant that of the military dress.

If the nurses,

agents of hospital services are in a fight,

for years now,

it’s that of a cry,

yet neglected

and violently repressed,

when,

marching,

in the French streets,

worn voices,

despair,

denounce the lack of resources,

call for the need for humane and decent treatment.

But no,

we don’t want this struggle,

a tackle,

a face to the ground under police violence,

and a ticket for

“the front”.

Congratulations and applause by way of gifts and then of coats of arms,

for service to the nation.

The war resumes today,

“It’s time!”

they said.

In schools,

public spaces,

associations.

Aux armes citoyens

sounds like we are sinking.

Strange smell,

like that of a detergent,

a sort of purification,

but warning,

“republican” only.

So in the name of right and freedom,

they’ll go,

“control,

prosecute,

and sanction”.

War against Islamist separatism,

neologism in a French style,

for a Franco-French delirium.

An Islamist separatism,

which we must fight against,

Who is we here anyway?

This is how the stage play,

of a republic called “en actes”,

goes.

More controls,

neutrality,

and education,

against the evils of religion.

A new government,

and a vocabulary now in use in cottages:

separatism,

barbarism,

ensauvagement,

literally ‘the getting wild’

of a fragment of the French population.

Sounds like Hidden Forces.

France is contaminated

and apparently it’s not a pretty sight,

it is swarming on all sides.

So school at home is over,

unless for exceptions.

Pay attention to associations,

which are a nest,

we are told,

of Islamist separatism.

But the law will become an alchemist,

they opt for a right of dissolution.

Based on what criteria?

I will be asked.

“Republican principles,

come on!”

Political strategy in the run-up to elections?

Xenophobia is naturalized,

rational,

no need for Le Pen,

Macron is in charge,

Darmanin is on the clock.

The media saturate the public space,

new wording and wordling appear,

stronger than ever,

rickety,

the Republic struts around,

takes up arms.

Occupied territory,

a people to preserve,

new barbarians to educate,

civilize,

awaken,

to the soft and sweet light of our know-how.

More costs,

shots,

more discrimination,

vulnerability.

In the face of the law,

in the face of these in charge of its enforcement,

in the face of police forces,

in the face of its fellow citizens,

in his own country,

a french muslim,

cannot but feel the untold role,

that will come for him or her,

in the Republic theatre piece.

 

Sarra Riahi is a third year student at Maastricht University (Netherlands). She is a French citizen of North African descent who is highly interested in postcolonial departures and critical studies. She plans to become a reporter, correspondent abroad, or opinion journalist. She views writing as a means to provide a critical analysis of current events that relate to colonial legacies. She can be found on https://www.linkedin.com/home

commonwealth

common    wealth

common    weal                                                          

commonstealth

common    steal

empire

imperial empress

impress lands where

sun never sets 

flagrant em   pyre

colonial protectorates

breached

smoke    sugar    cloth

bodies broken

stolen                                      

departing

de    parting

outward    bound

de    ported

de    parted

 

possession

dis    possession

over    seers

overseas

dominium

Latinate (no accident that)

dominant language

outcast

cast    out

outer    caste

out    lying

lying

em    pyre

far    flung

flung     far

farewell

fare    well

welfare

cast    away

outer    cast

holocaust

commonwealth

common    wealth

commonstealth

common    steal

commonhealth

common    heal         

                          

Lynnda Wardle was born in Johannesburg and has lived in Glasgow since 1998. Her own experiences of family, adoption, and immigration are the material she draws on when telling stories about identity and belonging. Her work has appeared in various publications including Glasgow Review of Books, Gutter, New Writing Scotland, thi wurd, New Orleans Review, PENning Magazine, and the Tales From a Cancelled Country Anthology. She is currently completing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow and working on a novel about Scottish emigration to Africa in the 1800’s. She can be found at https://twitter.com/lynndawardle5https://www.lynndawardle.com/

     I visited Tanzania and Zanzibar in my last year of primary school on an organized school trip. It was in Zanzibar, touring the baths of the Sultan, his wives and concubines, that I decided I wanted to pursue a travel related course in university. I was 13 years old at the time.  Eight years later, I enrolled at the University of Nairobi for my studies.

     As a Kenyan, I had grown up being aware of the Kenyan tourism sector and its significance to our economy. I knew that the rest of the world also knew about our big game and the Maasai tribe. As a matter of fact, I reveled in the fact that my country of origin was considered an attraction elsewhere in Africa and overseas. But only a handful of Kenyans ended up in the tourism sector because it took passion to pursue something as a career choice.

     Ironically, while the tourism sector brings in billions of shillings in revenue, the course itself is not considered a top choice among many. This quickly dawned on me as a bright-eyed, first year student. Still, I was undeterred because mine was a combination of passion and a strong desire to see the world.

     In my first semester’s “Introduction to Tourism” Unit, I learnt of Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt’s voyage to Kenya. In March 1909, the 26th President of the United States had departed Washington for East Africa, just weeks after finishing his second term. He arrived in Kenya with a 250-member entourage that included his son, Kermit, and renowned British hunter and conservationist, Frederick Selous. Thus began what would be a yearlong safari on a big game hunting adventure.

     Our lecturer for the unit was an elderly, well-travelled professor who spoke in the lowest of tones. As a result, it was always a struggle to catch anything he said. Imagine our collective, pleasant surprise when we discovered that everything he “whispered” in class was arranged in the exact same manner in a book he recommended for further reading.

     But like all books written and published by foreigners that tackled subjects involving the African continent, you only got what was positive about retired President Theodore Roosevelt’s trip. Nobody spoke of his perception of the inhabitants he encountered, but rather the emphasis was on his agenda which was big game hunting. If you wanted to learn additional aspects about his voyage, then you had to dig deeper and certainly not in your recommended tourism related campus reads.

     In a March 27, 2010 article on the East African paper titled “Teddy Roosevelt Came To Kenya Guns Blazing,” what could arguably be touted as one of the earliest hunting voyages to Kenya, is described in further detail. After wrapping up his safari and returning back home, Roosevelt wrote the African Game Trails which went on to become a bestseller in the US. Of course, everyone at the time loved a read that spoke extensively of what was known to them as the “dark continent,” and especially if it was delivered through the eyes of a white man.

    Roosevelt, in his book, constantly refers to the Africans he encountered in Kenya as “savages.” In addition, he seemed particularly in support of the European colonization of East Africa and the Congo.

     “Africans had not advanced beyond the cave-man stage,” he pointed out at some point.

     Then, he proceeds to be impressed by what he perceives as courage when he got a chance to witness some Nandi hunters encircle and kill a lion. From the African Game Trails, one gets the impression that while the African landscape was more of a curiosity to foreigners in Roosevelt’s time, it was also an easy target for plunder and destruction as evidenced by the motivations that brought visitors to it. Their perception of the locals was equally that of disregard unless their actions fascinated.

     At the end of Roosevelt’s trip, his entourage had bagged over 500 big game animals that included 11 elephants, 17 lions and 20 rhinos in what would have been criminal in present day Kenya. Indeed, his safari which had been partly financed by the Smithsonian Museum, an institution that oversaw the running of a couple of US museums, had thoroughly “accomplished’ its mission — that of hunting wildlife. And upon his return to the US, he donated a huge percentage of his specimens to the natural history museums in Washington and New York.

     The African Game Trails is additionally credited for inspiring yet another American adventure — Ernest Hemingway’s Kenyan safari 25 years later.  Interestingly, Roosevelt’s adventures in the country were hardly enough to influence anything to be named after him, or perhaps, he was not that intent on leaving his name behind. Not so for Ernest Hemingway.

     In 1935 the American writer embarked on his own first African safari accompanied by his second wife Pauline and a friend, Charles Thompson. From a Marseilles port, the three boarded a ship and over two weeks later, arrived in Mombasa, Kenya. Hemingway explored the areas around Mombasa and Malindi before venturing inland. He spent some time in Watamu and must have made such an impact that a resort in the area ended up being named after him — Hemingway’s Watamu. The hotel exists to date with favorable reviews to boot.

     After his coastal adventures, Hemingway travelled to the home of Philip Percival, a white settler that had previously turned safari guide to many renowned foreign visitors including Theodore Roosevelt, who lived in Machakos. He was able to convince Percival to do the same for him, and they subsequently headed into neighboring Tanzania, again on a hunting expedition.

     It was in Tanzania that Hemingway fell ill with amoebic dysentery and had to be evacuated to Nairobi, Kenya, for treatment. He eventually cut his trip short and returned to Europe. The next time Hemingway would again consider Africa as a travel destination was in 1954. He came accompanied by his fourth and last wife, Mary, with the intention to explore Belgian Congo, Uganda, and Kenya. But it seems his African voyages were somehow jinxed.

     Two plane accidents happening consecutively ended his trip before he had accomplished much in terms of sightseeing. And like Roosevelt, Hemingway wrote not one, but a couple of books detailing his adventures in Africa. It was through the eyes of these early visitors that perhaps the rest of the world began to catch a glimpse of the touristic side of Africa, albeit shrouded by white perception of the continent.

     As a Travel and Tourism Management student, I found myself spending a lot of time reading recommended and non-recommended books in the library, and it always struck me as odd that few writers of African origin wrote tourism-related course books. Many of us students were aware of the earliest Europeans to explore and visit Africa, but none of us had any idea who the first Kenyan or African to embark on a tourism related tour was. We knew of Queen Elizabeth II learning of her father’s death while on a trip to Kenya in 1952 with her husband and her subsequent ascension to the throne.

     The hotel in question was Treetops Hotel in the Aberdares National Park in Kenya, and a common description has always been, “She went up a Princess and came down a Queen,” in reference to the storied building among trees.  In fact, she was at Sagana Lodge when she learnt of her father’s passing, due to her having departed from Treetops earlier.

     I don’t remember much mention of Kisoi Munyao, the 25-year-old Kenyan who hoisted the Kenyan flag on Mt. Kenya’s Lenana Point on the eve of December 12, 1963. Described as someone who was an outdoors type, Munyao is probably the first mountaineer from Kenya to undertake an activity now associated with adventure tourism. Worth mentioning is the fact that Kenya attained self-rule on December 12, 1963, and Munyao’s act needed to be celebrated coming on the eve of it. However, he lived quietly and modestly most of his life until his death when the nation seemed to remember him again.

     My own education journey seemed to be just as jinxed as Hemingway’s trips to Africa were. After a five-year struggle, I was forced to drop out of campus in my third year. Later that year, I got a job in the hotel industry. On my first day at work, I remember my supervisor taking me around the large hotel favored by foreigners and the well-to-do and declaring proudly to me how Prince William and his girlfriend, Kate Middleton, had once spent the night in the suite. I would later learn that it was probably on this trip to Kenya that the Prince proposed to his longtime girlfriend.

     My time working at the hotel was indeed enjoyable but short-lived. And while I gained some level of exposure, I also got to experience firsthand the colonial mentalities that refused to go away in the travel and hospitality industry. One time, long after I had stopped working at the hotel, I decided to take a walk to the game park in my hometown which is quite near where I live. I intended to visit a shop that sold amazing art and souvenirs which fascinated me.  

     However, I never quite understood why each time I visited said shop, I always got a hostile reception. This day was no different. When I got in, a shop attendant quickly came up to me. I touched an African necklace and asked him how much it was. “15,000kshs!” he mouthed, unsmiling. I proceeded to walk further inside, but he stopped me.  And with the straightest of faces, he told me in Swahili, “We are waiting for visitors, Wazungu!” That meant I had to leave because of the white visitors – Wazungu- they were expecting. I was livid.

     Never had I ever felt that disrespected in my own country, past experiences in this very shop notwithstanding. I left vowing never to come back, but my anger made me create a thread on it on Twitter which attracted quite some attention from travel and hospitality industry stakeholders. Suddenly, everyone seemed to be in agreement with me that the colonial mentality in the Kenyan tourism sector needed to change.

     The decolonization of African tourism sectors is indeed a crucial subject that is very rarely tackled. Decades after the very first foreign explorer set foot in Africa, tourism has thoroughly evolved on the continent, but African disregard still persists. The first picture that often comes to mind for many Africans is that of a white man in Safari wear, arriving in game parks in a tour van. The driver is always an African employed by a tour company who is just doing his job. Any other African who arrives in a tourism establishment is almost always automatically assumed to be an employee or up to no good, and the treatment quickly changes from warm to cold and stern.

     The establishments, which happen to treat all visitors alike, will tend to dismiss the Africans whom they deem as not “properly” dressed or spoken. The unspoken pressure is for an African travel enthusiast to carry themselves and dress in a certain way in order to be accepted in the travel and tourism class. I have experienced waiters and waitresses scramble to offer service when I once showed up at a restaurant in the company of a white man who had stopped me to ask for directions and then insisted we have coffee together at the said establishment.

     Then, the waiters and waitresses stood at a distance after serving us, and I could literally feel their curious eyes wondering where I had got myself a white man. I never shared this with him as he was basically a stranger to me, but it is experiences such as this that have stuck with me for a long time making me question when we got to this point as a country. Perhaps, we have always been there as a country, and this was just a continuation of it. I was sure that had I shown up at the establishment unaccompanied or in the company of a fellow African, the service would have been slightly slower since we are automatically expected to already be used to treatment that’s not too special.

     In recent times, domestic tourism has been heavily marketed by the Kenya Tourism Board (dubbed Magical Kenya), in a bid to encourage the locals to travel and explore the country more. Nowadays, it is common to keep stumbling on young Kenyan travel enthusiasts posting photos of the heavenly and exciting places they have been to in Kenya. Indeed, it is such a refreshing shift.  But has it taken too long to come?

     For the longest time, the only travel that a majority of Kenyans did affordably was going upcountry over Christmas to catch up with the rest of the family. The working class occasionally got the seminar outings that saw them booked into hotels at the coast where they proceeded to spend two or three days cooped up in conference rooms. In the evenings, perhaps they would venture out a little to the beach or pool area. And if your job was more lucrative than the average Kenyan’s, then occasional travels abroad on work or study assignments were also guaranteed.

     Our family album has always contained photos of a relative on my mother’s side who got the opportunity to study and work abroad long before my sister and I were born. Dull, in typical old, colored photographs, he was pictured walking along a bridge, with white, serious faces dotting the background.  He was probably en route to work, and there he was again at a parking lot dressed in a suit with his wife. The photos gave us a sense of pride that we had someone in our family who had gone overseas quite early. Few Africans, at the time, set out on travel missions, so work and school abroad was akin to travel as well.

     And while we now have a generation that is travelling more, we cannot overlook the generation that never got encouraged to travel or simply could not afford it.  As a result, they still perceive travel as a white man’s affair. They are a generation that long got convinced that the work of an African is only to entertain and serve the foreign visitors, and in truth, it’s no fault of their own.

     This same generation also got to witness Them Mushrooms, a Kenyan musical band from the coast, release the song “Jambo Bwana” in 1982 which contained the “Hakuna Matata” (No worries/problem) Swahili phrase in it. The song welcomed visitors to Kenya and was such a hit that the following year after its release, the German group, Boney-M released an English version of it titled “Jambo-Hakuna Matata.”

     Years later, in 1994, the animated Walt Disney’s Lion King movie popularized the phrase “Hakuna Matata” worldwide by featuring it in the plot and movie. Thus began what could easily be summed up as the cultural appropriation of the phrase culminating in Disney’s application to trademark it the same year the movie was released. Understandably, in 2018, fierce debate erupted among East Africans when for the first time, many of us learnt of the particular trademark.

     In a visionary move, Them Mushrooms shaped the Kenyan tourism industry’s entertainment circuit with a tune welcoming visitors to the country. But their efforts were seemingly trashed, when a bigger entity in the West decided to trademark a pretty normal phrase in the Swahili language spoken by millions in East and Central Africa. And although Disney clarified that they were not preventing anyone from using the phrase, it is common knowledge that the trademark gives them the right to sue anyone counterfeiting Lion King merchandise.

     Wouldn’t it have made more sense if Them Mushrooms themselves or the Kenya Tourism Board had trademarked the phrase instead? For Africans in general, the move by Disney was all too familiar, having been colonized in the past, and the uproar, indeed justified. But perhaps the first step in reclaiming what is ours is by embarking on a renaming of some of our tourist attraction sites still bearing foreign names given by explorers who first stumbled on them.

     Maybe then, we will collectively start feeling a sense of belonging and stop associating travel with one particular racial group. We need more tourism-related course books and reading material written by African travel enthusiasts and experts. We need to go back to our roots and revisit how we welcomed and entertained visitors and include that in our course work alongside foreign hospitality norms. Our culture, a great attraction to foreigners, should be at the forefront of travel and tourism learning. We can only thoroughly decolonize when we begin reversing what has long been instilled in us, while appreciating what has always been our cultural heritage.

Lorna Likiza is a Kenyan writer and tutor of French. Her fiction and nonfiction pieces have been featured in Arts and Africa, Ile Alo, Barren Magazine, Agbowo, and Down River Road. Her children’s book draft, Oi Gets Lost, was longlisted in the 2018 Golden Baobab Prize for African Children Book Writers and Illustrators. She is the founder of Heroe Book Fair, an upcoming literary event that inaugurates March 22-26, 2021. She can be found at https://twitter.com/lornalikiza?lang=en

Nothing could be,

more off key,

than the lack of sympathy

we receive in this symphony.

But, you mustn’t miss a beat

because, although you may be

on the horns of a dilemma,

you have been instrumental

in this rhapsody.

I don’t mean to string you along,

but please note: Compose yourself.

Conduct yourself with vigilance;

play your own instrument;

and toot your own horn,

before the coda’s come

and gone.


Jack Conway’s poems have appeared in Poetry, The Antioch Review, The Hiram Poetry Review, The Columbia Review, “The Norton Book of Light Verse,” and other poetry journals and anthologies. His book, “Outside Providence: Selected Poems,” was published in 2016. He is also the author of seventeen nonfiction books and teaches English at a community college in Massachusetts.