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.
Dealing with the unnatural heat
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.
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,
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.
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.
Another step up
But did I step up,
Or step away?
Praying ended once I left parochial school
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
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
housing the paper and heavy boards
printed letters to elevate
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
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, A Sensory 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
Billie Holiday’s Deathbed
(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
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
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
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
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
“Control, prosecute, sanction” –
These are the words of the French President on October 2, 2020.
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,
and violently repressed,
in the French streets,
denounce the lack of resources,
call for the need for humane and decent treatment.
we don’t want this struggle,
a face to the ground under police violence,
and a ticket for
Congratulations and applause by way of gifts and then of coats of arms,
for service to the nation.
The war resumes today,
Aux armes citoyens
sounds like we are sinking.
like that of a detergent,
a sort of purification,
So in the name of right and freedom,
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”,
against the evils of religion.
A new government,
and a vocabulary now in use in cottages:
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.
Political strategy in the run-up to elections?
Xenophobia is naturalized,
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,
the Republic struts around,
takes up arms.
a people to preserve,
new barbarians to educate,
to the soft and sweet light of our know-how.
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 primer for the children of empire
impress lands where
sun never sets
flagrant em pyre
smoke sugar cloth
Latinate (no accident that)
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/
When Hakuna Matata Became a Phrase in English
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
The Sympathy Orchestra
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
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.
How John Coltrane Learned to Play Jazz
Jazz was discovered by Black musicians,
but it was invented by light passing through outer space.
Look up at the sky, notice the moon during daytime,
like a scoop of vanilla lopped onto an invisible cone;
know that you are seeing not the moon of now,
but of 1.3 seconds ago. See through the night sky
and see the past, different pasts,
all shooting through the Universe’s cold blackness
like racing hands reaching to the human iris.
A billion light years here and there, a solo from Sirius.
Most people don’t know that when John Coltrane
wrote “A Love Supreme,” all he had to do was stargaze.
Matt Moment (he/they) is a writer and performer based in New York. He will be graduating from SUNY New Paltz this spring. Find him at https://www.instagram.com/matt_moment/
Folding Time: Dear Descendant(s)
Tonight, I cannot stay in my bed.
Like an oversized morsel of solid amala coated in films of steaming ewedu, burning the mouth, I’ve rolled these thoughts all around the corners of my head all day, but I have yet to make sense of them. Strange things do happen in this world of ours. Stranger things even now, with all the unfamiliarity our traveller friends are bringing home with them.
If what my friend Samieli tells me is true, then norm is soon to dissipate into obsoleteness, and strange will morph up to take its place; only I’m born too early to witness it.
You see, Samieli hasn’t always been Samieli, and he hasn’t always known so much about the future. Tragedy visited our small village of Osogun one notorious afternoon—a day rarely mentioned, but neatly tucked away in the shadows of our memory—and took everyone it met away with it.
Back then, he was Ajayi, my playmate. Together we hounded the thorny trees that taunted our long throats with high-hanging oranges. We took them for all their ripe fruits and left the dark-green ones hanging among the leaves, until the ripening of their backs betrayed them too. On that fateful day, however, I had gone with my mother to collect ajo—thrift savings—in a neighbouring village, so Ajayi had to do the plucking alone.
When we returned, a hair-raising emptiness welcomed us. There were prints in the soil that showed plenty of hooves, plenty of dragging and a lot of blood. Doors and windows were left ajar, and from outside one could see they had all been ransacked. I remember seeing the oranges scattered around in Ajayi’s compound and the silence in the village being almost as tangible as they were. That was before my mother’s piercing scream confirmed to me that the worst had happened. I would never see most of the villagers again, most painfully, my father.
When this thing happened, my hand on one side could barely go over my head to touch my ear on the other. My mother could swear I only just stopped suckling. That was decades ago, years have folded into years, etching their passing on our faces. Now, our mothers are no more, and we ourselves are preparing to become grandparents. The tragedy of then had shown a different side to itself, taking away young Ajayi, my playmate, and bringing back Samieli, the bright, learned, and widely travelled man who is among many bringing some colour to our black and white.
As I grow older, I’ve found very few things are as valuable as wisdom. It has also been easily recognisable. I lay in my earthen bed at night, with closed eyes and a lively mind, playing back all Samieli has been teaching me. I have found wisdom in him, and every morning I count the seconds until the cocks crow so I can resume again.
There’s not much more to do since the cruel hands of death snatched the love of my life, Abeke Okin, oju loge t’in wo ewa bi aso.[i] I have died a hundred times since she’s been gone, in my tears and in the nights I spent questioning Eledua—almighty God—, hoping for day to break so that the sun could snap me out of my bad dream.
I have since accepted my fate. Even Adisa, our son who jumped into her grave asking to be buried with her, has moved on, showing strength and maturity everyone has asked me to emulate. So, when my old friend returned and showed me a new world on the pages of his books, and in the stories from his many travels, I found a new purpose.
Plenty has changed since my friend has been back. Ojo is now Maikeli. Ogidan is Gabreli, and Talabi is Esikieli.
These are names of a new faith, but it is more about the “-eli” than it is about attending lengthy church-services. Even Dauda who is Musulumi, and Falana the Ifa-diviner’s son, both attempted the suffix, but Daudaeli and Falanaeli didn’t exactly sound right.
Some of the new Kristeni converts themselves rejected names like Pita, Abraam and Mosis. Ajayi is Samieli, and we too must eli-lise. Give us new names only if they’re suffixed -eli.
It sometimes amazes me how much I’ve learned in such little time. My hair had started to grey out by the time I began, but I have not only mastered the entire language, I can even invent my own words. Samieli says I’m the smartest person he has taught English, and that weighs more to me than a bountiful harvest from my cocoa farms.
He thinks me smart for many whys. I’m of the few who cared more about the things that happened on his journey than the goodies he brought back from almost becoming a slave.
“The ship was like a haunted house,” he says. “Haunted not by the mercilessness of the masters, but the hopelessness of the chained, lying on their backs and sides through the length of the gruesome journey—the Middle Passage. Souls lifted off bodies like steam from a boiling pot, leaving the bodies heavier but completely empty.”
“There are three things I will never forget,” Samieli always says: “the ship that rescued us away from that hell—the HMS Black Joke; the captain of the ship—Henry Leeke; and the place it took us to—Freetown.”
It’s with these three that he tells the story of his freedom every time.
The HMS Black Joke being the miracle that ended what seemed like a cruel joke, a horror he had to bear for being black-skinned; Henry Leeke’s name being close to the Yoruba expression e’n ri, which translates to ‘you all can see it’ as the horror played out in real life for all to see; and Freetown being the place he and the others became free again, with the name of the place wearing a constant reminder that it was all over.
His journey wasn’t entirely a nightmare, and the part where he says this to me is usually the bridge between the horror and the glorious part—the part that is my favourite.
Samieli soaks me in intense euphoria this way, seizing the canvas of my mind to paint vivid pictures of the dingy pits on the slave ships and the harsh sufferings vested on the unlucky ones in there; the experience of breathing clean air that didn’t threaten to choke and good food that didn’t provoke a puke in his new life in Freetown; the new worlds he discovered on the pages of books taught to him in the Queen’s country; and so much more.
The irony of it all is how you cannot feel bad for him. It’s hard to feel bad for a man whose lemonade you are sipping on, made from the sour fruits life has thrown at him.
As we sit together, breaking kolanut and drinking this sweet and sour lemon water, I take in how similar I am to my friend, yet how different. I wear my hair on my head while he spreads his to the sides of his face and the top of his upper lip like the white man. It’s also the white man’s clothes he wears now. I tried them once but since decided nothing compares to my buba and soro, with a fila abeti-aja—traditional shirt and trousers, with a fitting cap—to match.
The English rolls off Samieli’s tongue with such perfection, it is easy to forget how much of a traditional Yoruba man he is. I’m reminded when he chants my oriki—eulogy—in admiration of how fast I have mastered these languages—English, Nupe and Igbo: Omo ologbon ti’n fogbon s’omimu. Ologbon lo laiye, eni ti ogbon oya ju eni to ti kulo.[ii]
Truly, he who doesn’t seek knowledge is no better than a dead person. This has been in my oriki, but until he sang it to me, it didn’t really mean more than mere praises. With renewed clarity to these words, I decide to start to live afresh. After all, my son, Adisa has taken a wife and showed himself capable of taking over my cocoa farm. This is surely a better way to spend my time than to continue wallowing in self-pity over my Abeke’s demise.
So, I bid my friend goodbye and set out on a quest for more knowledge. With each figment of it came a new splash of colour. My footprints can bear witness to the expanse of my quest across the continent of Africa. I’ve fed on written words within the walls of Timbuktu, and I’ve been taught in a place called yunifasiti in Karueein, Morocco.
Trotting from place to place across Africa showed me more of her beauty and the abundance of wealth tucked within her. I still lay with closed eyes at night, closed eyes attached to a lively mind. The “lively” was in black and white, but now I see in colours. The greying has eaten up all of the black strands on my head, but you should see it, shiny and sitting pretty like a silver crown.
My friend published a book in Yoruba many years before. By the time I’m back, he has written more in Nupe, Igbo, as well as English. He is even writing the entire Kristeni book – the Bibeli – from English into Yoruba. I know I’ll likely never publish, but I took inspiration from him to start writing in this, my book.
Among the things I’ve written is a burning question I carried all the way home with me from my travels. Samieli hardly heard it in full before giving me a knowing nod. The mention of Ali Quam, the alchemist from Dar-es-Salam, was all it took. Apparently, they met a while ago and rubbed minds extensively on the issue.
While I was being taught Swahili by Ali Quam in a lonely settlement along the River Nile, he told me about this Vibranium. He said it’s believed to only be available in Africa. He said it’s powerful enough to transform the world. But he also said it could take up to a hundred years before we even find its exact location.
“So, you believe in this Vibranium?” I ask.
“Seeing is believing my friend,” he responds.
I’m building this image of the future in my mind. It’s a stairway that leads to a summit beyond my sight. Finding Vibranium is maybe the only way I can see it.
Samieli doesn’t agree, and he makes a good point. Vibranium or not, do you not see how blessed we are already?
Truly, we are the balance of existence, where nature sits, and all the good things of life abound.
Is our air not clean, or our soil not fertile? Are our children not warriors, or does milk and honey not flow beneath our grounds? His questions keep coming.
Submerged in reflection, I nod slowly, and then I ask a question of my own: “How do you imagine this place would look in a hundred years?”
“Everything will be better,” he says. “Humans will live better, trade better, transport themselves better, and communicate better. Maybe the world will have a meeting point then, centralised and without the barriers of borders. More diseases will have cures, and maybe that can help people live longer.”
My mind struggles to create better houses than the earthen masterpiece I live in. Would they be movable, or would they sit in mid-air? How about getting the education I got through space and time without having to leave home? Would that not be some kind of egbe—disappearance charm? I know Samieli’s horse-pulled carriage tops my aged donkey, but what could top the carriage? Perhaps I could speak from here and Quam would respond wherever he is? All these seem strange and impossible.
Samieli scratches his sideburns, his face tilting upwards as if he’s been deeply reflecting too. “You’ll be surprised how many more things you think strange now that were the norm then,” he says.
“If only I could see it,” I sigh.
“Who says you can’t?” He responds. “Who says they wouldn’t have found a way to fold time by then.?”
That comment danced around my mind all evening, and now as I lay in my bed watching the glowing bow of the moon through my open window, it has birthed an idea that’s shaking my whole body with excitement.
Tonight, I can no longer stay in my bed. My mind is alive and in colours, but my eyes are not shut. I am bending over my journal, inked feather in hand. If I can’t make sense of these hot morsel thoughts, I can at least send a message forward and ask for help.
A hundred years is what Samieli and I talked about, but when I tear this page off from this book, I will add another fifty and lock it away in my inheritance until the year 2020 AD.
So, dear great-great, or great-great-great grandchild or children, this is a journal entry for you. I believe strange must be the norm by the time you’re reading this. Maybe you even found Vibranium.
If by now, folding time backwards is possible, please travel to the year 1870 AD to get me. It must be a beautiful place where you are, and I would really love to see it. More importantly, please bring some cure for high fever if it exists. Together we will travel a few more years backwards and undo my greatest regret by saving my Abeke Okin. I miss her much more than I can invent new words for.
It will be fun, I promise you.
Alabi-eli Omoafrica olowo Cocoa
[i] Fashionable face who wears beauty like a cloth.
[ii] Child of the wise who drinks from the fountain of wisdom. The wise owns the world, he who is not wise is no better than he who is already dead.
After he was forcibly sent to science class in high school, it took Ibrahim Babátúndé Ibrahim twenty years to finally find his way back to his passion, in 2019, when he left a successful ten-year career in media and entertainment to become a writer. In that time, his works have appeared in Doorisa Jar, Ake Review, Agbowó, Analogies and Allegories, and more. He finished as a finalist in #GogeAfrica20 Writing Contest and Ibua Journal’s Packlight Series. He has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He can be found at https://twitter.com/heemthewriter, https://www.instagram.com/heemthewriter/, https://www.facebook.com/heemthewriter
A Biko manifesto for the ages:
Black man you are on your own
In your own unmarked unknown grave
In your own land you do not own
With your own hands you own but lend to owners
With a job only to own bread
With the yield of your hand being owned
Forbid them to own your Black mind too
Black man you died on your own
Only the Black skeleton is left
By slavery, coloniality, Apartheid, and continued oppression
Your skin skinned by old and new cacophonies of violence
Your skeleton — a witness to timeless tragedies befalling your skin
Rising in the Eastern Cape,
to awaken Biko’s consciousness
Setting in West Africa’s Ghana,
where Nkrumah settles for African unity
It heats the ripe red soil,
That warmly blankets sleeping souls,
Of Lumumba, Mandela and Nyerere
The Sun is African
Diliza L. Madikiza lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has published his work in various literary journals in South Africa and the UK. He has worked in the media and communications professions and, more recently, has been a lecturer at the University of South Africa in Communication Studies.