Abenea Ndago was born in 1979 and brought up in western Kenya. He went through primary and secondary education at Oneno-Nam Primary School and Onjiko High School respectively. He proceeded to the University of Nairobi for a bachelor’s degree (1998–2002), specializing in Linguistics and Literature. He was a high school teacher from 2005–2008. He won an M.A (Literature) scholarship with the University of Nairobi in 2008 and graduated in 2010. He is currently a part-time assistant literature lecturer at Bondo University College, western Kenya, a writer-cum-critic, and also a freelance journalist with The East African Standard. He reads widely, mostly the dark writings of Kafka, and every other magical realist. He thinks that all his writing happens as he walks under the sun – not in his room – where he quietly argues with all the elements of nature, including asking every wall why it’s vertical. He has several short stories. His novel manuscript, The Frontier,is a socio-political tale set in the 1960s’ western Kenya in the heart of the Cold War, and the impact of the same on that part of his country.
No, the brick walls which shield my writing do not enclose a room. They are a red jail of experiences which began long before my mother was born, married, and expelled from the earth, a decade to the turn of the millennium. There was the ‘initial occupant’, then ‘the white man,’ and finally ‘me.’ How to negotiate these three components of my existence has been as difficult and dangerous for my village as – the way my Luo people put it – ‘milking a donkey’. My neighbouring tribe was the ‘initial occupant.’ Then the ‘white man’ arrived, robbed him/her of land, and erected ranches and lush cash crop during colonization. Before the visitors themselves were expelled at independence in 1963. My village then sprang up as a government settlement scheme in 1964, where ‘me’ was settled (from another tribe), but there wasn’t due compensation to the ‘initial occupant.’ Every election year my microcosm of existence – whose face resembles my country’s – throws up in jolting strife, leaving victims wounded and dead. This state of ‘perpetual suspendedness’ of things, of their being stuck in a small space labelled ‘NO RESOLUTION’, are the signposts I pay homage to every time I write:
1. The Stream
Here was the epicentre of my childhood. I still see myself leading six or seven calves to it to drink, after midday, my shadow dwarfed under me. Later it was the large herd itself we were driving to wet their dry throats. Having tethered the calves, we dived, splashed, and the motherhood of her water bathed our small bodies… I was young. So the stream appeared huge. For her waters swelled and howled every April, dead trunks complaining disturbed as they rushed downstream, obeying the dark, muscular current of the raging mother. Either that (my being young), or my people have irreparably violated this treasure of my childhood. The huge trunks are gone; the dark-green foliage and canopy is no more; the noisy crickets with beating wings are a distant memory inside the mind’s ear. Thin water runs on dry rock, the lips of the stream panting under an unforgiving sun, like my shaved armpit when old age comes.
2. The Two Footbridges
No, I was not yet born when the lower footbridge was hurriedly laid in 1972. Before then – I heard – the few villagers jumped over the stream on their way to the market, and children to/from school. Then my sibling slipped and fell, water bruising him on the rocks, and he would have drowned but for my father’s being a brother of the fish. He plunged into the water and saved the poor child. A fiercely practical man, my father cut a disused railroad and laid it across the stream, tethering the metal with a very thick wire under the huge rock to the right. The upper concrete footbridge came in 2012, exactly 40 years later. For my writing, that small space between the first and second footbridges represents 40 years of official neglect inspired by political ethnicity.
3. The Eastern Hill
In my primary school days (1985 – 1992), we would stay behind every opening day to plant the New Year’s crop on every January 1st. The corn would be fresh by May, and the reason every villager built a small kiru hut in his farm was to scare away the wild pig which raided the crop at night. Fresh beans then flowered between the rows of corn, and in this case the East African bushbuck antelope was the menace. Believe me: the wild pig and the bushbuck are today absent pupils in our village’s class register. Reason: hunting, and human encroachment which has rendered the eastern hill a bald-headed skull. It was once a wilderness of huge trees and mist in the rainy season, but no more these days.
4. The Western Hill
This was the great wall which signalled the death of the day, and the end of play. Once the orange ball of the sun dipped behind it, mother called you to open the hut door for the chicken to enter; and for the cow to be relieved of all her milk. We used to hear there was a wild herd of East Africa’s mountain bongo antelope – my father’s generation called them ‘apol’ in Dholuo tongue –who colonized the top of the hill. Again: the mountain bongo antelope went the way of the wild pig and the bushbuck in the late 1990s.
5. The Jail under the White Man’s House
Something intrigued me not long ago. When I bid my father farewell on 12th, October 2012, my hollowness was so total that, to fill up the huge void with real essence, I elected to investigate the ‘Kachinja Myth’ whose sorrowful whiff still hangs thinly in my village air. It is a myth about a breed of people who, in the colonial times, waylaid and sucked their victim’s blood to death. If you were unlucky, they took you to their home, kept you in a cave under the foundation of the house, and you were bled slowly, slowly, slowly…and lastly you were slaughtered and your sorry corpse thrown where the museum site today rests. My findings still shock me: these were the white people who lived here. They employed black servants to catch unsuspecting travellers. These victims had their blood siphoned and sold. It was big business protected by the colonial government. Actually, our village museum site was a cover-up for this crime. An extremely wealthy white family which still lives in Kenya may have made its money through the sale of such sad blood, but the victims are lost, lost forever…