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Historical Writing – A Masterclass With Owaah [Storymoja Festival Newswire by The Kenyan Blogger]

My high school history lessons were spent chewing groundnuts from under my locker. Groundnuts that Nafula used to carry in Matunda Bus on her way from Bukembe to school. But now that I turned out fine, we can safely conclude that Nafula’s groundnuts were just that; innocent groundnuts. Not success charms as many would think. The groundnuts were to keep me awake since history classes were depressingly boring. In fact, nothing could summon my sleep demons faster than that history textbook back then. However, that notion of history being snore-worthy died a quiet death when I bumped into Owaah’s blog.

Owaah, this man. When you first lay eyes on him, Owaah looks slender. No, he is slender. But healthily so. Maybe it is the slight glint of mischief in his eyes or the unusual shape of his jaw, but something about his face makes you look at him the first time, and then again. And then again. It is like the effect Magunga’s broken tooth gives his face. You look at him and spend the whole time trying to figure out if he is smiling genuinely or just mocking you gently. Generally, Owaah’s face carries this amused expression of a guy who just made a pact with the gods to safeguard his existence.

During the ongoing Storymoja Festival, Owaah walked us down the lonely, haunted corridors of history. The corridors most of us would rather not walk. Maybe because we are afraid of coming face to face with crusts of the dried blood of our forefathers on the floors? Or is it the stray strands from their dreadlocked hair? I do not know. But I hear hair, black hair, does not rot. Is it true… and does it have anything to do with black not cracking? Anyways, Owaah helped us discover how to bring the ghosts that inhabit those ancient, spider-infested corridors of history to life. In plain words, how to use tools of fiction in history writing.

While the class took the chance to speak about history and its ghosts, I took the liberties of relishing this handshake some guy gave me early that morning. It was a lingering handshake. And one that I welcomed, surprisingly. The handshake was that good that when I finally came to my senses, I snatched my hand away from his silky one and awkwardly quipped, ‘ bless you!’ Why I was blessing the son of another woman after a handshake, I honestly don’t know. Maybe, it is the fact that his handshake awakened these ghost feelings inside me that have been lying asleep for a long, long time now. Not that it matters anymore. The guy concluded that I was a weirdo.

The session finally came to an end at 5pm. I left that class a changed person. By changed I mean, curious. Entering that class at 2pm, the only stuff I cared about in history was Idi Amin Dada and his many wives, stuff like the Kenyans who were tortured inside the dreadful Nyayo chambers and gossip about which paramount chief stole a local village chief’s concubine during the colonial period. But now, I want to dig deeper into history.

On my way out of the National Museum where the Storymoja Festival is taking place this week, I passed by this sculpture of a monkey. Lying on her lap is her breastfeeding kid, feeding on some healthy monkey milk. The senior monkey is rocking her kid gently, probably whispering ‘Maziwa si Ilara. Maziwa ni Monkey Milk.’ And, in a moment of curiosity, I wanted to turn them upside down, monkey and mini-monkey, just to check if they, the ancient monkeys had pink behinds, too. The small functional part of my brain told me to leave the fine-thank-you monkey alone. And I did.

I a sit complimenting myself for securing a front seat as I type this. I am happy after an eventful day but tired as well. Tired like a cabbage leaf. All I can do is wonder why this man, this imposing man, seated next to me is sitted so stiffly in his seat. His hands are clasped around his chest like one shielding himself from me (who btw is as tired as a sukumawiki at this moment). I want to tell him, ‘Relax man and fight your demons slowly.’ But he has this imposing frame and I… well I am but a thin Kenyan.

Owaah, unlike my seatmate, sat relaxed throughout the session, I think to myself. Like a man who owns a small portion of land somewhere in Nyeri from which he feeds his small family. It is possible that most of his farm is occupied by banana plants since that he spoke so highly of bananas at the beginning of the session. And, when the session ended he probably went back home to this pretty curvaceous woman who does not complain about the size of his limbs, methinks again.

The legendary Storymoja Festival is happening this week at the National Museum and you do not want to miss out all the various activities planned for you. Especially the Masterclasses. Here is the website, please check through and see which events you can attend.

(Owaah won the topical blog of the year in the 2017 BAKE Awards.)

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