Okeny’s Mother and the Ugly Dog

Okeny’s mother and the ugly bitch

Long ago, a small hilly village gained fame for its girls. Tall. Beautiful. White teeth. Thick black hair. Five of the girls were close friends and went everywhere together. Ayaa was the most beautiful of them all.

Everywhere the girls went, people commented that Ayaa was the most beautiful. The more the praise poured, the more envious the girls became of Ayaa. They plotted to make Ayaa non-human.

One day, as the girls took a walk around the village, they turned Ayaa into a walking stick. After a short walk, they met a group of boys.

“Who is the most beautiful of us all?” the girls asked.

“You are all beautiful but that walking stick is more beautiful,” the boys said.

This did not sit well with the girls.

The girls then turned Ayaa into a head pad. They continued their journey. Shortly, the girls met three men.

“Who among us is the most beautiful girl?” they asked.

“You are all beautiful but that head pad is more beautiful,” the men said.

The girls were speechless.

They decided to turn Ayaa into a very ugly dog. They hoped anyone who saw the dog would despise it since it was an ugly animal. On the way, they saw four women seated in a courtyard. Each of them had their eyes set on the village path, waiting to book beautiful girls for their sons as wives. When the women saw the girls, they ran and each of them held the hand of the girl they thought suitable for their son. One of the women, whose son was called Okeny, arrived shortly after her colleagues had booked all the girls. Only the dog was unclaimed.

She said: “Let me take this dog to my home even if it’s ugly. I’ll serve it any leftover food instead of throwing it away.”

When Okeny got home that day, he learned that all the women had got beautiful girls for their sons, except his mother. He was angry and heartbroken that all his mother brought home was a dog. His mother explained that she arrived a little too late when all the girls were already claimed. Still, Okeny was inconsolable.

Early the next day, people in the village went to their farms. Okeny and his mother left Aputa and the dog home. Aputa was crippled and couldn’t engage in farm work. As soon as everyone was gone, the dog slipped out of its skin and became the beautiful Ayaa again. She started doing house chores immediately. Aya began by sweeping the house, then she went to the stream to fetch water. Later, Ayaa picked dry millet fingers from the granary, pounded and winnowed it. She ground the millet into flour. Next, Ayaa prepared sauce and mingled millet bread. She served some food and ate together with Aputa. Ayaa also put aside food for Okeny and his mother. She covered it with calabashes. She warned Aputa not to tell anyone that she was human. Aputa agreed. She wore back her dog skin and lay on the veranda.

Okeny and his mother finished farm work late in the afternoon. On their way home, Okeny’s mother kept lamenting how tired she was. “I’m exhausted. Who will fetch water from the stream for me today? There’s also food to be prepared. Unlike me, my fellow women have their daughters-in-law to quickly prepare food for the family.”

When they arrived home, Okeny’s mother noticed that the house was clean, all pots were filled with water and food was ready for them to eat. She was incredibly happy and showered Aputa with praise for his hard work.

“Aputa, you have just proved that you can take care of the home and do all domestic chores,” she said.

Aputa smiled but said nothing.

They took a bath and went to bed.

The next day, everyone went to the farm again. When the dog was sure it was alone with Aputa, it peeled off its skin and Ayaa emerged. She went through the same routine as she did the previous day. When Okeny’s mother got home from the farm, she found food had been served. Water pots were full, the house and courtyard swept clean. She thanked Aputa for the great work. This continued for another two days.

Aputa kept Ayaa’s secret until he couldn’t anymore.

“You see that dog over there? It’s human,” he whispered to Okeny’s mother one day. “Whenever you two go to the farm, the dog turns into a beautiful girl; beautiful than all the girls in this village.”

Okeny’s mother was in shock.

Aputa continued: “If you want to confirm my words, tomorrow, Okeny should hide on the tree and watch everything that will happen here.”

Okeny and his mother thought about all the housework and admitted that Aputa couldn’t have performed those tasks owing to his physical disabilities.

The next morning, everyone went to the farm as usual. Okeny and his mother also set off to the farm but along the way, Okeny stopped and climbed the tree on the edge of the homestead. He waited. When the dog was sure everyone had left, it took off its skin and became Ayaa, the beautiful one. She did all the house chores and served Aputa food. Thereafter, Ayaa picked a pot and headed to the stream. Okeny watched quietly as she walked past the tree. Once Ayaa had disappeared down the valley, Okeny climbed down, ran back home, picked the dog’s skin and burned it. When Ayaa finished fetching water, she served food for Okeny and his mother and covered it nicely. When she went to pick her skin, it was gone. Ayaa started crying. Okeny, who had hidden on the wood rack in the house now jumped down. He held Ayaa as she cried and pleaded to be allowed to wear her dog skin.

Okeny was swept away by Ayaa’s beauty. He was excited that a beautiful girl had been hiding behind a dog’s skin all along. He thanked his mother for bringing it home even when he didn’t want it.

Okeny and Ayaa fell in love, got married and became the most enviable couple in the village.


Photo Credit: Pixabay


NOTE: The Ododo Series is a project launched in April 2020 to translate, document and share Acoli folktales in English. These folktales were narrated to children by (grand) mothers in a fireplace setting in homesteads of the Acoli of Northern Uganda and elsewhere. Care has been taken to stick to the story-line as originally told in the Acoli language, but small variations are inevitable.


Edited by Caroline Ayugi






I killed a man last night

It started like this. The Doc said I have a syndrome.

When the syndrome comes, it sets my spine on fire, my intestines go into a pull and shrink mode, my mind forgets what it should remember and remembers what it should forget.

My hormones get jumpy; sometimes (most times) I don’t want to get out of bed because my body acquires the weight of a train and aches like it’s aching to win a Nobel. On those days, I hate the music that usually make me smile and I shrink like a tortoise, convincing the world I don’t exist.

On such days, I hate popcorn and sweet bananas and sugarcane and I refuse to make pancakes even when on other days they are the only food that drive my foul mood to the woods.

On such days, I take long walks around the neighborhood and ignore the dogs I usually fear; close my ears to the hissing of men who call me sweet baby without a clue about the bile I carry inside.

On days like those, I jog on that steep hill even when the Doc said, keep it low impact, dear. I jog long and hard because sweat drowns some of my demons.

On such days, I get fatigued without lifting a finger and sleep becomes a difficult lover to woo.


Sometimes I wake up before my alarm shrieks, I prepare breakfast and actually enjoy it.

On such days, I wear my hair wild and put on red lipstick and a mini-skirt and ditch my bra and play loud music in the car and drive fast.

On those days, I arrive at work on time, work so hard I get scared my boss might think I’m after his job.

On such days, I watch movies with guns and mischief and love. When the night arrives,  I cry looonnng and hard for no particular reason and feel good about it; I dance before the mirror and walk around the house naked.


When the Doc told me about the syndrome, my mind deleted its contents in a flash, my eyes zoned out everything and I felt my ears fly off my head. I didn’t hear the Doc ask if I am okay.

Of course I was not okay. But I told the Doc I was perfect and smiled that smile that I only smile when I am with my mother or when fantasizing about twins and living in a tree-house.

The Doc said I had taken the news better than he’d imagined and I heard his breath stroll out of his nose loud and relieved, his face creased in a cautious smile.

How could I not take it well when it’d been years of whoring from one doctor to another, one hospital to another trying to find the clan and religion that this disease subscribes to? How could I not smile that smile, when it had taken years of guess diagnosis and misdiagnosis and mis-treatment.

Does the Doc know what it means for your hair to start falling off your head because they got fed up of the meds and stress and neglect? Does he know what it means to learn that you were on anti-depressants you could have done without? How do you detox your mind from such gamble?

How could I not smile when the disease I had moved around with for years suddenly had a name, even if it’s a chronic?


This Doc didn’t just shove tablets down my throat like I had gotten used to. He said, take note of how you feel when you eat anything. Exercise in moderation. MANAGE STRESS. I loved him for that. For putting me in charge of my syndrome. My IBS (Google it).

I have done all that. I do all that the Doc says. In fact he says I’ve become a Doc myself (I guess I just need a practicing certificate).

But you see, my body still throws tantrums and my skin hasn’t grown tough enough to shake off stress with ease; my tummy is still proud, choosy and bossy. I’ll take wheat for breakfast today and my system coils its tail like an obedient dog, and the next day I eat wheat for breakfast and my body gets defiant and every body part wants to do a Brexit on me.

I try.

I know I try because my back got one solution. It loves the hardness of the floor.

On most days I ditch the softness of my bed and embrace the hardness of the PS – the Presidential Suite (see, someone had to give it a befitting name to make it lovable). My back loves how the PS extends its arms past the fluffy carpet and kneads by skin and spine and everything. The fire in my spine dies out on those days and I lie there, eyes on the ceiling, creating stanzas in my head or storming out of the PS to grab the laptop and write down words before they retreat to that place in my mind that forgets what it should remember.

And then it happened.

It was on one of those nights when sleep gets tired of playing hard to get and offers itself for free. On one such night, my eyes fluttered open when my ears caught a click-click sound. From my PS, I saw him standing outside the door. I waited, and held the blanket tighter.

The click-click came again and the door flung open. The security light from without followed him in and I saw shock engulf his face when his eyes landed on the frame in the living room. The encounter had come too soon.

He moved closer, pulled the blanket off my body and I sat up in that speed that seizes my body on days when I wake up before the alarm.

I hit him on the neck in that spot where they say life resides. I left him to finish dying and I walked out of the house to take some air outside.

There was no dead man in the morning. No blood. Just bits and pieces of what used to be my blender, scattered on the floor like it died struggling to take say a prayer.

You see…

I do everything the Doc tells me to do.

He just didn’t tell me how to snap out of a dream that involves killing a man.


Auntie, there’s blood on your dress.



Listen, don’t tell anyone about this, Okay?

Yes, Auntie.

It’s our little secret, hmmm?

Yes Auntie.

Akello dashed into the house, even though her legs suddenly felt like dry leaves being rustled by the wind.

Once inside, she took off her white dress, raised it up like an offering to a powerful being, a being residing beyond the ceiling of her house.

How could you do this to me Father? How could you?

The sermon from the early morning Sunday service came rushing back to her mind, Pastor Mark’s voice drowning her sobs.

“Praise His Mighty name!”


“Praise Him, for He is the author of miracles.”

“Yes He is!”

“Whatever your heart’s desire, consider it fulfilled today. Because He is able!”

“Yes, He is.”

Didn’t your servant say you are able?

How long must my shoulder carry this load?

From her eyes to the floor, tears rolled. From between her legs to the floor, blood flowed, abundantly.

It was the fifth miscarriage in three years.


Today, Kiden sits under a mango tree in Grandma’s home and remembers Auntie Akello.

She remembers their blood on your dress secret. She smiles.

Then she remembers the day Auntie taught her how to mingle millet bread, how to eat sugarcane without getting a cut on the lips, how to winnow, how to cut onions without tearing, how to put the right amount of salt in the food, how to tell that the potatoes cooking on the stove is running out of water…

Her reverie is cut short when the twins come running, chasing a ball.

They roll on the grass, grab the ball, throw it against the wall and run again to catch it. Their infant voices tear pierce the sky, the energy in their bodies, abundant.

That energy reminds Kiden of Auntie Akello again. The day Auntie delivered the Opio and Acen, she was possessed by the mother of all energy. She pushed even when the TBA told her to wait a little. And when she pushed the last of the twins out, a calmness descended over her.

The sweat that had dotted her face, started drying off, like dew exposed to the morning sun.

Then she breathed, a loud, lengthy breath as though it would be her last. It was.

Looking at her grave stone now, Kiden finds herself smiling – smiling that her Auntie didn’t die a child-killing witch like Laliya Village believed.

She died a mother.




My #FlashFiction



I’m pregnant, Mum.

I know.

Then why haven’t you said anything?

I was waiting for you to open up about it.


So who’s responsible?

I’m also getting married, Mum. End of month.

What? What’s the hurry?

We don’t want our baby to be illegitimate.

Who’s the man?

Ahm…you’ll attend the wedding, won’t you?

Of course baby, but who is…?

I’ll go try on my gown tomorrow, will you come with me?

Yes. Yes…

Cool…and you don’t mind giving me away on D-Day, do you?

Shouldn’t your Dad do that?

He would have, if he wasn’t my baby’s father too.

A week later, I found Mum sitting with her back against the swing, the same spot where she gave birth to me in 1990. Grandma said I came too fast. There was no time for hospital.
On her white skirt, Mum had scribbled, “Sorry I’ll miss your wedding baby”.

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Someone give my government a condom

My beloved, Uganda, used to preach A.B.C

But now he says no more #Abstinence, no more #Condoms. But he’ll still #BeFaithful

I was about to smile a full smile and say not all’s lost after all, until he flung me onto a pick-up truck

Yanked off my clothes and said the world needed to bear witness to our affection

As his weapon-wielding disciples cheered him on,

My lover ignored the stare of the sun and upgraded our relationship

He didn’t just screw me like he’s done for the past 53 years, he screwed me #Live

Oh beloved, don’t you fear HIV anymore? 

Shhhh! He whispered. Aids stopped killing us in the 90s. Now we only have oil thieves to worry about…

Dear world, please give my government a condom 

Search thy souls all ye ‘masters’ of chalk

It’s the beginning of a new school term, and as has become the norm, teachers are protesting. They want government to increase their salaries by 10 per cent this academic year as promised in 2014.

It’s common knowledge that Ugandan teachers are one of the poorly salaried civil servants. The student to teacher ratio which stands at 1:53, plus the insufficient incentives such as housing, does not make the situation better.

Over the years, our teachers have been fighting for what is due to them and rightly so. The back-and-forth discussions with government for pay rise, the demands, threats and actual protest against government’s failure to honour its pledge, is something that has dominated our headlines.

There have been media reports of teachers who don’t have the basic tools of trade such as chalk or boards to conduct lessons, others share toilets with their pupils, while some female teachers, just like the girls they teach, miss school because they can’t afford sanitary pads. These are embarrassing realities.

Although government has made some steps, such as paying science teachers a 30% allowance, 30% for hardship allowance, constructed some teachers houses and committed Shs25b to the teachers’ SACCO, all these seems to be a drop in the ocean.

At institutions of higher learning, the situation is not any different. Lecturers, notably at Makerere University, have almost every semester downed their tools in demand for better pay and welfare.

But let’s step back from the shadow and look at the other side of the coin.

The Daily Monitor recently published a story about how lecturers at Makerere have been gifting retakers and outright failures with distinctions for money.

There have been lingering reports of sex for marks and sexually transmitted degrees at universities. There have also been cases where lecturers refuse to mark students’ research papers unless ‘something small’ is given, contrary to rules; and there have been cases where lecturers award marks without marking scripts. All this is public knowledge, a shameful public knowledge.

Back to primary and secondary schools, cases of teacher absenteeism persist, while in some of the moneyed and ‘elite’ schools, exam malpractice and theft thrive as proprietors strive to have their students declared ‘stars’ in newspapers and to have the biggest enrollment at university.

In 2011, the Uwezo report revealed that Ugandan pupils can neither read nor write. In 2015, the report shows that our pupils still can’t read and write and that “Uganda has continued to perform worse than her counterparts (Kenya and Tanzania)”.

At university level, most graduates join the job market when they are half-baked and or clueless about what they were supposed to have learned. While the blame can be partly put on the largely theoretical education curriculum, it’s also true that very little teaching, instruction and guidance takes place at most universities.

So what we have is a situation where pupils who can’t read and write are ‘automatically’ promoted; at secondary school, they cheat their way to university, and cheat or sleep their way to graduate, cheat to get a job and cheat at the job.

Some of our teachers are sadly a product of this messed-up system and they continue to feed the children with the same value system.

Isn’t it time the revered and respected teacher of the 70s and 80s stood up and be counted? Isn’t it time our teachers show us value and justification for their demands? Isn’t it time our teachers make a concerted effort to redeem the profession by coming up with to-do lists to sanitize the education system? How about our teachers down their tools over the insufficient or late funding from government? How about our teachers quit class over the lessons that still take place under trees, the absence of school inspection or the things that go wrong in a pupil/student’s life?

Teachers deserve better pay, yes, but pupils and parents too deserve better output. There are still, no doubt, teachers of valor and students of substance, but what about the rest?

Times are hard, but as demands are made, let’s not close our nose to the smell coming from beneath the desks.

Theatre takes a leap in Kampala

Radio Play 2

A scene from Radio Play, one of the productions that featured during the Kampala International Theatre Festival.

“You should know that the government is following you.”

That statement can easily be understood to mean a warning by government to a ‘bigheaded’ opposition politician.

Far from it!

When a minister goes to a radio station for an interview, he and the presenter chat after the show. The conversation appears casual, with the minister asking the presenter how his father is doing (the presenter’s father is a cleaner at the radio station by the way, and that is a well-kept secret).

But as the minister leaves, he tells the presenter to talk about government in more positive light –to have some patriotism. He then drops the subtle warning.

And he follows the threat to the letter.

Soon after, the presenter receives calls stopping songs that the establishment deems unfit. When the presenter gets a call demanding that he should play ‘local songs’, he picks Chop My Money, by Nigerian duo P-Square.

Immediately, the presenter gets a protest call. That song is not ‘local’ enough, the minister says and rants several more ‘concerns’ and recommendations to which the presenter responds with a  Yes Sir! and Long Live the Nation!

Then he mumbles an explanation: “The song is not about corruption, Sir…I don’t think government is chopping my money.”

The presenter also has to twist the news flashes – keen to avoid presenting government in bad light. For instance, a news flash stating that an NGO had donated footballs, is changed to read that the donation is by government.

And when a suspected terrorist attack occurs, the presenter is at a loss, he is frustrated because he knows presenting the news as it is, will put him in trouble; so he doesn’t read the news flash and instead of music, he plays a recording of gunshots in a last-minute protest, and this gets him in huge trouble.

Suppression of freedom of expression and of the media is one of the themes that run through the play Radio Play by Amizero Kompagnie in collaboration with Rwandan artists.

It is one of the theatre productions from East Africa and South Africa that were stage played and/or screened at the National Theatre from 26th to 30th November 2014 during the inaugural Kampala International Theatre Festival organized by Sundance Institute East Africa, and Bayimba Cultural Foundation.

Radio Play grips you with its tongue-in-cheek and hilarious approach to laying bare societal ills like the assault on freedoms and the everyday struggles and secrets of married couples and ordinary people in relationships.

One can easily laugh it off when a lady calls Miss Hibu – the presenter of the late night love show – complaining of how she doesn’t have water in the house anymore, and despite her plumber being super at his work, nothing seems to yield.

Miss Hibu then proceeds to counsel her on how she should imagine the days when rain was plenty and she didn’t have to stress about lack of water.

The problem at hand was that the married female caller has been having a problem with lubrication – a thing affecting her sex life with her husband. But the way the story is clothed in innuendos make it decent, highly intelligent and funny to watch.

The other play I watched was Desperate To Fight by Ethiopian Meaza Worku Berehanu and directed by Ugandan Aida Mbowa.

This play tells the story of a three-time divorcee, Marta, who, tormented by the happy life and ‘love sounds’ of a couple living next door, wonders if she should get married for the fourth time. With the biological clock not in her favour, Marta recalls the woes of her past marriages and looks at the future, wondering if marriage is still worth it.

The producers describe the play as a “sophisticated, witty and paradoxical story about relationships, love and marriage from the heart of gender struggles…”

When the curtains fell on National Theatre on November 30th 2014, many a theatre goers must have looked back and nodded at how far theatre production has come.

And when the event goes into its second year on 25th– 29th November, 2015, we can only hope that with more publicity, more people, especially Ugandans, will attend.


Productions featured during the festival

Africa Kills Her Sun (Tanzania)

Black Maria (Kenya)

Dechirement (Burundi)

Desperate To Fight (Ethiopia)

DJ Lwanda (Kenya)

Maria Kizito (Uganda/USA)

Radio Play (Rwanda)

Ster City (South Africa)

Strings (Uganda)

Wimbo Wa Nyonga (Tanzania)

Dear UPDF, institutions are made up of people

Dear UPDF,

One of your soldiers, Lt Col David Lukanga, recently told Mukono residents to kill thieves on sight, according to the Daily Monitor.

Lt Col Lukanga also advised the residents to keep petrol, kerosene, matchboxes and tyres in their homes to deal with the thugs.

In fact, Lukanga’s statement can be interpreted as a rally call for mob justice, because according to him, “when these people (robbers/thieves) come to steal or rob, they torture the victims and even kill them. Why should we have mercy on them?” he wonders, as Daily Monitor quotes.

Now I have read in Chimpreports that UPDF deputy spokesperson, Maj spokesperson Henry Obbo issued a statement saying Lukanga made the remarks as an INDIVIDUAL and the UPDF should not be linked with the mob justice rally call.

But if I may ask, why is it that whenever a UPDF soldier commits a crime, you come out to say those criminal acts should not be viewed as that of the institution the culprits serve? When does a soldier cease being a soldier and become an INDIVIDUAL? Does referring to a soldier as an INDIVIDUAL strip him/her of the ‘soldier’ title?

I remember when residents of northern Uganda complained that UPDF soldiers, and not just LRA rebels, killed civilians during the two-decade war, you said those are individual officers who can be dealt with as individuals (if people present evidence of their crimes).

But why do you, the UPDF (and police) continue attempting to draw a ridiculous line between your officers and the institution they serve? If a soldier shoots a civilian, it becomes a big deal because the soldier is a soldier, was probably dressed in uniform and used a gun, which, without the UPDF that he/she works for, he/she probably would not have had the gun and uniform.

I sincerely hope that you, the UPDF (and police) can find better excuses and explanations for the indiscipline of your men and women, instead of trying to delink the officers from your institution when you find it convenient.

Institutions are made up of people, they are spearheaded by people. It is just ridiculous and shallow for you to keep looking for scapegoats for your shortfalls.

Yours sincerely,

Pissed off Ugandan


Related stories

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Kill all thieves on sight, army officer tells locals

http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Kill-all-thieves-on-sight–army-officer-tells-locals/-/688334/2525742/-/x7hldoz/-/index.html .

UPDF to ‘Counsel’ Officer Over Mob Justice Remarks


Kimeria breaks the rules beautifully in Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges


Of goats and poisoned oranges, a novel by Ciku Kimeria, explores the family life of a middle-class Kenyan couple – Wambui and Njogu. Years into the marriage, Njogu gets a mistress, Nyambura. He has a child with each of the women (although later it is revealed he is actually impotent – which means he didn’t father the boys). All that mess, plus the inerasable differences in social background, the power play regarding the family wealth, the hypocrisy and even greed, weave up to form an intriguing read as told by different characters in the book.

The novel starts with Wambui attending her own funeral. I immediately found myself asking questions – interesting questions. Is Wambui actually dead, if so then how is it that she is attending her own funeral? Or is it her ghost attending the Is Wambui having a dream about her funeral?

Even later when I learn that Wambui is indeed alive, more questions emerge. I asked why she is faking her death; why she would attend her funeral and risk being spotted, albeit her new identity.

Answers to these questions get answered one at a time as I turn page after page of the novel, but I can’t promise you everything in the book is explained or answered. I for instance, kept asking myself if Wambui underwent plastic surgery as part of acquiring her new identity. Did she change her hairstyle or start wearing spectacles. But again, that is the beauty of the novel, if gives what it can and allows the reader to explore and imagine.

However, what’s for me most intriguing about the novel is how Kimeria tells the story from the perspective of several characters. Kimeria breaks the common rule of telling a story through the eyes of one or two characters. In goats, every single character plays a part in building a chapter. We get to understand what Wambui thinks about her husband Njogu and vice versa, what Nyambura fantasizes about her affair with Njogu and so on.

At the end of the day, a mesh of a messy family relationship is revealed by mother, father, son, step-son, maid, mistress, sister, brother, etc. – with each fronting their own truth, what they believe is their truth.

The hypocrisy, lies and greed that characterize most marriages or families for that matter, is not something new per se, but Kimeria gives a sparkle to these themes by telling the story differently and giving liberty to the characters to strip before the reader using their words.

Then there is the simplicity of language, the localization of events and concreteness of situations that shows the writer had control over her knowledge. The description of life in jail as experienced by Nyambura, the pettiness of Wambui’s attitude towards the ‘unwashed’ friends of her husband Njogu, are some but a few incidences where the writer takes you home with the simplicity of language without diluting the story she is telling.

What took me back about the novel though, were the footnotes. Most of the vernacular words used were easily understandable in the context for which they were used and one could easily derive meaning. For instance, on Page 6, Kimeria writes:

 “Oh, my gachungwa, I had missed you so much.”

Then a footnote is given to explain what gachungwa is: “Kikuyu word of endearment. Literally translates to “sweet orange”.

And then there is this;

“No, this githeri is not burnt at all, it’s quite delicious.”

The footnote goes on to explain: Githeri – A traditional Kikuyu meal primarily made of maize and beans.

Even the more known ‘vernaculars’ such as nyama choma, Mau Mau and Matatu are explained in the footnotes which just took it away for me, I felt spoon-fed and thought the writer was being apologetic for no reason.

And in the last chapter of the book, I got a feeling that the switch from the use of First Person to Third Person (as told by narrator), was a difficult one. As a reader, I had become comfortable eating the story as served by the different characters, then at the end of it, when Njogu decides to kill Wambui, a narrator takes the dish away.

I imagine the shift in Point of View was made to allow for a detachment from both Njogu and Wambui who, at that point, couldn’t tell their own stories. We needed to see how Njogu “grabbed Wambui by the neck” and how Wambui struggled to breathe as she was strangled.

Still, the ending came out neatly. I totally didn’t foresee Njogu killing Wambui and the ease with which he executed the act made me even wonder if I knew him at all.

This book is a must read.


Ciku Kimeria, the author of Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges, is a Kenyan writer and consultant. Courtesy Photo

The journalist fees are absurd but our house needs cleaning

CONTROVERY. That’s how I wrote the word CONTROVERSY in a headline in 2009. Having left the [dis]comfort of full-time reporting from Kitgum a few months back, I was faced with the hard realities that come with sub-editing –attention to detail, meticulousness, getting the facts right, the spellings right, the numbers right, the names right, etc.

I still remember my boss walking up to me with a paper in his hand, and without saying a word, he showed me the headline. We were in the middle of a staff meeting. I shrank in shame. Suddenly, all eyes in the newsroom were turned on me, and yet they were not. My head stayed bowed the whole day but most importantly, I learnt my lesson – that a sub-editor, and indeed a journalist, is a surgeon – you cut a vein and you damage or even kill a patient.

When news about the introduction of new fees for journalists first trickled in, my first reaction was that this is an absurd move and absurd it is. Under the Press and Journalists (fees) Regulations 2014, a journalist is required to pay Shs200,000 for a practicing certificate, Shs30,000 for an enrollment certificate, Shs50,000 to enter the journalist’s certificate into the register of journalists, Shs100,000 for annual renewal of certificate, among other fees.

When one considers how much [or little] a journalist earns [free-lancers earn per story, staff or salaried reporters earn between Shs400,000 to about Shs1m or slightly more, depending on so many things. A sub-editor earns Shs600,000 or Shs800,000 or more, again depending on responsibilities, performance, seniority, among others. These figures are estimates, but if journalists are to pay the new fees as individuals, then many will only be left with what resembles a salary.

It is also clear that these new charges are a direct affront to the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the media. Article 29 of the Constitution states: “Every person shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the press and other media.” But with this proposed law, the government will determine who practices journalism or not by granting, denying or declining to renew a journalist’s practicing certificate.

Thirdly, resurfacing at a time when the country is inching towards a crucial election period; even with a pipe dream of extending the 2016 polls, one cannot help but be suspicious about the motive of these new guidelines. This same legislation can be used to muzzle journalists deemed critical of government or its influential individuals and that will not just deny journalists a right to freedom of expression, but it will affect the profession as a whole in the long run.

The role of the media as a watchdog, which is already immensely threatened, will be further jeopardized. So, this law is bad.
But, looking at this development from another perspective, one thing is true, that the journalist’s kitchen is not clean and needs serious scrubbing. And it is this reality that should move individual media houses to put their houses in order and in the process score one goal ahead of the ‘enemy’. So what are the dirty corners of this kitchen?


For the past four years I have practiced journalism full time, ignorance has proved to be the deadliest disease afflicting the profession. How else can one explain the recent reporting about the ‘mini-skirt’ law? An ignorant minister makes an ignorant statement that the Anti-Pornography Act has banned miniskirts. The media, without challenging the minister about the incorrectness of his statement, or giving context about what the Act actually says, publishes/broadcasts the ignorance for all to read/listen to. So what happens? The public descends on women, beats, robs and strips them, because we told them to do so. A few media houses came out to ‘set the record straight’ and the police issues a warning too, but the damage had been done.

The public’s reaction to how the media covered that law showed how influential the media is, but I won’t be wrong if I stated that we don’t know [or have forgotten] how much power we wield. Otherwise, we would be using that power for a much greater good, including negotiating for our own welfare and better salary packages.

The ‘miniskirt’ law aside, our general knowledge about issues and the people we report about or write for is wanting and yet we are supposed to be the most knowledgeable. We are supposed to set or at least guide the direction the agenda of the day takes, but our words limp, others fall by the roadside as we try to make a point. So how shall we convince the government to drop this proposed fees if we don’t know the difference between Amuru and Amuria districts. How shall we rally others behind us, if we still refer to Mr Olara Otunnu as a ‘Dr’? How shall we front convincing arguments to concerned authorities about this absurd charges if we can’t distinguish between ‘sort’ and ‘sought’, ‘cite’ and ‘sight’, ‘your’ and ‘you are’? It is that bad.


Walk into any newsroom at any time and you will most likely find a journalist’s ears plugged with ear phones. It will be in the morning. And they are not listening to Al Jazeera or KFM news or that TV talk show – it is music. They will not nod to it, just in case you figure out their ‘sins’. Another one will report at 8:00am to work, attend a meeting or two and thereafter sit behind the computer. They won’t be typing a story or researching about Intellectual Property or Hepatitis E or media freedom – it will be a chat on Facebook, a post here, a comment there, with eyes running over ‘exciting’ pictures.

It can’t be work without play right? Very true. Sadly, we are failing to balance between work and play [interaction] and as we share that hot gossip in a chat, we are also writing a story or a headline and tomorrow, it will be “Manger dies” instead of “Manager dies” or “Fiancé Ministry” instead of “Finance Ministry”.

There are many more issues affecting the proper work of journalists – some a stain on the shirt/dress of the employer. But we see stains on our attires too. Shall we clean them up or are we so used to seeing them that they don’t look dirty anymore? Shall we continue producing daily post-mortem reports about how well we should have done instead of how better we can do? Or shall we cock our eyes to start seeing the danger ahead, the solution in the corner and the escape route on the left?

Next time when I next see the word ‘passion’ or ‘passionate’ in a headline, I’ll know whether this ‘rant’ has helped or not. And just in case you hadn’t noticed it, these two words are ‘in vogue’ these days. You won’t take long before reading a headline or story with “The farmer passionate about growing cabbages” or “Nabakooba, the woman whose passion is to look after orphans” or better still, “Passion made Mukasa leave banking for business”. It’s a world full of passion, that’s why we passionately whip this word without compassion [see, I also used it]. But just in case we left you behind, the point is that our creative bud needs to be refreshed too, all the time.

Mistakes are unavoidable, even I made them and continue to do so, but we have got to be seen to make an effort in producing clean copy, accurate copy and copy that will serve the purpose for which we call ourselves journalists. It is only then that shall we have the authority to kick such bad policies and laws in the butt without flinching. Image