Wednesday, 16 August 2017

can you read the face of a river?

Image Credit: Shutterstock

my grandmother once told me that a river is just like us. but it is more, she said.

she would take me to the river and ask me, “is she happy, grandson?”

and as a child i would tell her, “how can I tell?”

she would tell me that if she were happy,

would she frolic about, throwing up her arms

and uproot trees at her banks, just as an excited teenager would?

or would she just lie as a love-smitten girl would

on her bed and just smile? 

(now, I got confused) 


would the quiet waters be the face of seething anger— the type of anger that ripples on the 

surface and boils inside  the treacherous waters known to drown full-sized men?

i have seen cheerful, boisterous waters swallow a man and I thought, “here you go, capricious 

waters, you don’t kill people in your excitement!” 

and in some afternoons, the same waters, then in seething, raging anger but just flowing 

gracefully  have hugged the feet of men who crossed to their safety.

Chinjakuku— he was our village tailor. he got drunk one day. 
river suam was in a cheerful, 

boisterous mood. so it was throwing up twigs and knocking off stones. she was in her element. 

Chinjakuku—alcohol stirring revolt in his head—was also in a cheerful, boisterous mood. he 

stepped into the waters and his flailing arms soon lost their strengths as he was suffocated by 

the embrace of the waters.

it was like when you throw up a child up and clutch it and throw it higher and higher and it 

slips through your hand. love is like that.  and when we searched for Chinjakuku, river suam 

just tucked him under her bosom. for one day. 

then next morning, he was floating and the waters were just aloof, innocent even, as if nothing 

had happened. 

the same waters that have quenched the thirsts of travelers with parched throats. 

the same waters that have hugged the feet of travellers who have crossed it to safety.


no, grandmother.

are these waters happy or sad or excited or hospitable? 

i can’t tell.

i am still on the river’s journey to read her face just like a palmist reads our future.

c) Salem Lorot/ echoesofthehills 2017


Wednesday, 2 August 2017


her body was flown into the country.
we saw it on TV. her mother lunged into the coffin, tore her dress,
slapped her chest and her grief gave way. she collapsed on the glass
from where her daughter's face watched the world. her father stared on in stoic pain.
wails and moans suffocated the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport air.

we saw the news months earlier. it was a video clip. three men
stood around her, one kicked her in her teeth, the other held her arms,
the last was pounding her. i watched that clip and cried. i saw the firm grip of violence.

we got furious. Habida's mother appeared on TV, with tasbihi in her hand,
her voice was hoarse with mourning. her stomach was a valley of the depression she was in.
"death, please come take me. Habida, what have they done to you?"

we read the news. Habida was hidden in a dungeon.
from that pit that the darkness of humanity embraced her,
she was raped. for eleven years. day and night.
every year, they would harvest children from her womb.
eleven births. eleven robberies. eleven children she never saw.
she would push and cry and deliver children her hands never held.
as her babies would be carried away, she would hear their tiny cries
fade away. they say Habida died eleven times. and finally the twelfth time.

i saw Habida's photo when she was alive and healthy and free.
she had covered her head in a hijab and her pretty eyes watched.
i saw innocence. she was like my sister looking over me.
you would see her picture and say, "Mashallah!"
to imagine that Habida would be desecrated kills me.

i was in deep grief that day Habida's body was flown.
her mother's cry haunts me. her father's pained expression wearies my soul.
i walk around aimlessly and every lady in a hijab reminds me of Habida.

"Allah will avenge for you, mama Habida."

but to avenge is what courses in my heart. to descend into that dungeon
and knock walls and chop and demand to see the hands that stole Habida's eleven children.
i want to grab those three men who humiliated Habida and knock their heads against themselves
so hard they would be dizzy and bleed. but that is not the tao. and Habida's eyes wouldn't approve of it.

see Habida's grave. a mound of human greed and heartlessness.
see her decomposed body in eternal repose. at peace. finally. ironically.
see the flowers growing on her grave. see the roots of trees searching for her children.
see her bones: white with beauty, though broken by those three men.
see Habida. isn't she beautiful?


echoesofthehills/ Salem Lorot 2017

for Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Human Trafficking

#HumanTrafficking #EndHumanTrafficking

The prompt from Poets United invited us to write a poem on human trafficking.

Friday, 3 February 2017

my faith is not dead

dear Lokwanale,

my faith is not dead.

the blood shed on the ndazabazadde,

the torture tree at Namugongo,

the leaping flames from

burning reed that


from human feet to head

as Mukaajaanga’s men speared and axed

and executed

all for defying the King

and believing in God.

they dragged them on their bare backs,

dear Lokwanale.

their flesh torn

their bones jutting

the open palms of the pyre

welcomed their sore bodies

soon the cackling sounds of burnt flesh reeked

not curses did Mukaajaanga’s men hear

but the silent rising crescendo of hymns.

yes, my faith is not dead.

for where they died in 1886

is this poem now sprout.

at Busaale, where Ssenkoole burnt Lwanga

under Ggirikiti tree

at the very spot where the pyre lay

and a few metres where their ashes are kept

was this poem written in my heart.

C) Salem Lorot/echoesofthehills 2017



On Wednesday, 1st February 2016, I visited both the Catholic Basilica at Busaale, Namugongo and the Anglican site where the Uganda martyrs were executed up to 3rd June 1886. A total of 25 martyrs were burnt en masse.

Friday, 20 January 2017

We Buried That Foolish Youth Yesterday

That foolish youth was buried yesterday-

At night.  In darkness. Without tears.

He wore a permanent scowl

On his face that bore scars of knives;

The top two buttons of his shirt were unbuttoned

To reveal a chest the size of two concrete slabs sitting on each other.

His gait was of a prowling violence

In human flesh;

Where he stepped, clods of soil whimpered

In mortal fear.

Old men in my village asked him, ‘Son,

Why can’t you make peace with people?

Show us your tasus-riddled, pus-infested buttocks

So that we may prick it with thorns and make you whole again.’

He would brandish his fingers at the old men

And throw words carelessly the way a drunkard would do

When hopelessly drunk in high-noon.

He had dropped out of school and would speak

A smattering of English:

Me, we are the ones they call bad, friend; wrong number!

“ What is this staphylococcus telling me? Do you even know what staphylococcus means?”

We buried him, that foolish youth.

A decomposing flesh, so vulnerable, it was a pity.

No one cried: the dark figures that hurriedly buried him

Just shook their heads

Those fingers he brandished in anger

Were frail, hopeless, decomposing flesh.

When the mound had formed on this unmarked grave,

The village sighed.

The staphylococcuses had the last laugh. 

C) Salem Lorot/ echoesofthehills 2017


The prompt given by Susan this week was on unity. This was my attempt on this subject. 

Saturday, 14 January 2017

The Boy Who Carried the Family Door

I read in a book that when Chernobyl happened,
People were told to vacate their homes
But a son carried their family’s door.

That door bore their memories.
The wood was an imprint of their souls.
They felt it, they saw it, it was part of them.

So the son, against the warning,
With the door on his back
And severed memories of their beloved home
Behind him
Cut through the bushes.

O, I cried.

That door was radioactive:
Dangerous yet a beautiful tragedy
I would have done the same
To carry memories with me
To grab the door- knob that my great grandfather’s fingerprints
Lie spread.
To feel its grains, its dents and curves and smell it.

C) Salem Lorot/ echoesofthehills 2017


Monday, 10 October 2016

dear ones (poem)

Monday, 25 July 2016

#JusticeForWillie (Poems)

On 23rd June 2016, Willie Kimani (advocate), Josephat Mwenda (a boda boda rider) and Joseph Muiruri ( a taxi cab driver) disappeared and a week later, on 1st July 2016, their bodies were found at Odonyo Sabuk River.

The members of the legal profession in Kenya condemned the killings and staged a one week protest.

These poems were written during that week from July 2nd to 8th July. On 9th July, advocate Willie Kimani was laid to rest.

I wrote the following on 1st July 2016 upon learning of the cruel death of my colleague in the profession, his client and a taxi driver:

Ninalaani mauaji ya wakili Willie Kimani, dereva wa teksi Joseph Muiruri na Josphat Mwenda. Ni sikitiko kubwa kupata taarifa kuwa miili yao imepatikana katika mto wa Oldonyo-Sabuk. Kifo chake wakili Willie Kimani na wenzake kinatuhumiwa kuhusiana na kesi aliyokuwa akiendesha kortini. Tukio hili linazua maswali mengi kuhusiana na huduma za mawakili kortini haswa maisha yao yakiwa hatarini na maadui wa haki. Taifa ambalo linaongozwa na mtutu wa bunduki, vitisho na majangili ni taifa litakalosalia nyuma. Alimradi taifa lenyewe lisipowapa raia wake usalama, ibara za katiba ni kelele mnadani. 

Wakili Kimani hayupo tena.

Ndugu Joseph Muiruri hayupo tena.

Ndugu Josphat Mwenda hayupo tena.

Inaniuma, tena sana.

Makiwa familia, marafiki na mawakili wenzangu.

On 6th July, I participated in my professional body's LSK Protest March to dramatise the shame and righteous indignation of the heinous and callous torture, strangulation and dumping and/or drowning in a river of my fallen colleague Willie Kimani, his client Mwenda and taxi driver Muiruri. The photo below captures the sombre mood.

On that day, I wrote the following:

A day like today, in 1944, Georges Mandel, French patriot, was executed. And a day like this in 1935, Dalai Lama was born. On this day in 1775, the U.S Congress issues a “Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms”.

And today more than 10,000 advocates of the High Court of Kenya will hold a protest march to dramatise the shame and righteous indignation of the heinous and callous torture, strangulation and dumping and/or drowning in a river of Advocate Willie Kimani, a client Mwenda and taxi driver Muiruri.

Today, we demonstrate that what we have are “nice sharp quillets of law” à la Warwick to Lords in Shakespeare’s Play Henry VI. We will march to the temple of justice and solemnly ask the State why Willie's body is lying lifeless in eternal repose in the morgue when he should be donned in a wig and a bib and seeking justice for the others. At the temple of justice, we will ask, what imagery and metaphor should be construed for the blood strewn on the wall at the very temple of justice.


#Poem 1- A blotch on our statute book

#Poem 2- here is an empty gown and band

 #Poem 3- I sit here wondering

#Poem 4- The phoenix song

#Poem 5- Thoughts expressed in Kiswahili

the beauty of dancing flames

when leaps of flames lick a school
the cackling sounds of fervour

raising arms in rebellion. when billows of
smoke trumpet fragrance

of education gone awry. isn't it a beautiful
sight to see the ashes of the pretentious edifice

blown by the mocking wind? isn't there magic,
something of hallowed curiosity

in the soot, the ashes of burnt books,
the half-burnt book-shelves

testily saying, 'here, grab this wood'.
that is what happens when education

loses meaning. i used to think incendiary thoughts,
the sparkling flames

of revolutionary ideas or just the pursuit of
knowledge, telling the professor

"i need not useless qualifications but a mind
that can pursue a thought

as a hunter would a deer." but I was wrong.
for when I see these flames

i smile wryly at the astonished look around
and a nation dousing the flames

of a burning academic pretence. but unwittingly
fanning the flames

of testosterone-filled, rogue, 'utado'
generation of students, the mirror images

of a nation that once burnt itself but
whose God's grace doused the flames

at exactly 3 a.m, the Godly hour
when the Divine Will triumphed over

a state that was to-be-no-more. when a coward
runs to you, saying, "look, I will burn

myself!" do you quizzically look at her and say,
" please do it during the day, so that we see

the magic of a walking inferno" or do you
tearfully hug her and say,

"here is a piece of me, if you want to burn yourself
get the petrol and let us both burn

in a pyre." but when twenty cowards
congregate at your doorstep

saying, " we assemble here to burn ourselves
as a protest to the

uselessness of this life." do you get a bakora
and chase them down through the

village square, past the butcher, past
the bookshop, past

the crematorium, where incidentally
they should torch themselves

to let the wind of death blow
their ashes, perhaps in solidarity

to their earthly protest? but what happens
when curious minds, once a tabernacle

of ideas, walk around dazed, seeing beauty
in book-ashes, book-shelf-ashes,

lecture-hall-ashes. anyway, burnt schools
never scare me. What scares me

is that for a long time, our education
has burnt our child-like curiosity

and what we carry in our heads
are ashes: cindered dreams, powdered

cogitations, embers of passivity, charcoals
of dulled yes-yes, relics of shame

that accept untruths, bigotry. isn't it
curious that

the thoughts of flames and ashes
evoke within us

passionate intensity
like a town crier's announcement

in the noon-day of our heightened ignorance.
See those flames? they are

a harbinger of hope. see those ashes? they are
the urn's contents, a reminder of the
hollowness of our education.

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