JR Alila’s latest novel “A FISHY MATTER” is now available at both createspace.com and amazon.com. It is also available as a kindle e-book.
In Joseph R. Alila’s first novel, Sunset on Polygamy (ISBN 13: 9781495402135) , marital cultural lore and spirituality combine to breed a tragic confusion in a land faced with a deadly new disease epidemic, with public debates raging as to whether the killer is ancestral chira (curse) or Acute Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
I this work of fiction, Joe Ochom, a young man testing his verbal skills in the art of seduction, soon realizes that corralling an educated girl (Megan) requires more than adorning his high school blazer in the marketplace. He proves indecisive and cowardly in the battlefield—a weakness his principal competitor, polygamist Jim Kokech, exploits to the fullest.
Having crushed the young bookish competitor for the attention of Megan, suddenly faces a revolt from his four wives. Felicia, the first wife—exploits the situation to punish her “wayward husband”; she locks him out of her bedroom just when they must celebrate the planting season as the principal “spiritual co-owners” of the home. Jim’s pastoral calendar comes to a sudden halt—reminding him that Luo marital life indeed is a complex “religious journey” with the first wife as the center of worship. Suddenly, the spiritual battle among the women, symbolized by the clearly demarcated hallowed boundaries between their farms, reaches their bedrooms. The home enters a conjugal lockdown that Jim and any of his junior wives could only breach at the risk of dire spiritual consequences. The crafty second wife, Milka, engages Jim in a believable romantic ruse that fools even Felicia. Wrought with jealousy at her archenemy, Milka, Felicia yields to Jim—prompting a stampede among the women for access to him. Jim’s male folly still thinks he’s having fun.
Baby boom! A year later, Felicia looks from the sidelines as the home welcomes three newborns, with Maria, Milka and Nyapora presenting a child each to their shared husband. Felicia has reached menopause, but instead of embracing her new physiological reality, and aging gracefully as the matriarch of her home, she becomes angry at Jim and her co-wives for “breeding like rats.” Struggling with a broiling bout of jealousy at her co-wives and nursing unpredictable desires of her husband, Felicia brews one immoral “romantic” mischief after another and nearly kills her husband while trying a cultic solution to her marital problems. Depressed, Felicia flees to the Big City to escape the shameful spectacle she is among the women of Korondo Ridge.
But Korondo Ridge has no rest; Exit Felicia, and tragedy brings home Gina—a beautiful young widow who has just returned from the Big City with the body of her late husband, George Amolo. Now, to the utter dismay of elders, Gina refuses to receive any man into her bed, arguing that her husband died of “a strange new disease”. The elders refuse to listen, asserting that George died of his father’s “chira” (curse), which only the very wise among them could cleanse. Amolo protests, saying that Malaria killed George. Concerned for the spiritual health of their Korondo House, the elders eventually convince Gina to enter a one-night “marriage” with a “Jakowiny” (a vagabond) “to settle George’s restless spirit.” Reacting to the “technical marriage,” men troop to Gina’s house to proffer their applications, believing the vagabond (like the Biblical scapegoat), has wandered off with “chira” that killed their fellow warrior.
Tragedy! The killer malady the elders call “Chira” is AIDS—the killer the Luo aptly nickname “Ayaki”—I loot you. Gina soon develops loose morals and dispatches one man after another to his grave, their wives in tow. Tragic: Ayaki kills people and “chira,” with which it shares symptoms, gets the credit. Gina’s misleadingly healthy look, beauty, and longevity only add to the tragedy.
Felicia returns to Korondo Ridge amid the Ayaki epidemic in the land, but even the epidemic has not changed people‘s ways:, men still embrace polygamy; men still inherit sick widows, and sure, her Jim has married young Megan, capping his conquest over Joe Ochom the narrator. But as the Luo of old said, the ferocious buffalo provides the hide for a brave warrior’s shield—Jim dies holding a toxic jewel in his hands; leaving teaching lessons in vanity and immoderation.
1. THIRTEEN CURSES ON MOTHER AFRICA [ISBN-13-978 480277380]: JR Alila’s epic poem, THIRTEEN CURSES ON MOTHER AFRICA, highlights the cycle of maladies that continue to afflict the African continent decades after independence. The poet moans and groans for the longsuffering African woman, who continues to face the horrors of war (over cheap honor, land, oil and gems) and its victims in child soldiers; the poet mourns for the African woman, who continues to contend with the cultural consequences of killer AIDS and its surviving victims in child mothers. The poet reminds the reader that Africa still suffers in the anvil of her corrupt dictators who drink imported waters, while she roils in the curses of poverty and famine amid wealth in “black gold” (oil) and gems—a wealth that has brought nothing but the miseries of war and death to her. Mother Africa faces the new curse in globalization and free trade that has added fuel into the raging fire of corruption as her alien suitors jostle for attention. But because of globalization, Mother Africa has to live with her unreliable alien lovers, whose sugary ways have lured her children into a no-return journey into an ever-expanding diaspora—leaving her destitute and defenseless. Africa is under a continent-wide curse, so says the poet. The poet asks: In a continent where the cell phone is everywhere, why are there no passable roads and clean water? In this era of a virtual economy, why is Africa still bartering her cocoa, coffee, diamonds, and tea for cell phones in the name of free trade and globalization? It is the poet’s contention that most of Africa’s problems arise from the loss of the sense of “Africanness,”—loss of self-worth—and the greatest victim is the inept African man and the continent-wide body he dominates known as African Union.
2 NOT ON MY SKIN [ISBN-13:978143825527-9]. In JR Alila’s NOT ON MY SKIN, the all-American Harmony City is not exactly harmonious. Individualism, prejudice and arm’s length neighborliness greet Ochome–a poet and suburbanite, who has staked out his evenings in the city’s downtown cafe. Harmony City’s peace hardly is skin deep. There is a daily stalemate at the fertility clinic, and wherever Ochome turns, he sees, hears, and constantly feels souls cursing “Not on My Skin”– a protest mantra against nuances of prejudice he sees, hears and feels in the city café and beyond. The Café crowd has a few regulars who, like most urban neighbors, remain verbally unengaged individuals. But the sense of peace is often compromised by one Alex, a man considered a mad nuisance by all, but who, in reality, is the only mirror in which Harmony City perhaps can see herself. Alex is the lone gong off which the city can hear herself, the same way a child’s innocent words are the real measure of the moral quality of life in a home.
A view from the urban frontline of American life. A good read for those with the courage enough to look at the mirror of life and confront individualism.
3. MAYA [ISBN-13:9781470068677]: In MAYA, Joseph R Alila, author of “Birthright (a Luo Tragedy),” brings yet another narrative about the lives of ordinary people with human flaws, from which each of them can only run away, or ignore, at his or her own peril. Maya Boone faces a legal quandary over a death she has witnessed from her hideout on Eagle Street, Harmony, New York. First, she watches Raul, the troublesome husband from whom she is hiding, kill a bulldog. When Maya crosses Eagle Street to enquire whether the dog’s owner (Mike) is suing Raul, she instead falls in love with the heartbroken man, lures him to her bed, and even contemplates witnessing against Raul. The brief affair ends quickly because Mike becomes a victim to an enraged boyfriend’s arrow of passion. Wounded and helpless, Mike falls into the hands of a moonlighting evangelist named Booker who has a score to settle with him. There is no mercy for Mike, only a slow death, because Booker wishes to maintain his cover while moonlighting at Bar Delirium. With Mike dead, Maya’s distant past soon confronts her because, also witnessing the events leading to the murder on Eagle Street is Officer Jimmy Depuy—a child Maya abandoned at birth forty years before. Neither Raul nor Maya nor Officer Depuy knows about their shared bond. Then one Detective John unearths the blood knot linking Jimmy Depuy to the Rauls, and soon District Attorney Hess is advancing criminal motives against the trio. In MAYA, JR Alila weaves yet another intricate narrative that should appeal to those readers who seek to understand, in human character, matters beyond the mundane of daily life.
A not-so-glorious past catches up with Maya and Raul, both urbanites when Maya’s neighbor is murdered. Good detective work threatens to flip Maya from witness to suspect.
Harmony City suddenly is disharmonious, catching her administrators on unsure footings. Hard economic times have dumped the old and young into Main Street. Police officers have their hands full fighting members of the Occupy Harmony Movement (OHM)—an amorphous group funded by grumpy rich men, with scores to settle against Wall Street.
Amid the OHM-engineered chaos, Officer Depuy suddenly has a personal battle to fight: he is a witness in the killing of one Mike—a man with a dubious sex life—and his dog. Then history suddenly springs a surprise—a nosey police detective discovers a blood knot that tethers Officer Depuy to two dysfunctional wealthy people of interest in the murder, but who don’t even know that he is their son.
A runaway woman, Maya Boone, has watched Raul, her troublesome husband, kill Mike’s dog. When she crosses Eagle Street to spy on Mike’s intentions against Raul, she meets a heartbroken man. They mourn together, before her empathy quickly turns into intimacy and shared lust. But tragedy befalls Mike on his return home—he encounters an enraged boyfriend’s fatal arrow of passion.
Even as District Attorney Hess has two self-confessed killers behind bars, she still is advancing criminal motives against Maya, Raul, and Officer Jimmy Depuy—a child Maya gave away at birth. Maya and Raul run to Florida, where she intends to nurse her late-life pregnancy, of controversial origin, in private. She leaves a Judge Lit and attorneys debating the merits of a full murder trial.
In MAYA, the author weaves through a modern city’s cultural fabric, gently touching every social issue of the day, to present a narrative that is steps ahead of its time. Maya should appeal to readers who seek to understand in human character matters beyond the mundane of daily life.
4. THE MILAYI CURSE [ISBN 13: 978-145281882-5]: In The Milayi Curse, Joseph R. Alila (the Author of “Sunset on Polygamy”) tells a story about one early Christian Priest’s struggles to make sense of an alien culture, fight myths and curses, and reconcile Jokamilayi-a fictional Luo (Kenyan) clan. It is a tale about spirituality, honor, betrayal, pride and wealth and uneasy kinship, as Christianity and formal education breaks class barriers, bursts myths and “turn things upside down.” Charles Milayi, a poor orphan, graduates out of middle school with excellent grades. Just when his mother has lost hope of her gifted son ever stepping into a high school, he becomes a beneficiary of “a secret hand of providence” only known to Father James O’Kilghor. Charles excels in his studies, joins college, and becomes a lawyer and a cabinet minister. He breaks through class barrier and marries none other than the Prime Minister’s daughter. But Hon. Milayi’s people remain bitterly divided along bloodlines because of a century-old curse with origins in old wars, pillage of war soils, and ancestral wealth. The endless cold war among ancestral cousins has made Father James O’Kilghor’s ministry to the Jokamilayi a trying experience, even for a man known for his controversial “Africanized” evangelizing strategies, in which active traditional priests and witch doctors are baptized before they even renounce their trades.
An old conflict between two brothers has returned to haunt their grandchildren in the new age, in which Christian Priests minister among a people struggling to walk away from their African religious past. Will Father James resolve the age-old conflict without losing a part of his soul?
5. THE AMERICAN POLYGAMIST [ISBN-13: 978144992798]: Billionaire American businessman Chief Chuki is a notable within the American high society and a venerable name in the African nation of Goldia, where he holds the highest honorary title of Chief among his Oyi people. When Chief Chuki gets entangled in a business deal with rival Goldian Army Generals, he finds himself held hostage in a land in which he is revered. Yet even with his proximity to the wheels of power on both sides of the pond, he cannot shout for help because of the desire to keep his good name. Second, his Goldian wife has delivered a son and uses the unique circumstances of his captivity to demand part of his wealth in exchange for his freedom and her silence over his marital status. Now, a desire for secrecy demands that Chuki engages the expertise of a fellow Iraqi War I Veteran and his high-tech buddies, who have created a lucrative business niche negotiating the release of Western hostages from the high-risk world of African warlords, terrorists, and sea pirates. In THE AMERICAN POLYGAMIST, J.R. Alila weaves a story with many twists and turns as family betrays family, honor is traded for wealth and a honorable man becomes a prisoner of his own secrets. Enter Chuki’s American wife, Patty, who suspects that he has at least one wife and child in Africa. Mrs. Patty Chuki is ready to revisit old Brooklyn-High-School romance with a Major Frank to get to the truth while in a Harvard reunion with her billionaire husband in the Maasai Mara. But will Admiral Ndeki of Goldian Navy let Patty taste the forbidden fruit in peace under Nairobi’s sunny skies?
Held hostage among his African people, this American Billionaire walks a delicate balance as he negotiates a path to freedom without hurting the feelings of his African bride, while still keeping his marital status secret back in America. Will Chuki walk free unscathed?
6. RATENG’ AND BRIDE [ISBN-13: 978-1438251097]: In the epic poem, “RATENG’ AND BRIDE,” Joseph R Alila (Author of such novels as “Whisper to My Aching Heart” and “Sunset on Polygamy”) pleads with the hero (Rateng’) to abandon a lifelong ambition of reigning in a killer, illusive Bride, and redeeming his honor and Ramogi people’s collective pride. Of Rateng’s illusive Bride—call her Power, Leadership or The Presidency—Alila reminds his hero of her corrupting, material allure and deadly charms. Like a gem, a Powerful Presidency corrupts everybody it touches, and its corrupting effects linger like the nauseating smell of a scared skunk. Employing rich imagery and proverbs, and never shy to go Luo vernacular with proverbs, in “RATENG’ AND BRIDE,” Alila has played his satirical hand, again, and demonstrated his knowledge of the political landscape of Kenya.
The epic poem captures the peril that was 2007 Kenyan Electoral conflict. Will the nation survive the tribal monster?
7. THE THIRTEENTH WIDOW [ISBN-13: 978-144951231-6]: In Joseph R. Alila’s THE THIRTEENTH WIDOW, a one-sided war between two boys (Omolo and Okoth) in middle school turns tragic in their middle age as Chief Omolo’s secret acts not only drive Tom Okoth to his grave, but also unleash a viral plague that consumes a whole village and beyond. When Charles Okoth (Tom’s elder brother) returns to his desolate Korondo village to redeem Tom’s honor, he betroths Maria, one of Tom’s many widows, who leads him to the haunting contents of a secret diary, in which Tom paints himself as an inexcusable victim of Chief Omolo’s evil schemes. The diary further paints Tom as a gullible tragic individual, who falls from the headship of a prestigious local school to being an alcoholic womanizer and widower-for-hire on a predictable path to his death. But Charles Okoth’s procreative efforts with the widows soon attract the ire of Chief Omolo’s office. Only the diary can stop Chief Omolo’s mean-spirited schemes.
A novel about tragic men and their personal vendetta in a world in which tough women rule the day. Another tough read from JR Alila.
8. SINS OF OUR HEARTS [ISBN-13: 978-143820013-2]: A young Pastor, Rew Smith, leads the affluent Oakpound New Hope Church in which things appear to be well, but his church has a deep spiritual problem. His church suffers from a shortage of love; new converts are called names and go unattended to as the young Pastor spends most of his evenings at Oakpound Big Boys Health and Fitness Club. His Lay Leadership basks in self-praise, and a form of spirituality without any force of love behind it. Led by Mrs. Smith, some members of the Women Wing have introduced a controversial Foot-Washing method for its convenience, but in which the virtues of humility and selfless love are virtually dead.
Spirituality and leadership on trial in a congregation as believers struggle with sin of pride over foot-washing ordinance.
9. WHISPER TO MY ACHING HEART [ISBN-13: 978-143820751-3]: WHISPER TO MY ACHING HEART is a story about two widows overcoming great odds to become mothers of a future people. In this moving-yet-romantic, love story, a young widow (Apiny) finds herself to be the bearer of the damning, spiritually-untouchable label in the male-dominated Eighteenth-Century Africa. Ejected alongside her widowed mother-in-law (Awino) and ridiculed by friends, Apiny waits for fifteen years before she receives another man in her bed. But this comes only after Awino remarries and raises a miracle son (Otin) who is called upon to marry Apiny. But, even after getting all the handsome sons and beautiful daughters she wished for from her youthful lover, Apiny is not at peace in her heart. She mourns and struggles in her heart as her youthful husband is compelled by cultural traditions to receive his own wife.
A people’s future is in the hands of two unfortunate widows. Will they survive the male world of the eighteenth century and mother a people? A book for the heart.
10. THE CHOIRMASTER [ISBN-13: 978-144954199-6]: In Mud Valley Church, the evangelizing wonders of the Church Choir have become both a blessing and a minor headache, as the growth in card-carrying membership and church attendance explode overnight. That is the blessing. The headache is the charismatic but unassuming Choirmaster whose gifts are key to the phenomenal growth. As the women-folk with available daughters fight to outdo one another in monthly dinners for the Choirmaster, things become a little earthly. But even after Michael is finally crowned with the urgency of Samuel the prophet, his outreach ministry becomes a bother to the Church Board, whose membership are left wondering, “What if the Choirmaster leaves?” when the Treasurer reveals that the Choir is funding most of Mud Valley Church’s Budget.
A community of faith on trial. Teaches that cult figures never can nurture a community of faith.
11. THE LUO DREAMERS’ ODYSSEY: FROM THE SUDAN TO AMERICAN POWER [ISBN-13: 978-144148311-9]: In the historical novel, THE LUO DREAMERS’ ODYSSEY: From the Sudan to American Power, a journey that started more than five centuries ago in the Sudan, has ended in the White House . Along the way, a child and a troubled dreamer, Ajwang’ the Dreamer (a.k.a. Ramogi) survives the knife of ire of a man robbed of his bead of wisdom. The sons of Ajwang’ must part ways with a child dead between them because of vengeance over a bead and a spear. Centuries later, an orphan must “develop wings,” fly out of Colonial Kenya to Alaska, and plant his seed, a boy, and dreamer, named Hassan Ajwang’. This boy lives to be the President of the United States of America. In the historical-fiction novel, author Joseph R. Alila pens yet another drama of life, of survival against great odds, and of victories as improbable as the sun rising from the west.
Great allegorical treatise of a current event in American leadership and the Luo people’s contribution towards it. A book for a mind seeking meaning in an otherwise complex world.
12. THE WISE ONE OF RAMOGILAND [ISBN-13: 978-145382989-9]: In the Novel, THE WISE ONE OF RAMOGILAND, Joseph R. Alila addresses the role of spirituality in life and politics in a society under cultural and political transitions. As a battery of ‘colonial forces’ conspire against Africa’s old way of life, wizards and prophets, who are losing clients of the ordinary kind to New Way Churches, are forced to adopt to the new spiritual reality, even if it means taking funny-sounding Greek names. In this work of fiction, Alila exposes the work of a woman of wisdom (Angelina Nyangi), her Ramogi people, their ways, their political leadership, and the perils of political cohabitation in Kenya’s young, multiethnic, multiparty democracy. Nyangi’s lifetime experiences remind the reader that modern religious dispensations might have robbed soothsayers and wizards of a lot of clients of the ordinary kind but not the important ones: She discovers that the new political and business elites love to have their ancestors’ “sixth sense” watching over their backs. She is their ancestors’ sixth sense, only she is no prophet. Now, in her sunset years, Nyangi reminisces about a life well lived, but one which had seen many antsy professional close calls shared between corrupt politicians and such strange clients as a professor of knowledge. If Angelina’s longevity has become abusive, the unseemly conducts of her eldest son and the supposed “Seer-in-waiting” (Thomas) continues to hang around her neck like a bad dream.
A good read for those looking for content beyond the mundane of daily life. Gives a peak into the Luo mind.
13. BIRTHRIGHT: A LUO TRAGEDY [ISBN-13: 978145638225-4]: Author Joseph R. Alila’s newest novel, BIRTHRIGHT, is a narrative of how one man’s cruel silence over his son’s ancestry almost destroys the latter among a people who value bloodlines, protocol, and order in marriage. The battle over birthright in the home of one Odongo Ougo of Thim Lich has turned tragic on many fronts. Atieno, a victim of a marriage protocol that destined her to the rank of second wife, even though she is older and longer-married wife of Odongo, has had enough. Atieno swears her son, Okulu, on an oath to finish off Aura and her son Juma. Primed to kill, Okulu, an abused man Odongo only halfheartedly had embraced as his own son, seriously wounds Aura, his stepmother, necessitating emergency surgical intervention. Next, Okulu turns his nighttime rage on Juma, Odongo’s juvenile son with Aura and the spiritual first son, who has just posted a perfect middle-school grade and is heading for a famous Kenyan high school. Talk of instant justice, Okulu’s blind rage turns tragic, as he, for a period, loses the function of both hands after Grace, Juma’s dog, bites him off a rabbit carcass. On a night of many unusual events, Juma, the boy running for his life, rescues a young woman, Eilzabeth, who is sinking into a hot volcanic quagmire in an alien land. Just when Juma thinks that he has met a future wife, he discovers that Elizabeth is his stepsister, through his father’s youthful indiscretions. A couple of nights later, Abich, Atieno’s youngest child, is on the prowl at the hospital, where Aura lay indisposed, when hospital security arrests her for impersonating a nurse with the intent to cause harm to a patient. Odongo declares no contest and pleads with a Dr. Otago to set her free. Talk of guts as an angler becomes fish, Abich moves on to marry the arresting doctor-in-charge (Dr. Otago), with Odongo looking on ashamed and in silence. It takes these tragic events, and the subsequent unraveling of Odongo’s past of unsettling acts against women, including Atieno, to start real dialogue in his home and resolve historical injustices that had driven a woman and two of her children into desperate criminal acts. The center holds, Aura recovers, and the Odongo home sees four more baby boys, but Odongo must face his past demons to assuage the afflicted and reestablish his honor. It turns out Okulu is Odongo’s biological son, and he is a man after all. But what restitution could Odongo pay to Okulu after all the years of communal abuse of the latter by his kin? Okulu the villain has become the invalid victim. In the novel, BIRTHRIGHT, JR Alila captures ‘Luo birthright’ as an imperfect spiritual vehicle to power and privilege in a polygamous Luo home.
A great literary novel with an anthropological look of the dynamics of marriage, conflict and conflict resolution in a Luo home. Well written.
You, Tom Okoth, accepted your new circumstance as a two-woman man, and you drowned the sounds of protests and disagreements from your friends and family in alcohol and more alcohol, and before you knew it, waking up in houses of widows, near and distant, became a habit; before you knew it, waking up in emergency wards with stitches across your face became normal; before you knew, it inheriting widows became a habit; before you knew it missing school became a habit. With a few years you lost your job: first as the headmaster of Soko Intermediate School, then as a teacher. Chief Omolo, your “friend,” chaired the school board that sacked you. At a local bar, he fed you some beer then hired a cyclist to drop you somewhere behind your home. What a fried you had in Chief Omolo! You left home the day after, never to return for another three years!
You never returned home the day after the sack, not because of your shame as the man and headmaster of a school who had drank away his job, but because you met a jewel bedecked, pearly mermaid in a Homa Bay hotel. Yes, you met the mythical mermaid, except yours was not a myth. She was a real woman with flesh and blood: She was intelligent, ingenious, and beautiful, and apparently wealthy. That was your mermaid. The morning after you met, you thought she was not real; she had suited you and dumped thousands of shillings on you. Her name was Luna Green. She hence gave you the name Mr. Tom Green. You were her new husband, and more. You had found yourself in Luna’s arms in a classy hotel in Homa Bay, where you’d landed the day after the sack, having filed an appeal against your dismissal by your school’s board at Ndhiwa KNUT (your local teaching trade union) office. Well, you had filed your case, then visited Homa Bay to drown your shame—once and for all—in the may many bars in town. Then you met the mermaid known as Luna Green. By midmorning of the morrow, you (now Mr. Tom Green) were touring the waters of Lake Victoria in Luna’s personal motorized boat, The MV Lunar Rock.
A week later into the whirlwind of a tour, dazed, dazzled and believing that you’d met a mermaid out of the Lolwe, you wedded Luna or she married you (if you get my Luo sense of the verb ”marry”) in Ahero Town—some bishop presiding. A day later, you were in a dreamy mansion in Ngong—that famous land of the Maasai. You would lead a dreamy three-year life as the husband of Luna the Gemstone Dealer. By the end, that came, suddenly, you’d a degree in business administration.
Then your life with the gem dealer known as Mrs. Luna Green came to a screeching halt, when she disappeared while in advanced pregnancy with your child. Within a short order you watched and listened as Green Gems Inc crumbled. The mansion you called yours was put on sale by creditors of Green Gems Inc. Apparently still controlling events from her hideout, Luna, willed that you be paid 39000 shillings, and that you left home immediately. In no way were you to leave with any other clothes except the ones on your back.
Scared, you scampered off with your life after a brief enquiry with Nairobi Police let you know that there was no person in Kenya known as Luna Green or Tom Green. Even you didn’t exist. If you had suspected that Luna was a genie or mermaid, you’d no more reason to doubt. You’d be back to Korondo Village to your longsuffering wife and your children, never to use the name Tom Green again. In three years, you, Tom Okoth, had travelled to hell and heaven and back to another round in hell.
What if you woke up one morning with a broken arm, a broken rib, and six stitches of some fiber across your heavily bandaged face, and you were in a room you couldn’t see, except it smelled like carbolic acid (excuse my archaic language); you knew that you’ve been badly banged and your body ached generally.
Sure there was a feminine voice in the room, and the voice was saying that you’ll be okay; that you were worse a few days before; that some people she couldn’t talk about in public nearly killed you. “You’ll live, Mr. Okoth,” she says, walking out of the room before you could tell her that you were thirsty. Regardless she couldn’t have heard your mumbled words, and she couldn’t have obeyed your need because you were a Nothing-by-Mouth case.
You walked out a month later with a part of your life left behind. You move on back to your life as the headmaster of Soko Primary School, knowing quite well that a middle-school foe had been behind your ordeal; that the woman you remember having shared beer with; the woman you spent a night with, had been a police bait placed on your alcoholic path by friends of your middle-school foe—a bait that would deliver you to hungry intelligence dogs looking for Mwakenya sympathizers. Don’t worry if you never heard the word Mwakenya. Those who lived through Kenya’s politics in the 1980s know that Mwakenya was an underground movement whose sole agenda was to bring down KANU’s one-party state. You were beaten senseless because someone—your middle-school foe—claimed that you were Mwakenya agent, yet you were not, and you had nowhere to complain.
You, Okoth weren’t that lucky, for a few years later, the same foe now was the chief of your location at a time when Kenyan location chiefs wielded much power and directly answered to the President of the nation. You remained a mere headmaster of a Middle School. You drunk together with your chief, call him Chief Omolo, and the chief could insist that you escorted him home, and you did so because no one ever said no to the chief. Along the way to the chief’s abode, you sampled chang’aa (an illicit brew) and the chief did the buying, and you did the drinking. In fact, he only sniffed the bottles of chang’aa you shared. You felt happy as you ambled your way deeper and deeper into the chief’s village, sampling chang’aa as you went. To an observer, the two of you were just two buddies walking shoulder to shoulder. But you were drunk and he wasn’t, and the chief was up to something sinister.
What if you woke up early dawn on a strange headache, singing in praise of your wife Jane, except you were not in your home? You were two ridges away to the south in the house of some widow left behind by a distant cousin. She had been asleep before you sang, and your strange song ticked her off, and now she was ordering you leave her house before sunrise. In her deal with Chief Omolo, who had delivered you to her, the sun was not supposed to rise with you still in the home in mourning; your mission was supposed to have been so secret that even you, the drunkard, wasn’t supposed to have known that you had been in the home of curses. Now you understood the joke. You knew that the late Otieno died a strange death, a fact that had kept his brothers away from his beautiful widow. Your situation stunk: In your drunken stupor, you had inherited the spiritual burdens in your late cousin’s home. If you were a scholar of the Old Testament, or if you had read Apostle Paul’s Letter to Hebrews, you understood that you had become what the people of faith called the scapegoat—the goat that left the sanctuary with communal sins for an uncertain journey into the wild desert where predators roamed.
To continue . . .)
THE MAN, A BLACK MAN, sat behind the Ageless Desk, reading from a pile of odd news clips that the web-crawling boys and girls of the Communications and Propaganda Bureau had fed him earlier that morning. He scribbled remarks and question marks around the paragraphs as he read a publication titled One Man’s Improbable Journey, which had summarized the circumstances of his history-making political feat. His morning reading completed, he picked up a basketball ball from a six-ball rack he kept by his side and threw it effortlessly into a practice bin set five yards away at a corner of the office. Satisfied, he reached for a world map, a ‘globe,’ on his desk, turned it anticlockwise and stopped with his left fourth-finger pointing at a spot near Juba in southern Sudan. He visibly shuddered with his finger still on the volatile region of Sudan. With tremulous hands, he traced a direct line from Juba to Kisumu, Kenya, and continued his trace to Nairobi, then stopped for a minute of meditation. Remembering that his Kenyan father wasn’t alive to celebrate his triumph, his left eye betrayed a teardrop.
Reining in the sudden bubbling of emotion, the man turned the globe clockwise as he traced a line from Nairobi, Kenya, to Anchorage, Alaska, symbolically re-enacting, in spirit, his late father’s flight in what Kenyan historians call ‘Mboya Student Airlifts,’ and the Americans call ‘Kennedy Airlifts.’ He stopped in a reverential pose, remembering that he was a product of the airlifts, and that both of his parents never lived long enough to witness his history-making triumph.
Turning the globe anticlockwise, he traced a line from Anchorage, Alaska to Omaha, Nebraska, his political home base, then onward to Washington, D.C., the seat of world power, and stopped. Lowering his head, the man volunteered a silent prayer “Lord, give me the wisdom to know Your will; give me the power to execute Your will; give me the courage to stand with the weak and poor; give me the voice to speak against evil; Lord, protect me from my desires; Lord protect me from my friends.”
That the words “Your will” had come from his mouth surprised him—a man not known for much religious fervor. Even if he had any guilt on his tongue, the words IN GOD WE TRUST that greeted his eyes from a polished brass plaque before him—reminding him that he was the President of the United States of America—assuaged him.
Standing up, he picked up a second ball and executed another scoring throw, inhaled deeply, and then said in an emotion-filled whisper, “I’m one damned lucky black man.” Again, the man known for his cold detachment while under pressure betrayed another teardrop. The frequent welling up of emotion that morning surprised him. It was unlike him, the man who joked that among his Luo people, men don’t shed tears at funerals; they don’t wail either, they sing war songs instead. Any observer watching that morning would have taken the seven-feet-tall man to be a volunteering-basketball superstar grading mediocre sophomore essays in a middle school. But this was President Hank Hassan Ajwang’, a black man from Alaska, the first black President of the United States of America. Ajwang’ was on his first full day at work in the Oval Office.
The man had watched him that morning. Ziki, the White House Chief of Staff, had wished to see the president, but had retreated on realizing that his charge was in a prayerful mood. Something about the scene had bothered him: the president was tense, even using the globe as a prayer-aid. As Ziki retreated to his office, he gave the man he now served as White House Chief of Staff a knowing bye on sanity. Ziki rationalized that even the unflappable Ajwang’ had the right to feel overwhelmed by the challenges promised by the Presidency of the United States of America.
There had been challenges along the way: the toil of a two-year campaign, and the unusual odds that had marked Ajwang’s candidacy.
Ziki, who had served as Hassan Ajwang’s Communications Director during the campaigns, understood the broiling public scrutiny his boss had endured, and he knew the toil in emotions the up-and-downs of the campaigns had exerted on his man. Then there were the toxic myths and innuendos to have visited his candidate under the glare of the insatiable 24/7 instant news cycle, fired by the intrusive electronic mass communication media of the day.
Retreating back to his office, Ziki rambled in his heart, “Give the man a break; he was the unlikely candidate, who beat all the adversities put on his path, to become the President of the United States of America. Let him pray in whatever way, in whatever language, and for as long as he likes, on this first day at work. He needs it before he confronts the mounting uncertainty in the world. If he breaks a glass window in the Oval Office with an angry basketball, the taxpayers can pay.”
Sure, President Hank Hassan Ajwang’ had come to power in a world at war, and during a period of worldwide hunger. He took his oath as the leader of a world under great economic distress worldwide.
In Kenya, the land of his late father, hunger stalked mothers and their children as cornmeal disappeared from the shelves—thanks to a mushrooming cabal of virtual briefcase millers overnight—and whenever cornmeal was found, it was more expensive than meat. In Zimbabwe, political leaders still held the people hostage, as mothers scavenged for wild roots and herbs to feed their emaciated babies. In the Middle East, Gaza was a city under rubble and rot, thanks to an on-and-off battle between two cousins fighting for land. In Congo, Darfur, and Somalia, women and children hadn’t known peace in generations, as women continued to bear their sons in chaos, some of whom married amid chaos and died amid chaos. In Rome, Paris, Berlin, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, Moscow, and London, the stock markets had collapsed, turning royalty and millionaires into paupers, overnight.
Yet the world had welcomed Ajwang’s Presidency in fetes and balls because in him desperate mothers saw the hope of their infants, and millionaires saw the security of their gold and diamonds; the world celebrated his triumph because it was as historical as it was improbable.
Ajwang’s election to the office of President of the United States of America was as odd a chance as the sun rising from the west, to paraphrase a Luo dream. Here were the odds: Fact, six hundred years before, his Luo people had no permanent homeland; they were semi-nomadic clans fighting their way out of the Sudan southward along the shores of the River Nile, as they searched for the next suitable land and pasture for their cattle. Fact, six hundred years before, his American ancestors were still in Europe; six hundred years before, Columbus and other seafaring nuts, were not born yet. Fact, when Ajwang’s father left Kenya in late 1950s to study in the United States of America, the East African Nation was still a British Colony.
Fact: no black man before him ever held the seat in America—a majority-white country that had enslaved black generations before him.
So even in twenty-first-century America, Ajwang’s victory had busted long-held myths and attitudes on race and political leadership. That he won by a landslide meant that the electorate had seen him through a social prism that filtered off race, and left only the person and his word. His victory meant that the electorate had peeled and examined him, layer-by-layer, and reduced him in their minds to the essence of what man is, which is the quality and worth of his words.
That he was born in the faraway State of Alaska among people who played by their own rules of existence, was an extra hurdle he had to surmount in order to reach the hearts and souls of the majority mainland American electorate. Ajwang’s hurdle was the higher, given that his father was an alien, a Luo, born in Africa. In the minds of the pundits of his nation, he had too fresh an association with aliens to become the President of the United States of America.
When his pundits from the Caucasian side of his ancestry were through with analyzing him, new and unexpected hurdles would pop up on his political path—these were hurdles in apathy and doubts among his brethren of color. There were whispers of discomfort with his candidacy in churches, barbershops, and salons patronized by his brethren of color. Their concerns were of two types: First, was Hassan Ajwang’ like them at a human level? Was he black physically and mentally? Did he think like them? Did he suffer their pain, given that none in his known lineage ever experienced slavery as its subjects?
Second, was the political reality check: Would the young man from Omaha, Nebraska, lead the charge and bear the heavy burden to fulfill Dr. King’s Dream? That was the big question in every black person’s mind. They also had doubts about Ajwang’ because past politicians of color had tried and come far short in their courtship of the presidency. Was the relatively young, soft-spoken poet, and community activist, from Omaha, Nebraska, made of the tempered steel required for the tough fight ahead of him? These questions bothered every man and woman of color in barbershops and salons nationwide.
Ajwang’s brothers and sisters of color were also challenging him publicly to discard his intellectual nuance, and sharpen the edge of his poetry to the point where these brethren would say Amen at every stanza, even if he did so at the risk of alienating his white constituency.
In churches, barbershops, and salons in the land, Ajwang’s brethren of color had wondered aloud as to whether he would prevail in his presidential quest in a land in which subtle and obvious racial schisms still existed, and social integration was still a work in progress. They wondered aloud as to whether the soft-spoken poet and lawmaker from Omaha, with neither the fire-spitting tongue of a rap star nor the damning quotes of a religious preacher, was the man to deliver them to the shore yonder.
Ajwang’ would prove them wrong. The allure of his soft poetry would win where his brethren of color had demanded fiery rap rhymes. Ajwang’ would sit at the citadel of world power—a power on wings; a power greater than the one, which his fifteenth-century ancestor, namesake, and fellow dreamer, Ajwang’ the Dreamer, was shown.
Yes, Hank Hassan Ajwang’ was a damned lucky black man.
Just when President Ajwang’ started to wonder why the Chief of Staff hadn’t bothered him with the day’s public agenda, there was a knock on the door.
“Mr. President, do you’ve a moment?”
“Of course, Mr. Chief of Staff,” President Ajwang’ responded without any complaint for having been distracted from an interesting line of thought. “The First Lady of the United States of the United States is here to see you in her role as a public advocate for White House Staff.”
“What is amiss on Day One? Jeez! Ziki, hold her off a minute as I put on my jacket,” the president said before adding, “Tim, I want you to read this essay once every week for the next four years. Pass it around to all of my staff; it should act as a constant reminder of the improbability of our journey as an administration headed by one lucky black man kept sane in the hands of a wonderful First Lady, who happens to be black, too. Ziki, we promised the people gold and diamonds; the people expect nothing less!”
“Mr. President, with due respect, the campaigns are over. It is time to govern, and you won’t run a country by listening to every rant off the blog.”
“Mr. Chief of Staff, I just gave you the First Presidential Order to execute; the year two-thousand-and-twelve is less than four years away.”
“Order received, Sir!”
“Tim, this one is easy to do: I need a real basketball net installed at that corner.”
“Mr. President, you want to trash the Oval Office?”
“Tim, do your job, which includes keeping the president sane.”
Just then, The First Lady of the United States strode into the Oval Office.
“Good morning, gentlemen!” said The First Lady of the United States.
,p>“Tim, excuse us,” the president ordered his Chief of Staff.
“He beat me to your office, Mr. President?” said The First Lady of the United States.
“Well, he’s the Chief of Staff.”
“The power structure has to change in this place.”
“The roles are contained . . .”
“Sh . . . !”
“Why did you do that? There is a video feed from this office.”
“Have a good day, Mr. President. Some overworked White House Staffer won’t scoop The First Lady of the United States in this place. By the way, your good friend, the Chief of Staff, bribed the cameras,” Linda Ajwang’, The First Lady of the United States, said and left the oval office.
“Jeez! Who knew that the woman, who beat me up at my own game, and secured me within my own skin twenty years ago, would be the first black First Lady of the United States of America?” the president whispered to himself in reference to an event that had changed his life, and made him secure in his own black skin. Until then, he had been chasing after a nonexistent, metaphorical white woman, who only existed in his dreams. On that day two decades before in Omaha Central Park, Omaha, Nebraska, one clever black woman caught his wandering spirit and wouldn’t let go until she successfully had guided him into the house of power and pearls.
The new leader of the free world put the romantic thoughts behind him, and for the second time that morning, stared at the bust of his favorite past President, posted at a corner of his desk. After some five minutes of reflection on the life and times of his political idol, he whispered, “Abe, how were you able to balance your life as a President? How were you able to hold a national crisis in one hand and creativity in the other, and still follow the desires of your heart and the rigors of family life?”
Just then, two courting doves in beak-to-tail formation made two quick diving passes by his window, reminding the president of what is socially common among animal species, namely, language of communication, active relationships, play, and procreation.
A knock on the door, brought the president back to the present.
“Mr. President, The First Lady of the United States of the United States will be receiving her neighbors in a few minutes,” announced the president’s Personal Assistant.
“O tradition! I’ll be out in a minute, Sam!”
How did a black man from Alaska become the first black President of the United States of America at a time of great military and economic perils worldwide?
Hassan Ajwang’s story was part of a long tale, which had journeyed across the globe, traveled some tortuous six-hundred years, outlasted colonization and human bondage, and brought down many racial barriers.
Six hundred years ago in the Sudan, Ajwang’s black ancestors were nomadic people following the Nile, inching incrementally southward ahead of the encroachment of the Sahara against their livestock. Their flight south would be hastened by a new threat in a new religion and complicated by internal family conflicts.
Leading and guiding the flight south were men who rose to the occasion and acted when the challenges of their times demanded courage, and challenged personal honor, common wisdom, and established tradition. The mention of their names sent shivers down the spines of fellow men. Each would etch an indelible mark on their time, and leave permanent footprints for fellow men to follow.
Leading in the odyssey out of the old Sudan was a dreamer, a nomad, a man of the wild, a man of rare wisdom, a man named Ajwang or Ramogi. Ramogi (the wrestler) was a man guided by his dreams, a man of courage, who never blinked at danger, and the father of all Luo nations, from Sudan to Tanzania.
Hassan Ajwang’ would live the dreams of his famous Luo ancestor. Though Hassan Ajwang’ was born to meager resources, he would be schooled in the Athenian tradition, would volunteer in the service of the poor, but he now mingles and dines with the rich of his time; he’s a man for the times, who wields Spartan Power in his hands and debates doubters at the Citadel.
His Luo people call him The Ajwang’. In their minds, he’s the promise in their long and storied journey that dates back six centuries. They see in him their rendezvous with destiny, and a prophecy fulfilled, and not just a historical accident.
There was a dream and there were many dreamers.
Source: Joseph R. Alila’s “THE LUO DREAMERS’ ODYSSEY: From the Sudan to American Power.”
ISBN 13: 9781441483119.
I’m author Joseph R. Alila, a native of Kenya living in Schenectady, New York, from where I have penned twelve novels and two epic poems. You may not have read my poetry and verse that address a variety of areas of the human experience, but you are welcome if you love writings that go beyond the mundane of daily life. I’m a chemist and teacher by training, and I for a while considered my writing as something recreational, something I did to pass time. Fourteen publications later, learning the art of writing on my feet, the literary bug has bitten me, and friends and fans say that I’m a good novelist with particular strengths in the narrative and analytical forms and with a penchant for stinging dialogue. I laugh at such suggestions, but they may be right; it may be true that writing is like wine: the creator’s output gets better with his or her age, where the wine in a bottle gets better with time in the cellar.
I started writing from what I knew well, and that was telling stories about life in a traditional Luo home–in which I grew up before I flew to multiethnic, then multinational diaspora destinations. I’ve written extensively on my Luo people’s polygamous marriages and other cultural practices, criticizing them where criticism is due, and shedding a sage’s light in an effort to put meaning to old traditions. My mournful caution against the practice of polygamy in the era of the AIDS virus came to light in SUNSET ON POLYGAMY.
My writings have tended to be anthropological–treating my subjects as actors or victims of their environments and times. My novels, WHISPER TO MY ACHING HEART, SUNSET ON POLYGAMY, THE LUO DREAMERS’ ODYSSEY: FROM THE SUDAN TO AMERICAN POWER, NOT ON MY SKIN, MAYA, BIRTHRIGHT (A LUO TRAGEDY), THE WISE ONE OF RAMOGILAND, and lately MAYA are informative anthropological treatises on peoples and their physical, spiritual, political, cultural, and social circumstances.
I must admit that when I set out to write my earlier novels, for example SUNSET ON POLYGAMY, I had no voice or agenda. My objective was to tell stories about my Luo people and my experiences as a Christian, a Luo, an African, and a world scholar uprooted from his home base to chase scientific dreams abroad. But fourteen novels and two Epic Poems (RATENG’ AND BRIDE and THIRTEEN CURSES ON MOTHER AFRICA) later, I find himself increasingly speaking for the burdened and voiceless peoples wherever they are in the world: I speak for the African women and widows (in THE THIRTEENTH WIDOW, SUNSET ON POLYGAMY, and WHISPER TO MY ACHING HEART) whose perilous yokes are the marital culture and practices whose original intentions were protective, but which cultural practices now have turned spiritual death traps, from which there is no escape.
I’ve found a mournful political voice in two of my works: In RATENG’ AND BRIDE, I visit with and relive, in poetry, Kenya’s tragic 2007 Presidential contest, pointing at errors from which the nation hasn’t recovered). In the epic poem, THIRTEEN CURSES ON MOTHER AFRICA, my message is that increasingly dependent Africa is an old shadow of its pre-colonial self; Africa is inundated with perilous crises, a lot of which are due to amnesia, nature, poor leadership choices, greed, dictatorships, and brother-on-brother conflicts, with Ebony the African Woman and her children bearing the brunt of the deadly forces.
In THE LUO DREAMERS’ ODYSSEY: FROM THE SUDAN TO AMERICAN POWER–a novel inspired by and about the Obama Presidency–I endeavor to make a tortuous historical-cum-spiritual fictional march of my Luo people from their slow fifteenth-century times in Old Sudan to East Africa, only for one of us to occupy the world’s only citadel of power. If some of my predictions about the current American Presidency seem to have come to pass, they have to be taken as illustrations of what thoughtful fiction (science or otherwise) can achieve.
Collectively, in the novels, THE WISE ONE OF RAMOGILAND, THE LUO DREAMERS’ ODYSSEY: FROM THE SUDAN TO AMERICAN POWER, and BIRTHRIGHT (A LUO TRAGEDY), I shed a sage’s torch, liberally illuminating various aspects of the Luo journey, Luo cultural practices, Luo spirituality, and Luo thought. No wonder, my literary breakthrough novel BIRTHRIGHT (A LUO TRAGEDY) has been a classroom text in African Anthropology at an American University.
Finally, the novels, NOT ON MY SKIN, THE AMERICAN POLYGAMIST, SINS OF OUR HEARTS, THE CHOIRMASTER (A SPIRITUAL TRAGEDY), and MAYA, I explore our day’s very dynamic American experience, consciousness, and attitudes at street level, inside houses of worship, and at the work place.
My readers could be right, my literary journey no longer is recreational; like aged wine, it has come of age. Welcome, sample it, and however it tastes, let others know, and holler here on Amazon.com.