An interview with Okwiri Oduor.
People have said a lot of things about the short story that won the Caine Prize, Okwiri Oduor’s “My Father’s Head.” It’s a story that was rejected so many times that its author—an intensely soft-spoken writer who I interviewed in Nairobi, about a month ago—eventually gave up on it, and put it in a drawer, deciding that there must have been something wrong with it if so many journals had disliked it.
They were wrong, though it’s a story that’s hard to talk about. In fact, it’s this elusiveness that you try to catch in describing it: it’s a story that can be read and re-read; “an uplifting story about mourning - Joycean in its reach,” as the novelist Jackie Kay put it; “a story you want to return to the minute you finish it.”
Or as Keguro Macharia put it, it’s “a story about listening.”
I enjoyed listening to Okwiri, although she’s such a good listener, herself, that it was sometimes hard to keep my own mouth shut. This interview was conducted over the course of several days in Nairobi, and I’m grateful to her for giving me the time.
How did you begin, as a writer?
I came to writing… I think when I was younger, I wanted to be a journalist. First I wanted to be a nun.
I must have been eight or nine, I just thought… it’s cool. The nun clothes and the expressions on their faces. They had a kind of scowl or frown on their faces, all the time. They had this power, they always wielded this power.
That was attractive?
Yeah, I thought that was something I wanted to have.
Then I started writing. I think I began because my folks, my parents, are very, very strict so I did not get to play out as much as my brothers did. For many reasons, the girl child is not… I don’t know, I always had to be more protected than the boys, so I wasn’t allowed to do as many things as they were. They were strict with all of us, but they were more strict with me. I wasn’t allowed to…. Well, I wasn’t allowed to do a lot of stuff. They had very strict rules about TV and what books we could read and what books we couldn’t read.
What books couldn’t you read?
I remember my dad being really angry because he saw me reading a Nancy Drew. I don’t think he really understood what it was; he just saw the image on the cover and thought it was a Mills and Boon or something. I could read lots of stuff, but not stuff that looked provocative. I always thought Hardy Boys was a funny series, because just the name itself would have my parents mad, like “What are you reading? Hardy Boys.”
Because of how strict they were, I guess, I couldn’t do lots of stuff, and I began writing. At first, I think I was fascinated that I could escape, to create characters and play around with them, and make them do things. And then, I think I began to make them into people who had more freedom than I, children that had more freedom than I had, so they could do the things I couldn’t do, go to the places I couldn’t go. After that, I was writing about characters who had conflicts with their parents.
I guess I was creating myself, in a way, in the pages. Making these characters overcome whatever conflicts they had. I think there was a little fun in just escaping. I would write so much… I thought of it as a novel. Of course I was wrong. It doesn’t take one week to write a novel, but that’s what used to happen, I’d take an exercise book and fill it with things. And I liked to read my own writing, months later, take them out and just spend a night going through my own novels, and feeling bad for the characters, like “Oh! That happened to her! Oh no!”
How old were you?
I was, I would say twelve through maybe eighteen, I was doing that. When I was in late primary school, I was just discovering that I could write. I used to do compositions in school and sometimes the English teacher would choose them to read to the class and make them write vocabulary. People would come up to me and say, what’s wrong with you, are you writing with a dictionary by your side? You’re making us memorize all these words.
I was also good at Swahili compositions. I don’t know what happened. I guess I don’t write as much in Swahili anymore.
How is it different?
How is it different?
For example, I was at this poetry reading the other day, and they were doing this jokey thing where one person was speaking in Sheng, and the other was translating it into Swahili sanifu, and the joke was that the Swahili was so cumbersome, so awkward.
You have to think differently. But then again, in school, we were doing a very different kind of composition. Not the kind of creative writing I’m doing right now. We had a particular… what’s the word for it, a template we had to follow, with certain vocabulary we had to use, like “crack of dawn,” expressions like that. “In a jiffy,” and “as early as the cows going to the river to drink the first drop of water,” something like that. Some of those are really ridiculous. I had to follow certain templates, repeated expressions over and over. So I can’t really tell if it’s the same way; it’s not the kind of writing I’m interested in. I’m more interested in, I shouldn’t say mangling language, but… not writing in necessarily English, but in different Englishes. But back then, it was the queen’s language or nothing.
And not just the queen’s language, but a formulaic language, where you’re actually given these phrases to reproduce.
Also not just that, but in what you could write, the kinds of subjects you had to… You couldn’t write about some things. I learned this when I was twelve or eleven. In my story, someone got raped. That was a big deal, my parents were called, and everyone was concerned, wanting to know why is this girl writing about this, so I learned then to censor myself. You couldn’t write about anything; not everything was acceptable.
You didn’t expect that reaction?
I might have just seen it or read it in the paper, and thought, well, this is something that happens. And since you’re writing in composition class, you should write a story; this is a story, so I wrote about it. So I guess I learned then that even if you call it creative writing, it’s still not… you have to follow certain templates. But even if I wrote in Swahili right now it would be much different than that kind of story. I think I wouldn’t know how to write in Swahili right now. I would know, like, technical… I could translate things. But I don’t know how to think creatively in Swahili, like write a creative story. I don’t know how to do that. I couldn’t possibly translate “My Father’s Head” and keep all the meaning in it.
As you were saying about “mangling the language,” I feel like your sentences are all very crafted and particular, always a sentence I haven’t heard before. Not ostentatiously, but the language is always so particular that it seems like translating it would be really hard.
I think it’s a little clearer in my current work in progress. NoViolet does a bit of that, in We Need New Names. In the beginning, I was very afraid of reading her work, afraid of being influenced, because she plays around with language as well. But reading her now, I’m not afraid of her.
How come? Confidence?
No! I think it’s narration. Hers is a child narrator and it’s very playful, and mine is less playful than hers.
I feel sometimes I’m writing in English, but not in English. So maybe it’s the thinking process, that I’m writing as I think. But I’m re-creating and re-imagining, and sometimes remembering things that did not, that don’t have the right words.
“My Father’s Head” is all about trying to tell stories about things that are elusive, and so there’s a way in which a style of writing that was very masterful, that described things precisely, would fail. The language has to be warped and contorted to tell this particular story.
Yes. For example, in my work in progress, I feel like I’m contorting and working it a lot, the language. But I enjoy that. I think I’d be really bored if I had to do the thing I had to do in school, you know “this is the technique, the template.” I don’t know, I think I’d have to quit writing then.
You’ve been talking about the school writing versus the writing you’re doing now. How do you get from the one to the other? Was there a moment when you started thinking of yourself as a “writer,” outside of compositions in school?
It was an entire journey. As Claudette, I was a very different person. I feel like in school, I was that person, I was very bound to follow many rules, many different kinds of rules, religious, home, or school. After that, it was just a long process of un-binding myself and discovering that the world was… much bigger than I imagined, and my mind was much bigger than I’d been led to believe. Language was much bigger. There are rules, but you don’t have to follow them. Of course there are consequences, but it’s nothing that kills you.
So, in the beginning, doing all this writing that… my tiny novels were in school language, and I went through so much conflict with my parents. I remember once, this fight I had with my mother and I was really sad after that, and I took all my novels and all my diaries and I just burned them. And in a way, from then on, I didn’t have things I could go back to anymore and read, things that I had written. I had to re-create everything all over again. But… I was not the child anymore, like, they were not the writings of a 14-year old, not a 16-year old’s fears and private concerns. I’m not going there to purge. I didn’t have that anymore, I burned it, and I had to build it from scratch.
Then I started seeing things, calls for submissions. Kwani? did one, “The Africa I Live In.” And then I realized that I didn’t have to write just for myself, that people wanted to read things that other people are writing. And that’s when I wrote, and I kept getting rejections. And from then on—and I’m glad I did!—but from then on I just kept writing, which was an education, just reading a lot of things and interviews. I had to re-learn all the techniques I had learned, to learn that rules are there, and you can break them, but you have to know what rules you’re breaking.
Do I answer you? I feel like I’m rambling.
Oh, yes! You know, it’s funny, two people that I’ve talked to—Wambui and Muthoni—I asked them what I should write about you, what I should ask, and they said many things, but one of them was, they both said “She has done the work.” That you are someone who has worked on her craft.
I remember in 2010, it must have been the first StoryMoja festival I ever went to. I was volunteering there, but they have all these workshops there… How old was I? Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one. I was workshop-hopping. You don’t think of it as workshop-hopping, but I was looking for… I don’t know what I was looking for. But yeah, I’ve been to lots of workshops, Stoymoja, Kwani?, Amka space for women’s writing. I’ve written and written and written, and submitted things, and got them rejected, and been dejected, and almost gave up, and tried to give up, but you can’t really give up writing.
Or rather, I can’t really give up. You know, in London, I met people who were such voracious readers, but they’re not writers, themselves. I was just baffled; how did you escape that? You read, but your pen never possessed you to write a story of your own? I really cannot imagine not writing. How would I… I can’t escape it. I just… can’t.
How much of what you write, are you writing, thinking, to send this out?
No, I don’t write to send anything out. I write because… well, for example, “My Father’s Head” is a very personal story. All the stuff that was going on with me, I just felt like writing, putting my thoughts down in a story. I didn’t mean for it to go anywhere, I didn’t imagine that it would go anywhere. And then when it was done, I sent it out, and it got rejected several times…
Really? I bet those guys are kicking themselves.
Some American journals. I got a bunch of rejections, so I thought, well, this story must be really shit. And then I saw the call, and I took it up to clean it up, except there was not much to clean up. I thought, it’s a shit story anyway, so I sent it.
So you submitted it to Feast, Famine, and Potluck… I read some review of it where they were saying “Yeah, she’s working a little too hard to make it about food.”
Isn’t it funny? I thought it was really funny that they said that, because the story was already written when the call came out. Which brings me back to your question, I didn’t write it for anything, I just write. If I come across something, and it’s fitting, I think maybe… I learned that there really is nothing to lose. So just send it off, and see what happens.
Except maybe the work in progress, which I hope to have published at some point. I guess, at the moment, I hope all my work will get published at some point. I don’t write for a particular prize, or a thing in mind, but with a particular goal of getting it published.
When you were talking about writing, in those little journals, your “novels,” you were writing about the things you were working through I your own mind, the things in your life that you were struggling with. Do you feel like that’s how you write, now?
I think yes and no. Yes, when I was younger, but now, much less. To the extent that every character comes from the artist themselves, you create a bit of yourself in everything you write, it’s unavoidable. Some people deny that, but I wouldn’t deny that. But now, I’m interested in much more. I don’t think I’m interesting enough. After all the battles were won or lost, I don’t think I have any more to purge.
I feel there’s lots of injustice, and there’s lots of love and beauty, and enough stories are there. So yeah, I’m not writing about myself anymore.
Though “My Father’s Head” is very personal. But also, I read “The Red Bindi” story this morning.
Ha! Such a long time ago. I’m ashamed that you read that!
Well, for one thing, that opening was outstanding.
Of everything you’ve written, that’s one of my favorites. But yeah, maybe it’s not as complete as “My Father’s Head.” So that story feels like a long time ago?
Yes, but that story is not myself. I haven’t thought of those older stories in a while. People kind of make you think the only thing you’ve done is “My Father’s Head.” I’ve done “The Rag Doll,” which is in the Africa39 anthology that will come out in October. Yeah, not myself either! I guess I don’t do that much.
Well, and then there’s the one that Wambui gave me, it’s in a blue book… I guess it’s an Amka collection.
Oh no! I wish you wouldn’t, that’s horrible! That’s the worst story ever. I had a radio interview the other day, and the person interviewing me talked about this story and saying, “Oh, they should have submitted it to the Caine, it’s the best story you’ve ever written.” I don’t agree with him…
I don’t think it is.
No, definitely not. I thought it was very, very horrible, actually.
You’re being too hard on yourself! Why do you say that? It’s a good story, not like “My Father’s Head,” but…
I thought, because, OK… the “Red Bindi” and this other one, also I wrote them when I was very young, about 20, I really was in the process of learning my craft. I didn’t know things about subtlety, I was pamphleteering, in a way, I feel.
Well, they’re of a genre, rightl “Just let the kids choose their own their own life!”
I think they’re the kind of stories that would be published in an anthology by the UN about women’s rights or something. That’s not what I’m doing right now. I’m glad I wrote them, because they were part of the whole journey. I shouldn’t condemn myself and them. If I’m the writer that I am today, it’s because I had to be that writer, I had to write those stories to become this writer, to write these stories.
What else have you written since then?
I wrote this novella, called “The Dream Chasers.”
That’s right! Which I haven’t yet managed to put my hands on.
Oh, please don’t.
Well, you can’t stop me.
Unfortunately not. It was right after PEV, which means I was 20. Since they published me, we’ve never talked again. I guess I get emails every once in a while. But I didn’t have a book launch. It was a very non-existent relationship. It’s not something I’d like to revisit.
What was the reception to the novella? Did people read it?
I don’t think so. I do meet people who tell me they’ve read it, sometimes. It’s surprising, and I wonder why? Why did you do that? If I could write a letter to myself, I’d say “Keep writing, but don’t publish them, don’t put it out there.” If I could go back in time, I’d do that.
What do you think of that one?
I actually haven’t looked at it. I’m embarrassed to. Like I said, it was necessary, a necessary part of my journey. I think it taught me a lot about courage, the courage of having your work read and the courage of keeping on going, the courage and the discipline to complete a piece of work, from start to finish. It’s really difficult, but it taught me a lot about being a writer. You have to make choices; shall I go to class or shall I write? Shall I do this job, or shall I write? Shall I hang out with my friends? Shall I go to this party or shall I write? You have to make these decisions. Also, it taught me a lot about craft. I experimented with voice, I discovered how to be subtle and say things between the lines what I like and don’t like, what I like to do with language, what kind of writing really interests me. Things like that were very necessary. That’s what I think about them, it was necessary, it molded me. It was my education in writing.
You also said you thought “My Father’s Head” wasn’t a very good story, you said “it was crap story”
No, I said- Yeah, I said that, but it was the impression people gave me, because it kept getting rejected. So I thought there must be something I’m not seeing, that people hated it so much, that it keeps getting rejected.
What do you think of it now? Now that it’s become Okwiri Oduor’s “My Father’s Head”! Are you tired of it?
I can’t look at it anymore. I read it so many times in London. Possibly twice a day, for a week and a half. Because I don’t like to just appear at readings, I like to prepare for readings, so I had to read it myself to get in the zone, so I read it more times than… Oh God! No, I can’t look at it, not any time soon.
Did reading it over and over and over again like that give you a different impression of it? Did that change how you read it? Other than making you sick of it?
Other than making me sick of it, it also made me realize how some things are still relevant today, as they were then. About being in exile, and needing to return home to your people, and these questions of identity… Who am I, and what’s my role in this world, and do I have people that belong to me. These are things I constantly think about, so reading it over and over again…
And in light of everything going on, there’s Gaza going on, I was in this strange land, riding the tube with people that don’t even look you in the eye, don’t even acknowledge you. Not that one needs acknowledgement, but it just didn’t feel like home. Here, the watchman says hello to you, and tells you a story about this and that, or a random man in the Matatu, or a woman, asks you for the newspaper or asks you where you got your hair done and a story comes from there.
A lot went on in my mind, being here, being stressed about the events that are going on here. But it also felt like a bit of a bubble, like being in exile from the real world. So, reading it over and over again, every time, I would read it and it would feel very emotional, like an emotional event, because so much is always going on, and I feel like I’m always running away from things, like I’m always powerless in many situations. Like the situation going on in my own country, and I don’t really feel like I can do anything.
Not just myself, but as Kenyans—if I can say that—we’ve been running away from so much, we’re all in some kind of exile, and we’ll have to go back home, and re-engage with each other talk about our own identities, and what it means to be of each other.
I think it was just from reading it, but I feel like it speaks to me all the time. There’s so much to think about, about home and about not-home.
It’s fascinating, because you’re describing your reaction to a story that, when you wrote it, you were not in London. It’s a very metaphorical exile. You could read that story and assume, “Oh, she’s in Canada or something, she’s not in Kenya.” But you are.
In my work in progress, I have to go back in time. My story is set in 1988, during the Moi era. A lot is going on… I the universities. Students in the universities are taking to the streets, and there’s lots of assassinations, lots of political unrest. Lots of my characters are very cynical.
But it’s about female friendships. It’s set in 1988, during the Moi era. There’s lots of political turmoil, but the main character has just lost her best friend, a girl she grew up with. She’s re-examining her friendship, how possessive and abusive a friendship can be. But all this occurs against the backdrop of political turmoil. I feel I can’t talk about it very well. But anyway, in researching all this, I had to go back into the library here, in Nairobi, and look at newspapers in 1988, and articles all the way back to Independence, and sometimes even further.
So much happened, that I didn’t know, myself; the history lessons in school shielded me from so much. Ugliness and pain… It shielded me from so much, the history that we didn’t learn. There’s so much that happened that we were not taught, about the state of our country, why things were the way that they were. I was encountering them, when I was researching them, for my work, it just shocked me.
So much of what’s happening today has its roots in things that happened in the past, that were never addressed, and these things will keep happening. We may blame all manner of things, we may say it’s Al-Shabaab attacking us, but we say it’s this, or it’s that, but so much of what’s happening has its roots in what’s happened before. As long as we don’t address that, and redress that, then we’re not really solving anything. None of what is going on is new. I’m reading about bus explosions in the 80’s, and the 70’s, bombs in the ferry or in Mombasa, or the Shifta war, things like this that we were never taught. I’m just learning so much from this, and I’m discovering that we are all, I don’t know if I should call it, I don’t know, exiled from the truth, and we have to face it at some point
It reminds me, a lot, what you’re saying, about Yvonne’s book, about Dust. All of these things that were in the past, and weren’t talked about
I’m not reading Yvonne.
Oh, you haven’t read Dust?
I have it, but I can’t read it yet, because of what you’re saying. I can’t read her yet.
So, my work in progress… I don’t know if I’ll pull it off in the end, but half of it is in this world, but half of it is in another world, if I should call it that. I guess there’s two main characters now. One died, but she’s still making a journey, and it’s the same kind of journey that the other girl is making. A kind of journey into… Um, I don’t know… I’m not very good with words. I’m not good with words when I’m writing.
That’s a funny quote. Maybe you’re too careful with words? I feel like I can almost see you putting the sentences together, and deciding, no, that’s not quite right, and rejecting- Like, that’s s writer’s impulse, perfectionism. Do you think you’re a perfectionist?
My boyfriend would say I am, in my writing. I think I prefer written interviews for that, because I can go back and edit myself. With my writing, I think I flog it too much, sometimes. Maybe that’s why I feel a bit uncomfortable with the work I’ve done before, because I didn’t spend as much time. They feel unfinished to me.
Why 1988? Why did you pick that?
I don’t know! Well, Kenya was 25 years old, that year, almost halfway between then and now. You know, what’s weird is reading those papers from then, which is not such a log time ago. I’m reading such shocking things, there’s op-eds and people writing to the paper saying such shocking things, like “we should have a separate province for people with HIV” and other people writing to say that women, that Nairobi mothers are to blame for the poor performance of their daughters, because they let them paint their nails.
Also, reading about Mandela and Robben Island. There’s one about a white girl and a black boy in Soweto, and they’re in trouble with the authorities because they have a relationship and that’s not allowed. It’s not that long ago, but it’s so shocking, reading these things in real time. It’s happening then, and it’s not fiction, but it feels like fictional writing.
It makes you wonder what twenty-five years from now…
You mentioned once that you were travelling with some other people to the Somali refugee camp…
At Daadab and Ifo
Would you tell me a little bit about that? I’m curious. How old were you?
I was maybe 21 or 22. I had just quit working for a film school, and then myself and a few other people. There was a German girl, and an American boy, and a Dutch and English… They were Somali-Dutch, and Somali-English and so on. We got together and did some fundraising, and crossed the border and did some aid work. It was before the Kenyan incursion into Somalia, and the border was pretty porous. Which was surreal, you could just cross the border and cross back
Lots of things happen. I was a bit stupid, I remember being in the streets one day. I went in my jeans, and no head scarf, which was stupid. I couldn’t get out of the car. And even if you could, men and women couldn’t really interact, so I couldn’t go with them in the restaurant. So I had to stay in the car by myself, with the driver, and suddenly, there was this conflict in the street with soldiers, these two groups of soldiers angry at each other, yelling at each other in Somali, and then suddenly loading up their machine guns, and I’m smack I between them. It was so scary, I thought I was going to die. And then our driver just started the car and drove away, and he was cursing them, calling them vermin. These people, they’re not people, they’re beasts, look at them, they just slaughter each other. It’s a very funny thing to say because that’s what’s happening in Kenya at the moment.
So, yeah, we did that. We went back to Dhobley. There was a time we went back to Dhobley, we were delivering tents, and sandals, and food—dry food—and water, and what else was in there… We called them the survival backpacks. And we went back to the Kenyan side.
The next week, we needed to do that and we couldn’t, because Al-Shabaab had visited the village we’d been to, and slaughtered the people. It was really sad to imagine that some of the people we’d met were probably dead. I remember sometimes, driving back… I was once on the border, and we met a group of people, refugees, and they’d have to walk and walk and walk, sometimes for days, maybe meet a truck and get a ride for a few hours and then have to continue walking.
I remember we met one woman who told us she’d started out with a husband and eight children. I think the husband got bitten by a snake, and died. And the children died. She had only one surviving, and they had to drink each other’s urine to be able to survive.
I remember there was another woman, telling us that her baby died, but they wouldn’t stop the bus, so she had to open the window and throw the corpse out. And another woman who gave birth to the baby on the bus. And the baby was alive, so they’re sitting next to each. So many stories like that.
And then there’s me, this 21 year old who left home and thought she’s depressed. There’s so much perspective in all of that. I’m just so sad because I felt so misunderstood, because no one wants me to be a writer, and blah-blah-blah, this and that, it just felt so trivial.
I remember sometime just sitting in the back, I remember just crying to myself.
Have you traveled much, outside of Kenya?
I’d been to Uganda. To Ethiopia, yeah, but not much else.
What was it like going to the United States?
Well, again, like I was saying, you don’t have anything to lose, so just apply. You have nothing to lose, so just send your stuff out there. If you want something, just try. For a long time, I wanted an MFA but I never did it. So I applied to the MacDowell Colony. I didn’t think I’d get in, but, again, nothing to lose, the worst that can happen is no, that doesn’t kill you.
And they accepted me, and that was really shocking. I didn’t expect it. Long flight. Went to New York first, got into a taxi to a friend’s place in… Williamsburg? The guy was Mexican, and quickly realized I was not an American, and tried to rip me off. I said no, you cannot have that much. But he said you have to pay, it’s the New York tax. It was 80 dollars, for something from JFK, when it should have cost 50 bucks. Anyway, I had a free day, the next day, so I went about the city, and got lost in the subway system. It was nice, a good introduction to American culture.
So the next day, I was to take a bus from Port Authority to New Hampshire. The bus was leaving at 5 a.m. I was there at four, but the entrance from the street was closed, you couldn’t access it. You had to get in through the subway. They didn’t open until five, but by the time they opened, the bus was gone.
But then there were all these people coming to me, helping me, calling me sister. But nothing is free, I guess, you have to buy lots of teas and coffees.
So the next day, I didn’t want the same thing to happen, so I left at ten p.m. the night before. And then there was this huge blizzard, and the roads were iced, so the buses were canceled. But they didn’t tell us that, so I went there at 10 p.m, it’s freezing, there’s no warm places, it’s not heated. It’s just totally filled with homeless people going around asking you for money. It was very… weird, very weird. And you can’t lie down, it’s so crowded. All of us don’t know what’s going on. All the buses had been cancelled, but they’re not telling us, so we spent the night waiting.
I think I sat next to this Nigerian woman, who was telling me Oh you’re going to New Hampshire? You know there’s no one like us there. It’s very white. So she took out her phone and starts showing me all these contacts of friends I should see, there, including this pastor woman, if I’m feeling lonely. Because she’s the only person there who looks like me.
So the next morning, not having slept at all, sat all night waiting, they told us the bus was cancelled.
I bought a ticket to go to Washington. It was the coldest day of my life. It was so painful. I didn’t realize cold could be painful. Washington was very windy, I don’t know if that’s how it is, normally. But the cold, plus snow, plus wind, was a very bad combination.
But you got around, and got to see things?
Yes. I tried to. At the bus station I sat next to this French girl, who told me she was going to Washington, she didn’t have anyone to see, so I said, OK, I’ll come with you. We went and walked around, the White House, all the monuments, and took the bus back.
Then I spent another night at the Port Authority, freezing, and this time I caught it.
So I went to the colony. It was really, really nice. But I think I had such difficulty the first few weeks. Because as I said, it’s very, very white. Also insular. I don’t know, I felt out of place, I felt I was struggling. But, I guess, in the end, it turned out well. I’m very glad for the experience.
Postscript, a propos of nothing: When I first met her, Okwiri told me she planned to dance for 20 minutes a day for a year, presenting this resolution without explanation. When I saw her for the last time, before I left Kenya, she told me, with satisfaction, that she had been keeping her promise.