Sunflowers and Bonfires

It is Saturday night. The bonfire is crackling, flames roar and fan the black sky. The kanga that your big cousin sister taught you how to drape over your head, leaving only slits for your eyes, is caressing your cheeks. You've grown used to draping, not to protect from chilly nights, but to watch kissing scenes on TV when Baba and Mama are in the room. And for Bonfire nights because you never know where conversations might lead, with all the artists-in-residence, who are now family. That way you can blush in private. 

You and the artists are seated on wooden stools in a taught semi-circle.  Tonight there is one question smoldering. Will Gregory be punished for his rebellious act?

Thud! A log gives in. Hiss! Sap foams from a wet branch. Battles fought and won. All eyes fixed on the coal, pearls in a bed of fire.

Do you remember when Gregory first arrived from Denver, Colorado? Everyone was excited to welcome the first cultural-exchange-program-artist-in-residence to the compound. That's a mouthful description, but the program's name evolves as the years go by. In short, he is the first mzungu-in-residence for three months. 

With his big bushy blonde afro and blue eyes, he’s interesting. He walks barefoot, even in the eucalyptus forest, as if the attainment of a true experience is as simple as removing shoes and walking.

Early in the morning of D-Day, you skip through the obstructed light of the alleyway between the chapel's 100-year-old stone wall and the prefab artists' residence to emerge onto the clearing where the Mau Mau sculpture looms tall and fierce.

Lwanyaga, the on-site kiln operator, a refugee who has endured abuse under the "Butcher of Uganda" is running the outdoor faucet, filling a bucket of water for the clay and the kiln, which he has fired every morning since he single-handedly build it. 

Shirtless, Gregory is standing in the doorway of his room, arms akimbo, staring at the canopy of trees -  still and beautiful.  In a few seconds a black and white Colobus monkey will swing from a branch; and butterflies will flutter into the landscape.

“Come and See!” Gregory says, pivots suddenly, and disappears into the room.

You trail behind Lwanyaga and together you watch Gregory wave his arms like a conductor, several times as he sings…

Good mornin'
You sure do make it like a sunny day...

On the white walls, he has painted YELLOW GIANT SUNFLOWERS.


To be continued. I grew in Kenya's oldest African art gallery - I have MANY stories.

Mama Shujaa xoxox aka Hana.



  1. What a magical childhood! I loved this sentence: "All eyes fixed on the coal, pearls in a bed of fire." It's so nice to see you back to blogging!

    1. Oh my I’ve missed writing regularly. Feels good to be back. Thx for being here to welcome me back.


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