Kisumu, Kenya, looks like a peaceful city. It hugs the shore of Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa. Sometimes called “the eye of the rhino,” the lake sits on a plateau in a split of the Great Rift Valley between Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. When I visited in August, I saw no signs of the violence that swept the city following the December 2007 elections when the Luo candidate for president lost under questionable conditions to the Kikuyu candidate from Nairobi. But the pain has left deep scars.
Ethnic violence wasn’t confined to the city. I came to the village of Awasi, an hour east, to teach a workshop on writing for children affected by the violence. Every morning empty trucks rattle over the dirt road out of town. They return each afternoon, loaded with cane from local farmers. Children chase the trucks, hoping <!--more-->for something to fall off. It usually does. Life goes on despite the horrors of the past.
My fifteen students ranged from a widow with ten children to a teenaged schoolgirl. There was a pre-school teacher, a mom and several football enthusiasts. All had good English conversational skills, although several would no doubt have felt more free in their writing if I had emphasized the option of using their own language. For five days we worked on plotting and character development, dialog and creating scenes. “Show; don’t tell,” I instructed them and heard them repeat that line to each other in their critique groups.
The last day we celebrated, reading our stories aloud. Eunice, the pre-school teacher, had a funny tale of a fisherman and a lizard that tried to take his fish. Tracy, the schoolgirl, told of a student taking the initiative to push for reconciliation in his school. Charlton showed the most promise as a writer with his gripping account of a ten-year-old fleeing a burning house during the trouble and later learning that his mother was still alive and looking for him. Normally, I follow up by e-mail with my students. This will be more difficult with their primary Internet connection coming from their cell phones.
Thursday afternoon after class, I joined a special meeting at the local church. A little girl glanced at me as her friend slid into the pew in front of us. She was only about ten. The odd angle of her eye caught my attention. It was only when she turned her face fully toward me that I saw the eight-inch scar that reached from half way down her nose, up between her eyes, arching over her left brow. No wonder her eyes didn’t line up properly. I smiled as she slid in behind her friend. She smiled shyly back.
Will Eunice’s story make this little girl laugh? Will Charlton’s story give her hope? Will Tracy’s story inspire her to work for unity in her community? Holding an image of a specific reader in our minds helps us to write effectively. My fifteen Kenyan students have made a beginning.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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