'One Day I Will Write About This Place'

Whether it’s the closely observed ecology of married life or the violent acts of criminals operating from afar, Granta 114: Aliens draws into focus one of the most pressing issues of our time: Who do we call outsiders?

Granta’s new issue contains some good reading. There’s South African author Mark Gevisser who writes of five decades of friendship between two gay men who live out their secret lives in a counter-cultural, apartheid-era Johannesburg. Also included is “They Always Come In the Night” by Ethiopia-born Dinaw Mengestu, reporting on a war in Congo managed by exiles in France. And then there is an extract from Binyavanga Wainaina’s forthcoming memoir, “One Day I Will Write About this Place,” in which he recalls losing sight of himself in rural Kenya on a part-time job convincing farmers to grow cotton crops again:

I am home.

We sit in the dining room, and talk from breakfast to lunch, plates with congealing eggs littering the table. Every so often my mother will grab my hand and check my nails; a finger will reach into her mouth and emerge to lick a spot off my forehead, smooth my eyebrows. She stands to clear the table. She is swivelling her radar, like she used to do when we were children, half asleep, shuffling softly in her caftan, disturbed by something intangible.

They are worried about me, and for the first time in my life, worried enough not to bring it up. I have not spoken to them about my stalled degree in a long time. They know. I know.

I am wracked with guilt and am avoiding Baba. He has been gracious so far – has said nothing. All that wasted money on my degree.

I don’t know how to explain my situation to them. I walk past the line of jacaranda trees that line government houses. I turn off the main road and follow the path, avoiding the path of Baba’s morning drive to work. There is a small faded house here, right at  the corner, with a large rocky garden that stretches downhill to border state house. It used to have a swimming pool – which is now grey and green and empty. It is one of several houses that were  given to the children of Old Man Bomett, whose sister was married to the president.

There are stories about the rising jets of steam, that they are the ghosts of old Masai warriors trying to make their way to heaven, and being pulled back, by the gravity of hell. I heard them come in last night, the Masai moran, and their cattle. The strong smell of urine and dung flooded our house; and old throaty songs, and the cowbells. They sang the whole night, and for a while I could pretend that time had rolled back, and I sat among them, as a biblical nomad, or much as my great-grandparents would have.

I decide to spend some days travelling around, to avoid my parents, to follow a road and think about things other than what is wrong with my life. What a wonderful thing, I think, if it was possible to spend my life inhabiting the shapes and sounds and patterns of other people.


Read the rest of Wainaina’s piece here.

Granta has organized some launch events around the publication of the new issue in France, Canada and the United States. See you at one of these.

Tom Devriendt.

Further Reading

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What continuities can be drawn from the murder of Ahmed Timol in apartheid Johannesburg to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis? Wamuwi Mbao unpacks the debased tradition of police murdering civilians.

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The labor and political organizing of Somali immigrants in the US Midwest should inspire more Americans to join the broader movement for worker rights and racial equality.