Finding Here

Michael Onsando
24 March ,2015

“you can’t live  the songs of people who don’t know your name.”

– Yvonne Adhiambo, Dust.

(aside: I was more sure about how to spell Yvonne than I was about Adhiambo as I wrote that quote)

and even when

they know the names

of their ancestors

they still can’t

remember them,

On Twitter a while back, a friend and I were dragged into an argument defending why we didn’t read white people any more. Lots of words were said in this discussion. What really came through was the fear of missing out on a form of knowledge. A fear of what focusing on something else will yield.


Whether or not there was fear, there was definitely a resistance. People were shocked at the notion. They protected their canons of knowledge. Forget that we grew up on Famous Five and Nancy Drew, or that a large chunk of the narratives that we lived consuming needed a complete erasure of oneself to identify with. It was something of danger to be identifying with people who look like you.

“Five suspected

gangsters were

gunned down.”

“her body was

found lying in

the gutter”


This essay is about Kenya.

It is about cattle rustling and the NFD. It is about Dandora and the kuchotwa saga. It is about the constant reminder that identifying with ourselves means identifying with the disposable. That everything we consumed was targeted to frame us as lost, confused and violent; threats and threatened. It became easier to identify with Joe Hard, who had a boyish sense of superiority, humor and long blond hair. It became easier to want to be Allen Shore whose casual sexism always seemed to work. Who could, with clever wording and deep knowledge of the law, convince a jury that anyone was innocent. It became easier to identify with Alex Cross, Hardie Quinn.

This essay is also about masculinity.

It became a thing to aspire to. To be like the one that is unlike us. And, in becoming that thing, we became attached to these canons. We saw their value, and they taught us a lot. Once we erased ourselves we had enough room to absorb them.

Some of us have decided that we’d rather spend our time learning ourselves than learning more about people who cannot pronounce our names.


has become something that

he went looking for

even though his dreams

can’t stop running


“Show me your friends, I will tell you your character.”

Or something like that. I’m wondering about what extra element has been added to the idea of “friend” since blogs and social networks. This is not a new wondering; lots of writing has been done about the ways social interaction has changed since the introduction of the internet. But in a more specific way, I’m thinking about lines of influencing thought.

While the same traditional forms of influence exist and very much carry more weight, there is room for communities to be built outside those methods in very many ways. Small communities are thinking together. These communities, which would have initially been isolated individuals, are now thinking with each other. Sharpening each other. Touching blind spots. Amplifying each other, influencing, teaching and, clashing.


“This is a cold war, do you know who you are fighting for?”

– Janelle Monae

That line has been on my mind for a very long time. Janelle Monae does a lot of writing/thinking/singing about disposability,  taking back space for disposable people, and the power of self love. The album Archandroid takes us through a very intense journey of self exploration and defiance. A journey of affirmation

“when you step outside, spend life fighting for your sanity.”

– Cold War


“ukikaa jiji usisahau kijiji”

– Mejja, Niko Poa


I’ve been listening to a lot of Mejja’s old music. I’m trying to find instances of music that demanded to just record the moment. Music that didn’t try emulate but to put a truth on record. To do the work of the scribes. “Niko Poa” is one such song. It captures a very particular experience of the city in a very particular way. Of course, as with all truths, it is only true of a certain number of individuals. There are as many ways to experience a place as there are people in the place.

But stories

are just truths

that are yet to



When the cold war is about identity then the obvious response would be “my side. I’m fighting for my side.” But that then leads to this question: what are people on your side saying? Why are they fighting? Who are they fighting? For what reasons?

This would begin by listening, hearing what fights you still need to fight and what fights you need to stop fighting. And how can we hear that if we don’t pay attention to the sides whose stories have not been written down? If we do not listen to the stories that were told and unheard? If we don’t go looking for stories that don’t find us? That don’t include us?

How do we live the songs of people who do not know our names?

“This is my fear: that one day, we will have lost so many pieces of ourselves that there will be nothing left.”

– Wanjiku Mungai, Asking for Stories


Wanjiku is asking for people to tell stories. We’re telling them that we’ll listen.

We’re making it very clear that, if these stories are told that we will listen, share, amplify, critique, discuss and learn from. We are making it very clear, very loudly, that we are willing to listen to our stories. This is being done in hope. It is done hoping that, in saying this, more people will tell their stories. We are creating a space for artists to exist in more ways than the financial. In ways that respect and engage. We are making space for these people. We are actively seeking them out.

We’re not reading less, we’re reading different.

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