Sunday, October 31, 2010

Meeting of souls and minds: Russia and Kenya in Africa

I have another story. I met Oksana at the Helsinki Bookfair last week. The masses as Oksana would write on her blog later moved as usual. We saw the commerce of art. We felt the warmth of winter interest. We however, found very interesting links when shared face to face. We have agreed to share them with our friends and readers.

Pushkin and Njoki- (roots) at the University of Nairobi

When I was at University, I read some Russian Literature. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin stood so clear as classics do. A novel in verse. The appeal was irresistible. My friend was doing her Masters on Pushkin. I even remember it was Prof. Henry Indangasi who was her supervisor at the University of Nairobi. Prof Indangasi taught European Literature with great but gentle authority. I was only doing my first degree then. I loved the spirit of Literature, my Mother had introduced it to me at home. She told us stories and made me act some parts sometimes.

I loved my friend Njoki's laughing spirit. She was always seemed to say that she knew the way ahead of us fresh ones and there was nothing to fear. She was a great storyteller. It did not matter what the story was about. It took life on her tongue. Her joy and face of dark beauty were always alight and a light. She had this natural beauty and tone about her. She still smiles in my memory.I wonder where she is now. became I last met her at Kenyatta University where she worked in the administration. She remembered Pushkin. She told me she was not so happy not to be using her art. I told her I tried to write. She inspired me but she felt she was not doing anything much. We talked about Literature. What an amazing discovery of Doestovyeski and Tolstoi, Nikolai Gogol and so many others. Our world of Literature in some countries of Africa was young with the first novels coming out when the world was swinging in the sixties.. already. Other countries had written long before even in Africa. The soul of Russian Literature was something extraordinary. I forgot that Pushkin had roots of ancestry in Ethiopia.

Oksana In Helsinki

It was Oksana who reminded me about Pushkin's roots when I told her that I felt the soul of Russia was very deep through the literature of the country. She smiled. She knows many people that I have only read about. She knows Anna Politkovskaya. Anna was assassinated last year in October in Russia. She knows Natalya Estimirova. She was also her friend. She was also assassinated last year. Talking to her, I felt really impressed,silent and moving at the same time.. moving in the mind. Goosepimples. She knew people we have cried for and written about from afar but always felt them very near. It is only last week when Peter Waage gave a lecture on Russia Between East and West and I asked him some questions. I asked first about the understanding of Freedom in Russia among the people. He talked in answer about voglia (I did not ask for the spelling) and freedom. This is freedom as seen in getting an immediate need fulfilled. If I am not wrong voglia must be related to voglio in Italian which is I want.. I have a need. Which is more to the material need.. for instance to drink a vodka now. And the other freedom involves I think, includes some rights which you cannot easily materialise like to express oneself freely, to worship, to be... to.....associate. I asked if the people there in Russia get angry when their people are like Anna Politkovskaya are killed for expressing themselves.. and I was told that many people hardly know them in Russia, I say that if they knew them probably there would be a common movement for them and against the oppressors. It is no coincidence this lack of knowledge. It is a tool for some. However, many people also fear to speak out even if they do know the truth. Oksana lives under threats because she does speak out.
(I also asked which Russian author sprung most to the mind of Waage as he walked in the streets of St. Petersburg and he said Gogol does so most.)


I was reading a poem at the Helsinki Bookfair. It turned out that I read Voice of Oulo community radio. I set up one for him in my mind since his life was snatched. I hope one day it will be real. It is published in This Bread Of Peace.

Alexander Solszhenityn in Kangemi, Kenya via Kianda in Kibera.... and The Gulag Archipelago

I first saw The Gulag Archipelago somewhere near Kangemi. I always think I met Alexander Solzhenitsyn then. Therefore, when Mishael came to Nairobi through Kwani? and with the Summer Literary Seminars which also took him and some writers from Kenya to St. Petersburg. Misha was chatting about his trip. I asked him about Alexander Solszhenitsyn. He told us he was old not of course and not so well. He died on 2nd August 2008. I worked near some slum areas. I ofen thought of the suffering of the people due to extreme poverty as a form of confinement. I wrote Alexander a poem.

91. KWAHERI ALISHA (Good bye Alisha)

(Alexander Solszhenitsyn)
2nd August- 2008

When Alexander died,
All the pens trembled.
He went quietly,
as silently
he came into our lives,

Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
What nickname did granny have for you?
Did she fondly call,
And you run to her,
with hope?

I bless that quietly,
you go in peace,
memories of joy finally restored.

Too much pain delved,
Not paved you life.
Your peace they broke
in in-humankind,
I heard in the last days,
You hardly knew your ways.

Let it be,
for only for while,
only for now.
I remember you
Of thunder!

Your pen did not die.
Many candles flicker,
and the world over
your soul’s mantle
many ages hold.
Seeing how to be bold,
In pain to pen.
Sketch blood and sorrow,
taking the arrow of love,
through the letter of pain.

Then so much strength of pain
and pen,
learnt to bear so early,
and left the pains in every sinew,
of thought beyond the dew
of nations.


We loved you here in Nairobi.
We asked Misha how you did,
a decade ago
we wanted so to know.
He told us your eyes always searched,
talked to self and us.
And we now know your faith,
orthodox you followed till yonder.

Alisha, many pens arise,
your inkwell wells again.
And grow the trees Alisha,
on the letters of your book
we look to mix.

Purified tears,
shiny like diamonds,
why will grass grow we wonder?
And Low, low, somewhere, down,
Lies not the spirit.
It towers from high above Gulag,
looming all earth over.

A little history, here and now,
a little flicker of memory,
just for those who wonder why.


One day, on a subtle morning,
I met Sholzhenitsyn in Kangemi.
We sat in his Gulag,
In Nairobi’s midslum,
reading headlines.
A day in the life of Ivan Ivanovitch,
A day in the life of Karimi Nduthu.
A day in the life of Anna Politkovskaya,
an elevator takes to the tomb.
Novaya Gazeti in Kangemi is Oulo’s.
A day in the life of Natalia Estimirova.
The Ngong Gulag of the Disappeared.

We knew of Alexander Shchukariv before,
and so many more.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn,
your sun sets not,
and my candle
must still burn for you!

Alexander Suchkariv in Rome for eye treatment (1985?)

When I was in Rome in the mid eighties, I saw press and heard about Alexander Suchariv,a scientist who was in trouble in Russia. It was very moving for me to hear his story and see him fleeing with his wife. Oksana asks me.. "How is it possible that we have shared so much beyond borders? that we have met before in Anna too? It is almost mysterious to us as we sit face to face and she says her own story sounds very much like mine. We smile, laugh, think and think. She says I give her courage. She has written this in her blog. I wonder. Is it us? I know it is Literature.. writing.. moving beyond the horizon of every word and work.. moving beyond borders. I know that the persecuted Anna and Natalya and so many others we commemorate including Oulu and Oscar will never be fully silenced. Not while we believe in that freedom we cannot touch or drink in Vokdka.

Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estimirova

This time last year, a lawyer who knew me before we both joined the University of Nairobi called me. She was crying in Nairobi. Natalya Estimirova had been killed. She spoke to me non stop for 20minutes because she also said Natalya reminded her me. She asked me. "Are you sure Philo, that I will not be crying for you next? Why don't you get safety and keep your voice."

50 years of Writers in Prison Committee International PEN

This year, International PEN is looking commemorating 50 cases of writers who have been killed or are in prison. I think of them. I think of Anna Politkovskaya who died as she went up the lift to her flat. I think of her of whom Oksana says she had become a humanitarian agent in herself.. apart from writing about the war in Chechenya. I think of Isaak Dawit in Prison in Eritrea. I congratulate him for courage. He had become a Swedish citizen, he went back home and was incarcerated and he has never been freed. I congratulate him and I ask him never to give up. I ask those concerned to find his address and write him a line of hope.
We want to smile, but the world is heavy.

Stories about internet... and songs to welcome my new poems in This Bread of Peace By Philo Ikonya

I am welcoming my own book with songs and stories! You are welcome to read. It is listed on Google Books: This Bread of Peace by Philo Ikonya and is available on order by email to:

I have been quiet for a month and more..on my blog! It seemed like an eternity. Immediately I got my book- This Bread of Peace, from Lapwing, I was so excited! Then I think I had something that I have no name for.... It was time for "Reflections" ...I wrote to Janice Wong, a friend and a few people I know. It was some kind of postpartum blues... Wow! So, books are a part of ourselves and bringing them out is a real giving... of self.. Now am up! But another book is just about out.. and another one.. and another, and another.. They must find me dancing. I will tell you about them when they come!

It is wonderful to have a book written by Philo Ikonya (myself) online and on my shelf. I am welcoming my book with songs and stories.. about people and places and the internet.

For this, I only have the internet to thank. It led me faithfully to Lapwing, Belfast and my poems were lapped! Thanks so much, bird of hope, Lapwing! You did not know how often I wrote about a nightbird that I always heard in different parts of Kenya. It spoke to me of hope. I have a novel based on that song of the bird, It is my first book, yet to be published but now requested and I hope it works, in Mexico. It is titled Still Sings the Nightbird. It will be my sixth book this year!

It is marvellous to have persons you met online become such close obeservers of your life and work. It is at this point that I feel that even if so many people abuse online connections, the majority are out to be good. How would I have discovered that women in PulseWire: Olutosin in Nigeria, Janice Wong (who writes splendid Kiswahili from Cambodia, Jade (editor of Pulse) and so many others that I have only met online live for the cause of women?

I love to introduce my book, This Bread of Peace with this letter from Janice Wong in Phnom Penh righ now telling me this - "It is wonderful to hear from you. I am so happy for you regarding the publishing of your new poetry (and the other 4 books).

"I can't wait to find some quiet time to sit with your poems and drift off to the land you love. Would you mind if I posted the link on PulseWire with the Icorn interview (link below)?"

Join Janice and others in reading some of my many poeems here. I must say that it is only by putting out there that one even begins to know who they really are. A bit absurd but real!