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Link Love: Zukiswa Wanner Writes Column for Kenya’s The Star on Life in Nairobi

Books LIVE member Zukiswa Wanner, who is currently living in Nairobi, has recently started to write a column for Kenya’s The Star newspaper, which makes for some really fun reading – and provides insight into the life of a South African abroad in Africa.

Among other topics, previous columns have focused on the Kenyan pronunciation her son has picked up; the reaction to Wanner’s career as a writer; an “ah-woo-woo” moment she experienced on a visit to a school; Kenyans’ use of Anglo-Saxon names; and the all-Kenyan delicacy, mutura.

Men of the SouthThe MadamsBehind Every Successful Man

Read Wanner’s columns:

Tops (so-named because he is The Other Parent and a top-drawer guy) is pleased as punch. It has been over a year since I moved to Kenya. A South African friend is visiting, starts chatting to Mouse (so named because at birth he was a tiny little thing with wrinkly skin- like a mouse without fur) and shakes his head in wonderment.

We look questioningly at the friend who immediately explains, “If I hadn’t known this kid from when he was four, I wouldn’t believe it myself. Zooks, your kid sounds Kenyan.” “Really?” I say to a smirk from Tops.

So I write for a living.

I made a conscious decision to do this back in 2006 when I got tired of my NGO gig and dealing with something called ‘deliverables’ and ‘teleconferences’ week-in and week-out without seeing what difference I was really making (although I enjoyed the flights to international conferences).

My friend Ndumiso and his wife Tebogo call it the ‘ah-woo-woo’ moment. That moment, in South African adverts, when some black person realises what a fantastic product anything is and starts singing and dancing thus marking the end of the advertisement. The ah-woo-woo moment will also be observed when Oscar award winning actress Charlize Theron or former Irish President Mary Robinson donates something to a school or community-based organisation.

Immediately after the handing over of the gift, a choir of black women or children (it is never white women or children) breaks into song and dance in honour of Charlize, Mary, or whatever celebrity has donated something to them – ‘ah woo-woo, ah woo-woo’.

Mouse was born in Johannesburg. We stayed in a working class neighbourhood. I prefer to call it faux middle class. Mouse likes books.

I started reading to him when he was a baby. When he started talking, I would go with him to the local library to pick up books. And any time we had guests he would ask them, ‘auntie/uncle can you read me a bedtime story?’ I suspect after a while even a mother’s voice becomes monotonous.

When I go to East London (the South African town, not a geographical location of a place in the British capital) and someone yells out ‘Zuki’ while I am walking on any road, at least 10 people including myself will turn back and look.

This is because there are a lot of variations to it in isiXhosa for both male and females. Zukiswa, Zukisa, Mzukisi, Mzukiseni, Zuko, Nozuko.

On arrival at university in Hawai’i 1996, the first miro I met was Kenyan. No. It was not Barack. As I came out of my placement test he came to me and said, “I notice you are from my part of the world.” And I smiled because it was good to see an African face so far away from home. His next words made me smile even more. “Oh by the way, my name is Charles from Kenya and I am an MBA.” To which I responded, “My name is Zukiswa from SADC and I am NOT an MBA.” I was always a smartass. Charles and I – and Njeri, Salim, Priscilla, David, Kamau, Grace, Faith (who became African on her return and is now Kasui) and all the other Kenyans soon became fast friends. It was through them that I got my first taste of that all-Kenyan delicacy, mutura. We had a friend called Bill who would invite us to his house out of the city at Christmas. On Christmas Eve there would be two kegs of beer, a goat would be slaughtered, chapos made. While Joseph from Haiti made goat curry stew, the Kenyan boys would be making mutura on a barbecue stand. An African Christmas in the 50th state.

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