The winners of the first Africa Day creative writing competition, organised by The Irish Times in conjunction with Irish Aid, are Shane Healy (primary school); Anne Wambua (secondary school); Mary O’Connor and Monica Corish (joint winners of the adult category). Their winning entries, chosen by Barbara Wilson of Irish Aid and Martin Doyle, assistant literary editor of The Irish Times, are published below.
The runners-up were: (Primary): Emmanuella Usiomwanta, Balbriggan ETNS; Tomi Ayibiowu; Timmy Olatunji (St Martin de Porres NS Tallaght); and Tammy Olatunji (St Martin de Porres NS Tallaght); (Secondary): Daniel Adekunle; Dearbhla Gormley; Enya O’Connell-Hussey; and Nicola O’Dwyer; (adult): Brendan Harding; Gemma Brugha; Hilary Netsiyanwa; Jackie Gorman; Julian Blomer; Laura mcCauley; Laura Spain; and Margot Bossonet.
Writers were invited to submit a short story or poem, about the African experience in either Africa or Ireland, The winners will each receive a selection of books to the value of €50 each and there will be a photographic presentation at The Irish Times.
Irish Aid is hosting Africa Day Dublin, its flagship family event, on Sunday, May 24th, from 11am to 6pm, in the grounds of the Farmleigh Estate in the Phoenix Park. The event is family-focused and free of charge to attend. There will be three stages of live music, a special kids' zone, Mount Kiddimanjaro, and an African bazaar, Marrakech, full of the sights and sounds of Africa and offering stalls from community groups and development NGOs with fun activities and food, drumming, dance, traditional fashion designs, and lots more.
The main stage will feature performers from around the world, with the other stages will showcase emerging rap and hiphop artists, up-and-coming singer-songwriters, dance and gospel groups. The popular Best Dressed Competition will also return this year. In conjunction with the city and county councils, Irish Aid also hosts free and family-friendly Africa Day celebrations in Limerick, Cork, Waterford and Galway.
Primary school category winner
By Shane Healy
Spring 1900 Africa – The Beginning
Hello my name is Amman Shinell but my friends call me Nam – that was when I had any friends. This is my childhood story. I suppose I should tell you about my family. All I had left of my family was papa and Nigel. My mama died when I was born. Here is a picture of me and my brother Nigel – I’m the smaller one. Every day my brother and I would walk to the water hole to get water and we were happy to do this because we did not know others lived in better conditions. Some people around the town spread rumours that men whose faces were pale captured villagers and took them to faraway lands. I did not believe this – all I did was go back to our hut and tell papa. He would laugh and say that it was just a story to scare me. Oh how I wish I could hear his laugh again.
Our hut had a straw roof (which wasn’t very useful especially when it rained). The walls were made of stone and clay stuck it all together. Not the best place in the world eh? but that’s where we lived. Each night our papa would tell us stories of his father and mother.
One day I was taking a walk a few miles from the village when a lion walked towards me very cautiously. I wanted to run away but I was too scared to move. When the lion reached me he licked my hand. I wanted to touch him but I was too petrified to move. I eventually plucked up the courage to stroke the lion’s neck. That day, when I walked home, the lion followed me like a shadow. From that moment on I was known as the “lion boy” in my village. Many people became friends with my friend the lion.
One night papa had just finished reading us our bedtime story when we heard shouts outside. Papa told us to stay in our beds while he went outside to investigate. He came back in and said to us to quickly hide wherever we could. A few minutes later I heard voices outside our hut. I could not understand what they were saying because they were from a different country. They stepped inside our hut and before I knew it my father was dead on the ground. Some type of magical stick that made a loud noise had killed him. Then my brother and I were captured and my friend the lion was taken to the circus in a faraway land.
We were walked to a big hut that floated on the water. One man said that we would be going “England”. I did not know what England was or where England was at that time but I was soon to find out. We spent three weeks on this floating hut. It was smelly and some people jumped off the side and drowned themselves. Eventually we arrived at this new land and took some kind of carriage moved by a tall beast. Later I learned that this animal was called a horse.
Finally I was taken into a very large hut but this one did not float. Some people in the house were kind to me. Others whipped me. I did not know why.
My master was called Arthur Peel and he was a very cruel man. His wife, on the other hand was kind and generous. Sometimes she sneaked me bread and biscuits. From my first moment at that house I decided to escape.
One day I asked Mrs Peel if she would help me escape and she said that she would try. That night she left the basement door unlocked and I crept out into the night.
I slept for three long years on park benches and one day an abandoned house. Until one day some nice people decided to take me in. I told them my story and they seemed to like it so they published it and that why you’re reading it now!
Secondary school category winner
By Anne Wambua
The seat became damp as my perspiration pooled under me.
I looked out of the door into the business centre of Kitui County and watched those walking to and from certain whereabouts. Everything was hot and the man cried and the panga hit the wooden table again and again. I ignored the sobs and watched the dog under the roof of the kiosk lie. Whatever damp came off him was quickly gone, stolen by the unnerving midday sun until nothing was left; nothing was ever left. He lay and he lay and the people walked and the man cried and I sweat through my blouse and the woman walked. She turned and lifted her right hand to shield her face from the sun. Her headscarf fell. She quickly lifted it, securing it back behind her ear; she smiled only as much as she had to, and laughed a very modest laugh. When her right hand grew tired she put it down and lifted her left so it could shield her face. The man who spoke to her spoke loudly but kindly, whispering a loud whisper that moved her eyes ever so slightly that they revealed a something I could not fathom. It faded just as quickly as it came. She tightened the kanga around her shoulder so the sleeping baby behind her would not hurt her as much. Her face lowered and shielded itself from the sun as she looked for nothing in particular to keep her eyes busy so she didn’t have to look at the man whom she wasn’t supposed to love. She made an excuse in the form of a brief and fleeting sound, followed by a swift departure. Whatever scent she carried, it must have been a beautiful one and the man who spoke to her must have loved it and her eyes. He loved her and the dog lay and the man cried and I sat wiping the moisture off my forehead. The man loved and the kanga cut, over and over, hard on the wooden table and the smell of rotting meat met my nostrils and I turned to avoid it and I saw the horizon and the tree; the lonely tree that had the lonely man sitting under it.
I looked at the cracked, parched ground around me and saw no possibility for the tree’s existence. Yet there it was, a single tree up on the hill that looked over the Kitui that had sad people who walked and loved and cut. The sun began to relinquish its control and the kanga cut slower but the man cried louder. He sat under the tree and cried and yelled inscrutable things into the humid air and the people walked on and the smell of blood was strong and the dog had moved and his tears fell one by one on the ground of the tree that he sat under. I saw his shadow from where I was sitting; his dark, long, dampened shadow. It lay next to him as he cried and yelled and I sat and sweat through my blouse.
Adult category winners
The River People
By Monica Corish
In these high mountains, blankets are a necessity. The sky is closer here, it’s cold at night, the children shiver. I spend my days in a makeshift clinic dispensing impractical advice and ineffectual medicine – Aspirin, when what they need is Ampicillin. The clinic is filled, day after day, with the sound of coughing children.
Although it was not the river of our fathers, we had found a kind of rest down by the great river, a river so great it had an island in its stream where elephants lived and raised their young. Though all the game on the riverbank was long gone, it was more trouble than it was worth to row out to the island, kill an elephant, cut it into pieces, row back to the shore. And it was risky. Some young men had tried, and one had died. The bull elephant had charged, the man couldn’t swim, the canoe was too far away.
So the island elephants live on and have their rest, but we have no rest, no place to call home. We move and settle, move and settle. In truth, we are moved. Like cattle. We are herded to where they want us to go – this time, into the high mountains. We know we are cover for the army, and a source of food. Without us, there would be no relief flights, no food drops, no medicines at all. Without them, we would be prey, defenceless.
It is no life for a man. Always I had moved and made my choices within the rules of my clan – any man who did not was a fool. When the clan falls apart and dies, the man dies. I know I have no life outside my clan. But back then, when we lived our slow lives by our river – before the animals were all gone, before we lost our cows – back then, the rules of the clan were broad and wide.
A man could go wandering for a year, if he had a brother to mind his cattle, and every man had a brother. A man could go journeying to meet a woman he might love, beautiful, comely, hard working. A man could go visiting far relatives, the scattered clans of the larger tribe of men, knowing he could come to any door and say the name of his father’s father’s father and be welcome.
Now, there is no true welcome anymore. The forms are still observed but no one has enough to give away, so no one goes travelling without necessity, knowing their coming will be a burden, not a gift. And there is nowhere left to travel with ease. There are guns everywhere, used now not for hunting but to kill humans, and villages burnt to the bone.
The comely girls do not go to the river anymore, or if they go because they must, they know they risk their lives. They no longer move their hips in secret invitation. They have learned to walk straight, and cast their eyes down, and pray to not become prey. Men who are moved about like pawns on the chess board of war have taken to preying on the women who walk to the river, grasping at the feeling of power. But it is gone.
We know as we lie on our hard beds at night in the high mountains, shivering and listening to the sounds of coughing children, that we are no longer the river people. We are the lost people.
Why Did You Go?
By Mary O’Connor
“Why did you go?” the young man asked me.
Because he hadn’t seen Bob Geldof’s photo with Mother Teresa
Which – like Horslips and older music – updated
The traditional Christian imperative and our famine memory
Into a contemporary tune, creating Aid groupies of a generation,
I simply said “Because I was feeding healthy Irish babies by day,
Watching the others dying of starvation on TV every night and
Had no ties I went.”
I didn’t tell him why I repeatedly returned.
How the TV woman roaming the desert with starving children segued into
The Addis Ababa office worker in her high heeled pencil skirt and then into
A twentieth century Mary led by Joseph to market on their donkey.
How the road from the capital to Chaffa Robit
Ribboned its wide eyed way round the mountains and my heart.
How most adults were Naomi Campbells –
The women modelling torn, navy, serge dresses or hand spun cotton decorated with dust,
The tall, straight shouldered men shoes of recycled rubber.
I didn’t explain my awe at sudden sunsets,
Roadside greetings more mannerly than nuns in convent parlours,
Warmth of sun and people,
Culture old as mountains, and burnished as starved skin stretched taut from cheekbone to jaw.
How simple life was – sunrise to sunset: male and female: food and water:
Live and work: sing and love.
How treasured every gifted hour of life.
Perhaps I should have explained
That the bonny twins who left the feeding centre, fed and typhoid free
- Proud in their donated Dunnes Stores dresses -
Returned three months later and died of anaemic heart failure because
There was no worm medicine at home:
That although I was proud to be Irish, and the yellow, happy tarpaulin,
The thyroid tablets, the cholera combating infusions, the plastic plates were
Traced to Band Aid and the protein biscuits to Jacobs,
That is all they were – Band Aid and biscuits:
That, like the ribbony road, the women
Who beat the oil drum and sang in thanksgiving harmony,
The giggly children who scraped my white skin looking for the expected dark underneath,
The Ramadan-tired men, who carried and walked to build clinics for their sick
Or shouldered their labouring women over the mountains for help,
Had also encircled my heart:
Or that every bone in my well-fed body, each drum of my ears,
Each toe splayed delightedly in its flip flop,
Eyes, tongue, skin – knew they were home.
Cradled in community, embraced in a mindful warmth,
Dazed by dignity, the essentials became clear.
I found there what I wanted to preserve when I re-entered
My other, technocratic, individualistic, future-focused home.
I had shared Dinkinesh/Lucy’s land – her timeline in the Addis Ababa museum told me –
And seen her diamonds in unpolluted skies.
Societal structures; complex and multi-layered relationships;
Age old lying-in to establish a mother’s milk;
Family negotiations preceding marriage and divorce;
Rules for care of the first, second and third wives of the wealthy;
Children who could not yet read but traced the lineage to their great great grandfather;
Herbs, plants, trees and antidotes – I had studied disciplines named and unnamed.
As we floundered without the props of daily Northern life – red faced, dirty, long nailed,
Suffering withdrawal symptoms from TV, chocolate, fashion, magazines, the Premier League and
Re-learned to live in harmony with shade and streams, stones and different stories,
Our bodies and souls re-found original simplicity.
Some say Africa enters the body and lodges there malaria-like.
No. It plays a single drumbeat, sets the rhythm for our hearts and
Hauntingly bids us home.
I don’t know if I answered the young man truthfully
Or if I followed my traditional and modern heroes with wanderlust
Or to run away, brain washed by media or by pity.
I know that when I returned – again and again – I only answered to my own heart.