Kodak Girl

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You could never tell when you meet her, but she grew up in the staff quarters of a small mission school in a place you have probably never heard of called Aluor. That’s in Bondo. Bondo is in Siaya County. [See how it’s all coming together fast?]. Her parents were both teachers for the blind. Theirs was a small community. There were nuns. An old Catholic church built in 1913 loomed over her life. Next to the church was an old Victorian bungalow where priests lived. Nothing happened in this small idyllic community; a scandal would be talked about for months. You knew as much as your environment allowed you to know. You wanted only what you knew. 

Her dad hustled on the side when he wasn’t teaching. He had a Kodak camera and people would come to their house, in their very best attires, to have their photos taken. They would sit there and he would tell them, “Tilt your head to the right…no, just a little.” The whirring click of the camera reminds her of him. Amongst other things. She and her siblings would later help him sort out the film negatives, all hands on deck. He also ran a pharmacy at some point…without a license, playing cat and mouse with the council askaris. 

Her mother always had a brain tumor, and then she didn’t, she just had a massive head bandage. She was very strict, never missing an opportunity to spare the rod. “And that’s how we grew up a huge family of children starved of motherly love but well provided for. Of course, that would change years later. When it finally came, “my mother’s love found me in an irreparable state: sad, broken, semi-alcoholic, and no longer a virgin.” She writes. 

She never wanted more while growing up in Aluor because she had everything. Her father created this environment that was comforting and safe and they had the little pleasures like a television and electricity when nobody else did. It was a small world within this small world, she says. And they were content. 

Scoring a straight A in her KCSE led her to Nairobi and its seductions for the first time in 2014. The scholarship she had secured to study abroad went tits up. She quickly made lemonade; and joined Goethe Institute and then later the University of Nairobi to study law. In between, she wrote. She’s always written. 

And now she’s leaving us. Kinda. 

Gloriah, tell us. 

***

By Gloriah. 

Greetings, Earthlings!

Gloriah here (I realize I need to say who it is lest the greetings make you think it’s Eddy- who as we all know is genetically predisposed to such kind of wants.) Ha! Anyway, I am writing on this one occasion with a (personal) update and a special request- to ask for your support in sending me to Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.

Not too long ago, after about five years of writing, I decided to apply to a writing program because I felt it was time to build my writing and create something better and great out of it: There must be somewhere better- oh, most lethal of ideas! As it turns out, I got lucky, and I have been admitted to the graduate writing program at Concordia University in Montreal.

For a while here I have interacted with you. You’ve read my stories, my compulsions, my fascination— they are all here. Stories can be more real than the most verifiable of realities, leaving a lasting impression on one’s mind and finding their own small space in people’s hearts, growing with them, and subtly influencing their lives. One could say that our lives are made up of different stories, small and large, and we carry these pockets of stories around with us throughout our lives, and we exchange those stories with the people we meet or those we are sharing life with.

For instance, the old women with coloured light bulbs clipped to their ashy blonde hairs, who occasionally appear in my dreams (sometimes with the light bulbs twinkling in blinding disco colours, and other times angrily glowing orange) are undoubtedly from one of the many stories my father loved to tell us as kids every day after dinner as we sat for evening prayers.

In that particular story, the women are two sisters who lost their minds and left their families to go live in his village market, and who were generally harmless, mimicking the Market Master’s voice while marching after him to the delight of the flocks of children following them around like a swarm of bees on a honeycomb.

Over the years, my father would introduce new memorable details to that story or leave out some previously mentioned ones, but those women, made up by my father for the entertainment of his children, have stayed with me ever since. In my dreams, sometimes they wear faces that I have known as a child — of my primary school teachers, for instance– sometimes, they randomly resemble the people I’ve met as an adult, both in Kenya and away. In a very real sense, those imaginary women from my father’s tales have become an indelible part of my life.  

I mention this because having grown up with stories when it was time to tell my own, I wrote them in my father’s voice – stories he had told us over the years growing up. Had my father been a more complex man, alive perhaps in the Victorian era and living in more elaborately ritualized (and honor-obsessed) formal societies like those of the Venetians, he would have told stories of pianists dripping cigarettes from their lips and composing songs to other men’s wives, and of whores saving up for the little dress shop back home. But as it happened, my father was and remains who he is. And so, his stories— my stories— were about the immediate world he understood: family, God, music, life…  

This is the way I remember it: That whole year after graduating from law school when I refused to lawyer up and started writing, I wrote a lot about my father and (for some inexplicable reason) about loss.

One of my earliest stories that I submitted to a competition was about the ghost of a young orphaned boy, murdered by his uncle (true story) and who was rumoured to have haunted his village for a long time after his death (my father could never quite confirm whether the haunting was true because of our religious interdiction.)

It opened with:

…the story of Ogungo is also the story of the whole of Siala; of the meanders of River Panyako as it flows with a roar from Odok Hills, sweeping away everything on its way, as it carries dead logs; of its people and the evening breeze that whistles across their vast sugarcane farms, seducing the long leaves into a soft dance and soothing crying babies…

That was years ago.

I don’t write like that anymore— you know that. Maybe because I’ve been around the world and have collected my own stories by living in places outside of my father’s immediate world. I have written about cities such as Beijing where buildings are so tall you have to crane your neck to see the end of them, the street lights are harsh and unforgiving to a foreigner’s eye and everything happens so fast they stop before they even start and there is so much traffic, and people are constantly on the move and nobody stops, not even for a minute to ask if you are okay because you are supposed to be okay. In Beijing, I eternally felt like sinking to my knees to weep. Then I’ve also written about gentler cities like Rome- the city of illusions, where warmth and yearning co-exist and where I got my heart broken for the first time during a fling (he was an Argentinian who looked like a Greek demi-god and smelled like a garden of flowers in spring. I should have known better, but I was 19).

Nevertheless, I feel privileged to have a store of memories that enables me to feel nostalgic about such (exotic) things; the store from which most of my stories (now) emerge, some of which you have read either here or somewhere else.

Well, I finally have a chance to pursue a big dream. To get there, however, I have to raise an ungodly amount of money as a visa requirement to guarantee that I will not end up homeless in the streets of Montreal (if you asked me, I think they are worried about the wrong thing but aisulu).

Concordia has kindly offered to cover my tuition, for which I am grateful, but I still need to show proof of finances for my other expenses like accommodation.

Unfortunately, this amount is needed on such short notice and I am unable to come up with this amount within the time required (of course, I do not factor in the option of getting involved in extra-legal activities).

This is why I’m here, to appeal to the part of you that has liked my stories over the period we have interacted (or if you didn’t, the part of you that wants me as far away from this country as possible) to help me raise this amount.

This means a lot to me, not only because I can finally make something useful out of myself, but also because it is also an opportunity for me to tell our stories to the world.

Let’s get me to Concordia, and I promise I shall tell you all the stories there are to tell from there. Shall we?

Here’s a link to the GoFundMe. For Mpesa, use [Paybill Number: 8056729 Account Name: Gloriah Amondi]

Thanks!

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17 Comments
  1. It is the ungodly amount of money for me and being heart broken in Rome
    Girl you got this , may you get the funds as soonest

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  2. I got my acceptance letter to a top music college in the US early last year. The email actually came in on my birthday. Felt like a gift directly from God’s palms. Over the next 12 months or so, I tried my best but couldn’t raise the amount needed. Sometime in March this year, I emailed the college to let them know they should probably just award my scholarship to some other applicant who may be in a better position to raise the ‘ungodly amounts’ needed to seize the opportunity. That right there felt like heartbreak lol. Anyway, I write this not to discourage you but to let you know that I know how the position you are in feels. And I truly hope you make it. It sucks that most times money is the thing that stands between a creative and the fulfillment of their dreams. All the best ✌️

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  3. All the best in your quest for new challenges and memories in the world. Montreal is such a good, calm and lively place. Victor Wanyama plays there for Impact Montreal FC. For those who may not know him, he is the First Kenyan to have ever graced the English Premier League. His brother MacDonald Mariga was the first Kenyan to play in and win the Champions League and is now a local politician here.

    I will send my small contribution. When’s the timeline for contribution and when’s your admission date? Is it in the next Fall intake?

    Back to Biko, point of correction, Aluor is in Gem Constituency, in Siaya County, not in Bondo. Its a Catholic Missionary Community that also has a Primary, Secondary girls and school for the blind.

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  4. Now that this is about money no one is in a hurry to comment. Aisulu!
    By the grace of God, you’ll get to Concordia University, even by concord.

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  5. Bitter-Sweet! I wish you well Gloria-h in this incoming chapter. Don’t forget us though. And we’ll support you.

  6. All the best Gloria, may the Lord meet you at your point of need, AMEN.

    Thanks for sharing your inspiring story with us.

  7. I know I’m late, but
    We’re all fans of Gloriah and her stories! We’ve got this, folks. Let’s do it!