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Still Sings the Nightbird

Philo Ikonya

Publication Year: 2013

Do we live inside the breasts of our mothers? In the mind and hearts of two women, indeed at their breasts a nation lives. The whole universe is in the lives of the people Philo writes about. They hear the song of the nightjar and it has meaning. Inside a motherís chest her daughter hangs like a silent unvenerated Pieta.ìWakabi has eyes inside her breast. She sees from inside there. She knows this story wellÖî A countryís literature is rooted in its history. But when history is full of hardship can authors create books pregnant with optimism? In Still Sings the Nightbird Philo Ikonya defies the currents of hopelessness to point her readers to a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel of nightmares. Out of the lonely cry of a nightjar, the rape of Kabi and indeed of Kenya, appears a light beaming into a brighter future.

Published by: African Books Collective


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-3

Part 1

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pp. 3-4

Sometimes, from far but yet so near, a song bursts out of nature telling a story. It hits the air that gives it room to unfold, happily dancing on the rim of an evening on thin and crackling air. This song never fills our ears, entering in and finding its way into our heart, soul and mind. For song survives where human beings can break. It brings meaning afresh. ...

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pp. 5-14

The sun travels fast like an untouchable bride. She grabs her golden yellow robe at her waist, parts of it dash beyond the hemline. She moves undeterred. She cleans the sky. The sun sears the heavens. No cloud dares cover her. She sweeps the firmament on high so that children below may lie under the moon’s soft light and not come to harm. ...

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pp. 15-18

Just then a thundering voice cut through the dark as if it would turn night into day. The song of the bird was stolen from her ears. It was the mobile cinema in the small township. Tarzan cries out. The voice of terrified Jane fills every part of the countryside spreading out from Uberi, the only place with electric light in the area. ...

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pp. 19-26

It is another evening and far away from the Rift basin, but near the city Wakabi and Kabi work on. Their memories travel silently like the clouds above. Their minds move from the present to the past and back. The city of Nairobi tries to spread her lights from her waist. It is stuck. ...

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School bathroom

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pp. 27-36

It was in the wee hours of the morning that she knew as the morning of the Biology examination, that Kabi suddenly woke up. She had the feeling that she urgently needed a toilet. She did not even think about waters breaking, what her mother had told her about was far from her mind. ...

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pp. 37-44

The stars above looked down and saw stars in rivers and in all drops of water too long before Wakabi and Kabi were born. They saw myriads of ethnic groups held in boundaries created in the Kongokonferenz of 1884-1885 when Afrika was divided. Kenyatta was born - in many places if you follow the books and the spoken word ...

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pp. 45-48

Underneath the granary, was Naana’s ‘bed space.’ She was sometimes called Showshow [C

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Home to breastfeed

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pp. 49-54

Spiderweb number 100 was the name of the minibus Kabi boarded to and from Kaza. Number 100 was the identity for the matatu that plied part of her route to and from home. The name, Spiderweb, is what distinguished it from the rest in the fleet marked by that exciting number, 100. An easy-to-write number. ...

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pp. 55-62

By this time of the evening, she was certain, Baby Jugus would be very hungry. He would be crying for her breasts. She needed strength to feed him, to feed a whole nation. Her father’s sky suddenly darkened again, and she heard his regrets come alive. She had listened to her angry father about having sinned by having a baby while still in school. ...

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Cracks of loneliness

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pp. 63-68

The goat shed in the kitchen was valued. The joint of wood that held their leaves up so that they could chew from below was always checked to make sure it was firm and strong so that the animal feed would not drop and touch dung. The sheep and goats did not eat food soaked in their urine that turned their droppings into flowing waste matter. ...

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Whose baby is this?

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pp. 69-76

Wakabi’s family was revered because of the word education. Education was sold and was said to be the source of advancement. Wam, Wakabi, Aris and Atia were honored in the village. As for Kabi there was hesitation. What could a mother learn in class they asked? Who should go to school they asked, her boy or herself? ...

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A girl like you

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pp. 77-84

The sound of an attempt to gather and spit out mucous came from her Showshow. She rattled her throat with disdain. It was something people did when they saw someone they did not like. They would then spit out just in front of them. But Kabi knew Naana had a bad chest. ...

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The priest and the cobbler

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pp. 85-88

People continued to talk about Kabi and her child. Jugus was getting bigger but the questions ‘Who fathered that child? Whose child is that?’ were heard often. The kind cobbler who had lost the fleshy parts of his legs to polio and who crawled to work on two pieces of fat leather under his hardened kneecaps always said he did not ask such foolish questions. ...

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pp. 89-94

A cock crowed to greet the dawn and to wake everyone up as if it was not sure people would really get up. It was as if it was the first morning of its life, it crowed with such vigor. The village was then quiet for a long time. No baby cried. Not a sound of bleating goats. ...

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Oh, what a night!

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pp. 95-102

He sits in his cubicle. They call it a kiubu at home and, cubbie at school, a separate room all boys had a right to at home. The are covered with pictures of his heroes: John Gacy Wayne, The Boston Strangler, The Ripper. He played music very loudly turning up radio volume to hear it. He had some pictures of some singers. ...

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Coffee bushes

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pp. 103-106

It is still early on the same morning. Aris who was waiting to join a Technology College, looked down the valley below her. Her hands itched to work. At this time of the morning, and even earlier, all such coffee farms were covered as if by armies. Small drops of dew fell from the coffee bushes wetting the whole hands of those who worked on them. ...

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Aaaa Hura Kissi!

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pp. 107-112

Wakabi was in her mud walled classroom teaching Math. She added one box to another and the children learned numbers. That was Standard One. After a year she would move up with her class to Standard Two; and again after a year to Standard Three. ...

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pp. 113-116

Kabi was hanging the washing out to dry, when a look at a little pair of Jugus’ shorts brought tender memories of her brother Atia. He had lived for many years far from home adopted by an Italian artist of the Bernini family in Italy. Giacomo Bernini, lived in Malindi on the Kenyan coast and in Italy. ...

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Super cleaner

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pp. 117-122

For all the villagers, the river Uchungu carried away the dirt of the week. Upon the hill was a famous and only church for miles around. The cross on the pinnacle of this church was set against a kind blue sky. People went to the river to wash clothes on Saturday mornings. ...

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A blind brother

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pp. 123-126

The priest who used to drive through the village quarreled with an elderly blind priest with whom he lived. He was the only sightless person in the whole village. They called him Fatha Alone. ...

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Another Saturday

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pp. 127-134

“Kabi! Kabi! Wake-up, Mami is calling you!” shouted Wam from the kitchen. Wam looked into the room where she had dressed quietly earlier so as not to wake Kabi up. She immediately knew that it was the wrong time to call poor Kabi. The happy baby had tugged at her breast as usual almost all night long. ...

Part 2 - New Ways

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pp. 137-140

Wam, Kabi and Wa Ngai, who was newly employed by The Line Matchsticks Factory, made their way from K

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pp. 141-152

The class graduation party was due. Atia was now back and living in Nairobi with his young family. Kabi swam in a happiness beyond the bliss of reading, husband and children. She sensed this was connected to the song of the bird. This delight flew in her heart with happy wings. ...

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Coffee laced with Poison

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pp. 153-154

When Kabi received the devastating news she lost her mind. Deep sorrow swallowed her. She was gone from herself for days. She had disappeared where no bird could reach her. She searched within herself and did not know when or how she would return. She was disoriented. ...

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A Call

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pp. 155-158

Agudi, Sau and Ani had given their parents and aunt a beautiful treat for their anniversary. They knew that somehow their parents and Kabi were always happy together. They were at peace. Adau and Atia understood how Kabi loved Will. They were sure that she was going to live alone for years. It was clear she stood tall and firm as a widow. ...

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Dreams have wings

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pp. 159-162

It was end of school term again and time to travel back to Nairobi. Kabi was again happily on the train journey that her children loved so much. For a long time, she had not heard the night - bird sing. On the train, she was dreaming of how in the past, as little children, they sang and danced to passing trains in Limuru. ...

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Kill your heart

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pp. 163-166

Miss Wam, for that was her new title at Mariru sometimes spoke to Kabi on phone. She advised Kabi to kill her heart. It was not strange. Wam thought that Kabi could live with a dead heart. Wam had dried hers of feelings. It was as if she had put her heart up in the old raft of the abandoned kitchen to dry. ...

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pp. 167-170

Kabi could hear again the terrible scream of the little boy who fell on the rails of the train. He was thrown down in the mad rush for boarding the train. He yelled hard. The boy was lucky the train did not move. Kabi had seen his mother’s anxious face as his grandma helped bandage his foot with a rag. ...

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Darkness and light

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pp. 171-174

A beautiful day welcomed Jugus, Amani and Joe to Nairobi again. They went outdoors and played before their mother awoke. They were exhilarated. ...

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The Fire Brigade

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pp. 175-178

Ariani’s stories about Kenyalini Village were always breathtaking. One day, one of those fires whose origin was never discovered broke out in Kenyalini Village. The press was there before the fire brigade. The latter arrived in trucks that had no water! ...

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pp. 179-184

That evening, Jugus, Amani and Joe sat in different corners of the big living room, each occupied by their own work. Jugus was reading an anthology of Afrikan Short Stories. Joe was sketching the wheelbarrow and the boy they had seen. He was also working out figure patterns in Math. ...

Part 3

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Why do you strike me?

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pp. 187-190

At cockcrow in Kenyalini Village that morning, Weree Wa Weereh awoke to the familiar sounds. “Kokorokooow!” “Kokorokooow!” his own rooster crowed along with the others. ...

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pp. 191-194

At the Marirũ Pax Guild Training Centre a graduation took place. It was private. It was solemn. It was cold. There was no party. It was only attended by members and Wam got a new title. Miss Wam Wa Ngai’s name was inscribed on the wall inside the institution. ...

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pp. 195-198

That morning, the University of Nairobi woke to red posters. ‘Kamkunji’, ‘Kamkunji’, ‘Kamkunji’ they were all headed in dark black ink and posted on every available space. The word Kamkunji was enough to tell students not only of the venue but also the time. It was almost a password. ...

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Jaah and I

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pp. 199-202

Three elderly men had come to see Ariani early that morning. They had spoken in hushed tones and then left. Many people she knew had been killed violently. That was the news they brought her. She did not break into screams. Ariani was acting the mature woman people had always said a woman had to be. ...

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pp. 203-206

The third grandmother in line opened her mouth as wide as she could. Two of her teeth were pulled out and she bled. Altogether seven teeth had been pulled out in fifteen minutes. And again Kabi heard, “Open your mouth wide, wider… very wide Showshow!” Kabi felt the pain in her own gum. ...

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pp. 207-210

“When I speak to other people, they submit,” said Pilipili. “They say they have sinned, they confess to me. You are in love with Anna. Don’t deny it. You love her the way you can love a man! Too much. Girl, you know what you are? You are a lesbian. Everyone has seen it!” said the piercing shrill voice. ...

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pp. 211-214

As Wam entered the cosy Embakasi Central Residence, she felt as if she had been stripped bare of herself. She was cold and forsaken. Wam felt naked and more shelterless than anyone without a home could feel. ...

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Comfort my people!

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pp. 215-218

The next day, Kabi and Rehema were in Kenyalini Village again. Only the complex of the Sisters of Mercy was left standing in the area. On her way, Kabi saw the complete result of the huge bulldozers blade. It had done a calamitous job bringing every single shelter down till the hill on which the shacks stood was a vast and open space. ...

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Wam says No

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pp. 219-220

The last words Kabi heard as she left Kenyalini Village came from a crying woman, “what will, I, Nyina wa Njenga do? We were thrown out of Burnt Forest. Our houses razed to the ground. Only to come and find no home here!” That voice was loud, aggressive and hurt. Was it surprising that Kanyi’s madness had gone to its crest again? ...

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pp. 221-224

On that third day, however, the great suffering that threatened to stiffen Kabi’s heart was thawing. Something new was happening in her soul. The power of love and compassion was shattering the walls of hopelessness that took every opportunity to creep into her heart. There was something new. ...

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Wise and beautiful

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pp. 225-228

Kabi thought she sensed relief sometimes between Wam’s little smiles, but that was once every so many years when they would meet. It is true that much healing is done through sharing words. Wam spoke little. She did not write. She was often in a church and quiet. ...

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The stars are shining

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pp. 229-236

Kabi could sense some good news on the way. Premonition. She wondered what it could be but soon after, Ariani returned from the Kabete Post Office, she thought she got the answer. There was a letter with Canadian stamps for her. She opened it eagerly. ...

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Another world

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pp. 237-240

When Wam stepped out of the subway, she was excited. That so many people were alighting and boarding a train that ‘flew’ beneath the earth had filled her with anxiety. Now she was almost free. Was she at the right station? Yes she was, but what a maze of stairs and paths everything seemed here. ...

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Hurting eyes

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pp. 241-244

Kabi opened her eyes for the first time the next morning after sleeping all night through. They hurt. She closed them. First she remembered the smoke that had made her weep like a child. Then she remembered the big drops of tears that had rolled down her cheeks as she knelt down by her bed trying to pray, to meditate, to find herself. ...

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I’ll be watching you

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pp. 245-246

Just after she dipped into her sleep after a tiring day Kabi suddenly woke up. It was as if someone had called her or touched and shaken her in bed. Then she heard the bird sing… ‘Laaallaaa Laaaallaaa! La ala la allaaaa, laaala. Laaaa!” Then slowly the words changed. ‘Whippoorwill. Whip poor Will, whippoorwill!’ She heard. ...

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Bird Morning

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pp. 247-248

A beautiful morning typical of the fine December fell out of a dawn full of life. Kabi’s heart and mind open up deeper and wider like the happy flowers that surrender themselves to the first morning rays that kiss their dew. ...

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pp. 249-252

Kabi pulled her wine-red cardigan closer to her body. She buttoned it from the bottom up. She was back leaning her elbows on the ledge looking through the window to the hedge. The rays of the sun made the dark green leaves bright. They pierce through the morning dew. ...

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Wind through branches

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pp. 253-258

The dawn was a cluster of dark clouds tinged with orange where the tips of the sunrays touched cloudy darkness as the bus left Nairobi. After some time, the center of the clouds was black but their edges were a deep pink. It was fascinating to look up to the sky. ...

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The Sun of our Life

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pp. 259-262

It was the third week in the last month of the school term. Staff were chatting in the morning over a cup of tea. Kabi was still on her way in. She was later driving to visit Amani at Shinda Boarding School after a few hours at her own school. The other teachers spoke about her. ...

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Shinda School parents’ day

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pp. 263-266

As Kabi drove across the Moi’s Bridge that morning, she noticed the turbulent brown dirty waters flowing towards the east. The bridge was not a high one. It was almost broken in the middle just like when it was called Hoey’s Bridge, like the little township. They crossed it safely. ...

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Nairobi to stay

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pp. 267-270

As the bus sped down the Kitale-Eldoret road and Kabi saw the same wattle trees passing in quick succession, she could hardly believe she was on her way to Nairobi again; and this time for good. She knew the wattle trees or the green acacia were not indigenous. She thought about it. ...

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Free verse

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pp. 271-274

Times were trying for Kabi. She had not expected complete rejection by students. She could not imagine failing as a teacher. She kept trying her best. ...

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pp. 275-278

But the traffic noise was not as bad as the chaos of riots. There was no peace and unity and love was even more distant in many places. Every time the President gave a speech, he said that the cup of peace, love and unity was overflowing on their island of peace. ...

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A football player is buried

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pp. 279-280

Waina’s funeral was extraordinary. It was organized to show defiance. His the team carried his casket shoulder high for four kilometers to the cemetery near Iara church. They sang protest songs. Police tried to disperse them. A ring of men joined at the elbows kept police out. ...

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Time up

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pp. 281-284

Kabi was swallowed by her writing. She was quiet and meditative. She was in that meeting place of the heart and mind. She had seen a chopper swooping and hovering around Matiba- Rubia Road. It was as if it was chasing an eagle that descended fast from the sky and hid with a squirrel. ...

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We shall return

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pp. 285-288

Jugus is a senior boss in an International Leadership Company based in Nairobi. He sat in his living room reading. He relished his Mum’s conviction. In every word he read, her ideals transpired. She had written her personal manifesto: ...

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pp. 289-292

In the horizon, the moon rises gently. First she sends out her soft rays. When her powerful beams strike the ground, rings of hope rise into the air. In the enveloping rays of light that enfold the earth, the five continents are dimly lit. They are in love arrayed. The moon is now fully visible. ...

Back cover

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p. 296-296

E-ISBN-13: 9789956790937
Print-ISBN-13: 9789956790203

Page Count: 294
Publication Year: 2013

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