Tuesday, November 3, 2015


“I’d rather look at what you do than hear what you say about yourself,” says Julius Ocwinyo, editor at Fountain Publishers Uganda, and highly acclaimed novelist. At the invitation of Dr. Danson Kahyana, four writers visited the second year East African Literature Class of Makerere University. Jane p’Bitek Langoya, Julius Ocwinyo, Professor Arthur Gakwandi and myself, Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva.

East African Literature Class, Makerere University

I came first and began by sharing about myself as a poet and writer and how I was mentored by some of the very panelists present. Then I spoke about the Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation, its goal to promote poetry around Africa, its new programme with training children and building libraries in schools and the upcoming festival in August 2016. During the festival, we will hold a platform for Ugandan women to showcase their work either as a poetry collection, performance piece, theoretical discussions or otherwise. We’ll also be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Song of Lawino, where all interested participants are invited to speak or read a piece on Okot p’Bitek’s famous and very important poem. I closed my first session with a poem from my unpublished manuscript, #Haiza.
Since you attended my funeral, I’ll also attend yours.

Since you attended my funeral, I’ll also attend yours.
I’ll arrive just before the coffin
Enters the church
And join the line of weepers.
Weepers not mourners.
Weeping is the physical evidence for facebook
That people actually cared about you.
Mourning is the spiritual evidence
That people actually cared about you.

I’ll stand with the weepers
Dab my eyelids and sniffle
Make sure I greet the right people.
Your great aunt
The one who hugs me so hard
That she flattens my breasts
I’ll hug your grandmother
He one whose weave gets caught in my earrings.
I’ll hug your uncle
The one whose hands rest on my bum
Like he’s kneading dough.
Since you attended my funeral,
I’ll also attend yours.
I’ll place a wreath on your coffin
Pluck out the petals and leave the thorns.
I’ll deliver a speech
About how close we were as friends
And in the collection box
I’ll leave a copy of my HIV results
And a photo of that passionate night.

Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva

From my unpublished collection.  This poem inspired a sexually poetic response from Mudusu Abbey, who won himself a copy of A Thousand Voices Rising, an anthology of Contemporary African Poetry, a Babishai Niwe poetry publication.

After I spoke was Julius Ocwinyo, whose novel Fate of The Banished has been taught widely in schools and universities of East Africa to critical. He selected an excerpt which described Father Dila in a most unforgettable manner and with Julius’ precision and high sense of observation, the disparities between the church and reality and connection between religion and hypocrisy, came our very strongly. It is no wonder the students requested him to account for his own feeling towards religion. Julius, coming from a background of hard-working parents, who, even though never went far in formal education, instilled in him the most virtuous skills which he lives by today.
Julius Ocwinyo

Jane Okot p’Bitek Langoya came next with very fascinating story about how Sr. Cephas, the headmistress of Mt. Saint Mary’s College Namagunga informed her that in no uncertain terms was she to return to the school for A level unless she studied literature. This was a reflection of her high intelligence and extremely gifted way with words. Growing up with Okot p’Bitek as her father, the inventor of poetry in song, with libraries reaching the ceiling, leading family performances with her siblings before her father’s best friend, Uncle David Rubadiri, are some of  the highlights of Jane’s presentation. About the reading culture, Jane says she was inspired by a home setting that nurtured reading from a young age. Her father Okot p’Bitek, lived an empathetic man, able to associate with people from all walks of life.  Her first publication of poetry, Song of Farewell, published by Fountain Publishers, emulated her father’s style even though that was not its original intention. She read an abstract and this was followed by an emotional letter she wrote to her father after he had passed. It was difficult for the rest of us to imagine Okot p’Bitek any other way.

Jane Langoya p'Bitek

Professor Gakwandi, who graduated from Makerere University in 1968, left us in awe of our history and changing spaces and paces. His early childhood was in his home area in South Western Uganda, close to Kisoro, from where he derived his novel, Kosiya-Kifefe. Interestingly, because of its historical accuracy and significance, it drew important things about past and current politicians. East Africa shared one currency, the East African Railways and Harbour were effective and efficient and trade was booming. Kosiya  Kifefe was widely taught in schools as well. Professor Gakwandi, when asked if he was a novelist, emphasized that a novelist must show commitment to the art and he could not readily call himself one, like Julius Ocwinyo.

Professor Gakwandi

The students were very engaging, asking about the writing processes, children’s literature, literature outside Kampala and it was a most pleasant way to spend the day. With much gratitude to Dr. Kahyana. Dr. Kiguli and the entire department, we would not hesitate to return.

 By Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Home remains the same. We're the ones that change.

Daddy, Mummy, Two brothers and me

When we say, it’s good to finally be home, what does that mean?

Is it just rhetoric or does the heavily emotional word, finally, precede several dangerous encounters and unpleasant journey memories, increasing the desire for home. When we are faced with the possibility of never returning home, we imagine what we left behind or possibilities of a new future.
Last month, I visited Purley Avenue in Northwest London for the first time after 28 years.
Purley Avenue had been my home for close to six years. I don’t remember the other places we lived in London but I remember Purley Avenue because it was home in the simplest and most important way that a child could understand. There was Daddy, Mummy, two brothers and me. We neither had a pet Alsatian, fox terrier, or cat, like our English friends but we did have a few goldfish. Their aquarium had coloured pebbles underneath and we took turn to feed the fish from breadcrumbs to some weird looking fish food.
Home, also meant owning a bike, roller-skating every summer, going to the cinema, doing well in school, having so much food at every meal that a lot got wasted and knowing that there would always be tomorrow, with Daddy, Mummy, two brothers and me.

I didn’t know what to expect when I took the bus to Golders Green that day. It was a warm spring and I knew, unlike my other recent England trips where I just couldn’t, that this was the day I would visited the first place I remember as home. The bus stopped at Child’s Hill. That’s the name of the school I went to with my brothers before I joined St. Margaret’s Girls’ School. On disembarking, nothing felt familiar until I took a short walk and finally saw the bridge that we used to cross when going to Child’s Hill Park. I crossed it; wondering if it could still carry my weight after twenty-eight years. I felt I was crossing over the bridge that divided my past and present, my anxieties and my indefinable hope, like I was touching this distinguishable place I always yearned.
Crossing over, I looked down at my younger self holding onto my big brother’s hand as we crossed the road, having snowball fights with the Nigerians next door, going to school with our Iranian neighbours and doing all the things that made home, home. I looked at my housemates from Pitts at St. Margaret’s, as we played netball and usually won, at the gym teacher instructing us on how to do one-handed cartwheels and my younger self looked back at me.
A few yards after the bridge was Dersingham Road. That’s where Child’s Hill School was. It has evolved so much with the automatic gates new signage and smaller playing area. My best friend and I used to run across the playground teasing the Indian girls and taking their tangerines. We used to bully the fat girls and make them cry and we hated school lunches. They always gave us this yucky trifle pudding for dessert and it looked like puke. The years I spent at Child’s Hill had been erased and so I gathered the memories, balled them over and flung them across the gate. They would never leave.
Dersingham Road was exactly the same, with the corner shop and all. I even passed the house where the twins stayed, Dennis and Eric, I passed the garage where our neighbours used to park their car. And then I was at Purley Avenue.

Time, to my disappointment, kept on moving and the flowers continued blossoming under the dry sun but it didn’t matter. This street was my home. I grazed my knee here, learnt how to ride a bike, played Knock down ginger, went for birthday parties and rushed home from dreary blizzards. I played hide and seek and walked to church from here. The houses, of course, appeared much smaller than when we lived here, like monopoly houses but the opulence of the past made them larger than the present. The grass around our front garden was gone. There were no tulips or daffodils, only the spot where my dad used to park his car.

It felt good to be back home.

Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva is a Ugandan writer, mother, lover, wife, entrepreneur, blogger.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Review of Daughters Who Walk This Path, novel by Yejide Kilanko

Internet photo

Yejide Kilanko (left) and Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva

Daughters Who Walk This Path by Yejide Kilanko,  is a book that will easily be celebrated by seekers of justice, because of its direct no-nonsense message.  It’s unapologetic about the oppressors in a woman’s life. The imbalance in power is the main oppressor, followed by guilt, misplaced trust and silence. When Morayo and Morenike are raped by men in positions of trust, Bros T who is  Morayo’s cousin and Chief Komolafe, a respected community leader, it is a shocking reminder of how our trust is replaced by fear, silence and guilt and our worlds cave in.

Morayo, a typical girl whose heart brims with hope, love and ambition is like the girl next door and remains so, even after the brutal rape. Morenike, more assertive, is more upfront, even though it took years, with dealing with the rape, which resulted in a child. They are each others’ pain relievers, which is never enough but their spirit does lend a little light in the depressing times of the novel.
Amidst the over-riding themes, there are delightful episodes of stolen kisses, childhood crushes, marriage between true loves and journeys that bring hearts together. It is this ability to knock down obstacles to true love that are Yejide’s other great gift as a writer.

The novel is arguably littered with clichés but the reason they are clichés is because they work.  A woman’s story can never be told enough, neither will the horrors and survivals after rape, neither will the need for rapists to be apprehended with the full arm of the law. These stories, however many, must be told because every day there is a woman and a man who needs to read about it.
There are rich anecdotes reflecting Nigeria’s varied and complex traditions and histories. The ways in which this affects the contemporary life of a Nigerian girl are quite vivid and telling. Eniayo, Morayo’s albino sister, in the story, is a potentially interesting character, except when life’s gifts somehow fall at her feet. She marries the love of her life who had been pursuing her for ages, she gets great grades and is generally happy from beginning to end. Happiness is not a flaw but rather the plainness behind the happiness. The teasing about her skin condition could have been broadened and even without her, the story could possibly still remain as beautifully told.

Most of the men either play passive roles, oppressive roles or are there to serve the women but then again this could have been deliberate on the author’s part.
Farafina Publishers sought out a lively and dedicated story-teller and readers should look out for more of Yejide’s works. She has a novella, Chasing Butterflies and there is promise of another novel.

Reviewed by Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva, writer and  of the BN Poetry Foundation.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

I want my 2nd December 1995

I want my 2nd December 1995

A view of Makerere College (internet photo)

David Mbati (Deputy headboy 1996), (RIP), Mr. Katongole and Beverley Nambozo (Headgirl 1996) Courtesy photo.

In 1995 in Kampala, most Christians I knew were happy to meet and share testimonies, hug, greet each other with Praise God, say a blessing to shop owners and street children and hardly worry about costume and lighting when on stage. Before a show, they spent at least one hour in prayer. Makerere College School was all that. I was in senior five when a group of about fifteen or more of us, experienced a Saul to Paul moment.
When your mind and hearts have been preparing for something, it will always happen. The frail will always frolic in strength and there will always be enough for everyone.

Because of the flexibility on hostel opening times at Makerere College School (Macos), in our squashed room with six double decker beds, every Saturday and Sunday morning, five of us would rush to bathe at about 3:00am and wait for 4:00am where we would run to the tiny theater room just to pray. It sounds odd when you say it out loud but I don’t remember having such excitement for anything in my life. We were seventeen to nineteen years old, waiting with our torches for 4:00am on a Saturday, to pray. The head girl, Joanne Aniku, would open the hostel gate for us and we would rush with bibles in hand, racing for fellowship. Sometimes, we would hear the boys singing, preparing the place for worship. It was one of the warmest feelings of my life, singing before dawn, praying in earnest, worshipping in joy and sharing love with my friends in Christ.
We were so concerned about one another’s well-being. We were neither allowed to go hungry in the dormitories, nor struggle alone with a difficult subject because we all looked out for each other. It was a fellowship. During break times, we would meet just to share bible verses and testimonies. There was such lightness in our steps and a warm magnetism about us, which even the staff, began to notice.
Steven Kitumba one mid-week fellowship shared from Ezekiel 37, Dry bones, live again. He said that when you feel you’ve reached the end of your rope, God joins another rope to it. We couldn’t speak; only shed tears because of the intensity of his message at that moment, the way we were lifted from one place to another.
Dry bones, live again.  I’ve never heard anyone else share from that chapter since 1995.
The profundity of 1995 was the love we shared for one another, which is what the Lord desires, that we love one another as he has loved us. During one of the 4:00am weekend prayers, someone shared a word that The Holy Spirit would visit us on Saturday 2nd December and that we should prepare for this visit.
 2nd December 1995 needed neither coercion nor advertisements. All we did out of obedience like Noah, was start preparing by scrubbing that theater room which hadn’t been scrubbed in over a year. The windows glistened and people stopped to stare just like they did Noah. And then we posted a plain pencil drawing of a dove on one of the notice-boards and sent out hand-made invitations to staff and students for the Holy Ghost visitation.
Once again, saying it out loud does make me feel like a lunatic.
We dressed in our very best that day, decorated around the room for the Holy Ghost party and waited as people came in from 4:00pm. Singing songs, leading teachers and students alike into the room, we waited. Like Noah, we waited.

It came upon us like a breeze, then a drizzle and then an unmistakable eruption of tongues broke out. It was glorious. It was the after-glow of hysterical laughter. The French teacher was in tears, there was hardly any standing room and students joined hands all the way to the classroom. The singing never stopped. The love grew. There was a makeshift VIP carpet from the door to the stage, for anyone who wanted to speak at the podium. Balloons lifted to the ceiling as blessings came down. It was the perfect blend of an intangible vigor with a tangible stillness.

I want my 2nd December 1995.

Sara Kaweesa, who was part of that fellowship, directs Arocha International Uganda, a Christian conservation organization. Dennis Kasirye began his own church. Macos is extraordinary. Many of its students have verve for life that is astounding. Solome Ndikatuga Basuuta, Helengrace Namulwana, Keith Kibirango, Steven Kitumba, Doris Mitti, Mark Kakitahi, George Matovu, Isabella Kesiime and many others.
I have been part of many enthusiastic groups since 1995 which have made incredible milestones and I’m so grateful. That December was exceptional though, because we can only reach unimaginable proportions when there is a fusion of spiritual energy which outpaces the physical, where there is depth of mutual respect, no feelings of superiority but eagerness to grow as a cell.

Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva studied in Makerere College School from 1995 to 1997. She is the founder of the BN Poetry Foundation and BN Leadership Academy, author, poet, dancer and actress.

Friday, April 10, 2015

I'm wearing diva today and everyday

I'm a diva and a sweetheart. by Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva

I wish I could say I am humbled to be this and that, humbled that you're still my friend. I won't. That will be for my acceptance speech at the huge International Women Achievers of this Generation Life-time Award.

I've tried the fake modesty. Ugandans saw through it. I tried being so full of integrity, kindness, meekness that my goodness filled like an entire helium balloon. And then it burst because people took so much advantage of it, I was too worn down from holding everyone up and being let down.
When I turned the other cheek. That didn’t work either. I even tried lending money to people who still owed me. I had even started attending meetings of people and organisations that had tried every effort to obliterate, defame, extinguish and deface all my work in the arts. I sat with them, cheered them on, marketed their work, lauded their efforts and turned the other cheek.
And then it finally worked. I came out like a diamond. All that pressure gave me an eternal glow and wealth.

And then I also found Jesus. Not the Jesus that has been fashioned out on posters like a rock star, whose healing and love must be paid for but the one who said,

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind." 2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV
I folded my bloodied clothes, together with my bloodied soul, my bloodied hope and exchanged it for whom I was and am supposed to be, a diva and a sweetheart.

Now, I can thank you. Thank you for stepping into my strength, my future and present and my daring dreams. I have stopped apologising for BN Poetry's success, for being able to do what I do, for the BN Leadership Academy. I've stopped apologising for being a great mum, sex-goddess and amazing wife. Deal with it.

I will always applaud your shine but if some can't realise the sun is enough for everyone, you will always burn, inside and out. Oh and by the way, we’re launching an adventure toolkit for children who read and write poetry. It’s called Poetricks and it will be an Africa-wide launch. You’re welcome to join us. I

One of my favourite poems by Rudyard Kipling. (Replace the word man with diva and the word son with daughter

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream---and not make dreams your master;
If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dance Partner

Dance Partner

You were my dance partner for years
But even when my nipples shook
Our cheeks touched
Our legs intertwined
For you; it was just about dancing
For  years our fingers touched
Our knees kissed
Our backs mopped the floor
For  years, I trembled on the dance floor
Your eyes looked into mine-you were frozen
My eyes looked into yours-I was melted
For years, our sweat made patterns on the floor
Our shadows flew across the stage
Audiences watched us
For me; it was about love
Couldn’t you notice?
When I nearly blinded you as I pulled my skirt higher and higher
When I lay over you with my mouth wide open
I was asking for more than the dance
I was asking for the dancer

By Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva
Previously published in Unjumping and Drumvoices Revue

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Ghosts at Continental Suites #Akefestival2014-(personal account)

These photos were taken by various guests at the Ake Festival.
There were ghosts at The Continental Suites on Presidential Boulevard, Ibara, Abeokuta. Every night, I would hear knocking at my door and I’d call out, “Who is it?”
The Ake Arts and Book Festival 2014 was tremendous. Lola Shoneyin, the Director and to the wonderful team, what can we do to help out next year?
All the nights were short except the first one, with a 3 hour bus ride from Lagos Airport to the June 12 Cultural Center. The Air conditioning and open door matatus alongside us, with conductors standing astride, did not make the time go any faster. They were just a reminder that Nigeria is not Uganda. Also, everyone drives a new car. What’s that about?
It was obvious from the dinner that first night that God created so many fine looking people and said, “They shall be called writers.” This festival was not for the faint at heart. No one’s steed could withstand that. No Sir. The heart flutters and betrayals notwithstanding, the festival was at the crest of literary power in many ways, possibly the synergy of publishers and their authors, feminists and past Presidents (Former President Obasanjo was there) and the poets on their dance floor. The connectivity was scattered and yet absorbed at the same time.
The film, October 1, directed by Kunle Afolayan and written by Tunde Babalola, was an incredible platform of traditional and cultural beliefs, the many faces of National and personal independence and more deeply, sexual abuse against children. The film had lots going on and some can arguably edit out a few scenes but it was overall an intelligent piece of work that has positively changed my opinion of the Nigerian film industry. It’s a film with universal appeal, which grossed 300,000 US Dollars in five weeks and Netflix also contacted them. It’s a good thing.
School tours: In groups of about five, we all headed to different schools for, well, a school tour. My fabulous team had Jekwu Ozoemene (how can you not love this banker with the abs), Adenike Campbell –Fatoki, author of historical fiction, Thread of Gold Beads and the always friend, Richard Ali, who has and continues to be a tremendous support to BN Poetry Foundation. We visited Gateway Secondary School, a public school about ten minutes from the June 12 Cultural Center. The literature class in particular-such confidence in knowing what they wanted to achieve in life, quite amazing. I knew what I wanted at 29 years, I think. Visiting schools is important so that the students get a peek into the various alternatives ahead of them, the creative abundance of choice.
Mutation and Mutilation: Feminism in Africa. A well-thought out panel with Bissi-Ayedele Femi, founder of African Women Development Fund, Iheoma Obibi of Intimate Pleasures, you all need to drop by, Zukiswa Wanner, Molara Wood, Nomboniso Gasa, Ayisha Osori, Edwige-Renee DRO and Ukamaka Olisakwe Evelyn. Bissi, an unapologetic feminist, explained that it’s about mutual respect. It’s not about destabilizing marriages and just because women are born women, they should not be demeaned.
Later in the day, I had the pleasure of launching A Thousand Voices Rising, an African contemporary poetry anthology, produced by the BN Poetry Foundation. Several of the contributors like Rotimi Babatunde, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Richard  Ali and Clifton Gachagua read their poems. Fubaraibi Benstowe, shortlisted poet of the BN Poetry Award 2014, read from his piece, Orukoro Dancer.The launch closed with autographs and a recitation of Ssebo gwe wange. Different reactions each time.
It’s impossible to highlight all the awesomeness of Ake. Call Mr. Robeson, the one man act produced by Tayo Aluko was phenomenal and energetic while historically deep, performances by the remarkable Bassey-Ikpi with multiple meanings of identity and feminism, Kei Miller-Jamaican award-winning poet, Efe Paul with his political piece, Jumoke Verissimo, Chijioke Amu-Nnadi, author of several poetry collections, Dr. Dami Ajayi-it got real in there, especially poetry dipped in palm-wine.
And while we all strut about from one session to another, the most talented photographer and artist, <p>Victor Ehikhamenor, showed us his exhibition, The Lion’s Lair, photos of Prof. Wole Soyinka at his home. Honestly though, I would love to read Victor’s secret photo diary, the photos he keeps for himself. Vera Butterbusch, German photographer, likewise revealed interesting shots of various Nigerian social landscapes, like the Masquerades.
What’s a literary festival without a dance party and swimming? We laid it all out there. The music called and we responded. How else could we show our appreciation to the Ogas and first ladies that had put such a great event together? It was a bevy of rams on spit, tangled feet, hands where they shouldn’t have been and sweaty sweaty sweaty bodies. Prof. Rem Raj, President of Association of Nigerian Authors, celebrated his birthday just after midnight as well.
And the ghosts at Continental Suites didn’t follow Lizzy Attree the Caine Prize Director, or myself, to the swimming pool that last night either. Heck! Maybe they couldn’t swim.
by Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva