Posted: 11th February 2015 by kenny in Uncategorized

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In other words, before God could do anything at all, he had to have words. The Australian aborigines believe that they can sing the world into existence, that the naming of things renders them real and visible. And some scholars believe that the word abracadabra derives from the Aramaic, avra kehdabra, which means “I will create as I speak.”

So abracadabra – let me create as I speak. Let me wander those aboriginal song-lines and hum into being the characters of my first full-length feature script titled EXPOSED. Here they come, echoes from God knows where (and he really does know where), uninvited, really, just hovering, floating around in vitrio, pale gollums in the shadows, waiting to be born. Well, I suppose I did invite them the instant I put my mind to the task.

And here they are, as much a part of my daily life as my lovely daughter Sophie, who seems to inhabit the script whether I ask her to or not, incarnated as Jude, a sweetly savage teenage prostitute, a vagrant, trying to make it in the Hamptons. I weave my magic wand and there she is, asleep in a field when the camera clicks and I recognize Nora, the protagonist, a photographer who has until now lacked the vision to create a meaningful body of work. Click! Jude leaps out of her sleeping bag, cursing. Click! Nora snaps the picture, Jude enraged, eyes wide, mouth open, hair flying – a magnificent demon in the summer haze, a feral, untamed child.

Abracadabra. The plot unfolds. I am obsessed. Watch me exploring the bulrushes around ponds where Jude might hide. And there I am, in the East Hampton parking lot, checking out a black Camarro – the car that her pimp will use to track her down, speeding along the LIE like a demon possessed. She has stolen his money. He has stolen her soul. And there I am on the ferry to Shelter Island, Jude right next to me, hair blowing in the wind, her snarky nose in the air while Raji, a Pakistani deli clerk at the Sag Harbor 7 Eleven, surreptitiously eyes her nipples. Behind me, Nora, the protagonist, a photographer, bursting inside but outwardly repressed, accompanying this unlikely duo on a mysterious camping trip. They’re with me as I find the right beach with the great rock where Jude will find her name written in black marker while Raji remains in a clearing to pray on his mat, bowing towards Mecca in the sunshine summer of the Hamptons. I see Nora lay Jude out in the sand, almost naked, a crab on her belly, hair floating like dank seaweed, a sea nymph. She buries Jude in sand, only a shoulder visible, rising softly like a minor sand dune.

These photographs will bring Nora the fame she craves. They will cause her to break off her romantic relationship with Walter, an antique collector who wants nothing more then to add her to his valuables and keep her on a shelf forever. And they will expose Jude to great danger.   Therein lies the tension of my plot.

I have written it all. I have rewritten it 57 times. I sent the 57th draft to a hotshot Hollywood script-reader who took a lot of money to send me his “notes” on the script. A dreaded moment. He likes this, he likes that, he has encouraging words to say but I have failed to give my characters DEPTH.

I cast around for inspiration and find myself looking again at my daughter Sophie’s paintings. Her earlier works are interesting, accomplished, full of drama, vibrant color and written poetry, but they subsist on a flat plane, elements of a dream, of a life presented but unexamined. Her recent work, though, leaps a chasm, rendering with only a few strokes of a brush or a pen a damaged soul, a scene fraught with calm terror, a novel spun on a clothes line, a jaguar sauntering by. My heart shudders.

This is depth. What agonies has she suffered to arrive at this place?

Should I make my fictitious characters suffer more? Maybe Jude should have a fatal disease. AIDS would be too obvious. Denge Fever? Too contrived. Lymes Disease? Not bloody enough. Or since Raji eventually gets arrested as a terrorist suspect, perhaps Jude should be in love with him and follow him to Pakistan, where he is deported, thus throwing herself at the mercy of the Taliban., no, no. No depth there.  And how about Nora? I thought her depth came from the fact that she is an orphan, bonding with the family-less Jude in a queasy motherly-daughterly relationship that is always edgy, sometimes violent and financially profitable to both. Ah Nora, the artist, the suppressed genius who has spent years taking pretty pictures of flowers and landscapes that fill her with self-loathing.

Until she encounters Jude asleep in that field – the catalyst that will propel Nora out of safety, into a danger-zone that she both fears and desires. Click! Nora probes Jude’s soul, exposes her, turns her inside out and sends her on her way, in the process, exposing herself – her own shallowness, her own superficial art, the pristine whiteness of her sterile modern home.

I write it here, yet I have failed to give my characters depth in the script. I look at Sophie’s paintings. An old man on a bar-stool contemplates the dead bird on a stool next to him. A girl simply sits, a sketch, a nothing that makes my heart tremble. Abracadabra. My daughter has it, and I don’t.


Posted: 13th November 2014 by kenny in Africa, Habari: African Insights, Kenya

They are lean men, born in Africa and now in the last decade of their lives. Leathery, freckled skin folds over elbows and knees, their hair is mousy, white, dirty blond, usually worn long. They drive a motorbike from the 1940s, or a 40-year-old Land Cruiser, or maybe even an ancient Ford. They live at the simplest possible level – sometimes so poor that running water and electricity are real luxuries, forced to tinker endlessly with their broken down water pump, with greasy generators or with the dusty, rusty wires of their car engine, everything disassembling in parallel to their own bodily decay. The roof of their house leaks, in the evenings they read the discarded paper from yesterday accompanied by the solemn tik-tak of drips collecting in a metal sufuria. The curtains are mere shredded rags at their windows. The scant furniture is colonial issue brown wood from the 1950s -solid, ugly, functional. Sometimes animal skulls leer from the walls, or African artifacts crumble in a hand-carved bowl. A mask, a carving of an elephant, an antique beaded Turkana doll, a moldy leather chest containing – who knows what? The last love letters, the kitchen toto, photographs of the family farmstead 50 years ago, of a lost child.

Perhaps they are well off and own a magnificent old stone house in the upper class white areas of town – Muthaiga, Karen, Kitisuru, or “up-country” in Nanyuki or Eldoret. Spacious buildings with fireplaces, many rooms, carvings, masks, zebra skin rugs and leather chairs and an extensive library of tomes on African history or long-lost tribal rituals. They are not disturbed by current politics, nor are they involved. Their servants have been with them for decades, faithful and ever-smiling cooks, gardeners and maids. The co-dependency was established 60 years ago and there is no reason to change it. Who will die first is the secret question whispering in the folds of the heavy drapes.

 Perhaps they are foreigners – French, German, American, Polish – who arrived in Africa as young students or volunteers or even refugees and have contracted le mal d’Afrique – that insidious disease that infects so many people who have tasted the raw red dust of the highlands on a gritty tongue or become enamored of the indigenous ways of life and find in them some soul echo that resonates in their deepest being forever. They have renounced their homeland, forgotten their roots and found their path in the cluttered city or its outskirts, or in the last remaining areas of bush, committed to performing the good works that ought to make life better for the African but serve also to alienate him ever more from his own roots.

 There are the women, too. War correspondents who have traveled the length and breadth of Africa, found their dark lovers here,    adopted African children. Animal lovers who have devoted their lives to the rPa with African staff 3escue of one or other species, whose homestead features tame ostrich, giraffe or hyena. The women who came with their men, lost their men, maybe their sons as well, and stayed, hardened, saved by their gardens, saved by their cook, saved by the country club and the chocolate desert, immune to the ravages of their sun-drenched skin.

There are those, like me, compelled to document this Africa that shakes us at the end of a mighty pole, like the fluffy yellow mimosa, subject to the winds of time. We write books, make films, take photographs, publish academic tracts, speak Swahili poorly, sell our work elsewhere, endlessly fascinated, debating, questioning, worrying. We leave, we return, we have other homes, other loyalties, yet we cannot break free. We yearn to truly belong, we envy those who do, yet we enjoy the air of romantic exoticism and wonder expressed abroad when we say, “I am a White African.”Iki, Oscar, shooting

There are the young ones, third or fourth generation, born of British farmer or South African Boer families. At home in the wild, consummate lovers of nature, of wildlife, of the early morning dew on the starling’s wing and of the rusty smell of earth before the rains. They may hunt as well as they start a new business. They may organize a music festival as well as they run a farm. They are ignorant of racial divides and move within a totally integrated circle of African, Asian and European friends. Theirs is an uncertain future, for they have recognized corruption as the great enemy of the nation that does not spare even the fourth generation White African. Could their land be confiscated? Will they – or even their parents – ever get citizenship? A legitimate work permit?A resident’s permit? How many times can a person who has lived in Kenya for 50 years, is married to a Kikuyu lady and supports three charitable foundations travel over to Tanzania and back just to get a “tourist” visa? And what is the end result of the frustration felt by White Africans who support whole families of African employees, pay school and medical fees, behave as good citizens, even though they aren’t, and generally act as full-fledged, contributing citizens of this nation, even though they are not? Will reverse racism force them to take drastic measures to preserve what they have inherited or built? Will the New Kenya – this vibrant, explosive, truly African nation, accept the new breed of White African as an integrated part of society? Or will they be forever dreamers, spending a lifetime merely passing through on the way to somewhere else, nostalgic for the unspoiled lands of their grandfathers, for the crackling photo albums of bygone days, for the faded pictures of Colonial times shared on Facebook?

Defined as a person of European descent who is born and raised in Africa, the very designation “White African” may disappear altogether, for as time moves on and youth connects with the world through social media, there may truly no longer be the need for such divisive descriptions. May we come to a place where an African is an African, valid to the state of the nation no matter what color his skin may be or where his original birthright finds its roots? Is this a desirable condition for White Africans? Would we be as proud to call ourselves Africans as we are to call ourselves White Africans? What old ghosts might wave their flags in surrender? What new demons might make themselves visible in the corner of our eye? And if we are to call ourselves simply “Kenyans,” where is the validation that makes us so?

These are the questions we face if Africa is our true home, the place where our soul lives, the irreplaceable font of our dreams, our work and our daily encounters with the “other.” These are the questions that the Kenyan power structure must ask itself if “white” is indeed included in the “One Kenya, One People” rainbow that makes for such a facile slogan. Or is white, after all, the one invisible colour today, left out of the kaleidoscope vision for the nation’s future? After all, following the famed advertisement for Omo detergent – “Omo Washes Whiter!” – we used to joke that “Jomo Washes Whiter.” Could it be that we were entirely washed out? I say “No!” to that suggestion. It is up to White Africans ourselves to define our identity within Kenya, to be proud citizens even without citizenship and to share the nation’s future, whatever it may be. We may be the only drops of milk in the Kenyan coffee – but it’s damn good coffee!!


Posted: 10th May 2014 by kenny in Uncategorized

The great puzzlement to Jews and non-Jews is that Judaism shares some of the characteristics of a nation, an ethnicity, a religion, and a culture. Can we select only parts of this construct and still claim to be “Jews”? My documentary film, BEAUTIFUL TREE, SEVERED ROOTS  adds new perspectives to this age-old question.

My parents were adventurers who chose to live in Africa rather than emigrate elsewhere. They surely knew that in the early 1900s, Zionist leaders, desperate to offer persecuted Jews a safe homeland, were offered a section of northwestern Kenya as sanctuary by the British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain. The controversial plan was eventually dropped. Had it succeeded, the Holocaust might never have happened as Jews would have been settled far from Europe’s anti-Semitic dictators and our lives might have been very different, as might have been the fate of Jews – and Kenyans – in general.

Viewers familiar with Hollywood films set in colonial Kenya, like OUT OF AFRICA, THE FLAME TREES OF THIKA and I DREAMED OF AFRICA will find a very different social paradigm to colonial Kenya in this documentary. As secular Jews and confirmed Socialists, my parents brought to the colony a unique Weltanschauung. Undoubtedly, their Judeo-Socialist paradigm equipped them to adapt to Africa and to African lifestyles and belief systems almost overnight. Their perspective on Africa and Africans differed vastly from that held by British colonials, who had come not only to exploit and make their fortune, but basically to suppress, enslave and conquer. My parents came to teach, learn and unite.   If my parents may be taken as “typical” models, this lends an interesting aspect to the character and aspirations of the European Jew in the African Diaspora.African Jews in Kenya

African Jews in Kenya

As a child, I was perfectly confident in my “Kenyanness” but as I grew older, I realized that our family was British but not English; that we sympathized with African causes but had our own racial prejudices; that my parents promoted racial harmony but forbade their children to enter the African areas of town; that our whiteness did not prevent us from being “different” and – in the eyes of our British friends – “exotic”; that most of my friends had some kind of religious beliefs but that we practiced fierce atheism; that my parents never talked about being Jewish, but would put their lives on the line as Jews if necessary; that for everyone else, England was “home” while for us, Kenya was home, despite our European heritage.

My parents devoted themselves to understanding African culture and improving the lives of Africans, but displayed an ambiguous relationship to African people. Our servants were treated fairly, but definitely as “inferior” beings, lower even than the European peasant, as my mother once stated, whereas educated Africans were befriended.

This raises interesting questions about Jewish-Black relations, traditionally fraught with racial and class tensions, as well as the liberal Jewish desire to “bond” with black victims of suppression, and reveals the complex interplay between international politics, colonial dominance, and anti-Semitic and anti-African racist ideologies.

These endless dichotomies puzzled me for years but I now realize that layers of identity are typical for any refugee, and that they eventually coalesce to form a whole. Identity is fluid, not rigid. Thus I believe that every Jew who examines his or her identity must come to the same conclusion: we are a multi-layered people with a multitude of origins, acquired nationalities and adaptations – perhaps as close to the “global citizen” as anyone will ever get.

I ask whether, in the age of universal digital communications, individuals will recognize their personal identity based not on geographical location or ethnicity but rather on globally shared political and religious/spiritual belief systems, various interests and hobbies and commercial connections. Thus, for example, where we might have been Jews first and environmentalists second in our personal identity construct, we may now be universally recognized as environmentalists first and Jews second, triggering a major paradigm shift in the whole question of identity. While maintaining Jewishness and Jewish practices, in this new world the “Jewish question” may become irrelevant. Nairobi synagogue

                The synagogue in Nairobi

Like many secular Jews, I feel at home everywhere and nowhere, which may be viewed as either a positive attribute for global survival or a negative attribute leading to “tribal” rejection and consequent isolation. Contemporary scholarly work on refugees concludes that new identities are constructed from nostalgia for the lost homeland coupled with either indifference to or passionate assimilation into the new homeland. When my parents arrived in Kenya, they did not let it be generally known that they were Jews, and did not seek out the Jewish community but preferred social adaptation to the mostly British colonial community and to focus their work on indigenous peoples. The Nairobi Hebrew Community recognized them as “real” Jews only because their work conformed to Jewish notions of “tikkum olam” or “healing the world.” Their worldview was passed down to their children, thus we may claim “Jewishness” if for no other reason than this.

Most Jews will call themselves Jews first, and describe their nationality second. I call myself a Kenyan first, with various additional identities lower on the list. Nevertheless, all events in my family history lead to the inescapable fact that we are Jewish and that our destinies have been inevitably formed by this identity, no matter what additional layers of “self” have been added over time.  A Jewish scholar whose name I have forgotten  said:  “If there is a contemporary Jewish ‘identity menu,’ I choose one that is not religious, does not celebrate with traditional foods and holidays, does not speak Hebrew or belong to a particular Jewish community, does not revere Israel as my home, yet will always accept my “Jewishness” even though I am not sure how, exactly, that manifests itself or even whether it matters.”  My thoughts exactly.




Posted: 16th September 2013 by kenny in Uncategorized

Hello everyone!


First, let me please apologize to those of you who have sent me notes in the past, to most of which I haven’t responded because I never saw them!  Please forgive me – it’s a lame excuse – but I didn’t scroll down far enough or pay enough attention.  In any case, I am sorry but so happy that you did write to me and share your news about Kenya, and I will try to respond to all of you, even though your posts are several years old.

I am happy to report that my film BEAUTIFUL TREE, SEVERED ROOTS, a documentary feature film about my family in Kenya, is now finished.  It took about 25 years -actually longer – to research and make.  As always, the problem was lack of money, but a greater issue was trying to figure out how to tell this amazing story.  Why would anyone be interested in seeing a 70-minute long film about my family?  What’s so special about US?

Nothing really.  But my parents were Jewish refugees who arrived in Kenya in 1942.  Very few Jews saw Kenya as a destination during World War II, but Mama had always wanted to “explore those areas in the atlas that were still white – terra incognita” – and she and Papa had the guts and the gumption to actually get themselves to Kenya.  Not only that, but they devoted their lives to fighting against hunger, poverty and disease.  My dad was Chairman of Freedom from Hunger for years, and he also founded the Animal Health and Industries Training Institute (AHITI) in Kabete, which became a world model.  So those are interesting stories, on the surface.
What fascinated me most, however, was how these Jews from Poland and Romania adapted to Africa almost overnight.  They were not in any way religious – we know very little about being Jewish – and they had had to escape from Romania on the eve of the Germans’ arrival – but it seemed as though they had an instinctive understanding of the African paradigm.   Papa even loved to dress up as an African “witch doctor” – mixing artefacts and costume elements from many African countries and painting his body dark brown with shoe polish – but it wasn’t just a joke.  He keenly felt the African spirit and more than that, he saw African culture and social systems as in many ways far superior to our western ways.  He once wrote that “a piece of land and an extended family have more value than a bank account.”

So my story is really an examination of how each family member relates to Africa and Africans.  It’s also a story of my coming of age just as Kenya was reaching towards Independence in 1963.  Far from rejoicing with everyone else, I was utterly miserable because every single one of my friends in Kenya had hurriedly left the country for fear of a bloodbath.  I attended the Independence ceremonies with my parents and came home that night feeling that I was a refugee in my own country.

The film includes some fascinating archival footage, by the way.  Remember Queen Elizabeth II coming n 1952, just after she had been made Queen?   Remember the fireworks at Independence, and the Kenya National Anthem being played for the first time?  Remember the assassination of Tom Mboya and Bruce McKenzie- both very close friends of my parents?  It’s this archival footage that helped me to piece together the story of our family and of Kenya as we knew it.

And not only that:  to find Kenya again in my own heart and realize that I never really left.  Physically, yes, but mentally, no.  So now I’m planning to reconnect and will be in Kenya in January and February.   I am so excited!!

More later,

Kuaheri kuonana






Posted: 28th August 2012 by kenny in Uncategorized

Oscar and I are spending a week at Tiwi, just south of Mombasa, where we have rented a two-bedroom spacious house just feet from the beach. The BEACH!!!! This is the same house we rented fifteen years ago when we had a family reunion with my daughter, a friend of hers, my sister and brother, and his daughter and our mother. So as we sit on the veranda reading in the lazy afternoon, I see their shadows flitting softly amongst the fragrant franji pani trees and tiptoeing down the white steps to the beach, where crabs frolic at night and the moon breathes her pulse, in and out, in and out, with every tide.

We do very little except walk, wallow in the lukewarm, turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, walk again, read and nibble on cashew nuts and mangos. On our very first day, a young beach boy introduces himself as Changani and greets Oscar as an old friend. “Is it you, my brother?” He gives Oscar a high five, but I don’t think my brother recognizes this fellow, so I am a little guarded. The beach boys are a sad nuisance, wandering up and down all day long, trying to sell services of many kinds. “Do you want some madafu? (coconut milk). I will bring you five coconuts and you can have five free – my garden is full of them.” Oscar wants some, but I don’t, but before I can say a word, Changani is racing up the beach to disappear along a village path shaded by tall palm trees. Oscar now remembers that indeed, he does know Changani from the years when he used to come down here to camp at Christmas. Changani used to have dread locks – the insignia of the dedicated beach boy – and now he has shaved his head and wears cool sunglasses. But there is a look of despair in Changani’s eyes. “I am only a beach boy,” he says, sadly. “I want to be something else, but there is no opportunity for me.”

Over the next few days, I get to know Changani quite well and to like him a lot. He is extremely intelligent and speaks quite good German – picked up from tourists whom he takes out in a canoe to snorkel near the reef. I feel sorry for him – he is 32 years old with no future at all but to continue as a beach boy, and of course, like so many other Africans, he has sold his “services” to a young woman from Denmark or Sweden or Holland – someone who came to Kenya on vacation, took a fancy to a cute beach boy, got pregnant and promptly removed herself back home to have the baby and leave her beach boy stranded at low tide.

Most days, Changani has absolutely nothing to do. The tourist industry in Kenya has dropped by over 50% since the troubles in 2008 and besides, it is mid-February, the end of school vacations, so the local holiday season is over. Changani explains to me that he has become the unofficial supervisor for about 12 beach boys at Tiwi. They have divided up the various tourist services among them and once territorial boundaries have been drawn up, they cannot be crossed. For example, Changani cannot sell carvings or cloth at the beach stalls, while his colleagues there may not take tourists to the reef. But they are all desperate for work and he tells me that he often doesn’t eat for two days, or lives only on coconuts. With his girlfriend and son gone for good, he lives with his mother, whom he highly respects and, since he is the first-born son, for whom he feels responsible.

Changani is of medium height with powerful shoulders and his black skin gleams in the sunlight. He does not pester me as I walk along the beach from one end to the other, but waits patiently under the palm tree where he knows I like to rest, and we chat. He is a Digo – a tribe that has lived along the coast for centuries, and who were largely responsible for helping to oust the Portuguese invaders in the 17th century. “Would you like to have a barbeque tonight?” he asks. Oscar and I agree to meet him at 7pm on the beach, and he will cook fish and rice and other coastal delicacies over an open fire. But by 7pm, Changani has not shown up, nor is there any sign of a barbeque fire on the beach. Oscar is pacing the floor and cursing. “He could call!” he mutters. Yes, he could, but he doesn’t. Finally, at 7.45, Changani comes racing up to the front door, clearly deeply agitated. “I am sorry! Sorry!” he cries. “I will make the fire now!” “Why are you so late?” my brother growls. “My sister’s daughter died today from her stomach,” Changani says, “ and I could not come on time, but I wanted to show you that you can trust me, so now I am here.” “Yeah, yeah,” says my brother, clearly implying that he doesn’t believe a word of the story. “Is it true?” I ask him gently. “It is true,” Changani replies. “You could have bloody called!” Oscar yells. “We have no food in the house and have been waiting!” “Don’t talk to him like that!” I hiss at my brother. “The man’s niece just died and all you can think of is your dinner!” “Go to hell!” Oscar screams. “Why are you always interfering? Just fuck off, both of you, and you fuck off and Changani fuck off and just fuck off!”

Well. This is the result not only of Oscar’s frustration after a plane crash slightly damaged his brain, but also of my brother having lived in the bush as the only white man for so long. Like many colonials, he adopts what is to me an insufferable tone of voice and an inexcusable impatience towards African people. However, like all whites in Kenya, he has also been ripped off and robbed so many times by Kenyans that every interaction with them is conditioned by deep mistrust. It is just the way it has always been between the haves and the have-nots.

By this time, Changani has run down to the beach. I follow him with the flashlight and find him sitting on a log, weeping. His brown paper bag with our smelly fish and a pot of gooey rice sits on the log next to him. It doesn’t look too appetizing. I touch Changani on the shoulder. “You should go home,” I say. “We can do this another night. Go on- go home to your sister. You have to understand, my brother is not himself. You remember how sweet he used to be, right?” Changani nods his head.” “Yes, I do. He was my brother,” he says. “But why does he do this to me?” I explain that my brother is prone to fits of rage since the accident, but Changani says “It is because I am poor.” “No,” I tell him. “It has nothing to do with being poor. “ I try to explain the roots of my brother’s reaction. Changani seems to understand, but is visibly distraught. He seems more than ever determined to show that he can be trusted and starts to pile dried palm fronds on the beach for a fire. “No, Changani,” I say. By this time I really don’t want the awful fish and am trying to find ways to heal the events of the awful evening.

Changani does eventually leave, his head hung low, carrying the sorry package of food with him. The full moon lights up the white sand, where thousands of crabs rush in and out of the water, searching for food. They make a dry, rustling sound, parting before Changani’s feet as he passes by, only to close their ranks again behind him. As he heads for the village path, his shadow, sharply outlined on the sand, merges with the trunk of a palm tree and he is gone. Near the steps to our cottage, the franji pani tree is shedding its sweet-scented flowers . They litter the beach, sending their perfume into the balmy night air.

I go back up to the house and Oscar and I manage to have a quiet discussion about the incident. He feels terrible about it even though he still accuses me of interfering. “I was talking to Changani and you just interrupted,” he says. “Yes, “I say, “and I will always interrupt so long as you speak to Africans in that tone of voice.” We then go through the incident measure for measure and I understand that I have somehow usurped my brother’s “authority” while he understands that he has  behaved abominally. He is almost in tears and we decide to send Changani a text message of apology, which Oscar does. “Please forgive me,” he writes. “Come and see us tomorrow.”

The next morning, the sky is perfectly blue, the sea perfectly warm, the beach perfectly white and my mind perfectly clear. Changani has mentioned that if he could read and write English, there would be many more job opportunities available to him. There is a school nearby, he has told me, that takes adults like him for special classes. He is very bright, and literate in Kisuaheli, which uses the same alphabet as English, so he is sure he could learn to read and write English very fast. So when I see him on the beach that morning, I ask how much it would cost. “It will be K. Shs. 3000 for a semester,” he replies, “plus some books and a pencil.” K. Shs. 3500 is about $43. Can I afford it? Yes. I hand the money to Changani and he promises to bring me a note from the school to confirm that he has enrolled. He looks a little happier now. Oscar has joined us and Changani says, “My brother, I forgive you. I am very sorry for what happened.” Oscar is also sorry and humbled, and they shake hands – but somewhere, something has been broken. Maybe Changani’s heart? Or Oscar’s self-image? Or the veil of peace fluttering now in tatters about us.

Changani wants a lift to Diani, the next town, where I must go for the Internet. “Why not take him to the school and pay the money directly to the director?” Oscar suggests. “Just to be sure,” he adds. Ah yes – there is that mistrust again. But my brother is right. Could this whole story be just that – a story – to wring cash from my gullible heart? Will Changani really go to school and use the money for the fee?

The school is on the way to Diani so I ask Changani to let me have a look at it. We drive down a sandy path, through village compounds, and come out at a pleasant collection of low buildings of coral stone with window frames painted bright blue. A group of Muslim school girls in blue uniforms with white head veils peek at us from the playground. Changani and I walk to the head master’s office. Mr. Mutabeti greets Changani warmly. “So, my friend, you have come!“ he exclaims, revealing his own distrust. Changani smiles and says, “Yes, sir, I have come.” He hands over the money I gave him which is still tightly rolled in his pocket, and we discuss a few details. Changani will begin at 8am the next day, and will receive three hours a day of one-on-one tuition from the English teacher. He will be treated with dignity and not made to sit among the children or wear a uniform.

Next, we head to a little book store where we buy a picture dictionary in English and Kisuaheli. Changani can read the Kishuaheli easily, and his face brightens at last. We say our goodbyes, for Oscar and I are leaving later that day. “Now I have a brother and a sister!” Changani says. “No,” I say. “I am not your sister. I have just helped you a little bit, that’s all, and I am happy to have done so. Send me a text message in English when you are ready, OK?” “OK, my sister,” he replies, and runs off, jumping from one shady spot to another as the cement walkway is too hot for his bare feet. I am ready to drive off in Oscar’s noisy old truck that belches exhaust fumes and occasionally squeals in agony as rusty parts rub against each other. Changani turns around one more time. “Goodybye and thank you, my sister!” he calls. I stop the car and jump out. “Changani!” I call. “Wait!” I catch up with him under the broad spread of a mango tree. “I am not your sister,” I say. “I don’t want you to call me your sister, OK? I am just a friend.” Changani looks a little dismayed but he understands. Being his “sister” puts me under lifelong obligations of support. Being his friend is entirely different. I can choose to help him further or not. “OK,” he says, and holds out his hand. “Thank you my friend.” We shake hands and I drive off, excited to receive Changani’s first text message in English whenever he’s ready.