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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

Getting a story published.

Submitted: November 02, 2017

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Submitted: November 02, 2017



It was time to head for home, so as they walked out through the kitchen, Albert handed back two printouts of stories Henry had given him the week before. He had a quizical look, in half-pie expectation for another one or two, but this time Henry apologised because he had been a bit tied up that week. Over the past few months, in response to Albert’s request to help keep his mind active, Henry was in the habit of printing off some of his African stories and dropping them off on his Tuesday visits.  As they walked out to the car, Albert for the umteenth time suggeted that Henry compile a whole book, and as usual, Henry told him that short yarns aren’t so boring as a book might be. This time, tongue in cheek, Henry added that anyway, he’s already a published author, so there’s no need for the ambition! Albert was surprised at that, and wanted to have a read, but Henry just smiled and promised to tell him about it the next Tuesday.

Albert didn’t forget the promise, and after the normal chat and checking on the germination of some Nemesia seeds, he reminded Henry. They sat down under the big weeping willow.

‘Well my co-worker, Joshia and I were just starting off our primary schools project and although I hadn’t leared much Swahili yet, I could see kids start to yawn, even nod-off after he had been lecturing for a while. Don’t get me wrong, he was very good and he noticed it too, so he would suddenly call out, “Stand up, sit down, stand up, shake yourself, pull funny faces”  and they did! The kids laughed and soon settled back down. But I thought our seminars (that’s what we called them) needed a boost.

‘There happened to be an Agency conference in Zimbabwe that I travelled down to and to be honest it was bloody boring! Some of the other volunteers had chips on their shoulders and were complaing, so I daydreamed about my assignment and how to improve our seminars. The last night there was a boozeup and the vols were still hot under the collar, the booze making them more agro! So I went outside for a breath of fresh air. Well blow me down I spotted a huge,  bright falling star! Bam! That was my inspiration.

‘There’s an African tree, Mbuyu, the Baobab that most of the year has no leaves so the well-known myth is that God planted upside down as a joke; and it does look like it! I decided I would write a story with a Baobab tree as the star and ask Mr. Kimaro, my Swahili teacher, to translate it.

‘Although I wrote the story in English, I ended up hearing it so many times in Swahili, I still remember it as Ndoto ya Grace. Grace’s Dream. I had this old word processor –  a cranky bloody thing, always difficult to print with it! Anyway, I printed a copy off and gave it to Joshia to read. He liked it, so I handed it on to my Swahili coach. Some of the terms I used, I don’t know, maybe Kiwi slang or English with no direct Swahili conversion, had him coming back to ask what I meant. But we got there. Then Mags helped me type it up in Swahili. There was a lot of editing to do, but I my a copy.

‘At that time photocopiers were fairly rare around Arusha, even the Agency didn’t have one! They had their photocopying  done at the Arusha Freight office, so I went there too. Norbit, I suppose he was the clerk. Reminded me of you, Albert. A small guy with a ready smile and his specs were a bit wonky. One eye was a bit lazy too, but not really crossed. Anyway, I ended up getting him to do a lot of photocopying over the years and he was always helpful. The quality was not as good as today, which is why we couldn’t use photos. I ended up illistrating with simple, scruffy, pen and ink drawings. On the front cover I had young Nai, little tyke, pose for me and I drew her charcatature.

‘The first printing was thirty copies, which Mags and I stapled together. I didn’t know at the time,but Joshia was a good actor! Instead of simply reading the story to usually the whole school, he acted it! I redrew my pictures on newsprint and made a flipchart, and was able to add a bit of colour to it. It was my job to turn the page at the right time and say some stuff. The kids loved his telling and he asked comprehention questions afterwards. At the end, I left a copy with the school. In fact Joshia, his wife and kids made a tape recording of it, adding bits to the story. It was very good’

‘Are you going to bring it for me to read?’ Albert asked.

‘I’ll see if I can find it.’ Henry replied, ‘but I haven’t got the publishing bit yet.’

‘I was in Dar es Salaam riding shotgun for Jo, who was having to leave the car parked in the city centre.’ Henry continued. ‘Because my work permit was issued by the Department of Forestry and Beekeeping, I thought I might pay them a visit while I was there.

‘It’s a long story but I found this guy, not the head sharang, but high enough; he showed me a shipping contnainer full of conservation-forestry-type teaching aids. They had been there for years, but they couldn’t be distributed to schools due to a lack of funds and vehicles! He allowed me to take as much as I could fit in our vehicle and said that anytime I was back in Dar, I could pick up more. It was like a bloody goldmine to me.

‘Anyway he was happy that I was working in schools, and I happened to mention about Ndoto ya Grace. A month later, the guy was on our doorstep! He wanted to read a copy of my story! I was a bit bashful, well it was ok for kids, but he was a big noise of the department! Anyway, I sat him down with a copy and made a brew for him. It turned out he was the editior of a magazine, Mkulima, The Farmer! He asked me if he could print it in next months issue!

‘Well he sent me a copy of the magazine and sure enough, there was the story, complete with my embarrassing bloody drawings! All the credits were publishe too; authoured and drawings by me under the auspices of the Agency, translated but Mr. Kimaro and our so-called titles with Hidathi! I have no idea how many copies were sold, but each copy was sold for three hundred Tanzanian shillings, equivalent to one US dollar.

‘So you see, Albert, I am a published authour.’

He gave wee a clap.

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