Kwani? Trust: In conversation with Nuruddin Farah

The Facebook announcement was 3 likes and 1 share in when it appeared on my Home page. I followed the link to the Kwani webpage: Nuruddin Farah in conversation with Binyavanga Wainana. Binyavanga is the founder and editor of the Kwani? Trust. Nuruddin, mh? I had never heard of him before.

I Googled his name up.

Wikipedia said that Nuruddin was the author of several books. His first novel – From a Crooked Rib (1970) – tells the story of a nomad girl who flees from an arranged marriage to a much older man.
His trilogies of novels – Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship (1980–1983) and Blood in the Sun (1986–1999) – form the core of his work. Though Variations was well received in a number of countries, Farah’s reputation was cemented by his most famous novel, Maps (1986), the first part of his Blood in the Sun trilogy. Maps, which is set during the Ogaden conflict of 1977, explores the questions of cultural identity in a post-independence world.
He followed the novel with Gifts (1993) and Secrets (1998), both of which earned awards. His most recent trilogy Past Imperfect comprises Links (2004), Knots (2007) and Crossbones (2011).

He holds several international awards for his work. He lives in Cape Town.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Nuruddin’s novel Crossbones was released in the UK in April 2013.  Locally, Kwani? will publish the book. It will be available for distribution in August 2013. Crossbones is the final volume in the trilogy, Past Imperfect.


Mid-April 2013, three weeks after Easter Thursday, I find my way to the Louis Leaky Hall at the National Museum amidst the rain and Nairobi traffic; si you know how that rain-traffic equation balances, eh? Expectedly, a bookstand had been set up at the entrance show-casing several of Kwani’s publications and Nuruddin’s previous work. Who never milks at these literary gigs?

I got a middle seat in the middle aisle and settled in to observe the crowd. I was one of the handfuls of Kenyans in the auditorium: fans of Binyavanga, followers of Kwani, age-mates of Nuruddin. Journalists. No idlers. Somali’s were mushroomed in groups of threes and fours. One of their own was the reason we were here, their excitement was palpable. Jungus were the majority; the young hippies in their odd fashion and the cultured mature ones with notepads open in their laps. Then there were photographers; photographers who appeared to be in town only for this event. Apart from their equipment and equipment bag, the only other thing in hand was a cell phone, I suppose. A phone with the last dialed number that of a cab driver whose name they didn’t bother to save.

It was a full house. Nairobi’s literary community huddled together to eavesdrop on conversation between two of Africa’s influential writers.

Nuruddin slipped through the crowed unnoticed and sauntered on stage. A lean and aged man, older than his photographs had suggested. He had slight limp in his right leg. His minimalist dressing reminded me of Steve Jobs – Nikes and stone-wash Levi jeans. He took the seat closest to him and settled back, I swear I heard him sigh. His demeanor was like that of a favorite Grandfather sitting in front of a fire waiting to tell stories to the children circled at his feet. We waited in eagerness; I can imagine the earnest Nuruddin registered when he looked up at the dimly lit crowd from the stage.

Binyavanga took the seat across from him. He crossed his legs at the ankles, folded his hands over his laps and leaned in forward. He maintained this closed posture throughout the conversation. His sporadic and unnecessarily loud laughter, however, contradicted this posture. Nuruddin’s responses to the questions were unhurried and well-thought; he gave himself a few moments to order his words before he spoke. Short sentences. I suppose he only saw five, six words into a sentence and the remainder of the words appeared to him only as he continued to speak. He used his hands a lot to gesture and adjusted his weight in the seat every few minutes. Nuruddin’s witty responses spoke of his untold humor.

When we got to the Q&A session, he removed a notebook and a pen from, I don’t know, somewhere. Qualities of a writer.

I captured tidbits of the conversation in the section that follows. Not in verbatim though; jotting and listening proved a tad too laborious for me that evening.

On writing: Nuruddin said he fell in love with the idea of giving shape to sounds.

Also because there was little else to do except to scribble away until the words made sense.

He gave the story that as a young boy, he rewrote one of Hemmingway’s story because he felt that the story not been written in the ‘right way’. Nuruddin’s English teacher was not too pleased to learn of this; how could a young boy, with English as his fourth language, challenge the work of such a literary icon of our time? She dismissed his actions as ‘arrogant’.

Nuruddin emphasizes that there is more truth in writing than in speaking; this is because words make sense when you give them shape.

When it comes to the source of inspiration for this work, Nuruddin said that he is a professional writer; this means he spends his 9 to 5 writing. He does not count the number of words he writes in a day. He prefers to write in the longhand because it keeps the challenge to write alive. Every day, he faces a blank page, and therein lie the challenge.

Why write in English: Nuruddin chose to write in English because of a typewriter. True story. One of his first typewriters was an Olivetti, an Italian typewriter that broke down a number of times. The English-made typewriter he got to replace this one was sturdy and reliable.  He decided that English, and English products are better. Thus settled to write in English.

About Somalia: Nuruddin writes about Somalia so that he can keep it alive in his heart.

The irony of it is that the novel he wrote in Somalia is less Somali-like than the ones he wrote elsewhere. Nuruddin is greatly against the clan structure that exists in Somali.

Nuruddin does not see himself as belonging to a clan; he asks how he can accept that he is his father’s son. In his first novel, A Naked Needle, he paints a vivid picture of Mogadishu – the capital city of Somalia – in giving the names of buildings and streets and alleys and walkways. Mogadishu can be reconstructed, in the buildings and walkways, but the idea those held of Mogadishu back from the 1970’s cannot be reconstructed. The idea is lost.

In his essay ‘Of Tamarinds and Cosmopolitanism’, Nuruddin feels that the idea of cosmopolitanism was wasted on Somali. For the city to be reconstructed, it asks for its individuals to be reconstructed first. For its people to be able to love the Mogadishu, the Somali that was.


I listen to Nuruddin speaking and I am reminded of many things about being African, and being a writer. About being an African writer. Nuruddin knows his history well; throughout the conversation, he quotes facts about his country and his culture that, I must admit, I had never paid attention to. It is true he holds Somali close to his heart.

Nuruddin is aware of the influence his work has; he admitted that he had to pull out one of his earlier novels – Naked Needle – from publication because it ruffled too many feathers; his stay away from Somali for over twenty years was self-imposed exile that arose solely because of his work. This is the price that the Nuruddin, and his peers like Chinua Achebe, had to pay for their work.

Nuruddin is a writer, an African writer. That is all there is to him – nothing more, nothing less.

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Florence Bett-Kinyatti


Columnist Saturday Nation Writer Craft It Author of best-selling ‘SHOULD I?’ and ‘HOW MUCH?’ ~ Guiding word: Overdrive Subscribe to our Newsletter👇🏾 eepurl.com/igmN8P
  • Dear God, 
It’s me again.

I don’t pray as often as I need to, You know that. I don’t kneel by my bed in child-like humility, as Muna does. I don’t whisper a prayer in the morning. Or at noon. Perhaps just in the evening. 

This going-to-church habit is a constant false start. So is reading the Word. 

I’m often guilty but I also know: You and I have a language only we can understand. 

I speak to You through this gift You bestowed upon my Kale shoulders, this gift to write in colour. It’s a gift that sometimes feels like a curse, a burden I have no choice but to pursue. 

Yet other times – most times, actually – it’s the very breath of my essence. Everyday I sit to write, when the words flow from my head and heart through my fingers to the page, I feel You next to me. 

You are here, Lord. Hovering. Lingering. Swooshing about in Your regal robes, like a character from Bridgerton.

Sometimes You get so close I can feel You breathing on my neck and I’m like, ‘Err, God, do You mind, personal space?’

And You chuckle uncomfortably. ‘He-he, of course. Of course.’

I’m here to tell You, Thanks!

I hosted my first in-person event last March, Lord, thank You to all the lovely ladies who granted me their time and full attention. 

I’ve carried them in my heart since and every day, my prayer is that You bring them closer to the life of abundance they each seek. To their own version of wealth. 

I always call them by their name: Becky. Purity. Lindsay. Wangui. Naomi. Shiqow. Mercy. Liz. Winnie. Polly. Nduta. Lynet. 

And Mike. 

Dear Lord, I’m prepping for my next in-person event in June, Inshallah. 

Walk with me as I get there. 

Love always,

  • Highlights from our first-ever in person event hosted by Craft It and @financialfitbit 
Thanks to all the lovely ladies — and gent, hehe — who honoured us with the privilege of their time and attention. And colourful energy. It’s been weeks since and it’s only now that I’m coming down from the high. 

Thank YOU!

🎥 @mikemuthaka 

#craftit #author #MakeYourMoneyMatter #personalfinance #money
  • I am a woman.

I’m strong. I’m brilliant. I’m like a comet shooting across the sky, I’m so bright you have to put on shades to see me.

I’m almost 40, I’m almost fully realising myself as a woman and the power of womanhood I possess.

I’m so powerful that if KPLC connected me to the national grid, I’d power up this country and we’d never have another blackout.

Ho! Ho! Ho!


To recognize and celebrate International Women’s Day today, I’d like to recognize and celebrate eight women.

I have eight things to give away to each of these women:
a) Two tickets to my upcoming event on March 18 with @financialfitbit Theme is ‘Make your money matter’
b) Three autographed copies of my book ‘Should I?’
c) Three autographed copies of my other book ‘How Much?’

To participate:
1. Like this post
2. Tag women who deserve a win of either event ticket or book (tag as many women as you like)
3. Tell us what you’d like her to win and why she deserves the win
4. Make sure your tagged women follow @_craftit and @financialfitbit 

Here are the rules for the giveaway:
— One woman, one win
— Winners will be contacted via DM
— Giveaway closes at the end of this week, Inshallah, on Sunday 12 March
— Only open to people living in Kenya

All the best!

(Swipe right to see the women I’m celebrating.)

#craftit #internationalwomensday
  • My 2022 word of the year was Wholesome. 

Wholesome meant engaging in moderation and in pursuits that didn’t leave me feeling yucky.

An example: there’re weekend nights I’d go out then have too much to drink. On the drive home, I’d tell GB to stop the car every half mile so I could throw up on the side of the road. Then I’d take three working days recovering. 


No more of that nonsense.

Now I have only two doubles of Singleton whiskey and chase it with water. I eat less food and I eat better. I take my supplements. I treat myself to an early bedtime and arise with my body clock, no alarm.

I spend a lot more time hanging with my kids, Muna and Njeeh. 

I buy fewer things. 

I play the piano. 

I created a disciplined routine for my work and take Thursdays off. 

You catch my drift…

Wholesome has become my lifestyle. 

(By the way, I was asked, ‘Where does this word-of-the-year come from, Bett?’ I don’t know about other people but for me, the words present themselves when I’m journaling. My spirit tells me what it needs; I must be still enough to listen and brave enough to obey.)

My word for 2023 is Overdrive.

My two books have unlocked new opportunities for me as a writer and creative. As an urban brand. I’d honestly not foreseen them. 

I know that if I adjust my sails to where the wind is blowing, these opportunities will translate to wealth.

Last Friday, I listed all the work I’m already doing and all the new opportunities – potential and realised – knocking at my door.

I asked myself, ‘What am I taking up here and what am I dropping?’

The response, ‘None – we go into overdrive and smartly pursue them all.’

#craftit #urbanguide
  • Years ago, my best friend said to me, ‘Bett, we’re almost 40 – forget makeup, let’s take care of our skin instead.’

I had to laugh because this was coming from Terry. Terry my Kisii pal, this fine gyal with skin the colour of honey, the only practising SDA in my circle. 

Terry had spent her 20s and early 30s sleek with Arimis. That’s right, the milking jelly with a lactating cow on its logo. 

Arimis addressed all her skin pickles back then. It was her problem fixer. Her Olivia Pope. It’s the one thing that always said, It’s handled.

Now here she was preaching to us about a consistent skincare regimen in the AM and PM.


It wasn’t until Terry shared her selfies on our girls WhatsApp group that I stopped laughing. It wasn’t until we stood next her – and took these selfies – that I reeally stopped laughing: Terry’s skin was youthful and toned, plump. Hydrated. Moistured but not shiny. 

It looked like it had been kissed by the Greek goddess of radiance. 

So we gathered around her feet and said, ‘Forgive us, master. We are ready now. Teach us everything you know.’

She did. 

Terry and I now spend plenty of time before work and before bed squeezing out little portions of expensive skincare products from expensive tubes, we layer them on our face in a calculated measure.

This serum here is for the circles under my eyes and the fine lines around my mouth.

Turns out I’ve been giving away too much of my face: I’ve been looking too hard, laughing too easily.

I’ll have to spend the next year into my 40s with my eyes half shut and laughing little. I'll have a resting bitch face.

Don’t blame me, blame the retinol.

And age.

#craftit #urbanguide #urbangirl
  • I’m Bett. I’m the author of your favourite books about money. I’m hosting an in-person event in March, Inshallah: This is my personal invite to you.

#craftit #moneymaker #moneyinkenya
  • I am hosting my first money event this March, Inhsallah. It’s the first of quarterly events I have planned for the year. 

(Give me a moment here so I pull myself together long enough to write this. I’m smiling very hard right now, ha-ha, I look like a donkey.)


The event will be in-person. On a Saturday morning, a loose three hours which, I am certain, you’d have burned on some other pursuit you couldn’t account for later. (I’d probably be oiling the hinges of a squeaky door or decluttering my sock drawer.)

My guest host for this edition is Lynet Kyalo. 

Lynet is a personal finance coach under her brand @financialfitbit She also hosts @getyourbagrightpodcast 

Buy your tickets from our Market.

Early bird tickets are discounted until the end of this month.

Limited slots available. 

#craftit #millenialmoney #moneyevent #moneymaker
  • Sometimes I sit down and read my own book. 

Odd, huh?

Reading my own stories is like an out-of-body experience. Or getting introduced to myself again. An outward journey inward.

It’s fascinating.

I also read because I need to improve my writing for my next project.

We call them the Elements of Craft: things like sentence structure and punctuation, word placement, story length etc, they all inform your reading experience.

This is what makes the book easy to read, and has you turning the pages.

Cop your autographed copy and #betteryourmoney 

#craftit #howmuch #millenialmoney #moneymaker

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