- 2016/2017 apexart New York City (NYC) Fellow
- 2014 Winner Burt Award for African Literature, Kenya Chapter
- 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing nominee
- Ist Prize, Adult Fiction Category – NBDCK Literary Awards, September 2008 Book Week
- Written by Moraa Gitaa
Created: 30 September 2013
Shifting Sands is a narration by Kemunto aka Kemu to her three girlfriends. We follow the four young girls as they mature into young ladies on this adventure called life. It is interesting to see how their lives are intertwined from a young age given their different cultural backgrounds and upbringing. Kemu and Myra are Kenyan Africans while Shilpa is third-generation Kenyan Indian. On the other hand Latifah is third-generation Kenyan Arab who’s nationality is questioned at one time. Shifting Sand’s various strands of narratives are compelling and the result is an intriguing tale of enduring challenges of living a moral and ethical life. How will the four ladies friendship progress and survive?
Read an Excerpt
...I was visiting my ailing friend Myra whose health had taken a turn for the worse. As she took a nap I reminisced on our childhood and how we had learnt fast that in Africa coming from the wrong side of the tracks meant literally that; poverty and depravity. And actually a physical railway track always divides the classes. We would stare across the railway track that divided our dilapidated shacks that we called home at our hood in Mbaraki from the high-rise Kenya Ports Authority apartments and wonder if it was true that railway crossings in Africa are a preserve for djinns as their meeting points at midnight.
The only solace we had in the evenings after school was sneaking to the affluent Little Theatre Club and beg to be let in towards the end of a play as we never even once in our childhood had any money to pay for the entrance fee. …Myra had woken up suddenly and our eyes had met and locked fiercely in a time warp-like embrace. We were trying hard not to talk of her impending death yet she was on her death-bed and too far gone. I shivered at my morbid thoughts. Why do people avoid reminiscing when death beckons? I wonder. Is it because life expectancy in our country according to latest development indexes and statistics has gone down to forty eight? Instead of dwelling on death, I picked up Myra’s memory box from her bedside drawer. We both eagerly dipped our fingers into the soapstone box and dug out her old photo album. We flipped through faded photos of our childhood. The eighties. Black and white photos. Who ever said that a picture is worth a thousand words was spot on. In one almost decaying photo we are playing Gogo-Simo! And shouting, Tapo! Is that us with sisal ropes trying so hard to skip Double Dutch? There we are playing hop, skip and jump. And another playing Kati and Mama na Baba with Shilpa our Indian friend, her long silky ponytails dangling all the way down her back to her buttocks, looking odd as the only Indian girl in our all-African neighborhood. In one nursery school photo we are performing ‘Skip to my Lou,’ I almost subconsciously hear the children’s chants echo in Myra’s bedroom…I lost my partner what shall I do, I lost my partner what shall I do, I lost my partner what shall I do, skip to my lou my darling… There is our friend Latifah with her curly Arabic hair bunched atop her head like a halo and I suddenly remember that what she has gone through lately is not saintly at all! Unbelievable what photos preserve! God should have let us be and immortalized our now grown-up bones just as my papa had done when he snapped the lens of his camera and captured us on Polaroid for posterity. Tiny yet gangly limbs. Huge, dimpled and infectious grins. Oblivious of tomorrow and how we would be treated with contempt and opprobrium. I stare again at our childhood photos. Each photograph is like a ticket to the past; each revealing a special moment. I know that even though Myra is here with me now, the photos cannot be re-enacted. They cannot be reposed and the lens snapped again...
I love being held in the grip of this melancholy, but can’t figure out why these photos are so powerful beyond their obviously nostalgic tug…
‘‘Kemu, we were so giggly then, but like the shifting sands of the beach we love so much, our lives are about to change again.’’ Myra had interjected into my thoughts with a probing voice waiting for an answer. ‘‘Ummm...yeah Myra. It certainly looks like we were having lots of fun!’’ I’d replied evading her larger invitation to discuss her imminent death. As we had put away the album and shut the memory box, I had cringed at the disconnection from the events in the photos to the present and my sick girlfriend.
I suddenly knew why the photos had such a powerful effect on me; I wanted to be there again. To be in the photographs. To be in the past. To be a child with no care and responsibilities. To be in a time warp.
Instead of voicing my thoughts out aloud, I stand and slip into the music system’s CD player JayZ and Mr Hudon's current hit ‘I Wanna Be Forever Young.’ This song always brings tears to my eyes because it is so emotional…