In "The Ex-mas Feast", a large family living in a Nairobi shanty goes about daily living, while making small adjustments for the holiday. It opens:
"Now that my eldest sister, Maisha, was twelve, none of us knew how to relate to her anymore. She had never forgiven out parents for not being rich enough to send her to school. She had been behaving like a cat that was going feral: she came home less and less frequently, staying only to change her clothes and give me some money to pass on to our parents."
Although the family has very little, money is being raised to send eight year old Jigana, the eldest son and narrator of the story, to school. The children go out begging with Baby in tow, Maisha sells herself on the street, while their father steals wrapped gifts and trades them for food. The children sniff kabire in an effort to deaden the pain of an empty stomach.
Although difficult to read at times, the story is told with remarkable humanity. A touching part of the holiday ritual involves naming all dead or lost family members. Later, when young Atieno is shivering, her father "stuck her head through the biggest hole in the middle of our blanket. That was our way of ensuring that the family member who most needed warmth maintained his place in the center of the blanket."
My knowledge of modern Africa, as well as my experience with African-American literature, is limited. Reading the rest of the stories (two are long enough to be considered novellas) over the next several weeks, will surely help increase my understanding.
Thank you Frances (Nonsuch Book) for sending this amazing book my way.
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