Why I Write: About Kenya & Typhoid

I’ve gotten a handful of questions about my recent short story release, Wanakufa, and I feel like that makes it the prime subject of my next installment of ‘Why I Write’.  I promise this one won’t be quite so heavy as the last. In fact, the story that Wanakufa is based off of is one of my personal favorites to tell people when I am getting to know them. I mean, who else can say that they’ve not only gotten to go to Kenya, but got a deadly disease and still made it out alive? I’ve been surprised at the amount of people who automatically assume from the story’s subject that Wanakufa is a period piece, as if typhoid is something people can’t possibly get anymore.  If nothing else, it tends to be a good conversation starter.

But if I’m being honest, it is something else. Something much more than just a ‘conversation starter’. It was a moment in time  that changed my life in so many ways. Not that I didn’t expect that- 17 years old, bright eyed and bushy tailed on my first mission trip overseas with a small group of young people similarly on fire to change the world in the name of Christ (yes, I am unapologetically Roman Catholic). We were tasked with helping to build a well for a small village in Kakamega. Our guide, at the time a professor of African History in Colorado, had been born in our host village- we’d be building a second well several hours away. Our trip to that village was the first time he’d seen his hometown since the death of his beloved mother. We entered that community to the sounds of a stirring memorial.

reception

It was that kind of reception that hit me the hardest, and would stick with me for the duration of our stay. Here I was, expecting some sort of wild joy to receive us. Some kind of acknowledgement that we, the Americans, were there to make their lives better. And yet, that didn’t matter to them until after the memorial was finished. More important was the welcoming home of their prodigal son. More important was the completion of a mourning that had been missing an integral piece for too many years. I am ashamed to admit now, years after the fact, that I felt upstaged for the briefest of moments. Uncomfortable, even. Ever since, I have pinpointed that moment of my own awakening to the awareness of my own privilege and the ways that it hurt people down to the bone. Of my own colonialist attitude, of the racist society I had been raised in and the self-absorbed way in which I had been dreaming of conducting my own skewed sense of social justice.

 

Which is not to say that I was all of a sudden enlightened, no. I still have so much more to learn. It has only been through years of fever dreams and obsessive remembrance of my time in Kakamega that have even brought me to this point- the point of attempting to write down my own process of growth in order to continue the dialogue through storytelling. I don’t want to ruin too much of the story, but I can safely admit that the story does closely mirror my own experience of contracting typhoid during my stay. (I couldn’t stand not shaving my legs because it was part of my routine and so I did, nicked myself, and let tainted water directly into my bloodstream, stupidly enough). The story was born from that experience, though the details and the ending might be a little different.

So why write it? Why not just leave it to talk about at gatherings for shock value? Because I felt like there was something in that experience that I needed to work out- namely, my own guilt over the attitude I had taken going into the mission trip. The arrogance that I had had to assume that I a) had any strength to offer our host village that they did not already have and b) that I could bring Christ to them any better than they could already feel Him. I also wanted to admit to both myself and the world how othering I had been from the outset, and how it had taken nearly dying to make myself truly, and not just cosmetically, accept my host village as family. And how sad it is for the world as a whole that white colonialism, and the attitudes born from it still alive and well today, continue to hurt a people who have their own rich cultures and voices. It’s a story that wants to say “I was wrong to be so arrogant, and I had no right. I came here, guns blazing, into someone elses’ family, thinking I was stronger than all of this, and now I’m about to die of a sickness most of our host family have had multiple times since they were children though the rest of the world considers it ‘ancient’, and I might never get to see my family again. And I might deserve that.” The story is fixated on longing and human closeness, and an insecurity in the face of death that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake.

I thank God every day for that humbling experience, and for the further humbling experience of having to learn even more about it through writing it down in fictional memoir style. It is one of my hopes that this story, this ‘confession’ of mine, if you will, will lead to learning even more about how I can put aside old ways of seeing the world, and be able to truly work towards a better way of being. This is all I am capable of saying- admitting my past shortcomings- and now, I must prepare myself to listen.

The Covers That Almost Were

One of the most fun parts of the authoring process has to be the making of covers for novels/ stories. I tend to do a lot of it in my spare time, just for kicks and giggles. So when I get to the part of publishing where I actually get to banter back and forth with my editors about what kind of cover is going to be used, I get rather excited.

To give you a hint of that- here is a peek at some of the ‘covers that almost were’ for my last publication (from last week), the short story Wanakufa:

samplecover1

samplecover2

face

Pretty neat, huh? Each of the different covers highlighted a different aspect of the story. We went with the one with the jaundiced eye because, well… maybe you should read the story for yourself to find out 😉

A Gripping Tale of Ancient Disease in Modern Africa

The first review of my first published short story, Wanakufa, is a five star! Here is what Frank Kryza, author of The Race for Timbuktu: In Search of Africa’s City of Gold, has to say about it:

 

Elizabeth Rose has written a riveting, if stomach tightening, account of a young American missionary’s encounter with third-world health problems in Kakamega, Kenya. Mirrored (I’m guessing) on Elizabeth Rose’s personal experiences in East Africa, the fictional heroine, Julia, is an outgoing, pretty, talented, and very giving high school senior who has journeyed to Kenya to improve the lives of her fellow Roman Catholics living there in near-squalor.

Though she expected (and finds!) all manner of inconvenience and hardship, she did not expect to encounter typhoid, an ancient killer so foreign to the developed world that few, if any, cases are reported in North America today. Whether Elizabeth Rose has taken a ride on this scary roller coaster herself, or whether she has merely done very excellent research, is immaterial. Her narrative grabs you in the first few paragraphs and won’t let you down until the very end.

Having spent five years in Kenya myself, I can attest to the authenticity of Elizabeth Rose’s evocation of that country. Her vision of East Africa, told in clear, tight sentences, rang true to me.
This is fabulous early work by a gifted and promising young writer. Highly recommended. Let’s hope we soon see more from her.

 

Thank you so much, Mr. Kryza! I can answer that the story does in fact mirror my own experiences in the summer of 2010. It means a lot to have the story read and enjoyed by someone else who has witnessed firsthand the beauty of Kenya for themselves.

New Publication: A Short Story

My short story, Wanakufa, is now available from eLectio publishing. Download it from their bookstore for .99!

wanakufafinalcover

Here’s the blurb:

In the impoverished village of Kakamega, Kenya, seven missionaries from Colorado arrive to dig wells, pray, and share the culture of the indigenous Luhya tribe. Along for the ride is Julia, a senior in high school hoping to leave her own mark on the world through her service in Christ’s name. Little does she know, she will bring more to this trip than she will ever realize.

 

She is Wanakufa. Dying.

I Can Say It Officially…

My short story, Wanakufa, has been acquired for electronic publication by eLectio publishing. The story recounts a young girl named Julia attempting to come to terms with falling deathly ill in a foreign country. Facing a crisis of faith in both God and the beauty of men, Julia begins to understand what it means to truly enjoy what could be your last moments. The title, Wanakufa, means ‘Dying’ in Swahili.

I’ll be keeping everyone posted with more details as I get them, but for now, the contract has been signed and the title has been announced as upcoming through the press’ newsletter. You should probably head over to their website now and subscribe to their newsletter, check out some of their other work while waiting for Wanakufa to come out! I’m very honored to be added to their growing list of highly talented authors!