A Night in Ham: by Karest Lewela

Photo credit: Afoma Umesi | ihundasmusings.com

We were driving through modern day darkness. The kind caused by dim street lamps and forgotten headlights. Light has always been relative and coming from a dark club with intermittent neon lights, darkness had taken on a different meaning. Playing slow music induces an artificial lethargy after hours of high tempo techno music. We were headed home but there had been no discussion whose home it would be and whether it was only the journey to be shared or additionally the destination. It happens that when the attraction is mutual the boundaries are harder to navigate. Negotiation loses its rugged edge and defaults to interlocking mechanisms dependent on spontaneous willingness of two lost souls. In the lack of clarity pointless conversation fills the void.

So I found myself trying to explain platonic to this girl from Thessaloniki. It would appear strange that an Ouagalais born and bred to appreciate all things francophone would be prophesying fluency in another foreign concept purely based from my perception that my command of the English language was superior to hers. She staring into oblivion, seemingly unappreciative of the conversation, was quick to quip that it all sounded like Descartes’ cosmological arguments. She didn’t want to go home any more. All the driving around, which I hoped she hadn’t noticed, had made her unsettled. She wanted to go somewhere quiet. I suggested the lakeside as I knew it would be dawn soon. In a night with few stars a sunrise is never a gamble.

As soon as we got there, she got out and sat on the bonnet with her back to me. I sat in the car and reflected on how beautiful I thought she was. I thought of beauty as a dimension and in its construction it appeared to me that staring at her back was quite revealing in itself. Though I could not see her face, I could imagine it, perhaps as I had seen it. An illusion represents a static picture that by its interpretation does not allow for its correction. She was always going to be beautiful, to me. It was a useless fact because in its knowledge none of us were better for it.

I turned on the car stereo and she walked back into the car and rested her head on my chest. She then asked, “What’s the worst you can be?” I said “Hamstrung”.


I met Kinje at Brussels Airport, we were both on transit to London. We had both been staring at a poster that said A Thief Blends In. In my mind it sounded like career advice from an association or trade union of petty thieves, some call to honour a professional code of conduct. To Kinje, that kind of message at the airport was enough to get him worried. In the small print there was an explanation that “thieves looked like you and me”. It was a call for distrust, not caution. Coming from Dar, he was keen to leave the environment as quickly as possible. Unfortunately he was having trouble locating his boarding gate – this was his first international flight.

He introduced himself in a language he later clarified to be Kiswahili. He said he thought I looked like a Kenyan. I didn’t know what to make of it so I asked for a clarification. He pointed to the poster and smiled. I retorted that stereotypes like that do not help anyone. He laughed from the belly, apologising and mentioning that the only reason he pointed to the poster was to drive his point home and not as a descriptor of Kenyan-ness. According to him, our being black Africans made it impossible for us to blend in at that airport hence he assumed that I wasn’t a thief. He also said he needed help from a brother.

I said I wasn’t Kenyan. He clarified that a certain brusqueness in my manner reminded him of Nairobi and the same applied to Brussels Airport. I was compelled to clarify my nationality to put the issue to rest. He said Ouagadougou sounded like kuaga ndugu which translated to bidding farewell to a brother. At which point we discovered we were both on the same flight and we tagged along together to the boarding gate.

At Heathrow we bid each other farewell, none of us richer about the other’s life experiences or forward journeys. He seemed mostly amused by this late August encounter.

I met her, the girl from Thessaloniki, at Ade’s house party in Ham. Ade is housemates with Amadou. Amadou and I spent glorious days studying economics at Université de Bamako in Amadou’s hometown. We credit all our ambition to this institution.

Amadou is like my brother in London, in Bamako he was my brother. The way that a society defines time defines the certainty of human relations. Where life is on a production line, say London, criteria lose fluidity and a brother becomes something genetically traceable. In Bamako where life is a series of random moments willed by faith to form a continuum, lunch time is inspired by hunger in the same way our times at the local pub never had anything to do with thirst, only decisiveness. In the same spirit, lunch time on a student’s budget was often not allocated to each day of the week – decisiveness ruled for only working with a satisficing level of meals as we had come to the conclusion that diminishing marginal utility on lunch was always at a higher rate to that of a drink at the pub.

At the house party I met Kinje for the first time since our shared flight to London. This time he was looking London-chic, with a beautiful lady by his side. After exchanging pleasantries, genuine ones at that, I reminded him that a thief blends in. He returned the compliment and said that London had clearly brought out the best of thieves in us. It was a complex joke, contextual even. Kinje introduced me to his girl, she said she was from Thessaloniki.

Later in the kitchen, brother to another brother, Kinje would admit he was afraid this relationship was turning too serious to allow him to enjoy London. He insisted that he was a firm believer of Ujamaa, and that a monogamous relationship takes away anyone’s contribution to society. At that point Ade, large and boisterous and out of context said to me: “Don’t use African philosophy to justify your infidelity, use it to contribute to multiculturalism”, at which point he guffawed and left our presence.

Kinje asked if I could help him out again, like a brother, like in Brussels. I told him not to be fooled by randomness and went to speak to the girl from Thessaloniki. We would all later go out that night to Revolution Club in Richmond and a number of others that I don’t recall.

With Pandora’s head on my chest, for that was the name of the girl from Thessaloniki, and Kinje nowhere in the vicinity, I tried to explain hamstrung. I said the fact that we could only express our attraction in a language foreign to both of us is hamstrung. I thought to myself that Kinje’s relationship with both of us, if that is how we must call it, made the situation hamstrung.

I said hamstrung meant that a thief blends in and by being out here away from our friends at the club meant that we were not thieves. As my last brotherly act, I kissed Pandora on the forehead and ruffled her Judas-coloured hair as the first act of unboxing.


Karest Lewela (@kklewela) is an avid believer in, and a passionate worker towards African Renaissance. He believes strongly that literature, music and philosophy are the primary components of culture and that a world view that integrates these three facets could be the ingredient that reimagines alternatives to current politico-economic models if social justice is to be attained. His idea of a glorious day is when Africa adopts herself as an aspirational frame of reference. He is a contributing poet and short story writer whose works have so far have received audience in publications such as Itch, Pambazuka News, Storymoja and Oxford University Press in East Africa. His research interests investigate the nexus of popular culture and human rights law.

Related countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Mali

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