The Collector of Worlds

Anyo­ne remem­bers Bin­ya­van­ga’s com­ment on “Nai­ro­bi peop­le living in two dif­fe­rent worlds?”. It is so true. Again and again.

The­re was this public rea­ding (orga­ni­zed by the Ger­man Cul­tu­ral Cent­re (Goe­the-Insti­tut) & the Ger­man Depart­ment @ Uni­ver­si­ty of Nai­ro­bi) by Ili­ja Tro­ja­now and Bin­ya­van­ga Wai­nai­na at the Goe­the Audi­to­ri­um (@ Maen­de­leo ya Wana­wa­ke House — used to be one of Nai­ro­bi’s tal­lest buil­dings in the 1970s!) on Thurs­day evening. They joint­ly read pas­sa­ges in Ger­man and Eng­lish from a new book by Ili­ja Tro­ja­now about Sir Richard Fran­cis Bur­ton, a “Mec­ca pil­grim and world tra­vel­ler” (btw, Bur­ton also intro­du­ced the first edition/translation of the Indian Kama­su­tra books to the UK among other sto­ries). Ili­ja wro­te a bio­gra­phi­cal novel aptly tit­led “Der Wel­ten­samm­ler” (The Collec­tor of Worlds) on R.F.Burton — a man who was just as mys­te­rious and sort of mul­ti­cul­tu­ral cos­mo­po­li­tan as the aut­hor hims­elf. Someo­ne who kept track of his Wan­der­lust and never real­ly stuck to a place. But whe­re­as Bur­ton’s wife even­tual­ly bur­ned all his dia­ries, Tro­ja­now has been an acti­ve publis­her and pro­mo­ter of books. I like Ili­ja’s pic­tures­que style of describ­ing situa­tions, and how he mana­ges to com­bi­ne all the­se dif­fe­rent worlds under one roof by using dif­fe­rent cha­rac­ters / per­spec­ti­ves in his book.

I had read about this event in the Dai­ly Nati­on on Tues­day and instant­ly knew it would be a per­fect chan­ce to meet some old friends at the GI. Ili­ja used to be a stu­dent @ the Ger­man School in Nai­ro­bi way back in the 1970s/80s and has sin­ce then often retur­ned to the coun­try. He’s a third cul­tu­re kid like most of us out here in the blo­gos­phe­re (all Nai­ro­bi­ans are to some extent, ama?) and seems to have an under­stan­ding of the cul­tu­re in the colo­ni­al East Afri­ca and how to descri­be it in his book through the eyes of Bur­ton. An inte­res­ting story.

I think it is against this back­ground that made him wri­te a novel on such a con­tro­ver­si­al cha­rac­ter Bur­ton was. And of cour­se the Arab + East Afri­can con­nec­tion: Tro­ja­now recent­ly  accep­ted (not: con­ver­ted to!) the Islam as his reli­gi­on becau­se parts of his fami­ly alrea­dy share that belie­ve (and for other, much more inti­ma­te rea­sons which he dis­c­lo­sed in other inter­views online. Rea­sons that make me under­stand this rather unusu­al, but very moti­va­ted move) . Bur­ton dis­gui­sed as a Mus­lim pil­ger in order to go on a pil­grimage to Mec­ca (he even recei­ved a cir­cumcisi­on to ful­ly pre­pa­re for the pil­grimage!) — some­thing Tro­ja­now also achie­ved (~ get­ting a visa for Sau­di Ara­bia) by living with the Deo­ban­di in India for some time.


Bin­ya­van­ga and Ili­ja are two very dif­fe­rent cha­rac­ters who — in my opi­ni­on — have come around and have an under­stan­ding for the cos­mo­po­li­tan con­text (both lived in SA, btw). An abi­li­ty which is nee­ded to descri­be situa­tions — I guess you have to be some sort of collec­tor to aggre­ga­te impressions/worlds and ima­gi­ne them in your head befo­re you can put them down in words. After all, it’s just not the beau­ty of the lan­guage that attracts peop­le to read, but the way the­se worlds are com­bi­ned / arran­ged and descri­bed using appro­pria­te words. Both aut­hors know how to do this — and have found their rea­ders here and elsewhere.


Tal­king of B.Wainaina — Kwa­ni? #4 will be out soon and hope­ful­ly avail­ab­le for the christ­mas mar­ket. All Ken­yan­Tou­rists (KTs) abroad should serious­ly think about get­ting their copy this time. Kwa­ni #1,#2 & #3 have alrea­dy been a suc­cess sto­ry and recei­ved with gre­at inte­rest by the public. Obvious­ly, I could­n’t resist from asking both aut­hors about a pos­si­ble future coope­ra­ti­on, and the idea isn’t so far fetched…Kwani isn’t Wai­nai­na’s only pro­ject — he told us about his 2nd (own) book which needs to be finis­hed soon. Good luck!

Going to such events also inclu­des mee­ting new people…new worlds…new sto­ries. The­re’s this jamaa by the name of Bern­hard we met tonight who came all the way from Ger­ma­ny to Kenya to do an internship at Ken­yat­ta Hos­pi­tal in Nai­ro­bi. Free of char­ge! Ok, the­re’s a scho­l­ar­s­hip that pays for his expen­ses, but nevertheless — most of you can easi­ly ima­gi­ne what it takes to work at Ken­yat­ta Hos­pi­tal. Bern­hard told me that he also blogs his expe­ri­en­ces. In any case: respect, bro!

Final­ly: Wel­co­me home, Kui! (<= I would like to put a smi­ley here..)

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