The sun was nowhere to be seen. And in spite of a few hints of clouds, the darkness had yet to make its appearance. Which was typical of evenings in the Central part of Kenya. I had just come from school, changed from my light blue, checked school uniform into my play clothes, and eaten my pre-dinner snack. I sat by our veranda peering at the birds in the sky, while simultaneously wondering why I was home alone. 

Being home alone was not out of the ordinary. It usually meant that both my mother and grandmother were elsewhere. Most likely at the marketplace, chapel, or at a family friend's place. Although, their absence was short lived, I could not help but to brood about my alone-ness. 

My desperate need for company prompted me to make my way to my neighbour's house, which was a barbed wire fence away.  I reasoned that my mum was most likely in the farmer's market, which per usual would take a long while. The fence compromised of two separate lengths of barbed wire which were so far apart, that I was able to crawl between them. I managed to get my petite body to the other side unscathed. But then again, I had done it so many times before, that it would have been ridiculous had I not mastered it by then.

On the other side, lived a woman with her three kids, and her electrician of a husband who visited occasionally since he worked and lived in the big city, Nairobi. Two of her daughters were my age mates. In a short amount of time, we had become friends. We played, ate, and studied together. And when I could, I would lend them my school textbooks since they could not afford them. In return, their father would fix our electronics. My electric piano's extension cord being a perfect example. 

Per usual, we began to play as soon as we were around each other. It was not until we our an hour in our playtime that we were interrupted by my mum. She had come looking for me, since the gate was left unlocked, yet there was no one home. My absence was not worrying in the least bit. As a child, I was infamous for running away from home in the name of adventure. So in all honesty, my mother was accustomed to my escapist shenanigans. Others, not so much.

My godparents had come to wish me an early 10th birthday. They had brought a gift along with them. Shortly before, they had received a call from my mother explaining that she was on her way home, but they would be sure to find me. And to their dismay, I was nowhere to be  found, which set them into an array of panic. Luckily, my mother arrived in due time, and she knew where to find me.

As soon as I set foot in our military green coloured, rustic house-which was one of many located in the gated community by the name of Blue Valley- I was greeted by my godparents. They were a couple in their late 40s and early 50s who owned one of the few businesses that managed to stay afloat in our semi urban town. Not only were they renowned for their impeccable entrepreneurial skills,  they were esteemed for their generosity. They were the kind of people to appear to every fundraiser, wedding, funeral etc. You name it, they would make an effort of showing up. If not they would make up for their absence. So I was not completely surprised when they gifted me with my first novel, Nancy Drew: The Case of The Vanishing Veil. 

That mystery book, written by Carolyn Keene, quickly became one of my favourite material gifts. At first, I found it to be a challenging read because of what I perceived to be advanced vocabulary. But still, I got so engulfed in it. I developed the habit of marvelling at the partly purple cover, and running my fingers along the pages trying to keep up with Nancy's sleuthing along with her friends, Bess and George. 

Although it was my first novel, it was not my first read. As a matter of fact, by age ten I was an avid  reader due to the fact that I began to read as early as the age of three. Before I fell in love with writing, there was reading. And reading has and will always be my first love. Growing up, my favourite reads compromised of the Ladybird storybooks including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, and many more. Also, I read a lot of East African folklore especially the kind about ogres, and why things are so. My favourite had to be the story of rain. Not only did it creatively rationalize why it rains, it also featured an ogre as one of the main characters.

Slowly but surely, I transitioned from reading what is considered Children's Literature to Young Adult novels. By the time we moved to Finland, I had established a friendship like no other with books. I would sneak off to the library when I should have been socializing. I felt as though the comfort and familiarity books gave me was incomparable to my attempts of making friends.

Hence why I fell in love with Angel Cake by Cathy Cassidy. A book featuring a protagonist, Anja, who moves from Poland to Britain. Like myself, she was encountering a culture that was different from her own. Through the book, I got the chance to see someone else navigating through culture shock, and pre-teen woes. Angel Cake marked the beginning of my long time affair with the Young Adult genre. 

Through the course of my teenage years, I turned to fiction to help me comprehend the ways of the world. My to-read list consisted of a variety of authors. At first, I gravitated towards British authors the likes of Jaqueline Wilson, Jenny Downham, and Malory Blackman. After developing a liking towards American authors, I began to accommodate their titles in my to-read list as well. For instance Sarah Dessen, Katie McGary, Jamie McGuire, and many more.

In addition, my choice of books was being heavily influenced by the fleeting phases that come with adolescence. One of them being death. I have no simple answer as to why but death fascinated me to a point my friends were getting concerned. Another one being dystopian society. As soon as my 7th grade English teacher introduced the genre to the class, I was hooked. It is not until I turned  sixteen that my choice in books changed, drastically.  

After watching an insightful TED Talk, where the speaker shared her experience of trying to broaden her choice of books by including more translated titles to her bookshelf, I was inspired to do so as well. It actually dawned on me that here I was as a proud Kenyan, and an African. Yet I had not made a conscious effort to indulge in African Literature. But soon enough that was no longer a problem. With the help of the internet, I came up with a list of including the works of Chimamanada Ngozi, Lola Shoyein, Ngugi Wa Thiongo etc.

Although I was making an attempt to immerse myself in as many distinct books from the list as possible, the amounts of times I was reading declined. Not only was the accessibility of books an issue, but trying to settle into high school life had dragged me by my edges. I was struggling to prioritize the time to read. Not to mention, getting a smartphone had messed up my ability to concentrate. #FirstWorldProblems.

With time, it got a lot worse than I could have ever imagined. I barely made time for reading, and when I did, completing a 300 paged book proved to be a challenge. This mere fact is was saddening to me because for the longest time, reading had become and was an integral part of my identity. There is a tweet by @BreyBreyBoo I came across on my Twitter timeline, which perfectly articulates my thoughts. It reads the following:

Reading books was a part of my identity when I was younger. It was something I was known for and praised for doing. But now I do not read almost at all unless it's for English class so it feels like a part of me died :(. 

Like the person simply put it, Adults and my peers made it known that my bibliophilic tendencies were admirable. I myself took immense pride in being well read. However, praise was not the reason I took to reading in the first place. I sought solace in books, as a child, pre-teen, and a teenager, because they always came through for me. They served as a safe haven for me where I was able to get a glimpse of the ways of the world, without having to personally live through it. Because of reading, I was able to travel to as many places as possible, and meet as many characters as possible. So truly, I do feel as though a part of me is missing. But not if I can help it. 

With that said, I am not ready to give up on reading just yet. That is why I have decided to get back in the saddle. I am giving it another go because I have chosen to not take part in a world without books. As I said, reading has and will always be my first love. Besides, a world without books, is as dull as the night sky without the stars. 


Photography || Priscilla Osei

Here is to reading more books!