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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Sweetest Babishai: Homage to Haiku Edition

Spoken word artiste Oswald Okaitei regales the audience at the Maisha Gardens in Kampala, Uganda, on day two of the third Babishai Poetry Festival, which ran from August 4-6. Backing him up is guitarist Caesar Obong.
Spoken word artiste Oswald Okaitei regales the audience at the Maisha Gardens in Kampala, Uganda, on day two of the third Babishai Poetry Festival, which ran from August 4-6. Backing him up is guitarist Caesar Obong.

Poetry leapt off the page and lit up the stage amid therapeutic wilderness and children’s dreams, before Kenyan Kariuki wa Nyamu fended off fierce competition from Nigerians to win the inaugural Haiku prize

SWEET escape from the fumes and the noise of the city

Into the freshness and sereneness of Mother Nature

For what better way to awaken the poet within

Than to walk through the heart of Mabira forest

As Babishai 2017 beckons you to be wild and free

SWEET serenade by a choir of birds and crickets

A monkey swings away as if chasing a cheating wife

A giant black millipede coils up at a nagging touch

Red ants aim for the highest point of friendship with a girl

Before you can say “Ouch!” she has vented in a poem

SWEET healing from the juices of tree roots and barks

They cure malaria, some cancers and even impotence

But who will treat the sickness of Musamia river?

Falling as it flees from a factory force-feeding it foulness

It breaks a poet’s heart how brown its teeth have become

SWEET sounds of the guitar at the Ugandan Arts Trust

A thousand voices rise to belt out boda boda anthems

Taking you on a matatu tour from the old taxi park

The African Poetry Library waves at you and shouts

“Don’t be a passenger without a voice!”

SWEET installation of artwork on paper panels

By an artist in residency passionate about migration

Words, quotes, calendar and broken mirrors

Induce deep meditation and varied interpretations

Before she recites with emphasis, “We are one people!”

SWEET stroll through the grassy slopes of Maisha Garden

Grab a ‘Rolex’ and enjoy a kabaka’s view of Lake Victoria

Then listen to drums and harps at the amphitheatre

As the hunter who doesn’t carry a gun is preyed on by a poetess

And a seated poet prompts repeated cries of “Tontoma!”

SWEET this and that from the little angels at the Uganda Museum

Miserably poor in one act, boisterously rich in the next one

You’ve got to admire their confidence on stage!

They dash here and there in a frantic treasure hunt

And mingle-mingle with you as they dare to dream

SWEET lessons from two leading poets in workshops

From free-styling forgotten lines and costuming on stage

To studying your audience — don’t perform erotica in church!

Beba beba chanters, waragi bingers, professional mourners wax lyrical

Don’t just capture the poetry in English; give mother tongue a chance

SWEET culmination at the dinner in Humura Resort

As spoilt poets confuse the African woman with high school love

Until she begs them to “free me” or sieve their passions

And after the human right to a full stomach is discussed

A Haiku prize awarding leaves the winner “lost for words”

TO be at one with nature and inspired by the communion

To meet talented minds and expand your literary circle

To see the faces behind great books and get their autographs

To learn from the best and watch tomorrow’s stars shine young

Sweet does not begin to describe the whole experience


Dedicated to the organisers of the annual festival, led by its founder Beverley Nambozo, and the many poets and lovers of poetry who attended the event

Tom Jalio is an editor by day, writer by night, runner part-time. He won the Babishai Poetry Award in 2014 with There was once something special here ( and has since then been a Poetry Ambassador, judging at the Kampala Toastmasters Challenge and reporting on the Poetry Slam Africa ( His short story, No rest for the wicked ( appeared in the 2013 anthology Nairobi Grit, while his passion for running is captured in The other side of the Nairobi Stanchart Marathon ( His other notable works include Mama Africa gives birth to poetry ( and King’s Worst Slayers ( A quiet boy beneath a loud hat, Jalio lets his writing do the talking. His work is compiled at

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