Kenyan/african griot Cynthia Abdallah writes a poetic memoir When Rivers Say Goodbye: A pre-publication critical review by Mbizo Chirasha

Cynthia Abdallah writes a poetic memoir, a personally versified narrative, a precise, traditionally-internalized message. She embroiders a poetic memoir to the land of her birth, a birthmark-like literary statement to her homeland, to her father (daughter of the village), to her grandmother, father, mountains, Masai-Mara pastures, rivers and the fire-hearth that buried her umbilical cord, not having buried her physical self but her spiritual self. The nostalgic poetic narrative is justified by the title of the book itself. When rivers say goodbye, is an ironic phrase which exhibits the intimate relationship between the author and her ancestral tribe, land, heritage, spirit, and soil. It is a statement demonstrating the realities of human transition up the ladders of life, when the girlchild/author/poet/writer/chronicler Cynthia Abdallah waves goodbye to her people, her Masai Mara pastures, and the graves of her ancestors, leaving like a migrant bird to other climes beyond the Kenyan/Masai Mara horizons. It is her maturation from being a young stream to a mature river that separates itself from the land where its source starts to another land  where the mouth begins. The collection is a journey motif, a transition. It is a signal of physical, mental, and professional growth, the migration from childhood proximity into maturity and into diaspora — the poet is an educationer, writer, and artist born in Masai Mara Kenya who now lives in Venezuela, a place next to Cuba, the land of the Communist ideologists Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.

The book prologues with Abdallah s dreams of her ancestors, her father, and her grandmother. It is like a letter to her motherland,

My father used to hold his Maasai whip in a tight grip, His scathing eyes scaring our little souls into unwavering obedience.

He kept his arms close to his chest and spoke with an extended finger His head tilted slightly to his left

His shoulders rocking from side to side He worked days and sometimes nights,

And every so often brought home a small package in his hands

A simple grin plastered on his serious face.

35 years on and my father now smiles with his eyes His once youthful face a haven of wrinkles

His intimidating demeanor replaced by a tiny shell He hugs us when we arrive after months

And sometimes years of being away and tells us stories of his life in Turbo,

Usually rivers separate, but for this literary package, the title is juxtaposed as parallel to the content and the message within. The messages here are of belonging, African patriotism, cultural identity, and the semantics of motherland. The literature here does not refer to separation, goodbyes, getaways or dismantlement but of remaining, of intactness, of relation, of cultural intimacy. Abdallah’s poetry is a resilient memory of homeland, a dedicated emotion to Masai Mara’s humankind, a love-letter to Africa-land. It is an epistle to ancestors of fatherland. The African princess, the African poetess patriot griot just crossed the African, swollen river onto another mighty river of some other eastern climes and again she weaves so passionately messages to home for the love of her homeland. Her writings are internalized, spiritualized and dedicated to the rites, beliefs and fires of home. When rivers say goodbye is a nostalgic diary – a poetic narrative of self, a memoir of verses of the land of birth by a poet not wholely lost, but in the mist of  diasporic cultures. The poet is cultural ideologist, a mesmerizing African poet patriot of this great land of the river Nile, Nefertiti, Kenyatta, kambarage and Masai Mara.

Beyond steep hills of Mlimani and railway tracks cutting across Turbo

Behind mountains overlooking thick forests where the Nzoia flows

Into large basins of the Victoria and hawks fly about on farms

Resting on thick mounds of dung. Afar from the city of cool waters and Pentecost shrines

A woman kneels Crying to the heavens Holding her bosom

The siginificance of When rivers say goodbye is that it is weaved by an author born in east Africa of  Kirinyaga, of Kenyatta and of Kambarage and currently living in the land of Hugo Chavez, a staunch revolutionary, political cousin of the great Fidel Castro. Most African countries are born from a politically-motivated revolution, inspired by the struggles of Castroism, chavezism, and socialism. They are revolutionary nuggets of socialist-communist -nationalist-Marxist-Leninist ideologies. Kenya is one such political, ideological, revolutionary symbol of a country birthed out of such revolutions ,and now it is the birthright of the poet Cynthia Abdallah. When rivers say goodbye is not only a paradox but a symbol of hope, a character of home, an ideological statement, a sub-literary contentment, a father to daughter relationship, a poet/griot/ earthborn connection. There are no rivers who wave goodbye to each other when they are not related, rivers say that when they are related they are emotionally and ideologically connected. The fact is that rivers begin where another ends, or end where another commences. Like humans, rivers are generational and ancestral. It is a fact that there some rivers that are born out White Nile/Blue-Nile, Zambezi, Limpopo, Pongola or Garurep.

To the mall and into the apple store .The toilet and its stinky odor

The disco with its magnificent flashing lights To the church

where the portrait of Mary stares School and its

dusty playgrounds New city with

the historic Mau Mau sculptures The ocean and its blue waters

The dry lands with beautiful mirages The kitchen where the empty is filled

When rivers say goodbye is a symbol, a vivid image and a poignant metaphor. It is a satire of birthright and moral character, paradox of belonging, a juxtaposition of maturity/separation, growth/childhood. It is an ideological statement, a passionate epistle, a letter to grandmother/ grandfather/father/homeland/motherland and to the lush pastures of Masai Mara. When rivers say goodbye is symbolism, one river that says goodbye is Cynthia Abdallah the author of this book, and the other river is her birthland, or the land she is living now in diaspora.

Author of When Rivers say goodbye (Cynthia Abdallah is a Kenyan author, poet and filmmaker.
Her work has appeared in numerous online magazines and in print.
Poems: in The Tokyo Poetry Journal-JapanKenya, Ake review, Kwani Uchaguzi edition 8– Quailbell Magazine-USA, Bodies, and Scars anthology by Ghana Literary Journal.
Short stories: Kalahari Review-Kenya, Nalubaale Review -Uganda, Active Muse-India, IHRAF, Women narratives on power USA, 2021.)

Reviewer Mbizo Chirasha:
Founder of Writing Ukraine Prize, Publisher  at Time of the Poet Republic, Curator at WomaWords Literary Press, 2020 Poet in Residence of the Fictional Cafe, UNESCO-RILA Affiliate Artist (Glasgow
University School of Education). 2020 Free-Speech Fellow / Writers in Exile(PEN Germany and Foundation of Free-Speech). 2019 African Felllow for African Contributor to (USA). Monk Arts and Soul Magazine( UK). Author of A Letter to the President, Pilgrims of Zame. Co-Authored Whispering Woes of Ganges and Zambezi, Co-Edited Corpses of Unity, Second Name of the Earth is Peace, Street Voices (all African, German and English Anthology), Edited Voices of Africa: A Call for Freedom Anthology, a PanAfrican Ihraf based writivism Project. Mbizo Chirasha works as Festivals Live Literature Producer, Literary Arts Activism Diplomatie, Writivism Projects Curator, Visiting Editor at Large, African Writing Associate, Visiting Writer and Poet in Residence

You can as well find this critical review at Aloka Magazine,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s