The following is a tribute to Binyavanga Wainaina, written for his memorial service in Nairobi, which was held on 30 May 2019.


I think of first encounters

A word a glance a recognition

This here is where we make our family


Of conversation that leaps with alacrity

To the beating heart of a matter

Of ideas that begin as declaration

And – over time and distance

Whirlwind into a reality that births continental rift


I have an idea

What if we

Why don’t we

You have to

This is how


I think of the conjuring of maelstrom

It’s now early that next morning and still

Shapes are being drawn in widening concentrics

And triangulations that will leave no one behind

As long as they can imagine fast and furious to that finish line

That only you can yet see


This is how

We could

You have to

If we do this we will


I think of you, Binyavanga

Resplendent in electric coloured kaftan

Rainbow bleached hair

Manfully standing to my defence as your skirts swirled & your voice bellowed

That this one here is our own and I demand that you take more care

I think of an early Nairobi dawn taxi ride

Far out of your way to see me safely home


I think of a London doorstep & a woman

Who stopped in the street to take your hand

To say thank you, you saw me & I felt your gaze

And I heard you call out our name


I think of late evenings under skies at home and abroad

When you gathered us all together

This here is where we find family

Here, talk to this one and see what you will do

Here, go find this one and she will take the next steps with you

Here, bring these ones together and you will see what will happen


I have an idea

What if we

Why don’t we

This is how


I think of you calling me aside

Leaning over to whisper

What if I give this talk in my pink tutu

I really want to wear that skirt

And of shy delight and a twirl

Bare legs and golden shoes

And a challenge delivered to the capacity crowd

To do more and to do better and to be bolder and

To do all this together


What we need is

This is how

We could


I think of last attempts at conversation

When words, once our powerful arsenal, are now so hard to weave together

A loss incremental and relentless

We – those you once collected to yourself and guided to each other – find we are already beginning to gather the memory of you in anticipation

This is where we found family


And as I receive the news that you are departed

This palace of memories of  a brother who dared me

To fly just that much closer to catch the heat of the sun

Cascades and overwhelms


How do we

What should we

If we do it together could we


I think of a journey that snatches you

To be with those who have come before

The mothers and fathers who gave us being

The companions who departed along the way

The ancestors who sing your name in welcome and say come

From this place we will be together and watch over

And we will see what they will do.


Ellah Wakatama Allfrey

Devon, May 2019


Image courtesy of Ellah Wakatama Allfrey. Angela Wachuka, Binyavanga Wainaina and Ellah Wakatama Allfrey at a Kwani celebration in Nairobi, 2012. 

Daddy Issues