‘Stains on my Khanga’, is a collection of short stories and poems by Sandra Mushi published this year. The stories seek to spark a conversation about issues that are often swept under the carpet. Success talks to Sandra Mushi about her poetry and her new book.
Why the title?
More than anything, I wanted a title with a Swahili word in it. And I also wanted a title that would say something about the book in a nutshell. A khanga is a beautiful piece of cloth. Women know they look beautiful when dressed in this exquisitely designed cloth and they wear it with pride.
The khanga in the title represents a woman, while the stains on that khanga represent a tainted inner feeling. A woman wearing a beautiful piece of clothing, walking with her head held high but inside her heart bleeds and her soul is stained.
Was the collection inspired by personal stories, where do you get your inspiration?
With “Stains on My Khanga”, I mostly wrote about what I saw, read and heard around me. From the radio, a friend, a neighbour, a total stranger even, the newspaper – my eyes and ears are usually always opened for an inspiration for the next story.
Since I write to reflect, sometimes to get answers, to make sense of things, and get some sense of clarity, my inspiration comes from what is around me.
What is your writing process ?
I am not sure yet if I have one since my writing is on and off. But I sure do know that my muse is a diva. And - it is more of a relationship than a process. We are interestingly complex - we need chaos to be inspired to write and a total clear mind to be able to think of the contents. My muse also wants to be talked to, have a discussion if need be, you don’t just force her out. Many times I would have a fantastic story line but even with all the gospel music in the world if my muse does not want to write, nothing will come out. There was a time she was easy, but not anymore.
Some writers love writing with music, are you one of them? What kind of music do you listen to as you write?
I am definitely one of them. Interesting, it was after listening to Jill Scott and India Arie that I started writing poetry. I always find myself listening to Afro Soul when I am thinking (of a story line), gospel music to get inspired to write and Neo Soul when I write. And a glass of Merlot. And sometimes some candles and scents. I did say it’s a relationship.
Do you have a specific place and time that you write?
I must have the content and the flow first and then from there I just need a space that will make me feel at home and feel content. If there is no music then there should be something that will have my senses alert – colours, smells, tastes, textures. But I think I write more when I am at my parents’ house in Moshi.
How long did it take for you to finish this chapbook?
I had the short stories for a while; I had started writing short stories randomly in 2007 - without the intention of getting published – I had about 40 short stories. When my muse wants to write, it does not take me long to write. I think I then started thinking of putting something together for publication from the lot, after “Rhythm of my rhyme” came out, that was in 2008.
I had some poems that I had put together for the collection, but as time went by, I felt they were not befitting with the message I had in mind for the book. The poems I previously had were rather comical and a few sensual ones. Since I felt I had matured in writing and thinking; and I had a message and a cause so to speak, I felt that the conversation and the message in this collection should be just as mature. Most of the new poems in “Stains on my Khanga” were done in 2010. And publishers started showing interest in the collection in 2012.
You often say that you are not a poet but you write and have even published poetry, why is this?
I love the written word – a whole lot. I love how it seduces me; I love how it looks on paper, how it dances in my thoughts, how it weaves itself in my mind and the characters words become once you give them a platform. I love how I see the written word in different colours and shapes.
It just so happens that at times when I write it comes out poetic – probably because I write from the soul while taking the reader on a short journey. But I can’t perform nor recite as a poet should. Nor do I ever remember the contents of my poems.