Nahida Esmail on writing books

Tuesday April 25 2017

Nahida Esmail shows her certificate and cheque

Nahida Esmail shows her certificate and cheque at BAAL. PHOTO I SALOME. GREGORY 

By Salome Gregory

Nahida Esmail is the first runner up of the Burt Award for African Literature (BAAL). She has been writing for the past 10 years. The award was organised by the Canadian Organization for Development through Education (CODE) in collaboration with Children’s Book Project (CBP).

Her victory saw her take home Canadian Dollars 9,000 (around Sh14million). She took home the accolade for her winning tittle ‘Aiming for the Summit’, a sequel to Living in the Shade.

Esmail believes her story is unique. It is about a group of girls with albinism who are part of a football team, who want to do more to create awareness by climbing a mountain.

Nahida has published 4 young adult fiction books and 10 children’s books, (of which 3 have been translated into Swahili and 1 in Maa - language of the Maasai). Two English text books for Secondary School have been published by Oxford University Press- a students’ manual and a teachers’ manual.

Sharing with Success her journey as an author, she says in 2015 she was honoured with the Tanzania Women’s Achievement Award for the education category, and has won four BURT awards for the books ‘Living in the Shade’, ‘Lesslie the City Maasai’, ‘Detectives of Shangani’ and ‘Aiming for the Summit.’

What inspired you to write ‘Aiming for the Summit’?


I attended the International Albinism Day on 13th June 2016.This event opened my eyes to the conditions and the stigma that people with albinism have to live with, coupled with the challenges they face.

Most crucially and most shocking is that they have to guard themselves from being kidnapped and murdered to satisfy superstitious beliefs. This should not be happening at all.

I had seen many people involved in raising awareness for people with albinism in their own ways and it inspired me to do the same through writing.

What inspired you to be a writer?

When I was collecting books for my daughter, written by Tanzanians for Tanzanians, set in Tanzania, I was disappointed at the lack of material available. So I decided to write.

Why is writing important to you?

Story telling is an age old tradition. It’s how we get a message across. Often in books we catch a glimpse of our own self. On a more personal note, I find writing very therapeutic.

What keeps you going in your writing work?

I feel there are so many stories to tell and stories waiting to be told. Basically as Tanzanians, we have a very limited collection written by our own people. So anything you write has most probably not been written.

Is it a highly paid job?

It’s one of the least paid jobs – ever (especially in Tanzania)

What are some of the challenges facing writers in Tanzania?

Writers in Tanzania generally complain that their books don’t get sold. The biggest challenge is how to get our children to be readers, so they see buying a book as an important thing. We haven’t reached a stage where books are seen as valuable assets.

How do you get the ideas for writing a story book?

When I go about my daily life, I try to observe what is going on. I read lots of books. I follow things happening on social media. And many a times, an idea is just born. The secret is capturing the idea when it comes to you. I have a small book of ‘ideas’ that I keep close to me, and I jot it down.

What are your future plans as a story teller?

I want to write a book in every genre. I mean why not? Our children need the books. I want Tanzanians to become readers, so I have to aim to provide good storybooks for them.

Apart from writing, what else do you do?

I am a mother of 2 girls – so that in itself keeps me very busy. I am part of a cycling group and I look for any opportunity to go seek an adventure of course, so I can write about it.

What advice do you give to upcoming writers?

Nothing comes easy. Try hard and don’t give up when you get a jolt. The jolt is there to wake you up or shake you so you can try harder. Keep going and you will see God’s grace and how the world becomes your oyster. Always keep a notebook with you. As soon as an idea pops into your head jot it down, even if it’s in the middle of the night.