Foreigners, You’re Welcome by Amber Koneval

A video reading of my poem ‘Foreigners, You’re Welcome’

Wageni mwakaribiswha translates to ‘Foreigners, You’re Welcome’, in case that isn’t clear.

This was one of the many poems I wrote in tribute to my mission trip to Kakamega, Kenya. I am still in contact with my ‘family’ over there. I think about them way more often than is healthy. This was written almost two years after returning stateside. I do still sing to myself in Swahili, if I’m not paying much attention to myself.

Shamala by Amber Koneval

If you want to talk about people
then you need to talk about

eighteen trees line a fence
he said that they’ve grown
up to there
so tall the children crane their necks
to see where the leaves reach down
with branches thick and keen
for the touch of their clever fingers
resting on the bark
as if to say

I feel you
and I remember

water my tree from a well dug deep
in an old, dry pasture
by foreign tongues and skin as sensitive
as milk
and remember me
in the shade of the tree that knows
the feel of my cupped hands
down deep in its soil
its roots twisted thick
round my veins
and think of me

I wrote this after a particularly moving Skype conversation I had with Dr. Shamala of SAFI, the man who was my guide during my mission trip in Kenya. It was published here in the MOLT journal on April 25th.

Jaqueline by Amber Koneval

your eyes are the clearest I’ve ever seen

piercing and safi

I wish you would look up more instead of

hiding those eyes with those long lashes

biting your fleece to hide your giggles

Why hide it?

little orphan child with the soft, soft voice

speaking broken, confused English

I want you to know how much

mimi nakupenda

and how much I wish I could give you

a mother

to replace the one you lost

take my hand and guide me, bebe

I wish I didn’t have to let go

Published in the More Informed (October 2010)

Why Do I Write: About Africa

So since I have finally accessed what I did and did not already publish from my collections pertaining to Africa, there’s going to be a random rain of those poems coming on the blog.

One of the questions I’ve been asked by peers in my poetry club is: you’re a middle class white girl. Why do you have so many poems that a) talk about Kenya b) have random Swahili in them c) generally reference a different continent.

Unlike other questions, this one has a pretty straightforward answer. The July of 2010, the summer right before I entered college, I went on a month-long mission trip to Kakamega, Kenya to plant trees, dig a new well, repair houses and learn about the lifestyles of native Kenyans.

I can say, without a doubt, that there has been not a single experience in my life that has affected me more than that one month.

I learned how to make a well, I learned enough Swahili to be equivalent to a Kenyan toddler, I got my butt handed to me in a soccer match with seven-year olds, I was stricken with typhoid and was pretty sure that I was going to die (I didn’t fully recover until another month into the school semester- welcome to college!). I made Facebook friends with young adults across the ocean, I became painfully aware and overwhelmingly appreciative of what I have, and I now sponsor a child in Kenya through Compassion because of my connection to that place (I hope to sponsor more when I have more financial stability and independence). I dream of Kenya more than anything else. One of my only solid life goals is to go back there, hopefully to visit both the friends I met and to meet my sponsor child, Kelvin, as soon as I graduate.

If one of the poems that I post about Kenya raises a question for you, or you need something translated, or you just want to hear the full story about it, feel free to comment and ask me about it. (I won’t do it on my own, just because I don’t want to clutter my blog with it if no one really feels inclined to hear it!) I’m more than happy to open up about anything you’d like to know about it.

The Welcome Song by Amber Koneval

Jambo, jambo bwana

is the clapping of the hands before we brake

is the scarf thrown about Shamala’s shoulders

the prodigal son is finally home



Habari gani, nzuri sana

is the singing at her grave over his sobs

English and Swahili mixed

part show, all pride

beautiful people who do not bow



Wageni, mwakaribishwa 

is the sweat on their faces

as our feet pound at the mud

children laughing at our attempts



Kenya yetu hakuna matata

In our Kenya, there are no worries



Published in the More Informed  (October 2010)

Updated: Publication Credits

So I’ve updated my page of publication credits (under the page ‘where to find me’) to reflect the articles and poems that were published through my local parish for local distribution. Today and within the next couple of days I will be putting up the poems that were published for you all to enjoy- they were poems that I wrote when I went for a month-long mission in Kenya.

I hope everyone is enjoying their winter break, and don’t forget to stop by my post about ‘My First Video’ and let me know which poem you would like to hear/see me read on a YouTube video!