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Máire Fisher

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The launch of Kilimanjaro on my lap and words from Epiphanie Mukasano about her collection of poems

It was standing room only at Kalk Bay Books on Thursday 6 May 2010 for the launch of Kilimanjaro on my lap, a collection of poems by Epiphanie Mukasano, published by DAKINI.

Sadly, Gabeba Baderoon, who edited Epiphanie’s collection, was unable to make the launch. She sent her love and congratulations to Epiphanie, and said how proud and happy she was to have been associated with Kilimanjaro on my lap. In her absence Annemarie Hendrikz opened the launch by outlining the background to DAKINI, an imprint which publishes first collections of beautiful poetry.

The Dakini has many guises and is an important figure in Buddhist mythology, and Annemarie introduced her as a goddess of life-changing moments.  What could be more life-changing for a writer than to see her words in print? The power of the Dakini carries beyond this though, to the heart of the reader affected by the words of a writer like Epiphanie. Perspectives shift, new roots take hold, we are taken into a life that is marginalized and often dangerous, and, as is the case with all good writing, after reading Epiphanie’s poems we see the world differently.

Anne Schuster, founder of DAKINI, writer, poet,  writing teacher and facilitator extraordinaire of Women’s Writing Workshops, could herself be seen as a Dakini – a guardian angel of women’s writing who allows a writing space where voices like Epiphanie’s and many others flourish.

6 May, the date of the launch, is also Epiphanie’s birthday and Malika Ndlovu, Durban-born performer-word-weaver-story-lover, then saluted the birth of Epiphanie’s book and her birthday with a performance poem which she had written in 24 hours, after being asked to step in and take Gabeba’s place.

She is mountain’s daughter
yet spirit free like water
sister born to rolling hills
and weeping sky
yet still she opens
inner eye
it is clear to me
your home is here
your family is near
You need not run or ever hide
for you have found your home
(Malika Ndlovu)

When she woke up that morning, Epiphanie said, the wind was howling and the rain was pouring down. However, she evoked a childhood rhyme: ‘rain rain go away, come again another day’.  The weather obliged, and it was, Epiphanie said, ‘a good day for me.’ A day which had seen the birth of her book, her family and friends near her, surrounded by kindness and good wishes – she was, truly, counting her blessings.

Counting my blessings
I’m sitting in the setting sun, counting my blessings, They keep slipping out of my hands. Nothing palpable. Nothing to thank God for? Maybe my eyes have turned blind. Maybe my hands have turned numb. Maybe my heart is a living rock. I will start all over again. Counting my blessings. I wish I could fill buckets. No, trucks. No, ships. Still nothing palpable. Nothing to thank God for? I will start all over again. I’m sitting in the deep sleep of the sun. Everything is quiet. Even the mice in my house will not interfere. I can hear my breath, I can hear my heartbeat. At last, right under my nose, I have found something. Something to thank God for. (From Kilimanjaro on my lap)


I spoke to Epiphanie about Kilimanjaro on my lap and asked her what lay at the heart of her book.

‘This is my own book – it’s a big step in my life. I never thought I would have a chance like this.

‘Life hasn’t always been easy for my family and me. But writing poetry has given me the opportunity to think this through for myself, and to realise that while it may sometimes seem that we haven’t achieved a great deal, at the heart of all that happens there is always hope. True, there have been many times in my life, when hope looked like dying. Watching people around me die, wondering, will I be the next? We’ve been tossed around by the winds and the storms of life. Then, at a time when I was very low, the chance of publishing my poetry came about. That coincided with hearing big news about my family in Rwanda, some of it harrowing, some of it joyous. I knew then that my poetry had added meaning; it would allow me to share these feelings, the sorrow and the celebration.’

On the edge of madness
the wind carried me away
down the green hill
to land
under a silver tree
(the first lines of  ‘Under the silver tree’, Kilimanjaro on my lap)

‘Sometimes, I feel like a hollow reed. I ask, what has been left at the core of me, and can it ever be filled? I find sounds and music useful. I pour them into the hollowness and they settle. At other times I feel like a branch cut from the mother tree. But then I remind myself, I carry flowers and seeds. Wherever I land my feet I have been able to grow, even in foreign soil, even if that place is plagued by bureaucracy, regulations and xenophobia.  A flower finds a place to grow, even in the hardest soil. My book is a flower – out of nothingness something has blossomed.

‘Working on my poetry, knowing it would become a book, has helped me in another way. I can see my connection to the whole world more clearly. I have often asked who am I? And now I can answer that question. I am someone who has had to work hard, try hard, deal with hardship, but at my core I am someone who wants to celebrate life.

‘Life can be as fragile as glass. War breaks hopes and dreams. In one short time, they are all gone. It breaks our contact with family and friends. The whip of war shatters everything. But in the darkness a bell rings and awakens you. It rings hope; it says, there is something beyond the darkness. Carry on. And then I look at my life, at my beautiful family, and I think, we have been through all of these things. But it has not been the end. We still have hope.’

then in the silent dark
somewhere from within
a song finds its way

light comes in the night
the moon relents
and you sing of the beauty of life
(closing lines of ‘Light in the night’, Kilimanjaro on my lap)

‘I know the colour of despair and the sound of hope; I counter my sense of displacement with a determination to settle and put down roots; I see life for what it is, and dream about what it may become. I accept my sorrows and I work hard at moving past nostalgia because nostalgia can kill you. My home is here now, in Cape Town, with the people who make my home: my family. My home is there too – in Rwanda. The people who died there live in my heart.

‘I carry all this with me and in me, and make my poems from it all.’

I am from a remote land
faint memories of undulating hills
and unwinding rivers
I am a rootless tree
standing as if by magic
swinging back and forth
yet battling not to crumble
(the first lines of  ‘I am from’, Kilimanjaro on my lap)

About the poet
Epiphanie Mukasano is originally from Rwanda where she used to be a teacher. She has a Master’s degree in English Literature, and now lives as a refugee in Cape Town with her husband and children. Her poems have been published in Living on the Fence (2007) a collection of writing by women who are refugees from various countries in Africa. Epiphanie contributed ‘When a name is lost’ to the collection of birth stories, Just Keep Breathing and most recently, Cambridge University Press has published her children’s story Shema and the Goat (2009).

Kilimanjaro on my lap is dedicated to Epiphanie’s mother and to the memory of her father, sisters and brothers.

Kilimanjaro on my lap
By Epiphanie Mukasano
ISBN 978-0-620-46153-5
Kilimanjaro on my lap is available at Kalk Bay Books, Clarke’s Bookshop, Long Street and direct from DAKINI at :

Live Writing provided material support for Kilimanjaro on my lap, and is delighted to have played a small part in the creation of this collection.


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