We are proud to announce third place in the Umoja Writing Competition 2016.
Comments from our judges:
“This narrative really captured my attention and pulled at the hear strings. This is the job of a narrative. Well-structured and flowed well.”
“This was probably my top pick. I like the descriptive language and, yes, I did shed a tear or two. I felt like I was in the room with them. I also think the theme ‘peace’ was used perfectly.”
Now it’s your turn to read our third placed entry. Please let us know what you think in the comments below. You could also congratulate Kirsten on her writing.
Left Behind by Kirsten Leggett from Tasmania
I sat beside her bed with her hand in mine; hers wrinkled with age and with lines of wisdom etched into the folds. Her skin was thin these days, speckled with the countless hours in the sun, the time spent tending gardens, pegging washing on the line, holding the hands of her children, her grandchildren, and great grandchildren. I was here to say goodbye, to my grandmother but I could not seem to find the words. We had never had this problem in the past. Talking was never hard, like the heaviness of this moment, as though my heart was being dragged along the bottom of the ocean floor dredging up memories. Now, I felt the weight of this moment above me, bearing down on the inevitable.
She motioned with her free hand towards the drawer beside her bed, her eyes barely open and fixed on mine.
“Everyone must leave something behind,” she whispered. “My journal is yours darling; my last gift to you. You will know what to do with it when the time is right.”
I reached into the drawer and my fingers found the familiar feel of the black leather, smooth and worn from the years of my grandmother’s touch. I had run my hand over its surface so many times over the years, as I sat with her in her living area where she would write in the morning sun that streamed through her window. The past few years she had been documenting so much of her life, and the pages were brimming with memories, the ones too precious to abandon. I brought it out of its resting place and under the low light opened the cover. The scent of my grandmother rose from the pages, a blend of talcum powder and French lavender clinging to the animal hide that formed the bookends to her past. Each page was meticulously marked with a date, a memory, a reminder of a life lived. She no longer battled against the ailing this and failing that. That war was over. She had arrived at this place of surrender, and willingly so it seemed from the outside. She was done.
I can still hear the phantom words of the nursing staff; a gentle touch on my shoulder. “She will be at peace soon.”
Peace? A word so often associated with conflict and resolution I thought.
My grandmother’s words echoed in my conscience, “Life is not meant to be a battle. It is a joy, hardships and all. Embrace them as you would a new born child. We are the product of our life experience”.
I turned the page to see a photograph of my grandmother in her twenties, perched on the hood of a car, smiling into the sun as though she had just discovered the meaning of life, shards of light dancing around her, captured through the lens. It was the same photo that sat on top of her piano, nestled deep inside the confines of a mahogany frame, the one that lights up with the morning rays, and then fades back to a lingering memory as the sun passes over rooftops to settle in the west.
I wondered what I would leave behind, when it was time for me to leave this earth. How long would I linger in the memories of those I love? I know for a fact that I will always live on in the hearts of my children, and their children should I be lucky enough to see them born into this world. I wonder if I too will marvel at how advanced children are these days and how much has changed with the passing of time. With emerging wisdom will I see how precious each moment is, and treasure each milestone as they first smile, grow their first tooth and stumble and totter as they find their feet in this world? Their children may not remember me for I will be just a name, another story of a loved mother and grandmother like an ancient legend read from the pages of a story book. I would be no more than words left on pages, the source of genetic markers and colloquial sayings, my sentiments passed like a baton through generations.
Yet somehow, amongst this wondering I know my essence will remain, in the walls of the house I loved, the saplings that grew tall under my nurturing, and on the mountain trails I walked. Here I will linger, where the flowers burst forth under the mounting pressure of spring, where others too will pass, stop and stoop low to rest a paper thin petal on the tip of their finger and say, “My, look how beautiful you are.” I wonder, on the day that my spirit returns home, will the forest dance and sway in the mountain mist and whisper on the wind “Yes, she found it, all that she had been longing for.”
As I turn another page, a flattened sprig of lavender falls to my lap and my grandmother closes her eyes. I kiss her gently on the forehead. “I see you found it too,” and we sat in the presence of peace, together, just one more time.
Congratulations to Kirsten for again entering a well-written and engaging story. It was a pleasure to read it.
The shortlist for Umoja Writing Competition is decided by our judge Deb Lawrence who is a wonderful educator and deputy principal and myself. Thanks again to Deb for being involved in the Umoja Writing Competition.
Our shortlisted entries are in no particular order:
Peace – an essay
Congratulations to these entries. Very soon you’ll find out who wrote them and be able to read them on this blog.
We’d also like to than all the writers who entered. Though you may have not been shortlisted it doen’t mean you aren’t all talented writers. The standard was exceptionally high. Keep writing and enjoying the creative process.
Lots of people think writers live in a dream world, constantly thinking up stories.
It’s not really like that because there’s a lot of thinking that never turns into a story. Ideas twist and turn around a writer’s brain a bit like clay in a sculptures hand, until those ideas turn into actual writing.
Sometimes getting a story down takes years, like a researched novel or life story. Sometimes a story takes moments of scribbled ideas.
It doesn’t matter where your thinking goes as long as you don’t procrastinate. If you procrastinate you can kid yourself that you will write that story one day (and never actually do it).
So even if your thinking hasn’t got you to a full-formed story, just start writing. If you don’t put pen to paper or start tapping on the keyboard your ideas will forever remain in your brain and you can never share them that way.
It’s just like this competition. If you have been thinking you had plenty of time to start and you’re still thinking about it – start your writing now.
And on that note – get your entry in before it’s too late.
Remember this competition is about encouraging writing but it’s also a fundraiser for Umoja Orphanage Kenya. Please help them by entering.
Where does your Umoja Writing Competition Entry Fee go?
If you haven’t read more about it yet you can read the latest Rotary Newletter and even subscribe to it if you like.
The biggest highlights from the latest on the Umoja Orphanage Kenya are:
- 2016 will be the year we open the doors to the first children’s home (need $10,00 more to achieve this).
- Education of our social worker, Kevin (sponsored through university and the first person in his village to attain a university degree). How cool is that!
- Training our first house mamma (who will look after our orphans beautifully).
- Completion of our chicken shed (will house 300 chickens but we need to fill it).
- 40ft container of donated goods arrived on site (full of bedding and clothing ready for the orphans).
- Three-level water tower to hold 50,000 litres of water (thanks to a grant from Australian Aid).
- Kitchen with traditional Lamu ceilings.
- Cathy did some guest speaking at Rotary Clubs in NSW.
- Thank you to all the kind helpers, especially 90 year old Rene who is in a nursing home in Bundaberg and knits for the children.
So you can see that just $10 will go a long way (but if you can give more when you enter that would be gratefully appreciated too). Let’s all make this the best fundraiser for Umoja Orphanage yet. Tell all your writing friends. Tell all your non-writing friends. We welcome essayists, poets, travel writers and creative writers, so even novices can give it a go. Have fun and remember that writing can be a gateway to anywhere.
Enter today: Entry Form
Ready and set to write your entry for Umoja Writing Competition 2016?
If not, start thinking about our theme ‘Peace’. Plenty to write about there. We all hope for a peaceful planet full of love and happiness, so what better theme for this year’s writing competition. Begin your entry today.
I am very pleased to announce the commencement of our 2016 competition to fundraise for Umoja Orphanage Kenya in a literary way. We’ve added poetry to our usual entries of either short fiction, essay or travel article up to 1,000 words. There’s plenty of scope for all sorts of writers. We’d love you to get involved. Please pass the competition details on to your fellow writing friends, groups and networks. The more entries we receive the more money we raise for Umoja Orphanage Kenya and that’s what we are aiming for.
Founder of the Umoja Orphanage, Cathy Booth is excited that there is a good possibility the house will be finished by April, so we can intake our first children. It’s taken since 2011 to get to that point from conception to welcoming the orphans into their new home. There’s plenty of people lending a hand, volunteering, building, planting, digging trenches, installing tanks and all sorts of things to make the orphanage come together – unity (umoja). Read more at: Progress so far.
Congratulations and a big thanks to everyone involved, but we still need funds, at least $10,000 (and of course it’s ongoing). If we could raise that much with this writing competition how great would that be – what satisfaction every entrant would feel having helped by entering and donating their entry fee?
Our Writing Competition starts today
This year we’ve changed the format and prizes slightly. We offered prize money previously, but we found our winners always donated it back, so it wasn’t the prize money that made people enter. It was a love of writing and a need to help those less fortunate than us. See our new Entry Form page for full information on how to enter. It’s a minimum of $10 entry but you’re welcome to pay more if you can afford to or want to. Both winners so far have progressed with their writing dreams since their wins – Winners.
If you’re a Rotary member you may have heard Cathy speaking about the cause. As if she isn’t busy enough when a school year finishes but then she gives her free time to talk at Rotary Clubs around the country about the project. If you want to know more sign up for the Newsletter.
We asked Umoja Writing Competition 2015 winner Kirsten Leggett to contribute to our blog. It’s another opportunity for our entrants to showcase their writing and be involved in the wider writing and volunteering community.
How our winner writes
I write to understand. It is as simple as that and it is a form of internal processing for me. I love to write, I always have, but my creative writing really ramped up a notch when I started with daily ten minute writing using word prompts. Just a few words, five at the most, and I would wait for the first sentence to form but without too much thought. Once I start to write, I do not stop for ten minutes and I pay little attention to punctuation – just let the words flow. I try not to think about it too much and let it come from the heart.
I continued with this practice for about 6 months straight and now I write this way several times a week. It still works, every time, and I never know how each piece will end. The ending is always the most surprising bit! Sometimes I write beyond ten minutes, other times a little less, but the end result is always surprising and from these exercises stories are often born. A friend once asked me where I draw my inspiration from. I explained that I never set out to write a story, that words and inspiration generally find me when I allow myself the time to be still. A story or words for a poem can “arrive” at any time, while on a walk, driving in the car, or sitting and enjoying a pot of tea in my garden, but always in moments of stillness.
I have learnt that as humans we can do the most amazing things with words. I think we are born to listen to and tell stories and there is a storyteller deep within each and every one of us.
Kirsten lives and writes in Tasmania. A writer of short stories and poetry, she writes for both enjoyment and for a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. “The Tiny Teacher” was Kirsten’s first short story. Most recent published writing includes “Interloper” (101 words.org) and “Pear Infused with Jasmine” (Flash Fiction Magazine).
Highly Commended goes to African entrant Nancy Lindah Ilamwenya.
Nancy is a Kenyan living in Ethopia and is just 26 years old. Here is Nancy’s entry: Of Nice and Mean
“Do you think George and Lennie’s friendship was genuine or was it based on convenience?”
Uncomfortable silence, occasionally interrupted by officious rustling of John Steinbeck’s, “Of Mice and Men” novels in oblivious fingers, searching for what is not only an elusive answer, but more so, a fantastical idea, especially for our teenage minds….true companionship.
“I would like one of you to please justify this relationship.”Miss Amweno begins again, determination in her voice.
“George is a strikingly witty fellow whose charisma casts spells wherever he goes. He is self –driven and agreeable.” My mind wanders off to the movie version; Channing Tatum should have played George. I wouldn’t have any problems answering Miss Amweno.…his eyes…Channing’s eyes…
“Lennie on the other hand, well juxtaposed to his best friend George. At 6 feet and change, his gargantuan mass dwarfs most average men.” Miss Amweno continues with unadulterated vigor, clearly unconscious of the fact that most of her words are too big for us.
“His thunderous voice emerges to clearly proclaim his mental handicap…an epitome of awkwardness. So boys and girls…How can these two contradictory personages be best of pals?” She pants as if never to speak again.
Painful silence lingers. We notice her left eye begin to twitch. Signs of frustration. She mumbles to herself, anger slowly sneaking to her face. She bites her lower lip and we gear up to receive outbursts of why we are better off on the streets and our places taken by those unfortunate street children, how we should be banished to rural Pokot where we can learn to appreciate some paltry beans accompanied with yellow ugali, listening to the omniscient voice of the Almighty self-contained teacher, seated on parched ground, under an ancient teak. But like most of what she says, gets in through one ear and leaves through the other. Hers is a tough job.
Thing is, Miss Amweno is a great teacher. Admittedly, I have had the unfortunate opportunity to eavesdrop on my other teachers’ out-spoken frustrations about their meager stipend and how on the first chance to leave the profession, they would. I have to say, nothing kills learning than the knowledge that you, the student, are but a bridge, not a destination. But Miss Amweno loves us. We know it and that is why we readily forgive her outbursts. We love that she screeches birthday songs to all of us at random times of the year. We love that she walks around with a tear-stained blouse after mediating teenage scuffles. We love that she would know if we had a rough night. We love that she knows our pets by name. We love that she scribbles proverbs at the corner of the board every morning. We even learnt to embrace the Feelings Jar. Miss Amweno makes school, home.
You see, my parents split up as soon as I turned seven. A few months later, my mother was arrested for fraud and all her assets frozen. Predictably, my father immediately re-married and promptly forgot about us. As fate had it, I was left in the young but capable hands of Bwire, my eighteen year old genius of a brother. “Genius” is not to be used lightly, as he went on to win a scholarship to an Ivy League university in the USA after innovating something I regrettably don’t have the capacity to describe. Worth mentioning( to emphasize his brilliance) he made a living concocting some hallucinogen in our house which he peddled to supplement the little allowance collected from reluctant relatives.
On my brother’s departure, I went to live with my aunt, who only accepted to host me in the hope that Bwire’s pursuit of prosperity would thrive and she would have a legitimate claim, on my account.
So as I watch the all too familiar transformation of Miss Amweno’s furrowed face to her sympathetic look, I am reminded of Mama. Not in a way that compares. No! In a way that conjures up feelings of foul rejection, constant absenteeism, and numbing loneliness. I have to say that her incarceration was of no consequence to our relationship, because we didn’t have any.
Miss Amweno is it! I don’t think she knows it but most of us count on her presence for our daily dose of affection. Miss Amweno is it! The semblance of a mother we all wish we had.
“Hallo? Akisa! Are you with us?” I hear her say. Suddenly, an epiphany so real, a divine intervention through I, a humble medium.
“Yes, Akisa… Kindly enlighten us.” She responds with apparent pride.
“Well Miss…it indeed is tempting…in fact natural, to choose the negative aspect, seeing that we live in a skeptical world.” I begin. “Skeptical, meaning doubtful of each other’s inherent goodness,” I look around, silence of a church.
“Why is it difficult for us to conclude that one can love without expecting something in return? Lennie is mentally challenged. He is a child in a man’s body. He can barely make sense to save his life. He cannot remember who he is, let alone what he is supposed to do. He has irrational tendencies further exacerbating his isolation.” I pause and look around. Everyone is listening.
“Why is it difficult to believe that George could find a true friend in Lennie? Couldn’t have George searched and found Lennie’s soul? An ability that few humans possess.”
I look around again. Eyes opening up to my truth. Minds consuming my revelation.
With the confidence of a pundit and humility of a priest, I rested my case, “Miss Amweno, there is no better example than our relationship, you Miss Amweno with us. You symbolize George, us Lennie. You love us, in spite… It is like questioning your fondness for us.”
Miss Amweno smiles, eyes gleam behind a curtain of joyful tears, and then she clinches my point so accurately, “Only one who can dig beyond physical differences will to justify the relationship.
Thank you Nancy for a story reflecting the wonderful roles of teachers. We hope your placing will encourage other African writers to craft their writing skills. Readers please comment below.