Poetry Platform

Dec 2023

Alex Nderitu

Toothbrushes for Crocodiles by Alex Nderitu

I went in to the donor’s office like a lion
And came out like a lamb.
How could they not take to my proposal?
I had made such a good case for my cause,
Backed by facts, statistics and earlier work.
‘No, ’ the American director had said. ‘Not interested.‘
How could they not be interested in a registered CBO
That was going to donate books, desks and chairs
To school kids living in Africa’s biggest slum?

It was dark by the time I reached town
From the donor’s posh offices in suburban Nairobi.
Rain was falling with a vengeance
And thunder groaned from an oak-grey sky.
My thoughts and emotions were all tangled up
Like illicit lovers caught in the act.
Determined to unravel the mystery behind donations.
I called Gitonga, a wizard at getting grants.

He met me in a restaurant, dangling Mercedes Benz keys.
When I explained my recent disappointment,
He laughed loudly, displaying a horse-shoe of upper teeth.
‘My friend,’ he said at last. ‘Let me break it down for you:
Donor aid is supply-driven, not demand-driven.
These donor guys are not helping you
They’re helping themselves through you.
It’s called ‘The Aristocracy of Mercy.’

I leaned forward and Gitonga went on:
‘They don’t care about you or your cause.
If you want their donation or grant,
You have to propose something in line with their agenda
Whatever that agenda might be:
Toothbrushes for crocodiles
Birth control for hyenas
Vaccine for children, experimental Ebola drugs, whatever
There are no innocents, here or abroad.
Just go with the flow and you will also
Be able to arrive at your problems
Driving a Toyota Land Cruiser or sleek Mercedes Benz.

© 2022 Alex Nderitu. All rights reserved.  Reproduction or transmission of this work in any part or form is strictly prohibited without the author’s prior written consent.

About the author

Alexander Nderitu is a Kenyan poet, novelist, playwright and critic. Some of his work has been translated into Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, Kiswahili, French, Swedish, Dholuo, Gikũyũ, and Czech.

His poems have appeared in The East African Standard (Kenya), Ars Artium (India), My Africa, My City: An Afridiaspora Anthology (Nigeria), World Poetry Almanac (Mongolia) and the World Poetry Yearbook (China), among other publications.

During the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, his narrative poem ‘Someone in Africa Loves You’ represented Kenyan literature on Common via Commonwealth Postcard. It has since been translated into five languages. In 2017, Business Daily newspaper named Nderitu one of Kenya’s ‘Top 40 Under 40 Men’.

In 2020, he was a finalist for the Collins Elesiro Literature Prize. In 2022, he took third place in the Share Africa Climate Fiction Awards. In 2023, he was conferred a ‘Jury Award’ in the Sahitto International Awards for Literature.

Nderitu is the Deputy Secretary-General of Kenyan PEN and a Regional Managing Editor for TheTheatreTimes.com.

A list of writers previously published by AGN is maintained here; writers list.

Submission guidelines for those thinking of putting their work forward to be considered for publication are here; submission guidelines.

African Global Networks (AGN) – Dec 2023