Books Letters from Elsewhere

Letters from Elsewhere: Charles Omari Ondiek

My birth name was Charles Omari Ondiek and I was born in a remote village called Amayoni (which means birds) in a beautiful pocket of tropical forest in the western region of Kenya.

Letters from Elsewhere

Today’s guest speaks to me from Africa and is brought by Jane Bwye.


Thank you for having me, Miriam, and letting me come alive from the pages of Breath of Africa.


You ask me to speak for myself? Where shall I start…

My birth name was Charles Omari Ondiek and I was born in a remote village called Amayoni (which means birds) in a beautiful pocket of tropical forest in the western region of Kenya.

But I’ve used different names in the course of my tumultuous life. At Oxford, I was known as Charles (yes, as a student more mature than most, I graduated in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from that venerable university in the early 1960’s).

But when I returned home and started a career in journalism I had to cover my tracks for fear of being discovered by Mwangi, a Mau Mau oath-giver who’d placed a curse on my family. So I called myself Ondiek, a name which is shared by very many people. I still shudder to think of that curse, and the fear which consumed me. Mwangi caught up with me eventually, and I was left for dead. That is where the book left me, gasping to catch up with my only son, whose mother had already succumbed to the potent curse.

My son, half black, half white, was intensely angry because I changed my name again, and disappeared.

Oh – what a tangle of events and emotions we separately went through. And now in the evening of my days, I am Charles again, looking back and wondering what might have been – could have been, if…

But it’s no use looking back, however much we are tied to our grass roots. That’s why you should also read Grass Shoots, the working title of my creator’s next book.

Kenya, my country, continues to stumble along through the impediments of violence, politics and corruption. Is it making progress? What you think depends on who you are and what you mean by progress…

Thank you, Charles. I have read your story in Breath of Africa and was moved by it.

About Breath of Africa

51nyeeudxzlDedicated to the people of Kenya, BREATH OF AFRICA is a novel by Jane Bwye, retired businesswoman and intermittent freelance journalist who lived over half a century in Africa.

After the 2013 elections and the Westgate siege, Kenya moves on in hope, epitomised in the book, which means different things to different people; it can be read as a love story, a psychological thriller, or as an exploration into the interactions of people of different races. Superstition and Christian faith clash. And the stunning beauty of the country is a major character in itself.

Caroline is a privileged woman from the highlands, and Charles Ondiek, a farm labourer with dreams of Oxford. A drama of psychological terror is fuelled by Mau Mau oath administrator, Mwangi, but against the backdrop of Kenya’s beautiful but hostile desert, the curse is finally broken.

About Jane Bwye

janeJane has been a businesswoman and intermittent freelance journalist for fifty years, mainly in Kenya.

Six children and seven grandkids are scattered over three continents. She developed a taste for travel, and in 2001 “walked” round the world, buying a bird book in every country she visited. She has written numerous magazine articles and short stories, two newspaper columns and several newsletters. She co-ordinated a cookbook, “Museum Mixtures” in aid of the Kenya Museum Society in 1989, and has written a History in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of her local church, St. Wilfrid’s. Breath of Africa is her first novel, published in 2013. I Lift Up My Eyes, published in 2014, is a novella set in East Sussex.

Jane has managed her own Guest House and Riding School, and worked as a freelance Secretary. While home-studying for a degree, she started a consultancy business, providing human resource and computer advice, locum services for small businesses, and doing Organisation Reviews and Project Management for leading Management Consultancies in Kenya.

After graduation in 1995, she became Head of Computer Studies/IT at Hillcrest Secondary School, Nairobi for five years.

From 2002 Jane has operated her own consultancy in Eastbourne, UK, mentoring small business start-ups as an Associate of EDEAL.

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life. Social anxiety warrior. Cultivating a Fuji, edition 3, a poignant, humorous and uplifting tale, published with Ocelot Press, January 2023.

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