“Nairobi Days” A Novel by Our Professor Shelina Shariff-Zia
Professor Shelina Shariff-Zia is a storyteller. Although the account of her coming of age as part of the India to Africa diaspora—her family migrated from India to Kenya in the 18th century–is told in the style of a first-person novel, in Nairobi Days (first published in 2017 by Dog Ear Publishing) she skillfully weaves a tapestry of true stories, anecdotes, snippets of dialogue, and remembrance of family celebrations and rituals and conversations.
She entered this diaspora at the end of an era—the British Empire was collapsing into chaos if not violence as one by one the colonies pursued freedom. Born just a year before Kenya achieved its independence, she writes “On December 12th, 1963, Kenya became independent from the British. So, we grew up together, Kenya and I.)
Nairobi Days is her personal account of the routine joys and unprecedented losses that both she and her family experienced during this time of cataclysmic change. A member of the entrepreneurial class, they lived largely separate but unequal, comfortable middle-class lives that set them apart from both indigenous Kenyans and the white colonizers.
Still, they were proud Kenyans. Shelina describes rushing into the street and shouting “Uhuru” as the motorcade of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president passes by. Strong family bonds, rich cultural traditions, an unwavering emphasis on academic achievement—these are some of the survival tools that her family mastered over generations that have helped them overcome loss, remain resilient and enable Professor Shariff-Zia to continue on the journey that would eventually bring her to America.