May Book Club: "Jambula Tree" by Monica Arac de Nyeko

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“You left without saying goodbye after that [night]. You had to, I reasoned. Perhaps it was good for both of us. Maybe things could die down that way. Things never did die down. Our names became forever associated with the forbidden. Shame.”

Anyangu shares with her lost love–Sanyu–that their identities were permanently marked with shame despite that Sanyu was quickly sent away. This is an all too familiar experience of LGBTQ+ people who are shamed by their communities. Join us in reading this timeless short story of two young women who found love for a brief time in the slums of Kampala, Uganda.  “Jambula Tree” is an award-winning short story written by Ugandan writer Monica Arac de Nyeko and it inspired the 2018 Kenyan movie, Rafiki.

Notably, Rafiki was banned in Kenya "due to its homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law". The film's director, Wanuri Kahiu, sued Kenya's government, to allow the film to be screened and become eligible to be submitted as Kenya's entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The Kenyan High Court lifted the ban on the film, allowing it to be screened in the country for seven days in order to meet the eligibility requirements. After the ban was lifted, the film was shown to a sold-out crowd at a cinema in Nairobi. Despite its success over impossible odds, it was ultimately not selected by Kenya to be submitted for consideration by the Academy. Rafiki was just released in the United States.

Pick up your copy on Amazon or at your book store of choice! Look for weekly Facebook discussion threads, forum posts, and invitations to dialogue about this significant work.


Anyango and Sanyu grow up in planned slums called an “estate.” Anyango shares of the women of the Nakawa Housing Estates, who “are the kind of women we did not want to become.”  Anyango writes of the societal gender roles that they both “fought against.” How do they find the freedom to conclude that rather than becoming “noisy, gossiping and frightening housewives,” but instead, “we can be anything”?  Given the connection between society’s expectations and gender/sexuality, is it possible that coming out as LGBTQ+ gives us a freedom from societal pressures to follow the typical or prescribed path?

Leave your response in the comments below!

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