Shelina Shariff-Zia

Literature & Fiction

Author Profile

Shelina  Shariff-Zia

Shelina Shariff-Zia grew up in Nairobi, a tomboy who climbed trees and was always getting into trouble. She is the fifth generation of an Indian family who moved to Kenya from Gujarat. She attended Loreto Convent Msongari, a school run by Irish nuns. The author grew up speaking English, Gujarati and Swahili. At nineteen, she moved to Texas to study Literature at Rice University. After an English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, she went back to Kenya to work in education. Later she became a Wall Street reporter covering chemicals and finance. After living in Nairobi, Kampala, Karachi, Toronto, Cincinnati and Miami among other cities she has settled in New York with her family. She teaches English at the Bronx Community College. This is her first novel.


Book Bubbles from Nairobi Days

My first crush

I was only ten when I had my crush on Alain. We were friends but eleven year old boys and girls didn't talk to each other in my school so our conversations were few...I met "Alain" years later in a nightclub he was managing on Kimathi Street. I was married by then and we chatted about what we were doing. I wonder if he ever guessed I had a crush on him?

Miss Jorgensen.

Miss Jorgensen was a legend at Westlands Primary and remembered affectionately by generations of students. She was a friend of my mother's and we sometimes dropped by her house near the St. Marys school for a cup of tea. I was still overawed by her and didn't say much but watched them both chatter away,


When I was eleven I got my first period, I didn't quite understand why I needed to have a period for so many years and neither did my friends.


I remember Yogi as the best teacher I ever had, It wasn't just that she could explain things clearly and make the most difficult Maths problems seem easy... I remember her blonde hair and blue eyes as she strode around the classroom to make sure we were doing our sums correctly. Her energy and va voom spirit made learning fun, as we spurred ourselves on to do better.


Tara and I often laugh about how she would climb up on a stool and give me bananas through the small window when Mum locked me up in there as a punishment, Except it wasn't much of a punishment as I curled up with a towel as a pillow and caught up on my reading.


When our dog Tanya was due to have puppies many of our friends asked for one. There were more requests than probable puppies. So when Alain asked for one I had a problem. On the one hand, giving him a puppy would give me the perfect excuse to drop by his house and check on the puppy's welfare. On the other hand, my mother would want to know why an unknown boy at school deserved one. I didn't want Mum asking too many questions about Alain. Not much got past my mother....


Who can forget the first time you have a crush on someone? And of course the last thing you would want is for anyone to guess or you could be teased relentlessly.


Now that I have had to control a noisy classroom myself, I have more sympathy with Mrs. Virjee getting stressed at the class and calling us names. Since no one in the class understood Gujararti it did no harm until I "helpfully" translated what she was saying!


I walked home from Westlands Primary with my friend Biti. we had many adventures walking down the hill and bumping into wandering goats.


My novel is fictional but inspired by people I knew. But Ma's life was so momentous, I did not have to make up or exaggerate the events in her life to make them exciting. Her strong bond with her twin sister was just as described, so Kheru Maasi waited to say goodbye to Ma before drawing her last breath. Ma had the gift of making everyone feel special. I try and remember my conversations with Ma and it wasn't anything in particular she said that made her so special, it was an aura she had that attracted children and animals alike.


"A Babe in the manger, no place for a crib" .It seems right to publish this passage about babies at Christmas Time. When I gave a reading at Vancouver's Ismaili Center, this passage set of a volley of questions. People wondered how hundreds of babies were adopted and yet the very existence of the home was a secret, But as I wrote, the names of the the single mothers who were looked after and gave up their children were never disclosed, Open adoption was decades in the future. The home was later closed as there were fewer Ismaili single mothers.


Ma's character is almost the same as she was in real life. Her life was so dramatic already. She was married at twelve and a widow with eight children at thirty five. But she surmounted her difficulties, kept the family together and became a leader in the community. There was something about her, her spirit that drew children and animals close to her.


On December 12th, 1963 Kenya officially became a Republic, independent from the English. I was only aa year old and was born to the heady excitement that anything was possible now that we were free to control our own destiny.


I still remember Anna and how kind and loving she was to us. I think my parents were wrong to dismiss her for her theft and should have given her a second chance.

My brother is missing...

The beginning of "Nairobi Days" is based on a real terrorist attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

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