Poem: “Building the Nation” by Henry Barlow

Building the Nation

Today I did my share 
In building the nation.
I drove a Permanent Secretary 
To an important urgent function  
In fact to a luncheon at the Vic.

The menu reflected its importance 
Cold Bell beer with small talk, 
Then fried chicken with niceties 
Wine to fill the hollowness of the laughs 
Ice-cream to cover the stereotype jokes 
Coffee to keep the PS awake on return journey.

I drove the Permanent Secretary back. 
He yawned many times in the back of the car 
Then to keep awake, he suddenly asked, 
Did you have any lunch friend? 
I replied looking straight ahead 
And secretly smiling at his belated concern 
That I had not, but was slimming! 

Upon which he said with a seriousness 
That amused more than annoyed me, 
Mwananchi, I too had none! 
I attended to matters of state. 
Highly delicate diplomatic duties you know, 
And friend, it goes against my grain, 
Causes me stomach ulcers and wind. 
Ah, he continued, yawning again, 
The pains we suffer in building the nation! 

So the PS had ulcers too! 
My ulcers I think are equally painful 
Only they are caused by hunger 
Not sumptuous lunches! 

So two nation builders 
Arrived home this evening 
With terrible stomach pains 
The result of building the nation —
Different ways.

— Henry Barlow

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