Monday, January 31, 2011

January in Review, Projections for February

My reading in January was aimed at fulfilling the Africa Reading Challenge, which is aimed at reading books from other African countries other than Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa. In all I read eight books (or nine, counting the last book I read in December 2010, which was reviewed in January 2011). The countries I have read from are:
  1. Mozambique (Mia Couto's Voices Made Night and Lilia Momple's Neighbours: The Story of a Murder)
  2. Egypt (Alifa Rifaat's Distant View of a Minaret)
  3. Angola (Pepetela's The Return of the Water Spirit)
  4. Cote d'Ivoire (Veronique Tadjo's The Shadow of Imana)
  5. Malawi (Jack Mapanje's The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison)
  6. Zimbabwe (Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions)
  7. South Africa/Botswana (Bessie Head's A Woman Alone - yet to be reviewed)
  8. Lesotho (Thomas Mofolo's Chaka, currently reading)
  9. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (not on any challenge)

Map of Africa
This trend would continue. However, I would need to also work on my Top 100 books to be read in five years challenge, if I am to read even thirty percent of the books. The main problem with this challenge has been the availability of the books. 

There are hints in my immediate future that suggest that my readings might take a plunge. However, unlike before this academic progression would not take me totally away from reading, writing, and blogging. I hope when it comes you would not abandon this blog but would stick with me as I trudge my way through another academic mire.

For those who still do not know how big Africa is and still consider it as one country, I have embedded into this post a map of Africa so that you would appreciate the various countries from which I would need to read.


Proverb Monday

Proverb: Wopε sε woyε ɔpanin pa a, wosisi w'aso, kata w'ani
Translation: If you wish to be a real elder, you close your ears and cover your eyes
Usage: An elder does not pay attention to idle gossip nor trivial events. This is to prevent wrong judgements of problems, allowing such an elder to speak with the wisdom it requires. Consequently, an elder is not necessarily a very old person but anyone who is wise and speaks and judges impartially.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The "Remembering Marechera" Anthology, a Call for Submission

Ivor Hartmann, writer, editor, visual artist and publisher, is calling for submission for the "Remembering Marechera" Anthology. The full call is below:

To celebrate Dambudzo Marechera’s posthumous 59th birthday this year I will be compiling an anthology entitled “Remembering Marechera”, consisting of essays, reviews, short stories, poems, etc. that follow this title/theme, to be published by StoryTime Publishing. To this end I invite your submissions until the 6th of April 2011.
  • Theme: “Remembering Marechera”
  • Word count: 1000-5000 words (less for poetry if needs be)
  • Format: An attached Word doc/docx, times new roman, 12 point, single spaced.
  • Submissions: By email only to:
  • Deadline: 6th of April 2011
The project will depend on the quantity and quality of submissions I receive, and if all goes well it will be distributed through Amazon’s Kindle platform in a variety of formats (and possibly print too depending). I look forward to reading your submissions. If you have any queries please email me at the submissions email.

You could also click here for more information.
Dambudzo Marechera
Brief Bio: Dambudzo Marechera (1952 - 1987) has been described as an eccentric writer who was loved and hated with equal measure. He blazed the Zimbabwean literary scene in the late 70s and 80s. While he suffered under the minority White rule in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), he was not fooled by the paradise promised by nationalist fighters. Dismissed by two universities in succession, the University of Rhodesia and Oxford University, he went on to win the Guardian First Book Award with The House of Hunger in 1979. Living as a tramp-writer in London's squats he went on to write Black Sunlight (1980) and Black Insider (1990, posthumous release). His recognition soared after his first publication but as unconventional as he was he resisted any attempt at being absorbed into the London's Literary Society. His revolutionary writing style puts him in the mould of Joyce, Beckett and Soyinka. The House of Hunger was said to set a new path in African writing.

Back home in Zimbabwe, the author continued to criticize the new government of the day, often satirising it in plays and short stories that was said to have a Kafkaesque feel. Such works included Mindblast (1984) and Scrapiron Blues (1994, posthumous release). These criticisms led to the banning of Black Insider. His poetry collection Cemetery of Mind (1992) is said to pay respect to such greats as T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes and Sylvia Plath, among others.

Since his death, Marechera's work has been analyzed in the contexts of (post)modernism, postcolonialism, Bakhtin's carnivalesque, universal humanism, resistance literature, post- and anti-nationalism, queer theory, masculinity theories, feminism, and exilic consciousness, among others. At the same time, Marechera continues to be criticized for his nihilism, his failure to offer opportunities for transcendence while destroying all markers of stable identity, and for his supposed misogyny. (Source)
A black man who has suffered all the stupid brutalities of the white oppression in Rhodesia, his rage explodes, not in political rhetoric, but in a fusion of lyricism, wit, obscenity. Incredible that such a powerful indictment should also be so funny. Doris Lessing (in praise of The House of Hunger)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Library Additions

Finally, I have been able to add some books to my library. Over the past two or three days I have made purchases of some books to help me with the Africa Reading Challenge - in the coming weekend I would to show my progress with this challenge. The following are the books:

  1. Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebee by Doreen Baingana (Uganda): I haven't as yet read any book by a Ugandan writer so I chose to add this book to my collection. Also this book has been read and reviewed by Geosi of Geosi Reads and Kinna of Kinna Reads. This is a collection of short stories and the title story won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in the Africa region.
  2. Underground People by Lewis Nkosi (South Africa): Louis Henry Gates (Jnr) says the author (and this book) is worth listening to. Besides, my reading of South African authors (excepting the dual nationalist Bessie Head, whose work I have not yet reviewed) does not include an author of colour. Lewis Nkosi is the beginning of the balance I intend to have in my readings.
  3. The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa (Angola): Kinna recommended this author and I was with her when she purchased her copy. It promises to be an interesting novel, having won many awards. It is also steeped in Latin American magic realism.
  4. Maru by Bessie Head (South Africa/Botswana): After reading her letters and essays in A Woman Alone I think the stage is now set for her novels. I have wanted to read A Question of Power but had to settle for this. Most of her novels are set in Serowe, Botswana.
  5. Mema by Daniel Mengara (Gabon): I bought this book mainly for the Africa Reading Challenge, having not heard of the author or the book.
  6. The Gods are Not to Blame by Ola Rotimi (Nigeria): I enjoyed his play Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again and decided to read this again. In secondary school this was a reading requirement for the Literature students and so I head snippets of the story.
Over the coming months ImageNations' readers would be treated to reviews of the above books. However, I am currently sticking to the books I purchased last year.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

63. Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga, A Review

Title: Nervous Conditions
Author: Tsitsi Dangarembga
Genre: Fiction/Novel/Coming-of-Age
Publishers: Ayebia Clarke
Pages: 208
Year of Publication: 1988; (this edition, 2004)
Country: Zimbabwe

Set in a period when women were hardly considered for education because they would soon be married off and therefore be lost to the household from whose meagre financial resources she was educated, Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga, tells the story of young Tambudzai - or Tambu as she was known - as she challenges her archetypal family which threatens to consider her as an ordinary member of the homogeneous group of women. However, Tambu's resolve to seek education was so strong that she was not sorry when her brother - Nhamo - died. In the first sentence of the first chapter she says
I was not sorry when my brother died. (Page 1)
This sentence would cause jaws to drop and sensitive people to ask why? However, written in the first person singular narrative and directed at the reader, Tambu tells the events that led to the death and which led her to realise her dreams of being educated and for which she was offering no apologies. The story is not all about the death of Nhamo but about
my escape and Lucia's; about my mother's and Maiguru's entrapment and about Nyasha's rebellion (Page 1).
Knowing that all the individuals mentioned in the above sentence are women, one soon realises that the story is about the female independence or freedom in a patriarchal society. The book does highlight the gender inequality that existed within the society and how it affected women. It is not a book dedicated to the fight against tradition or an Africa versus the West book, it is a book that addresses common sense issues such as education for all, respect for all, and soliciting each other's views in decision-making. It is a book that seeks to equalise humanity irrespective of the gender of the person.

As a young girl Tambu relished to be in school but was prevented from doing so by her father, because he was poor and also because the only son in the household, Tambu's brother - Nhamo - was in school and all financial resources have been allocated towards his education. However, we realise that Jeremiah's - Tambu's father - decision not to educate his daughter does not arise only from poverty but also from the fear that men had for educated women and also from the stratum men and society had placed women. For when Tambu argued with his father concerning her education, his father asked:
Can you cook book and feed them to your husband? (Page 15)
Thus, the traditional duty of a woman to be his husband's keeper and the bearer of his children were being drummed into her at that early stage. As non-conformist as Tambu was and as one who would not accept a decision without challenging it, she asked her mother whether Babamukuru's - their uncle who had taken Nhamo to school at the missions where he is the headmaster - wife (Maiguru) who is educated cooked books for their uncle:
This time, though, I had evidence. Maiguru was educated, and did she serve Babamukuru books for dinner? I discovered to my unhappy relief that my father was not sensible. 
I complained to my mother. 'Baba says I do not need to be educated,' I told her scornfully. 'He says I must learn to be a good wife. Look at Maiguru,' I continued, ... 'she is a better wife than you' (Page 16)
Tambu's quest for education was perhaps borne out of Maiguru's demeanour, which at that point she didn't know it was a facade, and also of Nhamo's reaction to village life whenever he comes on holidays. Nhamo was alienating himself from his sisters and his family; he saw the village as below him and Tambu also wanted to be out of that place, to be like Maiguru. However, when she could no more convince her parents, she decided to grow maize and use the proceeds to pay her fees. Yet, it wasn't until the death of her brother that the family decided to educate her.

In this novel, Tambu tells of how all the women in the story are in one way or the other trapped, including even the seemingly enviable Maiguru, whose level education was at par with her husband's. Maiguru was trapped by marriage and society. With all her education her husband hardly solicits her opinion in matters of familial decision. Consequently, she was unhappy, complains a lot, and lives under the shadow of her husband. And she had to give up a lot in her personal development just to make society happy. She tells of how everybody thought when she travelled with her husband to the United Kingdom, she merely went there to 'look after' him while he studied. No one knows the level of her education and she prefers to keep it that way. Lucia is trapped by poverty and bareness and because of these her family members consider her a witch. However, Lucia is strong-willed and hardworking. Ma'Shingayi - Tambu's mother - was herself trapped by poverty, neglect and illiteracy. Due to these she and her husband lived under the shadows of the more educated Babamukuru, doing things she would personally not have done but had to because Babamukuru had said so. Ma'Shingayi was so broken that when an opinion was asked of her, she jumped into a long tirade, pouring out all that had worked to weaken her psychologically, emotionally and physically in a series of rhetorical questions:
Since for most of her life my mother's mind, belonging first to her father and then to her husband, had not been hers to make up, she was finding it difficult to come to a decision. 
'Lucia' ... 'why do you keep bothering me with this question? Does it matter what I want? Since when has it mattered what I want? So why should it start mattering now? Do you think I wanted to be impregnated by that old dog? Do you think I wanted to travel all this way across this country of our forefathers only to live like dirt and poverty? Do you really think I wanted the child for whom I made the journey to die only five years after leaving the womb? Or my son to be taken from me? So what difference doe it make whether I have a wedding or whether I go? It is all the same. What I have endured for nineteen year I can endure for another nineteen, and nineteen more if need be. (Page 155)
And the last of the women is Nyasha - Babamukuru's daughter. Nyasha is trapped between cultures. Having spent a larger portion her formative years in England and having acquired certain behaviours that are contradictory to the expectations of traditional society, Nyasha was caught in a web-like entanglement with nowhere to go than to push forward or rebel. She shouts at her father, argues and challenges his authority. And in one of such altercations she hits him after he had done so.

In one way or the other all these women - save Ma'Shingayi - rebelled against Babamukuru's authority and societal expectations. Some ended well, such as Maiguru whose opinions began to be solicited in decisions, Lucia who got a job and Tambu herself who was being educated. However, it did not end well for Nyasha who found it difficult merging these two cultures, and so broke down.

Whereas the women were seemingly trapped, the men in the story were either weak and poor such as Takesure and Jeremiah, wealthy and opinionated such as Babamukuru, or ambivalent such as Chido - Nyasha's brother. This is a book of complex emotions and reactions. For relationships that look fresh and thriving on the surface are actually stale and dead on the inside.

To sum it up, I went through a roller coaster of emotions. I got bored at certain points, insane at others, virtually threw the book away, asked deep questions at others, conflicted my initial emotions at more places, and finally fell in love with the book. For instance, as much as I didn't like Babamukuru 'blowing' his daughter I was shocked of the daughter's reply; I was shocked of Tambu's refusal to attend his parents' wedding because it shamed her (I attended my parents marriage when I was about twelve); I wanted to tell Maiguru to stand up to Babamukuru, but Babamukuru was not a monster. He was actually a family man providing for his extended family, showing care as is expected of him. He only was reacting to 'what people might say'. I wanted to tell Nyasha that there are cultural differences because it is always bad to have altercations with your parents or any adult. I wanted Babamukuru to sit down with his daughter and talk to her and to listen to her opinions too. I wanted Maiguru to stop covering up issues. And these are the issues Tsitsi Dangarembga wanted to bring out. Had I reviewed this book just after reading, I would have reacted badly to it. But now, after days of digestion, I know what Tsitsi was about.

This is a typical coming of age story, though I believe things are turning around for many women. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it unreservedly to all readers. And remember there is a sequel to this The Book of Not which I would be reviewing soon, but not next.
Tsitsi Dangarembga
Brief Bio: In 1959, Tsitsi Dangarembga was born in what was formerly referred to as Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe, in the town of Mutoko. Although born in Africa she spent her childhood , ages two through six, in Britain. She began her education in a British school but concluded her early education, her A-levels, in a missionary school in the City of Mutare. Later, she went back to Britain to attend Cambridge University where she pursued a course of study in medicine.

Back home, she began a course of study at the University of Harare in psychology. During her studies, Dangarembga held a job at a marketing agency as a copywriter for two years and was a member of the drama group affiliated with the university. In 1983 she directed and wrote a play entitled "The Lost of the Soil". She then became an active member of a theater group called, Zambuko. While involved in this groups she participated in the production of two plays, "Katshaa!" and "Mavambo".

In 1985, she published a short story in Sweden entitled "The Letter" and in 1987, she published a play in Harare entitled "She No Longer Weeps". Her real success came at age twenty five with the publication of her novel Nervous Conditions. This novel was the first novel to be published in English by a black Zimbabwean woman. In 1989, it won her the African section of the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Prior to this award she had won a second prize in the Swedish aid-organization, SIDA, short story competition. After Nervous Conditions was published in Denmark, she made a trip there in 1991 to be part of the Images-of-Africa festival. Dangaremba continued her education in Berlin at the Deutsche Film und Fernseh Akademie where she studied film direction. While in school she made many film productions, including a documentary for German television. She then made the film entitled "Everyone's Child", her most recent credit. It has been shown worldwide at various festivals including the Dublin Film Festival. (Source)

ImageNations Rating: 6.0 out of 6.0

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

62. Neighbours: The Story of a Murder by Lília Momplé, A Review

Title: Neighbours: The Story of a Murder
Author: Lília Momplé
Translators: Richard Bartlett and Isaura de Oliveira
Genre: Fiction/Novella
Publishers: Heinemann (African Writers Series)
Pages: 133
Year of Publication: 1995 (In Portuguese), 2001 (In English)
Country: Mozambique

ASIDE: The cover illustration of this book (at least the version I have from Heinemann as shown on the left) is by Malangatana. I got to know this great artist on the day he died, January 5, 2011, through a fellow blogger Abena Serwaa. His paintings are so unique that the very moment I saw the cover of this book I knew it is hi work (though I had only known him and his works for about two days as of the time of reading).

When Mozambique gained its independence on June 25, 1975, the country sought to help freedom fighters in South Africa and Zimbabwe in their quest to shatter the chains of oppressive regimes: colonialism and apartheid respectively. However, the apartheid South African government of the time financed and sponsored armed groups in Mozambique called the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) to sabotage the new government through murder and various acts of terrorism. This sabotage was aimed at destabilising the new government and inciting the citizens to reject the influx of South African refugees and ANC (African National Congress - South Africa's political organisation that was fighting against the apartheid government) members into the neighbouring country. 

It is within this setting that Momplé's story is told. She writes in the preface:
Oppression can take many forms. Neighbours was written out of my horror at the way countries can abuse each other's sovereignty for their own ends with impunity. Like many Mozambicans, I lived through decades when South Africa did as it pleased in Mozambique in order to protect the interests of the apartheid regime. During this period many Mozambicans were killed or had their lives destroyed. It is to them that I dedicate this book.
A sad premise for a story, even more when the premise is factual rather than fictitious. Neighbours is a story about the lives of five families - two of which would later become the victims and three, the perpetrators - as they struggle through the dark days leading to Mozambique's independence and the gloom and hopelessness that hung over the country such that people thought it best to flee the country and seek better living in various European countries especially Portugal.

Romu is a black Mozambican whose allegiance to the Portuguese' (the colonialist) cause is runs deep and is unquestionable. This resolve to protect the colonialist's grip on power results from an unstable childhood heaped onto him by his promiscuous mother and his own delinquencies. So that when the colonialists lost its grip on power and acceded to FRELIMO's (the organisation that fought for independence) campaign and fight for independence Romu's heart was broken. He felt his entire life's work - fighting alongside the colonialist's troops as they killed black Mozambicans - has come to naught. It is within this sombreness that he was approached by the two South African terrorists - Rui (a Mozambican who had fled to South Africa after the unsuccessful September 7 reactionary coup d’état by Portuguese settlers) and a real South African Boer. Romu sees the killing of Mozambican citizens to further the cause of white supremacy in South Africa, which would perhaps lead to the return of the Portuguese to Mozambique, as a chance to bring back the colonialist to power. Thus, Romu's motive of joining this massacre is his hatred against his own people.

Zaliua's motive of joining this cause was a thirst for revenge. Having left his mother in the hinterlands of Mozambique into the city, Zaliua worked his way up to become the head of the Criminal Investigation Police in Nacala under the colonial government. Thereafter Zaliua resorted to cheating, and corruption to enrich himself. However, a year after independence he was deposed, arrested and sentenced to a prison term. His wealth having been accumulated through corrupt practices were confiscated. However, Zaliua upon release decides to seek vengeance on the country and its people that have let him down; that never saw what he did to help them - appreciating his works with a prison term and poverty.

Dupont's motive was financially motivated. Coming from a family where every member is well-off, he is considered a loser and his marriage to Mena worsened his plight amongst his family, as Mena is considered to be of 'low social class' or 'an inferior race'. And when his family left for Portugal, Dupont made it a point to amass wealth in order to prove to his family that he could make it without their help.

These three individuals together with the two terrorists entered into the neighbourhood of Narguiss, an obese woman who - at the night of Eid, when no moon has appeared to warrant the celebration - was waiting for his cuckold husband and Leia and Januario and their daughter, Iris, of two years.

The story is told within twenty-four hours with the sections marked by specific times that certain events took place. The storyline of each person or family seems to run independent of the other until they come together at the peak when the murders were committed. By providing enough background information of each person or family, the event of their deaths was more felt than it would have otherwise been had we known nothing about them. For instance, we know that Januario's family were burnt in his village after he was helped by his mother to escape the abjectness of their lives in the bush where he had lived with his family. We also know that Narguiss has a family of daughters, with the youngest at the university seeking to come out as a medical practitioner. We also know that that evening Narguiss was only waiting for the moon to appear and her husband to come home so they could celebrate the Eid together, as they had been doing over the years. And for all these innocent, normal people to be caught up in a scheme they know nothing about because one country wants keep its grip on power is, to say the least, upsetting.

Though this book is only 131 pages (excluding the glossary), all characters are fully developed and we could sympathise them, hate them, love them, pity them. Momplé strips the story down to its essentials. This story is thus a historical fiction, where the characters could easily be identified with by numerous individuals. My only problem is that it was short.

This is a book I would recommend to everyone lover of African literature especially the Lusophonic part of Africa.
Brief Bio: Lilia Momplé was born in 1935 on the Island of Mozambique and obtained a BA in Social Work in Portugal. She was Secretary General of the Mozambique Writers' Association from 1995 to 2001 and President from 1997 to 1999. She has also represented her country at a number of international cultural assemblies, and has recently been appointed to the UNESCO Executive Council. Her publications include No One Killed Suhara (1988), The Eyes of the Green Cobra (1997) and the script for the award-winning Mozambican video drama Muhupitit Alima (1988). Her novel Neighbours was first published in Portuguese in 1995. Lilia Momple lives with her husband in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. (Source)

ImageNations Rating: 5.0 out 6.0

Monday, January 24, 2011

Featured at Munyori

I am happy to tell you that four poems of mine have been published by Munyori Literary Journal at My poems are featured alongside R.S. Carlson (USA), Louie Crew (USA), Lian Yujing (China), Mike Mware (Zimbabwe). There are also fiction by Miriam Shumba, Kudazi Ndanga, and NoViolet Bulawayo (all from Zimbabwe), Joanne Hillhouse (Antigua), Patrick O. Ochieng (Kenya) and an interview of Bapsi Sidhwa (Pakistan) by Sunil Sharma (India), and a book review by Memory Chirere (Zimbabwe). And more!

The poems featured are:
  • Savages are We
  • A Curve in the Tell (A Direct Response to Naipaul's The Masque of Africa)
  • Devolution
  • Abracadabra Adabraka
Click here to read.

Proverb Monday

Proverb: Sε asamando wɔ amane a, anka ɔbaatan bi amane ne ba
Translation: If there was fortune in the spirit world (netherworld), a good mother would have remitted to her child.
Usage: No mother will sit idle for her child to suffer if she has any means of helping. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Quotes for Friday

Her five daily prayers were like punctuation marks that divided up and gave meaning to her life. Each prayer had for her a distinct quality, just as different foods had their own flavours. (Page 3, Distant View of a Minaret, in Distant View of a Minaret by Alifa Rifaat)

All fifty years, I felt, were shown in the footprints they had left round my eyes, which were still my best feature, and in the slackness round my chin (Page 17, Thursday Lunch, in Distant View of a Minaret by Alifa Rifaat)

Life is a web weaving a spider (Page 95, The Ex-Future Priest and His Would-be Widow, in Voices Made Night by Mia Couto)

Happiness stepped out of her and forgot to return (Page 83, Patanhoca the Lovesick Snake Catcher, in Voices Made Night by Mia Couto)

I am a blind man who sees many doors (Page 48, So You Haven't Flown Yet,, Carlota Gentina, in Voices Made Night by Mia Couto)

The power of a minion is to make others feel even smaller, to tread on others just as he himself is trodden on by his superiors (Page 47, So You Haven't Flown Yet,, Carlota Gentina, in Voices Made Night by Mia Couto)

...the calmest features hide the most scheming minds (Page 59, A Wasted Land by Daniel Mandishona, in Contemporary African Short Stories Edited by Chinua Achebe and C.L. Innes)

We could see that their promise land would be a tainted utopia, a paradise of emptiness. Yet somehow we listened to them and followed them like columns of compliant sonambulists to the edge of the chasm (Page 61,  A Wasted Land by Daniel Mandishona, in Contemporary African Short Stories Edited by Chinua Achebe and C.L. Innes)

...true goodness cannot be measured in times of abundance but when hunger dances in bodies of men (Page 69, The Bird's of God by Mia Couto, in Contemporary African Short Stories Edited by Chinua Achebe and C.L. Innes)

...he who is chosen by God always wanders off his path. (Page 70, The Bird's of God by Mia Couto, in Contemporary African Short Stories Edited by Chinua Achebe and C.L. Innes)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

61. Treatise on the Social Contract of Marriage and on Social Class in Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

Jude the Obscure is a novel that challenges the social settings and structure of its time. Jude could not enter the university, Christminster, because he was self-taught and poor. He couldn't maintain Sue as his wife, without formal marriage contract from the Church and registry, consequently he was sacked from work and couldn't find any proper work until they pretended to be married. Sue and Jude were kindred spirit who wanted to live their lives without complicating it with laws and contracts that are meaningless. They hate social structures, especially one that deals with marriage. But how could two individuals with diametrically opposing views of society live in a society that is intolerable to people of varied views?

In Jude the Obscure (1895), Thomas Hardy provides compelling arguments against the common thoughts of the time as they relate to marriage. Several themes run through this beautiful novel. One quote I fell in love with is
No average man—no man short of a sensual savage—will molest a woman by day or night, at home or abroad, unless she invites him. Until she says by a look 'Come on' he is always afraid to, and if you never say it, or look it, he never comes.
When Jude's child, from his first marriage, killed their common children, Sue decided to do penance for her sins by going back to Mr. Phillotson, the husband she had earlier been divorced from. It was this tragedy that made Sue succumb to societal laws and Jude to death.
Do not do an immoral thing for moral reasons!
For those who are interested in Classical fiction and one that writes against or challenges the dictates of the times, this is a good novel. Like every book that was written on issues far advanced of its time, this book was highly criticised and according to Hardy, this criticisms
silenced him as a novelist
The book was burnt by a bishop and for its criticisms on Christianity and marriage as an institution.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

60. The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison by Jack Mapanje, A Review

Title: The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison
Author: Jack Mapanje
Genre: Poetry
Publishers: Heinemann (African Writers Series)
Pages: 99
Year of First Publication: 1993
Country: Malawi

Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison is a collection of forty-five poems grouped under four sections: ANOTHER FOOLS' DAY HOMES IN; OUT OF BOUNDS; CHATTERING WAGTAILS; and THE RELEASE AND OTHER CURIOUS SIGHTS. Together these interwoven poems tell the story of what got the poet arrested, his time in prison and his time out of prison. Jack Mapanje was arrested and detained in Mikuyu Maximum Detention Center for three and half years without charge. This arrest came on the back of the reprinting of his first collection of poems Of Chameleons and Gods.

Right from the beginning, in the Prologue, darkness forebodes as 
Laughters and ceaseless tears shed/In the Chaos of invented autocracies//Now darkly out of bounds beyond [...] (Page 1)
The first set of poems is proved a little difficult to penetrate but reading it twice helped; and we realise that Mapanje not only reports of the corruption of the day but also judges our understanding of life and our appreciation of it. For in Haggling Old Woman at Balaka, Jack - a keen observer - was shocked to see women trading exchanging the best of what they have for the worst the world has to offer. He writes 
You sell chicken eggs for cokes and fantas/To suckle your babies, then you ask me/Why your babies are rickets and ribs? (Page 9)
Yet, we know that Jack could possibly not be referring to the old women but to the country's politburo, who are eagerly exchanging the resources of the country (chicken eggs) for postiches that would eventually cause the nation and its people to suffer (rickets and protruding ribs). And on the pretext of national development they build
Brick houses on old women's dying energies (Page 9)
It is these keen observations and metaphorical writings that caused dissatisfaction among the government, for Jack seems to speak his mind, as any excellent poet would, without fear. In For Another Village Politburo Projected, Jack addresses politicians who sit on committees, stand on daises to bamboozle the populace. He writes:
Hyenas with the gilt of our skulls behind will/Tumble in chicken bones fattened by the meager/Women of this village (Page 11)
He also shows how the people have become unwilling participants, accepting their incapability of making progress and the general lack of vision as the norm: 
We will all tune in to these levities, some/Plodding on to the dais, others shrugging without bitterness (Page 11)
Everything seemed doomed forever
Unless some soldier-bee cracks in on us one day! (Page 11)
 Jack Mapanje's pen does not, however, spare the docile masses who have been cowed into submission and those who are genuflecting or salaaming before the rulers; he abhors those who keep the pain on the periphery of their senses, lest they be hurt. According to him
The crime is how we deliberately keep out of touch,/Pretending it has nothing to do with us, we've bee/Through it all. (When the Shire Valley Dries Up Patiently, Page 14)
And the punished are not always the hoi polloi but includes party people who try to remain credible; who choose truth ahead of lies. Vigil for a Fellow Credulous Captive describes such an incident. This piece marks the general observations of Jack Mapanje and the section on Another Fools' Day Homes In.

In Out of Bounds, Jack writes on issues that he definitely knows would bring him trouble. Here Jack further denudes the problems facing the society; showing them as they are. So that after the husbands have been sent to the mines,
... the wives survive by their wits & sweats:/Shoving dead cassava stalks into rocks, catching/Fish in tired chitenje cloths with kids, picking Baobab fruit & whoring... (Baobab Fruit Picking (or Development in Monkey Bay))
a word (whoring) Jack uses several times to indicate the extent of the suffering. This word, when used in a country where the mere discussion of sexual issues is nearly a taboo, is worth noting. This piece together with the one the follows it Moving into Monkey Bay (Balamanja North), also address governments sale of national property to enrich the politicians.

While writing on thievery with capitalism facade, Jack also decries the negatives that have pervaded society under the flag of civilisation. In doing so, he compares the man who deems himself civilised with the animal. According to him whereas the former changes, putting on the clothes of negativity, the latter remain true to its nature. This and more is the theme of The Farm that Gobbles the Land at Home, which was written after Kofi Awoonor's The Sea eats the Land at Home. In this piece we read how everyone is taking advantage of the other; how locally-made composts are banned so that farmers would be forced to rely on foreign fertilizers that channels all their earnings into another's pocket; how peasant farmers are swallowed up by commercial farmers with the latter becoming wage earners on the plantations or sharecroppers - all these under the guise of capitalism. They could be metaphors for the government but I prefer to see it as a competitive market economy with government interference and heavy individuals with ulterior motives - a system where rent-seeking activities are the norm.
One farmer gathers smaller farmers into WETs/ (Wage-Earning-Tenants) offering them thirty coins/ Per day, stopping their mixed planting: cheap/ Original ashes or compost manures are banned/ (To maximise profits) and fertilizers (only farms/ Can afford) imposed. (Page 26)
In spite of all these, when the old people keep to their tradition; to doing what they know how to do best, they are deemed witches (Burning witches for Rain (The Dark Case)).

The last entry in this section - the poem that gave the section its subtitle - Out of Bounds (or Our Maternity Asylum) is about an overcrowded maternity ward with broken and missing facilities and poorly paid staffs. The imagery in this piece is haunting. Again, in this piece Jack bemoans the masses too eager to please the political elite by altering reality; so that they would prefer to borrow or hire out beds when the president comes visiting than to let him see the realities of the situation.
Sixty inmates of spasming women top & tail/ On thirty beds; ninety others with infants/ /Scramble over the cracked cold cement floor - /A family under each bed, most in between
Chattering Wagtails, which marks the third section, basically deals with the treatment the poet went through during incarceration. The poet talks about how they were made to strip naked like ordinary criminals in The Streak-Tease at Mikuyu Prison, 25 1987. He also talks about the fear a prisoner has for his family from colleagues and neighbours who would begin to treat them as a contagion. The most hurtful treatment are those who pretended to love the prisoner while he was with them and because of the fear that the government would associate them with the prisoner they cut all ties with his family. This was the theme in Fears from Mikuyu Cells for Our Loves. In The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison, Jack Mapanje bemoans what has become his fate; he narrates how the prison came to be built, describing the manner of people who came who came to head them and his associations with the wagtails, whose shits he had to clean daily. He as well bemoans how the real criminals are released the very day they are arrested while they - who want to fight for the common good of the country - are arrested and put into bars for years. It was clear that there were a lot of political prisoners in Mikuyu Prison, who would later be all released.

However, Jack was to be released when fellow writers and activists pressured the Malawian government to the extent that on his day of release he was asked who he is. The Release: Who Are You, Imbongi? is the first poem of the final section The Release And Other Curious Sightings. What would a poet do if he is afraid to write what he sees? So Jack continued to write, to question.
Straggling shackscape a chaperon and/ A boy defiantly declare their UNHCR/ Wares beside the highway: tins of butter/ /From European Community mountains,/ Paraffin glass lanterns from Mozambique/ And gallons of American cooking oil/ /(Bantering for the much needed dry fish/ The donors overlooked). (The Straggling Mudhuts of Kirk Range Page 76).
Jack also writes on women whose husbands have gone to fight for a freedom they would not enjoy from; or who have gone to the mines to keep their homes running but may not return to fulfill their dreams or to see them fulfilled. The poet frequently counts himself as part of the victims or the victimised. Aside whoring, another word the author kept referring to was accidentalized, defined by the author as "to kill and pretend it was an accident when everybody knows it was not" (Page 24). It was first used in Smiller's Bar Revisited (1983) in the first section and last used in The Deluge after our Gweru Prison Dreams, the last poem in this anthology. In the latter use, as in the first, it is the seekers of truth who were accidentalized, indicating that nothing has changed.

This is a great collection of poetry; I believe many lovers of the genre would enjoy reading this as most of the poems are not so difficult. The collection reads like a circle, with no beginning or an ending. For the things that took the poet to prison are the things he wrote about in the last section; hence had he not left the country, he would possibly have either been arrested or accidentalized like his other colleagues.
Jack Mapanje
Brief Bio: Malawian poet Jack Mapanje taught in Malawi Secondary Schools before he joined the Department at Chancellor College, University of Malawi, in 1975, first as a lecturer, then as Head of Department of English. He has a BA and Diploma in Education from the University of Malawi, an M.Phil in English and Education from The Institute of Education London, and a Ph.D. in Linguistics from University of College London in 1983. His first collection of poems, Of Chameleons and Gods, was published in the UK in 1981 and withdraw from bookshops, libraries and all institutions of learning in Malawi in June 1985. He was imprisoned without trial or charge by the Malawian government in 1987, and although many writers, linguists and human rights activists including Harold Pinter and Wole Soyinka, Susan Sontag, Noam Chomsky and others campaigned for his release, he was not freed until 1991. The poems in The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison (1983) were composed while he was imprisoned, as well as most of his third collection of poetry, Skipping without Ropes (1998).

Jack Mapanje lives in York, and is currently teaching Creative Writing and Literature of Incarceration in the School of English, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. His book, The Last of the Sweet Bananas: New and Selected Poems was published in 2004, and his latest poetry collection is Beasts of Nalunga (2007). (Source)

ImageNations: 5.0 out of 6.0

Proverb Monday

Okay so it isn't Monday today! I forgot to search for the appropriate proverb yesterday so here it is today.

Proverb: Aboa no nya wo na ɔre nka wo a, ɔmfee ne se nkyerε wo
Translation: If the animal won't bite you, it won't bare its teeth to you
Usage: Take caution from threats. This is mostly used in advising an individual who has had altercations with another person.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Literature, in the Eyes of the Elite

Ever since Tricia Nwaubani's infamous article, In Africa, the Laureate's Curse, first published in The New York Times and then at the NEXT, a lot of comments and opinions have been shared. The majority of these have been against the theses posited by the writer. I personally wrote a response. The crux of Tricia's article are:
  1. An Ngugi Nobel would have resulted in the new generation of aspiring writers dreaming of nothing higher than being hailed as "the next Ngugi";
  2. An Ngugi award could have them [new writers] back to the old tried and tired ways [which Tricia described as 'an earnest and sober style' of Ngugi, Achebe and Soyinka];
  3. Instead of acclaimed Nigerian writers, we would have acclaimed Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa writers. We suffer enough from tribal differences already. This is not the kind of variety we need. [Here Nawaubani claims that writing in his native Gikuyu language or any other African language for that matter breeds tribalism].
Whereas most of the comments and articles (Molara Wood, Carmen McCain, Kinna) rebutted all three issues therein raised, one article has recently popped up on NEXT supporting the tribalism that writing in ones local language breeds. The author also discussed why we should write in English. The first response I read on this issue was by Amy.

This preposterous article by Arthur Anyadua, which rebutted the first two points but supported the latter, states that 
Nigeria, .., is a country and has remained so because of the English language and influence.
According to the writer 'anyone trying to reach a national Nigerian audience would be quite unserious writing in any of the native languages.

Like Tricia, I 'shudder' when I hear arguments coming from individuals who could be nothing but elitist blessed with the ability to speak excellently in an imposed language, without first having to translate from their local language. Africa is a continent with about 54 countries (waiting for the birth of the 55th - southern Sudan) and hence has numerous languages. Yet, in the midst of such varied languages, without the so-called 'English influence' we existed as Empires and Kingdoms, trading amongst ourselves successfully. My minute knowledge in History tells me of the Mali Empire, the Songhai Empire and the Ghana Empire, which all thrived successfully until conquest destroyed them. Many years ago, the Mongol Empire 
stretched from the Sea of Japan to Eastern Europe, covered Siberia in the north and extended southward into Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Middle East. It is commonly referred to as the largest contiguous empire in the history of the world. At its greatest extent it spanned 6,000 mi (9,700 km), covered an area of 33,000,000 km2 (12,741,000 sq mi), 22% of the Earth's total land area, and held sway over a population of 100 million. (Source Wikipedia).
And was this achieved after the 'English Influence'? Such comments show one thing and one thing only: the Elites of Africa when trusted with leadership positions would look only to the West for freedom. Such individuals have lost all sense of self and have placed themselves below all others. Is Arthur telling us that Nigeria would be this 'united' without the 'English Influence?' I guess they would be really UNITED when the unity is borne out of respect for each other's culture and when it is proposed from amongst the people themselves.

Besides, should writing be commercially motivated? Why can't one write to preserve a culture, to improve a language and to inspire? Why can't one write to express oneself in a language that ruled his or her formative years? In Ghana the preservation of most of local languages has been left in the hands of commercial drivers and signwriters to devastating effects, such that misspelt words are virtually pushed into one's face every day.

Arthur also pointed out that 
'the uneducated mass of Africans are still exempt from any form of written literature, be it in indigenous or Western languages.'
I don't know elsewhere but in Ghana the situation used to be different. My late grandmother read Twi and Ga like I would read English but she never could read English to any satisfaction. This has become a problem because of such thinking and thesis as
The English language is our academic language, our governing, official and economic language. (emphasis mine)
posited by Arthur and his kin. So that ones wisdom and capability is judged by his ability to fluently rattle English: the more foreign accent infused into it the better. As a result local folks who cannot even construct one grammatically correct sentence tend to infuse strange accents, not spoken anywhere, into their speeches. We call such accents, LAFA: Locally Acquired Foreign Accent. Yet, Swahili is spoken in East Africa and Hausa is spoken in most countries. It is a wonder and a pity that in an age where Google has seen it fit to have translations into many local languages (in Ghana we have Twi and Hausa, with work still on Ewe and Ga), Africans of such learning could write to belittle their own languages.

And when it got to this:
Our civilisation is either borrowed or enforced. No language can strongly support a culture that lacks the commensurate strength to sustain it.
 and that:
The English language dominates modern technology, market, economy and even religion. Africa does not have any strong indigenous religion; no indigenous technology to compete with Western ones, no strong economies and markets. So, how do we expect to build a strong literary heritage that will identify with our weak indigenous languages without recourse to the cultural realities of our present existence?
when it got here, I knew Arthur is lost. Here the author is not equating his local language (which I believe he has) with Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, French. He is eagerly putting his below all others, again! This is the kind of problem Africa has. The author's view of civilisation is skewed at best. He sees the Hollywoodification of the world as civilisation so that he who is not on such a path is uncivilised. We all know that the path to development for the Asian countries is far different from the path taken by the US and UK. Hence, there are several paths that lead to the same destination. The BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) are hardly English-speaking and are they developed technologically, politically, commercially, as the author tend to define his civilisation? Is Russia not civilised because they speak Russian? And can Africans develop their language to such a level, and if yes where does it begin with? A century or two ago, Latin was the language of the academics, even in Britain. Which events led to this language coup? Is one civilised only if one speaks and write English?

Is not this a compelling reason for us to develop our local languages? Then there is the problem of what constitutes African or Nigerian literature. And is it because of this that we should all write in English? Because we cannot define what the African or Nigerian literature is? Like Soyinka said, the tiger does not exhibits its tigritude.

The author states that
The world is going global and cultures have intermingled.
When it got here I realised there is a new world order coming up. Are we aiming at a homogenous world culture with globalisation? Globalisation involves bringing to the table what you have and not losing yours to another because you consider it inferior. Should we begin to wear a three-piece suit, a felt hat with a walking stick in one hand, drink tea, and speak to be civilised or to be come part of the global village? The Japanese instead of throwing away their Kimono, their Buddha Statues, their tea houses, to become civilised, have developed and strengthened these because they take pride in them, seeing it not as second not another's culture but as superior to all. This is what the author has failed to see and instead of congratulating Ngugi for this he is condemning him on the pretext of tribalism.

According to the writer, a stone would be stone in any language it is spoken in. Arthur in this instance refers to literature as a material, a name given to an object and since this material remains same from one language to the other it does not matter the language within which one speaks, the understanding and self expression would be clear. When I say "W'amma wo yɔnko antwa ankɔ a, wo nso worentwa nnu" (If you don't let your companion clear the path forward, you also won't clear it to the end) there are sounds here that has multiple meanings. For instance, "ankɔ", which means, as used here, 'do not go (forward)", sounds similar to "nkron" (or nine in English), and "nnu" (not reach), also sounds like "du", ten. Hence, this simple proverb also could mean "if you do not allow your friend to harvest nine you would not harvest ten". Is this second meaning implied in the English version? This is the beauty of language that Arthur fails to appreciate. Literature is not just names it is the stringing together of words to create a work of art and in doing so assonance, cadence, nuance all come up to make the meaning whole.

Finally, the author warns
Rather than begin to romance with the cold of the past, African writers should immerse themselves into the spirit of the times and begin to use the available tools in their disposal to call humankind back to our common humanity. A man must dance the dance prevalent in his time, to echo Achebe.
To respond to this I would quote Armah (Two Thousand Seasons):
A people losing sight of origins are dead. A people deaf to purposes are lost. Under fertile rain, in scorching sunshine there is no difference: their bodies are mere corpses, awaiting final burial.
Woe the race, too generous in the giving of itself, that finds a road not of regeneration but to its own extinction. Woe the race, woe the spring. Woe the headwaters, woe the seers, the hearers, woe the utterers. Woe the flowing water, people hustling to death.
If we all take such an elitist view of Africa, its culture and literature, we would be lost and the only thing that would remain for us to do as a people at the final stage of this transfiguration would be to bleach ourselves, stretch our hairs, paint our pupils and if all these fail approach the genetic engineers (or th eugenics) for the removal of the melanin to help improve our race and reach the obtainable level of this Arthurian Civilisation.
To bestow universality to a borrowed language is to divest oneself of one’s identity. Let’s not be blind to the fact that ‘English’ as a language is another man’s culture; his local language.
This was my initial response to Anyaduba's article and it remains my response.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Every Piece Shall Go, These Impartial Cleaners

I was scheduled to review Jack Mapanje's anthology The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison. Unfortunately, I left the book home while coming to work. Besides, my Nokia N95's modem is not working anymore; hence, I am 'net-less' at home.

Since today is a Friday and I may not post over the weekend, I cannot leave work without a blog post knowing that if I do it would take another three days for me to post. Therefore, I am posting the first poem I wrote in 2011. It is still a Work In Progress, at least until it is fully published.

And The Man with his cowries shall,
Piece by piece like the beggar
Whom he booted, shot and killed
When his grumbling intestines
Silenced his eyes to beg a tinkling coin,

Be gleaned clean from his essence
Ingested, digested, and shitted into his
Primeval origins – a shadow would
Elongate, shrivel, or run with the light
But always, as all things in end,
Returns to its source.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Featured here and there

Last December, I had the privilege of being featured in the Dust Magazine. My poem Middle Sex and a brief biography were published. You can read it here. You would have to scroll down to read. This same poetry was also published at the Writers Project of Ghana.

The following poems have also been published in JENdA! No. 17 (2010): African Women in Dimension: Part I:
  • In the Line of Darkness
  • Eyes in the Window
  • The African Woman

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

59. The Shadow of Imana: Travels in the Heart of Rwanda by Veronique Tadjo, A Review

Title: The Shadow of Imana: Travels in the Heart of Rwanda
Author: Veronique Tadjo
Translator: Veronique Wakerley
Genre: Non-Fiction/Travelogue
Publishers: Heinemann (Africa Writers Series)
Pages: 118
Year of Publication: 2000 (In French); 2002 (In English)
Country: Cote d'Ivoire

When I embarked on the Africa Reading Challenge I never thought the genre of books I would be selecting would be so varied. But that is exactly what it turned out to be. Veronique's book The Shadow of Imana chronicles a traveller's views, response and reports on the Rwandan genocide and it is the first non-fiction travelogue I have read.

In 1998, Veronique travelled to Rwanda to find out what might actually have motivated the genocide and this book is the product of such an investigation. However, more importantly, the book is more than just a recording of interviews, views and facts. Its prose boasts of poetic tendencies so that the whole section titled THE VOICE reads like a long beautifully written poem. In spite of this readers are warned that there are scenes of morbid description that could disturb sensitive readers. And that is the paradox of the book: beautiful in prose; morbid in description.

The more one thinks about the genocide the more one finds it difficult to believe that two ethnic groups that have lived and intermarried so that mere physical features is not enough to distinguish one from the other could develop such an animalistic animosity against each other to the extent of exterminating husbands, wives and children on the basis of a virtual classification not borne out of any phenotypic expression of ones genetic constitution. As Veronique aptly puts it:
Not all the Tutsis are tall. Not all the Hutus are stocky in build. Because of all the inter-ethnic marriages and the various instances of inter-breeding, those chasing the Tutsis would ask first of all to see identity cards as a means of selecting future victims. (Page 17)
So how could this be? How could these two tribes hate each other so much even if distinguishing one from the other has become almost impossible? And it is a worry that at least one of the answers to these questions involves anthropological features. As Veronique found out: 
One of the reasons for the persecution of the Tutsis comes from the theories suggested by European historians, Belgian in particular, who, towards the end of the nineteenth century, attributed to them [Tutsis] foreign origins. According to those historians the 'watussi' shepherds, whom they characterised as tall and slender, in contrast to the smaller Hutu farmers, were not originally natives of central Africa. Some thought they could have come from as far off as Tibet or Egypt. But the link with Ethiopia remains the most common claim. (Page 22)
According to Veronique there is no proof for this theory, yet this claim which initially was made as a form of flattery led to thousands of Tutsis being thrown into the Kagera river so that 'they can return to Ethiopia'. 

Yet these same Belgians, who had somewhat laid the foundation for this unwarranted genocide, together with the international community packed bag and baggage escaping a country in which they have come to stay, worked and loved, leaving the people to annihilate themselves. After all who cares? They are just some Africans. And amongst those who left where pastors in whose parishes and churches some of the would-be persecuted Tutsis sought refuge:
The Belgian priest was no longer there when the massacre took place. (Page 13)
Here too, Belgian priests administered the parish: four Flemings and a Walloon. They left just before the massacre. (Page 15)
It is 'interesting' to know that the perpetrators of this hideous crime included many women. So that at the when the killing reached a frenzied apogee the distinction between the sexes became blurred as each sought the offender's blood, whose offence was to be from a different tribe. It should however be stated that there were those who were threatened to kill or else be killed. Under such duress where the only option of inflicting death is to die, many Hutus succumbed. Under the sub-section Two hundred and fifty-three women, Veronique writes:
Women who are murderers, perpetrators of genocide, women forced to kill, accused of having killed their husbands, their children, friends, neighbours, strangers. Women who have helped men to rape, who sang to give them the courage to massacre, who betrayed, who pillaged, who decided to join the acts of cruelty. With machetes, they killed other women, mutilated children, finished off men. (Page 101)
And that is how 800,000 people came to die in approximately 100 days of enraged massacre.

On the side of justice, we are told that about how one hundred and thirty thousand men, women and children - who took part in the massacre either voluntarily or under duress - have been arrested. The challenge however is now on dispatching justice. According to Veronique's report the maximum number of cases that can be handled in a year  in Rwanda with its resources is thousand. Thus, it would take one hundred and thirty years to see to all perpetrators. A mission which, needless to say, is impossible.

The question we need to ask ourselves is, can this unfortunate event happen again - anywhere on the continent? And the answer is yes. All that is required is a country deeply divided along ethnic lines where justice is dispensed along these lines; where people are irresponsible for their speeches. Currently, on a very minor scale, the shooting of Congressswoman Gabrielle Giffords has been blamed on irresponsible speeches by politicians. Currently, Cote d'Ivoire, coincidentally the author's home country, is simmering from political tensions divided along ethnic lines; Sudan is now voting for secession along ethnic and religious lines. So we know it can happen. In fact the Darfur issue has already being described as a genocide. Back to the Rwandan issue, when the Hutu government, which was in power prior to the genocide, The Ten Commandments of the Hutus was published. This document showed who the enemy was, how to destroy the enemy and how not to give up and all that. Yet, the government pretended as if it did not know of its existence. And this was published in a ethnically biased newspaper. So that when the Hutu president - Juvenal Habyariman - was killed in when his plane was shot at and crushed war became inevitable, which was inflamed by the speeches of journalists airing propagandistic messages. I hope we will all read this book and learn a thing or two from the genocide.

I wanted to cut out any detailed description scenes but if I do how could we appreciate how a moment of general/mass psychosis steeped in frenzied killings destroy a country, tainting its historical landscape forever? At a scene of a massacre in a church in Nyamata this is what Veronique writes:
Her wrists are bound, and tied to her ankles. Her legs are spread wide apart. Her body is lying on its side. She looks like an enormous fossilised foetus. [...] She has been raped. A pickaxe has been forced into her vagina. She died from a machete blow to the nape of her neck. (Page 11)
The author's use of the present tense narrative form forces the scene on the reader's mind, which is the most appropriate voice to use in this case.

If you want to know the human story of the Rwandan genocide, not just the numbers: eight hundred thousand people killed in hundred days, read this book. For those who died had names, those who committed the crime are humans, those whose relatives committed the crimes are people with emotions and this is the strength of this book.

To know the failure of humanity and its effects on the genocide read Romeo Dallaire's account in Shake Hands with the Devil.

Veronique Tadjo
Brief Bio: Véronique Tadjo was born in 1955 in Paris, but was brought up in Abidjan. During her childhood, she often travelled with her parents and her brother. Her father, who comes from the Ivory Coast, was a high ranking Civil Servant until his retirement and her French mother was a painter and sculptor. Véronique Tadjo has a doctorate in African American Studies. She has travelled extensively in West Africa, Europe, the United States as well as in Latin America. She taught at the University of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast for several years. She has conducted workshops on writing, illustrating books for children and other topics in many countries. Her novel Reine Pokou [Queen Pokou] was awarded the prestigious literary Prize "Grand Prix Littéraire d'Afrique Noire" in 2005. She spent a few years in Kenya and in England, and now lives in South Africa (2010). (Source)

ImageNations: 4.5 out of 6.0

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Definition of a Miracle by Farida N. Bedwei

Farida N. Bedwei, author
Farida Bedwei's debut novel, Definition of a Miracle, has received rave reviews from home and abroad. It is a bold novel that puts into perspective the idea of 'not giving up'. It also challenges the kind of story that has become representative of Africa. I am sure that had this been written in the mould of the 'acceptable' African Story, hope would have been lost.

The author, Farida Bedwei, was born in Lagos, Nigeria, but spent most of her childhood in Dominica, Grenada and the U.K. before she (at 9 years) moved with her family moved to Ghana. At age 10 she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. This condition made it almost impossible for Farida to enroll in mainstream school at such an age and was thus tutored by her mother, entering mainstream school 2 years later when she was 12. She, however, overcame the challenges posed by this condition in a country which is not disability-friendly and excelled academically and has risen to become one of the top software engineers in Ghana. 
The novel, which runs parallel with her life though it is not an autobiographical, tells of an 8-year old girl's struggle with cerebral palsy in a community where people suffering with the disease are misunderstood and viewed as incapable of contributing meaningfully to the society. The disease itself is deemed to have a superstitious linkage.

Excerpt from Definition of a Miracle by Farida N. Bedwei

At breakfast Mummy announced that she was taking Emefa to Labadi Polyclinic given that she was still under the weather. Whilst preparing breakfast Emefa had been overcome with the need to throw up and run out to the bathroom, leaving the pot Quaker Oats on the stove unattended. Daddy was home, it being a Saturday and he offered to take us to the beach. We cheered loudly at this for we hadn’t been to the beach since we moved down, though we’d driven past it a number of times on the way to Tema.
Daddy said, “Why don’t we all go together, that way we can drop you and Emefa off at the polyclinic on our way and pick you up later?”

Mummy paused in the act of buttering her bread, pondering over the logistics. “Naah, you can drop us off but we’ll just take a taxi back since I don’t know what time we’ll finish.”

“But isn’t it just an ordinary check-up? It shouldn’t take more than an hour.” He took a sip of his coffee.

“There may be a long queue when we get there,” she replied. “Its alright, we’ll just take a taxi back, you and the children go on and have a nice time at the beach.”

Standing up, she picked up hers and my plates. “It’d be nice to have a bit of quiet in the house so I can catch up on my studying, so please don’t rush back on my account.”

Carrying the plates to the kitchen, she called over her shoulder, “Bash, when you finish eating, help Jalal clear the table and wash up the plates since Emefa is lying down in her room. I’m going to have my bath and get ready.”

“Hey Ayorkor, I forgot to ask, how was the convention last night?” Daddy asked, getting up from the table, carrying his plate to the kitchen.

Mummy appeared in the kitchen doorway with a guarded expression. “It was very nice, very inspiring and powerful. By the way it was a crusade not a convention.”

Coming back from the kitchen, Daddy said, “I stand corrected. I’m going to warm up the engine. I’ll be outside.”

A look of relief came over Mummy’s face. “Ok.”

Turning to us she asked, “Do you know where your swimming costumes are?”

“Mine are in my panties drawer,” I replied. “Mummy, may I wear the pink bikini?”

“Does it still fit? If it does, you can wear it. I’ll help you change when I finish taking my bath. Basheera, Jalal you didn’t answer me. Do you know where your costumes are?” she asked.

“I think mine is still in the suitcase with some of my clothes—those which will not fit into my wardrobe. By the way, when is the carpenter bringing my chest of drawers so I can unpack all my stuff and put the suitcase away? It’s getting tiresome, having to pull the suitcase out from under the bed to take out my underwear whenever I am dressing after having a bath,” Bash complained.

“The last time he was here, he said he had finished making your chest of drawers but wanted to finish the bookshelves for your room as well as the ones for the study so as to bring them all at once,” she replied.

“But that was like two weeks ago; shouldn’t he have finished everything by now?” Bash asked, tying the bread plastic.

“I’ll ask your father about it, maybe you can pass by his workshop on the way back from the beach since it is opposite the beach, around the Trade Fair Site,” Mummy said.

She departed for the bathroom then and leaving us (well them) to finish clearing the table. I crawled back to my room to dig out my pink bikini, lay it on the bed and waited for Mummy to come and help me change into it. Bash came in a short while after, pulling off her Minnie Mouse nightshirt as she entered. Looking at her kneeling and pulling the suitcase out from under the bed to remove the swimsuit, I could appreciate her complaints—it sure as heck was inconvenient. Mummy came in a few minutes later, changed me into the bikini and pulled my oversized Donald Duck T-shirt over it. It reached down to my mid-thigh, thus I didn’t have to wear shorts underneath.

Mummy said there was no point putting on the braces for me since they’d be taken off at the beach, so I left the crutches behind as well.

We all piled into the car and drove to the polyclinic to drop Mummy and Emefa off first before continuing to the beach. Emefa was looking really tired and sickly; I hoped it wasn’t anything serious. Mummy reminded Daddy about the carpentry works currently outstanding and asked him to pass by the carpenter’s workshop on our way back home to find out the status of our stuff.

We had a pleasant morning at the beach, spending about three hours frolicking in the water and building sandcastles. The beach was a bit crowded, littered with people of different stations and races. There were a few white people, who looked more red than white from sitting in the hot sun. There were also persons of Lebanese descent whose olive complexion wasn’t as vulnerable to sunburn as the Caucasians. Then there were my fellow countrymen and women, most of them the natives of the Labadi Township. Quite an interesting mix, I found. Jalal made friends with the Labadi boys, joining them in a football game a few metres away from where we were seated. There were two red flags mounted on the shore about 20 meters apart, marking the ‘safe zone’. The safe zone was the safest area and swimmers were advised to swim between the two flags. The waves were quite rough, paying homage to the ferocity the Atlantic Ocean is reputed for. Sometimes you could see tiny tidal waves forming along the shores which a small child could be sucked into.

Daddy took me into the water a few times, supporting my upper body whilst I kicked and paddled my legs as a form of exercise. Back in London, going to the pool once a week had been part of my physiotherapy routine.

Around noon, Bash started complaining she was hungry. Daddy bought some kebabs which we ate on the way to the carpenter’s workshop.

The carpenter wasn’t there but his apprentice showed us our shelves and chest of drawers which he said was still wet from the glossing sheen which had been sprayed on it to make it look polished. He assured us that by Monday it’d have dried and they’d be delivered in the afternoon.

Satisfied, we headed home, tired and still a bit hungry, looking forward to eating lunch and settling down to finish my Famous Five novel. Timmy was currently missing and I couldn’t wait to find out where he had ended up.

As we entered the house I could hear Mummy and Emefa talking in the kitchen, well Mummy was doing the talking, Emefa was just crying.

Standing in the doorway we could see Mummy looking crossly down at Emefa who was kneeling in front of her, clutching her slit, begging her not to send her away.

After handing me over to my brother with a, “Jalal here, hold Zaara”, Daddy entered the kitchen and asked what was going on.

“Why don’t you ask her, ask her what the doctor said was wrong with her.” Mummy went to lean against the kitchen counter, folding her hands across her chest looking down at where Emefa was still kneeling in the middle of the kitchen.

Noticing us hovering in the doorway, she shouted at us to go to our rooms. Not in this lifetime, we hid behind the kitchen wall to listen in.

Read the full excerpt at StoryTime.

Note: In Ghana copies could be obtained from the Silverbird located at the Accra Mall, Julikart Cosmetics Osu (between MTN and Frankies), and INKA Accessories, Nyaniba (Opposite El-Gringo)

Farida has agreed to be interviewed on ImageNations.
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