100. Waiting by E.C. Osondu

Waiting (2008) is the winning  story on the 10th Caine Prize for African Writing, 2009. This story was published at Guernica.

Written in the first person, Orlando Zaki writes about his life in a refugee camp. Orlando is amongst a group of young people in a refugee camp. According to him, most of the people at this camp got their names from the inscriptions on the shirts they receive from the Red Cross
Orlando is taken from Orlando, Florida, which is what is written on the t-shirt  given to me by the Red Cross. Zaki is the name of the town where I was found and from which I was brought to this refugee camp. My friends in the camp are known by the inscriptions on their t-shirts.
In general, life at the camp is lived according to the theory of 'only the fittest survive'. There is struggle for water and food, that is when they become available. For the most part they live in wait of these basic facilities and also in expectation of being adopted and sent to abroad. The story borders on being a catalogue of scatology with 'shit' bandied here and there. And such was the visual presentation of this filthiness that one could go without food for days after reading this filth-packed paragraph.
There were a lot of black dogs. They were our friends, they were our protectors. Even though food was scarce, the dogs never went hungry. The women would call them whenever a child squatted down to shit and the dogs would come running. They would wait for the child to finish and lick child's buttocks clean before they ate the shit.
Later on, when food became scarce, the dogs were killed and eaten as food. And must the dogs be black? Or what is the symbolic significance of a black dog? This is a clear example of what has become the African stories and the very ones that are noted and awarded. In the end, as the writer stopped narrating his story, all that has been covered were the desolate lives of a group of young people in a refugee camp whose only hope of survival is to be adopted. And this is the very stories that almost always put me off from my objective of reading African stories and promoting them. 

Per this story, and if this theme pervades Osondu's new short story anthology Voice of America, then I think I would pass on that one. This is not a matter of writing the so-called positive stories about Africa, but about writing stories not for the popularity of the themes. It is about writing because you have something else to say. How can there be a representative story if all that is said are on the extreme left.As it stands now, such themes have become crowded and I have read a lot of them to last me a generation. 
Brief Bio: was born in Nigeria, where he worked for many years as an advertising copywriter. He won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2009. His book of stories Voice of America is due from HarperCollins in November, and his novel This House Is Not For Sale is due from HarperCollins in 2012. His short stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Guernica, AGNI, and many other magazines. With William Pierce, he coedited The AGNI Portfolio of African Fiction. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University, where he was a Syracuse University Fellow. He is assistant professor of English at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island. (Continue reading) The story could be read at the Guernica site here and its pdf version could be downloaded from the Caine Prize for African Writing site.

Other Caine Prize Shortlist: How Kamau wa Mwangi Escaped into Exile by Mukoma wa Ngugi


  1. I now get your issues with the story. I enjoyed it though.

  2. @Geosi, this path has become the fast route to success. I have read enough of such stories to last me a life-time. When we insist on writing this story, it comes to define us as a people and it ingrains itself on our psyche. Can't we have variations? Is that all there is to our lives?

  3. Wow, definitely some food for thought. I think sometimes political writing gets stuck in a rut and people don't try hard enough to be original, to say something different. And then the marketplace expects certain things so that's what gets published more. A vicious circle.

  4. Interesting review. I enjoyed the short story collection he published, though a lot of the stories were quite negative. I think though, after much discussion with others and reading, that there is no issue with negative stories being published... IF positive ones are also published. Like, negative things happen, writing about them is fine, but it's better if the positive stories get as much publicity and marketing and popularity, and it's also great when collections either fit a certain theme or are more broad in covering more experiences.

  5. Oh Nana. I am SO WITH YOU on this. I think we talked about this on my blog too with regard to this year's prize. No offense to the authors, or to the quality of their stories, but this focus on one theme is really tiring . .

  6. @Marie, yes. that's what mostly gets published. Yet writers, if they want, could change this. If they provide enough themes across, at least some would get published. When an author makes it his sole duty to write only in such manner, and when such attitude, is the predominant trait of most African authors, writing becomes a disservice rather.

  7. @Amy, Yes. that's it. 'Shit' happens and 'hit' happens too. However, if all authors do is to crowd around the negative, then that negativity comes to define such people being defined. Why do they then complain when they are looked down upon? They should complain of racism. They should rather accept whatever people describe them with for they have affirmed them. If 80% of writings/stories are around two three themes, of poverty and war, what do you expect people to think of the people being described?

  8. @SN... to the extent that it makes you feel you have read most of the stories. The funny thing is that even if there is one unique theme amongst the shortlist, like the 2009 shortlist, they do not win. Personally, I don't see why this story won. The only thing I liked is the naming methods he assigned to the young boys and girls at the refugee camp. Aside that, with the 'black dog' eating and licking shit, I didn't enjoy the story.

  9. Poverty porn for its own sake and for nothing else. How are these type of stories different from a Save the Children advertising campaign? I agree with you, Nana. But thanks for covering it here.

  10. @Kinna, in this story, the 'shit' was in excess. I just don't get it. Try it.


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