Friday, 29 June 2012

On Harare's House of Hunger Poetry Slam...

Xapa, the winner, walking offstage 
pic by KonWomyn (copyleft)


Many, many, many, Saturdays ago (i.e. 2/06/12), I went to the House of Hunger Poetry Slam at the Gallery Delta on Livingstone and 9th Avenue. Between 26-28 people took part, mostly men, but I was pleasantly surprised to see two boys under 12 step up to the mic. The year's poetry slam was won by the lovely, etherial Xapa (pronounced Sha-pa), the only female poet to make through all three rounds and with full marks! Since I boycotted last month's over-priced Hifa Festival, this was my first poetry event in Harare and I was impressed. Performing spoken word in Shona, using deep words, takes serious skill, and to see young and old lay it down in Shona, was incredible. It left me feeling re-assured that, Shona as an ora-literary language is not going to die, even if traditional poetry is slowly dying out, Shona performance poetry will survive in alternative spaces like these.

My favorite performers were So Profound, guest poet Flex (he's a genius!), Xapa, Uncle and Matrix - some beautiful poems mostly in English. On the downside, was the amount of homophobic content in the poetry. Several poets expressed some very strong anti-gay views to an approving crowd. Zimbabwe is no-gay country and because our President has achieved global fame for his views, it's really quite okay to say how much you dislike homosexuals in church sermons, political rallies or poetry sessions... Of course, these poets are entitled to their opinions and sure, it took me a long while before I could care less about one's sexual orientation, but I draw the line of "understanding homophobia" somewhere. I don't understand why what two consenting adults do with another in private should be the subject of an under 12's poem. Whatever happened to wizards and Star Wars? 

It was very disturbing to watch a little boy reach up to the mic and recite a poem called "Culture" lamenting the destruction of African culture by "foreign cultures" "where a man sleeps with a man." Is this what parents and churches are teaching kids these days? He had some very questionable about sexuality in 'authentic African culture', (whatever that homogenous, static, easily defineable African culture is. And God knows which pre-colonial years he referred to coz it was at least a good 700 years before the White man set foot in present-day Zimbabwe, after the Mberi people settled here.) and I can only guess where it came from. Kids don't need to learn to hate. They really don't.

Apart from these few uncomfortable moments, I enjoyed Poetry Slam. The next event is on 7th of July 2012, I hope I can make it.

If you're in Harare, please try to attend.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Calling Time

Blogging has been rather haphazard this this year. In the battle for balance it seems the personal has triumphed over the digital in 2011, but fear not, normal blogging shall resume shortly.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Blogging the Caine Prize: In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata

This is the fourth story in the series of Blogging the Caine Prize. Past posts can be found here. Indeed, the stories keep getting better with each passing week and unlike the others, Lauri Kubuitsile’s story (PDF) is a wonderful, funny tale that doesn’t perpetuate negative stereotypes, the writing is light and unrepetitive - yes, there is good and bad repetition in literature as I’ve noted before.

“In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata” is set in Nonkanyana village in Botswana about a deceased casanova, McPhineas Lata who, “though despised by most husbands ... was adored by most wives” and his funeral is “full of dramatic fainting and howls of grief echoing” from his many married female friends some doing their best to out mourn the other, by lying on his grave, as if it were a competition to show which of them loved McPhineas the most.

This story foregrounds the importance of memory when someone has passed on. The husbands fear that the wives’ desires to cling onto the memory of McPhineas will construct into a legend, an untouchable super-sex hero. As these memories are fused with the imagination, they become retold as altered representations of actual events that neither the teller or the subject - McPhineas - can ever recall so the memories become more spicy with the telling and re-telling of the women’s sexual escapades. Substitute the situation for any other and this is how ordinary people and nationalists create myth. The past then becomes a romanticized alteration of the past - with both good and bad effects, of course. 

Zunguzungu finds an interesting relation between sex, work and masculinity and suggests that because the men work long hours they are lousy in bed whereas McPhineas doesn’t work and is a great lover. I suppose his sex is his work - unpaid work - as he spends his days attending to the sexual needs of women. In presenting McPhineas as a ladies man and his encounters with them as an open secret within the community, it says something about the gender relations in this society. 

The men may be upset with McPhineas for being a better lover and what that means for their masculinity, but they don’t seem to object to their wives sleeping with him in the way a spouse might do. Why? I get that the story is meant to be that way, just a light-hearted story about the people of a funny little place but I want to think of this in a deeper way: whether this signifies any sort of empowerment for the women as it’s okay for them have extra-marital relationships and whether McPhineas helps maintain a balance between the genders. 

Historically speaking, is there a comparable McPhineas figure / practice in Tswana culture? And in a country where HIV is so prevalent (24.9% of 15-49 year olds are pregnant), what does it mean to have a McPhineas character who sleeps with all the women. Sure it’s great that there’s no sense of enforced monogamy in this community, but this kind of sexual freedom also has terminal limits in Botswana. And on that party pooper, note: The End.

This story is worth the read and if you’re interested in read the opinions of others here are a few thoughts from other co-bloggers:

Method to the Madness
The Oncoming Hope
Backlash Scott

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

6th International Conference of Caribbean Women's Writing: Comparative Critical Conversations

Comparative Critical Conversations

Friday 24 and Saturday 25 June 2011

Goldsmiths, University of London

‘Comparative Critical Conversations’ is an international 2-day conference that aims to reconfigure methodologies through comparative responses to the literature in a bid to further understand the deep and complex relations between texts that derive from a culture variously described as mimetic, hybrid, fragmented, syncretic and so on.Caribbean Women’s Literature as a body of work has become rooted in the region and across the diaspora. As a result, critics and teachers engaged in discovering, interpreting and disseminating the study of the texts have sought and found various discursive spaces from which to explore its distinctive aesthetics and particular complexities. The resulting transition from silence and absence to differentiated presence has opened a range of questions which this conference wishes to address. Centrally, we ask: how might the readings of Caribbean Women’s literature, alongside other ‘minority’ and ‘canonical’ texts within given national literatures produce perspectives that might re-invigorate as well as re-address contemporary critical processes?
Guest Speakers include Marlene Nourbese Philip
Conference Programme: Here

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Blogging The Caine Prize: What Molly Knew

This is the third short story in the Blogging the Caine Prize series I'm participating in with several other bloggers. This week's story, What Molly Knew is by Tim Keegen from South Africa. Of all the stories thus far, this is the best - hopefully the stories will keep getting better. Unlike last week's story, 'Butterfly Dreams' the writing is much tighter and with each sentence comes a development in the story unlike 'Butterfly Dreams' which was so overwritten in several places that it stunted the development of the story, as I've said before.

'What Molly Knew' is mainly set in Goodwood, Cape Town and tells the story of Molly Retief's daughter's murder. Molly's prime suspect is Tommie, the son-in-law, an illegal, half Black half White Mozambican she refuses to recognize as family. Making clear her dislike, she says to the investigating officer: “I hate it when you call him my son-in-law. I never thought of him as part of my family.” His race, migrant status and political connections to the ANC are negative markers of difference for Molly and in marking him in this way, she also reveals the dynamics of race and foreign othering within White South African society. 

The gossip session at the haridressers on Tommie's percieved betrayal to the Portuguese (and by extension the White race) and unsavoury political connections affirm that the stranger is definitely 'not one of us' unlike other Coloured South Africans of the Cape who have insider/outsider status within the Afrikaans-speaking community because of the shared history and language. However, like many other Coloured characters in the (White) Afrikaner world (e.g. Josef Malan in Looking on Darkness by Andre Brink and Michael in JM Coetzee's Life and Times of Michael K), Tommie functions as a figure of moral and political censure against privatised, casual racism, an enduring social feature even in the new South Africa.

The story opens with a desire for routine, normalcy - Molly's cat expects to be fed, and she walks around the house in her pinafore over a "shapeless lavender jersey", as she always does when cleaning the house. But that normalcy is interrupted and contaminated. Though it may seem like this day is like any other, it isn't. Sarah, her daughter, is dead.

Rather than deal with the loss of her daughter, Molly finds it apt to try and carry on as though things were normal - despite the glare of the cameras and reporters lurking about and a policeman visiting an overly neat house - everything must be normal. And that includes, Rollo's drunken tirades. 

To a certain extent, I agree with Mumpsimus who criticised this story for being 'nice writing' - where it's easy to identify good and bad. Mumpsimus writes:
Tim Keegan clearly does not like racism or domestic abuse. We, too, do not like racism or domestic abuse, and so we can read the story and feel all the proper emotions. Nasty Rollo! Poor, deluded, weak Molly! Good Sarah! Wronged Tommie!
It's easy to feel sorry for Molly, and also to feel at least a tinge of contempt for her: Stupid woman, sticking with such a man! It's easy to hate Rollo. It's easy to feel anger that Tommie is so badly treated. 
This is true, it is easy to dislike Rollo and Molly and get on a soapbox and preach about racism as I'm doing here in this post, but the meaningfulness of 'easy fiction' depends on how we as readers engage with it. In my view, the niceness of this story invites the reader to look beyond - beyond the things that we're comfortable with, like disliking Rollo and Molly, to see what else the world of the characters tells us. How telling of South African society, is the Reitiefs' desire to preserve the normal or rather illusory normalcy of their world with all it's half-truths, untruths, sad truths and family skeletons? (See AfricasACountry link below) In an eerily measured tone that marks the pace of the Retiefs' life, things seem to happen in slow motion in this story, there are no big action scenes, no climactic emotional/awakening scene. Life continues to roll out in slow motion, just like that real life story (read: country) you've heard one too many times before and you as a listener (read: citizen) don't have the power to stop from recurring.

...If there is one actionable message for the new post-apartheid South Africa, as a whole, apart from that to do with the politics of race, Afrikaner privilege and acknowledging prejudice, it is also the treatment of the stranger, the foreign African. In theorizing the notion of hospitality, Derrida argues that  the stranger is one who is the diametrically opposed 'Other' to the Self, but the notion of community and humanity embodied in hospitality mean that co-existence is possible, but rarely is this ever the case in migration and ethnicity politics - the stranger never belongs. And for the Retiefs, there is no feeling of responsibility or hospitality towards Tommie. With news of at least five recent xenophobic killings of Zimbabweans in South Africa, I couldn't help but think of the parallels in Tommie's otherness and foreign others, like Farai Kujirichita who was wrongly accussed of a crime and bludgeoned to death in Diepsloot Pretoria.

Although I enjoyed this story, I find myself strangely coming back to my weekly question about the Caine Prize and what the choice of shorftlisted story says about how the Caine Prize sees Africa and Africans. The previous stories played up stereotypes but this is story doesn't. It's well written and deserves to be shortlisted, but why do I hate feeling like this isn't the best of African writing. I haven't quite articulated how I'd ask the question of the Caine Prize in regards to this story without sounding like a overly-critical critic, but there is a question, somewhere.

Views from other bloggers:

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The POWA Mixtape

fisttap @telamigo

South African hip hop guru, Tumi from Tumi and the Volume has finally dropped the video for the remix of Kanye West's Power he did last November. (See this previous blogpost for lyrics and background story). He's also dropped a mixtape in collaboration with a whole host of South African-based artists speaking out against sex and  gender-based violence. Some notable names are: Zaki Ibrahim, Ben Sharpa, Zubz and Proverb. The tape opens with some very depressing stats on rape in South Africa. Apparently "every 26 minutes a woman is raped and the majority think its okay."  In between the tracks Akhona Ndungane narrates her story of how she was raped. 
I wish I could just say how sick the rock throwback on Crush Boy was and go on about how dope tracks like What We Seek and Another Summer Without Sun are and how so and so kills it on this and that track. Because they do. All that and more, even, but the beats are overpowered by the graphic story of Akhona's rape sandwiched in between each track. Listeners cannot escape that. 
And that's a good thing. 
Salut & thank you Akhona for your courage in speaking out.
 It's called the POWA mixtape -POWA - People Opposed to Women's Abuse. 
Get your download here.
In DOPE Music We Trust

Monday, 13 June 2011

Ending Sudan's Identity Crisis

Sudanese blogger, Amir Ahmadhad an op-ed on CiF last Friday on Sudan's identity politics and this is an excerpt from a longer and thought-provoking piece.

pic jacked from the internetz
Since a year before its independence in 1956, Sudan has witnessed terrible violence and bloodshed, which continues to this day. The reasons for this are numerous and complex, but one key culprit has always been our Afro-Arab identity crisis, which doesn't seem to have any near end in sight. 
Contrary to what many northern Sudanese may like to believe, the secession and independence of the south is not going to end the identity crisis, and it's certainly not going to magically turn the country into a genuinely Arab Islamic nation-state despite what Omar al-Bashir may want. 
It won't happen, not even by force, due to the simple fact that Sudan always has been and always will be a multi-ethnic, multi-religious melting pot. Multi-ethnic given its minorities and various dominant Arab, Afro-Arab and African tribes, and multi-religious given its diverse population of Muslims, Christians and animists. 
The question is: will we eventually have a democratic government that actually recognises and respects our diversity? Or will we continue to have an Islamist Afro-Arab regime, largely in denial of its "Africanness", which forcefully seeks to impose its self-serving interpretation of Islamic law and confused Arab identity on the rest of us? 
...We're Afro-Arab in three main ways, simplified as follows: 

1. Ethnically as well as culturally Afro-Arab2. Ethnically Afro-Arab but culturally predominantly Arab (the majority)3. Ethnically African but culturally predominantly Arab and hence "Arabised"  
Nevertheless, our attitudes don't really honour this reality. Yes, there are many of us who value our combined Afro-Arab heritage and self-identify, either as Afro-Arabs or just as Sudanese. There are also many who identify primarily as Arab or African for valid reasons that depend on which side of their cultural and ethnic heritage weighs more heavily. 
However, there are too many who reject their "Africanness" or "Arabness", with a few in both camps condescendingly and outspokenly showing disrespect for that aspect of themselves which they reject. Then there are those who don't reject, but rather gently distance themselves from their "Africanness" or "Arabness" – consciously or subconsciously.

TwoCents: I think the discussion extends to other parts of Africa - what does it mean be African, what does it mean to be Arab, and an Arab African or African Arab? And who defines what the dominant meanings of Arabness and Africanness is, what's the political relation and power balance? These are all contested and continually evolving identities and this is something Arab Africans and Africans (in all their diversities and colors), alike, need to have multiple, frank, cross-generational discussions about. 

Just So You Know Who The Daddy Is*

*said by @tomgara
If there should ever be a global resource war, now that India and China have joined the West in looting investing looting what they can in Africa, you know whose got the big guns. But as we know, having the big guns doesn't necessarily translate to assured victory.

FYI from The Economist:
ON JUNE 8th China's top military brass confirmed that the country's first aircraft carrier, a refurbishment of an old Russian carrier, will be ready shortly. Only a handful of nations operate carriers, which are costly to build and maintain. Indeed, Britain has recently decommissioned its sole carrier because of budget pressures. China's defence spending has risen by nearly 200% since 2001 to reach an estimated $119 billion in 2010—though it has remained fairly constant in terms of its share of GDP. America's own budget crisis is prompting tough discussions about its defence spending, which, at nearly $700 billion, is bigger than that of the next 17 countries combined.

Blogging the Caine Prize: Butterfly Dreams

This is a late post that should've been done on Friday (!), but real life got in the way, so here it is:

The second in the series of Blogging the Caine Prize is Butterfly Dreams by Beatrice Lamwaka from Uganda. She is published author and teacher and if interested you can read her story Vengeance of the Gods which was later turned into her first novel.

Butterfly Dreams is the story of a female rebel child soldier who comes back to her family after having been taken to fight by the Ugandan rebels in the conflict between the government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Acholiland.

For me, Butterfly Dreams reads much better than Hitting Budapest - there's a bit more structure to the story and there's actual plot development. However, there's too much overwriting in the some parts of the story and as a reader I felt like there was a slightly tortuous dragging out of the story rather than  purposeful repetition where new facts or twisted metaphors are added. In some places the repetition works, because the writer actually does something with the words or she lets lets the story tell itself.

Compare and contrast:

Exhibit A:
We watched you silently. In return, you watched us in silence. We gave you food when we thought you were hungry. You gulped down the sweet potatoes and malakwang without saying a word. We didn’t want to treat you as if you were a stranger but in our hearts, we knew that you were new. We knew that you would never be the same again. We didn’t know what to expect of you.
Exhibit B:
This is something that we don’t understand. This is our home, something that we don’t know how to explain to you. Something we took refuge in. This is our home that keeps us alive. Keeps us sane. Just huts. Grass and bricks. Just huts to hide our nakedness.
Clearly B is much stronger than A because B actually describes refugee camp where they live and also explores the emotions of the family whereas A is, well, just words. And too many of the same ones, they don't move the story along but stagnate it. At points it comes across as an 'art for art's sake story' because it embraces certain stereotypes about Africa. What Neelika at Africa's a Country calls 'mining for misery.'

Unimpressed by the number of cliches in this story, The Oncoming Hope said in this very frank post:
name an African development storytelling cliché, this story's got it, from child soldier to displacement camps to walking to school though bombs to cartoonishly evil rebel soldiers.
Again I ask, if these are the stories the Caine Prize shortlists, what does that say about how the Caine Prize as a literary institution - with all the power it wields within African literature -sees Africa or expects to see Africa represented?

Backlash Scott had a more balanced, but equally critical view:
 the tone of the writing was what separated this piece from other “poverty porn” types of stories for me. Even then I’m kind of torn. The story is about a family’s struggle to cope with a crisis as much as it is about showing you how bad children have it in the North. While I would hardly expect a writer born in Gulu to shed the atmosphere in which she grew up, it is interesting to see how many of these Caine Prize stories will cater to the troubled-dark-continent narrative. 
...When reading this story I was reminded of the late great Yvonne Vera's Under the Tongue which similarly works on repetition and lyricism - only that Vera brilliantly executes it. Don't believe me, go read her. it also deals with muteness as a result of child trauma and the woman-centered family - Grandmother and mother - become the conduits through which the protagonist, Zhizha discovers a new language with which to speak, it is a language that isn't filled with the trauma of the past. Being taught to read by her mother becomes one way for Zhizha to regain her voice and another is through her Grandmother's stories of the family's history and in speaking, Grandmother exorcises the skeleton's of her past and also regains her right to speak as a woman because her husband had often told her 'a woman cannot speak'. Similarly in Lamwuka's story, the matriarchal family is the healing unit for the protagonist - hence the constant use of 'we' but it's used in a 'we and them' way rather  than an 'us' - as seen in the family dynamics discussed below. Education is also a form of catharsis for the child - but strangely also her obsession. Curiously before she is conscripted and after the war has begun she still goes to school: 
Even when the war started and many children were waylaid, you managed to get there. You cursed the teachers and called them cowards when you didn’t find any children or teachers. Days after a heavy fight between the rebels and soldiers you continued to go to school. You never gave up even when you didn’t find anybody there.
In the present-time of the story Lamunu's about 11 years old, so she was younger before she joined the war. Reading this I wondered how realistic is this, what parent would allow a child to go to school under such circumstances? I know it's fiction, but come on. There's got to be a level of credibility.

In her book, The Body in Pain Elaine Scarry explores the silencing effect of pain and trauma, it 'has a resistance to language' thus making it difficult for the traumatized to speak. So as much as the authorial voice of this story wants Lamunu to speak, she cannot. The pain is 'unshareable' and the only place of refuge is the special school where, through therapy she will speak again and have a new relation to language that will enable her to unburden the horrors of war. On the morning of her first day at school, she speaks:

You said apwoyo. You said thank you to Ma. That’s the first word we have heard you say. 
But the family responds: 
We’re happy to hear you say something. We hope that you will be able to say a lot more. Tell us more than Anena, Aya, Bongomin, Nyeko, Ayat, Lalam, Auma, Ocheng, Otim, Olam, Uma, Ateng, Akwero, Laker, Odong, Lanyero, Ladu, Timi…. Most of all, we want to hear your voice.
If the family still want to hear Lamunu's 'voice', then they are not listening. She has spoken by saying 'thank you.' It's a breakthrough! You'd think they'd make a song and dance about it, but they don't. Perhaps this is why Lamwaka's character finds sanctuary in an educational institution whereas Vera's protagonist finds refuge in her family who educate her and give her a 'new language.' In both of these stories the acts of expression could be described as a gendered performance of orality (oral + literature) as language is a pre-dominantly patriarchal construction and privilege and the wars in both Uganda and Zimbabwe are largely patriarchally-constructed struggles. Mmm okay, nice feminist jab there, I think I'll leave that issue now.

Onto the last bit, which I found really jarring:

Ma says that you will get special treatment. Most of the children are like you. They too have killed, tortured other children. They too fought in a war that they didn’t understand. The teachers will treat you well, Ma says. They have had special training.
'Most of the children are like you. They too have killed, tortured other children.' - From one sibling to another, eh? I get the feeling the family doesn't quite understand the new Lamunu or her condition and they don't seem to want to. Having already lost the father, lived in a refugee camp where they eat posho (a yellow maize meal like polenta that's often used as drought relief food in southern and parts of East Africa excl Kenya) that they used to feed the dog, they really aren't willing to deal with anymore tough emotional issues - they want to move on and be happy again. And they don't have the cultural capacity to do so, either:
"We had never been taught how to unbury a tipu. We only hoped that your real tipu was not six feet under."
For the family, any disruption would open the floodgates of tears and trauma they've tried so hard to keep shut, so Lamunu will have to go deal this at her 'school of the other children' and find her tipu

A list co-bloggers and their thoughts on this one:

Friday, 3 June 2011

Blogging the Caine Prize: Hitting Budapest

As I explained before I'm co-blogging Caine Prize for African Writing  (read more here) and every Friday we'll be reading one of the five short-listed  short-stories up till the winner is announced on 11 July. First up is "Hitting Budapest”  by NoViolet Mkha Bulawayo:

I'm really happy that NoViolet was nominated for the Caine Prize because a. she's a Zimbabwean b. she's a blogger and most importantly, c. I've read some of her stories and they're alright and so I expected the story chosen for the Caine Prize to wow me. Unfortunately it didn't.

If there is a very,very broad genre of 'new writing' that now exists as a breakaway genre of post-independent Zimbabwean Literature, then this story belongs to that category of fiction. If in very simplistic terms 'new writing' can be described as the writing of the present socio-political condition(s) in Zimbabwe rather than the condition(s) of colonialism and the liberation war which has been the focus for many of Zimbabwe's well-known writers like the late Yvonne Vera (Butterfly Burning), the late, great Dambudzo Marechera (House of Hunger) and Tsitsi Dangarembga (Nervous Conditions). Violence, social breakdown and political strife with characters displaced inside and outside of Zimbabwe.

jacked from the dailymail

'Hitting Budapest' is the story of six children's journey to a part called Budapest with 'big houses with the graveled yards and tall fences and durawalls and flowers and green trees, heavy with fruit' which contrasts the shanty town, Paradise, where they liveTwo things struck me during my reading of this story; the woman from London and the names. I see an very uncomfortable parallel between the woman from London and the author. One scene reads:

"Do you guys mind if I take a picture?" 
We do not answer because we are not used to adults asking us anything; we just look at the woman take a few steps back, at her fierce hair, at her skirt that sweeps the ground when she walks, her pretty peeking feet, at her big jewelry, at her large eyes, at her smooth brown skin that doesn’t even have a scar to show she is a living person, at the earring on her nose, at her T-shirt that says “Save Darfur.”  
“Come on, say cheese, say cheese, cheese, cheeeeeeeese,” the woman enthuses, and everyone says “cheese.” 
Yes, she has the classic 'how to mock poverty porn' scene down to a tee, but how different is the author from the woman? She has a story published in the Boston Review which plays on the stereotypes of Zimbabwe as poverty-stricken, desolate place - with both good and bad effects as has been explored in great detail by ZunguZungu. What are Zimbabwean readers, who think critically about representation, to make of a story that is cynical of 'Save Darfur' and yet Budapest (presumably Bulawayo - the second largest city in Zimbabwe) is depicted as a near uninhabited, basket-case? And what are readers of African fiction to make of Caine Prize as a literary institution and it's consumption of Africa?

Moving on... 

Names have an important function in this story; for irony; the naming of the shanty town, Paradise - to amuse and shock; Bastard is the name of one of the characters, a name that can be read as symbolic of the socio-economic situation faced by these seemingly parent-less children. It's interesting that apart from Chipo (meaning gift in Shona), none of the children have 'standard names' - Stina means brick in colloquial Ndebele, is most probably short for something else like Sbho which on its own could mean 'let's see' and in the story everyone sees Sbho because she stands out, she is 'pretty, prettier than all of us here, prettier than all the children in Paradise.' 

Godknows, Darling and Bastard are 'dictionary names' - as in names made from words, we have a fair few Godknows in Zimbabwe, but you'd be hard pressed to find a Bastard and Darling (Darlington yes for a boy, but Darling is rare). So what's my interest in these names?
There's a systematic assignation of names to indicate behaviors and social situations which is as common in African writing, as in real life. For a reader who is not as familiar with Zimbabwe this might add a different dimension to the story and might seem like a clever play on names and meanings, but for someone who is knowledgeable, the obviousness of the names adds to the banality of the story and it's troubling representation of Zimbabwe.* (*updated on 4/06/11) For example ten year old Chipo is pregnant and they joke that she could have been impregnated by the teacher Mr Gono i.e Gideon Gono the Governor of the Reserve Bank, famous for slashing the zeros from the Zimbabwe dollar as an inflation remedy. Same goes for Bastard and Darling - antonyms as dictionary names, and rivals as story characters so much so that the protagonist, Darling imagines beating Bastard to a pulp:
I think about turning right around and beating Bastard up for saying that about my America. I would slap him, butt him on his big forehead, and then slam my fist into his mouth and make him spit his teeth. I would pound his stomach until he vomited all the guavas he has eaten, pin him to the ground. I would jab my knee into his back, fold his hands behind him and then pull his head back till he begged for his life. But I shut up and walk away. I know he is just jealous. Because he has nobody in America. Because Aunt Fostalina is not his aunt. Because he is Bastard and I am Darling.
No prizes for guessing what that fantasy could mean in political reality. Because its a nice action scene and because it reminds me of the fight between the siblings of Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga, this for me is probably the best bit for me in this whole story.  

As this is a collective reading and blogging exercise, checkout what other bloggers have to say about this story:

postcard from rangoon...

Rangoon, Burma: A novice Buddhist monk plays during heavy rainfall at the Shin Ohtama Tharya monastery
fotocredit: Soe Zeya Tun

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Slaving for Europe's Salads

While Germany's freaking out over the revenge of the killer 'cucumbers' (insert name of responsible vegetable when known), I thought it would be a good time to post this video from earlier this year. While countries may take steps to curb the spread of E-coli, will there ever be as much of an outcry over the living conditions of some of those who grow the continent's vegetables?

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Congo: Two Stories, Two Lives

click cc for subtitles
fisttap afroeurope & tomdevriendt

Roland Gust was born to a Congolese mother and a Belgian father. He grew up in Congo, believing he was White. That is, until his family decided to return to Belgium when he was twelve. Twenty years later, he made a film about his life: The Belgian Colour Bar.

As long as I kept it to myself, there was no problem. Not for the outer world, that is. I remained Roland, the perfectly integrated coloured. I didn’t want to come across as a frustrated black man who was ungrateful for what Belgium offered him. I didn’t want to be expelled after so many years of trying, because I was begging for a recognition of my Belgian identity. I had to serve Belgium and remain silent.After all those years of absolute and blind dedication to the country of Belgium I have now crowned myself a Belgian. I have earned my place in Belgium and no longer need the Belgian’s approval to be a Belgian. As a Belgian I make use of my freedom of speech to tell my Belgian story. I no longer lie awake about the potential repercussions following my critical discourse about Belgium and the Belgian identity.

- From 5 Questions for Roland Gust by Tom Devriendt from Africa is a Country - The Belgian Color Bar

fisttap @telamigo (tomdevriendt)
Kwa Heri Mandima (kwaheri means goodbye in Swahili and Mandima is a village/growth point in DRC) by Robert Jan-Lacombe is a short, biographical exploration of his early life in the Congo. He never expected to say goodbye, but conflict made it so. Like The Color Bar above, this film explores similar issues of identity, belonging and non-belonging, race, memory, migration and displacement, albeit from a different perspective. It provides a good juxtaposition.

Blogging the Caine Prize

As from this Friday a group of bloggers are going to be reading, blogging and cross-posting the stories nominated for the Caine Prize for African Writing. 

The shortlisted stories are:

If you're interested in participating, holla - whether its reading one story or all of them. Even if you don't have a blog you're welcome. Also, please checkout ZunguZungu's blog for more info.

Zimbabwe's Mr Ugly

iThought this was an interesting story from Africa Review:

A Zimbabwean man who has endured being tormented by his bad looks, is now all joy. Mr Austin Mbewe,30, was crowned “Mr Ugly” after winning an unusual beauty pageant at the weekend. Mbewe walked away with $170 in prize money and a blanket when he was adjudged to be the ugliest by a panel of female judges.
“I feel honoured by this victory,” Mbewe told Zimbabwe's Herald newspaper. “I have been a subject of ridicule in society since childhood and the world has seen that there is beautiful side to my ugliness.”
Two Mr Ugly personalities were given $50 each and a blanket. All the finalists were also given blankets as consolation. The contest was held in Beitbridge, a town near the border with South Africa.
Lovemore Chonzi, the organiser of the competition, said it was “meant for people to have fun and celebrate who they are, just like any other contest in the world.”
The pageant had the blessings of the government controlled National Arts Council and the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority