Odokonyero is here

In July, last year, Madhu Krishnan and I convened two creative writing workshops in Kampala and Gulu, taught by Nick Makoha and Jennifer Makumbi, respectively.  Moses Odokonyero and Jacob Katumusiime were very central to the secondary school teachers’ focus group discussions we held alongside the workshop. The results of the workshop are eighteen short stories, written by emerging and young Ugandan writers, now available for public enjoyment in an anthology, published by Black Letter Media.

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Alongside the workshops, in the same month last year, Noosim Naimasiah and I collaborated on a documentary film project on the question of social media and its impact on creative writing. For the film, I interviewed five major Ugandan writers, namely, Jennifer Makumbi, Stella Nyanzi, Nyana Kakoma, Ernest Bazanye and Acan Innocent.

The July days spent with Noosim, Zahara Abdul, Lewis Ainebyona and Esther Mirembe were enjoyable and I am proud of the product of our labour. I am personally grateful to Henry Brefo who has been the key strategy man for Writivism since 2016, Roland Byagaba who has been the man in charge of all things Writivism since September 2017, Rukundo Joschua, and Mulialia Okumu for their labour, and unflinching support.

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The final version of the documentary film is on tour in the United Kingdom next week. The film will be screened in Brighton, London and Birmingham. The Uganda screening news will be released as soon as they will be available. I want to be there, obviously. While I wait anxiously to travel to Kampala for that screening, and the launch of Odokonyero, the anthology, enjoy four of the eighteen short stories in the anthology, below.

Candano by Fred Sunday Mugisha

Tendo by Esther Mirembe 

My Name is Ojwiny by George Ocen 

Let me Write to Dad by Jacob Katumusiime 

It was a pleasure doing these things, to celebrate five years of Writivism, no wonder my electronic self passed out in August, and I missed two weeks at the beginning of the semester. I am happy to see the fruits of all that labour.

On Nyana Kakoma’s “Chief Mourner”

There is no story that has made it hard for me to review without spoilers as Nyana Kakoma’s “Chief Mourner”. It is hard to compare it with another short story by a Ugandan, without spoiling too much. But I will try. This is afterall an experiment in writing very brief reviews and not spoiling.

 

“Chief Mourner” is published in the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing anthology, A Memory This Size and other stories. It is the very last story, and it is such a powerful way to end the anthology. It is a story that stays with you.

 

“Chief Mourner” is a story of our times. As the trend is when it comes to African literature in English, every single short story is read as representative of Africa, as carrying a burden to paint an image of that country, Africa, and Nyana starts hers thus: “There is a lot to be said about finding out that your boyfriend, Jude has died via Facebook.”

 

Nyana’s Africa is in the technology era. It is an Africa with Facebook. An Africa dominated by social media, that you can read all about African life on the social network. Lives are lived online as much as they are, offline. And news of death travels online faster than it does offline.

 

The protagonist in the story, lives in Mbale, a country town on the Ugandan Kenyan border and her boyfriend Jude dies on his way back to Kampala, from visiting her. Reading this story brought me memories of the days Mateos was a popular hangout place, and Ban cafe was the coffee shop of choice in Kampala.

 

It is a short story that captures our times. By ‘our’, I mean Ugandans who came of age in the social media era. We were born in the 1980s, we were joining university at the time blogging was the thing to do, indeed, Nyana’s tribute to Joel Ntwatwa captures what I am describing. Ntwatwa, whom we lost recently was one of our generation.

 

“Chief Mourner” has a place among the short stories that mark our stamp on Ugandan literature. Nyana is a luminary of our generation. And Jude represents those we have lost.

 

While Ntwatwa died this year, five years after Nyana’s story was published, I feel the story is a literary tribute to him and others of our generation who have passed on. I have here in mind, Hillary Kuteitsa and Boaz Muhumuza among others who died in their 20s and 30s respectively. “Chief Mourner” is told from the perspective of the girlfriend who wasn’t introduced to the family as a girlfriend and how she mourns, and what she finds out about her deceased boyfriend during the vigil and other mourning rituals. When he can no longer answer, as Weasle sings of Mowzey Radio.

 

It is a great story, to which I will return when I dispense with the restraint on including spoilers in the review.

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The 2013 Caine Prize anthology was published by New Internationalist, Jacana, and Sub-Saharan publishers.

A Brief History of Public and Private Education in Uganda and the Bridge Schools saga

The Bridge Schools are back in the news. They were ordered to close by the Ministry of Education two years ago, for failing to fulfill basic minimum requirements for private schools in the country. They went to court to challenge the decision and they lost the case. Parliament undertook its own investigations on the matter and returned with a position that agreed with the Ministry of Education. Bridge schools do not abide by the minimum required standards for private schools.
Despite this consensus by all the three arms of the state, Bridge Schools are open. They have put up a very strong and well-financed PR campaign, which includes portraying the Ministry of Education as contradictory in its approach to the schools. Bridge supporters ask how the Ministry can claim to uphold standards when other schools are not doing better than Bridge. The purpose of this short post is to explain the various types of schools in Uganda, and the different roles the Ministry plays in the ownership, management, supervision and regulation of the various types of schools.
The Ministry of Education is a regulator of private education in the country. The word ‘regulator’ is very important. The Bridge schools fall under the private ones whose relationship with the ministry is that of being the regulated. In its role as regulator, the ministry of education is supervised by both the judiciary, to resolve disputes, and under parliamentary oversight. In the Bridge case, both the judiciary and parliament agree with the decisions of the Ministry of education. This regulatory role over private schools should not be confused with other roles of the ministry when dealing with other types of schools, to which I turn below.
To understand the complex situation of public education in Uganda, we have to go to the colonial era. The first schools in Uganda were religious schools. They were owned by missionaries. The colonial government decided to give grants to these schools but never owned or took them over. In as far as they were ‘church-owned’, these schools were in a technical sense, private schools. The Muslims realising that they were losing out because of the religious discrimination in these schools (which were set up to convert the ‘heathens’, to ‘civilise’ them and so required baptism etc), started their own schools to provide education to Muslims. The colonial state also started a few schools in urban areas, that were not attached to any religion. The Asian community and local governments (kingdoms, especially Buganda, for example) also started their own schools. Primary and secondary education during the colonial era in Uganda was segregated by religion, class, gender and race to different extents. There were schools for only European children of colonial administrators, and Asians, and upper class ‘natives’. Then there were schools for the rest.
The idea of ‘government-funded’ schools started from the colonial era. The colonial government sent money to religious-based schools, as support. The colonial government did not in fact have an office for education until later. It decided that education was a function for the missionaries, and its role was to support them. To run the schools, the missionaries and the church charged fees from parents, to supplement government funding.
A lot of changes have happened since the colonial era, including racial integration in the earlier European and Asian-specific schools, but what has not changed is the ownership of religious schools. In a strict sense, there are very few ‘public’ schools in Uganda. If we use two broad categories, public and private, the public are the state owned schools, so we are talking of schools like Shimoni demonstration school, Nakasero primary school, Kitante primary school, Kigezi College, Butobere, etc. When Obote made Uganda a republic, the state took over assets that used to belong to kingdoms. Some schools became state-owned than local government-owned that way. The kingdom had started its own non-denominational schools in its role as a local / federal government. The rest of the schools are not state owned, and therefore fall under the definition of private, as that which is not state owned. In this category, are schools that are religious, the majority, and those started by private entrepreneurs for profit, and others started by communities.
This broad category of private schools can be subdivided into two sub-categories. There are government funded but privately owned schools, and private commercial schools that do not get government funding. Government funded schools are those started by religious organisations, or even local communities, that the state funds through grants, as it were in the colonial era. Most of the so called government schools, fall in this category. Gayaza, Kigezi High School, Namagunga, Mbarara High School, Bweranyangi, etc. They are not public schools, strictly speaking because they are owned by the religious institutions that started them. Government pays salaries, gives them grants, etc but ultimate control, ownership of land and structures, all that is religiously or community owned. So we can say that the government funded schools are half public, half private. The others are private profit-making, commercial schools. To be fair, there are also privately owned schools that are not government funded, and do not make profit, the Nyaka Schools are an example.
The Ministry of Education is the relevant office in government that owns and runs if you may, the strictly public schools, which are very few. It owns the land on which they sit, it has total control of these schools. It has some limited power over the government funded schools because of the money it gives them through paying salaries to teachers and other grants. Universal Primary and Secondary Education funds are in that milieu, and not all government funded schools accepted these programmes, again because full control is by the religious organisations and communities that started them. So, not all government funded schools are part of the UPE and USE programmes.
The ministry is also the regulator of the commercial and non profit, private schools, started by individuals, companies, organisations, even religious organisations. Majority charge school fees, they make profit, and do not receive government funds. This is the category in which Bridge schools fall. The role of the ministry as regards to these schools is purely that of regulation. It sets the standards that they need to meet, and supervises them to ensure that they are compliant. Some private schools do not charge fees but do not receive government funds either. Such non-profit schools like Nyaka, referenced above, are totally philanthropic. They, too must meet the basic requirements set by the ministry, as if they made profit.
Public discussion about the Bridge schools issue conflates the three types of schools above, and the different roles the ministry plays, in regard to each type. I do not think that any useful analysis can emerge from the conflation of three separate types of schools, which come with different roles for the Ministry of Education. The Bridge Schools are profit making, but pretend to be ‘doing good’, helping the poor and so do not meet the minimum set standards because of this. Isn’t it ironic that Nyaka Schools, which do not charge school fees, which have over time proved to have had a huge impact on poor communities, actually meet the set standards? They are nonprofit, and private. Bridge as a private school, is in the league of Kampala Parents, reputed as one of the oldest private schools in the country, and it must meet the minimum standards set. It is corporate capitalist greed, the desire to make as much profit as possible, at the expense of children’s futures that sees Bridge Schools seek to cut corners.
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For further reading on the history of education in Uganda, see Ssekamwa and Lugumba’s A History of Education in East Africa. Wulira, also produced a podcast episode on the UPE programme. See their references and listen to the podcast episode.

Dear Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda

On January 25, 1986 when the Uganda National Liberation Front military government was defeated by your National Resistance Army (NRA), I did not exist in any form. Not even as an idea. Not even as a foetus. I was born almost two years after that day. This means that as you celebrate the feat of leading Uganda for thirty one uninterrupted years this 26th day of the month of January, the year of our Lord 2017, I will wait for ten more months before celebrating my thirtieth birthday.

Our generation of Ugandans, born in 1986 and after deserves to be named after your stay in power. We deserve to be known as the Museveni generation. We grew up knowing that your name is a synonym for presidency. Indeed we said things like, Kenya has changed its museveni, to mark the handing over of presidency in that country from Moi to Kibaki and from Kibaki to Uhuru Kenyatta. To us, the office of the president is you, and you are the office of the president. That is reductionist. You are more than the office of the president. You have defined much of the reality in which we have grown.

We remember our childhood, teenage and young adulthood days by the various policy and political events in which you were the central player. Whether it is the start of the Universal Primary Education programme in the 1990s, under which most of us attained elementary education, or the 2000 political challenge for the presidency of your organisation (system), the National Resistance Movement by Kizza Besigye, or even the 2005 Juba Peace Talks with the Lord’s Resistance Army, or the 2011 Walk to Work protests: you were the lead player that shaped those events, and as a result, you dominate how we remember our own personal histories.

You have re-imagined and created Uganda in your image. You have been in power for longer than the combined years previous leaders stayed in office. Today, I like to think about these realities as merely that: facts, without imposing any value judgement. My letter to you, Yoweri has nothing to do with whether it is right or wrong for you to have shaped our generation through your short and continuing stay in power. I know that your handlers and propagandists are itching already, to tear down whatever I wish to say, if they sense that this letter is criticising your short stay in power. I wish not to indulge them.

Yoweri: I want to ask about a side of you, that I wish to see more of. Can I call you Grandpa? I have read that people called you Mzee, even before I was born, you were already called Old Man. To a person born in 1987, age-wise, you qualify to be a grandfather. But also, given your role in shaping the conditions and realities of my short life on earth so far, I think it is respectful to call you Grandpa. After all, where I grew up, they taught us not to call elders by name. I apologise for the bad manners exhibited in the previous paragraphs. Can we cut out the handlers and propagandists at this stage? They should not care what grandchildren tell their grannies.

Grandpa: I wish to see more of your intellectual side. I remember glancing through my father’s copies of Sowing the Mustard Seed and What is Africa’s Problem in the late 1990s, when I was too young to appreciate your wisdom. As a young adult, I would read you in detail and appreciate that you wrote that scholarly verification of Fanon’s Theory of Revolutionary Violence in Mozambique during your undergraduate study. That thesis is important for my political commitment to and interest in the fight against imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, to borrow bell hooks’ naming of the system of our oppression. I also appreciate that you published selected essays on protracted warfare that military strategists world over should also be thankful for.

I appreciate most of your speeches, where you forget to score points against perceived Ugandan political opponents and go off on tangents in which you seek to interpret phenomena on your own terms as an ideas man. Most times I pick interest in how your neo-liberal practices as president contradict your ‘freedom fighter’ rhetoric. Your actions have entrenched the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’s hold onto Ugandan society. But I remain greedy Grandpa, for your written material and intellectual things, and so allow me, as you would a grandchild, to ask for more. Please publish more, Grandpa. Our generation deserves to read more narration of events that have shaped our lives from your perspective. Just as you disagreed with your teacher Walter Rodney at University of Dar es Salaam on the issue of the existence of God, you know for sure that some of us will disagree with your viewpoint as is expected in a situation where there are two and more working minds.

I know that some of the propagandists in your employ are now tempted to respond to this blog post by attacking me personally, and listing all your publications. They probably think that I am not aware of the long list of your publications. I do not know if they sometimes think that our generation does not know how to use Google to find information, or they are the ones who do not know how helpful that search engine is. So, indeed we Google a lot, and specifically I, look out for any intellectual material authored by yourself there is, online. I also look for the same offline. Our generation is after all not able to live fully digital lives because of what you would call infrastructural bottlenecks, when you wear the bureaucratic jargon on your tongue. Your critics would add the fact that sometimes you pull out of that hat, a vague justification, that gift that keeps giving, of ‘national security’ to try to deny us the use of the internet as happened during the 2016 election. But let me not pay attention to the propagandists in your employ and their antagonists, your critics.

Let me state my second ask. It is related to the first. Grandpa: why don’t you impose a cultural agenda onto your government? Maybe that is a wrong way to phrase it. Let me re-phrase. Grandpa: can you impose a cultural agenda onto your government? Surely, you can’t limit the role of culture in the revolution to the military songs of the NRA. You know that Amilcal Cabral’s concept of the building of national culture and consciousness went beyond that.

I love that in your personal capacity as an intellectual, you have been part of two groups of linguists that have worked on a translation dictionary, and a thesaurus. I have expressed elsewhere my issues with these two projects. I have questioned the dominance of Runyankore and Nkore ways at the expense of Rukiga and Kiga ways, yet they are described as including both the Banyankore and Bakiga nationalities. My critique of the work does not take away its value. I think that it is important work. Indeed as bell hooks says, the critic only engages the work that they ascribe value to. Given the technological domination of the world by White Supremacist Eurocentric media and modes of knowledge, our generation appreciates the labour of those intellectual fighters who keep our own languages and heritage accessible to us. In your personal capacity, you are one of them.

But Grandpa: why do you do these projects as an individual? Why doesn’t your government have a cultural and language policy to support this work, in the process extending it to other nationalities in Uganda, beyond the Banyankore and Bakiga? I could list the various provisions of international human rights treaties ratified by Uganda that require the state to promote indigenous languages and heritage. Indeed, even the 1995 Ugandan Constitution has provisions that support this case. Sections of various Acts of Parliament can also be cited to boost the case for state investment in indigenous languages and heritage. But for now, I choose to write to you a blog post than to take your government to task in the courts of law. From your Kavunuuzi and Katondoozi projects referred to above, I know that you are interested in this type of work, as an individual. Why, Grandpa: doesn’t this interest and personal investment seep into public policy?

As a President of Uganda, your government’s cultural and language policies for the last 31 years have served a colonial and imperial agenda. They enforce White Supremacy in the name of ‘development’ and ‘modernisation’. They turn full lives into commodities, following neo-liberal capitalist logics. They alienate black children from their immediate environments, history and heritage, to the benefit of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Grandpa: knowing that you are a former student of Walter Rodney, the Guyanese historian and Pan Africanist Marxist who gave us How Europe Underdeveloped Africa among other revolutionary texts, I know that this gospel is a staple on your ideological plate. I imagine that at a personal level, you do not like your own government’s cultural and language policy framework. But why does your government continue to do this damage, Grandpa?

Instead of you always asking UNESCO to fund your personal heritage and language projects, a state institution should exist to support this work. As you know, our generation has its many demands on the state and on your generation, given the conditions of our growing up. You are all we know. We may not yet be big on demanding a cultural and language renaissance, but you can be sure that we will appreciate this in the long term. Why don’t you institutionalise your personal hobby of contributing to projects around Runyankore and Nkore heritage so that other intellectual workers in the indigenous arts, from other Ugandan nationalities can make their contributions? Grandpa: is this too much to ask? You surely can persuade your colleagues in government to allocate some of the hundreds of millions of US Dollars the Consolidated Fund already has, from oil related income (that batch for which the handshake was given) to this.

My final ask is petty, Grandpa. It may even be problematic. Actually, it is. Please Grandpa: do not allow your handlers and various propagandists to come here and pretend to respond to this open letter. I know this last paragraph is a gift to them, as they think that they will use it to delegitimise what they may perceive as an attempt at discrediting you. Grandpa: please prevail on them. They may not see how well intentioned this plea from a child who has no choice but to carry the label with your own name, having been born during your era as Ugandan president, is. I know you are busy, and that this last paragraph could be the reason this letter may not reach you, but I believe that there are spiritual dimensions to our existence on earth and so you may find this letter telepathically. I will be glad to receive a response through action, Grandpa. Or even clairvoyantly.

Sincerely

Furayide: P.O Box Nyanja, Kabale.

Doreen Baingana’s Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe #UgBlogWeek

Originally posted on Thursday, 14 July 2011 at 16:00

Qualification: My opinion on a number of issues, especially on literature associated with FEMRITE’s early years and on diaspora life, have since changed so radically, from when I wrote this, but I reproduce it faithfully as it was, on original posting.

After reading a few of the publications by many of Ugandan female writers published by FEMRITE (Association of Uganda Women Writers), the predictability of their themes in a way put me off. Notably because the portrayal of men in many of the FEMRITE published stories as villains, as oppressive, as selfish, as brutal, as the sole cause of all problems of the woman became too much and to an extent unnecessarily sensational. In a way, my vigour regarding Ugandan fiction was affected by the FEMRITE spin to the Ugandan experience that blames the Ugandan male for all wrongs in society and the female portrayed as the eternal victim. It used to take a very good commendation from a friend for me to read a FEMRITE book, especially when the friend would tell me what the theme of the publication was.

For some time therefore, I did not pay attention to many female writers published by FEMRITE because I was pushed off by Mary Karooro Okurut’s novels (notably The Invisible Weevil and Child of a Delegate) that portrayed the Ugandan man as hell itself. This attitude however started changing with time as some female authors even when groomed by FEMRITE started writing beyond the anger, beyond the outbursts the earlier FEMRITE authors were known for.

There is no reason why I should bring FEMRITE up when talking about Doreen Baingana’s Tropical Fish; Tales from Entebbe. Not only because it is not published by FEMRITE but also because Baingana’s book should not be compared to Karooro’s Child of a Delegate for example. The two are so many miles apart. Now, that sounds very harsh to Karooro, but yes, it is my subjective truth. I blame the bias about female writers FEMRITE created in me, especially the first FEMRITE releases, for my late acquisition of Baingana’s book.

So, this history of my bias aside, I bought Baingana’s Tropical Fish, Tales from Entebbe on Friday, 8th July, 2011, and several years after it was published. Praise for Baingana’s novel, or can we safely call it a collection of eight linked short stories told by three sisters, arrives ahead of the book. From the moment, I devoured the first story in the collection, about a last born child’s imaginations of her parents’ master bedroom, I was glued to the book until the last story, Questions of Home! There are many stories I had to re-read and I am sure I will read them again and again. Two stories stand out for me, A Thank You Note and Lost in Los Angeles.

I have read quite a bit of Ugandan fiction about HIV/AIDS but Baingana’s A Thank You Note really deserves my own Thank You Note to her for pulling off a difficult story so effortlessly and so emotionally without the stereotypical tired storyline many writers usually adopt on writing about the impact of the disease. The preachy way the disease is written about mostly bores than delights. Today, it is not HIV/AIDS that I am picking from Baingana’s page-turner though. It is something about her story on an African’s life in America, Lost in Los Angeles. Sometimes I do not want to use my own words to make the points she makes in the story or to try to re-describe what she describes so excellently, so I will extensively quote parts of the story that moved some sense into my head, as regards life in the diaspora.

I must first of all put a disclaimer that she also puts, that there is nothing autobiographical in her book. I must add that I have never lived beyond the borders of Uganda for more than one week, so, definitely I do not directly relate with the story, except that a larger part of the people who influence the quality of my life at this moment live in the diaspora – no big deal, someone says. Maybe they may relate to the extracts below.

Lost in Los Angeles

Pages 122 – 3

It’s the small things that bother me most. My teeth aren’t white, straight, and perfect, like everyone else’s here. My teeth disturb people; they frown when I smile. Small children stare up at me, puzzled. Look Mummy, a freak! I imagine they’ve been taught to say. I have to repeat myself two or three times; it’s easier not to talk. Even black people don’t look straight at me or talk, gesture, or act the way I do. I am just as strange to them. I want to ask why, but don’t dare to. My skirts and blouses, are they too long, too loose, too bright and flowery, out of date?

(…)

Page 124 – 127

I’ve heard Africans who’ve been here too long talk in the same nasal way; it grows on you, unbidden. I swear never to, if I can help it. Like a good colonial subject, I like to think I have a British accent, the proper one.

Luckily, because everything works and is automatic, there is less and less need to talk. My salary mysteriously enters my account; I don’t need to touch money itself, or go to the bank. I find a window-like machine and punch in some numbers. They mean something: out slips money, silently, smoothly, it must be mine. I take it. At the supermarket, I don’t even need to use cash; I give the person at the counter my card and she lets me take the groceries, which are all wrapped up in four or five layers of crinkly paper and packed in coloured boxes with pictures as though they were children’s toys. There’s no need to talk to anyone. In the supermarket, everything is laid out for you; you walk through chilly bright aisles, read the labels, pick out food. The fruits and meats smell of nothing, taste of nothing. A machine tells you how much, and the person at the counter smiles mechanically. She may say, how are you, ma’am, smiling on and off like a switch, but is she really talking to me, me, or to a body buying food? The price is fixed anyway. There is nothing to argue about, nothing to say.

I swipe my card through the metal box, my food rolls down the rubber plank, is packed quickly, efficiently, and I roll it out, down to the garage, a cement cage of cars upon cars, immense and lifeless. No one drives small cars here, and there are very few old ones. Most of the cars are huge and shiny and prosperous-looking. I have a ticket that slipped out of a metal box all by itself; it knew I needed it, it knew I was there. I took the ticket and somehow a long pole rose up, letting me into the garage. The same thing happens in reverse as I leave, only this time there’s a person hidden behind a glass cage. He or she doesn’t glance my way, and after I’ve done this enough times, neither do I. I slip my ticket and a few dollars into a metal drawer, which slips not the glass cage, slides back out with change, and the long pole ahead of me rises up. Smoothly, soundlessly, straight and narrow. Metal, metal everywhere, and I need a drink.

The same thing happens at my apartment. After the side flat perfect roads, I click my garage door open; the metal rises up, disappearing into the wall. I slip not the cement womb of the building, enter my car slot, get out, and press a button. The elevator doors slip open soundlessly, then close. A metal box lifts me up, but it’s so smooth I can hardly feel it. It opens again and lets me out. I wish something would go wrong. I wish things weren’t so perfect. My mouth is sticky from not talking, my face sticky with silent tears. I am home I crawl into bed and try to remember the dirty smells of Kitooro, the dark swirling mud after an hour of rain like vengeance, hard fast rain that means it. The rotting fruit and swarming flies of Nakasero market; the unkempt, uncut grass that creeps, uncontained, uncontainable, disruptive, across any kind of man-made borders. I have been torn from natural living chaos that wrapped itself strongly around our lives. I am alone and trapped in metal. I am lost.

III

My cousin Kema has left for Uganda. I live by myself now. She did a lot to help me settle in, got me my first job, and introduced me to her friends, who are all Africans. They live the Southern California suburban life while saving money to build houses back home, educate their kids, make money, live well, what’s so wrong with that? They are very nice people, all shiny with cream and fatty food, and they welcome new Africans with open arms – those who are educated and ambitious, that is. In America, we are nothing, but Africans: lumped together, generic, black. Our voices get whiny and nasal too, but we can’t erase the African lilt. Our children are American, though: noisy, demanding, insolent, confident, and fat.

Every weekend there is a gathering at one house or another, and we talk about home. When we were there last, five years ago, ten, even twenty. We are going back for good, eventually, but not anytime soon, oh no, who wants to live with the insecurity, the rule of army men and guns, the magendo – black market – such a tough way of life. Here, we have grown soft and comfortable with steady salaries we can live on; why go back to desperately running around chasing deals, sweating in that dusty heat? Someone, another recent arrival (not me I only observe, and smile if anyone happens to look my way), tries to protest.

(…)

Page 128 – 132

We escape our American lives on the fringe and take centre stage again. At these moments we are so far away from America, we might as well be at Sophie’s Bar and Bakery in Wandegeya, sitting on wooden stools out in the open, eating roast meat and drinking Port Bell beer, swatting away the flies. Or maybe up on the Diplomat Hotel rooftop, washing away the day’s sweat with sundowners. It feels that good.

“Daaad.” The child’s petulant cry swiftly brings us back. We are here in America, and we all need our reasons to stay, despite our vows not to die here, oh no! Alone in an apartment where your body may rot for days and no one will miss you? Here, where no one knows you even exist? Imagine ending life in a retirement home, where you have to pay someone to look after you, as if you have no children no family? What disgrace! We are going back home in two years, home is home. Five years maybe. No, for us, our kids have to get into college first; you know the schools at home. When I finish my house; when I’ve set up my business; when I get the UN job I’ve been promised. That’s the only way to survive, you know, to get paid in dollars. If when, if, when, but in the meantime … oh, here’s the food, let’s eat.

We rally around the barbecued chicken, limp salads, meat stew and rice, posho made with semolina flour. It’s the same food every time; not quite home food, but close enough. It’s better than sandwiches or macaroni or some other fake food, and so we eat. The talk subsides to contented murmurs and grunts of appreciation. Afterwards, the women clear up, bustling up and down, their big hips swaying heavily with each move, as purposeful and confident as the huge swathes of bright-colored kitenge wrapped around them. What a warming sight to see. I don’t help much; I prefer to watch. But the single men take note and cancel me off their lists; not to mention, my hips aren’t big enough.

(…)

The fast, syncopated, guitar-energized Congolese music is another way to go back home. It’s a relief from battling the alien world that envelops us the minute we step outside our doors. We cluster together and dance to break away from the self or non-self we have to be at work, among foreigners, in the white world (even though there are blacks there). It’s a difficult act, a tiring one. So why not let the wails of Lingala, well-known oldies played again and again – Franco, Papa Wemba, Kanda Bongoman – why not let them take us back to that safe, known place? Sure, we left it willingly, and it wasn’t haven. Now, it seems like it was.

We know the dhombolo, we love doing it together, churning our waists and hips, arms flung up in the air as if this will save us. But I tire soon. Some of us (“Oba, who do they think they are?” I imagine the others thinking) danced more to zungu music than Congolese hits back home. Black American hits actually, not white zungu; Michael Jackson, Kool and the Gang, the Commodores.

(…)

Page 136

Raab says he likes my large lips, and I instead of replying, “Everyone I know has ‘large’ lips,” I say, “You can have them,” and we kiss. It’s even easier, smoother, after that. Really, I think, as we explore each other’s face, men and women don’t have to talk; we should just rub faces, eyebrows, noses. Sniff each other like dogs. We do, and end up in his bed (an especially long one), panting and entangled. His long, hairy legs and arms are everywhere, under and over me; it’s like I am making love with an octopus. A warm, furry, active, attentive octopus. I remember an old TV cartoon of a one-octopus band: it played all the instruments, its tentacles wriggling gracefully everywhere. I tell him. He laughs and winds tight around me. I bite his large nose gently, smooth his eyebrows hold on to his long abdomen. Here I am, mind and body together, in this boy’s bed, in Los Angeles. This is new. Let me turn away from the past. I am so tired of it.

Raab is friendly in the morning, as if it’s perfectly normal to wake up with a stranger, an African woman who is hangover and silent, in your bed. He offers me breakfast, but I don’t want to eat anything – maybe some coffee. He gives me aspirin and juice and is casual and sweet. We exchange phone numbers, and then he drives me home in an old Volvo his parents gave him. “Take care,” he says, kissing my check. “Of what?” I ask. He laughs, and waves his large hairy hand.”

 

As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work.  This is the sixth post.

Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino #UgBlogWeek

Originally posted on Tuesday, 10 May 2011 at 23:33

If you meet a foreigner and ask them about Uganda, the first things to come to their minds will be Idi Amin, some think he still rules the country, nowadays Museveni has been confused with Amin so much, so the tag that we are a country ruled by a dictator seems to be a permanent one for now. Those who follow Olympic sports especially who remember the past will tell you of Aki Bua. Those who treasure their knowledge of geography, especially African geography may tell you of the second deepest lake in Africa, Lake Bunyonyi being in Uganda, or will tell you of the River Nile having its one of the many potential sources here or of Lake Nalubaale (some people call it Victoria) etc. If you meet one who has read African Literature, especially poetry, you will be told of Okot p’Bitek.

Okot lived from 1931 until 1982. His work however did not die. He lives in those who have read and heard his poetry. His better known work, Song of Lawino and its companion, Song of Ocol must have sold the largest number of copies in history for a Ugandan literary work. But Okot also wrote Songs of Malaya, Song of Prisoner, The Horn of my Love and Hare and Hornbill among others.

Every time I read Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol, the better known of his works, it is a new experience. It is a typical example of a living work. A work that does not die. A work that remains relevant through time and times. This day, I quote some extracts from Song of Lawino and trust me, we just need to look around ourselves, for the Africans we are, these things Okot railed about, live with us.

Here we go; From “The Buffalos of Poverty Knock the People Down”;

And while those inside

Eat thick honey

And ghee and butter

Those in the countryside

Die with the smell,

They re-eat the bones

That were thrown away

For the dogs

 

And those who have

Fallen into things

Throw themselves into soft beds,

But the hip bones of the voters

Grow painful

Sleeping on the same earth

They slept

Before Uhuru!

And they cover the ulcers

On their legs

With animal skins.

 

And when they have

Fallen into things

They become rare,

Like the python

With a bull water buck

In its tummy,

They hibernate and stay away

And eat!

 

They return

To the  countryside

For the next elections

Like the kite

That returns during the Dry

Season

Part II

Originally posted  on Friday, 15 July 2011 at 00:03

Part I of Re-visiting Okot p’Bitek was published here on Facebook on Tuesday, 10 May 2011 at 23:33. Then, I hoped Part II would come on the heels of Part I. But let me not stir complaints among you who read and enjoyed Part I. 15, July, 2011 is not so much a long time after Part I was published, here on Facebook of course.

In Part II, we again visit Song of Lawino, this time to that poem, My Name Blew Like a Horn Among the Payira. I am not quoting it in its entirety. I am quoting just a few extracts of the poem to make the point I desperately want to make. Here we go;

I was made chief of the girls

Because I was lively,

I was bright,

I was not clumsy or untidy

I was not dull,

I was not heavy and slow.

 

I did not grow up a fool

I am not cold

I am not shy

My skin is smooth

It still shines smoothly in the moonlight.

 

When Ocol was wooing me

My breasts were erect

And they shook

As I walked briskly,

And as I walked

I threw my long neck

This way and that way

Like the flower of the lyonno lily

Waving in a gentle breeze.

 

And my brothers called me Nya-Dyang

For my breasts shook

And beckoned the cattle,

And they sang silently:

 

Father prepare the kraal,

Father prepare the kraal,

The cattle are coming.

 

(…)

 

You trembled

When you saw the tattoos

On my breasts

And the tattoos below my belly button

And you were very fond

Of the gap in my teeth!

My man, what are you talking?

My clansmen, I ask you:

What has become of my husband?

Is he suffering from boils?

Is it ripe now?

Should they open it

So that the pus may flow out?

 

(…)

 

My husband says

He no longer wants a woman

With a gap in her teeth

He is in love

With a woman

Whose teeth fill her mouth completely

Like the teeth of war-captives and slaves.

 

*

 

Like beggars

You take up white men’s adornments,

Like slaves or war captives

You take up white men’s ways.

Didn’t the Acoli have adornments?

Didn’t Black People have their ways?

 

Like drunken men

You stagger to white men’s games,

You stagger to white men’s amusements.

 

Is lawala not a game?

Is cooro not a game?

Didn’t your people have amusements?

Like halfwits

You turn to white men’s dances,

You turn to musical instruments of foreigners

As if you have no dances;

As if you have no instruments!

Does one need to add anything, to this?

As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work.  This is the third post.

We want to preserve Rukiga – Rukiga: Prof. Manuel Muranga

Dear Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire,

I am seeing for the first time your comment on “Kavunuuzi”. (I cannot see its date, I am afraid!) It is very well written, and as one of the authors, I wish to register my acknowledgement of your critical remarks. Indeed the dictionary needs some, and in places even much, revision. If you know anything about the history of dictionary writing worldwide, you will appreciate that this is not an easy task. “Kavunuuzi” is one of the very few Runyankore-Rukiga dictionaries that exist, and I would suggest that your criticism be a little tempered. Is there nothing good at all in the dictionary, apart from the intention, which you say was never achieved?

Using expressions such as “failing miserably” is certainly not edifying for me as one of the authors: allow me this I hope understandable level of sensitivity. Did you not at least notice the effort to follow the official orthography of Runyankore-Rukiga, which is generally not known and so not observed, with words being written arbitrarily or instinctively? (Indeed, have you learnt the orthography yourself – one of the best achievements in the history of Runyankore, Rukiga and other Ugandan bantu languages? It was not invented by us, and though it leaves something to be desired here and there, it still is a remarkable achievement and we thank those linguists for it.)

But of course you are free to adopt the critical stance that you deem best, but being an old pedagogue, my take is that it is generally wiser to look for something good or at least fair in a work – and be it ever so paltry; thereafter, you may proceed to point out the weaknesses. Even this pointing out should be as humble, yet at the same time as clear as possible – in one word: constructive. This is a difficult art in criticism and scholarship, but it constitutes the difference between serious criticism and the itch for sheer polemic.

Let me add a few terminological matters for your consideration: The term “Runyankore-Rukiga” automatically suggests that there is more Runyankore than Rukiga in the concept or reality that is conveyed by that term. Thus a “Runyankore-Rukiga” “Kavunuuzi” announces itself in its title as Runyankore-dominant. What would “Rukiga-Runyankore” be like? My idea, indeed, is that the Rukiga we in the northern and north-western half of Ndorwa County normally call “okuhorora” should be called “Rukiga-Runyankore”, while the Rukiga whose grammar (especially) is clearly distinct from Runyankore, Ruhororo and what I have just called Rukiga-Runyankore should be called Rukiga-Rukiga, or simply Rukiga. Mark you, the “Rukiga” spoken in the southern and south-western parts of Ndorwa County, i.e. large parts of Kyanamira and Kitumba Subcounties, plus most of Buhara, Maziba, and Kaharo Subcounties, as well as – in Rukiga County – large parts of Bukinda and all of Kamwezi Subcounties: the “Rukiga” spoken in those places is indeed what I would call “Rukiga-Runyankore”, or, even more accurately, “Rukiga-Ruhororo-Runyankore”.

Mr. Bwesigye, clear distinctions between Rukiga and Runyankore “culturems” or culture-based specifics in the vocabulary (as you correctly refer to them) notwithstanding, the major “heritage” you and I want to preserve as far as Rukiga is concerned is the heritage of “Rukiga-Rukiga” grammar, which is quite distinct from Runyankore/Ruhororo/Rukiga-Runyankore grammar. Thus, whereas Rukiga-Runyankore (as I have called it) and Ruhororo and Runyankore – or, in a word, what is currently called “Runyankore-Rukiga” – all say, for example, “Nooyenda ki?” (and, more colloquially, “Nonda ki?”), what does Rukiga-Rukiga say? Rukiga-Rukiga says, “Orenda ki?” (and this happens to have no colloquial form known to me).

Your concerns are apparently more about vocabulary – understandably since “Kavunuuzi” is a dictionary. But I tell you those words that are typically, almost inalienably, “Kiga” are easy enough to identify and this will be done in the next edition of “Kavunuuzi” – which we are already working on, by the way. Other vocabulary is quite fluid between Rukiga and Runyankore, and with more writings in Runyankore-Rukiga or Rukiga-Rukiga coming into being and circulating, this fluidity will become more clear to you. The fluidity also touches on culture, though I too am, by and large, an advocate of cultural preservation.

But, as I have just said, what is more inalienably “Kiga” – and what I would soonest die to preserve – is the grammar, and of course the “sound”, of Rukiga-Rukiga, manifest though this is in at least five dialectal forms, namely: “Rukiga-Rusigi”, “Rukiga-Runyangyezi”, “Rukiga-Ruhimba”, “Rukiga-Rusaakuru” and “Rukiga-Rugabira”. Yet, even within each of these there are differences: thus whereas many speakers of Rukiga-Rusigi would say “okugambiisa”, “okunagiisa”, “okwegyeesa” etc. in constructing the causative forms of the root verbs “okugamba”, “okunaga”, “okwega”, elongating the vowel sound in those critical positions, other Rukiga-Rusigi speakers (e.g. myself from Nyakagyera in Subcounty Kyanamira) would – like the Bahororo and Banyankore – not effect that elongation.

I hope this is a useful exchange, Mr. Bwesigye.

Prof. Manuel J.K. Muranga

Class Micro-agressions and The Spider King’s daughter

So Chibundu Onuzo’s The Spider King’s Daughter done. My feelings are in many places. My eyes refuse to look beyond class in these things. Seriously. How can one not know the name of the person they are dating? Mbu hawker. Really? Class dehumanises. And when Runner G, doesn’t kill Mr. Johnson, when he does not marry Abby, that thing they call failure just comes and blinds my eyes from seeing anything good in the struggle against classism. Is love across the class divide possible? Ok. Not love love but a genuine human relationship.

This book, I started reading last night, only put it down to sleep, woke up to it, no meal breaks no nothing, only water – did I even notice the rain, and finally made progress in restraining myself from writing in the book and underlining huge parts of the book. Just slight marks. Its an unputdownable book. I still want to be an honest person. I still want to live modestly.

As for relationships with people whose perspective is blinded by class, than humanity or anything else, I do not know, I really tried to like Abike. To look beyond the class micro and macro aggressions against her hawker, her driver and other people. But then… This is a great book. One Day I Will Write A Real Essay About It. Highly recommended, however biased I am.

Thanks to Samira Sawlani for everything bookish I get myself to do. Excerpts from ‪‎The Spider King’s Daughter follow.

 Hmm

I said I chose you because you ran, and because you were handsome and you didn’t speak like a hawker. – page 260

The dialogue

‘How much for half an hour?’,
The girl behind the counter looked up from her novel.
‘We charge per hour.’
‘I only need thirty minutes.’
‘I’m sorry. We charge o’er hour.’
‘A fine girl like you is not meant to be wicked. Please help me.’
‘Oya, bring the money but don’t tell anybody.’ – page 205

Ever tried to date higher than your class?

It wouldn’t have worked between us. Even without everything I’d heard, the real world would have intruded. When she went to university and returned with a fancy degree would she still want a hawker for a boyfriend? When she got her first high-flying job and I was just a trader in Tejuosho would she want to be seen with me? – page 155

The dialogue again

‘How come your driver doesn’t come to pick you?’
‘Pardon?’ I’d forgotten Cynthia was in the car.
‘Why doesn’t your driver pick you?’
So Abike had really not told them anything about me.
‘Taking public transport means I’m independent.’ It was close to the truth.
‘Your parents could get you a car.’
‘I want to buy one with my own money.’
‘Oh yes. You said. You work in your father’s business.’
What would she do if she found out I was a hawker? I didn’t care. – pages 119-120 

The fear of rejection is universal, isn’t it?

I was relieved when the maid interrupted us today. If she hadn’t, I would have asked Abike to be my girlfriend and I might be sitting at home now, nursing a rejection. It is pleasanter to live in this precarious hope than to know for certain she doesn’t want me. – page 111

Hawkers can’t kiss, right?

I wondered if he would kiss me. I knew as I lifted my face to his that I wanted him to. Abike Johnson kissing a hawker in front of Mama Put. I didn’t care who saw.
‘I had a really nice time,’ I said, looking directly into his eyes. Maybe he didn’t like me in that way. I lowered my head, feeling foolish.

When he finally kissed me, it was a surprise. His lips rubbed mine, rough skin rubbing off my lip gloss and before I could respond, he had straightened up again.
It was a strange kiss. Not wet enough to be romantic not light enough for friends. I’m sure he will get better. – page 100

Gender etc but class, too these mob attacks

She turned up in a mini skirt. Everyone knows you only wear that type of outfit in the privacy of your air-conditioned car, with the windows rolled up and preferably tinted. Everyone except Abike Johnson. Flashing her legs and then wondering why a mob is chasing us. – page 91

The nonsense indeed

‘Joke, in five years’ time when you go on your first date, where do you want to go?’
‘Let me just inform you, my first date is going to be next year and the boy has to take me to a very expensive restaurant.’
‘Why?’
‘Because that’s how a guy shows that he really likes a girl. The more expensive the restaurant the more serious the love. Don’t you know?’
‘I wonder who is teaching you this nonsense,’ I said, heaving a twenty-litre jerry can on to my shoulder. – page 79

The humiliation

Her tone was curt. Did she think I wasn’t good enough to go on a date with her?
‘Their names are Cynthia and Oritse. They are old friends.’
It dawned on me. She’d brought me here to amuse her friends. – page 72

Hmmm

Oritse and I, well from my point of view there was never an Oritse and I. I keep him around because his voice is special. Cynthia has been a member of my set for the longest, I think. She has no real gifts but she is very beautiful in that plump way. More importantly, she is obedient. – pg 69

‘Feel degraded’

We had come to Yaba market, the home of cheap wooden stalls bowed under the weight of the average Nigerian’s need to look Western for as Eastern a price as possible. The stalls were jammed together, clothes flung together, people squashed together, sifting, lifting, arranging without thought to compatibility. If only I had grown up not knowing better then I wouldn’t feel degraded coming here. – Pg 64

The humour, right?

Even garbage wants to escape from my neighborhood. At the end of each day, people pile their rubbish on to the side of the road and the next morning, you see the sweet wrappers and banana skins a few metres from where you left them, slowly being carried to their freedom by people’s unsuspecting feet. Oh, to be trash. – pages 53 – 54

 

The shock, right?

If I thought it odd that she only bought ice cream from me, though up to six of us might flock to her window, I didn’t let it bother me. If I thought she smiled too much when we spoke and looked in my eyes too little, I put it down to shyness. As I watched her climb on to the car it struck me. All this time she had been flirting. Despite my shabby clothes and sweaty body, for some reason this increasingly attractive girl was flirting with me! – page 33

A hobby, even

Hassan looked at me through the rear-view mirror. ‘I no believe I dey do this to your father’s car because of a hawker.’ He wasn’t just a hawker. He was a hawker I was considering adding to my collection of friends. I was tired of people who go to Forest House or schools just like it. – page 25

Hawkers can be honest?

I looked at her face while she was bringing out her wallet. Her skin was so smooth I wanted to slide my finger along it. She passed me a two-hundred naira note with a smile that showed her perfect, white teeth. It would have been so easy to sprint off with her money. I gave her the change before placing the ice cream in her palm. Someone else would have to show her that the world was not filled with honest hawkers and unicorns. – page 10

By the way, the beginnings

Every morning I wake up and know exactly what I have to do.

1. Bathe.
2. Make sure Joke does the same.
3. Eat breakfast.
4. Make sure Joke does the same.
5. Ditto my mother.
6. Take Joke to school.
7. Leave school for work.
8. Make sure Joke never does the same. – page 2

I read Chibundu Onuzo’s The Spider King’s Daughter in one night. Did you know that she was writing the book at 17, got an agent at 18, a publisher at 19 and it was published when she was 21? Did you? It is probable that you knew before I did. That fact made a huge impression on me. And so the night I entered Abike’s world and that of her lover, the hawker, I littered my Facebook timeline with excerpts as I read. It is a good read. I cringed more times than I can count because of the class microagressions but then. Read the book and we share.

 

Quotes from Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid’s novel, Lucy, like everything else this brilliant writer has produced is a feast of poetic prose that one finds it hard to choose which parts to share as quotes and which ones to leave behind. In other words, it is a book I recommend without any reservation. Because I just have a blog-post and posting the entire book would be an infringement on the writer’s rights, I will post a few excerpts that still make my heart go like, yeeeees, this is so well told, I totally feel, see, smell, taste, hear, etc what is happening. Lucy is the story of an au pair from Antigua and her life in her employer’s (Mariah) home. It is a beautiful coming of age story. No spoilers, just quotes.

Lucy is aware of colonial imprints

As I opened my eyes, the word “Australia” stood between our faces, and I remembered then that Australia was settled as a prison for bad people, people so bad that they couldn’t be put in a prison in their own country. – Page 9

Of how people in Lucy’s America walk

When people walked on the streets they did it quickly, as if they were doing something behind someone’s back, as if they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves, as if being out in the cold too long would cause them to dissolve. – Page 10

The Love songs

It was a song that was very popular at the time – three girls, not older than I was, singing in harmony and in a very insincere and artificial way about love and so on. It was very beautiful all the same, and it was beautiful because it was so insincere and artificial.- page 11

The privileged and their pity 

Mariah reached out to me and, rubbing her hand against my cheek, said, “What a history you have.” I thought there was a little bit of envy in her voice, and so I said, “You are welcome to it if you like.” – Page 19

Love and hate are sisters

How do you get to be a person who is made miserable because the weather changed its mind, because the weather doesn’t live up to your expectations? How do you get to be that way?

While the weather sorted itself out in various degrees of coldness, I walked around with letters from my family and friends scorching my breasts. I had placed these letters inside my brassiere, and carried them around with me wherever I went. It was not from feelings of love and longing that I did this; quite the contrary. It was from a feeling of hatred. There was nothing so strange about this, for isn’t it so that love and hate exists side by side? Each letter was a letter from someone I had loved at one time without reservation. – Page 20

Of those poems on Daffodils by the way 

Mariah said, ‘These are daffodils. I’m sorry about the poem, but I’m hoping you’ll find them lovely all the same.’

There was such joy in her voice as she said this, such a music, how could I explain to her the feeling I had about daffodils – that it wasn’t exactly daffodils, but that they would do as well as anything else? Where should I start? Over here or over there? Anywhere would be good enough, but my heart and my thoughts were racing so that every time I tried to talk I stammered and by accident bit my own tongue. – Page 29

Appropriation much? 

Mariah says, ‘I have Indian blood in me,’ and underneath everything I could swear she says it as if she were announcing her possession of a trophy. How do you get tp be the sort of victor who can claim to be the vanquished also? – Page 41

Before you call that place beautiful 

I wished once again that I came from a place where no one wanted to go, a place that was filled with slag and unexpectedly erupting volcanoes, or where a visitor was turned into a pebble on setting foot there; somehow it made e feel ashamed to come from a place where the only thing to be said about it was ‘I had fund when I was there.’ – Page 65

No need to hide the anger

I was having a thought not unlike this when unexpectedly, Mariah came up to me. The look on my face must have shocked her, for she said, ‘You are a very angry person, aren’t you?’ and her voice was filled with alarm and pity. Perhaps I should have said something reassuring; perhaps I should have denied it. But I did not. I said, “Of course I am. What do you expect?’ – Page 96

Of the sex that sucks 

Bad sex. I wondered what exactly did she mean. From my mother I had gathered that the experience could leave you feeling indifferent, that during it you might make out the grocery list, pick a style of curtains, memorize a subtle but choice insult for people who imagined themselves above you. But I had never imagined the word ‘bad’ could be applied to it, and as soon as she said it I knew what she meant: it was like wanting a sugar apple and getting a spoiled one; and while you’re eating the spoiled one, the memory of a good tasting one will not go away.” – Page 113-4

The Patriarchal roots of the law

Everybody knew that men have no morals, that they do not know how to behave, that they do not know how to treat other people. It was why men like laws so much; it was why they had to invent such things-they need a guide. When they are not sure what to do, they consult this guide. If the guide gives them advice they don’t like, they change the guide. – Page 142

The Power of Names 

Lucy, a girl’s name for Lucifer. That my mother would have found me devil-like did not surprise me, for I often thought of her as god-like, and are not the children of gods devils? I did not grow to like the name Lucy-I would have much preferred to be called Lucifer outright-but whenever I saw my name I always reached out to give it a strong embrace. – Page 153

If there is one writer, from whom I can’t seem to read enough, it is Kincaid. I feel bad that I have only been able to read four of her titles (A Small Place, My Brother, Lucy and Annie John) in one year. I should find time to share excerpts from these, and a fully blown review of at least one of them. I think I did well, considering that access to the books became possible in the last quarter of the year.

One of the many unsaid 2016 resolutions is to read every book she has written (except the Gardening ones, I am still a toddler in that department). I already have The Autobiography of My Mother and See Now Then on my shelf, so I think this is an achievable feat. Till then, stay safe.

Quotes from E.C Osondu’s Voice of America

E.C Osondu’s debut collection of short stories, including the Caine Prize Winning Waiting is hilarious in all parts, and yet serious. Very serious actually. So, entertaining serious. You do not fail to laugh, but you also do not lose the fact that this is real life. The characters are convincing, they have a sense of humour that they do not realise. At some point, one feels guilty for laughing their lungs dry at the tragedy that befalls the characters, whether in Nigeria or in America. Even the ones living in Nigeria have America on their mind, anyway. The tears will come because the reader is laughing too much, but at the hands of another writer, without the gift of humour that Osondu has, these same stories could make one cry.

So, here we go.

America’s Idiosyncrasies

“There is a tablet for every sickness in America.” Page 3

Nigeria’s own demons

“I heard he shot and killed his native doctor some time ago so that she cannot prepare the same juju she made for him for someone else..” Page 16

Aid? No.

“Why are the Americans sending the eye doctors to us? Do they mean to tell us they have cured all the blind people in America?” – Page 42

Remember Achebe’s use of proverbs and sayings?

“You do not throw your child to a lion to eat because the child has offended you.” – Page 70

Who would want to die?

“I do not want to die, I do not want to die, my mind would be a terrible thing to waste, please help me.” – Page 77

Loyal dogs

“Ebone wished that she had a loyal dog in America that could sniff her husband’s crotch and confirm for her that he had slept with Rhonda.” – Page 86

Big is Big

“Nigerians do not dirty their hands with petty burglary – ‘When Nigerians steal, they steal big.” – Page 100

Buy this book. It is 215 pages of beauty. Here.