Fiction, Memoirs

On my shelf this season…

IMG_7448If you could give me just one gift for the rest of my life, make it a book. Books are gifts we never get tired of opening. They are the cheapest form of tourism I discovered; it amazes me how I travel to different parts of the world just inside one book. So I felt loved to get fantastic gifts of books from my friends Zoe, Mun, Samtito and Vicky. I did not forget to reward myself with some books I have long desired. In the same spirit, I am sharing the list of books I received and will be reviewing this season.

Nathan Filer ©telegraph.co.uk
Nathan Filer ©telegraph.co.uk

I am grateful to my inspiration Muneera Parbeen for the gift of ‘The Shock of the Fall’ by Nathan Filer. Aside appreciating that reviewing this book will partially de-list me from being stereotyped an ageist by some of my critics, I am excited about this book because it captures a peculiar group present in our society but marginalized. It projects the place of care and support in sustaining the well-being of persons receiving mental healthcare services, while sharing their realities. The author Nathan Filer is a young British writer. His debut novel The Shock of the Fall has won several major awards, including the 2013 Costa Book of the Year and the 2014 Betty Trask Prize.
10152999_10152346295389914_5621460594907841966_nMany thanks to Samtito Olatito, I will be reviewing more collections of books I have yearned for. ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ and ‘Memories of My Melancholy Whores’ by the late Colombian writer Gabrielle Marquez. When this famous writer Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez known as Gabo for short passed away last year, I felt bad I never read any work of his while he lived. But the saying that writers never die is true. Gabo still lives through his books. ‘Memories of My Melancholy Whores’ is a controversial love story weaving together the tales of a 90-year-old man and a pubescent concubine. ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ chronicles a fictional South American rural community Macondo highlighting their challenges and the fabric of their realities.
beahGravitating away from fiction, I will be reviewing memoirs that particularly focus on experiences of young men caught in conflict spaces, exploring the impact of the choices they make. I thought this will require my doing a cross-generational reading. So in the context of the older generation, I choose ‘All Rivers Run to the Sea’ a memoir by Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor and a man I adore. Alongside for the younger generation, I am reviewing ‘The Terrorist’s Son, a story of Choice’ by Zak Ibrahim and ‘A Long Way Gone’ memoirs of a boy soldier by Ishmael Beah.
Moving to books from Asia, I have a recommendation by Professor Grace Chin, who I admire, to read Raden Adjeng Kartini’s ‘Letters of a Javanese Princess’ a feminist book highlighting early 20th century treatise on education and the unfair treatment of native Javanese women. Raden Kartini is hailed as Indonesia’s fervent feminist writer. I am glad to finally have this book on my shelf and review list.
heart-of-darkness-paul-gauguinThe Heart of Darkness’ by Joseph Conrad brings me back to Central Africa. This controversial Novella has been notorious for its narratives which explores European imperialism, colonialism and the dichotomy between civil society and savage ones. I will be revisiting this work to officially review it here, being mindful of criticisms expressed by my beloved late Chinua Achebe who in a public lecture “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” described Heart of Darkness as “an offensive and deplorable book” that de-humanized Africans.
Thanks to Vicky my ever faithful reader and friend, I also have Chinua Achebe on my list. ‘A Man of the People’ by the late Prof. Achebe will finally grace this blog. I find this book critical to the understanding of Africa’s perception of democracy. In a season filled with burning passion and sentiments ahead of sensitive elections in the African continents, this book will give insight to the role of young people in governance within their polity.
When a writer shares a tale, we the readers receive and understand it differently according to the lens we wear. I have continued to read books, especially fiction books with my international development goggles in place. I encourage every lover of literature to join me on an exciting ride through the pages of books listed here. In the spirit of sharing, let’s all bring to the fore our objective perspectives in a constructive way to continue driving the discussion on linkages between literary fiction and international development issues.
To you my friends, I say thank you for these gifts, they will remain for a life time.
 
Written by ~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Fiction

An Ebola Tale…

The memories began to flow, breaking through the discouragement that was silting up his love for Ma’Kanu. He remembered the Ebola fever outbreak at the end of a state-organised student’s excursion into a wild game reserve. Four of the twenty-four children on the excursion had already died before the Hospital Extension Team from Enugu came for Somto. The Health Officer was a demi-god in those days.
Quarantine! He had screamed.
Odozi may have been located in the lower ranges of Milken Hill, but the sixty-seven kilometres that separated the village from Enugu may as well have been sixty seven years in the past. There were no facilities to retreat anything as virulent as Ebola. It was either the Otawon Infectious Diseases Hospital or nothing.
Ma’Kanu visited Otawon, a desolate place. She found that the IDH was run in the interests of the outside society, rather than the inmates who often came in with one and were buried with a cocktail of infections. A referral there was a deferred death sentence.
She took his antibiotics placebos and went AWOL, returning to Odozi and moving the other children to Dada’s. She lived alone with the dying Somto until she nursed him back to health, to the grudging admiration of a stymied Health Officer…
Ma’Kanu battled the haemorrhagic fever into remission. And her faith was too strong even for the mildest muscle cramp to afflict her.
Slowly he (Somto) pledged, goose bumps breaking out over him: For Ma, I’ll tell my best tale tonight.

Somto’s reflection of his foster-mother’s love is provoked by her request for a last tale as she answers death’s call. IMG_6761Reading this excerpt in One More Tale for the Road by Chuma Nwokolo was a pleasant coincidence. I have almost given up my search for a novel that aptly captures the reality of the virulent Ebola which the world is struggling to contain. I almost gave up thinking that there was no accessible work of fiction that dealt with this comprehensively enough to serve as a discussion starter. Published in 2003, One More Tale for the Road was far-sighted, with characters and scenes that fit today’s reality.
The growing epidemic has indeed sent a shrill wake-up call globally. The above excerpt highlights the isolation of Ebola patients with the scary word QUARANTINE! The lack of structures for responding to treating this scale of disease especially in Africa is stressed.  It draws attention to the risk and helplessness that families and loved ones of patients face in desiring to support their beloved through their illness. ‘Maintain the ABC Rule’ they are told, avoid body contact. This land of vigorous handshakes and hearty hugs has lost its essence, now you certainly can’t hug or hold anyone. This is totally against human nature and unrealistic.
The stigma and discrimination is however not as painful as the lonely and un-dignifying death faced by patients, more so children as was mentioned above.
This book helps in situating strongly, the family as an important institution in the present day discussions on care and support for victims of all violent epidemics. More than any war, Ebola is potentially anti-family; the destruction of families is the fundamental tragedy of this epidemic as can be seen in the Liberian story of Kaizer Dour’s family .

19-ebola-fight
photo culled from Indialive.today http://tiny.cc/1pv3px

Beyond highlighting the Ebola issue, this novel brought to bear the subject of adoption and foster care which is often seen as an anathema in the African society. It questioned the concept of family, challenging the social constructs by deconstructing each character’s root to help them embrace the life they have.  One lesson I take away from engaging this book is that there are no ideals; each person’s reality is indeed their ideal.
I put down One More Tale for the Road praying that like the characters therein, may we all find grace to embrace new realities. There are times we must express love and kindness from a distance, there are times we must stay away from people we love and be with ourselves.  This is it.
 
Written by ~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Fiction

Say You’re One of Them.

Uninhibited, Despairing, Tragic, Frustrating, Bleak, Vivid, Provoking!  Talk of a book you will hate to Love… this is it. This Jesuit Priest cum writer Uwem Akpan has done for vulnerable African children what I think many writers, legion of documentaries and western mass Media have not. He travelled into the depth of these children’s darkness with a Candle light to reveal to the world how life has smeared their windshields.
Despite being a New York Times #bestseller, making the Caine Prize list and being notably selected by the Oprah Book Club, I was discouraged IMG_6751from reading this book severally by friends who found it a very difficult read. Now I know why. The author Uwem Akpan in this collection of short stories did not write to entertain, he wrote to inform. In capturing the detailed realities of children in modern Africa, the writer ought to write like a child. Writing in the voice of distressed children is no easy task, more so reading such stories. From the stories in this book, every reader will see in detail how a child’s giggle is muffled by violence and fear, how their spirited dance is paused because the earth on which they stand is soaked with blood.
From the story of Maisha in An Ex-Mas Feast (which I am saving for a later review), I continued to the disturbing novella sized Fattening for Gabon which reveals the footprints of slavery as Kotchipka (Pascal) and his sister Yewa (Mary) are trafficked by their uncle Fofo after their parents bow their lives to AIDS in their home town Brafe.  Indeed selling a nephew could be more difficult than selling other kids. Though the chains tying their hands are invisible, either way, they are sold like chicken in an open market.
What Language is that? Adults ask this question when we try to crack the code of our children’s language. The story reflects on the relationship of Selam and her best friend as their parents inject into them the language of hatred triggered by their misunderstanding of faith difference. Like in a typical scenario as it happened to most of us, Mummy pats a space between her and daddy for the child to sit. Then these words that desecrate a child’s innocence follow. ‘Honey, we don’t want you to play with that girl anymore; the Muslim girl’ mummy said. These girls mock their parents’ response to faith difference by improvising a new language that can only be decoded by those who still love as children do.
Religious imageries litter many corners of this book; Luxurious Hearses captures the impact of religious conflict on children. Two brothers Yusuf and Jubril inherit the underserving struggle of choosing whether to identify with the Christian or Muslim faith years after their parents’ marriage end. Jubril and his brother Yusuf were born out of a relationship that was ethno-religiously conflicting, hence becoming a community concern. His parents Aisha and Bartholomew‘s union certainly unnerved the people of UKhemehi. These two brothers gave their life to fighting for a faith identity as Yusuf is stoned to death for apostasy.

The Author Uwem Akpan
The Author Uwem Akpan

Jubril’s journey from the north to the south of Nigeria is symbolic. Like all the children in this book, he was on the path of finding an answer to a torn identity and forced to say ‘I be one of you’.  The danger of having a dual ethnic identity could not be better captured than in the experience of Monique and her toddler brother Jean in My Parent’s Bedroom. This will serve as a torturous ending, perhaps the most tragic short story I ever read.
You have to learn to take care of Jean, Monique’. Her mother Maman says as she prepares her daughter for a life without her in war torn Rwanda where neither god nor marriage was strong enough to dilute any tribe’s blood.
Thinking of how the United Nations may have helped save the Rwandan genocide is hopeless as was also captured by Monique’s parents.

‘I think we should run to those UN soldiers by the street corner…the soldiers are our only hope’ her father said.
They?  Hopeless!’ Maman responded.

Their home once full of love now smells like an abattoir, their ceiling creaking and sagging in the middle; it’s full of Tutsi’s hidden by her parents. Even Maman goes to hide in the ceiling every night with a lie that she sleeps out.

Nobody is telling me the truth today. Tomorrow I must remind them that lying is a sin’ Monique said.

When tomorrow finally came, Monique’s only inheritance was her little brother, a broken crucifix and a gruesome memory of witnessing her father unavoidably machete her mother’s head in an ethnic cleansing ritual right in their bedroom.

‘There is blood everywhere…it flows into Maman’s eyes, she looks at us through the blood-the blood overflows her eyelids and Maman is weeping red tears. My bladder softens and pee flows down my legs towards the blood. The blood overpowers it, bathing my feet. Papa opens his eyes… he bends down and closes Maman’s eyes with trembling hands…Papa covers Maman with a white bedspread and goes off with the mob without looking at me or Jean… Jean is startled by my shout. He stamps around in the blood as if he were playing in mud.
Little Jean yanks the cloth off Manan and tries to wake her. He straightens her finger,but it bends back slowly, as if she were teasing him. He tries to bring together the two halves of Maman’s head, without success. He sticks his fingers into Maman’s hair and kneads it, the block thick like red shampoo. As the ceiling people weep, he wipes his hands on her clothes and walks outside giggling.

Her mother’s words remained a legacy that will ensure she and her brother survives with an identity torn between the Hutus and the Tutsis.

When they ask you,’ Maman says sternly without looking at Monique, ‘say you’re one of them, Ok?’
‘Who?’ Monique asked
‘Anybody’ Maman responded.

With two novellas and three short stories in one book the writer projects many international development issues such as child trafficking, IMG_6745prostitution, and ethno-religious conflicts as it affects children in Ethiopia, Benin, Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda. This writer shows that he is a man acquainted with grief as he portrays nuanced stories of Africa’s abused and battered children in a way that cuts close to the bone. Children in these stories lived struggling like ants whose holes have been blocked.  Their glory and resilience shines forth as their innocent spirits collides with unpleasant realities of culture, religion and social systems.
One other reason this may be a hard read especially for Non-Africans is the use of hybrid English and local terms which it adopts to give the dialogues a local flavour. However I recommend that everyone disobeys those that discouraged me and read this book. You will be confronted, challenged and bothered to your core. Finally, as the writer intended, it will leave you unsettled. But to experience all of this, you must exercise the patience of a still water; these stories are not fast paced, they unfolded slowly.
I am not sure how to fully express gratitude for this book. Uwem Akpan once said and I quote ‘I think fiction allows us to sit for a while with people we would rather not meet’. I agree with him; I would rather not meet Monique, Maisha, Jubril , Yusuf ,Jean and others because if I do, I cannot say I am one of them.
Written by ~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Fiction

Musing on FOREIGN GODS INC.

It’s a fresh morning at 19 Vance street New York. With hearts pounding vehemently, the young man Ikechukwu Uzondu enters the premises of Foreign God’s Inc. the world’s oldest god-shop. Here a religiously desensitized Mark Gruel displays his entire inventory of powerful and ancient deities to be bought off the shelf by aspiring god-parents. Excited Ikechukwu had come to do a price and interest survey for his next line of trade. Soon, he will vend a war god to Foreign God’s Inc. Ngene the ancient deity of Utonki, whose breathe is fire, whose fart is thunder, with rich history will be vended here. Selling and purchasing a sacred god is a sport which seemed odd to Ike and likewise me the reader. Instinctively, I felt Ike had a grouse with some god; this inspired me to read more.
IMG_5806Any hopeful, who at some point had migrated to Europe with the expectation of finding the greenest pasture, will connect at different levels with the narratives of this novel. Ikechuckwu a Nigerian of Ibo descent migrates to America combining studies and menial jobs to achieve a Cum Laude in Economics. His chase of green card led him to the path of many fugitive brides, ideal but elusive women. Having gone through hell and obtained a green card from his now ex-wife and emotional tormentor ‘Queen B’, alas green card was also not the answer. After 13yrs of eking his living and managing pressures of family demands as a cabby, the degree in economics or grades wasn’t the answer either. The politics of soft and thick accent was a strong odd against him and perhaps his tongue couldn’t deny his root no matter how he tried. Through his experiences, even the gods are to blame. This god Ngene, acclaimed to have favoured him as a potential priest has done nothing more than give him spells of rapturous experiences and shame with every storm that he witnessed. When his friend Jonathan sows into him the idea of stealing his people’s war god to come fight a more relevant war for him in America, it became an idea most people would have given a second thought to.
A well woven story of Ike’s life swings around a ruptured migrant’s hope that becomes excited by the ideas of taking advantage of the untapped wealth in the religion of his homeland to make his major break. In an age where according to Mark Gruel, gods must travel or die, Ike becomes the vessel to carry Ngene across continents. This thrill of global connectedness filled with suspense carries the reader to different settings navigating between the realities of urban American cities and rural African town Utonki where religion is projected as a social malaise with little or no interest in the people’s well-being.

Photo from  http://tiny.cc/iojpjx
Photo: http://tiny.cc/iojpjx

Okey Ndibe strongly situated migrant issues and religion as an important topic in the present day discussions on Africa’s development. Despite academic studies on this phenomenon, this author has done a good job of representing and communicating the realities of religion at individual and communal level, provoking the intellect and reshaping our knowledge. Foreign God’s Inc. deftly highlights the inherent danger of blurring the lines between religion and rationality. Capturing a highly religious but morally inept society led by morally bankrupt characters like Pastor Godson Uka, it questions the underlying moral that underpins the Christian faith (perhaps all religion) from colonial times to present day.
Unlike the case with India, Nigeria’s loyalty to their religion and culture meant limited penetration of the Queen’s European culture with the help of the many Reverend Stantons. Hence undermining the ideology of old culture was strategic.

What you call Ngene is nothing; it’s a lie with which you imprisoned yourself. It doesn’t live in the river nor does it own the river. Our God owns everything. He made your river and also the wood Ngene was carved from’ Rev. Stanton said to a people who were not so gullible, to whom the thought of a born God, birthed by a virgin with a father that lives in heaven and is also everywhere remained an idea hard to swallow. For Utonki people, their own Chukwu is not a father that will hand over his child to be killed and made jest of. In their words, their Chukwu lived in the sky and, ‘everywhere we see the signs of his work, the drifting clouds are smoke from his pipe, rainfall his sneeze, all great rivers are born from his spittle…Chukwu is mighty, yet we never say that he is everywhere… if your own god lives everywhere, then why haven’t our eyes seen him?…If he were so powerful, he should make himself visible? or is he a debtor?’ Only debtors hide in Utonki.

Alas, as the ‘white man’s gun out speaks the guns of Utonki’, Rev. Stanton gun-carrying-god overpowered Ngene the war god of Utonki.

A Nigerian pentecostal church
Photo:http://tiny.cc/iojpjx

Over the years, the newly injected Rev. Stanton’s god has gained an African flavour. The chief priests became the likes of Pastor Godson Uka, the son of Okadike (a.k.a Efi epeka) the great witchdoctor with records of nocturnal activities. Like his father, Pastor Uka an ex-convict shares characterizations that easily relates to the present day faith leaders that glide our TV screens. ‘A large gold chain bedecks his neck, all five fingers of his left hands and three of the right hands were bedecked with glitzy rings. His hair dropped in slick curls, slacked with oil’. Ike who finds himself in Utonki is amazed at how people like Uka have moved Christianity from the traditional catholic space with solemn and sober air to a religion of holy ruckus. In church, boisterous prayers erupt, shrill affirmations fill the air, human bodies freeze and flip from a pastor’s touch or blow of air, women like his mother piped up in praise tossing and writhing in induced ecstasy. These sons of the traditional witch-doctors surely came into the church through the back-door. Like their fathers, they offer ‘spiritual insurance policies’; protection, deliverance from evil, dispense holy water, prayer and project all forms of pseudo-science in exchange for money or gift.
Unlike others, Ike is amazed at the failure of a multitude to question the autocratic conventions of this corruption that wears a spiritual coat. Suddenly, Ike temporarily adopts a new battle over snatching Ngene. Battling Pastor Uka whose messages are divisive to his relatives was a worthier fight. Onward, I could clearly understand Ike’s grouse with the gods. Any rational thinker who cares about a people’s well-being and their development will join Ike’s fight. These Peacock Pastors; our modern day witch-doctors appeals to the African spirituality but not to her development. Peacock Pastor Uka desires to make of Utonki  a community with ‘spirit-filled, tongue speaking, hands-laying, devil binding born again’ with empty pockets and hungry stomach, he exploits poor people of their meagre feeding money, raping their minds with fear. The scene where Uka demands fifty thousand dollars from a struggling migrant to build God a Church in Utonki as condition for being a millionaire was mind blowing. Beyond this being the size of Pastor Uka’s greed, this narrative aptly captures a wide spread phenomenon in present day Africa. Modern day churches prioritize erecting god more shrines, exploiting poor community purses of vulnerable and gullible people Ike’s mother with terms like ‘God said’, ‘Sow seeds’ … while the people remain perpetually with sick bodies and hungry stomachs.
A walk on the streets of Nigeria confirms that there is a proliferation of churches with almost every street littered with two or three churches if the residents are unlucky. Massive church edifice are now metrics for measuring church growth and an indicator that member populations are on the rise but this in no way reflects the well-being or development of the members. This church building culture of this African flavoured Christianity is being exported phenomenally across the globe and the hinterlands, changing the landscape of the average man’s thinking. Something is fundamentally wrong when a poor person continuously submits his meagre earning to build god a shrine when shrines are not in deficit. Do we really need more churches to develop? Does the growing prioritization of church edifice over the much needed mission schools and hospitals that were once the hallmark of the Christian religion bring to question the mind-set of the present day faith leaders?
churchrelbig
Photo: Getty/Graeme Robertson

Decades ago, the church as an institution had proven track record of managing low cost education, accessible quality healthcare and other social services that are critical to sustainable and equitable development. My education validates their impact, for at almost no cost I and others were educated in church missionary schools; taught by selfless teachers from the Catholic, Methodist, Anglican and Presbyterian Church schools that spread across the country. Let for a few church schools still committed to low cost quality education, children of today should bewail the loss of this institution’s commitment to drive human development as was the case years back. Can faith leaders with their agencies channel member’s contributions towards other deficit infrastructures that are fundamental to our well-being? Yes!!!
As Pervez Hoodbhoy puts it, selling religion is the easiest and most profitable business… and as Voltaire’s said, ‘a clergyman is one who feels himself called upon to live without working at the expense of the rascals who work to live.’  Foreign God’s Inc. helps us questions the ideology of the new church ministries with sole proprietorship managed by owners and wife. It made me think more seriously of these African ‘Men of God’ who swim in title galore, craving power, exalting their personalities and looming over us from their imposing pictures mounted on highway bill boards. In an incurably religious Africa, god is a game and to play it, you must either be smart or be vulnerable.
By centralizing religion, this novel proves it has researched the spiritual state of Nigeria and perhaps most African countries, hence its projection of religion as a dimension of life that suffuses whatever Africans do. One would have assumed that the more religious we are, the higher the morals in our society. Ironically, our exploits in religion, made us a people with little godliness. The reality is that the more religious we got, the baser we became. Africa’s religious altar is filled with bloodshed from religious extremists; our girls are continuously kidnapped as booties of religious war. More-so, our altars continue to serve for political rallies to endorse leaders who take advantage of people’s frustrations and vulnerability. Indeed the poor are the raw material for religious salvation.
Foreign Gods Inc. projects that religion is obviously indispensable in Africa’s development discourses. But dear Africans, is our understanding of GOD enabling or disabling our development? According to Osuakwu the chief priest of Ngene, ‘people sometimes kill off a recalcitrant god’ Is it not time we come together to kill this god? In the end, the gods are not to blame, we are.
Okey Ndibe is a Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University.
Okey Ndibe is a Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University.

I encourage fellow literary enthusiasts to read and find out if the almighty Ngene the war-god finally travelled to Mark Gruel’s world’s oldest god-shop in New York.  Foreign God’s Inc. was a good read for me, but it failed to project the female gender in an admirable way. For example, I would have loved to know more about the martyred ‘ocher-coloured childless widow who cradled her gun and stood against Rev. Stanton’.
Notwithstanding, Okey Ndibe has given us a book with a detailed narrative that will contribute to wider understanding of the growing linkages between religion and development in ways that few academic writing has. The novel was well written, stories nicely woven and the language is sophisticated. For this and more, I say to Okey, Daalu!
Written by ~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Fiction

JULY'S PEOPLE

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The novelist in 1990. Credit Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Our evergreen Nadine finally answered nature’s call, leaving us with books that will constantly remind us that in all seasons of life, colour should not matter most. I admire her as that woman whose passion for peace and humanity kept burning in spite of her body’s weakening by age. Despite having most of her books banned by the apartheid government, she continued to write densely about racism within the context of South Africa, questioning all forms of power relations. In her writings, she expressed true knowledge of the threads of thought and emotions that run through the complex and political spaces of South Africa.
When I planned my visit to South Africa this July, I had searched for books by South African authors to help me relate my learning expectations before arriving. Nadine’s novel ‘July’s People’ stood out actually because symbolically it connected with my travel month July. But engaging this book, it certainly was worth more than a symbolic title. It helped me understand better the present day realities of the South Africa I set my foot on and more so it supported my narratives.
In Nadine’s words, “I would have been a writer anywhere, but in my country, writing meant confronting racism”. This she has excellently done with ‘July’s People’ as she captured the social disintegration inherent in racial tensions between the inferior black and the domineering white skin.julys-people3
Set in a black skin village in South Africa, we meet Bamford and Maureen Smales. Humbled by a war where the blacks in revolution are killing the whites. Consequently, the Smales family become war refugees to their black servant July in his village. Injected into a new world, they begin a dance between power and powerlessness, constantly negotiating and renegotiating the meaning of power with their servant July in whose space they now live. They struggled with trying to adjust to their new realities.
There are trials and error at socializing with the natives of July’s village, Bamford and Maureen the supposedly liberal white couple were coming to understand that the colour of their skin will always hinder them from getting the true fabric of the realities they seek. Indeed, privileges go beyond spaces, it is also skin deep! Hence despite being in July’s space, there is a conflict in maintaining the master servant relationships. July now drives the Smales vehicle to distract combative attention but also attract power to himself, an almost impossible feat pre-war. Objects that were once meaningless, suddenly began to take on entirely new levels of symbolic importance. In the face of theft and no police to help, Bamford felt impotent, these where all new and hence they struggled.
Buried tensions come to the surface. Maureen Smales struggles with her subservience to July as she watches him become less and less subservient to her and more independent as her family stay in his village. Many times, she tries to negotiate with him using subtle blackmail of telling July’s wife Martha of his city affair with Ellen. Long absences of husbands have become a normal part of black women’s lives as their men worked as slaves in the city for white bosses; hence a relationship with other city women like Ellen was inevitable.
July’s family worries that the unwanted white skinned Smale family will trigger trouble for them. The Smales are scared when they are summoned by the village chief of a black nation. The chief could not comprehend the image of a powerless white government; whites running from blacks or taking refuge with them. Living through a time when the whites will never let him own a gun, he finds the presence of the Smales family in his home as an opportunity to request that Bamford teaches him to shoot his fellow black people with his gun. In shock, Bamford responds ‘You’re not going to take guns and help the white government kill blacks, are you?. . . You mustn’t let the government make you kill each other.’
This novel challenges the identity and ambiguous moral constructions of any liberal South African white. Reflective Maureen recalls in her childhood days walking home from school with Lydia the black family’s servant carrying the family school bag on her head. With a photographer’s click of these symbolic image of the two racially different girls, Maureen finds the picture in a Life photograph book years later and was provoked to question a system that makes Lydia carrying her books.
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Nadine Gordimer&Late President Nelson Mandela. www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/gor1bio-1

Does questioning alone make-up for an active revolt of such an exploitative system? Likewise, If revolting, does partaking in the privileges of such system therefore indict someone in the institutions’ injustices? The Smales never identified with the oppressive Afrikaner society as they deplored the apartheid system. In their understanding within their former spaces, there was nothing condescending in their relationship with the blacks, especially with July despite his being their servant. But injecting them into a new space reveals that an unconsciously unequal relationship of master and servant exists. They struggled to reconcile with the truth that they too share part of the blame for reinforcing racism.
Like America, South Africa continues to witness the legacy of slavery and the _74382538_2659675disastrous consequences of Apartheid. Thirty three years after Nadine Gordimer wrote this book, the ‘Whites Only’ sign posts have disappeared but the battlegrounds of South Africa remains on the human skin shade as I could still feel racism among citizens strong enough that I could cut it with a knife. If Nadine hoped for a future where power will shift from the white to the black, I am glad she saw a fragment of it with the end of Apartheid. I say fragments because this freedom is incomplete. What I experienced in South Africa shows that power was sliced into two parts. While the white skinned people held the economic power living a first world life, the blacks hold political power, marginally living and working in subservient positions. I am left to wonder between the two powers, which one Nadine Gordimer desired to shift.
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Photo of Nadine Gordimer, used on the academy of achievement profile. www.achievement.org

Nadine Gordimer ‘July’s People’ is a mentally provocative book that stretches one’s intellectual muscles on the dynamics of relationships triggered by racism. The shifts in relationships and spaces give a remarkable understanding of the constructions of difference between blacks and whites. Towards the end of this book, Maureen is seen fervently running after a helicopter perhaps with a hope that they be rescued and returned back to the familiar world where she was once a queen of the Manor with servants.
Imagining Maureen standing nude in the rain makes me think we may need to stand in the rain too to be washed of all racism… Nadine is gone with the month of July, as we bid her farewell with a wish that her soul finds rest, no better honour could be given to Nadine Gordimer’s life and fights than a South Africa washed of racism. In my language, I will say Kachifo; until morning comes Nadine, thank you.
 
Written by~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Fiction

In the Belly of Dar es salaam

In Tanzania, I learnt that the Haven of peace in Arabic means Dar es salaam. Driving through Dar es salaam with Rahab my friend, I imagined that a place called a haven must indeed have a coveted peace. More so, it will hold many foot prints of hope; hope from desperate people who have fled from everything unpleasant. For those whose dreams take long to come through here, I hoped that the beautiful beaches, the trees and all of nature’s beauty I see in this country will serve as a bed of solace.
IMG_5163 (2)In the rumbling belly of Dar es salaam, at the heart of this haven of peace, I and Rahab finally located E & D Vision Publishing house. I was meeting with the first feminist English novelist from Tanzania, Elieshi Lema. As we held hands and she says Karibu; welcome, I was carried away by her natural grace and the ambience around her. She was like the future I admired. Meeting this Kiswahili and English writer added more sweetness to my time in Tanzania. Considering her many works, I looked beyond Parched Earth  aswas strongly drawn to her fiction novel and stories that focused on children. I must say that most of her work represents an embodiment of the linkages between fiction and development. Her partnership with the Children’s Book Project (CBP) Tanzania has helped promote the use of novel writing and publishing in English to encourage language skills for in-school youths.
Her novel In the Belly of Dar es salaam proved she was not neglecting the out-of-school youths either. Through the hour, we talked about governance, the strengths and weaknesses of the African continent, we reflected on feminism and the African woman but most of all, our discussions focused on her novel In the Belly of Dar es salaam. Confidently, she spoke about the life of street children in Tanzania, expressing the certainty of a writer who had passionately researched her work. This novel uses a female as the central character to questions the political rhetoric on the commitment to social-economic development of children in general.

Eleisha Lema serves as Director of E&D Vision Publishing.
Eleisha Lema authored Parched  Earth and serves as the Director of E&D Vision Publishing.

Elieshi glowingly shares the character of Sara; an unconventional girl who we meet in the first page doing a boy’s work; climbing a hill burdened with the head of a slaughtered cow. Small rivulets of blood from the dead animal were dripping and drying on her face; so unconventional! With her young eye eaten up by Cataract and all other impending worries, Sara was flawed in looks but not in character. It is this charisma that followed her through her days in the street with other children, there she lived like a butterfly, freely flying and perching to enjoy life’s sweetness despite the pains.
Leaving Elieshi’s office, I continued reading through how Sara met Prospa, but I dropped the book when Sara changes her clothing in her mother’s death room, leaving an emphatic message for her grandmother before setting out to begin a life on the streets of Dar es salaam. I dropped the book with the assumption that I know what the rest of the stories will be, but practically, we do not know the reality of street children. Two days after meeting with Elieshi, I was attacked by a gang of robbers led by a street child in Kampala,Uganda. With the painful loss of my mobile phone; I was provoked to learn more about this child who was party to those that robbed me.
Vagabond! Waif! Bastards! Urchin! Hooligans! Destitute! Ragamuffin! Guttersnipe!      
IMG_5093 Their names are so many, but yet we know very little about them. The pain and trauma I felt for my lost phone gave me the energy to further research on this isolated group of children whom despite our ignorance has remained an integral part of our world. Voraciously, I now read through all the pages of In the Belly of Dar es salaam to soothe my grief. I followed the story of Sara as she progressed on the streets of Dar es salaam, her paths meeting and parting with other street-children Mansa, Caleb, Ali among other gang members whom she became Maza; a mother to. For all the children, life in the street was triggered by the need to survive and not adventure. The novel expounded on the triggers of migrant street-children from the rural areas to the urban city. Under pressure from a society that does not appreciate that the hoe and the pen are miles apart, most young children believe that their answers lies in the belly of the urban city.In their hearts, the grass was greener in the city because those who left for the city never came back.  So as schools, teachers and families pour them out like a river lets water go, then like tributaries; they flow into the belly of the city. The city thus embraces and nestles them into its rumbling belly.
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Photo by Akansha Yadav

Life in the streets of a city called the haven of peace is not what they expected. Here, their plight seems unchanging; they become more voiceless and vulnerable. Over time, their young hearts begins to know the city geography. They walk about, each with a stomach to feed, yet leftovers will remain their buffet. Holding their possession in cellophane bags, street-children often find shelter in abandoned cars, dilapidated rooms, and uncompleted houses. For them, anywhere their body can be stretched until daylight dispels the night is home. And ‘if they felt too tired during the day time, they lay somewhere on the side-walk or in the public gardens… their possessions beside their tired bodies’. Hardship tints their age and hard work hardens their hands. For the tainted ones who have lost patience like the character of Ali, the night is their mask; when the city sleeps, they prowl in its darkness looking for what to steal. The street has finally groomed their hearts tobe ruthless.
According to my colleague Akansha Yadav, street kids are those ‘children out of school, working in horrible conditions with no bargaining power, underpaid and malnourished. Some of us see them as cheap labour and some see them as not our responsibilities but a product of failed parenting, social structures and poor public education system. Admittedly, we have grown immune to the image of them given how pervasive they are and despite the shocking nature of this reality; it does not seem to assault our senses anymore.’ These street-children, do they really strike us? Can we hold them in honour? In the thought lines of Uwem Akpan’s An Ex-mas gift, can you dare say you are one of them? Can we dare say they are one of us?
In the Belly of Dar es salaam, the character of Safina and Belinda whom were born in the street and fathered by nameless men established the fact that street children reproduce themselves making their street life become trans-generational. Over centuries now, street-children have existed in fiction novels also. Horatio Alger, a 19th century prolific author was famous for his novels following the grass to grace adventures of impoverished children. His novel Tattered Tom; or, The Story of a Street Arab (1871) remarkably projects this age long phenomenon and even now, it raises the question of the possibility of extinction of children from the streets.
Photo by Trace Uganda. Trace Uganda empowers slum and street children, providing alternatives to street life.
Photo by Trace Uganda. Trace Uganda empowers slum and street children, providing alternatives to street life.

Yet while they grace the streets, these children continue to question their realities, they are not dumb. The character of Caleb reflects on the disparity in urban and rural development; ‘my father has been growing cashew nuts all his life, he does not know the kibaha cashew factory or who decides the price, why was the factory not built in my village where I could seek employment’? Sara asked, ‘was Kigogo immune to beauty…do you think poverty can be completely eliminated?’ Through their banter, they explore intra-household dynamics, the gaps between them and the rich minister’s children. And what answers do we think there is for these questions? Ramifications of iniquity seldom are resolved with  violence, will their answers rupture them and result in an unruly political revolution?
Perhaps development organisations understand that nature’s providence is certainly a chameleon, hence what is good for the goose; the gander might one day have too. Better than the clean-up squads most governments set up to violate street-children, much more has been done to manage them around the world but little is done to eliminate the phenomenon. The International day for Street Children celebrated in over 130 countries brings a global dimension to reminding the world that street children are also covered by the widely ratified United Nation’s Convention on the Right of the Child. Such progressive activities do not go to waste for Indeed street children have ambition to leave the street someday. Elieshi symbolizes this in the gift of a Pushcart Mansa gets from an adopted father, this triggered him to quit the streets and live more responsibly.
I remember living a day on the street in the city of Lagos as a 16year old girl; I was hungry, frightened and visibly lonely. I had a hateful frown for the world around me. Night came and with a fear for the dark, I was desperate for protection. Helplessly I crept into an abandoned car until morning came. I tasted the street for one night and it was clear I could never survive there. Harrowing as it is, this experience I had is but a tip of what street children like Sara and the one that stole from me knows. Perpetually they tumble into the swift current of the city, swinging on the back of its waves. With many rivers to cross for their survival, day after day, they try to tell us they are not invisible, that they too are one of us.  ‘I am somebody’ they say. Do we hear them clear?
IMG_5099
Rahab Mbise is the Communications Officer at Helvetas Swiss Inter-cooperation, Tanzania.

In the Belly of Dar es salaam written in simple language has successfully contextualised the pervasive phenomenon of the street-children, situating it in the gap between us and them. Between the street kid and us all there remains a social divide, they live on the fringes of our lives and thoughts. It is therefore with compassion at individual and communal level that we must connect with these children.I dare us to begin to think we are part of them; I dare us to say they are one of us…
To Elieshi, I say Asante; thank you for this simple but well written novel that aptly places the street-child phenomenon within the African context. To Rahab, Juliana and Innocent, I am grateful for the gift of this book.
 
 
Written by ~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Fiction, Isidore Okpewho's 'The Last Duty'

Lacing the War with Women and Children

‘Back from the boats,’ [Captain Harrington] shouts, catchin’ up the hand-spike. ‘The first man that touches a boat I’ll brain. Women and children first…’

~Harrington: A Story of True Love (1860) by William Douglas O’Connor

The reality of the lives and struggle of women and children in war front cannot be known by war mongers, it’s only the imagery of this experience that we see. The lived experiences of women caught in war zones are diverse. From decade to decade, these woes continue to the point of normalization. They are captured in different media forms like photography and films. But they are also captured in fiction.
I must accept that chronicling war experiences in fiction is a really difficult thing, especially if the writer has not lived through war.http://fictioningdevelopment.org photo Yet between the lines of many fiction novels, you can have a glimpse of what life in the war front is like. Of all the fiction narratives I have read about war, the novel ‘The Last Duty’ stands out. Published in 1976, bagging the African Arts Prize for literature awards, I wonder why the excellent writer Isidore Okpewho has eluded me all these years. Perhaps he has maintained a low profile, but viewing war through the lens of his writing provoked a lot of high moment. Most significant is its ability to capture the experiences of civilians, especially that of women and children in the characters of Aku and Ogheneovo.
‘The Last Duty’ stylishly gave almost all the characters a space to tell their own war story; hence there was no single person narrative. Set in the fictional land of  Urukpe,we are exposed to a war in which every moment of it is pregnant with danger. Guerrilla air rades by the rebels happen and bodies are counted, the sounds of guns rattle in fury, tat-tat-tat-tat-tat! It awakens plain ancient fear, people learn to take cover according to civil defense instructions; under the tree, in the bunker, beneath the bed, at the foot of a wall, everywhere! Roads are chewed up and broken by the business of long fighting. Guns Booming, riffles cracking, invading planes dropping bombs…Diimm! Kpoai! Toai! There are endless wailing from the confrontations between two military forces; the federal and the Simbian. Guns answer to guns in deafening encounter.

Dorothea Lange 1936 Photograph titled 'Migrant Mother' in honor of women and children that suffered in the great depression.
Dorothea Lange 1936 Photograph titled ‘Migrant Mother’ in honor of women and children that suffered in the great depression.

Between the lines of weaving this entire story, the struggles of Aku stand out.Life and time was hard upon her. She had many things to say of her life, more so, every character held a slice of this young woman’s physiological and psycho-social existence in the war torn Urukpe.  She comes into the scene sharing her dependency and loyalty to her beloved husband (Mukoro Oshivere)whom she was willing to pine for until his release from incarceration. She admits to the readers that she and her child Ogheneovo are not secure anymore in Oshivere’s  absence. Hostile eyes assail her, no one greets her, she is isolated for her husband’s misguided accusation of being a rebel supporter by Toje his commercial rival. Yet among her catalogue of woes, Toje poses a new kind of danger; he offers her kindness bringing food, money and cloth through Odibo to her. She can see in Toje’s eyes that his gifts has a hidden emotional invoice attached to them, she is right but again, she is helpless. As a suspected rebel with insolent freedom, she is not allowed to go to the market, how do they survive without the food he offers? In her words, ‘It is a dreadful thing to be at the mercy of someone, the slave of a compulsion you know you cannot fight.’
Through the many encounters with Toje, she wavered between grudging acquiescence and unspoken protest, ashamed to admit it, the desire in her has accumulated like pus in a boil. Her heart tussling between hope and fear each day, she launches into the unfriendly open with a passion only rudely tickled every time she departs from Toju’s poor performance of regaining a deserted manhood. Her thoughts are racing with questions, ‘do I wear disgrace unmistakably on my person… Toje’s whoring mistress, bound to minister to his animal desire at the price of food and clothing, maybe even protection and occasional words of comfort?’ In spite of this, she harbors within, some adulterous longings that now strives to overpower her, her painful fancy for the 3years overdue touch of a man eventually but shamefully realizes itself in her skin fellowship with disabled Odibo, the imbecile nephew and errand boy of  Chief Toje.
In Aku‘s words; ‘Frustration has driven me to the point where I will rather live the fact than the fiction of sin. Loyalty and devotion has been strained beyond all possible endurance. Neither the mind nor the body could  any longer fight the overwhelming presence of temptation…the body could no longer be supported by the will of the mind…the entire defense came tumbling down, like an unsheltered mud wall under relentless down surge of rain
Self-gloated, overzealous antagonist Toje, wages what I call a silent guerrilla war against protagonist Mukoro Oshivere who until towards the end of the novel was a war prisoner, incarcerated by Toje’s frivolous charges. In Toje’s words, ‘The absence of Mukoro Oshevire …gives me the opportunity to re-establish my prominence.’ This absence destabilizing as it may be for Aku, gave Toje plenty space to unleash his politics of using sex as a weapon of warfare on Aku. In an environment of war, we are entertained by his many attempts at taking advantage of  Aku’s vulnerability to seek restoration for his deserted manhood which is now but a flab of flesh. Toje is finally beaten to his game by his ‘dumb and imbecile nephew Odibo  who though disabled and mocked all his life, finally gives to Aku the touch of manhood she had shamefully longed for. The revelation of this sex triangle brings the novel to a very tragic end that recreates Aku’s sorrow.
Korean-American groups persuaded the city of Glendale, Calif., near Los Angeles, to build a bronze statue of a “comfort woman.”Monica Almeida / The New York Times.
Korean-American groups persuaded the city of Glendale, Calif., near Los Angeles, to build a bronze statue of a “comfort woman.”Monica Almeida / The New York Times.

This fiction book, tells the story of what happens to women and children when men go to war. Like Ogheneovo,  children learns violence.  More so, the only toy left for children are guns, the ambition left to their admiration is to become a soldier. For women, displacement, rape with impunity, hunger, prostitution among others hangs over their lives. Aku’s experience is similar to that of the South Korean comfort women who served as prostitutes for the military, commemorating their woes in a status. The lives they had before the war is suddenly nibbled away with every gunshot and death and destruction around them.
Writing ‘Harrington:A story of true love in the 18th century, William Douglas O’Connor  is recorded to use the phrase ‘Women and Children first’.  This phrase has grown so wide and far to the point that the two words ‘women’ and ‘children’ are almost an alliteration. Beyond it being a sort of crisis conduct code in the maritime world, this phrase has gradually planted its self historically in almost every war speech.Protecting women and children has been used by leaders to sweeten their words when bidding for war. It is the holy mantra invoked to make intentions of advocating for or against war seem noble, it is used to placate the sound of war drums.
Vietnam War in Picture: Women and children crouch in a muddy canal as they take cover from intense Viet Cong fire at Bao Trai, about 20 miles west of Saigon on Jan. 1, 1966. http://tiny.cc/14stex
Vietnam War in Picture: Women and children crouch in a muddy canal as they take cover from intense Viet Cong fire at Bao Trai, about 20 miles west of Saigon on Jan. 1, 1966. http://tiny.cc/14stex

With benefit of hindsight, the adoption of this phrase, just like the Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict (adopted in 1974) and the Fourth Geneva Convention for the protection of civilian persons ( adopted in 1949), however has made little or no impact to the lives of vulnerable non-combatants in the many war so far fought.  Do leaders just politically exploit the myth of women and children? Do they care to understand the true meaning of protecting women and children and the impact of not protecting them in the many war we tag them in?
In the words of Major Ali, the stranger from up country protecting  Urukpe,  ‘ that woman (Aku) meant more than just the wife of a detained man, … she was the measure of justice.’ The impact of war on women and children, more so the elderly and every vulnerable person, is the true measure of any war.  I wish that my vision of a war-less world is possible, but with hindsight, this vision has eluded human nature. I however agree with C. JoyBell C view on war; “the country with truly strong men is able to have soldiers that need not a knife, that need no guns! And if you can soar even higher than that; fight with your pens! Let us all write! And see the substance of the man through his philosophies and through his beliefs! And let one philosophy outdo another! Let one belief outlast another! And let this be how we determine the outcome of a war!” 
To leaders who add to the sounds of violence, using women and children to muffle the drum beats of war, I will say this; there is more to us than guns and bombs, if truly you care about the dignity of women and children, you will stop these wars and come to an understanding with the innocent. Therein is your power.
To Women and Children caught up in the raging wars of  Syria, Congo, Sudan among others, I wish you courage for the days ahead that may be harder to get through and grace for when the time comes to let go. More so, from my depth, I wish you comfort.
Written by ~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye
 
 
 

Women and Children in Quotes

Women and Children 2
Extracts from War and Conflict Speech of World Leader with emphasis on ‘Women and Children’.

 

Drama, Fiction

The Incorruptible Judge and the Incorrigible Liar

Back in the days; three decades ago and beyond, ‘the Incorruptible Judge’ by D. Olu Olagoke was a must-read for most NigerianIMG_4657 in-school children at primary or junior secondary level. Finding it in the bookshop almost three decades after gave me a nostalgic feeling. I knew I had to read it again wearing the lens of an older person. The world around me has changed greatly in the past 30 years, but expectedly this book didn’t change. My understanding of it, its relevance and the interpretations I could give to it has surely changed.
In the play ‘The Incorruptible Judge’, we meet Ajala, the graduate with a completely worn out shoe telling tales of unlucky miles he has walked trying to get a job. He is the son of a carpenter father and a petty trader mother with six more siblings to cater for. His education remains indebted and his first salaries if employed will make up for that. Despite his excellent track records, unlucky Ajala has been unable to reap the a 6unemployment (1)dividends of his investment in education. Ajala reminds us of the sea of graduates mostly in African countries who spend years before they may finally be employed as a result of Job scarcity. Yet they are saddled with responsibilities they cannot wish away.
His application to the Government Development Department as a Third Class Clerk in their office ushers a chance meeting with his contemporary Femi. Unlike Ajala, Femi represents the privileged children of the rich who have no experience of lack. He is employed through his father’s network. Femi vets Ajala’s application pack just before he meets with the grey haired, heavily spectacled Establishment Officer Mr. James Ade Agbalowomeri whose personality cows the young school leaver.
KolanutCapturing a competitive space with many qualified personnel and few jobs to get around, Mr. Agbalowomeri sets getting “Kola” and not just qualification as the condition for employing Ajala whom he claims to fancy. “Kola” in Africa is a nut fruit from the kola tree, a symbol of appeasement used in social and private settings, it is also known as the food of the ancestors. Kola nuts are an important part of the traditional spiritual practice of culture and religion in West Africa, particularly Nigeria, but it symbolizes other things too. It is the pseudonym for bribery. In this case, the Establishment Officer’s “Kola” is £5 (five pounds) bribery. He insists Ajala must bring this and is able to bring it considering his credit worthiness for a study loan still hanging over Picture-3139his life. Despite his plea, a completely dejected Ajala is further harassed by the words of the officer who boasts of threatening non-compliant employees with dismissal or issuance of bad discharge certificate. This scene is not unpopular to many Job seekers today. It projects directly the imbalanced power relation between the employee and the employer in many societies which creates vulnerability.
Seeking solution out of this, Femi his friend acts as the voice of reason, reminding him of the value their principal instilled in them as students. “Remember what the principal says about taking or giving bribes? It is the canker eating into the very fabric of our nation. We as the future hopes of this country must steer clear of bribery…whether he calls it Kola or money, I am sure it is still bribe”. Ajala is encouraged to approach the Police, demanding justice as he learns the act of bribery is criminal.
Mr. Agbalowomeri got his token bribery of £5, and true to his word, he gives Ajala a confirmation letter of employment with a commencing salary of £172.10 per annum. Detective- Sergeant Okoro arrived to the office of the Establishment Officer the moment Ajala coughed to signal him the bribe has been received. The search for the marked £5 notes (with recorded numbers) was instructed on the officer who was in denial.
Indeed the real ‘kola’ is edible, but the £5 currency note as a ‘kola’ is no bread and butter. Crestfallen Mr. Agbalowomeri had a grip on his throat as Seargent Okoro forced him to spit out the currency notes which he was trying to swallow in an attempt to destroy evidence. He was indeed the very picture of despondency.
Narrating his story, he swears on God as witness to his friend Mr. Duroayo whose Son in-law Justice Faderin has been assigned to try his case. Bribery is in Mr. Agbalowomeri’s vein, giving ten pounds and a bottle of whisky, Mr. Durodayo was commissioned to win his son inlaw over with a gift of twenty five (25) guineas, and later fifty (50) guineas.
The moral climax of the play is the judgement given by Justice Faderin who does not take bribe. With every form of emotional IMG_4673blackmail strategically instituted through familial and tribal relationship, Justice Faderin who was inclined about the case, took no lenient view. In emphasizing the law as no respecter of person, he said ‘if the citadel of justice is corrupt, what will happen to the body politics? It will be completely rotten and collapse.’
The grey haired, heavily spectacled Mr. James Ade Agbalowomeri, with 20years experience as Establishment officer of the Government Development Department, with many family responsibilities is in the dock. Mr. Agbalowomeri, the son of the Ogbuluefon of the famous Kiriji War has been charged in a sensational court case. He with his illustrious pedigree swore with the bible in the witness box and severally called God as his witness but God was asleep.
Where bribery fails, mercy plea may help. The guilty man pled for mercy quoting hackneyed Shakespeare “the quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth…” He is finally refused his option of a fine and sent to 3years imprisonment with hard labour by a Judge who understands the necessity of deterring others from following a bad example.
gavel+court+judge+xgold+2012Published in 1962 and republished in 2011, this play, written in very simple language has remained a classic. It has become even more alive in our society of today perverse with cases of bribery and incessant corrupt practices than it could have been in the years the author wrote it. While the author in his preface states that the Incorruptible Judge is not primarily meant to teach morals, my experience of engaging it as a child taught me otherwise. It was my first encounter with the word ‘bribery’ and its true meaning. It triggered my imagination of the power of the law; my first engagement with a book bringing alive a fictionalized courtroom performance. But I ask, how well did the values this book sought to imbibe withstand time?
More than anything else, this book raises more questions for me now, especially on the experiences of job seekers world over. I am reflecting deeper on the situations of employment and rule of law, and their linkages to development in today’s world. To better conceptualize this, I will be comparing the Incorruptible Judge with Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst’s ‘Africa’s Third Liberation’ in the very next post.
– Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Development, Fiction

Circles in a Forest…

7002009-MIn the last month, I travelled with my friend across the middle belt, central and south eastern region of the Nigerian States. These were routes I had taken before, but travelling with Halima gave a refreshing perspective to the sceneries of Eastern Nigeria. Not forgetting the potholes which had become the marquee of the Nigerian road, the entire journey was filled with scenes that would make for good tourist appeals, divergent attractions and hills of various shades.
My friend Halima is of Fulani descent and comes from the Northern region of Nigeria, characterised by absence of grass and trees, with577185_476703059036783_473370615_n hazy and hot weather.  Being her first visit to Eastern Nigeria, the site of steady green vegetation was particularly striking for her.  Clusters of lush green little woodlands sighted on the roadsides were a contrast to the progressively dry northern states where she is used to seeing many lonely trees. I was amazed to note that I also had not consciously observed this stark difference in landscape. Before now, I assumed that all regions are endowed with at least a number of woodlands, shrubs, high density tree areas with closed canopy.  Now I realise my assumptions are wrong.  Some places have them, and others do not. For the have not’s, it could be as a result of the arid nature of the region, drought as is the case of northern Nigeria. In other places, it could be deforestation practices such as wood logging caused by the pressures of industrialization.
As I reflect through this new revelation, I thought that in the era of climate change, it could indeed be possible that more regions will lose their woodlands and perhaps become progressively dry as the northern Nigeria.  Sustaining my faith in Literature, I began researching on writers who have prophetically captured the possibilities of this reality and advanced issues of deforestation such as tree logging.
Most captivating is Dalene Mathee’s ‘Circle in the Forest’. This work of fiction has remained a modern classic that portrays the magnificence of Africa, with a ZAH01_100003518_Xuniversal symbolism that is applicable to every country, hamlets and all people. The character of Saul Bernard the son of Joram the wood-cutter stands out as the protector of the Knysna forest. This forest was an inheritance vanishing under the political manipulations and threat of exploitation of the timber merchants and ivory hunters. Mechanisms such as debts where used by capitalist timber merchants who ensured the woodcutters never got out of debt, hence blindly they continued to supplement their lack of income by killing elephants, cutting woods and destroying the forest. As he fights to halt these destructions, he finds a strange magical kinship with the spirit of Old Foot, the indomitable and majestic elephant who like him is running from a lie placed communityover his life. The story is woven together to propel Saul to a life transforming experience that comes with many confrontations. Saul’s life was one of questions, he questioned the conventions on his love for Kate (the daughter of MacDonald the wood buyer) whom he could not be with, He questions the power relations in the wood market.
The Knysna forest was home to many wild elephants and trees. Kysna like most African forests, acts as a carbon sink that mitigates climate change. Forest are essential for our living on earth. They provide 9780143027287_12oxygen, shelter for arrays of plants and animals, food and wealth for indigenous people and timber for everyday use. In the era of deforestation, most African forest are still surviving. In comparison with other regions of the world, such as Eastern Europe, North America and Southeast Asia, Africa’s biodiversity is still in good condition but yet under severe threat by interest of developed countries in their forest.
China is one of the largest exporter of timber from various African countries.  Illegal hunting of African elephants for the ivory, Rhinos for their horns is notably a practice of traders from this country. Symbolically, Dalene Mathee’s novel is indeed prophetic as it rightly represents the reality of today’s forests which is in constant exploitation by timber and ivory merchants amongst other. While the colonists might be accused of exploitation, they still left a preservable forest reserve for future generations. With the invasive interest China has in Africa, can the same beDeforestation-fact-1 said of possible footprints that China will leave in African Forests? The colonialist may have raped the African mind and land; will China perform the last rape with our forests?
Though timber trading means more money in the short term, how is this interest improving the lives of local people and in the long term, what future does it hold for the forest? The more questions I ask, the lesser answers there are.
The European Union seems to be creating stricter timber regulations, but the poor governance of African forest remains an issue of concern. Hence this makes it difficult to gauge precisely what impact this industrial activity will have. More so, poor governance cannot aid the mitigation of negative effects.  If climate change is indeed an issue of global concern, policy makers have a call to ensure implementation of East African Rain Forestgood practices in ongoing forest use. Like Saul Bernard, the world of Africans must now go beyond seeking guarantees as it may not be enough. Like Saul Bernard, the African government and its people must chose a self imposed mission to prevent any wanton forest destructions by instituting processes to secure the biodiversity in this region.
While on my tour with Halima, I paid a visit to the house of my birth in Benue state. Whereas not much 32609_10151694069349914_242645913_nhas changed, I was excited to find the tree of my childhood still standing. That tree holds memories; it taught me and my siblings how to climb. Standing by it, I wondered how many children born today will have the privilege of finding the tree of their childhood (if they have one) three decades after. In that moment, I began to appreciate people who have fought to preserve our biodiversities and our trees and I hope that their fight would be worthwhile.Wangari-Maathai t
In conclusion, I remember the non-fictional Saul Bernard’s of our time; the larger than life Wangari the tree lady.  But henceforth, when I honour the life of Wangari Mathaai the amazon of the forest, I’ll also remember Dalene Mathee whom with her pen remains a great protector of the African Forest. May their souls continue to rest as the forest trees sway in their praise.
32be64c456330a7f02353f.L._V179266669_SX200_Wangari-Maathai

Development, Fiction, Literature

Things Fall Apart: Modeling Masculinity

151758_stock-photo-close-up-of-african-man
1231947178e6SVpwFiction writer Paulo Coelho once twitted a question asking ‘What do you consider a ‘real man’ though?’ It evoked many responses. Thinking through, it occurred to me that a real man might be someone who can provide for his family or maybe someone who can impregnate a woman or be sexually in charge like Baroka the chieftain of Ilujinle (in ‘the lion and the jewel’). Then I thought I might want to see a real man as one who has a good head on his shoulder. What makes for a good head and how the shoulder carries that head is yet to be ascertained. I have thought through many men I know to find a ‘model man’ that has stood the test of time but my search suffers a dearth. Indeed all things fall apart, that precisely is the fate of life.
Things fall apart, Chinua Achebe’s magnus opus became my focus for its conceptualization of what many of us understand as a ‘man’ through the character of Okonkwo. In my memories, Okonkwo is one man that equalled so many. He graced our reading tables through novels and our television sets in the 1980’s.
okonkwoUnlike Unoka his father, Okonkwo was the heroic wrestler, a stoic clan leader, economically mobile through resolute hard work, tirelessly toiling the earth, sexually in charge enabling him to take over Ekwefi who was another man’s wife. He is the funder and defender of his household, father to male and female children, owner of lands, and the companion of more than one woman. Though showing flashes of affection, he didn’t subscribe to showing mild emotions even after a machismo slashing of his son’s (Ikemefuna) head. If it was not a show of extremely aggressive emotions like beating his wife and children, fighting for his culture amongst others, then it was too womanly for him to identify with.                                                                                                  The brutally fearless  Okonkwo in different ways had a presumption of what a man should do, have, and be like. It is seen in his assumptions that his son Nwoye is (feminine just like Unoka) having the predilection of a woman.  Ironically, his daughter Ezinma in her sickly body had ‘the right spirit’ of a man.
Chinua-Achebe-71 In Okonkwo’s ideologies, there were indeed men trapped in women’s bodies and women trapped in men’s bodies. His ideologies extended to religious issues where part of his anger with the Christian God is because it was feminine; men are living fire, women are the impotent ashes so are the Gods alike. He hated everything feminine, including living with his mother’s people on exile in Mbanta after committing a female crime in Umuofia. He hated Egonwa for being feminine and discouraging a war against the white
Set in the land of Umuofia where they had male and female crimes, the character of Okonwo in Chinua Achebe’s ‘things fall apart’ is an exciting model of masculinity in the world of literary fiction. The character of Okonkwo is well put together in an admirable way encapsulating the resilience of the Igbo man (if not Igbo people). Though years have passed, yet Okonkwo is an idol to many, sculpting many expressions of a ‘man’ in our society today.
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More than before in development, interest on the constructions of masculinity has risen. Institutions are trying to decipher precisely how roles and identities collide to produce what different societies call a ‘man’ and the expectations thereof. This is traceable to many gender influenced crimes that accrues into the abuse of human rights in recent times. At the centre of such is gender based violence manifesting its self recently in the violent rape of women in different parts of the world. The gang rape of Jyoti Singh by five men struck a cord with the media amongst other and galvanized huge rage in the international community requesting that the anti-rape laws be revised. This raised questions and actions as it is seen to emanate from a lack of respect for the women by men.
Looking at the character of Okonkwo and considering his many protege in the light of international development concerns, some pertinent questions come to mind. Given the time and the number of years that Okonkwo has lived amongst us, has masculinities been redefined or its still primitive covered by modern clothing? How is the adoption of major traits in this model fracturing the human right of individuals in our society? What are the possible pathways it presents and how sustainable is it? Will the dance of time predict new models of masculinities for future generation or will they remain Okonkwo’s protege?
17097444-exhausted-african-man-sitting-in-chair-over-white-backgroundIt is my theory that maybe following Okonkwo’s model of masculinity may give insight into why men have shorter life expectancy than women. I also agree that the strength of Okonkwo’s model of a man is fragile, being built more on roles rather than identities. This way, many external factors can impact negatively and rupture its cells.  The struggle with the Gods over ownership of Ezinma (the only one with the right spirit of a man amongst his children), connotes the struggles of defining masculinity. This might be suggestive of the fact that the masculinity Okonkwo sought may be phantom and may only be found in dead men or the unborn children.I may get it wrong, I am however open to learning…
-Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye