African Literature on Facebook

A few weeks ago a dear friend asked me if I could help admin a page on Facebook.



It has taken over my life! I LOVE IT.

Our little family has grown by leaps and bounds, and the people who have joined and are actively participating in discussions surprise me with their passion every day.

Africans have long been accused of being the bane of African Literature. We are accused of not reading it, not buying it, not supporting authors, not selling it, not distributing it… we are the reason it is not as successful as literature coming from other places.

The problem is we have believed these lies about ourselves, which is a pity.

While it is true that it is difficult to sell books on the continent, the reasons are not as clear cut as everyone would make it seem.

  1. English is a difficult language. The objects and verbs come in weird places in a sentence. But imagine interpreting one book in 55 different languages for just one country!
  2. Authors understand their audience and their point of view. It is difficult to sell a story to someone from the West unless it tells of war, of poverty, that explains some strange quirk of the culture they come from. This is not interesting to audiences in Africa (generally speaking). There is a reason why Nollywood is such a huge industry. Here are stories that the local population understands. 
  3. New books are EXPENSIVE and understandably so. Turning trees into paper is an expensive project, printing can be expensive too.  By the time all the expenses are tallied, the book agent, distributor, printer and publishing house get paid (oh wait! We haven’t counted the author and illustrator) the book is too expensive to purchase.

Africans are thirsty. We want to know, to read, to understand. What is someone from Zimbabwe thinking about something we’re all concerned about in Nigeria? What about the bruhaha over the other thing that happened with president so-and-so? How is the government in Mogadishu going to deal with the minerals they just found in  Seylac? 

We want to know and it is evidenced by the sheer number of people asking to join the group on a daily basis.

I hope someday they will all know, it is my honor to serve. Come and join us!

Micro 0115: I wrote a letter to my friend

My Dearest,

My heart is spilling emotions, squeezing them through cuts. I’m bruised from keeping this in.

You’ll wake up this morning and find I’ve gone. I could not stay. Not because I didn’t love you, because I do. You know that too. After all the pain and fear and anger have gone (I promise you they will), you will be able to see that once again. Since the day we met my heart has only had eyes for you. I wanted you to feel it, every day. That is why I kissed you, and held you, and watched you tenderly as you cared for us and our home.

My Angel, you have my heart for all time, but I must do this and leave you. I know you would have never let me do it this way, but this is how it must be. We talked about it, but it upset you. For days we tried mending the agony that arose because I brought it up. We got passed it.

Life is cruel. It is taking me from you. Not all of a sudden, a band-aid ripping off the tender scab of a slowly healing wound. No. Slowly. So that what will remain is the shell of the shadow of my shadow. Nothing of me will exist. I cannot bear that. To watch the look of love and honour and trust wither into pity and sorrow. Lines of worry stretching across that beautiful face as you watch my life force slowly ebb from my body into… nothingness. No, my love. It would be torture for me, and in that way, torture for you.

I watched Musazi grieve. Struggle to give away Deeya’s belongings. Watch him look at them with acute loss and try to comfort him as he struggled. His new wife is fighting the ghost of a perfect woman in his eyes. He will make her miserable. She will make him miserable. That is why I took my things. So that the empty space can be filled with love again. Because you deserve it.

Do you understand why I had to leave?

You’re going to be angry, and I understand why. You may grow to hate me, I hope you do not. Just don’t give up on life and love and living it to your fullest.

I did not lie when I said you are my life. If you wither while I wither, I cannot live. Maybe I’ll get better and we can have coffee. But that is wishful thinking, my love.

Don’t say goodbye.

Your forever gal,

Kiya

Never ending battles & Micro0109: For the Queen

I wrote a story today.

I liked it. Wasn’t sure anyone else would so for a moment I decided I was going to keep it to myself. Started on something else that did not inspire me and it fell flat like a cake with too much moisture.

Time and time again we’ve heard people say that you need to write for yourself and not try to pander to an audience. The ones who like your story will find it wherever they go, and those who don’t will read other stories. How hard is that to learn and understand? Quite hard, apparently, coz I’m still working on that.

So, in light of that, here is my story, the one I actually wanted to tell, the one that inspired me. Enjoy.

For the Queen

Once upon a time, a woman inherited a kingdom. To the west, grassy knolls rolled over the countryside curving artfully around overflowing gardens that burst with bounty, stretching as far as the eye could see. The eastern border came to an abrupt halt at the jagged edge of plunging cliffs, where the sea writhed and roared and moaned and spat.
The land was rich and the people lacked for nothing and lived in peace with their neighbours, but the crown sat heavily upon her brow, each stone a ton of worry, each pearl a thundering wild horse pounding through her mind.
A spell of great and dire magic had been cast on the kingdom by a Witch Queen, wild and deadly, her bewitchment reaching out with deadly fingers of greed, malcontent, envy.
Sister struck down sister, soaking her garment in the blood, brother struggled against brother, pushing him six feet underground. Chaos reigned and the young woman’s ears were filled with the desperate cries of her people.
She called to the Witch Queen, the fell words like bile against her tongue, and begged her to undo the magic and free her people.
The Witch Queen demanded one thing. Her soul.
The hopeless councillors spread their hands, their pain a Goliath against their own consciences, and they surrendered to fear.
The crown upon her head sunk deep claws into her head refusing to be cast off, perplexing the councillors and angering the Witch Queen. Only the crown bestowed the kingdom upon the wearer and it had a mind of its own.
Urged on by the spell, the young woman’s people dragged her from her throne and marched her eastwards to the edge of the cliff. A vile threat. An action. Collective consciousness stained with the blood of a young Queen who had no choice.
Her body lay broken, the waves smashing her against the toothy wall of the cliff, the weight of the crown dragging her into the depths of the sea.
The spirit of the young woman rose out of her watery grave and fell upon the Witch Queen destroying her utterly. It flowed through her kingdom, raining justice like a thunder roar and ending the years of malcontent and strife. She does not distinguish between friend or foe. So when you pass through the rubble remnants of her kingdom, remember your offering at the cliff’s edge, and bow the knee when a jewel encrusted crown floats your way.

Micro 0107: Bad Dream

Once upon a time a young man met a young lady. In his presence, she effervesced and he was run over by his emotions into the dream of romance. In her words he found comfort and the missing companion with whom he could share his innermost being.

You see, this young man carried great pain and fear. Dark, shapeless shadows haunted his dreams. By day, memories that refused to fade into the fuzziness of history, abused and corrupted his present. His great need for a collaborator, a powerful voice that spoke his torture, a body that encased itself in the shroud that had stooped his shoulders, overshadowed any sense of self preservation, and he dissolved himself in her.

His blindness would be his undoing. Hiding behind a well crafted mask that had been decorated with the multitude of hurt collected from past lovers, the psychopath stepped forth into new pain. The soft hands that reached out to comfort, grasped for stories to embody and inhabit. The truth of his pain, stripped from him, left his soul exposed and her words like sharpened knives tore at it, leaving a husk. Pitiable and weak.

He awoke from his dream, but having been reduced to half spoken words and interrupted thoughts, rather than fleeing from his captor like a thrush suddenly set free, he lingered. As though from the safe side of the movie screen, he watched the husk wear away and crumble into dust.

His life ended yesterday.

She drags his shroud around, clutched possessively by her heart, perfect mascara drenched trails stretching from eye to chin. Her periodic soft sobs are pleading and girlish. Her adoring fans huddle against her for comfort, yearning for more stories of love and the mysterious agonizing man who had been her companion. His safely guarded secrets tumble vigorously out of the shroud, shocking and hideous.

The letter he sent me is safely tucked in my pocket, but burns hot against my thigh. I know how this play must end and how severe the theatrics will be. But those who are gathered here, grieving his loss, must want to know too. This is not my secret to keep. He trusted me. I must.

“Ahem,  ladies and gentlemen…”

Micro072814: Just Joking

Once upon a time, a woman longed to have a baby girl to fill her home with flowers and pretty things, to provide the softness she did not see in her four sons.
She prayed in the way she had been taught, followed the rules her scriptures dictated, till her god looked upon her, pitied her, and gave her a daughter.
She did not know that a cruel joke had been played on her.
Her daughter grew up strong and boisterous, surrounded by rowdy brothers. She climbed trees and kept frogs as pets, rough-housed with her brothers and only slept when she knew her favorite toy car was cleaned and parked beside her bed.
Then something happened to her. A deep voice in the night, the forceful arms of older stronger muscles, a tearing pain, threats, violence… violence.
Violence was born. Her mother did not know that a cruel joke had been played on her.
Violence was nurtured, lovingly and in secret, for who dares to spread the shame to scorning faces, jeering tones? Violence grew strong, its thorns tearing, leaving long lines of scarred flesh that never really healed.
Eventually it reached out of her body, spreading little tendrils that ensnared one brother, trapping him and holding him down till its seeds had taken proper root. And thus it spread itself to each child, who held it and treasured it.
An explosion.
Bodies bleeding out, smoke billowing to the skies. Cries, terror, the horror of death etched so deeply by flying debris.
They say she started it, that the faithful prophetess told them this was necessary in order to put the World right, that’s what Violence had said.
That is why her mother sits there, her vacant eyes searching for the punch line, a search that will not find its answer in her sorrow or the tears she stopped shedding years ago.
Tell her the joke when you point at her and laugh.

.ndungi2014

Micro072514: Pictures

Once upon a time, a man took a picture. The colors were vibrant, bouncing off dark brown skin that shone with sunlight’s kisses and wrinkled upon itself with age. The deep set brown eyes leapt off the photograph, saying something profound, but the photographer did not hear it.
The photograph made rounds throughout the World, winning him accolades and praise that thundered from hands and eyes and wallets. They gazed upon the face, admiring the colors, amazed at the emotion the photographer had captured. They did not ask him what those eyes said and assumed it was a language, a thought, an emotion that required his interpretation. But he had not heard it. He would not have been able to tell them even if they had asked.
Had he asked that many-times-copied face a question, would he have understood the significance of the answer? Now we gaze upon it, gawking at the folds marking each passing challenge, each significant circumstance, every battle won, but we still do not know what those eyes are saying.
We are lost in a sea of forgetfulness, where intention convolutes messages seeping through eyes darkened by age. A sea that sweeps away whispers that ripple through skin reaching out to touch our own to reclaim us.
And yet we gawk on. Gasping demurely as laden photograph after laden photograph march in front of our drugged eyes, the last vestiges of a proud, hororable people fading away.

The Art of Selfishness

Karibu!

Is it warm where you are? Toronto has been hit by some unusually cool weather so when it is warm…

I’m just cool like that.

Today, during my daily cobweb cleaning I had a thought about my writing. Mostly, I write because I want to be able to tell a story that I would love to read. My only audience is me and as long as I keep that in mind, the process is enjoyable and easy going. The moment I think about someone else and how they would react to the story and the kind of thing they would like to read, something blocks my creativity and I fall headlong into writer’s block.

Am I a little selfish? Of course I am. It is impossible to please everyone, so I’m content pleasing myself and others who are pleased by the same things.

writing-tip-2

Most Fridays I skype with my niece who will run off to her room to get a book so we can all read it together. In times like those I wonder if I’m doing right by her. She is still very young (just turned 3) and will be too involved in growing up and battling hormones for many years before she settles into the person she is going to become. When she finally does, what kind of impact will my stories have on her life?

It is a question I grapple with regularly.

Anywhoosies. Back to regularly scheduled activities!

Busingye & Mapenzi!

Africa and Her Tongues

I am proud to say I am not one of those people who DON’T see color. I see color. I love color. Whenever I have the priviledge of meeting a new person of African Descent (NPOAD – I don’t think that will catch on, but hey…) I always ask what their heritage is. It becomes a little complicated in places like the USA, but in Canada it is a much more acceptable question. Most NPOADs in Canada have close ties to one of the Caribbean Islands or an African country. (Just so you know, I hound nonNPOADs and it is astounding how many have Irish heritage.)

I love the differences in culture because it makes for a richer experience if I can go to the home of a family from Gambia, sample their food, listen to their music and talk to them about their World view. I love the amazing range of myths and legends that have been passed down through the generations, fables to teach children what acceptable behaviour is and lessons about their own culture. The clothes and jewelry adapted for modern times, still brilliantly crafted, gloriously displayed on varying shades of chocolate skin and the muscular, curved bodies shaped by daily activities.

So, you get it. I love Africa. But what I love most about Africa is her languages.

Shona

Lingala

Somali

Beautiful, aren’t they? They twist your tongue and roll your mind. Sometimes you don’t even have to know what is being said. I read a blog by a Nigerian living in America. He wrote:

 Sisi Clara at the embassy in Washington DC would take one withering look at the pale jelly fish quivering in her presence at the embassy, stamp a lusty DENIED! on his passport and shoo him off with the sage words: “Gerraway jo! Olosi! Your father will not see Nigeria, your mother will not see Nigeria! You will not see the yansh of Nigeria! Olosi! Olori buruku! Moose from Alaska!” And the wimp would slink off wailing: “I want to go to Nigeria! Waaaaaaaaah!” (permalink)

It doesn’t mater that I don’t know what Olosi or yansh means, the gist of the conversation makes me snicker and laugh. I enjoy the story. Occassionally, my best friend and partner in crime will say something in her mother tongue and I’ll laugh because I understand the intention of her words even though I do not understand them.

What does this mean? Can we still communicate, with the vastness and variety that Africans are allowed to enjoy, and understand one another’s intentions? Can I write a story, fill it with words that cannot be expressed in English and still have my audience connect with me?

I still yearn to learn the different languages. I pick up words here and there, hoping that something will infect my brain and suddenly WHOOSH! It will all come alive and understanding any language will be my unique gift. That would be the day.