Begging Aid by David Rubadiri

27 Jan

This poem expresses the hopelessness and despair of the endless circle of misery that some nations -and hence their people- are subjected by their leaders in the too common strings-attached aid agreements.

It is not a happy poem; while I read it, I noted down the ideas that came spontaneously to my head: violence, betrayal, servitude, misery are some of them.

I wonder why children are compared with guns of all things?

The “Elders” are living in an unreal world: “Circus Lions away from home”, busy going all over the world only for their homelands to be the market of “leftovers”. In the beginning of the poem we get the impression that those leaders are really getting powerful: “Elders become big Circus Lions”. At the end of the poem we find out that there is no happy ending, while their “manes have aged”, the find themselves “in a beggarhood of Elders” with hands stretched in a prayer of submission.

It is interesting how some words are written beginning with capital letters even if they don’t appear at the beginning of the sentence. Is the poet subtly telling us to pay attention? For example the words Elders, Circus Lions, Circus, Zoos, Ringmaster, Gate, Tips. I think that all these are symbols of realities that exist.

Rudabiri was a diplomat; his position would naturally have given him ample information on the political strategy of his country.

I would like to know when this poem was written. Can someone please enlighten me?

The Great Ponds by Elechi Amadi

25 Oct

Having read The Concubine, which is a great read, I was struck by the similarities between the two books. Events in both books are set in traditional villages, the supernatural theme is present from the beginning to the end. The author presents the relationship between the people and their gods, and presents the difficult topic of human destiny, whether and to what extent it can be changed.

Perhaps the most obvious similarity is the ending. In the Concubine: “The Spirit of Death was known to take away people’s souls shortly after midnight. That was when Ekwueme died.” Whereas in the Great Ponds: “But it was only the beginning. Wonjo, as the villagers called the Great Influenza of 1918, was to claim a grand total of some twenty million lives all over the world.”

in the Great Ponds, the supernatural theme is woven in and out of the narrative by Olumba’s phrase, “I would rather face a whole village in battle than have the weakest of the gods after me. “ Olumba is a warrior and a fisherman of Chiolu who heads the military exploits of his village against their neighbouring village, Aliakoro. The two are disputing the fishing rights to one of the great ponds, the pond of Wagaba. At the beginning of the novel, Chiolu has the rights to the pond, but some Aliakoro fishermen are caught poaching. The feud escalates into an inter-village warfare. We get to see the many customs and beleifs coated with the supernatural.

“Charms for fighting were brought out, dusted and strengthened by the appropriate rituals. Achichi the dibia had the busiest day in his life. He ran from one compound to another, mending broken amulets, concocting new ones, prescribing quick and effective sacrifices, warding off evil influences, invoking the help of powerful gods.” Page 26

Wago the leopard killer heads Aliakoro’s army. He even has an arrow deflecting amulet. He is a strange leader: stubborn and authoritative. His warriors accuse him of lack of planning and involving the others in his decisions, which of course he doesn’t accept.

At some point of the conflict, the other villages intervene as it is clear that neither Chiolu nor Aliakoro is prepared to give up their cause. The solution is supernatural in nature: have recourse to a an oath swearing as a way of letting the gods decide. Olumba is chosen to do the swearing: “I swear by Ogbunabali the god of the night that the Pond of Wagaba belongs to Chiolu. If this is not true, let me die within six months. If true, let me live and prosper.” Aliakoro of course led by Wago do all that is within their power so that Olumba can die.

All in all, it was a refreshing read. The author is a keen observer of daily life and the religious rituals of traditional Nigerian villages. At the end, the winners are pride and stubbornness, not the proud or the stubborn.

What Molly knew by Tim Keegan

8 Aug

This is one of the stories nominated for the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing. Molly is a middle aged white woman in South Africa married to an abusive and alcoholic husband, Rollo. He is a man who has a multitude of expectations from his wife:

There were things he expected from a wife, and crying and complaining and carrying on weren’t amongst them.

He always expected dinner to be ready when he came.

To add insult to injury, her daughter, Sarah, has just been murdered.

It is interesting that the first suspect is Tommie, Sarah’s husband. Molly comes to the conclusion that it has to be him, otherwise who else would it be? Sarh had no enemies, she reasons. Now, Sarah married Tommie against her mother’s and Rollo’s wishes. It so turns out that Tommie is from Mozambique and also a psychologist who knows “how to convince people”.

Initially, I sympathised with Molly because, hey, loosing an only child is not easy. Later on however, I sort of got angry at her for her “what can I do attitude”. First of all, she stays in an abusive marriage because she has nowhere else to go. The night she tells him of her daughter’s murder, he is so unfeeling as to be unable even to console his wife. (Sarah is not his daughter). Later on, she mentions that she would like to go to a memorial service for Sarah because it might be the only chance to say goodbye to her. His reaction?

Rollo snorted, stuffing pork sausage into his mouth, washing it down with a Castle straight from the bottle, but didn’t say anything more.

My anger peaked when she finds a letter in the garbage incriminating Rollo in the crime. Since, she doesn’t want to “upset” her life, she calmly takes it and burns it and proceeds to fix dinner and wait for Rollo, just like she had always done!

I’m hoping that the rest of the stories in the book To see the mountain and other stories will help abate the anger and frustration inside!

Courting Miss Lancaster

6 Aug

Courting Miss Lancaster is a light, delightful and humorous read set in the regency period. Miss Athena Lancaster is the Duke of Kilder’s sister-in-law who is really looking forward to having a season and thereby be swept off her feet by the man of her dreams. Except that she is yet to meet him.

Harry Windover is the Duke’s best friend who has been entrusted with fielding off would be fortune hunters from Miss Lancaster’s path. Obviously, he grows rather too fond of her and more obviously, his estate is in need of extensive repairs.

His plan, as she doesn’t have any ready-made list of characteristics she is looking for in a husband, is to introduce her to all manner of men who he’s sure she will never care for. This, he thinks, will buy him time in order to be as long as possible in her presence. It is superfluous to say that his plan backfires wildly and puts the events into a climax.

I liked this book because of the humour of the characters. Henry is at the top of the list, with his influence on all the members of the family, albeit each in a different manner. His exchanges with his friend the Duke are laced with irony, with Athena compassion and I cannot help myself from laughing at her naïveté.  She does not even realize that she is in love!

“I have found that sometimes a person is the last to know when she is in love. One’s heart does not always share its secrets with one’s mind.” Athena’s sister Persephone saves the day.

Review: The Pay Packet by Ifeoma Okoye

13 Apr

This short story by Ifeoma Okoye tells the story of Iba, who has been married for six months to Bertrand. Everybody refers to him as Gentleman B.

After her marriage, Iba is no longer eager to receive her salary as a teacher at the City Primary School. The reason is somehow depicted by the conversation of her 8 year old pupils who are fighting about some money that belongs to a girl.

“Boys always fight for things that are not theirs”

“Yes, they are all greedy things”

Perhaps the theme of this short story is the ownership of the working woman’s salary in a marriage. Iba’s colleagues have all different stories of their own.

Phoebe’s role is to feed the family while her husband pays the rent and the school fees. Ukachi, whose husband is the headmaster, just signs the voucher and never even touches her own salary!

Uzo explains that that her own salary is sent to her own father as bride price. Iba thinks that her own father wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing.

The only exception is Ezuma, whose salary belongs to her while her husband even buys clothes and jewellery for her and gives housekeeping money.

Perhaps the turning point of the story is her decision not to hand over her salary to her husband. She decides to go on a shopping spree and spends a third on foodstuffs, a third on herself and the remainder on baby things. (She is expecting a baby)

The confrontation that ensues with Bertrand puts everything to light. Her dad, a retired railway worker who receives a good pension, had asked Bertrand to send him her salary for three years as her bride price. She realises that although he doesn’t deserve it, she decides to keep the fact that he abuses her secret from his friend.

“If you’re right, it will explain, but not excuse your brutality to me for which you may have to pay another bride price this time, to me- to restore the status quo ante bellum”

The story ends with a peck on the cheek –a tacit agreement between them.

I found this a very good short story. It highlights the difficulty of modern ways of life coupled with traditions. In this case, working women and their salaries and the independence that comes with it. On the other hand, payment of bride price and the traditional perception of male predominance in decision making within a marriage.

Thoughts on: The flame trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley

24 Aug

This is a story about a European family and how they settled in a farm in Thika, Kenya in the 1910s. It ends with the start of the First World War. It revolves around their day to day activities; starting a coffee farm from nothing, getting labour from the native population, interactions with their European neighbours etc. They get to learn the customs of the Kikuyu and the Maasai and to understand as well their legendary enmity.

I found interesting the sheer will power to settle in a place unknown, the readiness to take on adventure for livelihood and not for sport “by the horns” so to speak all in order to further the interests of their country or empire. In a similar way, the readiness with which, once war is declared, they leave everything gained to have the honour to fight for their country.

The book is very well written; the descriptions are superb, even poetical. At some point, it seems like an encyclopedia of flora and fauna. Towards the end of the book, I noted some of the birds and plants/trees mentioned. Birds: kingfisher, stonechats, babblers, mouse birds, swallow, whydah, harrier, blacksmith, finch and sunbird. Plants/trees: leleshwa, cedar tree, juniper, acacia, red oat grass, orchid, starlings, geraniums, weaver tree and delphinium. How long would have been the list if I had started from the very beginning!

Wives and daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

23 Aug

wives and daughtersWives and daughters tells the story of Molly, the daughter of Mr. Gibson, the local doctor in a small village. Her father is a widower, and Molly has since childhood, been very close to her father.

When her father discovers a love letter destined to Molly by one of the young men he has in training, he makes a rather rash decision to marry. The woman of his choice is known to be elegant; and she accepts his proposal because she would not have to work again.

The scene changes with the arrival of Molly’s step-mother and her daughter, Cynthia. By this time, Molly is trying hard to be good and to think about the welfare of others, as she had been advised by Roger Hamley, a young man who becomes her friend.

She will need all the stamina she can muster to face her step-mother’s whims and selfish streaks as well as Cynthia’s intriguing love affairs, not to mention the village’s gossip. These are her words at some point in the story:

“I daresay it seems foolish; perhaps all our earthly trials will appear foolish to us after a while; perhaps they seem so now to angels. But we are ourselves, you know, and this is now, not some time to come, a long, long way off. And we are not angels, to be comforted by seeing the ends for which everything is sent.”

Wives and daughters is a very long book, more than 700 pages. However, the plot comes out smoothly without precipitation; it is a joyous and engaging read.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

7 May

life-of-piI saw this book last year but did not think too much about it. The Oscars changed my mind.  Maybe I could give it a try, I thought. I did not know what I was in for.

Piscine (Pi) Patel’s father has a zoo in Pondicherry, India. The family decides to move to Canada. Just days off Manila, their ship sinks. Piscine finds himself in a lifeboat and thinks that they are going to rescue him within a few hours. After a few days, his hopes wane, and he discovers that he has a Bengal tiger as a companion.

This story is a splendid thriller. It is a story about human endurance, the will to live, no matter what. Pi has to feed himself as well as Richard Parker (the tiger). He has to make sure that the tiger doesn’t make him a meal. It is amazing that he kept going, day after day, because he had decided in himself that he was going to live.

The 227 days seem eternal, yet fly away as soon as you get reading. 227 days.  Hmm. It’s a bit ironical that Pi Patel is named after a swimming pool, and he has to spend many months in company of a tiger and lots of water, not to mention the sharks and all the marine life.

Published in 2001, this fantasy adventure novel is a rare read. It is simply fascinating! I wonder if there are more “Life of Pi’s” waiting to be discovered.

What we should all choose to read

4 May


The book is set in Brooklyn, New York in the 1940s. Historical events that provide the backdrop for the story are the end of World War II, the holocaust in Europe, and the creation of the state of Israel.

The Chosen by Chaim Potok is by far the best book I have read in a long time. Not only is it well written but deep as well. Anyone who has ever experienced the depth of true friendship will find this book a treasure. The themes are profound and universal; you don’t need to be a Jew to enjoy this story.

The story is about two Jewish fathers and their sons. A baseball game gone crazy makes the two sons meet. They become fast friends. Each discovers the other; what they stand for, their hopes for the future, their family inclinations. Despite their differences, they are very good friends. This book teaches friendship and empathy in the deepest level.

I particularly liked the two quotes that I found at the beginning of the book:

-When a trout rising to a fly gets hooked on a line and finds himself unable to swim about freely, he begins with a fight which results in struggles and splashes and sometimes an escape. Often, of course, the situation is too tough for him.

In the same way, the human being struggles with his environment and with the hooks that catch him. Sometimes he masters his difficulties; sometimes they are too much for him. His struggles are all that the world sees and it naturally misunderstands them. It is hard for a free fish to understand what is happening to a hooked one. -Karl A. Menninger

-True happiness consists not in the multitude of friends, but in the worth and choice. -Ben Jonson

When you leave your car unattended…

30 Apr


This guy has spread his merchandise on the car. We needed to tell him to get off.

I moved to Yaoundé, Cameroon, about seven months ago. Many are the things have happened that I would classify as “culture shock”. You see, I am Kenyan, and even though it takes a lot of convincing to people who are not familiar with the continent, we are different. Country to country, the food, mannerism, culture, language, name it, changes.

So one fine day, we decided to go out. After a scary battle with all the motor bikes for space on the road, we finally arrive at our destination, luckily without any mishap. We get out of the car. Hawkers are everywhere. One guy almost convinces you that the sunglasses you are wearing are old and need to be replaced. Another shouts that oranges are only 50 Fcfa. A very fat lady is cooking beans beside the car park. Her customers lazily look at the new arrivals, and resume their meal.

We enter a shop. After about ten minutes, we come out. Getting away will be something of a hassle, because a guy selling t-shirts has laid out his merchandise on our car. He looks at us and starts the usual story.

“Cinq cents francs, ma Cherie”

How do you tell such a guy to get lost?

I look away, and my friend does all the honours.

To get errands done here is very interesting, but also very time-consuming.

I hope not to let it get on my nerves in the future.