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Imagine africa volume 3, p.11

Imagine Africa, Volume 3, page 11


Imagine Africa, Volume 3

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  Klopte aan en nog een keer en nog maar eens.

  Wat bleek na enig overleg

  hij stond voor het verkeerde huis!

  Onderdanen gleden lacherig en ongelovig

  uit de bomen, ramen werden weer gesloten

  ook de dames van de drumband maakten rechtsomkeert.

  Geruisloos werd hij weggeleid

  een afgeleefde aak in een immens kanaal

  en men vergat die hele zaak opdat dit nooit

  en nooit weer zou gebeuren.

  ‘Self-portrait as 007’ – Day(Dream) # 1,516

  Something has gone wrong.

  I hang like shot game catching copious amounts of wind

  high above a city.

  Office glass everywhere, the blood slowly leaves my arms.

  Something burning in the distance, a pack of dogs

  bark angrily on the asphalt down below

  helicopters hover out of sight rattling like egg whips.

  Up to now, I’d always done my own stunts.

  I utter a few screams that aren’t in the script

  that I fought evil with evil

  evil was like a cockroach.

  I always turned up when needed

  before wandering off triumphantly into the future during the

  closing scenes

  my deeds and misdeeds forgiven and forgotten –

  I never shot my mouth off

  I’d rather let go.

  ‘zelfportret als 007’ – dag(droom) # 1.516

  Er is iets fout gegaan.

  Ik hang als aangeschoten wild veel wind te vangen

  hoog boven een stad.

  Kantoorglas overal, het bloed trekt langzaam uit mijn armen.

  In de verte fikt wat na, een groepje honden

  staat beneden op het asfalt woest te blaffen

  helikopters hangen ratelend als slagroomkloppers buiten beeld.

  Tot nu toe deed ik al mijn eigen stunts.

  Ik slaak wat kreten die niet in het draaiboek staan

  dat ik het kwaad met kwaad bestreed

  het kwaad was als een kakkerlak.

  Ik kwam geroepen als altijd

  om in de slotminuten triomfantelijk de toekomst in te wandelen

  mijn daden en mijn misdaden vergeven en vergeten –

  nooit sprak ik mijn mond voorbij

  ik liet nog liever los.

  Shaka Finally Finds The Love Of His Life

  in one of his mother’s fashion magazines.

  Those eyes and that small chin, those cheekbones!

  Calls her N, how should he describe her?

  Like an evening stroll after a magical film

  Like a drive in a dilapidated Beetle

  between rocky mountains, he meanders along a glassy stream

  and suddenly the sun breaks through

  the sunlight breaks through the air, far below

  is the valley where he will spend the night.

  N! Like an abrupt taste that explodes in your mouth

  heavy rain at the height of summer.

  As addictive as a football game.

  His biographer complains of hackneyed imagery, never mind

  as long as it works, Shaka thinks.

  Who crushes so guilelessly but cannot dance.

  Who keeps treading on his partner’s toes.

  Has no idea how to offer a drink

  how to kiss with your whole mouth.

  As a young boy he was often teased about love.

  ‘Fat Babette is shagging Shaka’

  and ‘Shaka = Nerd’ in giant letters

  on the side wall of the corner shop.

  Bitter, he ran home, hid himself away

  in his bedroom and didn’t come out for days.

  He concentrates on sharpening the point of his spear

  and wonders whether N knows that he exists.

  Whether in her dreams he rescues her from the flames

  and whether she sprays a little perfume between her breasts

  while looking at his photo, leaves the dinner to burn

  disguises her imperfections with make-up

  while humming “They can’t take that away from me.”

  About four times a week and

  crazy with longing he heads towards

  the red-lit backstreets of the village.

  He stays there until he hasn’t a cent left.

  Long after midnight he’s still roaming the streets.

  Living from minute to minute

  on his way to more and still more life.

  Sjaka Vindt Uiteindelijk De Liefde Van Zijn Leven

  in een modetijdschrift van zijn moeder.

  Die ogen en die kleine kin, die jukbeenderen!

  Noemt haar N, hoe moet hij haar omschrijven.

  Als een wandeling bij avond na een feeërieke film.

  Als een rit in zijn aftandse kever

  tussen rotsachtig gebergte, hij slingert langs een rimpelloze beek

  en plotseling breekt de zon door

  breekt het zonlicht door de ruimte, diep beneden

  ligt het dal waar hij zal blijven slapen.

  N! Als een abrupte smaak die losbarst in je mond

  een stortbui in het hartje van de zomer.

  Verslavend als een voetbalspelletje.

  Sleetse beeldspraak klaagt zijn biograaf maar Ach

  zolang het werkt, denkt Sjaka.

  Die zo argeloos vermorzelt maar niet dansen kan.

  Die steeds weer op de tenen van zijn partner trapt.

  Heeft geen idee hoe hij een drankje aan moet bieden

  hoe je met je hele mond moet zoenen.

  Als kleine jongen werd hij met de liefde vaak gepest.

  ‘Dikke Babette gaat met Sjaka naar bed’

  en ‘Sjaka = Nerd’ stond met koeien-letters

  op de zijmuur van de buurtwinkel geschreven.

  Giftig rende hij naar huis, verborg zich

  op zijn kamertje en kwam er dagen-lang niet uit.

  Geconcentreerd slijpt hij de punt bij van zijn speer

  en vraagt zich af of N van zijn bestaan afweet.

  Of hij haar in haar dromen uit de vlammen redt

  en of zij starend naar zijn foto wat parfum

  tussen haar borsten spuit, het eten aan laat branden

  met make-up haar oneffenheden wegpoetst

  terwijl ze “They can’t take that away from me” neuriet.

  Radeloos van ongeleid verlangen

  begeeft hij zich zo’n vier keer in de week

  richting de roodverlichte achterstraten van het dorp.

  Dan blijft hij weg tot hij geen cent meer heeft.

  Ver na middernacht zwalkt hij nog over straat.

  In een leven van minuut tot minuut

  op weg naar meer en steeds meer leven.


  Translated from the Chinese by MIKE FU

  Desert Dining

  SANMAO (1943–1991) was a novelist, travel writer, translator, and screenwriter. Her pseudonym was adopted from a character from acclaimed caricaturist Zhang Leping’s most famous work, entitled Sanmao. She studied philosophy at the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan, later moving to Germany and then back to Taiwan. In 1976 she published the autobiographical work The Stories of the Sahara, which was about her experiences living in then Spanish-controlled Western Sahara with her Spanish husband José. Part travelogue and part memoir, it is an account of life and love in the desert, and quickly established Sanmao as a writer with a unique voice and perspective. Following the book’s immense success in Taiwan, Mainland China, as well as Hong Kong, her early writings were collected in a second book, published under the title Gone with the Rainy Season. In 1991, at the age of 47, Sanmao died in a hospital in Taipei, having hung herself with a pair of silk stockings.

  MIKE FU is a Brooklyn-based writer and translator. He received his MA in East Asian Languages and Cultures from Columbia University and MFA in Creative Writing and Literary Translation from Queens College, City University of New York. He h
as translated screenplays, treatments, subtitles, and other material for contemporary Chinese filmmakers including Huang Weikai and Li Ning.

  IT’S TOO BAD my husband is a foreigner. Referring to my own husband as such undoubtedly seems a bit exclusive. But since every country has language and customs completely unlike the next, there are some areas in our conjugal life where it’s impossible to see eye to eye. When I first agreed to marry José, I reminded him that we differed not only in nationality but in personality. Perhaps one day we might even argue to the point of physical confrontation. He replied, “I know you can be moody but you’ve got a good heart. Fight as we may, let’s get married anyway.” So we finally tied the knot seven years after we first met.

  I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but I wasn’t willing to toss aside the carefree spirit of my independence. I made extra clear that I would still do things my way after marriage. Otherwise we could scrap the whole idea. José told me, “All I want is for you to do things your way. If you lost your individuality and flair, I wouldn’t see any point in marrying you!” Great to hear such things from the big guy himself. I was very pleased.

  As the wife of José, I oblige him in terms of language. My poor foreigner, he still can’t tell the difference between the Chinese characters for “person” and “enter” no matter how many times I teach him. I let him off easy and speak his language instead. (But once we have children, they’ll learn Chinese if it kills them. He’s all in favor of this idea too.)

  Let’s be real: the housewife’s top priority is the kitchen. I’ve always loathed chores, but cooking is something I take great pleasure in. Give me some scallions and a few slices of meat and I can whip up a dish like that. I quite relish this form of artistry.

  My mother in Taiwan was devastated when she found out that I was going to the barrens of Africa because of José’s work. José is the breadwinner around here so I had to follow my meal ticket. No room for argument there. Our kitchen was dominated by Western food in those early days of marriage. But then assistance came to our household via airmail. I received vermicelli, seaweed, shiitake mushrooms, instant noodles, dried pork, and other valuable foodstuffs in bulk. I was so overjoyed I couldn’t keep my hands off. Add to that list a jug of soy sauce sent by a girlfriend in Europe, and the Chinese restaurant in our household was just about ready for business. A pity there was only one nonpaying customer to be had. (Eventually we had friends lining up at the door to come eat!)

  Actually, what my mother sent me really wasn’t enough to run a Chinese restaurant, but luckily José had never been to Taiwan. He saw that I had the cockiness of a master chef and began to take confidence in me.

  The first dish was chicken soup with vermicelli. Whenever he gets home from work, José always yells, “Hurry up with dinner, I’m starving!” All those years of being loved by him for naught. He clamors for food without even giving me a second glance. At least I won’t have to worry about my looks going. Anyway, back to that chicken soup and vermicelli. He took a sip and asked, “Hey, what’s this? Thin Chinese noodles?”

  “Would your mother-in-law send thin noodles from such incredible distances? No way.”

  “Well, what is it, then? I want some more. It’s delicious.”

  I picked up a noodle with my chopsticks. “This? It’s called ‘rain.’”

  “Rain?” He was dumbfounded.

  Like I said, I do as I please in marriage and say things impulsively for fun. “This is from the first rainfall of the spring. After the mountain rain freezes over, the natives tie it up and take it down to sell in bundles and buy rice wine. It’s not easy to come by!”

  José still had a blank expression on his face. He scrutinized me, then the “rain” in his bowl, and said, “You think I’m an idiot?”

  I brushed his question aside. “You still want some more?”

  “I still do, you goddamn liar,” he answered. Afterward he would often eat this “spring rain” and to this day he still doesn’t know what it’s made from. Sometimes I feel sad that José can be so stupid.

  The second time we had vermicelli with ground meat. I fried the noodles in a saucepan, then sprinkled shredded meat and juice on top. José is always hungry when he comes home from work. He chomped right into the noodles. “What’s this? It looks like white yarn or plastic.”

  “It’s neither,” I replied. “It’s nylon like the fishing line you use, made white and soft by Chinese labor.”

  He had another mouthful and gave me a small smile. Still chewing, he said, “So many weird things. If we really opened a restaurant, we’d have to sell this one at a good price, my little one.” That day he ate his fill of upgraded nylon.

  The third time we had vermicelli with spinach and meat, all minced very fine, inside a Northeastern-style bun. He said, “You put shark fin in this little bun, right? I heard this thing is pretty expensive. No wonder you only put in a little.” I laughed myself to the floor. “Tell your mom not to buy any more of this expensive shark fin for us. I want to write her to say thanks.”

  I was deeply amused. “Go write her now, I’ll translate! Ha!”

  One day, around the time José got off work, I remembered that he hadn’t seen the dried pork yet. I pulled it out of hiding and cut it into little squares with scissors. Then I put the pieces in a jar and bundled it in a blanket. It just so happened that he was a little congested that day and wanted to bring out an extra blanket for bed. I was sitting nearby reading Water Margin for the thousandth time, having forgotten about my treasure for the moment. He lay in bed with the jar in his hands, peering at it left and right.

  When I looked up, my goodness! It was like when they discovered King Solomon’s treasure. I snatched it from him and said, “This isn’t for you to eat. It’s medicine…Chinese medicine.”

  “My nose is all stuffed up, so this medicine will be perfect.” He had already put a handful into his mouth. I was furious, but kept silent since I couldn’t demand that he spit it out. “It’s pretty sweet. What is it?”

  “Lozenges,” I snapped. “To soothe a cough.”

  “Lozenges made from meat? You think I’m an idiot?”

  The next day, I discovered that he had taken more than half of the jar’s contents to share with his co-workers. From that day onward, his co-workers would always pretend to cough when they saw me, hoping to extort some dried pork slices.

  In any case, married life is all about eating. The rest of the time is spent making money in order to eat. There really isn’t much more to it. One day I made rice balls, or sushi, you could say, with rice and dried shredded meat wrapped in seaweed. This time José refused to eat it.

  “What? You’re actually giving me carbon paper to eat?”

  I asked him gently, “You really won’t eat it?”

  “No, no way.”

  Excellent. I was more than happy to eat a pile myself.

  “Open your mouth and let me see!” he demanded.

  “See, there’s no color stain. I used the opposite side of the roll of carbon paper. It won’t dye your mouth.” I was used to bluffing every day, so I could easily come up with this kind of nonsense.

  “You’re a damn liar, that’s what you are. I hate you. Tell me the truth, what is it?”

  “You have no clue about China,” I replied, eating another roll. “I’m so disappointed in my husband.”

  He got mad and snatched up a roll with his chopsticks. Adopting the expression of a tragic hero embarking upon a path of no return, he chewed and chewed and swallowed. “Yep, it’s seaweed.”

  I jumped up and exclaimed, “Yes, you got it! You’re so smart!” I was about to jump again when I received a hard flick on the head from him.

  When we had eaten most of the Chinese things, I grew reluctant to serve from my Chinese restaurant. Western dishes came back to the table. José was really surprised but happy to see me making steak when he came home from work. “Make mine medium rare. And are you frying potatoes too?”

  After we had steak t
hree days in a row, he seemed to have lost his appetite. He would stop eating after just one bite.

  “Are you too tired from work? Do you want to sleep for a bit, then eat later?” Even this old lady can still play tender.

  “I’m not sick. I just think we’re not eating well.”

  Upon hearing this, I bounded up with a roar. “Not eating well? Not eating well? Do you know how much this steak costs per pound?”

  “It’s not that, my dear wife. I want to have some of that ‘rain.’ The food your mom sent us tastes better.”

  “Alright then, our Chinese restaurant will operate twice a week. How about it? How often do you want it to rain?”

  One day, José came home and said to me, “The big boss called me in today.”

  “A pay raise?” My eyes lit up.


  “No?” I grabbed him, sinking my nails into his flesh. “Did you get fired? Oh, we’re doomed! Oh my God, we–”

  “Let go of me, you psycho. Let me finish. The big boss said that everyone at the company has been over to eat at our house except for him and his wife. He’s waiting for you to invite him over for Chinese–”

  “The big boss wants me to cook for him? I won’t do it! Don’t invite him. I’ll happily do it for any of your colleagues, but it’s unethical to invite your superior. I’m a person of integrity, you know, I–” I wanted to go on about the moral character of the Chinese people, but I couldn’t explain it clearly. Then I saw the expression on José’s face and realized I could only choke down my morality.

  The next day, he asked me, “Hey, do we have any bamboo shoots?”

  “Plenty of chopsticks in the house, all made out of bamboo.”

  He gave me a dirty look. “The big boss wants bamboo shoots with shiitake mushrooms.”

  Amazing. This boss has truly been all over the world. Can’t underestimate these foreigners. “Alright, invite the two of them over for dinner tomorrow night. I’ll come up with some bamboo shoots, no problem.” José looked over at me with great affection. It was the first time he’d looked at me like this since we got married. What a rare favor bestowed upon me! Too bad my hair was a tangled mess and I looked like death that day.

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