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Imagine africa volume 3, p.12

Imagine Africa, Volume 3, page 12


Imagine Africa, Volume 3

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  The following night, I prepared three dishes ahead of time and kept them warmed at a simmer. I set up the dinner table with a red cloth diagonally overlaying a white cloth, and a candle holder on top. It was a lovely arrangement. Everyone enjoyed themselves thoroughly at the meal. Not only were the dishes perfect in presentation, aroma, and taste, I had also cleaned myself up nicely and went so far as to put on a long skirt.

  When the boss and his wife were getting ready to leave, they told me, “If we ever have an opening in public relations, we hope you can fill in and be a part of the company.” My eyes gleamed with joy. All this thanks to bamboo shoots with shiitake mushrooms.

  It was already late after we sent them off. I immediately took off the long skirt in favor of a pair of ripped jeans. Tying my hair up with some bands, I began furiously washing bowls and plates. I felt so much more at ease, both physically and spiritually, back in my Cinderella getup.

  José was quite satisfied. He asked from behind, “Hey, the bamboo shoots and mushrooms were really great. Where’d you get the bamboo?”

  Continuing with the dishes, I asked, “What bamboo?”

  “The bamboo shoots from tonight’s dinner!”

  I cracked up. “Oh, you mean the cucumber stirfried with mushroom?”

  “What? You…You can fool me all you want, but you dare pull that on the boss–”

  “I didn’t fool him. It was the most delicious meal of bamboo shoots stirfried with shiitake mushrooms he’s ever had. He said so himself.”

  José scooped me up in his arms, getting soapy water all over his head and beard. He said, “You’re the greatest! The greatest! You’re like that monkey, the one with seventy-two transformations. What was his name? What…?”

  I patted his head. “The Great Sage, Equal of Heaven, Sun Wukong! Don’t go forgetting his name this time.”


  Translated from the Arabic by KAREEM JAMES ABU-ZEID

  TAREK ELTAYEB was born to Sudanese parents in Cairo in 1959. He has been living in Vienna since 1984. After studying at the Institute for Economic Philosophy of Vienna’s University of Economics, he is currently teaching at three universities in Austria. He has been writing since 1985 and has published three novels, two collections of short stories, five collections of poems, one play, one autobiographical book, and one book of essays. His books have been published in German, English, Italian, French, Spanish, Macedonian, Romanian and Serbian translations. He is also a faculty member of the International Writing Program “Between the Lines” at the University of Iowa. His awards include the Elias Cannetti Fellowship from the City of Vienna (2005), and the International Grand Prize for Poetry from the 2007 International Festival Curtea de Argeş in Romania.

  KAREEM JAMES ABU-ZEID has translated novels and books of poetry by Rabee Jaber, Najwan Darwish, Dunya Mikhail, and Tarek Eltayeb for NYRB Classics, New Directions, and AUC Press. His translations have won Poetry Magazine’s Translation Prize and a Northern California Book Award, have been longlisted for the National Translation Award and the Best Translated Book Award, and been Runner-up for the Banipal Translation Prize. He has been awarded residencies from the Lannan Foundation and the Banff Centre for the Arts, and has received a Fulbright Fellowship (Germany) and a CASA Fellowship (Egypt). He will be completing his PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley in summer 2016. He also translates from French and German.

  A Hoopoe

  A garden sinks to sand

  Surrenders to the locusts

  So the hoopoe takes its leave

  It flies south

  Across tearing winds

  In hopes of magic and feasting

  It flies north

  And they imprison it in a classroom

  Where students draw its picture

  Then they lure it to a museum

  So it takes flight

  It flies for days in darkness

  Back to the garden

  To its dunes and palms

  It bemoans its lost wisdom

  There’s nothing left

  Its heritage is lost

  And one question follows the other

  Will it pursue the sun?*

  It is said that the sun set in the south

  that day then rose in the north the

  next, perplexing the creatures of the world.

  Will it rise with it at dawn?

  In its grief and doubt

  It sees a flock of birds on high

  They cry out for it to rise

  But its wings are weary:

  It has nothing left

  But the pretext

  Of a farewell on two feet

  And a steady plume

  (Vienna, February 3, 2001)


  A calm child

  Spoke softly

  To the stars

  He grew up

  His voice grew coarse

  The stars fell

  Onto his shoulders

  His feet grew heavy

  As did his heart

  As did his voice

  (Vienna, December 5, 1995)


  She is

  On the verge of death

  He is

  On the verge of life

  Through their cries

  In the cramped room

  They share life

  And shake off death

  (Vienna, May 7, 2001)

  *It is said that the sun will set in the south that day then rise in the north the next, perplexing the creatures of the world.



  (an excerpt)


  (Southern Nigeria, 2003)

  DIEKOYE OYEYINKA spent his first fifteen years in Nigeria, and the next ten years between Europe and the USA. He has a B.A. in Economics from Georgetown University and a Master’s degree in Urbanization and Development from the London School of Economics. His first novel, Stillborn, was published in Kenya in 2014 by East African Educational Publishers Ltd. Narrated from the point of view of Seun, an orphan from the Niger Delta who has been educated in the United States and is deciding whether or not he wants permanently to return to Lagos, Stillborn follows five characters whose lives intersect, taking the reader on a panoramic yet intimate journey through more than fifty years of Nigeria’s turbulent history from independence in 1960 until the present. Oyeyinka says, “The specific inspiration for this book came from a deep-seated frustration with a broken system that was making false promises. I document the mistakes of the past so we do not blindly repeat them. The book is a memo to our leaders that we remember even after the headlines have faded.” He lives in Lagos.

  THIS IS THE eternally enshrined image I have of my mother, Mrs. Ranti Ehurere. She wears her favorite bubu, its yellow and black streaks sit elegantly on her slender shoulders. She wears no jewelry on her neck—it is a work of art in itself. Her proud chin quivers as she talks incessantly. Her svelte fingers grip mine tightly, but I look away, embarrassed by her penetrating charcoal stare, her prescient tears streaming from ignorant eyes.

  I had already been in Lagos for over five years, and each time I returned, Mother cried like it was the first time. Her unrestrained wails were the despondent soundtrack to Sagamu’s rapidly fading lush scenery. But this time was different, I had come home for the long holiday before the final senior secondary school examinations, and mother had gotten used to my presence. She realized my childhood was ending, and she had missed a significant part of it. Once more, she was returning with me, and this time she did not attempt to camouflage her sorrow. Our arrival was like a déjà vu of the first, except I now walked with the assured steps of someone who had arrived home. Mother noticed this and it saddened her because each time I came to visit in the Niger Delta, I moved with the cautious gait of an intruder and opened drawers with the timidity of a guest. I promptly went upstairs to take a shower, and although I had bathed with a bucket and bowl until five years earlier, I felt I needed the
stinging sprays on my body to wash away the products of three months of improper hygiene.

  Mother and Uncle barely exchanged pleasantries before politics hijacked their discussions. It consumed every home in Nigeria and was present at every meal. Uncle had spent a lifetime crusading against the tyranny of military governance, and now the last and worst of the official dictators had died unexpectedly. The corpse was long buried, but juicy details still emerged casting a surreal light on the death and prompting renewed rounds of dinner table discussions.

  “I hear he was killed by prostitutes,” Mother said in disbelief.

  “I am sure the CIA was involved,” Uncle returned in a quiet voice, as though someone was listening. “I mean how could both Abacha and Abiola, the dictator and the president elect, both die mysteriously within the same month?”

  “Let’s just hope this Obasanjo knows what he is doing,” mother replied. “He was once a military man.”

  “He still is one!” Uncle retorted. “The other day he told a senator to shut up. In my opinion we are still under military governance, especially if this party stays in power.”

  “Only God will help us,” mother said tiredly.

  Uncle smiled at this. He was tired of people sitting back with arms folded as the country fell apart, waiting on divine intervention. But he knew mother and father did what they could so he let the statement pass.

  “But how is your side?” Uncle asked suddenly with obvious concern. “The place must be in shambles again. I thought you were approaching some calm finally after the Saro-Wiwa disaster, but these militants have turned the place upside down once more.”

  “I know you people fought Abacha from here, but you should have seen the area after they hung Ken and the other Ogoni leaders. I could only thank God that at least Seun was in school here.”

  “My dear, I know,” Uncle said, “remember I visited. So, what is happening now with these militants? I am unsure if they are fighting against the state as the government claims or for the people as they say. I never trust armed uprisings.”

  “And it is the government you trust?” Mother retorted.

  “Well, I also do not trust military rulers that return as civilians. So which is the frying pan and which is the fire?” Uncle asked.

  “We will wait and see o jare. I am tired of these people and their wahala, all of them,” she said, throwing her hand up in exasperation.

  “So the militants are causing more trouble?” Uncle asked as though he already knew the answer.

  “Some of them started nobly, but as usual the politicians have gotten their fingers into the water and muddied it.”

  “You mean the politicians are involved?” Uncle asked with disbelief.

  “Of course nothing can be proven, but suddenly these militants went from disgruntled men protesting oil spills to young boys carrying machine guns siphoning oil and kidnapping as they wish. I’m sure you heard of the twelve murdered policemen.”

  “So who is involved?”

  “That is what we don’t know. But I am worried, because even if the federal government is profiting, they will not turn a blind eye and there will be retaliation soon. Obasanjo has been rather truculent about his plans to handle the issue. He has given the community leaders only a few days to produce the culprits.”

  “You see Seun is having a good time here. In fact tell your stubborn husband that he should take a break, and you should all come up here for a while,” Uncle said, trying to change the mood.

  Mother chuckled, “see you, you want us to completely take over your house, you have already been very gracious with Seun. He seems to be enjoying himself. And who is this Aisha girl he keeps talking about?”

  “I think your boy has a crush. She is this Hausa girl next door. If you stayed longer, you would have met her,” Uncle ventured in a last bid to extend her stay.

  “You know your friend. That last time I was here and he did not see his wife for one week, you’d have thought the world was about to end.” She said it with the happy sigh of a woman who believed a wife’s place was by her husband’s side. “Seun better not fall in love with a Hausa girl oh,” mother was saying when Uncle’s laugh cut her short.

  “And look who is talking. Where is your husband from? The man does not even understand ekaro?” And they both laughed.

  The purity of the untainted blue sky made my mother happy. Everything else was polluted—the water, the trees, the pleasures. The roads were mud, the houses were bare cement, and people cooked with crude firewood contraptions. She kept her eyes to the sky, trying to forget that just one week earlier she had left me behind in Lagos under a sky that leaked continuously like her eyes. The riots were unrelenting, and my father was convinced the government and multinationals would be forced to acquiesce to their demands. He refused to listen when he was told to stay home during the melees and mother was worried. When they reasoned with him that as one of the organizers he should stay safe, he simply laughed and carried on in his quiet stubbornness. “The government will come to negotiate soon,” he would say. “I must be there to welcome them.”

  A few kilometers away, a silver frog was serenading in burps from a black lake. Another drowned in a tar pond attended by large dragonflies with too many wings. Mother decided to do the laundry to distract her mind and carried a pale green bucket outside. She called repeatedly for my sister to bring some detergent and realized her voice was too loud. She stopped yelling and listened, it was much too quiet, and she looked around slightly disoriented.

  Suddenly a loud boom was heard and the air exploded in a thousand lights, arousing the few animals left in the dying forests into coordinated cacophony. The bucket dropped from her hand and she ran towards the main road, unthinking, heading towards the sound. She had a feeling her daughter was there, she knew her husband was. She burst onto the road and was overwhelmed by the chaos: stones and bottles were being hurled at soldiers, and in return, they sent bullets and bombs. My mother, Mrs. Ranti Ehurere, died quickly and painlessly five minutes after she heard the first blast, and it was best.

  It was best because she did not see her eight-year-old daughter pinned down by a sneering soldier as he slapped her roughly and raped her maliciously. She did not see the second soldier do the same and then shatter her skull with the butt of his gun. She did not see her husband’s giant frame expire slowly as the hasty bullets of an automatic gutted his stomach, leaking acid on his large fingers as they tried to save his slowly expiring soul.

  She did not see the crying old women as they rolled around on the floor repeatedly hitting their heads against the bloody mud. She did not see her neighbor curled in the fetal position in the pool of blood of her dead baby that she still clutched to her breast. The indiscriminate boots that trampled down doors and the impartial bullets that met whatever was behind them. She did not see her house in flames or the blackened remnants when the merciful acid rains finally came. She was not there when I heard the news, and she did not sit by my bed for six months. She did not see the sad makeshift tents of nylon and old sack that housed the survivors. She did not see our entire town burned to the ground. It was best that she did not hear the sad excuses the government gave for the massacre at Odi in Bayelsa state. The verdict of the military tribunals was always the same; the mayhem was committed by “unknown soldiers.”

  In the background, the streams of oil continued spurting out the black gold, but the dollars flowed not into the Central Bank but into the politicians’ pockets, as the gas flares blazed at the top of long poles waving like the flags of the oil multinationals. The militant camps flooded with disenchanted youth anxious for the drugs that made them numb and the guns that gave false strength. In the capital, Governor O.C. Abari congratulated himself for getting his first hole-in-one on his personal golf course.

  I was playing ludo with Aisha when Mrs. Folayo walked in. I had just rolled the die and was moving my marker when a somber face followed the quiet knock. It was immediately apparent something was amiss.
  “Aisha, I think it is best if you go home,” she said gently. “Seun, Uncle wants you in his room.”

  “It was not me. It was already cracked,” I was already protesting, sure Mrs. Folayo had found the mug I had broken and stashed at the back of the cupboard. Uncle rarely summoned me to his room and I was thinking of the best way to avoid a scolding. Uncle’s red eyes and gentle voice surprised me when I walked into the room whose heavy curtains were mostly drawn.

  “Seun,” Uncle started quietly, his usually steady voice wavering slightly, “there was a military attack in Odi.” The name of my hometown did not initially trigger anything in me and I continued to stare blankly at Uncle.

  “Many people died,” Uncle continued, his voice cracking completely and tears pooling in his eyes.

  “Is mummy okay?” I cut in, in a panicked voice. Uncle’s silence confirmed what his mouth could not.

  “How about my sister and father?”

  “Seun, everyone in your family…” Uncle was saying with unrestrained tears when I suddenly slumped to the ground.

  Hassan Hajjaj, Hindiii, 2011


  a conversation

  Filmmakers at the frontlines

  JEAN-PIERRE BEKOLO is a noted African film director from Cameroon. Bekolo’s debut film Quartier Mozart (1992) won an award at the Cannes Film Festival and the film became the representative of a new generation that has been working against the restrictive expectations of African cinema, mixing genres and linking pop with politics. His publications such as Africa for the Future Dagan (2009) and video installations like “An African Woman in Space” at the Musée du Quai Branly Paris (2007–08) are intellectual and futuristic statements in their own right. His avant-garde political thriller Les saignantes (2005) was the first African sci-fi movie to be premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and was nominated in two categories at the French Césars in 2009. His new film, a 4-hour documentary Les Choses et les mots de Mudimbe is part of the official selection of the 2015 Berlinale.

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