Monday, May 20, 2013

Chinua Achebe in Humour

Chinua Achebe in Humour (inspired by the cartoon Tom and Jerry)
Tom: Wooh yoh, ewo, ewo, Chineke Biko bia, why, why?
Jerry: Why is this cat wailing in Igbo, when did you start ewoing and speaking Igbo?
Tom: It is because the king of Igbo land is dead! Ewoooooooo.
Jerry: General Ojukwu died more than a year ago! Come on! Don’t tell me its now you’re hearing.
Tom: You fool, It is not Ojukwu I’m mourning, ewo, ewo!
Jerry: Then who?
Tom: Chinua Achebe is dead!
Jerry: Ahhh, that famous African writer, Mr. Things Fall Apart! Hmmm, what a pity. But he was 82!
Tom: What do you mean? When a human being dies in Africa especially a monumental figure we adore, we mourn him like we’ll die ourselves! We wail and wince and weep and fall onto the floor and roll all over and wear black cloth.
Jerry: Not when he’s 82. He was an old man, a grandfather. You shouldn’t cry for a grandfather.
Tom: Hater! I don’t blame you. It is not only me who’ll mourn him, the world will mourn him even more than I’m doing. Ewo, ewo, I’m finished! My heart, my heart will stop beating. I am no longer at ease!
Jerry: Both you and the heart really look like you’re going to fall apart. Die, your mistress will organize your funeral and I will eat bush meat on your behalf and mourn you too. No. I cannot mourn you. You are always trying to eat me up.
Tom: Shut up, you can’t even see my heart so stop saying thrash. (He taps his chest thrice) I feel it coming, hhmmm, my myocardial infarction.
Jerry: Mayo what!
Tom: Dull thing, that’s the medical name for heart attack.
Jerry: Then stop pounding the heart with your claws. You have long claws, they may burst your chest and bore holes into the heart so you’ll have myo-claw-dial infection instead.
Tom: It’s infarction not infection, dull thing. My heart, ewo, Chinua Achebe! “Things have fallen apart” in the literary world and we are “no longer at ease”. It is a “legend of the dead” for a “man of the people.” Our “anthills of the Savannah” have been brought down. Ewo
Jerry: Tall Tom, why do you sound like he was a writing god? Come on
Tom: He was, eternal Lilliput
Jerry: Lies, rubbish. He was not.
Tom: Have you ever read “Things Fall Apart”?
Jerry: Em, I’ve read other writers.
Tom: Like who? uh?
Jerry: Others
Tom: Okay, I know what you’ve done. Say you have eaten and destroyed novels with that your hook of a mouth, weapon mouth of destruction, chopping pages into tiny bits and pieces. That’s why you’ll always remain dull because instead of reading, you spend your time ravaging and causing wahala on books.
Jerry: Kai, that’s too much of a challenge. I’ve read the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature laureate, V.S Naipaul, “A bend in the River”. And I swear to God it’s better than that your Achebe’s “Things fall apart” who never even won the Nobel prize.
Tom: May Amadiora’s thunder and lightning fire you and deform that your ugly face as if you were in the Boston bombings.
Jerry: Why? Because I mentioned somebody who is better than Achebe?
Tom: That Trinidadian writer is a mosquito compared to the genius of Achebe.
Jerry: V.S Naipaul! You are mad. Go and read, “A bend in the river”. He won the Nobel prize for literature, Achebe never did. Here you are claiming he’s better.
Tom: Can you tell me that guy’s full name?
Jerry: V.S Naipual! Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul
Tom: That name V.S Naipaul was supposed to be Very Stupid Naipaul, Very Silly Naipaul, Very Sexist Naipaul, Very….
Jerry: Stop, stop, stop, insulting my darling writer. What did Naipaul do to you? Uh?
Tom: He took a bashing at Africans in his pessimistic fiction, insulting us like buffoons.
Jerry: And so?
Tom: That’s why I called him silly and stupid. He once said in an interview that no female writer can write better than him. That’s why I called him Sexist. Does he think he’s better than Jane Austen, Tony Morrison, Nadine Gordimer, Doris Lessing, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie and NoViolet Bulawayo?
Jerry: Em, I don’t know.
Tom: He’s a fool. Actually, Achebe had predicted that Naipaul would be awarded the Nobel prize. True to his word, it was handed to Naipaul in 2001.
Jerry: Voila, maybe he was even jealous of Naipaul’s Nobel Prize-ish writing.
Tom: Eternal Lilliput, He wasn’t. You keep raising that Nobel Prize point a lot. Achebe was worth much more than the award. Achebe once said the Nobel Prize was given as a thank you token to those who ridiculed others and that Naipaul would be awarded the prize for his anti African vitriol and bashing of Africans. And there is the bigger reason why the noble man wasn’t awarded the Nobel prize.
Jerry: What reason?
Tom: Have you ever heard of a writer called Joseph Conrad?
Jerry: No.
Tom: How can you? When you spend your time causing wahala on good books with your hook mouth instead of reading them?
Jerry: Stop insulting me.
Tom: Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is one of the most revered books in World literature. Achebe was also very frank and outspoken. He never stopped speaking out because he wanted Europeans to award him their prizes like that Nobel. He blasted Joseph Conrad and called him a bloody racist when he read “Heart of Darkness”. The hard criticism shocked American academics and sparked a hate campaign against him in literary circles at the time. So they probably connived not to award him the Nobel because of all that.
Jerry: Nonsense. He was jealous of Conrad’s success.
Tom: How can a very Lilliput like black rat like you hate on the first black writer from Africa who brought African literature to the limelight like that?
Jerry: He was jealous, leave me alone. I’m glad all the Europeans and Americans clamped down on him. Who was he to criticize Conrad!
Tom: Yes, those were exactly the same words which were hurled at him. Frank people in society are always generally disliked. Only a few acknowledge the veracity of their observations. Do you know what one European woman told Achebe after he criticized Conrad?
Jerry: No.
Tom: The woman told him, “I’ve taught “Heart of Darkness” for years but now I realize, I haven’t really read “Heart of Darkness.”
Jerry: What does that mean?
Tom: It means Achebe was right, dull rat. I think those were the two main reasons why Achebe wasn’t given the award. His criticism and deconstruction of Conrad and Naipaul. And his debut novel was a demonstration of how British colonialism utterly destroyed Igbo culture and the well organized communal life of the African. The Nobel prize commission found it weird to award him for clothing Mama Africa in such beautiful garments when he had criticized other Nobel winners for undressing her and raping her. Just ask yourself. Those four African writers who have won the award, did they have the kind of impact he had on African literature?
Jerry: Wole Soyinka, J.M Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, hmm, No. Em, but Naguib Mahfouz of Egypt. He published an astounding 30 novels and 350 short stories! Achebe only managed five novels. Naguib’s inspiration and work ethic was incredible, far more than that of Achebe! That’s why he won it.
Tom: If you only know the hell Achebe went through during the Nigerian civil war and his 1990 accident then you would understand why he wrote just five novels. By the way, It’s not the volume that matters but the impact of the writing quality even if it’s little. French writer, Gustave Flaubert put out far less work compared to his peers in his time but his place in Literature is sealed with his debut novel, “Madame Bovary,” more than the many people ahead of him with much writing volume. Do you know the impact “Things Fall Apart” had?
Jerry: What impact?
Tom: He singlehandedly put African Literature on the map with that book when Camara Laye, Amos Tutuola and Cyprian Ekwensi had tried but couldn’t quite get that global appeal. It has sold 12 million copies, been translated to 50 international languages and is the most studied book in African literature. It was a one man show to unearth literature from Africa. Before him, the study of our literature in the US and Europe was just marginal. But after him, African literature is now being studied all over the world and is a force to reckon with. Modern African writers are on the bestseller lists because of him. Accept it Lilliput, he is the Michael Jackson of African literature.
Jerry: Lies, he wasn’t a true African hero. He betrayed us with his writing language. The book was translated to 50 international languages. How many are African languages? None. Furthermore, he wrote in English! The language of colonizers! Why didn’t he write in Igbo! His own African language! It was a bad decision. When it comes to language and Africanist stance, give it up for Kenya’s Ngugi Wa Thiongo who denounced Christianity, discarded the European name, “James” and tossed aside English. He writes most of his work in Swahili and Gikuyu. And others like the Ugandan writer, Okot P. Bitek who wrote in the Acholi language. Those are true African heroes who wove the flag. Not an English’philic Achebe.
Tom: Not bad but controversial. He respected the African writers who were writing in their local languages but he reasoned that, English is the unifying language of the world which could be used by African writers from different parts of the continent. And through it, we could tell our stories to each other and the world to everybody’s comprehension. Just look at it objectively. Nigeria alone has over 200 local languages. He said choosing a single local language to write with would really limit their audience. But he advised that they could alter the English language and make it special from the backdrop of their culture. He altered his English syntax by incorporating proverbs, Igbo culture, Igbo words and African concepts into it. And it worked for him like a charm. Hahaha.
Jerry: Rubbish, he betrayed us with language, using the language of colonizers. I will never respect him because of that.
Tom: He is the father of African Literature whether you respect him or not.
Jerry: Lies, he himself rejected the tag. He said African Literature is our art and he wouldn’t lay claims to something as colossal as the whole of African literature. We should celebrate all African writers.
Tom: He made that statement out of intrinsic humility. He was, regarding his impact on African literature. Oh, Achebe. I will miss his proverbs. Here was his favourite, “until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” A small man though he was, he turned out to be the African lions’ earliest and most important historian.
Jerry: He left us a successor, his best known literary protégé,
Tom: Who?
Jerry: Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie. She was like his daughter.
Tom: Ahh, “Half of a Yellow Sun.” The woman is excellent.
Jerry: But she’s foreign made; even though she was born here, she was trained in America, wrote in America, sells in America. To me, she’s even American, Americannah! Achebe did it right here on the continent before leaving.
Tom: You hate everybody, even Chimamanda! She divides her time between Nigeria and the US. Farafina publishes her in Nigeria. Come on.
Jerry: It’s just the truth, she’s foreign made. Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo has even kicked her off the top with an incredible effort, “We need new names.” It was longlisted for the 2013 Booker prize but “Americannah” missed out big time. We definitely need new names in African Literature.
Tom: No violet for Bulawayo. Whatever, hater. I remember what Achebe said about Chimamanda when she emerged. “We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers…she is fearless, or she would not have taken on the intimidating horror of Nigeria’s civil war. Adichie came almost fully made.
Jerry: And when she heard that praise, she cried for one full day like a baby.
Tom: Really! Cried?
Jerry: Yeah, she wept out of joy for she never expected such wonderful praise from a very frank and critical genius.
Tom: Now he’s dead and I’m shedding real tears of sorrow, ewo, ewo, wooh, yoh, wooh yoh. My heart is going to stop beating.
Jerry: Let the heart even fall apart, I want to eat bush meat at your funeral.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sights of the River Wouri

1) The sole bridge across the River Wouri (Cameroon’s widest river) is the Bonaberi bridge which was built over fifty years ago. It is a two lane one kilometer bridge which has easily been overloaded with traffic. Its capacity cannot withstand the modern day demand of Douala traffic. As such, there are always daily hold ups, twice a day, in the mornings and evenings as thousands of cars fight to go across it. Sometimes this causes serious accidents with cars hitting each other and hitting the bridge railings creating fat holes in them. The holes are seldom fixed. If you go across the bridge you’ll find gaping holes all through the bridge railings. Some holes have cement slabs which have been put across them. But generally, many of the holes on the bridge railings have nothing across them. On a certain Sunday, oh, I remember now, it was very early on Palm Sunday when the bridge was bare, one “clando” taxi car with seven people on board was speeding over the bridge from Rond point and went straight through one of the fat bridge railings and nosedived into the River Wouri below. The car sank and the passengers in it all drowned -whether it was out of drunkenness or recklessness or ritual sacrifice on the part of the driver, I can never tell. But that is how bad the state of the bridge is. And nobody is doing anything about it. There has been talk of a second bridge across the Wouri for some years now. Well, we heard the government is about to do something. But until it happens! That’s when we’ll believe.
2) I always watch them in disbelief -the boys on the Wouri. They sit or sometimes stand in their canoes, with hands glued to long poles which they insert into the water and rock backwards, the muscles on their bare sweating bodies glistening. Others sitting in the middle of the canoe have paddles which they use to propel the canoe forward by paddling away the brownish muddy water. All of a sudden, a boy emerges from beneath the river with a bucket of sand on his head and stands upright. His head barely reaches out of the river surface as he pours the bucket of sand into a canoe and disappears into the river again with the bucket. Another boy appears with a bucket of sand farther upstream and pours it into another canoe then is off again. So watching the surface, you’ll find boys constantly pouring buckets of sand into their canoes. The canoe occupants almost non committal to the bucket appearances as if nothing is happening. The River Wouri is one where there is rapid sand deposition, as such there is always sand at the river bed. This is how the boys in the canoes earn a living. Diving into the Wouri, collecting sand at the river bed in buckets and emptying the canoes-full of sand on land which they sell to people who intend to build. To me, it is indeed toil. A very difficult job!
3) Sometimes I see them, sometimes I don’t, as I go across the Bonaberi bridge almost every day. Their presence on the surface of the murky river Wouri always fascinates me. On most days they’re absent, on other days I see only a few of them. Yet on a day like today, I saw lots of them; a glut of seaweeds or in this case, should I call them riverweeds? They’re green and float in a bundle colony spreading their fresh foliage outward from their stalks very beautifully. Its like a pot of green flowery plants but without the pots; just flowery plants on the surface of water. Another one floats nearby, next to another one, and then another one, and next to it another one. And when you scan the whole of the river surface, you find all of them all over the place floating silently like soldiers in line. So beautiful. And before you know it the taxi crosses the bridge and they go out of sight. I’m hoping I’ll see them again tomorrow but tomorrow comes and when I scan the river’s surface, they’re all gone, just like comets. And for a week or two I don’t see any of them. But what biological aquatic process causes all this? I think of eutrophication but I’m not too sure.