Author Archives: annajwheeler

Digital Participation: Osuofia in London

Osuofia in London is a gaudy comedy about a Nigerian man who leaves his rural village to collect the fortune left to him by his deceased brother in London. It’s an older film out of Nollywood, so the production quality is really low but for me it only added to the hilarity. It was recommended to me by my Nigerian friend who said that it’s a perfect example of a cheesy Nollywood film.

Most of the jokes are based off of the hilarity that ensues when Osuofia, who has never left his village, interacts with the Londoners.  Osuofia is an incredibly selfish, stubborn, and argumentative individual who gets into all sorts of trouble. For instance, he found himself in a park and, seeing the gathering of pigeons there, started to hunt them, which eventually led to his arrest, where he was questioned while refusing to let go of the bird he had caught.

Because this movie was made for Nigerian audiences, it was not the polished, cleanly edited version of Africa we tend to get. Shot in mostly pidgin and a bit in Igbo, it was a very raw sample of Nigerian culture and language that was very interesting but at times hard to understand.

Although this movie was very funny and a great source of Nigerian culture, I really wish they had given Osuofia at least one positive atribute, because he was such a bad person it was really hard to root for him as a protagonist.

Furthermore, because Nollywood movies try to make as much money as possible by making as many cheap movies as possible, the plots tend to be slow-moving and circuitous. It wasn’t until the very end that the conflict of the movie was presented and the action really started to happen, and the movie ended right at the climax. This was to convince people to come to see the next movie to get the end of the story, but it made me really frustrated. Maybe I should reserve my judgement until I see “Osuofia in London 2.”


Short Story: “At the Trail of the Sand Dunes” by Billie Adwoa McTernan

This short story of a passionate tryst between two strangers may technically be a romance, but it is anything but romantic. Although the interactions of this one-time couple are at the center of the plot, it is the inward dialogues of the characters that the meat of the story can be found. The characters meet by happenstance and share a romantic and sexual experience that is outwardly casual, but inwardly causes them to pause and reflect upon their own situations in life. This nuanced romance becomes a story of freedom and constraint, self-doubt and loneliness. By juxtaposing these personal thoughts of failure, unhappiness and loneliness against their lively and passionate, yet impersonal evening together, McTernan points out the paradox of intimacy in an increasingly interconnected yet isolating world. McTernan’s writing jumps effortlessly between the perspectives of the two characters, creating a layered and nuanced plot that intrigues and, at the very end, shocks.


Digital Participation: #Mydressmychoice and Modern Feminist Movements in Kenya

I recently came across this article that reports on a growing protest in Kenya that began as a reaction to the brutal harassment of a woman who was accused of dressing immodestly.

In this class we read a lot about violence, poverty, opportunity, migration, homophobia and racism, but I felt like one thing really missing was an in-depth discussion of the modern feminist movement in Africa and the state of women’s rights. I wanted to know, what happened after Nervous Conditions? This article started to clear some of that history up for me.

Feminism in Africa is an interesting subject because feminism as a whole has a rather racist history and tends to fail to be intersectional and include women of color. Another fault of feminism is that it tends to treat third and first-world gender issues as different. Its expected that, in America, women have made great strides and now are dealing with lesser issues such as catcalling, while in Africa, women barely even have control over their bodies and often suffer great violence because of their gender. However, while things like female genital mutilation is most certainly an issue, it cannot be the single story of Africa’s gender issues. Africa is a large and diverse place, and this article is just one example of the raw social energy of Africa that can be harnessed in really positive, progressive ways.

I personally think we should definitely continue to track this movement and see if we can’t make it worldwide. The policing of women’s modesty through their clothing is a huge problem that is ingrained in so many cultures, including America’s.

So say it with me – “My Dress My Choice!”


The Psychology of Coming Out

One thing that really struck me about Walking with Shadows was the reactions of the characters, including Adrian himself, to his coming out. I expected, after so many decades of living a false live, for Adrian to have a very dramatic experience. However, in the scenes where Adrian comes out to his wife and brothers, he actually plays the voice of reason. While his family reacts with alternating threats of violence, accusations of betrayal, denial, and homophobia, Adrian calmly explains to them that this is who he is, and that life does not have to be complicated just because he is gay. This is interesting because despite living in a society that highly stigmatizes homosexuality, Adrian fears losing his family more than he fears any other retribution. That and coupled with the relief of finally being open is most likely why he is so calm and rational while explaining his sexuality to his loved ones. The psychological stress of hiding one’s sexuality for so many years is great. Adrian must have felt frustrated for having to pretend to be straight for so long, and guilty for not being truthful to his wife. It also appears he himself experiences quite a bit of denial about the subject, even convincing himself that he “used” to be gay and that he really does love his wife. He may have kept this secret forever, except he is maliciously outed by an enemy. Although this was unfortunate, it spares Adrian the agony that so many go through of weighing whether or not and how to come out to their families. For Adrian, coming out becomes simply an affirmation to himself and his loved ones of something he knew about himself all along. For his family, however, this is a much different experience. His wife breaks down, lashes out, and contemplates leaving him. His brothers hypocritically demand why he had not told them before while at the same time portraying homophobia and accusing Adrian of going against the Bible. It is apparent that these characters were not well acquainted with any other out gay people, and it seems like this is the first time they had ever considered the issue, with all the attached stigmas, on a personal level. In this way, it seems like Adrian’s coming out was less a reveal of his character as of the characters of his family. Adrian always knew he was gay, but through coming out, something gets pulled to the fore that was not easily seen before – intolerance.

So what do you guys think, does Dibia write Adrian so calm in order to juxtapose his righteousness against his family’s anger and intolerance?

The IMF, Austerity, and the Rise of Entrepreneurialism

To reiterate what I mentioned in class, Cameroon is a perfect example of failed development efforts. Because developing economies tend to be small and not diverse, they are able to export only a small variety of goods, which means they are very vulnerable to any changes in the terms of trade. Terms of trade just means the price of one export good in terms of an import good. For instance, if Cameroon sold Britain oil for manufactured goods, if something happened to the price or supply of oil, Cameroon will be much more affected by this because Britain can just go to another country for oil, while Cameroon has no other products that they can trade to get manufactured goods. Their GDP will decline, and even a moderately successful country like Cameroon will be pulled into a recession. Add to this austerity measures that cut government spending, and the economic crisis is made deeper. To put this into perspective, think about how the US was able to pull itself out of the Great Depression – government spending on WWII and New Deal policies that included large government employment programs. Many developing countries install programs similar to the new deal, where many people (like the civil servants we meet in Dog Days) are reliant on the government for employment and upward mobility.

The interesting thing about Dog Days is that it looks at these vast, macroeconomic phenomena such as IMF austerity and global economic downturns, but on a micro-economic level. Actually, more than micro-economic- microcosmic, as we see how the crumbling Cameroonian economy affects the life and day to day happenings of a simple dog. One significant aspect of the economic underpinnings of this novel is the prevalence of micro-enterprises and entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is noted to be a really effective tool in development efforts as it helps to eliminate unemployment and efficiently use available resources to add some income into the economy. It also helps struggling individuals retain a sense of self-worth and self-reliance, which we see in the novel with Massa Yo when he opens his bar. Entrepreneurship is one kind of “improvising” that help people in developing countries make ends meet with what resources they have, and the majority of characters in the novel resort to petty trading and small-scale enterprises. These are all things that one would expect to occur in a struggling economy, but it is made more poignant in literature form.

Mothers and the Motherland

As The Memory of Love is told from various male perspectives, the female characters in the novel become more symbolic than personal. We never get to know the inner thoughts of characters like Saffia or Nenebah and in many ways Adrian, Kai  and Elias are guilty of idolizing them. However, because of this distance, we are able to consider these characters in a more allegorical way. I’d like to look at the theme of mothers, and their symbolism for the state of Sierra Leone, the motherland. Firstly we see the cold compliance of Saffia, who sees her dreams of a happy marriage crushed by betrayal and government censorship. She becomes a mother to Nenebah, but raises her as if she is a single mother. Nenebah remembers growing up and never seeing her parents together, and it is in this degrading of familial unity and happiness that we first see how the destabilization of Sierra Leone pre-civil war began to degrade the ties holding together the country. If we consider mothers symbolic of the motherland, then Elias’ infidelity to Saffia, in preference for the love of Vanessa, is symbolic of the gains from corruption that tempted Sierra Leone’s leaders away from the path of freedom and independence that the country so dearly fought for.

If Saffia is the beginning of the decaying of the motherland, then in Nenebah’s path to motherhood we see the reality of the civil war. While she was carrying her baby, Nenebah experienced severe complications and died. She was bringing new life into the world, just as the people of Sierra Leon fought to create their independent country. However, the effort was marred with corruption and political destabilization, and in the end the country tore itself apart in a violent civil war. In Nenebah we see the initial hope of Sierra Leon coupled with the violent consequences of reality. As a character, Nenebah was fiercely loyal to her country, and refused to leave or raise her future children in any other place. As a mother and a character she was a regenerative force for Sierra Leon, attempting to stay true to her people and bring forth a new generation. However with her death, hope seems to die with her. That is, until it is revealed that Nenebah’s daughter is alive and well, continuing our belief in life after trauma.

Finally, Mary represents the motherland post-war as she began to gather its people and heal its wounds, as no foreign service worker can. Mary was raped during the war and had a child from this assault, yet our image of her towards the end of the novel is a happy mom-to-be who was moving past her trauma for the sake of her family. Although some trauma cannot be forgotten, especially when that trauma results in a child, Mary does what so many Sierra Leoneans had to do – accept the trauma and move on, forgetting the bad and focusing on the good. Mary spoke of her plans to bring the child begotten of war home to raise with the child begotten of love, putting her trauma behind her and uniting her family. In this sense, we see the mothers of the country resolutely begin to piece their people back together, even if, for those like Agnes, that means taking on some mental wounds that may never heal.

Can you guys think of any other examples of mothers, or maybe even anti-mothers, who symbolize the path of Sierra Leone?

High Hopes and Disappointment

The theme of disappointment has been prevalent in each of the works we have read or watched thus far. The journey of Africa through colonization and independence was a tumultuous one, and one that culminated in a great hope for a free, united, democratic Africa, but that ultimately ended in disappointment, However, as All Their Names attests, this lack of fulfillment is not unique to Africa. Although we see the Pan-African dream falling to shambles in the “Isaac” storyline, we see a similar crumbling of the American dream in “Helen.” In both, disappointment is experienced on both the macro and the personal level, and we see that the personal is inherently shaped by larger societal issues. For instance, take the relationship between Isaac and Helen. Although their relationship is unorthodox as it is secret and professionally inappropriate, what really ends up putting a strain on it is the enduring racism they encounter. We see their relationship really start to take a turn for the worst when Helen tries to take Isaac to the diner for lunch. It becomes clear to Isaac that Helen is using him to superficially make a point and get brownie points for her open-mindedness. What becomes clear after that scene is that Helen was painfully ignorant of the ugly realities of racism. Isaac reminds her that change is not all hope and rainbows, but often pain, humiliation, and failure. The passion and excitement that was their relationship, and indeed the idea of an exchange student in America, is quickly ruined by a reality that punishes deviation from the status quo. Similarly, Isaac and Langston’s relationship is closely married to the political situation in Uganda. The conflict in Uganda alternatively brings them closer and pulls them apart. But ultimately, the hope they had in claiming a share of the capital’s wild growth was cut short by escalating violence and human rights abuses. The boy’s hope – to scratch and claw their way out of poverty and into fame and fortune – represents the idealistic plans set out for Africa’s future, the Pan-African dream that was marred by foreign meddling, ruthless leaders and government-instigated violence.

What I can’t figure out is the significance of including America’s failures instead of just focusing on the failure of African statehood. In a way it implies that disappointment is a universal human experience, particularly during the post-civil rights, post-independence era. The problem with this is that it erases Africa’s unique experience. So how do we, in a class about Africa, go about analyzing a book that takes place partly in America, and even parallels American and African experiences?

The Racialization of Tambu: Learning the Eurocentric Standard of Beauty

Though Tambu doesn’t spend too much time talking about white people, her changing view towards them is very telling of her awakening to the colonized mindset. Towards the beginning of the novel, she is wary of white people, knows very little about them, and is disgusted with how they look. As she is educated at the mission, however, she is slowly conditioned to accept white people’s definition of beauty.The very first time that Tambu has direct interaction with white people begins on page 27. Tambu describes her thoughts upon meeting an elderly couple:

I did not like the way they looked, with their skin hanging in papery folds from their bones, malignant-looking brown spots on their hands, a musty, dusty, sweetish odour(sic) clinging around the woman like a haze”

It feels strange to read a white person’s race described as a character trait, as opposed to simply being accepted as a given. Upon reading this line, I was reminded of a Buzzfeed article I had just read entitled “If White People Were Described Like People of Color in Literature.” This article uses satire to call attention to the overt exoticism and objectification of people of color in Western Literature. “He looked at her longingly,” the article jokes, “as he imagined her exotic, mashed potato skin laying gently against his.” This is quite shocking to read because we are so used to having diverse, complex descriptions of white people in literature that don’t have to resort to the nearest food group to be relatable. Similarly, Tambu shocks us in the way in which she describes the elderly couple. She has very little experience with white people, so she measures their appearance in accordance to her culture’s beauty standards, rather than Eurocentric beauty standards, of which she has no knowledge. Finding their appearance rather lacking, she is wholly disgusted and makes no secret of it. Until she meets younger white people at the ministry, she is convinced that all whites are ugly. She only allows the whites to have a single story, just as they do to her. In comparison with Tambu’s prejudice, however, we see how dangerous the single story is when combined with a position of power. Tambu cannot hurt the white couple for thinking they are ugly, yet Tambu’s entire future rests on their opinion of her. But by allowing naive Tambu to uphold her single story of white people, Dangarembga continues to flip dangerous literary traditions on their heads, challenging us to question those traditions.

When Tambu goes to the ministry school, she meets many other whites, young ones, and concludes the ones with

…smooth, healthy, sun-brown skin…took away all of the repulsion toward white people that had started with the papery-skinned Doris and her sallow, brown-spotted husband…it was good to discover that some Whites were as beautiful as we were. After that it did not take long for me to learn that they were in fact more beautiful and then I was able to love them.”

This quote is a bit of a euphemism because it hints at darker themes. She begins by allowing that some whites could be beautiful, provided they conform to African standards of beauty by having darker skin. After time, however, the social and academic atmosphere of the white- run ministry convince her that they, after all, were far more attractive than Africans. Although Tambu’s language suggests this transformation is a positive one that she is able to accept and love the whites, the underlying implications are chilling. It is all too clear that her ministry education is conditioning her to uphold certain racial hierarchies, including the Eurocentric standard of beauty.

A large part of retaining power over colonial and post-colonial states includes retaining a strict hierarchy. The rules in which beauty and attractiveness is one such hierarchy that can be devastating to native psyches and self-esteem. This can be devastating to a young girl like Tambu who, beginning to internalize society’s emphasis on female beauty, is then led to understand that she can never be truly beautiful due to her race. Although going to the ministry school provides Tambu with great mental growth, the education she receives comes with a colonial conditioning that removes her people as the center of her worldview and replaces them with whites and white institutions.