Author Archives: audeborahc

Short Story: “Bitter Kola, Saltwater and other Remedies” by Gbolahan Badmus

http://brittlepaper.com/2014/10/bitter-kola-saltwater-remedies-gbolahan-badmus-story/

This short story, found on brittlepaper.com, was written by a Nigerian author, but reflects the confusion and fear surrounding Ebola beyond the international media– in the communities where the disease runs rampant. The story is narrated from within the speakers mind, as he experiences symptoms of the common cold but fears it may be Ebola. It’s fairly short, so if you have a moment please read it! It brings up interesting subjects we’ve spoken of in class, like religion, Kola (from “Things Fall Apart”), the outsider “hero”, and phonetic spellings, like in “Dog Days.”

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Chika, the Champion

“What did you say?”
“I said, take care,” Chika said.
“No, before that.”
Chika hesitated. “I said I love you, bro.”
Adrian moved back to the living room where Chika now stood. Whithout warning he hugged him and as Chika hugged him back hot tears flowed down Adrian’s cheeks.

I don’t know about you, but when I read this passage I let out a loud “FINALLY” on the N2 metrobus. For every selection we read, I have been even more disappointed by the amount of people who seemed to only love Adrian when he fit into the confines of other people’s expectations. With Chika, however, Dibia finally introduced a character that offered a counter to the rejection that Adrian constantly faces.

It’s hard for us to believe Nigeria’s strict laws, and the consequences that correspond with them. But in a way, Chika’s character makes the situation more understandable. While it’s easy to show everyone as one way, like all heterosexual Nigerians as homophobic, complicating Adrian’s web of relationships with a wife that accepts him, and a brother that also does (partially) offers a better portrait of real life in Nigeria. The struggle seems to run much deeper than just one against the other.

Just like sexuality, acceptance of sexuality runs on a spectrum. Dibia literally illustrates this with his characters, with Chiedu and Abdul on the opposite ends, and Ada and Chika closer to the middle. While we want to see two opposing forces, Dibia challenges his readers to think deeper about this issue by showing Chika as someone who realized his prejudice and openly struggles with it. Dibia questions: in a way, haven’t we all been Chika at some time or another? The beauty of Chika is his decision to check himself and to love his brother regardless of his opinions.

For this, Chika is a champion in this book. While he states that he cannot approve of Adrian’s sexual orientation, we are given the feeling that this, too, may change as Chika gets to know an unpretending Adrian.

Who is the real narrator?

“He’d finished his engineering degree just when the State was recruiting one final group of fifteen hundred graduates with bachelor’s degrees. It was his one and only chance to become a civil servant, to have his own place in the system. But here’s the thing: he was an engineer and the State wanted students in the liberal arts” (48).

Dog Days seems to be narrated by a dog named Mboudjak. However, because of the continual differing narratives Nganang employs to tell the story of Cameroon during their economic collapse, I believe Mboudjak is used as a messenger, who–because of his ability to observe the village—relays the stories of the individuals in his community to create a collective narrative. Thus, the downfall of Cameroon is narrarated by the entire town, not just a dog with a great sense of humor.

Above we see the experiences of Docta, the woman-crazy academic who was never able to start his degree. Paired with this testimony is that of Massa Yo, who lost his job as a civil servant as well. To show how life goes on in the midst of crisis, the humorous story of Mini Minor and the head of police. Or to see how communities break apart in paranoia, the arrests of the cigarette vendor and the Crow.

This idea is further emphasized with the concern the reader has for Dog Days’ characters. While we quickly learn to love Mboudjak with his quick wit and honest attitude, we are more interested in the wellbeing of the community than that of Mboudjak himself. This demonstrates how Mboudjak is just a vessel to communicate the story of a community, rather than the primary narrator himself.

This collective storytelling adds the human element back into the phrase “economic crisis.” This phrase is empirical to many, but its human impact is often forgotten. As we continue to study violence in its many forms, economic inopportunity is just as important to talk about, especially on a human level. Mboudjak emphasizes this through his sometimes crude, but accurate descriptions of his home, through the medium of collective storytelling.

Nenebah or Sierra Leone?

“And when he wakes from dreaming of her, is it not the same for him? The hollowness in his chest, the tense yearning, the loneliness he braces against every morning until he can immerse himself in work and forget.  Not love.  Something else, something with a power that endures. Not love, but the memory of love” (Chapter 21, last paragraph).

I love the language Aminatta Forna uses in this passage, to capture the essence of her novel’s title. To begin with, the speaker of this passage is Kai, an unlikely suspect for a deep introspection about love. All we know of Kai at this point is that he is a passionate workaholic, who has endured a traumatic war. It would have made more sense for Adrian, with the failing marriage, or Elias Cole, with his in-depth memoir, to make these comments, but Forna chooses Kai.

This distinction makes me wonder–was he really talking about Nenebah? While his love for Nenebah is obvious from the memories that are revealed to us overtime, I believe this “memory of love” could just as well have been directed towards his country, Sierra Leone.

In the chapter leading up to this dramatic paragraph, Kai goes back and forth between describing his time with Nenebah, and the political play-by-play of Sierra Leone: “The  army was divided, he told Nenebah.  If the army was divided it was dangerous for everyone” (Chapter 21). Not only so, but Kai spends any minute he’s not sleeping or with Nenebah at the hospital, the only time when “Kai was happy.” Kai is literally trying to put his country back together, one surgery at a time.

This is why I think Adrian and Kai’s friendship is so symbolic. As foreign aid workers flood into the country to help rebuild, Kai is constantly flashing back to the memories he has of his country before the war. His memories of the University, of his family gatherings, the trips to the countryside, all illustrate, to the readers, what life was like before the war. But Kai knows his country will never be able to go back to the way they once were, not with all of the wounds that he is helping to literally patch up. His temptation to move to America underlines this transition, that while he still may love the people close to him, his love for his country has, with the war, ended, leaving just the memory of love.

The Violence of Language

“[…] or the primitive roots sprout again.” When a Belgian aristocrat spoke these words in “Lumumba: The Death of a Prophet,” I felt my stomach flip, in the way it has during every book (thus far) in this class. The theme of our class is violence, and we’ve spoken in depth about the stereotypical violence that is too often portrayed with African men and AK-47s. But the violence of language has a subtlety that makes it even more dangerous.

Just think of the last line of Things Fall Apart—we were never given the chance to read The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger, but we can only imagine the violent thoughts, words, and implications of that book. In Nervous Conditions, the trend continues. When Tambu begins speaking in English around Anna, she is separated by her as a friend, and adopts a superior position in the household. The disparities between what their languages represent violently separates them into different categories of perceived intelligence.

Circling back around to my initial scene of white men deliberating (over the fate of a country they didn’t live in), I was struck by an example of this linguistic violence: the word “primitive.” Obviously, it’s not a nice word. But the weight of “primitive” in this situation is just as great of a violent juxtaposition to me as were the opening frames of the film. What is more primitive—be put in shackles to be sold, or profiting off the buying and selling of human beings? What is more primitive—not having land to farm on, or being the one who took that land to exploit its resources?

If “primitive” describes anything, it would be the people who used the word the most. But as the violence of language prevails, these offenses have been—and still are—hidden behind the rhetoric of what we want to believe.

Nwoye Redefining Strength

From the first mention of Ikemefuna, the reader has a foreboding sense of his fate, especially as Achebe continually drops us hints. As he describes Ikemefuna as “ill fated” (17), “whose sad story is still told in Umuofia to this day” (22), the reader immediately puts their guard up against Ikemefuna as a character: it is easier to accept his fate if we remain detached.

However, as Ikemefuna grows up and charms the village with his many stories, identifying with his curious spirit becomes inevitable. Especially in his role as storyteller, Ikemefuna is relatable to everyone, as he offers well-needed relief from the hard pace of agricultural life.

While Ikemefuna met his fate very early on in life, his stories transcended his death, especially because of their influence on Nwoye. According to multiple online baby naming databases, the name Ikemefuna in Igbo means “may your strength not be in vain.” I believe Achebe intentionally picked this name for Ikemefuna’s character, not just to represent the strength he had in becoming accustomed to a new village and family, but to foreshadow the strength he would give Nwoye.

Nwoye, as told through the eyes of Okonkwo, is weak and “girlish”, but his actions speak to his strong spirit. As the readers, we are told that something “something seemed to give way” (85) in Nwoye when he realized his father had killed his best friend. This separation, paired with the influence of Ikemefuna’s stories and friendship, relieved him from the stress of living up to his father’s expectations. When Nwoye is drawn to the stories of the Christians, he acts on his interest, rather than cowering from his father, as he would have if Ikemefuna had still been alive to set an example as the ‘ideal son’.

While Ikemefuna’s death was tragic, he was rightfully named—his strength truly wasn’t in vain. Because of Ikemefuna’s friendship and stories that kept Nwoye hopeful, Nwoye was able to embody a form of strength that Okonkwo could never possess: the ability to defy the status quo engrained in him, to become his own man.

Maybe this quiet form of strength is more prevalent than it appears— we see it reappear in the snide comments of Ekwefi (56), in the resilience of Uchendu losing 22 children, and throughout the adjustments of the village after foreign invasion. And maybe the strength Okonkwo embodies is not strength at all, but leads to his fateful death, while the rest of the village ‘holds things together’.

“Half of a Yellow Sun” Film Review