Author Archives: Jin Sol Park
I read The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu. This novel takes place in DC in the 1970s where an Ethiopian immigrant who owns a grocery store in the city. The story centralizes around his relationships with other characters in his neighborhood, both Africans and non-Africans, and how they affect the culture shock that he feels living in the United States and how it feels to be displaced. Belowis the link to my review on amazon.
I read a short story named It’s a Night Job by Joanita Male. This is a story of a girl in a prostitution industry in Uganda. This night job have been passed down among the women in the family. To me, the most heartbreaking moment was when the mother said “Look after your body, you never know when you’ll need it to make a living” to her daughter. This suggests that prostitution became an official occupation for living. Also, through out the story, how the speaker remains to keep neutral attitude towards prostitution makes story more emotional because it shows how common this night job is established as a career in the society. If you would like to read the entire story, here is the file: The African Writer_waiting page
“American forces egalitarianism on you”
Both in Imitation and On Monday of Last Week, the notion of authenticity was mentioned. The word authenticity is often closely related with words like original or real. Even though something being authentic can raise the value of a subject, it can also create a stereotype or marginalized the other subjects that do not exactly follow the authentic style. In Imitation, Izemamaka said that American children talk to adults as they are equal. Egalitarianism is a trend of thought that favors equality for all people. Egalitarian doctrines maintain that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status. Izemamaka talked about egalitarianism as non-authentic value of African. As egalitarianism is vastly accepted as a social norm in the United states to a point where it is not odd th say that it became authentic American ideals. However, ‘authentic African women’ criticizes the idea of equality. The idea that is mutually understood as the norm or authentic can be completely foreign and odd in other cultures or countries.
The question of what is authentically African continues in On Monday of Last Week. When the housemaster compliments by saying Kamara speaks very good English. Kamara is uncomfortable with that compliment as Josh’s father obviously has an assumption that “English is his private property”. In fact, English is an official language of Nigeria. This assumption suggests that Josh’s father does not think that “Nigerian Language” is an authentic language for Africans, and it is out of the normality that Karma speaks the language the same language that he speaks; English. Another bold assumption was made by Josh’s family when they were surprised to know that Kamara has a master’s degree. This response of them was as if it is out of an African authenticity to be highly educated.As we talk about the danger of a single story, it seems safe to assume that Josh’s family did not have much experience or insight or African , or Nigerian culture. Stories like Imitation and On Monday of Last Week, which addresses the contrary of the typical stereotype that people might have about Africa is helpful to ease the danger of a single story.
In the movie, Yesterday mentioned that her father came up with her name, Yesterday.
When Yesterday is at the medical clinic, female doctor shows interest in the name Yesterday. The doctor said she have seen people named today or tomorrow but she never heard of the name yesterday. Yesterday’s father named her Yesterday because Yesterday was better than today.
This tuns out true when Yesterday finds out that she has HIV. Yesterday is shocked and fear the death but then she quickly decides to stay strong for her daughter beauty. Yesterday was happier in the past days when she did not know she had AIDS. However, Yesterday when she did not know the truth, could have been more happier for her. However, she stays strong and try to make better tomorrow. For example, she tells the teacher that she will have to be strong at least until the day beauty goes to school.
The idea of happier past is also shown when Yesterday is reminiscing happy memories that she had with her husband. In the old days, Yesterday’s husband used to give her gifts and was affectionate towards her. The violence that her husband showed to Yesterday probably made her think that it could have been better if she did not come to the city to tell her husband about AIDS, because then, at least Yesterday would not have been hurt, both physically and emotionally. The past times when she did not know her husband’s illness and when she wasn’t beaten by her husband could have been the better “yesterday” that Yesterday’s father meant by making that name.
However, this idea of better past, better yesterday seems cowardice. It seems like one is trying to avoid challenges and hardships that one should go through as part of one’s life. This idea is similar to being in a denial of things that will come today and in the future. Yesterday says that her name is Yesterday because yesterday was better in life. However, Yesterday is facing all the challenges that today or tomorrow is bringing to her. She does not opt out, but rather fight back her obstacles. She takes medicine and fights her illness with desire to see beauty going to school. Also, when people in the town start a rumor about her husband, she builds the hospital and take care of him. Yesterday is trying to find the best solution possible, even in such a difficult situations. Yesterday’s name seems to symbolize her eager to fight, even the sufferings of today, rather than staying in innocent yesterday.
Fela Kuti is a Nigerian musician and activist who created Afrobeat music and was arrested and beaten continuously for writing lyrics that questioned the Nigerian government. I went to a documentary screening of Fela Kuti called Finding Fela.
The documentary did a really nice job grasping the life of Kela and his resistance to submit to Nigerian government, using the method of Music. In the documentary, people ask Fela Kuti why his songs are so long, lasting for 30 minutes in average. Fela responds by saying the music of the great composers like Beethoven are long too and it is because they lay down their thought in the music. Fela goes on by saying that it is same for him, that he is composing a music which represents his thoughts. Fela’s respond was interesting to me because it made me think that if he have a lot of ideas and thoughts about a issue, and music is his form of communication, why should it have length restraints? I thought that Kela’s answer was a wise one to a rather foolish question. This response of Kela implies that he is using music as a form of communication both to Nigerian government and to other citizens of Nigeria. The lyrics are often about government’s oppression on its people and the importance of people to fight for their rights.
Here is the link to one of his song called Shuffering and Shmiling.
If you want to know more about it, check out this website http://www.felaproject.net/
Poda poda is a private mini bus which serves as one of the main form of transportation in Sierra Leone. Allover Sub Saharan Africa, mini buses have different names such as Matatu in Kenya, Danfor in Nigeria, Tro-tro in Ghana and poda poda in Sierra Leone. We can see that poda poda is a very popular and common form of transportation for people in Sierra Leone as the writer mentions poda poda several times throughout the story. For example, Kai and Abass have a conversation about how poda poda got crashed on the road and Abduli says he got money from Mr. Salia for poda poda(275). Poda poda is also a place where Naasu told her story about living in camps after the civil war (311). Physically, people are mingled together in poda poda but mentally, poda poda is a comfortable and familiar environrment for Sierra Leonese to meet people and to share stories with one another.
Poda poda is significant in two ways. First, poda poda provides a form of transportation. Some people might dismiss its importance however, poda poda is very significant in the life of Sierra Leone when government cannot provide public transportation system, and people rely on poda poda to continue with their daily lives. Poda poda is not a public transportation but yet it acts like one because many countries either do not have a public transportation or it only runs for limited amount of time in limited areas. Especially when the country is having a civil war or is broke so she cannot afford to manage public services, poda poda, as a privatebusiness, fill in that space for the absence of transportation system, and enable people to move around.
One of the popular stop for poda poda is Campbell Street in the centre of Freetown where vehicles passes by one another with different messages on them. And this is why poda poda is significant in Sierra Leone. Poda poda serves as an icon of cultural in Sierra Leone. Outside of poda poda, drivers put religious statements like “God is great”, “Allah is great”. One poda poda driver, Alieu Sesay said “I believe in Allah and he will protect me and my poda poda. I will make good business.” When Susan Cole was asked a question if a message on poda poda influence her decision to go inside the vehicle she said “I notice the message but I would not choose to go inside the car, if I didn’t agree with the message. I am Christian and I just got out of that taxi that says ‘Allah is great’. It doesn’t make a difference to me. There is only one God and we are all Sierra Leoneans.” The atmosphere where people freely express their religious belief in a country with two distinctively different main religions, Muslim and Christianity, suggests that Sierra Leone have religious tolerance. Not all commentaries on Poda podas are religious. There are social saying like “Fear judgment day” and “Respect the Police” in front of the bus which reflects driver’s personal believing. Poda poda also mirrors the popular culture in Sierra Leone. Some drivers play their traditional music and others play American or British song in their car. This suggests that Sierra Leone is also affected by globalization and have brought in western culture. Poda poda creates a space where people can exchange their lives, information on pop cultures and opinions. It is a source of very much down to earth information of Sierra Leone’s culture.
In the book, The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna, the speaker uses poda poda to describe the scene of Sierra Leonese’s everyday life. Even though she did not explicitly describe the importance to poda poda, by bring in poda poda into the picture shows how poda podas are deeply embedded in the life of Sierra Leones.
The circumstances of Uganda and behaviors of Isaac draws parallel in this novel. Uganda gained its independence from the Great Britain in 1962. This noble takes place in post-colonial era of Uganda where newly independent state, Uganda, was trying to construct its own social and governmental structure. It had the right to reorder their basic format as a nation but after being ruled by British, Uganda lacked in resources and technical expertise. It was a time of confusion and Uganda have not yet made any significant progress at this point of time.
This situation of Uganda is similar to what Isaac goes through as an African man. He mentions how no Africans were allowed to live near the university because it was considered to be the space of the White people. After independence, restricted properties for White lost its purpose and restrictions on Africans living near university have been removed. In post-colonial era, Isaac wonders around the university pretending to be the student there. From the outsider’s view, there seems to be nothing wrong with Isaac being in university and it is quite believable that Isaac is a student at the university. However, in reality, Isaac is just pretending to be university student and in fact he wished to be the student there someday in his life.
How Isaac portrays himself is different than how he really is and the image that Isaac is pretending to be is how he wants to be rather than how he really is. Same applies to Uganda. Uganda, on the surface, seems like a nation which gained sovereignty through independence. However, in reality, Uganda have not fully escaped from their colonizer but pretending as if they are completely apart from the British now, hoping it will become true someday. The impact of telling a story of post-colonial experience was as powerful as portraying colonial times because this parallel between Uganda in 1970s and Isaac on university campus captures desperation and pertinacious hope for new way of life that Ugandans had after their independence.
“To question things and refuse to be brainwashed, bringing me to this time when I can set down this story. It was a long and painful process for me, that process of expansion (88).” Everyone is born into a society with certain set of rules and expectations. However, generally accepted values change over time. When those values get shifted from normal to targets of reformation: that is the time when the society or the state is under the ‘Nervous Conditions’. Any revolutions or revolts starts from understanding the need for change. The hierarchy that is created between women and men is portrayed throughout this novel. Tambu described how women serve dinner for men first, and women can eat after men are finished with theirs. This is the common rule for Shona people. However, when this widely accepted values are challenged, conflict arises, which are often shown through the behaviors of Nyasha.
Tambu is self-determined but incomplete in the sense that she does not carry out her thought into an action thoroughly. she does realize that not only men but women(a girl to be more specific) should be educated. She proactively finds a way to complete her mission, which is to go to school, despite all the obstacles that her father imposes on her. However, as it is portrayed in the quote, “A wedding that made a mockery of the people I belonged to and placed doubt on my legitimate existence in this world. I knew I had to come to a decision, take some sort of action, but I was not like Nyasha: I couldn’t simply go up to Bambamukuru and tell him what I thought.(203)”, Tambu does not fully express her feelings from unfair treatments against men or white. ” In contrast, Nyasha seems more determined in a way she does express her feelings even if she struggles in the process of doing so. In contrast, Nyasha seems more determined in a way she does express her feelings even if she struggles in the process of doing so.
Despite their differences, they are similar in the sense that both of them are girls. Girls are often considered as a weak personal in our society. The hierarchy created between Shona people and the white minorities are similar to the relationship between the women and the men. In other words, the hierarchy starts from white male to white female, then African males and African women comes next. Zimbabwean girls like Tambu and Nyasha are placed even below African women and African boys. They are the lowest of the society. However, they are the most fiesty of all. It is impressive how the girls on the bottom of the society(old values) have one of the most powerful will and eager figure out their identity and fight for their advancement and rights(new value). They are the small giants.