Author Archives: karllaubacher

Short Story: “Let’s Tell This Story Properly” by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

The short story I chose was the overall winner of the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story prize and it shows.  Let’s Tell This Story Properly follows Kayita, a Ugandan widow in Britain as she recounts the untimely demise of her husband as well as the effects and tribulations both typical and unexpected that she encountered while grieving.  The story seamlessly travels between the present and past, showing how Kayita navigates through cultural difficulties both at home and in Uganda as she goes to lay her husband to rest.  It is a well written tale of dealing with cultural and structural violence in both familiar and unfamiliar places, while exploring what those places actually are to those that have left their homes.

This is story, while it has been published in the aftermath of its success, was originally unpublished except for on the Commonwealth Website, which is why I figured that I post it here.

Digital Participation: AIDs in South Africa

So as some of you know (maybe I said it in class but, I am not too sure), I lived in South Africa for a short time working as an aide to a public health worker in the townships around Plettenberg Bay.  Now during my time there, my friends and I needed to do make a project about what we were working on as part of our program that we were with and we had heard so much about the AIDs epidemic in the country but, still found parts of the origin story to be very confusing and really felt that we weren’t getting the real story from the readings that we were doing. Much of it told us that AIDs just “happened” and talked at length about how the apartheid regime was at fault for the current issue. But, we wanted to see what regular South Africans thought abbot the epidemic so, this video is to show case what we had found throughout the process.

Please excuse the poor quality, we did this with a whiteboard, a Macbook, and small digital camera.  Otherwise, I am very proud of this work and it gives interesting insights into why AIDs is an issue as well as a more holistic view of a crisis that cannot be simplified into one explanation.

Here is our video: 

The Danger of the Other Single Story

“You thought everybody in America had a car and a gun; your uncles and aunts and cousins thought so, too. Right after you won the American visa lottery, they told you: In a month , you will have a big car. Soon, a big house. But don’t buy a gun like those Americans” (Adichie 115). 

Throughout the course time, we have constantly questioned the danger of the single African story, reminding ourselves constantly there is more to Africa than the name, old stories of savages, and the sunsets.  The Thing Around Your Neck brings up another possible single story; the single story of the United States and it may even continue the tropes of the single story.  The quote above shows a typical manifestation of the single story, with the tropes of large houses, cars, and plenty of guns.  Throughout many of the short stories in The Thing Around Your Neck, other common tropes of having too much food and stunning amounts of privilege.

While this is highlighting the great differences between where characters originated and the situation they find themselves in now, to me it feels repetitive and predicable that I will find a story of a struggling woman in each of these stories as she is exploited by either her husband, home or abroad, or a white man that is in love with the idea of having an exotic girlfriend.  We see this in Nkem as a member of the “the Rich Nigerian Men Who Sent Their Wives to America to Have Their Babies league” Adichie 26, Karama being very confused by the strange choices and actions of her bosses, and finally in The Thing Around Your Neck, where “you” feel the emotion and difficulties of working through the United States.

Let me be clear that I am not discounting the power of these stories or the truths that are imbedded in them, I just find that despite her own calls to avoid the single story Adichie is stuck telling a very similar story with details laced with tropes and exaggerations like, “American parenting was a juggling of anxieties, and that it came with having too much food: a sated belly gave Americans time to worry that their child might have a rare disease that they had just read about, made them think they had the right to protect their child from disappointment and want and failure. A sated belly gave Americans the luxury of praising themselves for being good parents, as if caring for one’s child were the exception rather than the rule” (Adichie 82).

Perhaps I just do not understand the struggle and the privilege that I do possess makes it so the story is in fact truly a wide brush truth but, I simply believe that these stories would have another layer of interesting, nuance, and fascinating complication if they did not stick to a single story.

AIDs in South Africa and Race

As I mentioned in class, before I came to school I spent sometime working with a public health worker daily on her rounds in the townships surrounding the small town of Plettenberg Bay. The film Yesterday was fairly striking to me due to the struggle which I heard about and to a certain extent saw.  Plettenberg Bay is very different from the situation which I was in being a beach town in Western Cape, far removed from the different world of Yesterday in the interior of KwaZululand. The films showing of how women run the towns and seem to be the only ones that are around is something which I saw daily, where young black men are scarce, all of them away in the cities to mine, bringing the scrooge of AIDs and back to their homes. I would like to add a video here which was based on interviews that I did with friend in South Africa about apartheid and AIDs with the surprising results that we found. But, I am waiting for a friend to send me a copy of it.  So far, it is only on Facebook and it will not let me imbed the video on here.  Hopefully that will fixed soon.

As well, an issue that I found to be the most overlooked in our discussion is the one of race.  The only white person that we find in the entire film is the doctor, who happens to speak incredible Zulu despite having many Afrikaner features.  Sadly, there are not many well trained black doctors so, this is likely true but, I take issues that this is slightly a white savior role.  Yes, the AIDs crisis almost exclusively is an issue that black and colored people in South Africa face but, it is a problem that stems from the structural violence of Apartheid and the deep legacy that it has in combination with the economic realities of the film.  Race is a very integral but difficult issue in South Africa and I believe that the film sells itself short by going around the issue.

The Outsider

All of Our Names has a very strong theme and parallel between the two plots of being an outsider and what the implications are of being a very singular, visible outsider.  Much of the Helen chapters are wrapped in the changing, complicated relationship that Helen and Isaac have but, two specific moments stick out to highlight that Isaac is not “supposed” to be there or wanted.  When Isaac arrives, he immediately goes to the library and a library begins to approach them.  Isaac turns and leaves, Helen, “waited until the librarian had almost reached me, before following Isaac out: to run after him, in our town, at that time, would have given the wrong impression.” (16).  Being an outsider in a racist area deprives Isaac of the rights that he should have a student at the university and as we find that he is an avid reader, could affect his quality of life.  Helen and Issac’s trip to the diner also shows the risks of being an outsider, bringing violence to the characters who are out of their usual roles or routines in life.

Another example is from when Langston is searching through newspapers to find the news on if the government was looking for him after touching off a protest.  Upon finding an article thinly veiled to seek him out Langston finds, “I was the only obvious foreigner, and I could imagine how the men there might look at me if I were to buy that particular paper.” (p. 88).  Again this shows being the foreigner in a situation as well as being out of place as a revolutionary movement leader brings a character to be affected by violence.

The trope of the angry African father?

At the beginning of the class, all of us tried to move past the usual ideas that are directed about Africa as a violent, desolate place with beautiful sunsets.  However, through our first two books, I am beginning to see a trope emerge that gives off an image that looks down on African men but, I find that initial assumptions about its use in Nervous Conditions to be incorrect.

The continuing theme of an angry father shows itself in Nervous Conditions with Babamukuru hitting his adolescent daughter (118). The trope is used conveniently to explain why men are seen as dangerous and are the ones that are responsible for the violence that is coming against women.  I found that Tambu sums up the argument for male violence by saying, “… all the conflicts came back to this question of femaleness. Femaleness as opposed and inferior to maleness.” (118).  I find this assertion to be incorrect. I equate what occurred not to be a question of male and female power struggles but, one of two different generations.  Babamukuru was lucky to get out of the situation that he was in and was able to be educated but, he has a different experience and culture values growing up having to work the fields before his education.

His daughter has now grown up in different circumstances, in the house of a private school headmaster, with Western amenities, people, and finally values being a part of her life.  I find this to be a more viable explanation for Babamukuru’s anger as this time in the late 1960’s brought about a whole host of cultural changes worldwide and Nyasha would have access to these new ideas while having the means and privilege to act upon the new ideas that she has.