Author Archives: monicatham

Short Story: The Asylum Seeker by Suketu Mehta

The Asylum Seeker short story tells a woman named Caroline who lives in three different identities as she desperately looks for an asylum in the U.S. Through the first person narrative, the story of Caroline depicts how political turmoil in central Africa forces many Africans to be immigrants in foreign countries. Mehta’s details of Caroline’s process for granting her asylum – lying about her names and making up the rape stories – further questions the importance of authenticity. Additionally, Mehta also creatively describes how asylum seekers view America as a land of opportunity and equality, even if they have to to get by due to their illegal status.


“Battle of the Elephants” – The Illegal Network of Ivory Trade

In the chapter of “Jumping Monkey Hill” on page 113, Ujunwa visited a jewelry shop and got herself a necklace made from faux ivory. It turned out the tooth-shaped pendant was a real ivory, but people had to kill the innocent elephants in Africa to find the ivory that fulfilled the market high quality demand. The documentary that I watched uncovered how the ivory trade indicated numerous criminal acts within the business.

It is such a disheartening fact that elephants in Africa are taken for granted, primarily, for the sake of gaining profits. The illegal ivory trade that takes place across continent, from Africa to Asia (specifically China), hurts the elephant populations in Africa despite the fact that a ban in ivory trade has been enacted since 10 years ago, but only in Kenya that the law seemed to be effectively enforced.

This leads to the question of “why ivory tusk”?

In the beginning of the documentary, the speaker clearly mentioned that ivory tusk represented “perfection, purity, and in time, money.” Through this statement, we could get a sense of how powerful that elephant as wildlife resource was in Africa. It then entailed the high supply from the African government to the Chinese demand of ivory tusk. As China’s economic growing, the demand of ivory tusks was also increasing, whereas the number of elephants were greatly decreasing until it reached around 600,000 species in 1989 from 10 million species in the previous years. Ivory tusks from various countries were packed in around 6000 containers each day and smuggled from Africa to a port in Hong Kong before fully crafted into beautiful and expensive art displays in a Beijing art store that were worth more than hundreds of thousands of dollar. The store associates knew the political or religious reasons behind the ivory tusk, but they did not recognize the more complex relationship that included the corrupt government and animal welfare problems. Nonetheless, the importance of ivory tusk expanded beyond economic profit. The Chinese, moreover, believed that ivory task was deeply rooted to their beliefs, such as Buddhism. Ivory represented ancestors’ core values as well as Buddhist faith so that the Chinese people believed that the elephants should feel happy because the tusks celebrated the Buddha and preserved the legacy of the belief.


The Power of Literature

The character of Refilwe in Phanaswe Mpe’s Welcome to Our Hillbrow drew the significance of literature as a critique to the post Apartheid regime in South Africa. As the publishers’ reviewers forced the use of euphemism to mask the fragmented and controversial political and cultural lives of South Africa, Mpe best described how the power of literature in African language could break the devil chains of “grief and prejudice” (59). Through Refilwe’s point of view, it was clear how the ignorance and complicity regarding the Apartheid system by banning the writers to write in Sepedi language would create a “scarecrow state” (58). Meanwhile, the use of African language would be helpful for the South Africans to understand the complexities of the country’s politics. The major question that, how are people then able to contribute in fixing the corrupt government if “artistic skill and honesty could be compromised in the name of questionable morality?” (58).

This problem seems to be confirmed by the article “Post-Apartheid Fiction” in The New York Times that claims how the post-apartheid regime still leaves South Africa under the white minority rule. To that extent, the most major issue concerning the legacy of this regime revolves around racism. While racism in the past is strongly correlated with politics, today’s African writers touch on much broader focuses, such as “the AIDS pandemic, poverty, crime, xenophobia, unemployment,” that are believed as more susceptible with regards to racial boundaries. With that being said, this also seems to strengthen the issues brought up in Dog Days by Patrice Nganang, regardless of the fact that the novel is centered in Cameroon.

Mpe’s novel and the article point out how the power of literature has played a great role in pointing out that the consequences of the Apartheid system still exists to date. Looking at how literature brings us back to reflect the regime’s legacy in daily lives, I do believe that it also reminds us that ignorance and complicity along resulting in increasing prejudice will only cause more fragmented South African societies. What do you think?

Here’s the link:

The Great Debaters (2007) Movie Review: Digital Participation

This film was about a small Wiley College that situated in Marshall, Texas, in 1935 during the time of Jim Crow South law took place. The law, which widely occurred across the southern part of the US, enacted racial segregation between the Black and White people. On top of that, the Jim Crow law also legally allowed lynching of black men by the White minority ruling. Directed by Denzel Washington, who also happened to be the main character as the college’s debate team coach, he clearly underlined the importance of knowledge and education in order to break the chain of racial discrimination. Throughout the film, we could see how the daily life of the black people in Marshall was dominated by the white minority rule. The scene of farmers gathering was accused of such a union that might have threatened the white people’s authority in the area. Washington’s interests in politics also almost jeopardized the debate team’s unbeatable winning records.

Of all, there was a scene where Washington brilliantly depicted how the racial discrimination led the other characters to respond differently, and this reminded me to our discussion in class about complicity. The scene took place when James L. Farmer, Jr., one of the debate team’s members, was in car with his family with his father driving. All of the sudden, there were three white kids running towards the car and they caused Farmer’s father to put on the brake immediately. Unfortunately, he did not know that he hit a hog whose owners were two white men. These men asked for compensation, but when Farmer Sr. gave his check from the college, they even humiliated him by throwing the check away and asked Farmer Sr. to take it back and give it to them. Witnessing the insult, Farmer Jr. wanted to confront the white men and defend his father while Farmer Sr. was compliant and tried to calm his son down.

Based on a true story, this film was more about the struggle of Wiley College students in gaining a national championship. The main theme of racial discrimination made this film dense.

I might give you a spoiler in this review, but that’s not even the climax of this awesome movie.

So, what are you waiting for? 🙂

Professor Fatima Meer from South Africa (Digital Participation)

Born in 1928 in Durban from an Indian father and Jewish-Portuguese mother, small Fatima is already exposed to acquire a good education. Fatima even earns Master’s degree in Sociology, which rarely happens at that time for black Muslim women to attend university. Having been raised in a liberal family, Fatima is also familiar with international news regarding racial discrimination during the colonial era. Fatima marks her career milestone by being an activist at the age of 16 to resist the apartheid regime when she was still in high school. Fatima realizes that a strong unity between Indian and Africans in Durban is important to deal with the racial discrimination. To that extent, Fatima is also a close working colleague of Nelson Mandela whose wife, Winnie Mandela, is detained together with the University of Natal graduate because of their resistance movements. Fatima’s journey seeking for equality comes at the price of herself that she is almost assassinated. Not only is she passionate about politics, Fatima also shows her benevolent side of her by helping out those suffering from poverty. Through her ups and downs in defending human rights during the apartheid politics, Fatima’s spirit and contributions should be preserved by young generations who wish to see more equality and justice in the years to come. After all, our future is in our hands.


Tourism: The Library of Alexandria in Egypt (Digital Participation)

Egyptian pyramid? Checked. The Sphinx? Checked. Pompey’s Pillar? Checked.

Those may be on the list of top three tourist destinations in Egypt.

But, if you are one of those bookworms and prefer to kill the time in a library, be sure to check out the Library of Alexandria, a once underground library in Egypt!

The Library of Alexandria, or Bibliotheca Alexandrina as it is called in Latin, was built by Ptolemy who also served a general for Alexander the Great. Driven by his huge desire for knowledge, Ptolemy made this library to be the center of the world’s science in around 290 BCE to 415 BCE. Moreover, this library was used to be the navel where great intellectuals had debate and scientific research.

To date, the library has been renovated into a modern and sophisticated building to accommodate all people who are thirsty of knowledge. It was open for public starting 2002, and is known for its top notch “digitization lab” as it aspires to be the leading library highly incorporating technology and knowledge. Moreover, as situated in a country where freedom of speech is still its biggest struggle, the new Library of Alexandria hopefully brings about new horizons beyond the boundaries of culture, religion, and even political views.

I wish I could fly there to witness all this great progress!

Here’s the link:

The Courage

In our class discussion, we touched a bit a theme about “courage” (306). To that extent, I want to elaborate this focus in terms of the community where Agnes lives and Kai’s courage. There is a difference approach of how the community and Kai as an individual moves forward to overcome their past trauma. The community gains its courage from external factor, while Kai is driven by his internal desire.

Before Kai’s visit to the village, the local people hesitate to dig out the tragedy that hit Agnes’ family. Moreover, the hesitation also relates to the fact that this community has a sense of strong kinship that they prioritize solidarity within its own members. It is clear that every individual in that society has his or her own thoughts on Agnes’ tragedy, as “[…] in telling another’s story, they (the people) told their own (306).” Different story versions show how these people have been longing to tell what’s in their hearts, but to maintain the solidarity and not to intervene with Agnes’ personal matters. The courage to talk about the memory of past itself does not come out as the result of their initiatives, but it is because Kai who asks them to explain.

In contrast, Kai decides to talk and overcome his trauma about the bridge incident and his love life with Mamakay because he has come to realize that moving forward from the hurtful memory is one way to get out of that trauma and not being trapped in the same circumstance that will hinder him to encounter new experiences in life. Kai’s love to Mamakay and his courage to defeat the fear and trauma of his past leads him to acquire the initiative to overcome them. Moreover, Kai does not want to lose the sight and memory of him and Mamakay that he is willing to take care and raise Mamakay’s daughter, regardless the fact the she is Adrian’s child, not Kai’s. As Kai admits, “I loved her (Mamakay). I love her (423),” he clearly expresses a genuine love towards Mamakay that he even sees the girl’s laugh as “whole, pure, and absolute (443),” just like Mamakay. The girl’s reflection of her mother gives peaceful feeling to Kai in order to relieve his trauma (when he found out that the girl is not his daughter) even though he has never been in an official relationship with Mamakay.

Faat Kine

The movie of Faat Kine explores different struggles within African womanhood and the importance of patriarchal in African tradition. From parents and child relationship to education and love life, a figure of a woman is strongly highlighted throughout the film. As it is my first time enjoying an African cinema, I would say I am really impressed by how the story line goes. Frankly speaking, Kine’s problems are our problems everyday. However, the genius director Ousmane Sembene creates those moments in such brilliant unexpected plots.

Kine was born in a middle class family. She was about to obtain her Baccalaureate, a French national secondary school diploma, when she found out that she was pregnant and got expelled from school. From that moment on, her relationship with her father worsened with his refusal to forgive Kine for her pregnancy. Long story short, Kine became a successful manager of a local gas station and she was even able to afford her two children’s, Aby and Djib, education. It has never been an easy journey for Kine, but she managed to go through it all by herself, without a husband.

Independent might be one word that best suits Kine’s personality. Having been betrayed by the men who also happened to be her children’s fathers, Kine seemed to rebuild a new foundation of her life philosophy. She has embraced a modernized principle for being a self-reliance woman without support from any men in every aspect of her life, be it raising her children or becoming economically independent. On top of that, Kine was also upset when her friend got married through an arranged marriage. This tradition should no longer be acceptable in a modern and growing Africa. A woman has her say as to what she wants or is willing to do. Sembene might not explicitly show that Kine was longing for a man’s figure who can be both a loyal husband and a respected father, but the plot was altogether leading to a happy ending.

Aside from womanhood issues, Faat Kine also features another significant facet of African culture, which is patriarchal. No matter how high one’s education is, he or she is still expected to pay respect to the elderly. From the scene of Kine bowing down asking forgiveness from her father due to her pregnancy to the moment when Djib was asked to calm down when his long lost father insisted on him giving a warm welcome, Sembene clearly points out that African culture upholds seniority.

Before watching this film, I thought it was like other old traditional movies portraying how women struggled over their family matters. However, Kine’s problems and the journey that she went through makes me deeply understand that Africa is working towards a more modernized society. Along with preserving the respect towards its original culture, Africa is now embarking a more dynamic ride in a highly globalized society.

The African Dream

Helen’s father story about a disappeared city seems to have nothing extraordinary at the first glance. However, when I kept on reading the next chapters, I could not get rid of it from my mind. I went back, and it until several times I reread it again that I came to understand the meaning behind it.

Referring to page 129-131, the story sounds like a prophecy. It is not that Helen’s father is a prophet or whatsoever. The dream of the people best depicts and represents the Ugandan independence journey. The imagination of flowers blooming and a relaxing tea time portrays how Uganda people were hoping for a free, sovereign, and even prosperous country. But no one succeeded, or even took courageous actions to make the dreams came true.

Unfortunately, the British – “a young man who few people knew and no one trusted…” (130) – came along, and took away the Ugandan’s lives and power; leaving them without nothing to hold on. Although little Helen might have been too young to understand politics, the memory of his father’s story should be enough for her to reflect the fight that Isaac was going through, to reach the future that Africa was always longing for.

“…, and in a world where seeing was power, nostalgia meant nothing” (131).

Isaac’s intention to major in politics has also something to do with this particular quote. The unstable African politics as well as racial segregation during colonialism made the country was vulnerable. Although Isaac did not know Helen’s father personally, the quote was kind of connected to his mission for taking back Africa from the British before it was too late. Isaac could “see” that the instability and racism might divide Uganda, and even Africa to be the British puppet. On top of that, Isaac knows that his paper revolution is a leap of faith for Africa before the African dream of living in peace and harmony becomes nostalgia.

Education and the Other Side of Babamukuru

Nervous Conditions. Yes, it does make me nervous all the way through the end of the novel. There is more about education that Tsitsi Dangarembga implicitly tells us about. Education is more than about going to school, being able to read and write, and then getting a well-paid job after graduate. It is more than that. This can be seen through Babamukuru’s role in his family. Education, for Tambudzai’s family at least, is about influence. Being able to obtain a proper education will determine one’s fate, one’s future, and absolutely one’s reputation. However, is that always the case?

                   Luckily, or maybe unluckily for him, throughout his life Babamukuru had found himself – as eldest child and son, as an early educated African, as husband and father, as provider to many – in positions that enabled him to organize his immediate world and its contents as he wished. (88)

Babamukuru is a well-respected man among the people in his family. Through his hard work and perseverance, he is able to get an education. Yes, the fact that he is a “man” may grant him more access to achieve his dreams. Even more, he has become a principal of a mission. That is huge! To that extent, Babamukuru is also eager to help his brother’s children, Nhamo and Tambudzai, to go to school. He wants these kids to see the world from different perspectives. To Babamukukuru, education seems to be the only way out of destitution. It is the pathway that someone can take to step on a higher level of life.

Throughout the novel, however, Dangarembga slowly depicted how Babamukuru had quite successfully built attention around him. Even in a very private matter regarding Jeremiah’s family, Babamukuru did not feel hesitant to interrupt. A wedding, which should have been a sacred and intimate commitment between two people, was interrupted by an outside party – made Jeremiah and his wife looked like “the starts of a comic show, the entertainers.” (165) Nonetheless, it was not Babamukuru’s place to decide regarding this particular matter.

Babamukuru might not have valued a wedding as important, but Tambudzai just could not stand the way her uncle treated her parents. His educational achievements make the father of two children more focus on other people’s impressions towards him. It is undeniable that the primary purpose of education is to build a solid future foundation, but what’s good of it if one fails to even grants respect – as one of the most valuable features of a strong kinship?