Author Archives: qlszymeczek

Tsotsi; A Film Review

Tsotsi, a 2005 South African film directed by Gavin Hood, features a young carjacker named Tsotsi and his crew in a post-Apartheid slum, stealing and killing to make ends meet. In a solo act, Tsotsi hijacks the car of a wealthy, black South African home which had an infant in the back seat. Despite the traumas of his childhood, Tsotsi regains his grasp on morality as the responsibility of the stolen child alters his everyday perceptions of the world and people around him.

Although I had some logistic problems with the movie (such as the child being neglected on multiple occasions and still remaining healthy and alive), I thoroughly enjoyed the film. From a cinematic perspective, the director did a fantastic job on creating mood, suspense, and emotion, especially through his ample usage of face-shots that captured the underlying emotions going on between the characters. (I love a good story that doesn’t need words to explain it all!) The plot itself was slightly unrealistic, as Tsotsi eventually returns the baby and doesn’t get killed on sight by the surrounding police officers, but it also grappled with questions of humanity that can be hard to answer in an impoverished, violent, and cruel world. Mostly, Tsotsi encounters other people who have had the weight of the world’s cruelty on their shoulders as well, yet still manage to incite hope within themselves to keep going. At first, it seems that Tsotsi is resentful of such optimism, and his demons emerge to quash such positivity. Yet, having something as vulnerable and defenseless as a baby provokes Tsotsi to regain his direction in his volatile life.

My favorite scene was the interaction between Tsotsi and the crippled homeless man, who Tsotsi pursues to ask him some very philosophical questions. From an acting standpoint, both Tsotsi and the homeless man give some profound performances as they go back and forth between relating to one another and threatening one another. Ultimately, we see that Tsotsi’s violent behavior is his defense mechanism, which beautifully illustrates how trauma can isolate an individual from their world and themselves.

Petition to Take Ferguson Case to Supreme Court

Hi everyone, here is the link I mentioned in class that takes you to a petition to take the Ferguson case  to the Supreme Court (and hopefully have officer Darren Wilson indicted). If you feel paralyzed by the ongoing racial tensions and debate and are not sure what to do, this is a great way to do something so small and so easy that will contribute to something bigger. Feel free to comment or reach out to me if you want to talk more about this. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

“It’s a Night Job” – a Short Story Review (page 36)

In Joanita Male’s short story “It’s a Night Job”, the protagonist is a young woman in university narrating about prostitution. The story itself has a tone of setting the stage, taking the reader through the woman’s evening step by step as if to give a snapshot of her reality. Although the story did not strike me as new or unique in concept, I took away from the story a few of the ideas we have discussed in class, such as adaptation in times of crisis and senselessness. Specifically, the woman discusses the many ways that she has quickly learned how to improve her time (and therefore money) while interacting with her customers. Furthermore, she also contemplates the reasons and motives behind her choice to prostitute, and how the lack of reasoning (other than the money) makes it difficult for her to end her night job. What particularly struck me in style was the author’s repetition of the woman saying to herself “I hate this part!”, which illustrates how every detail to her job is a small stab to her dignity.

40,000 Tanzanians to be evicted for UAE’s Royal Family

According to this article, Tanzania’s government will potentially sell a large portion of Maasai ancestral land to Dubai’s royal family as a personal hunting ground, which would result in an eviction of 40,000+ Maasai people from their long-time inherited land.
I wanted to share this article in hopes of the backlash it could create and potentially preventing such a “business transaction” to go through. Please share folks!

Patriarchy: a Source of Fear, Denial, & Violence

In Jude Dibia’s Walking with Shadows, the construct of patriarchy in modern-day Nigerian society reveals itself in its all-too-familiar way as homophobia, gender roles, and the notion of a household rear their redundant and globally-recognized heads. What makes Nigerian patriarchy unique (to some degree) is the particular way that violence seems to play a pivotal role in how individuals deal with being “different” in their society. What I especially took notice of was the deeply-seated internalization of the patriarchy that many of Dibia’s characters seemed to hold.

Let’s start off with Adrian: married with one child, living in a lovely home with house-help on Ikoyi (one of the more affluent areas in Lagos), and has a stable career that he seems to be respected in. Adrian also claims that he unconditionally loves his wife, Ada, and he has never betrayed her in their several years of marriage. Yet as the reader gains more insight into Adrian’s past, it seems that Adrian has always felt like an outcast, unloved by his family, and someone who prefers to keep to himself. Despite having male lovers in his past, Adrian at some point in his life made the decision that he would ultimately live a straight and safe life and that would do him just fine. There’s no arguing that he’s in denial, especially with an ending that takes Adrian’s life into a complete 180 degree shift so that he can finally be himself.

Next up is Ada, the loyal yet shy wife of Adrian who had never had a lover before him. In her personal thoughts, the reader sees Ada evaluate her own feelings of betrayal as she comes to the conclusion that Adrian having past female lovers are completely reasonable, but just one male lover years before their meeting equates to betrayal. Ada also tries to understand how Adrian could satisfy her with such passion, yet she no longer accepts him as a lover with this new-found knowledge. And even when the underground gay-husband-pretend-wife community reaches out to her, she still reacts with hostility and plain rejection of having any association with them.

Lastly there is Abdul, who is an openly gay Nigerian living in Nigeria with his partner, and who advocates for Adrian to be true to himself. Yet, Abdul fiercely denies any need to express his sexuality outside of the safety of his home as Adrian poignantly points out. Abdul still lives a double-standard in his life in the face of the patriarchal society he is otherwise involved in.

In all three of his characters, Dibia portrays a visceral sort of denial and rejection, as if all three of these characters psychologically must make these denials in order to live their lives safely and seamlessly. Antagonizing the conflict rather than passively circumventing it seems to be the obviously wrong decision.

Women’s Rights Protest in Kenya

In response to a group of men stripping a woman of her clothes because she wore a miniskirt, about 200 Kenyan protesters took to Nairobi to speak out against violence towards women. A group of 20 men also participated in a rival demonstration, positing the more conservative mentalities within the country. Activists have also utilized twitter to speak out under the hashtags of #MyDressMyChoice and #strippingshame.

As we have discussed in class and heard from Jude Dibia, the human rights movements of Africa are taking a dynamic push-and-pull form as many are speaking out for women’s and LGBT rights while facing opposition from the government and greater civil society. As Dibia also pointed out, it seems that passivity is a tactic that many of these groups utilize simply to stay safe. However, this example in Kenya just goes to show that tensions boiling under the surface might finally start seeing the light.

Just a little visual of Ghana

I stumbled upon this photoset on my Facebook feed and thought that I might share it on the blog. As we’ve discussed in class before, the notion of “Africa” in mainstream Western/American society seems to lack any implication of civilization or development. As we’ve gathered from Dibia’s novel, Lagos is a city full of bustling life, although its issues in infrastructure and corruption keep the oil-rich country precariously close to the “Third World” boundaries. Accra, similar to Lagos in culture, civil society, and development, resembles a 1980’s Lagos in its potential and is becoming more and more subject to urban sprawl. With the discovery of oil in Ghana, I can’t help but wonder how the influx of oil money will affect the promising African capital; a snapshot of 2014 Accra could be a great mental keepsake for the future.

The Usage of Marijuana During Wartime

Maybe it’s my attuned attention to detail or maybe it’s my ability to pick up on subjects of relevance to me, but a very interesting parallel that I observed was the reference to and usage of marijuana in both The Memory of Love and Dog Days. Although it was more frequently referenced to in The Memory of Love, the minuscule reference to marijuana in Dog Days (see below) is presented in nearly an identical way as it is in The Memory of Love. That is, it seems that marijuana is a substance used or possibly abused by the perceived “bad guys” of the stories: the policemen in Dog Days and the child soldiers in The Memory of Love.

The notion of substance usage in Dog Days is relatively straightforward, as we see the manifestations of the crisis in the civilians through their frequent alcoholic stupors, some citizens just looking for the small escape of a beer’s buzz and others reaching the edge of suicide with alcohol seeming to be an added push. There is also the cigarette vendor who sells cigarettes to the smart-alek kid, Takou without much hesitation. Still, none of these instances of substance usage seem to be as negative as the way marijuana is presented in both novels.

“A strong smell surrounded the police, announcing their presence. At first I thought it was the acrid smell of death, but later I heard people from the quarter saying the police were lurking in the shadows, getting high on mbanga” (200).

In a way, the usage of marijuana by soldiers/policemen during periods of violence makes sense; cannabis’ properties and side effects include feeling mellowed out, maybe even complacency, granting the user to disregard the moral implications of their actions and to just keep carrying out their “duties”. Gauging from a little more research, marijuana usage in many African nations has been integrated within numerous African societies for reasons similar to the Western world; many places use it for its medicinal properties such as relief for symptoms of dysentry and malaria, and many other nations regarded it in a religious setting, using it in rituals and many attributing it to God. This has resulted in a trickle-down effect for cannabis as it has also become socially integrated in many modern African societies (as it must be in Cameroon if they have their own word for it!)

Despite this, it seems that both Forna and Nganang decidedly presented marijuana only within the context of violence and wartime, potentially to imply that even the oppressors of these two different wars needed a coping mechanism to get through their respective crises’. In The Memory of Love, the reader held more sympathy for the soldiers as we see them through their difficult story-telling sessions. Senseless violence seems to go hand-in-hand with marijuana, as the TCH could potentially numb the need for sense and order. However, in Dog Days, Mboudjak relates the smell of marijuana to death, as it is a smell that he only associates with the human ruin caused by the policemen. The question still remains for me, however, as to whether marijuana is only a negative force under the pretenses of violence or whether it is in general a negatively-viewed substance in these societies.

The Unresolved Story

Throughout our discussion of The Memory of Love, we have come across a myriad of themes relating to memory, hope, and silence. However, a theme that we have not explicitly discussed and is somewhat tied into the other themes is the notion of the unresolved. Despite all of the melodrama and all of the neatly tied ends, there were some stories that seemed to have no concise ending. In particular, I was left with numerous questions in regards to Elias and his daughter Nenebah, and how their relationship ended without redemption.

From the moment we realize Elias’ impending death and the proximity of his only child, the reader immediately begins to wonder what transpired between the two that prevents Nenebah from visiting her father even on his deathbed. Even beyond this, Nenebah does not tell her father of her pregnancy, dies in childbirth before she can even contemplate repairing the relationship, and the reader is left to assume that Elias never even gets to meet his only grandchild. Instead, we see Nenebah carry out her shortened life without her father without regret, and Elias is left to cope with his loneliness. As Nenebah astutely poses,

“Who was it who said ‘History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it?’…[Elias is] using you to write his own version of history…You’re just a mirror he can hold up to reflect a version of himself and events…Whatever you say, you will go away from here, you will publish your papers and give talks, and every time you do you will make their version of events the more real, until it becomes indelible.”

Elias, down to his last resorts, seeks affirmation by having Adrian listen to his version of his story, his ego expertly circumventing the gold nuggets of truth and self-realization. In a way, Elias denies himself his own resolved story, despite the fact that he narrated nearly the entirety of the novel. It is through this lack of resolve that Forna is encasing her perception of war  and struggle; that to move on means to confront the truth, to find peace is to challenge evil, even if it has already passed. It is this notion that Adrian is confronted with in Elias’ story and numerous others affected by the war and the times: “The silent lie”.

The Ebola Crisis & US Response

As I’m sure most of you know, the rise of Ebola and its numbered cases in the US have brought on plenty of negative response and coverage in the media and American society as most of the population is fairly uninformed about the nature of the disease. I wanted to share with you two links covering the topic: the first is an article on university applications for African students and the second is a more positive take on the crisis in general.

The Ebola crisis – more specifically the American response to it – greatly ties into the many discussions we’ve had in class about the (mis)conceptions of African nations and Western generalizing tendencies of Africa. The first article ties into The Memory of Love with Kai’s lengthy process of attaining a visa, and how the moment his profession was revealed was he treated in a very different manner. How does the Ebola crisis reflect some of the social commentary in The Memory of Love regarding the Western world and its involvement with Africa?