Frank Mackay Anim-Appiah

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Frank Mackay Anim-Appiah
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PEN INTERNATIONAL
Volume 58, No. 1, Autumn 2007
Context: Africa
Contexte: Afrique
Contexto: África
The magazine of International PEN
Le journal de PEN International
El periódico de PEN Internacional
www.internationalpen.org.uk
Published biannually with the assistance of UNESCO
Publié semestriellement avec le concours de l’UNESCO
publicado semestralmente con el apoyo de la UNESCO
www.unesco.org/culture
CONTEXT: AFRICA CONTENTS
Contents
Editor’s Note
Poème/Poem
Amadou Lamine Sall Amantes d’aurores/Aurora’s Lovers
Story
Mary Watson Seoighe The Lilitree
Extrait
Mohamed Magani Scène de pêche en Algérie
Excerpt
Monica Arac de Nyeko The Jambula Tree
Poem
Toyin Adewale Listen to Yourself
Excerpt
Sefi Atta Everything Good Will Come
Poems
Jack Mapanje From: Beasts of Nalunga
Now That September 11 Should Define Mr Western Civilisation ...
The Stench of Porridge
Can of Beasts Madonna Opened
Extrait
Sami Tchak Le paradis des chiots
Story
Mwila Agatha Zaza A Strange Kind of Gravy
Poems
Sylvester Omosun My Dirt, Untitled
Extrait
Nadia Galy Alger, lavoir galant/Algier, Wash-house Tryst
Poem
Toyin Adewale Explorer of Aromas
Poema/Poem
Manuel Ulacia Express a Marraquech/Express to Marrakesh
Interview: Chenjerai Hove
Rhoda Mashavave
CONTEXT: AFRICA CONTENTS
Excerpt
Shimmer Chinodya Chairman of Fools
Poem
Alkasim Abdulkadir Flight of Sleep
Story
Jackie Mansourian In the Light of the Moon
Poème
Nicole Barrière Grand brasier blanc
Poem
Benjamin Ubiri Home
Extrait
Léonora Miano Contours du jour qui vient
Pensées
Pierre Astier Demain l’Afrique
Poema/Poem
Manuel Ulacia Fiesta en un jardin de Tánger/Fiesta in a Garden in
Tangier
Story
Ethel Ngozi Okeke Once Upon a Night
Extrait
Nassima Touisi Une lettre à Kahina
Poem
Frank Mackay Anim-Appiah Sygiria
Poem
Seyi Adigun From: Greet for Me My Osheni
I Reach the Confluence
Poema/Poem
Manuel Ulacia En el Ritz de Meknés/At the Ritz in Meknès
Excerpt
Wangari Muta Maathai Unbowed
Poem
Uche Peter Umezurike I Am Set in a Burden to Sing
Extrait
Djamel Mati Les signes de la main
Poem
Alkasim Abdulkadir Lamuso
CONTEXT: AFRICA CONTENTS
Poèmes
Jean Auguste David Bonnaire Fragments d’étoiles
Le Preux tirailleur africain
Poem
Sarah Lawson Evening in Dakar
Poems
Seyi Adigun From: Letter to My Sister and A Reply for My Brother
Pompholyx
Vitriol
Story
Maliya Mzyece-Sililo Through the Curtain of Eyelashes
Extrait
Djamel Mati Les amants
Excerpt
Unity Dow The Heavens May Fall
Obituary
Un certain regard: Ousmane Sembène 1923–2007
Amadou Gueye Ngom
Contributors
Acknowledgements
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE AMADOU LAMINE SALL
Amadou Lamine Sall
Amantes d’aurores
Aurora’s Lovers
Je t’ai cherchée partout et nulle part
I looked for you everywhere and nowhere
entre la fleur et la tige
between flower and stem
entre le jour et la nuit
between day and night
parmi les rires du sommeil
among the laughter of slumber
parmi les caresses de l’absence
among the caresses of absence
Où es-tu fille de la nuit
Where are you girl of the night
déjà le poème s’essouffle et les mots s’esquivent
already the poem is out of breath and the words are slipping away
la plume danse des arabesques saoule de son vin noir
drunk with its black wine the pen dances arabesques
les voyelles sont distraites
the vowels are absent-minded
et les consonnes rétives errent en procession
and the restless consonants wander in procession
sur le vide de la page qui bâille
on the emptiness of the yawning page
Tu seras seule à comprendre ce soir pourquoi
You will be the only one to understand tonight why
j’écris ce poème de sexe et d’olive de sang et d’amour
I am writing this poem of lust, olive, blood and love
Je voudrais te parler dans le ventre de la nuit
I would like to speak to you in the belly of the night
À l’heure où des miettes d’étoiles dansent sur ta bouche
When crumbs of stars are dancing on your mouth
de miel et de fièvre
of honey and fever
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE AMADOU LAMINE SALL
Où es-tu fille de la nuit
Where are you girl of the night
je sais que tu reviendras
I know that you will come back
parce que je suis le fauve de ta tanière
for I am the wildcat of the lair
le reptile qui te serpente
the reptile that winds around you and brings you back
et qui te ramène à la lumière du jour
to the light of day
Déjà je mords tes paumes
Already I am biting your palms
et chante dans la fraîcheur de tes cheveux
and singing in the coolness of your hair
et je n’ai plus d’oreille que pour l’évangile de ton chant
and I no longer have ears for anything but the gospel of your
voice
quand l’harmattan du désir
when the harmattan of desire
flagelle nos corps
scourges our bodies
Tout à l’heure quand je te retrouverai
Soon when I see you again
tu me diras l’heure
you will give me the time
t plus tard tu me rediras l’heure
and later give me the time once more
nous irons acheter des journaux de droite et de gauche
we will go to buy newspapers right and left
gauche-droite droite-gauche
left-right right-left
je les lirai de l’est à l’ouest
I will read them from east to west
tu les commenteras du nord au sud
you will comment on them from north to south
puis nous les disperserons à tous les vents
then we will scatter them to the winds
aux quatre coins de l’analphabétisme et de la faim
to the four corners of illiteracy and hunger
Nous irons ensuite écouter les politiciens
Then we will go to listen to the politicians
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE AMADOU LAMINE SALL
il y a de toutes les tailles et des toutes les couleurs
they come in all sizes and colours
des menteurs sérieux graves
solemn serious liars
des prophètes à la bonne heure
opportune prophets
Car il paraît que le COMMUNISME est à bannir pour
For it seems that COMMUNISM must be banned
la paix du monde
for world peace
le CAPITALISME à combattre pour la paix du monde
CAPITALISM fought for world peace
le SOCIALISME à redéfinir pour la paix du monde
SOCIALISM redefined for world peace
et que pas une nation n’a pris pour idéologie l’AMOUR
and it seems that not one nation has taken LOVE as its ideology.
Nous irons vivre ailleurs
We will go to live elsewhere
car Dieu doit habiter ailleurs
for God must live elsewhere
Nous ferons des enfants de toutes les races
We will make children of all the races
je t’aiderai à bercer les uns à faire manger les autres
I will help you cradle the ones and feed the others
Je sais qu’ils seront beaux nos enfants
I know our children will be beautiful
et qu’ils n’entrerons pas dans la vie par la grande porte
and that they will not enter life through the wide gate
d’argent et d’insolence
of money and insolence
ni par celle de la vanité et de la lâcheté
nor that of vanity and cowardice
ils ne seront ni les aînés de la bassesse
they will neither be the eldest children of baseness
ni les benjamins de l’assassinat
nor murder’s youngest
J’irai avec toi par toutes les routes offertes aux pas
I will go with you on all the roads that can be walked
semer à la berge des souffrances les premiers plants
to sow on the bank of suffering the first seedlings
de la LIBERTE
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE AMADOU LAMINE SALL
of FREEDOM
Nous bâtirons des cités sans maisons et sans rues
We will build cities without houses or streets
sans prisons et sans haine
without jails or hate
Manthie j’aurais tant aimé te mentir
Manthie, I would have liked so much to lie to you
te dire qu’aucun petit garçon n’a faim quelque part
to tell you that the hungry little boys do not exist anywhere
sur la Terre
on Earth
te mentir te dire
to lie to you to tell you
que les cimetières ont fermé leurs portes
that cemeteries have closed their gates
te mentir te mentir Manthie te mentir
to lie to you to lie to you Manthie to lie to you
te mentir
to lie to you
pour que tu ne connaisses jamais la haine
so that you never know hate
pour que tu ne reconnaisses jamais le délire des fauves
so that you never acknowledge the wildcats’ madness
pour que tu ne côtoies jamais l’orgueil et la folie sortie de
so that you never come into contact with the pride and madness
leurs grottes glacées
coming from their freezing caves
Te mentir Manthie
To lie to you Manthie
pour t’aimer d’innocence
to love you innocently
Merci à toi Binta de Awa l’aurore
Thank you Binta de Awa the aurora
ma mère belle comme jamais sept lunes sur une
my mother beautiful as ever seven moons on a
savane d’argent
silver savannah
Locataire du néant
Tenant of nothingness
fou d’une liberté sans terre
mad about freedom with no land
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE AMADOU LAMINE SALL
le monde est infidèle à mes rêves
the world is unfaithful to my dreams
Et les femmes sont amputées du rêve d’aimer
And women are cut off from the dream of loving
les hommes du rêve de vieillir
men from the dream to grow old
Les oiseaux du cœur ont donc migré la pleine lune
Thus the birds of the heart have migrated by the full moon
et je flirte avec des cœurs dégarnis
and I am flirting with bare hearts
seul parmi la roche effeuillée
alone among the stripped rock
la fête des péchés
the festival of sin
parmi l’arachide rebelle
among the rebel peanut
parmi le mil rebelle
among the rebel millet
le coton rebelle
the rebel cotton
le germe rebelle
the rebel sprout
Seul avec l’hirondelle offensée
Alone with the offended swallow
seul parmi l’enfance délaissée
alone among the abandoned children
le désir mutilé
the mutilated desire
parmi l’étoile faussée
among the distorted star
l’émeraude brisée
the shattered emerald
les cauris effrayés
the frightened cowries
les cercueils cloutés
the nailed coffins
les fenêtres fermées les portes fermées
the shut windows the closed doors
Je veille ces pays mon pays
I watch over these countries my country
ce pays fou de ses fils
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE AMADOU LAMINE SALL
this country mad about its sons
fou de sa liberté
mad about its freedom
infidèle à ses rêves
unfaithful to its dreams
Mon pays n’est pas né d’une femme
My country was not born to a woman
et pourtant dans min pays vois-tu
and yet in my country you see
le soleil est une femme le jour est une femme
the sun is a woman the day is a woman
le pardon est une femme le chant est une femme
forgiveness is a woman song is a woman
et je suis né du chant des femmes
and I was born of the song of women
Viens
Come
partageons l’étoile tombée cette nuit
let us share the star that fell last night
derrière le sommeil des Prophètes
behind the prophets’ slumber
J’aime regarder
I love to watch
le Sénégal s’endormir le soir sur tes paupières
Senegal fall asleep at night on your eyelids
et se réveiller le matin dans tes yeux
and awaken each morning in your eyes
Tu seras l’Unique Miracle des goélands
You will be the Singular Miracle of the seagulls
la grande terre
the great land
celle pour qui je veux encore
that for which I want yet
vivre et accepter D’AIMER
to live and to accept LOVE
Special thanks to B. E. Hopkins for new translation
CONTEXT: AFRICA MARY WATSON SEOIGHE
Mary Watson Seoighe
The Lilitree
Quinton planted the Lilitree in the back garden. It wasn’t much of a garden,
muddy with patchy flowers and weeds growing haphazardly, scrawny tomato
plants dwarfed by a monster crop of broad beans. Lilitrees are, of course, illegal and
very rare. No one knows where they’re from, but in the old days you’d find them
mostly in the sandy areas, in the notorious Cape Flats. And also near water; they
always move towards water. But you don’t find them so much these days, not for a
long time. Just now and then you hear of one. But Quinton had connections.
He bought the seed at twilight in a little alley off Main Road. He went right at
the minibus taxi rank, past the Virgin Active gym where people were eerily framed
in the lit windows, jogging up and down. He wove his way through the tattooed
men out looking for trouble, until he came to the crossroads where Adultworld
and the post office meet. The dealer sheltered in the doorway of an old abandoned
Victorian building, smoking a pipe. Quinton could not see the face of his supplier,
which was hidden in the folds of the long cape. Rough hands dropped the seed into
a brown paper bag, knotted it with string and furtively took the wad of notes.
Quinton planted the Lilitree beneath the exposed roots of the cabbage tree
before Marlene could stop him. When she found out that they were to grow a little
girl in the muddy backyard, she was livid.
“How are we supposed to feed her? We just don’t have the money, Quinton. Use
your head for once in your life.” She headed to the yard, her sinking heels leaving a
fine track in the mud. Marlene, down on her knees, was about to unearth the seed
when Quinton’s voice came from behind her: “You can’t do that, it’s – it’s abortion.”
Marlene, who was still grappling with the residual effects of her early years as a
Catholic, wouldn’t speak to him for days.
But nothing happened. Every day Quinton checked the spot where he had
planted the Lilitree, but the caked brown soil yielded nothing. Marlene wore an
insufferably smug, tight-lipped smile. She whistled primly while she washed and
ironed the huge bags of other people’s clothes that made her hands so reddish
raw. When they saw the dreaded Kikuyu grass springing up like uninvited guests,
Quinton began to feel he had been taken for a ride. And the seed hadn’t come
cheap – he had used a month of Friday night drink money to pay for it.
“Just think how many more bags of dirty clothes we could wash, if she did it
for us. And we’d never need get up to change the TV channel ever again,” Quinton
sighed as he poked Marlene up to change the TV channel. They didn’t have a
remote control for their old box.
That weekend, Marlene was about to uproot the grass before it could spread
and cover their nice muddy yard, when she noticed something different. A patch
CONTEXT: AFRICA MARY WATSON SEOIGHE
of grass had grown into thin green fingers, spread out on top of the soil and gently
pressing down as if about to hoist out of the mud. She screamed.
The next day, a little head appeared, like a cabbage sprung up overnight. Every
day their Lilitree grew and grew: first firm green stalk-like arms, then a barky
brownish green trunk, then the long, muddy tendrils that coiled and snaked down
her back, until by the end of the month, there was a little girl growing in the
garden.
“When can we pick her?” asked Marlene, who was tired of doing the dishes.
Quinton never helped with the housework, never mind their laundry service. He
liked to think of himself as the public relations department, answering the phone
and greeting the customers, especially the nice ladies. Marlene ached with the
strain on her back; she most hated bending over the bath to wash the delicates.
“We can’t pick her – she has to walk out of the pod. The instructions say that she
will come knocking at the door.”
Now it was Marlene who was the more eager to have their Lilitree ready for
harvest. She covered her feet (a bit like exposed roots) with compost, including
nice wriggling maggots that made the Lilitree shudder. Marlene, despite the rain,
watered the tree every day until the little girl cried from the relentless cold spray.
“Aw, shut it,” yawned Marlene, “otherwise we will eat you.”
The Lilitree cried louder in her little cat-like voice. The August rain lashed down
and she caught a cold and sniffed miserably. (Lilitrees can only be planted in early
July, otherwise they just turn into cabbages.)
“A bit of a wet blanket,” Marlene nodded to Quinton. “I should give her
something to cry about.”
Throughout September Marlene continued to nurture their little tree as it grew
steadily. By November Quinton was bored with it all. But still, the Lilitree did not
step out of her pod. The mangy stray cats came and hissed at the tree and she
hissed back.
Marlene waited impatiently. They thought up names for her; they tried to coax
her into the house by waving nice sweeties and marshmallows at the window. In
late spring, the Lilitree started to grow little green breasts. Marlene found it quite
indecent and covered them with a kitchen cloth.
Finally, during a sweltering week in late December, there was a knock at the
kitchen window, a small tentative tap-tap. Marlene and Quinton were watching TV
and almost didn’t hear it. “Hello, Mommy,” said Quinton kissing Marlene, “I think
that’s our little girl!”
But the Lilitree was not a little girl. There, standing at the kitchen door, was
a fully grown woman. Green with barky skin, she had fashioned a shift made of
rubble bags and swung the red-checked dishtowel around her waist. Quinton had
never seen a more beautiful woman.
“You idiot!” Marlene shouted at Quinton. “You got the wrong seed.”
“It’s your fault,” Quinton shouted back. “If you hadn’t watered her so much and
rubbed all that compost on her feet ...”
But he remembered guiltily how the seed dealer had been standing too close to
Adultworld. Maybe this was a different kind of Lilitree?
“We can look it up on the Internet,” he pacified Marlene.
“Please can I have some water?” rasped the Lilitree, leaning against the
CONTEXT: AFRICA MARY WATSON SEOIGHE
doorframe.
“Look at the poor girl,” Quinton fussed. “Marlene, get her some tea!”
Quinton was enchanted by the fragile creature that took on their household
tasks with an impassive vigour. Not only did she do all the housework, but she also
washed an inordinate number of dirty clothes. Marlene was pleased. Soon they
could afford a new TV, with a remote control.
But the Lilitree couldn’t settle. She preferred bedding down in the mud
beneath the cabbage tree. She shunned the tasty sausages that Marlene made and
rummaged through the compost heap for her supper. She drank greedily the water
that gushed straight from the outside tap into her mouth. She loved the hosepipe.
She tracked mud into the house, her dirty toes against the scrubbed tiles. And best,
she worked like a demon. But even as hundreds of great big, white laundry bags
were effortlessly dispatched, the Lilitree was weighted down as if by an invisible
burden. There was a forlornness about her that stirred Quinton’s curiosity. When
Marlene tried to lock her inside during the heavy rains, the Lilitree stared out at
the garden and yearned for the smells, the soft and varied textures of the scraggly
plants that grew there, the feel of the rain against her skin.
She didn’t seem interested in much else. One night, as she brought them hot
chocolate during their favourite shows, they discovered that she liked reality TV.
She watched with them and once she even laughed out loud, like the sound of
wind rustling leaves. But after a few nights of intent viewing, she lost interest.
Halfway through Peepshow, she wandered out, and Quinton found she had
climbed high up the cabbage tree, with its branches wrapped around her.
Quinton tried to console her with magazines and chocolates. First she grabbed
them greedily, ripping through the celebrity pictures while sucking the soft
caramel out of the chocolates. Not long after, magazines lay unopened; chocolates
were trodden into the mud. He bought her a pretty yellow dress, which brought
out the colour of her skin, and she danced around in it, delighted.
Marlene found it two days later, in the vegetable patch, like a dirty pumpkin.
Quinton gave her flowers, but the Lilitree shrieked when she saw her cut sisters
and laid them tenderly in her muddy bed. Quinton crept beneath the cabbage tree
where she lay, and listened to her unhappy woody breathing.
Marlene observed silently. She watched those long elegant fingers wringing
sheets, ironing and folding the endless stacks of shirts and trousers. She watched
the Lilitree bending over the tub to wash the delicates, her body gently swaying.
Marlene thought of taking a nice Sunday afternoon walk in the forest with
the Lilitree. Because they were one happy family. They veiled her greenish skin
with a coat and shawls and tied back her thick tendrils with scarves. They entered
the forest with the tightly wrapped woman and immediately, when she smelt
the damp wood and leaves, she bolted, pulling at the jacket and scarves that
bound her. She ran off the path and was easily camouflaged by the trees. Quinton
sprinted after her and they raced between the pines. He puffed behind her, but
she remained out of reach. She heard the low, guttural tones first, but even so she
was unprepared: turning a bend, she saw a great gush of water from beyond what
was visible – right up to the clouds – and was entranced at the sight. Never had she
seen such an enormous tap. Unable to resist, she paused for a second and drank
from the spray of the waterfall. Hearing footsteps, she turned and ran, but Quinton
CONTEXT: AFRICA MARY WATSON SEOIGHE
had gained on her, and, with a flying leap, rugby-tackled her to the ground. They
rolled in the moss and stones. He loved her then; no one had ever been lovelier. He
couldn’t let her go, he told her beneath the insistent chatter of the waterfall.
She begged and pleaded to stay in the forest with the other trees and the
giant tap. But Quinton couldn’t. So, in his arms, he carried her back to the car, and
Marlene drove them home. Heading back to the disquieted suburbs, they all felt let
down.
The Lilitree could not forget the forest. The little muddy yard was suddenly too
small because she could hear a distant whisper of trees from beyond those high
cracked walls; she heard the call of the sea she had never seen. She thought only of
the water gushing from the mountain spring and lost her taste for the outside tap.
Marlene also dreamed of the forest. She dreamed of the Lilitree being eaten by
porcupines, of the manky smell of rotting wood, of lightning severing limbs with
branched-out fingers and a slow death by ants. In her dreams she tried to help, she
was always coming with a basket of sweets and a bottle of milk and a bottle of gin.
But she never got there.
Without water, the Lilitree’s skin took on a greyish tinge and her fingers faded
to yellow. Her limber gait slowed down and her movements worked to an arthritic
grind. Quinton hovered, eager to do anything she wanted, but for the one thing
that the Lilitree asked of him.
“You wouldn’t be safe there,” he pleaded with her. Then, more assertively, “I am
responsible for you.”
She stopped eating decaying vegetables from the compost heap. She cowered
when Quinton sprayed her with the hosepipe.
“Let me go back,” she asked again. But Quinton could not.
The Lilitree wilted. Her face lined with faint concentric rings that deepened as
if scored into her skin. On the day that she could no longer lift the heavy laundry
bags, she raised herself from the delicates and found that she hurt in a way that
she had never hurt before. She went to lay herself beneath the cabbage tree, her
trunk held within its roots. There she stayed, and her skin turned a silvery brown,
and the leaves swished above her.
They never talked about her after that. Later, they forgot that, for almost a year,
they had known and even loved a tree woman. When their children played in the
garden, beneath the two cabbage trees, they knew only a vague story about how
Quinton had carried the silver bough from the forest, and how, soon after, the
second tree had sprouted from its trunk.
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE MOHAMED MAGANI
Mohamed Magani
Extrait du roman
Scène de pêche en Algérie
Le réchauffement climatique lui apparut concentré sur un point unique
de la terre, le lieu de destination que choisit notre voisin du troisième pour ses
vacances à la campagne. Il partit en voyage tenir parole et emmener son fils
taquiner le barbeau et l’anguille: la toute première fois. Il l’avisa qu’il n’avait
nul besoin d’emporter des appâts et lui conseilla même de prendre un livre plutôt,
sans oublier sa casquette rouge.
Au lieu de vers de terre, ils amorceraient les hameçons avec des sauterelles
pèlerines. Au lendemain de leur descente sur le coin, en tandem avec les milliers
de millions de criquets pèlerins, il en resterait fatalement quelques centaines
d’individus, le tube digestif sans doute trop lourd pour pouvoir s’élever dans les airs.
L’enfant comprit qu’il n’avait aucune chance de trouver des vers de terre dans
les champs privés de pluie des années à la file.
L’oued serpentait en filet mince, s’étirait le long d’une berge en surplomb afin
de se dérober aux regards, d’échapper aux assoiffés hommes et bêtes, aux
irrigateurs clandestins et baigneurs pollueurs. Le père et le fils marchaient au bord
de l’eau, remontaient le lit de l’oued plus qu’aux trois quarts tari. Ils marchaient
tantôt sur un cailloutis uni, ciselé et bleuâtre, tantôt sur du sable poudreux.
A leur droite, le cours grossissait timidement. Ils arrivèrent à leur destination, une
sorte de barrage d’à peine deux mètres de hauteur, d’où chutait une pluie limpide,
chantante comme une source poétique. Une traînée crayeuse festonnait
le pourtour de la retenue d’eau qui se désertifiait.
A l’angle du muret et de l’eau, le père déposa les attirails sur un banc de sable,
endroit familier de son enfance. Il entreprit de garnir les hameçons sous le regard
plus qu’attentif du fils, qui ne cessait de lui poser des questions sur son passetemps d’autrefois.
Les yeux brillants d’excitation, le garçon découvrit bientôt que le barbeau est
un poisson à bouche dure et, qu’avec cette espèce-là, on perdait rarement sa prise.
Il lança sa ligne avec l’aide du père et riva aussitôt les yeux sur le bouchon.
Notre voisin Mestor Rezzaka guidait maintenant les premiers gestes de son
fils dans l’art de la pêche. L’enfant apprenait avec docilité.
Vingt minutes ou plus s’écoulèrent, le père leva sa ligne et la relança dans l’eau.
Le garçon refit les mêmes gestes, prêtant l’oreille aux précautions que l’adulte
murmurait.
Une demi-heure plus tard Mestor Rezzaka et son fils se retrouvèrent assis sur le
sable, à quelques pas l’un de l’autre, sans quitter les bouchons des yeux. Dix autres
minutes d’attente, puis le garçon tira un livre de son sac à dos et l’ouvrit à une page
cornée. Du coin de l’œil, le père l’observait. Il finit par délaisser les bouchons et se
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE MOHAMED MAGANI
tourner vers son fils qui tenait la ligne d’une main, le livre de l’autre, tournant les
pages avec le menton.
Il était assis sur le monticule de sable, à se dire que la pêche seule peut offrir
pareil tableau. L’agitation sourde dans l’attitude figée et concentrée du garçon,
le mouvement affleure en l’absence même du poisson qui mord, l’action se trouve
dans les pages auxquelles il consacre toute son attention. D’où cette compatibilité
vivante entre la pêche et la lecture. Un livre entre les mains d’un pêcheur peut tout
aussi bien lui tenir lieu de prise, ce qui n’est guère le cas du fusil sur l’épaule du
chasseur. La pêche inculque la contemplation, non la vigilance propre à la chasse,
elle donne au temps une qualité bien connue des chevaliers de la gaule.
Au fil de l’attente, semblable au temps entre l’envoi d’une lettre et la réponse
qui tarde à venir, le pêcheur laisse jouer son imagination.
- Alors, oulidou, tu ne peux lire tout le temps?
- Non.
- Tu ne peux pêcher tout le temps non plus.
- Non.
- Alors, que te reste-il à faire?
- Aucune idée, fit le garçon.
Mestor Rezzaka sortit sa ligne de l’eau. La sauterelle pèlerine s‘effritait au bout
de l’hameçon. « Je vais te dire ce qui te reste à faire », la lenteur et la minutie des
gestes retenaient les mots du père.
- Quoi? dit le garçon, impatient.
- Ce que tu as déjà fait. Ton histoire débute sur un pont. Un jour, un matin pour
être plus précis, tu passais ce pont avec ton grand-père. Tu portais cette casquette
rouge à cause du soleil qui tapait fort, un peu moins fort qu’aujourd’hui tout de
même. Vous étiez sortis pour quelques petits achats, et une promenade dans la
foulée. Sur le chemin du retour, au beau milieu du pont, tu t’arrêtes, tout étourdi
par la chaleur. Le dos contre le parapet, tu te laisses glisser lentement sur le sol.
Ton grand-père marchait à cinq mètres devant toi. Il se retourna. Tu veux savoir
ce qu’il fit?
- Oui, continue.
- Il vint vers toi. Arrivé à ta hauteur, il se saisit de ta casquette. Et la posa à tes
pieds. Veux-tu savoir ce qu’il fit ensuite?
- Je crois deviner, il s’assit dessus et l’écrasa sous son poids.
- Tu es loin du compte, oulidou. Il jeta une pièce de un dinar dans la casquette
et reprit la marche, sans se retourner. A ton grand étonnement, tu vis des passants
jeter des pièces dans ta casquette. Tu restes là, incapable de bouger, les yeux ronds,
allant des hommes et femmes, – même d’enfants généreux – au tas de pièces qui
grossissait. Vingt bonnes minutes s’écoulèrent avant que tu ne coures rejoindre
grand-père, sans rien lui dire de l’argent dans ta poche. C’est que, une grande idée
a déjà germé dans ta tête. Ta longue vie d’enfant te pèse déjà...
Le soir, après mûre réflexion, tu dis à ton père: « papa, un jour je serai plus riche
que toi. » Quand bien même tu savais que le train de vie de ton père, de ta famille,
était aux antipodes de l’aisance et de la richesse. D’ailleurs, tu n’arrêtais pas de lui
demander l’argent de poche, de lui dire de lever le nez des copies de ses élèves et
de trouver un emploi plus rémunérateur.
Le jour suivant, tu joues au mendiant. Oh! juste une petite demi-heure, car
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE MOHAMED MAGANI
tu craignais d’être reconnu malgré la précaution d’éviter le pont; tu cherchais un
endroit éloigné de la maison. Autre précaution: tu t’arranges pour mettre de vieux
habits. A ta grande surprise, ça marche! Et mieux que la première fois! Les pièces
s’entrechoquent dans la casquette. Le surlendemain tu te donnes une autre demiheure, dans un endroit différent, toujours loin de chez toi.
- Tu ne t’es pas rendu compte? dit le garçon.
- Comment l’aurais-je su? dit Mestor Rezzaka, tu étais en vacances de printemps,
et je te voyais souvent avec tes camarades de classe. Je me disais que vous passiez
le temps au cybercafé ou que vous alliez au stade, au cinéma...
- Dois-je penser que j’ai continué?
- Evidemment! Ton grand-père t’avait mis dans la tête, involontairement,
un plan pour t’enrichir et pouvoir dire à ton père qu’il n’était plus indispensable
dans ta vie.
Tu continues donc à travailler de la main tendue et à amasser de l’argent.
Les vacances de printemps arrivées à leur fin, tu comptes et recomptes ta fortune.
Un beau tas de pièces que tu as pris le soin de changer en beaux billets chez des
épiciers, hors de vue de ta famille et de tes connaissances. Tu caches les billets et
attends le jour de les dépenser comme bon te semble.
Tu retournes à contrecoeur au collège et attends avec impatience les grandes
vacances.
Tu auras tout le temps de faire fructifier ta petite affaire. Seulement voilà,
une idée de ton père va contrarier tes projets.
Le livre encore entre les mains, le garçon tournait les pages d’une histoire
captivante.
Est-ce trop te demander d’arrêter de tourner ces pages, fit Mestor Rezzaka,
tu ne peux pas oublier ce livre?
- Je sais pas. Quelle est cette idée?
- Ton père s’est mis dans la tête de passer l’été du côté de tes grands-parents.
Ta mère et tout le monde sont de son avis. Ils veulent fuir la ville et son été
infernal. Ils rêvent d’un peu de verdure, d’arbres fruitiers, de figuiers de Barbarie
qui foisonnent autour de la maison de tes grands-parents. L’idée te déplait
souverainement.
- Fais-tu semblant d’oublier que c’est moi, tout le temps, qui te demande, te
supplie de nous emmener chez grand-père et grand-mère? A cet sur une pierre
instant, par trois fois, le bouchon du garçon s‘évanouit en une fraction de seconde
de la surface de l’eau. « Attention! » s’écria à mi-voix le père. Affolé, le fils tournait
sur lui-même. Ses gestes incontrôlés firent tomber et livre et ligne. Mestor Rezzeka
se précipita et les repêcha.
- oulidou, dit-il, l’œil à la fois sévère et amusé, ni la pêche ni les livres ne te
réussissent. Tiens, reprends tes instruments.
- Puisque tu en parles, mes grands-parents me manquent, soupira le garçon
avec dépit, ne sachant plus quoi faire de ses mains et des deux objets dégoulinant.
- Non, pas cette fois-ci, tu te dis qu’il n’y aurait pas moyen de faire la manche
du côté de tes grands-parents. Voyons! C’est la campagne, le bled? Tout le monde
se connaît à des kilomètres à la ronde. Quand arrive un étranger, tu peux être sûr
qu’il ne passera pas inaperçu. Un petit mendiant! Tu imagines la réaction... Tu
enrages à l’idée de ne pouvoir lancer à ton père: « papa, un jour je serai plus riche
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE MOHAMED MAGANI
que toi ».
Le garçon déposa le livre ouvert en son milieu sur une pierre chauffée comme
une braise. « Il sera sec avant que tu n’aies attrapé une sardine, fit le père. Tiens,
accroche cette sauterelle à ton hameçon, dans le sens de la longueur. Et tu pourras
continuer la lecture de ton livre. » Le garçon prit délicatement l’insecte aux ailes
coupées.
- Et mon histoire?
- Elle est tombée à l’eau avec le livre.
- Je ne te crois pas.
- Tu as de la suite dans les idées, oulidou, tu ne te laisses pas souffler ton
histoire. Tandis que tu passes les grandes vacances à la campagne, entouré de
tous tes proches, un autre garçon en habits de mendiant se charge de demander
la charité pour deux. Un ami de ta classe, sûr, que tu as mis dans le secret. Tu
lui as indiqué les bonnes adresses où tendre la main sans risque: les heures de
pointe de la mendicité, ce qu’il faut faire et ne pas faire. Bref, tu l’as transformé en
authentique mendiant. Lui, par contre, va aller plus loin. Il aime l’argent plus que
tout. Il va mettre la moitié de ta classe au courant. Tes camarades, du fait de leur
nombre, rêvent désormais, non de petites pièces, mais de trésors!
- A l’avenir, je ne lui confierai plus rien, réagit le garçon.
- Il va les entraîner tous derrière ton slogan: « papa, un jour je serai plus riche
que toi ». Tes camarades devenaient audacieux, ils s’aventuraient partout ailleurs,
et dédaignaient les endroits connus de toi. Ils changeaient de ville dans leur quête
de richesse. Chacun de son côté amassait de l’argent et ils se rencontraient pour
échanger astuces et habits usés de circonstance. Et c’est à la suite d’une de ces
rencontres que deux pères aperçurent leurs enfants, fagotés comme des gueux,
assis à même le sol et tendant la main, à quelques mètres l’un de l’autre. Dès ce
moment-ci, tu seras le grand responsable des égarements de tous ces enfants.
À la rentrée, des foules de parents demandent ton expulsion du collège.
- Que va-t-il se passer?
- Les journées calmes au bord de l’eau te reviennent et tu vas reprendre ta ligne.
- Ca ne mord pas et mon livre est tout mouillé!
- Tu dois croire de toutes te forces que ce que tu tiens à la main n’est pas une
canne à pêche, mais une baguette magique. Tu ne sens pas l’orage venir?
L’enfant leva les yeux. Depuis longtemps il n’avait vu un ciel aussi bas et noir.
C’est le murmure d’un oued qui ruisselait à peine audible d’abord, puis bruissait,
s’agitait et basculait dans l’orage torrentiel, tandis qu’un paquet d’eau se balançait
dans tous les sens, que le reste du jour s’obscurcissait et devenait propice à tous
les déchaînements.
Les cataractes de pluie lessivaient les champs nus en amont et firent surgir des
flots qui se déversaient, couleur de terre, de toute la longueur du barrage. « Tu peux
te jeter dans l’oued! cria Mestor Rezzaka, faisant signe à son fils de se débarrasser
de sa casquette, cette pluie est une bénédiction! »
- Regarde! dit le garçon, les pages de mon livre se détachent!
- Ne crains rien, demain tu le retrouveras tout sec.
- Tu penses revenir? Moi, pas! Il nous faut rentrer!
- Si tu me quittes, tu n’entendras plus jamais le reste de ton histoire. Passe-moi
d’abord ton hameçon que je l’amorce!
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE MOHAMED MAGANI
Le déluge redoubla d’intensité et de roulements assourdissants. De furieuses
colonnes d’eau s’abattaient si drues sur l’oued que les poissons auraient pu nager
dans la pluie. Le père et le fils se distinguaient à peine, l’invisibilité les enroulait
presque, isolément. Mestor Rezzaka donnait de la voix pour continuer le reste de
l’histoire. Le garçon n’entendait que des bribes de mots incompréhensibles. Il se
mit à pousser des cris de protestation. Devant ses gestes et éclats de voix de singe
hurleur, le père explosa d’un rire de baleine qui le secoua tout entier. « Nous avons
une règle, nous les pêcheurs à la ligne. Tu attrapes le poisson ou c’est le poisson qui
t’attrape: tu te jettes à l’eau! Ah, ah, ah, ah! – Oh, oh! Une touche!...
Dépité, le garçon porta son regard sur le livre se vidant de ses lignes, de son
encre qui se liquéfiait, se mêlait à la pluie et roulait vers l’oued. Une inconsolable
tristesse emplit son cœur. Le livre prit une signification qui embrassait l’histoire
dans ses pages, celle qui commença un jour sur un pont, celle encore, naissante et
mémorable, de la folle partie de pêche au bord d’un filet de cours d’eau transmué
en torrent furieux sous des pluies diluviennes, et puis, intarissable sur toutes les
autres, celle dont lui ferait sans faute le récit à son grand-père et à l’ensemble de
sa famille. Voilà pourquoi je tournais machinalement la page, se dit-il.
Trempé de la tête aux pieds, il pensait au jeune héro du livre, sauvageon qui a
la passion des ponts et le génie du dessin. La ligne à la main, Il fit quelques pas en
arrière et ferma le livre en y fourrant les pages détachées. Il posa une grosse pierre
dessus.
- Que fais-tu? s’écria Mestor Rezzaka, retourne à ton poste!
- Je ne peux pas le laisser. Je ne veux pas.
- Je te le redis, il sera sec en moins de rien. C’est un orage passager.
Mais l’orage se prolongeait. Le poisson ne mordait pas. Mestor Rezzaka et son
fils avaient toutes les peines à retenir les lignes dans le courant tumultueux. «
Nous nous sommes habitués au bruit, » dit le père, « tu peux entendre la fin de ton
histoire maintenant. Tu ne seras pas renvoyé du collège. Tu passes en conseil de
discipline et on t’inflige deux semaines d’expulsion... »
A ce moment précis de l’histoire du garçon, un coup brusque et violent faillit
arracher la ligne de sa main. Le père, aux aguets, se précipita.
- Ça mord! Ça mord! Tiens bien ta canne! Doucement, doucement.
La canne pliait à coups répétés. Le garçon tirait de toutes ses forces. La pluie
fouettait son visage et ses mains glissaient.
- Aide-moi, papa!
- Tu dois t’en sortir tout seul! Comme dans ton histoire!
- Je n’ai rien entendu de sa suite!
- Tu verras bientôt sa fin devant tes propres yeux.
Un bout de la canne enfoncée dans l’eau, la ligne s’élançait dans toutes les
directions. Dans un héroïque effort contraire, le garçon pencha le dos en arrière
et manqua de tomber à la renverse. Mestor Rezzaka restait de marbre.
- Il est clair que vos forces sont inégales. Tu ne dois pas lutter contre le poisson.
Il faut le noyer!
- Quoi! Il est déjà dans l’eau, papa!
- Donne-lui du champ! Fatigue-le!
Fort des exhortations du père, le fils maîtrisa de proche en proche son
agitation éperdue. Il abandonna la lutte et surveillait le bouchon jouant au yo-yo
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE MOHAMED MAGANI
dans les flots. Puis, Il céda à la force qui le tirait et se mit à avancer au fil de l’eau
dans sa direction. Il fit une quinzaine de mètres le long de la berge. Les furieux
mouvements de la ligne s’apaisèrent. Pas à pas, le garçon commença ensuite de
marcher à reculons. Il vit alors émerger de l’eau, lentement, un poisson si développé
qu’il songea à un requin.
Mestor Rezzaka accourut. Le poisson se débattait sur le sable gras et sombre,
sous le regard incrédule de son fils. « La voilà la fin de ton histoire! Quel magnifique
barbeau! il ressemble à la fin de ton histoire, n’est-ce pas? - A moins que tu ne
veuilles continuer de pêcher? Tu devrais l’offrir à ton grand-père pour te faire
pardonner. »
Les frères du livre
La crise nationale des années quatre-vingt-dix s’ouvrit touchant Amokrane
Lebsir à la tête et l’estomac, les prix du pain et du livre grimpaient de pair. Il étouffa
en lui le dilemme cornélien en faveur du pain et se mit à lorgner le bureau de tabac
bouquinerie de l’immeuble en face.
L’endroit lui avait de tout temps offert un spectacle sans intérêt. Amokrane
Lebsir n’appréciait guère la cigarette et le tabac à chiquer, encore moins la
liquéfaction des genres sur les rayons poussiéreux: romans roses, policiers, livres
scolaires, parascolaire, de recettes culinaires, bandes dessinées de l’âge des fresques
du Tassili, vieux numéros de revues de femmes et romans-feuilletons, dans leur
ensemble de seconde main.
Trois frères se relayaient dans les lieux. Le dernier-né, jeune homme dans sa
vingtième année, était le plus retors et triplait, quadruplait allègrement le prix
des livres usés. (La femme d’Amokrane Lebsir fit les frais de sa voracité lorsqu’elle
acheta un livre cadeau d’anniversaire – un Dos Passos. Elle déboursa le triple du
prix qu’il aurait lui réussi à arracher). L’aîné vivait la tenace frustration de n’avoir
pas continué sa scolarité au-delà du primaire; il s’en ouvrait à lui de temps à autre.
Dans son cas, le compromis était rarement un objectif inatteignable. Après un
rituel qui les amusait à chaque occasion, sans qu’on puisse dire qui est le plus dupe
des deux, Amokrane Lebsir arrivait à ses fins et emportait le livre convoité. Il prenait
quatre, cinq ou six livres à la fois (un salmigondis de genres à rendre perplexe un
illettré, au milieu duquel il glissait l’objet convoité) et demandait le prix global.
Le buraliste les prenait à son tour, examinait leur état général, la brillance des
couvertures et la blancheur des pages, les auscultait et soupesait comme des
melons, puis lançait un prix, qu’Amokrane Lebsir considérait à juste titre exagéré.
Il lui fallait alors procéder par élimination, et à chaque fois redemander le prix des
livres restant, jusqu’au tout dernier, objet réel de toutes les tractations. Le manège
prenait du temps et exigeait de la patience, mais la récompense arrivait au bout du
compte. Ainsi, en pleine crise du livre, Amokrane Lebsir put-il pêcher des perles au
fond des abîmes: Dib, Ben Jelloun, Green (Graham), Joyce, Asturias, Bernanos, Bôll,
Vonnegut et bien d’autres.
Face au troisième frère, rondouillard au cœur d’artiste, la tâche était
relativement aisée. Le troisième frère des livres se faisait un devoir de mettre
de côté et réserver, sous le comptoir, une place aux livres qui présentaient des
différences manifestes avec les genres présents. Amokrane surveillait le bureau
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE MOHAMED MAGANI
de tabac comme on attend le facteur qui viendrait avec la bonne nouvelle.
Il attendait le bon livre, le bon frère, au bon moment.
Au fil des années quatre-vingt-dix, les joyaux qu’il recherchait se raréfiaient
de plus en plus. Amokrane Lebsir tenta bien d’en connaître la source et les causes
de son tarissement. Les trois frères faisaient la sourde oreille. Néanmoins, à
force de patience, de surveillance du bureau de tabac, il découvrit qu’un rival
s’approvisionnait à la même adresse en littérature et, connexion inconcevable à
se représenter au départ, ce concurrent et son fournisseur anonyme ne faisaient
qu’un en vérité.
C’était un voisin, disons lointain, il habitait à trois immeubles du sien. Pour
boucler des fins de mois difficiles , l’homme vendit, avec grande discrétion, la
majeure partie de sa bibliothèque aux trois frères. Il connaissait par cœur des
passages entiers de livres acquis par Amokrane Lebsir. L’émotion saisit son visage
lorsqu’il entendit ce dernier dire que ses livres ne servaient pas à garnir les rayons
de belles bibliothèques, comme « ces livres meubles de l’ignorance. » Sur quoi,
son bonheur serait, ajouta-il de récupérer un ou deux Dib, un ou deux Djaout, si
Amokrane Lebsir en avait fait l’acquisition chez les frères du livre.
Le passeur
C’est par un de ces matins où sourd déjà une grosse part de nostalgie,
pessimisme et sentiment d’injustice profond qu’Ahmed le pêcheur retourne au
meilleur des endroits pour s’abandonner au moment érémitique, avec vue sur
le cimetière de carcasses métalliques, s’absenter de la familiarité désespérante
des temps présents où tout donne le spectacle permanent de la dégradation.
Il s’installe, sans ligne à surveiller, sur son perchoir habituel, des blocs rocheux
en gradins surplombant autrefois la partie la plus profonde de l’oued, d’où les
tourbillons, observés d’en haut, ne cessaient de fasciner le regard. Les eaux
scintillantes dévalaient le lit en pente, s’écrasaient contre la rangée inférieure
de rochers et reprenaient leur cours en remous tournoyants. Ahmed qui se
considère, et l’oued avec lui, comme deux orphelins dépendants l’un de l’autre,
l’oued abandonné de l’Etat, de la nature et des hommes, et lui de l’oued à son corps
défendant – qui ignore même où sont remisé sa canne de roseau, les crins de ligne
et les hameçons – et se demande à quand remonte sa retraite anticipée et forcée
de la pêche. Il fronce les sourcils comme si une autre personne, lui faisant face,
venait de lui poser la question.
Mais la personne est dans son dos. L’homme, un riverain de l’oued, s’approche
en tapinois avec toutefois l’intention amicale de le surprendre. Il tient quelque
chose à la main, comme une feuille de papier. A deux pas derrière Ahmed le
pêcheur il se ravise et fourre la chose dans sa poche. « Ah! te revoilà! Tu nous
reviens un peu plus souvent ces derniers temps », fit-il. Ahmed serre la main du
riverain qui sent comme une contrariété dans cet échange. « Est-ce à dire que tu
comptes te remettre à la pêche? Désolé, je plaisantais. » Voilà pourquoi je viens ici,
imbécile! Se dit Ahmed qui invente une histoire de fraîcheur matinale.
- Sans l’oued, je me demande d’où peut venir la fraîcheur?
- Tu ne perds rien à l’attendre comme moi, cher Ali, dit Ahmed le pêcheur.
- Il y a une question que je voulais toujours te poser.
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE MOHAMED MAGANI
Ali commence par évoquer sa longue vie auprès de l’oued, dont il se sent si
proche au point de se croire en mesure d’écrire sa biographie jour après jour, ou
mieux encore son journal, de le décrire intimement chaque heure de la journée
et de la nuit, chaque saison de l’année, de discerner les variations de sa couleur en
fonction des données de ses fonds – invisibles aux autres – sa profondeur et même
la vitesse de son cours à différents endroits, et finalement de nommer toutes les
espèces qui viennent s’abreuver à ses eaux: animaux, insectes, oiseaux, reptiles,
etc. etc. Ahmed le pêcheur l’écoute sans mot dire, agréablement surpris par un tel
aveu d’attachement, mais se demandant néanmoins où veut en venir Ali. Voilà
des décennies qu’il arpente les berges de l’oued, et s’y baigne, c’est la toute
première fois qu’il entend pareille confession, n’émanant ni d’un pêcheur comme
lui ni d’un baigneur ou d’un cultivateur pompant ses eaux. Il l’écoute, tentant de
deviner la question dans ses propos.
Elle arrive, à la manière d’une anguille. « L’histoire de marins célèbres –
Sindbad, Raïs Hamidou, Mourad Raïs, Ulysse, Surcouf, celle du Grand Amiral Zheng
He – ne commence pas en mer, comme on pourrait le croire. Pourrait-on dire que
ton histoire avec la pêche ne commence pas à l’oued? Dans ce cas, où? » Ahmed le
pêcheur parait réfléchir. « Si ce n’est trop indiscret, » poursuit Ali.
- Nullement. C’est simple: dans mon voisinage, depuis très longtemps j’essaie
d’échapper quotidiennement à deux hommes, deux moulins à paroles qui
médisent de tout le monde et se gaussent, des voisins en premier, vingt-quatre
heures par jour. Je ne peux sortir prendre l’air sur le pas de ma porte sans qu’ils ne
m’abreuvent de leurs insanités. Très tôt aussi, j’ai compris leur stratégie: il s’agit
pour eux de déchirer à belles dents les autres, sans relâche, de crainte qu’ils ne
deviennent eux-mêmes sujets de conversations. Et pour cause! L’un a une sœur
qui tient une maison de passe, l’autre une femme qui s’envoie en l’air avec tout
étranger de passage généreux. Va t-en donc leur raconter leurs quatre vérités!
Ils frissonnent entre leur langue de vipère et la hantise que leurs scandales
familiaux soient dévoilés et qu’on ne jase que de cela. C’est en plus une paire de
couscoussards, deux inséparables viandards, ripailleurs indécrottables – qui ont
l’air de parler avec une voix de ventriloque – dès les premiers jours de l’été, ils
fourrent dans leurs poches cuillères et serviettes et s’invitent à toutes les fêtes et
n’en ratent aucune. Autant d’occasions pour dénigrer les absents! L’autre jour, j’ai
reçu un ami de longue date, il était de passage et tenait à passer...
- Ce n’est pas chose aisée à dire à des voisins, admit Ali, d’une une voix où perce
une légère irritation, mais plus kafkaïen que Kafka, tu l’es Ahmed. Je suis venu
aujourd’hui te montrer ceci.
- J’ignore qui est ce Kafka, ni s’il y un quelconque rapport entre la pêche et lui .
Mais les deux mauvaises langues auraient mieux fait, quand cela était possible,
de venir barboter dans l’eau... Toutes ces années à cracher leur venin.
Ali tire de sa poche une photo noir et blanc, où le noir est recouvert d’une
pellicule gris blanchâtre et le blanc voilé de petits nuages jaunâtres. Ahmed hésite
un instant avant de la prendre, puis tend la main. Il est immédiatement happé par
la scène dans la photo. Tel une couturière aux doigts de fée, Ali vient de resserrer
le nœud magique entre l’oued et Ahmed le pêcheur. Il ressent une telle émotion
qu’il perd la voix. La photo montre une barque malmenée par des eaux démontées.
Les creux de vagues hauts sur la fragile embarcation l’encerclent semblables aux
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE MOHAMED MAGANI
monstres d’un mauvais rêve. Pourtant, la barque donne l’impression de voler
sur les eaux.
- Ne me dis pas que c’est l’oued?
- Si, c’est bien lui. Cette photo je l’avais prise un hiver vers le début des années
cinquante. Je l’ai retrouvée par hasard en fouillant des tiroirs oubliés.
Ahmed se replonge à présent dans une vision mouvante. Dans la barque,
on voit clairement trois femmes voilées d’un côté, de l’autre quatre hommes
enturbannés dont un pèse de tout son poids sur une bicyclette, et un autre rame
ferme pour atteindre la rive. Il est doté d’une forte corpulence et ses efforts
maintiennent l’embarcation en équilibre au milieu de grosses houles. « Le passeur!
fit Ahmed, je me demande ce qu’il est devenu. » Il examine de plus près la personne
reconnue.
- Nous n’avons eu qu’un seul, de toute façon. Mais il a disparu avec l’oued,
dit Ali.
- Bien avant, rectifia Ahmed le pêcheur.
Le passeur retira barque et rames, les laissa sans doute pourrir sur la berge
ou les jeta dans un terrain vague, lorsque s‘approcha la fin inéluctable de l’oued.
Ses niveau et volume avaient dramatiquement chuté. Les crues de l’hiver le
gonflaient démesurément et des vagues, qui n’avaient rien à envier à celles des
océans, chevauchaient ses eaux. Leur déferlement offrit à Ahmed le pêcheur,
enfant, les premières images de la mer Lorsque arrivait l’été, il perdait de sa superbe
sans perdre sa dignité, il restait le seul et unique grand fleuve du pays. En moins
d’une décennie, la sécheresse, conjuguée à la pollution envahissante et au pompage
continue d’usines et d’agriculteurs, le défigurèrent en ruisseau où la présence d’un
batelier et de sa barque friserait le ridicule.
Il s’évanouit dans la nature, le passeur, exerce t-il son métier sous d’autres
cieux où les fleuves sont épargnés par la nature et respectés des hommes?
Pourquoi a t-on perdu sa trace? Quelle occupation de substitution a t-il pu trouver?
Ali n’en sait rien. A l’instar d’Ahmed le pêcheur, et d’autres, on l’a simplement perdu
de vue. Quant à lui, il ne s’est plus manifesté, ni du côté de l’oued ni sous aucune
autre latitude.
- Tu peux garder la photo, je suis certain qu’entre tes mains elle continuera
de témoigner, dit Ali, un large sourire sur le visage. Avant de te quitter j’aimerais
te dire ceci: regarde tous ces tuyaux, ces trous, ces conduites et canalisations qui
déversent leurs saletés sur le squelette de l’oued: en remontant les égouts il est
possible d’écrire l’histoire de cet oued.
Un immense bonheur submerge Ahmed le pêcheur. En le rendant dépositaire
de la photo, Ali n’a pas brisé le lien magique qu’il a crée, en dépit de l’énigmatique
invitation à se pencher sur le passé au travers d’égouts.
Photo en poche, plein d’enthousiasme, Ahmed le pêcheur se lance à la recherche
du passeur. Soudain, dans sa relation spéciale avec l’oued apparaît un troisième
compère - peut-être un autre orphelin - et avec lui l’assurance d’une profonde
connaissance de l’oued, prélude à d’interminables évocations et discussions.
Premiers sur la liste: les anciens concurrents, les envieux hostiles. Ils sont tous de
ce monde et manifestent une joie réelle de revivre leurs souvenirs sur les berges
du Cheliff. Ahmed le pêcheur leur rend tour à tour visite, et à chaque occasion se
trouve très embarrassé de prendre congé de son interlocuteur, tant les souvenirs
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE MOHAMED MAGANI
s’égrènent. Bien que pas un ne peut lui fournir un quelconque renseignement sur
le passeur.
Désappointé, il retourne du côté de l’oued et interroge tous ses riverains, les
jeunes l’emmènent aux anciens, et ces derniers sont désolés de ne pouvoir lui être
d’aucune aide. « L’oued a disparu, emportant avec lui le passeur », commente un
vieux.
Mis au courant de ses recherches infructueuses, d’autres hommes, qui ont eu
à utiliser les services du passeur, s’approchent d’Ahmed le pêcheur par souci de
l’aider. S’ils ont reconnu l’individu de la photo, aucun ne peut dire où le trouver.
Puis, un surprenant phénomène se produit.
Nombreux parmi les hommes interrogés sont ceux qui reviennent s’exprimer
à nouveau sur l’irréparable crime contre la nature. Tout à coup, le passé redevient
sujet favori de discussion et l’oued son maître mot. Tout à coup, de plus en plus
d’hommes se pressent vers un bivouac, autour d’une flamme vacillante. Plus
encore, tout le monde veut repartir avec la photo, comme si l’ex-pêcheur venait
de mettre la main sur le Soufre Rouge qui ferait fondre le présent dans le passé,
transformerait et sublimerait celui-ci en faveur de chacun d’eux. Ahmed se voit
alors contraint de reproduire en dizaines d’exemplaires l’image qui lui est tombée
un jour du ciel. Curieusement, l’engouement pour une photo unique des années
cinquante entraîne un emballement pour la carte postale coloniale, il en reçoit
des dizaines à titre gracieux, dont il pourrait aisément faire son miel de leur
reproduction et vente. Mais, peu enclin à commercer sur le dos de l’oued, il n’entend
se consacrer qu’à sa biographie, ses pages de gloire, et ne prend guère conscience
de l’aubaine.
Au fond de lui-même pourtant, Ahmed le pêcheur sait qu’un nœud magique
vient de se desserrer d’un cran, la multitude s’est interposée entre lui et le cours
d’eau qui coule encore dans sa tête. Il se mit en tête de réagir. Puisque le passeur
est introuvable, il ira à la recherche de sa barque et de ses rames, sans souffler
mot de sa nouvelle tentative. Quitte à parcourir le pays dans tous les sens, il les
retrouvera et les ramènera chez lui en secret. Au rebours de l’enquête classique
qui procède du plus près au plus loin, il remontera loin, très loin en amont du lit de
l’oued où il espère un double miracle: retrouver le Cheliff dans la plénitude de son
volume, de sa configuration libre, et apercevoir le passeur, sinon son moyen
de traversée.
Cinq semaines d’exploration consciencieuse s’écoulent, à la fin la tâche paraît
aussi chimérique que la cohabitation d’animaux marins et d’animaux terriens
dans un même élément: le temps du passeur et celui du cycle long du temps sec
s’excluent mutuellement. La mort dans l’âme, Ahmed le pêcheur interrompt ses
pérégrinations et retourne à ses endroits favoris, tentant de pénétrer le crâne du
passeur au moment où la barque et les rames sortent de l’oued pour ne plus jamais
y retourner. Va t-il les abandonner sur la berge, les livrer aux flammes, les offrir,
les briser dans un excès de rage, les cacher ailleurs ou chez lui, les enfouir peut-être,
sinon les couper en morceaux pour les feux de bois des soirées froides de l’hiver?
– Ultime supposition, image poignante et douloureuse: sont-elles restées à même
l’eau jusqu’à l’assèchement absolu de l’oued, jusqu’à s’ensabler au point de pourrir
et se putréfier comme chair en décomposition?
La réponse tarde bien deux semaines supplémentaires avant que les recherches
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE MOHAMED MAGANI
n’aient leurs fruits, sortie de la bouche même du passeur qui prend soin à l’instant
même d’éclaircir un point capital.
- C’est toi qui as dit que j’étais mort?
L’attaque frontale de l’homme chargé d’ans, surgi du néant, désarçonne un bref
instant Ahmed le pêcheur. Il se ressaisit vivement et oppose des non frénétiques
de la tête, les yeux grands ouverts sur un fragment d’histoire doué de vie et qui se
rebiffe. Exalté, il bafouille tout ensemble excuses, dénégations, exclamations de
surprise et questions à répétition en guise de réponse.
- Bon, fait l’ex-passeur, en apparence satisfait.
Assis côte à côte, le vieux batelier en vient directement au sujet de ses moyens
de subsistance d’antan, prenant une voix qu’on aurait dit accompagnée du
murmure musical d’un clair ruisseau, et Ahmed le pêcheur l’écoute les mains
croisées, serrant une canne imaginaire. La barque renaît par la grâce des mots. Sous
un soleil éclatant elle descendait au fil de l’eau, tantôt effleurait les berges, tantôt
s‘en éloignait afin de ne pas gêner les pêcheurs à la ligne, et louvoyait une infinité
de fois au gré des fantaisies de son maître. Il faut dire qu’à cette époque la largeur
du fleuve autorisait tous les détours et les figures de danse.
Des temps les plus reculés, le destin familial de ses ascendants est intimement
lié à l’oued Cheliff, reprit le vieil homme après un silence proche de la stricte
observance méditative, du grand-grand-père au petit-petit- fils la vocation de
passeur n’a sauté aucune génération. Quant aux barques à rames, beaucoup ont
traversé les âges tels des arbres centenaires. leur longévité atteste du savoir-faire
de ses aïeuls; là-dessus, Ahmed le pêcheur ose une interruption à propos de la
valeur historique de leur dernier legs, objet de ses investigations infructueuses.
Quel n’est son étonnement de voir le batelier incommodé, même subitement cabré
lorsque celui-ci braque sur lui un regard chargé de colère et explose: « il ne reste
plus rien. Rien! J’ai tout cassé! »
- Pendant des semaines j’ai recherché votre embarcation. Des semaines!
- Je suis au courant! De toute façon, si vous avez perdu le bout du fil, la pelote,
elle, n’est pas perdue...
Son geste ne se rattache ni à une brutale et imprévisible lassitude des tangages
de son frêle esquif ni à une quelconque traversée ratée ou retour d’une partie de
pêche sans succès. Ahmed ne peut que s’incliner devant les faits. Le vieux batelier
avait mis en pièces sa barque de crainte qu’elle ne serve, les hivers où l’oued aurait
miraculeusement, démesurément grossi, de moyen de fuite ou de locomotion aux
légions d’acteurs, coalisés dans la guerre contre les civils, qui couvraient les feux
de cendres,
Le vieillard étouffe un geignement au creux d’un soupir sans fin et s’ensevelit
dans le mutisme. Si l’oued coulait sous leurs pieds en ces moments, ses eaux
rempliraient le plus grand barrage-réservoir du pays. Un silence mortel jette les
ex-passeur et chevalier de la gaule chacun dans une tombe de froideur. Le premier
signe d’apaisement vient du vieillard qui sort de sa manche une photo, la glisse
avec dextérité entre les mains croisées d’Ahmed et dit: « je n’ai pas oublié de
tirer un gros plan de ma dernière barque. J’ai un tas d’autres photos que j’aurais
grand plaisir à vous montrer, autour d’une table bien garnie, au jour qui vous
conviendrait. Elles peuvent nous consoler de la disparition de l’oued. » Il s’éloigne
de quelques mètres et se retourne: « Ah! J’ai vraiment essayé de recoller les
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE MOHAMED MAGANI
morceaux. » Il continue son chemin, et ajoute comme s’il se parlait à lui-même: «
De mon temps, on m’appelait « le champion des pêcheurs », j’utilisais les tripes de
poulet pour attraper les anguilles et les gros barbeaux. » « Parlez moins fort! » fit
Ahmed le pêcheur.
CONTEXT: AFRICA MONICA ARAC DE NYEKO
Monica Arac de Nyeko
Jambula Tree
WINNER OF THE 2007 CAINE PRIZE FOR AFRICAN WRITING
I heard of your return home from Mama Atim, our next-door neighbour.
You remember her, don’t you? We used to talk about her on our way to school,
hand in hand, jumping, skipping or playing run-and-catch-me. That woman’s
mouth worked at words like ants on a cob of maize. Ai! Everyone knows her
quack-quack-quack-mouth. But people are still left wordless by just how much
she can shoot at and wreck things with her machinegun mouth. We nicknamed
her “lecturer”. The woman speaks with the certainty of a lecturer at her podium
claiming an uncontested mastery of her subject. I bet you are wondering how she
got to know of your return. I could attempt a few guesses. Either way, it would not
matter. I would be breaking a promise. I hate that. We made that promise never
to mind her or be moved by her. We said that after that night. The one night no
one could make us forget. You left without saying goodbye after that. You had to,
I reasoned. Perhaps it was good for both of us. Maybe things could die down that
way. Things never did die down. Our names became forever associated with the
forbidden. Shame.
Anyango – Sanyu.
My mother has gotten over that night. It took a while, but she did. Maybe it is
time for your mother to do the same. She should start to hold her head high and
scatter dust at the women who laugh after her when she passes by their houses.
Nakawa Housing Estates has never changed. Mr Wangolo, our SST teacher, once
said those houses were just planned slums with people with broken dreams and
unplanned families for neighbours. Nakawa is still over one thousand families
on an acre of land they call an estate. Most of the women don’t work. Like Mama
Atim they sit and talk, talk, talk and wait for their husbands to bring home a kilo
of offal. Those are the kind of women we did not want to become. They bleached
their skins with Mekako skin-lightening soap till they became tender and pale like
a sun-scotched baby. They took over their children’s dool and kwepena catfights till
the local councillor had to be called for arbitration. Then they did not talk to each
for a year. Nakawa’s women laugh at each other for wearing the cheapest sandals
on sale by the hawkers. Sanyu, those women know every love charm by heart and
every juju man’s shrine because they need them to conjure up their husbands’ love
and penises from drinking places with smoking pipes filled with dried hen’s throat
artery. These women know that an even number is a bad sign as they watch the
cowry shells and coffee beans fall onto cowhide when consulting the spirits about
their husbands’ fidelity. That’s what we fought against when we walked to school
each day. Me and you hand in hand, towards school, running away from Nakawa
Housing Estate’s drifting tide which threatened to engulf us and turn us into noisy,
CONTEXT: AFRICA MONICA ARAC DE NYEKO
gossiping and frightening housewives.
You said it yourself, we could be anything. Anything coming from your mouth
was seasoned and alive. You said it to me, as we sat on a mango tree branch. We
were not allowed to climb trees, but we did, and there, inside the green branches,
you said – we can be anything. You asked us to pause for a moment to make a wish.
I was a nurse in a white dress. I did not frighten children with big injections. You
wished for nothing. You just made a wish that you would not become what your
father wanted you to be – an engineer, making building plans, for his mansion, for
his office, for his railway village. The one he dreamt about when he went to bed at
night.
Sanyu, after all these years, I still imagine shame trailing after me tagged onto
the hem of my skirt. Other times, I see it, floating into your dreams across the
desert and water to remind you, of what lines we crossed. The things we should
not have done when the brightness of Mama Atim’s torch shone upon us – naked.
How did she know exactly when to flash the light? Perhaps asking that question
is a futile quest for answers. I won’t get any! Perhaps it is as simple as accepting
that the woman knows everything. I swear, if you slept with a crocodile under the
ocean, she would know. She is the only one who knows first-hand whose husband
is sleeping with whose daughter at the estates inside those one-bedroomed
houses. She knows whose son was caught inside the fences at Lugogo Show
Grounds, the fancy trade fair centre just across Jinja Road, the main road which
meanders its way underneath the estates. Mama Atim knows who is soon dying
from gonorrhoea, who got it from someone, who got it from so-and-so who in turn
got it from the soldiers who used to guard Lugogo Show Grounds, two years ago.
You remember those soldiers, don’t you? The way they sat in the sun with their
green uniforms and guns hanging carelessly at their shoulders. With them the
AK47 looked almost harmless – an object that was meant to be held close to the
body – black ornament. They whistled after young girls in tight miniskirts that held
onto their bums. At night, they drank Nile Lager, tonto, Mobuku, and sang harambe,
soukous or chaka-chaka songs.
Eh moto nawaka mama
Eh moto nawaka
I newaka tororo
Nawaka moto
Nawaka moto
Nawaka moto
Eh fire, burns mama
Eh fire, burns
It is burning in Tororo
It is burning
It is burning
It is burning
Mama Atim never did pass anywhere near where they had camped in their
green tents. She twisted her mouth when she talked about them. What were
CONTEXT: AFRICA MONICA ARAC DE NYEKO
soldiers doing guarding Lugogo? she asked. Was it a frontline? Mama Atim was
terrified of soldiers. We never did find out why they instilled such fear in her. Either
way, it did not matter. Her fear became a secret weapon we used as we imagined
ourselves being like goddesses dictating her fate. In our goddess-hands, we turned
her into an effigy and had soldiers pelt her with stones. We imagined that pelting
stones from a soldier was just enough to scare her into susuing in her XXL Mother’s
Union panties. The ones she got a tailor to hem for her, from leftover materials
from her children’s nappies. How we wished those materials were green, so that
she would see soldiers and stones in between her thighs every time she wore her
green solider colour, stone-pelting colour and AK47 colour. We got used to the sight
of green soldiers perched in our football fields. This was the new order. Soldiers
doing policemen’s work! No questions, Uganda yetu, hakuna matata. How strange
it was, freedom in forbidden colours. Deep green – the colour of the morning when
the dew dries on leaves to announce the arrival of shame and dirt. And everything
suddenly seems so uncovered, so exposed, so naked.
Anyanyo – Sanyu.
Mama Atim tells me you have chosen to come back home, to Nakawa Housing
Estates. She says you refuse to live in those areas on the bigger hills and terraced
roads in Kololo. You are coming to us and to Nakawa Housing Estates, and to our
many houses lined one after another on a small hill overlooking the market and
Jinja Road, the football field and Lugogo Show Grounds. Sanyu, you have chosen
to come here to children running on the red earth, in the morning shouting and
yelling as they play kwepena and dool – familiar and stocked with memory and
history. You return to dirt roads filled with thick brown mud on a rainy day, pools
of water in every pothole and the sweet fresh smell of rain on hard soil. Sanyu, you
have come back to find Mama Atim.
Mama Atim still waits for her husband to bring the food she is to cook each
night. We used to say, after having nine sons and one daughter, she should try to
take care of them. Why doesn’t she try to find a job in the industrial area like many
other women around the housing estates? Throw her hips and two large buttocks
around and play at entrepreneurship. Why doesn’t’ she borrow a little entandikwa
from the microfinance unions so she can buy at least a bale of second-hand clothes
at Owino market, where she can retail them at Nakawa market? Second-hand
clothes are in vogue, for sure. The Tommy Hilfiger and Versace labels are the “inthing” for the young boys and girls who like to hang around the estates at night.
Second-hand clothes never stay on the clothes hangers too long, like water during a
drought, they sell quickly.
Mummy used to say those second-hand clothes were stripped off corpses
in London. That is why they had slogans written on them such as “You went to
London and all you brought me was this lousy T-shirt!” When Mummy talked of
London, we listened with our mouths open. She had travelled there not once, not
twice, but three times to visit her sister. Each time she came back with her suitcase
filled up with stories. When her sister died, Mummy’s trips stopped like that bright
sparkle in her eye and the Queen Elizabeth stories, which she lost the urge to retell
again and again. By that time we were grown. You were long gone to a different
place, a different time and to a new memory. By then, we had grown into two big
girls with four large breasts and buttocks like pumpkins, and we knew that the
CONTEXT: AFRICA MONICA ARAC DE NYEKO
stories were not true. Mummy had been to Tanzania, just a boat trip away on Lake
Victoria, not London. No Queen Elizabeth.
Mama Atim says you are tired of London. You cannot bear it anymore. London
is cold. London is a monster which gives no jobs. London is no cosy exile for
the banished. London is no refuge for the immoral. Mama Atim says this word
“immoral” to me – slowly and emphatically in Jhapadhola, so it can sink into my
head. She wants me to hear the word in every breath, sniff it in every scent so it can
haunt me like that day I first touched you. Like the day you first touched me. Mine
was a cold unsure hand placed over your right breast. Yours was a cold scared hand,
which held my waist and pressed it closer to you, under the jambula tree in front
of her house. Mama Atim says you are returning on the wings of a metallic bird
– Kenya Airways. You will land in the hot Kampala heat which bites at the skin like
it has a quarrel with everyone.
Your mother does not talk to me or my mother. Mama Atim cooks her kilo of
offal which she talks about for one week until the next time she cooks the next
kilo, bending over her charcoal stove, her large and long breasts watching over her
saucepan like cow udders in space. When someone passes by, she stops cooking.
You can hear her whisper. Perhaps that’s the source of her gonorrhoea and Lugogo
Show Ground stories. Mama Atim commands the world to her kitchen like her
nine sons and one daughter. None of them have amounted to anything. The way
their mother talks about me and you, Sanyu, after all these years, you would think
her sons are priests. You would think at least one of them got a diploma and a
low-paying job at a government ministry. You would think one of them could at
least bring home a respectable wife. But wapi! Their wives are like used bicycles,
ridden and exhausted by the entire estate manhood. They say the monkey which
is behind should not laugh at the other monkey’s tail. Mama Atim laughs with
her teeth out and on display like cowries. She laughs loudest and forgets that she,
of all people, has no right to urinate at or lecture the entire estate on the gospel
according to St Morality.
Sometimes I wonder how much you have changed. How have you have grown?
You were much taller than I. Your eyes looked stern, created an air about you – one
that made kids stop for a while, unsure if they should trample all over you or take
time to see for sure if your eyes would validate their preconceived fears. After they
had finally studied, analysed, added, multiplied and subtracted you, they knew you
were for real. When the bigger kids tried to bully me, you stood tall and dared them
to lay a finger on me. Just a finger, you said grinding your teeth like they were
aluminium. They knew you did not mince words and that your anger was worse
than a teacher’s bamboo whipping. Your anger and rage coiled itself like a python
around anyone who dared, anyone who challenged. And that’s how you fought,
with your teeth and hands but mostly with your feet. You coiled them around
Juma when he knocked my tooth out for refusing to let him have his way on the
water tap, when he tried to cheat me out of my turn at the tap.
I wore my deep dark green uniform. At lunchtimes the lines could be long and
boys always jumped the queue. Juma got me just as I put my water container to
get some drinking water after lunch. He pushed me away. He was strong, Sanyu.
One push like that and I fell down. When I got up, I left my tooth on the ground and
rose up with only blood on the green; deep green, the colour of the morning when
CONTEXT: AFRICA MONICA ARAC DE NYEKO
the dew dries off leaves.
You were standing a distance. You were not watching. But it did not take you
too long to know what was going on. You pushed your way through the crowd and
before the teachers could hear the commotion going on, you had your legs coiled
around Juma. I don’t know how you do it, Sanyu. He could not move.
Juma, passed out? Hahahahahahaha!
I know a lot of pupils who would be pleased with that. Finally, his big-boy
muscles had been crushed, to sand, to earth and to paste. The thought of that
tasted sweet and salty like grasshoppers seasoned with onion and kamulari – red,
red-hot pepper.
Mr Wangolo came with his hand-on-the-knee-limp and a big bamboo cane. It
was yellow and must have been freshly broken off from the mother bamboos just
outside the school that morning. He pulled and threatened you with indefinite
expulsion before you let big sand-earth-paste Juma go. Both you and Juma got off
with a two-week suspension. It was explicitly stated in the school rules that no one
should fight. You had broken the rules. But that was the lesser of the rules that you
broke. That I broke. That we broke.
Much later, at home, your mother was so angry. On our way home, you had said
we should not say how the fight started. We should just say he hit you and you hit
him back. Your house was two blocks from ours and the school was the nearest
primary school to the estate. Most of the kids in the neighbourhood studied at
Nakawa Katale Primary School alright, but everyone knew we were great friends.
When your mother came and knocked upon our door, my mother had just put the
onions on the charcoal stove to fry the goat’s meat. Mummy bought goat’s meat
when she had just got her salary. The end of month was always goat’s meat and
maybe some rice if she was in a good mood. Mummy’s food smelt good. When
she cooked, she joked about it. Mummy said if Papa had any sense in his head, he
would not have left her with three kids to raise on her own to settle for that slut he
called a wife. Mummy said Papa’s new wife could not cook and that she was young
enough to be his daughter. They had to do a caesarean on her when she gave birth
to her first son. What did he expect? That those wasp hips could let a baby’s head
pass through them?
When she talked of Papa, she had that voice. Not a “hate voice” and not a “like
voice”, but the kind of voice she would use to open the door for him and tell him
welcome back even after all these years when he never sent us a single cent to buy
food, books, soap or Christmas clothes. My papa is not like your papa, Sanyu. Your
papa works at the Ministry of Transport. He manages the Uganda railways, which
is why he wants you to engineer a railway village for him. You say he has gotten
so intoxicated with the railway that every time he talks of it, he rubs his palms
together like he is thinking of the best-ever memory in his life. Your father has a
lot of money. Most of the teachers knew him at school. The kids had heard about
him. Perhaps that is why your stern and blank expression was interpreted with
slight overtones. They viewed you with a mixture of fear and awe; a rich man’s
child. Sometimes Mummy spoke about your family with slight ridicule. She said
no one with money lived in Nakawa Housing Estates of all places. If your family
had so much money, why did you not go to live in Muyenga, Kololo and Kansanga
with your Mercedes-Benz lot? But you had new shoes every term. You had two
CONTEXT: AFRICA MONICA ARAC DE NYEKO
new green uniforms every term. Sanyu, your name was never called out aloud by
teachers, like the rest of us whose parents had not paid school tuition on time and
we had to be sent back home with circulars.
Dear Parent,
This is to remind you that unless this term’s school fees are paid out in full, you
daughter/son will not be allowed to sit for end of term exams ...
Blah blah blah ...
Mummy always got those letters and bit her lip as if she just heard that her
house had burnt down. That’s when she started staring at the ceiling with her
eyes transfixed on one particular spot on the brown tiles. On such days, she went
searching through her old maroon suitcase. It was from another time. It was the
kind that was not sold in shops anymore. It had lost its glitter and I wished she
never brought it out to dry in the sun. It would be less embarrassing if she brought
out the other ones she used for her Tanzania trips. At least those ones looked like
the ones your mother brought out to dry in the sun when she did her weekly house
cleaning. That suitcase had all Mummy’s letters – the ones Papa had written her
when, as she said, her breasts were firm like green mangoes. Against a kerosene
lamp, she read aloud the letters, reliving every moment, every word and every
promise.
I will never leave you.
You are mine forever.
Stars are for the sky, you are for me.
Hello my sweet supernatural colours of the rainbow.
You are the only bee on my flower.
If loving you is a crime I am the biggest criminal in the world.
Mummy read them out aloud and laughed as she read the words in each piece
of stained paper. She had stored them in their original Air Mail envelopes with the
green and blue decorations. Sometimes Papa had written to her in aerogramme.
Those were opened with the keenest skill to keep them neat and almost new. He
was a prolific letter-writer, my papa, with a neat handwriting. I know this because
oftentimes I opened her case of memories. I never did get as far as opening any
letter to read; it would have been trespassing. It did not feel right, even if Mummy
had never scolded me from reading her “To Josephine Athieno Best” letters.
I hated to see her like that. She was now a copy typist at Ramja Securities. Her
salary was not much, but she managed to survive on it, somehow, somehow. There
were people who spoke of her beauty as if she did not deserve being husbandless.
They said, with some pity, “Oh, and she has a long-ringed neck, her eyes are large
and sad. The woman has a voice, soft, kind and patient. How could the man leave
her?” Mummy might have been sad sometimes, but she did not deserve any pity.
She lived her life like her own fingernails and temperament: so calm, so sober and
level-headed, except, of course, when it came to reading those Papa letters by the
lantern lamp.
I told you about all this, Sanyu. How I wished she could be always happy, like
CONTEXT: AFRICA MONICA ARAC DE NYEKO
your mother who went to the market and came back with two large boys carrying
her load because she had shopped too much for your papa, for you, for your happy
family. I did not tell you, but sometimes I stalked her as she made her way to buy
things from the noisy market. She never saw me. There were simply too many
people. From a distance, she pointed at things, fruit ripe like they had been waiting
to be bought by her all along. Your mother went from market stall to market stall,
flashing her white Colgate smile and her dimpled cheeks. Sometimes I wished I
were like you; with a mother who bought happiness from the market. She looked
like someone who summoned joy at her feet and it fell in salutation, humbly, like
the Kabaka’s subjects who lay prostrate before him. When I went to your house to
do homework, I watched her cook. Her hand stirred groundnut soup. I must admit,
Mummy told me never to eat at other people’s homes. It would make us appear
poor and me rather greedy. I often left your home when the food was just about
ready. Your mother said, in her summon-joy-voice: “Supper is ready. Please eat.” But
I, feigning time-consciousness, always said, “I have to run home, Mummy will be
worried.” At such times, your father sat in the bedroom. He never came out from
that room. Every day, like a ritual, he came home straight from work.
“A perfect husband,” Mummy said, more times than I can count.
“I hate him,” you said more times than I could count. It was not what he didn’t
do, you said. It was what he did. Those touches, his touches, you said. And you could
not tell your mother. She would not believe you. She never did. Like that time she
came home after the day you taught Juma a good lesson for messing around with
me. She spoke to my mother in her voice which sounded like breaking china.
“She is not telling me everything. How can the boy beat her over nothing? At
the school tap? These two must know. That is why I am here. To get to the bottom
of this! Right now!”
She said this again and again, and Mummy called me from the kitchen where
I had escaped just when I saw her knock on our back door, holding your hands in
hers and pulling you behind her like a goat!
“Anyango, Anyangooooo,” Mummy called out.
I came out, avoiding your eyes. Standing with her hands held in front of me
with the same kind of embarrassment and fear that overwhelmed me each time I
heard my name called by a teacher for school fees default.
They talked for hours. I was terrified, which was why I almost told the truth. You
started very quickly and repeated the story we had on our way home. Your mother
asked, “What was Anyango going to say again?” I repeated what you had just said,
and your mother said, “I know they are both lying. I will get to the bottom of this
at school in two weeks’ time when I report back with her.” And she did. You got a
flogging that left you unable to sit down on your bum for a week.
When you left our house that day, they talked in low voices. They had sent us
outside to be bitten by mosquitoes for a bit. When they called us back in, they said
nothing. Your mother held your hand again, goat-style. If Juma had seen you being
pulled like that, he would have had a laugh one hundred times the size of your
trodden-upon confidence. You never looked back. You avoided looking at me for a
while after that.
Mummy had a list of “don’ts” after that for me, too. They were many.
CONTEXT: AFRICA MONICA ARAC DE NYEKO
Don’t walk back home with Sanyu after school.
Don’t pass by their home each morning to pick her up.
Don’t sit next to her in class.
Don’t borrow her textbooks. I will buy you your own.
Don’t even talk to her.
Don’t, don’t, don’t do anymore Sanyu.
It was like that, but not for long. After we started to talk again and look each
other in the eyes, our parents seemed not to notice, which is why our secondary
school applications went largely unnoticed. If they complained that we had applied
to the same schools and in the same order, we did not hear about them.
1. St Mary’s College Namagunga
2. Nabisunsa Girls’ School
3. City High School.
4. Modern High School.
You got admitted to your first choice. I got my third choice. It was during the
holidays that we got a chance to see each other again. I told you about my school.
That I hated the orange skirts, white shirts, white socks and black boy’s Bata shoes.
They made us look like flowers on display. The boys wore white trousers, white
shorts, white socks, and black shoes. At break time, we trooped like a bunch of
moving orange and white flowers – to the school canteens, to the drama room and
to the football field.
You said you loved your school. Sister Cephas, your Irish headmistress, wanted
to turn you all into Black English girls. The girls there were the prettiest ever and
were allowed to keep their hair long and held back in puffs, not one inch only like
at my school.
We were seated under the jambula tree. It had grown so tall. The tree had been
there for ages, with its unreachable fruit. They said it was there even before the
estate houses were constructed. In April the tree carried small purple jambula fruit,
which tasted both sweet and tangy and turned our tongues purple. Every April
morning when the fruit started to fall, the ground became a blanket of purple.
When you came back during that holiday, your cheeks were bulging like you
had hidden oranges inside them. Your eyes had grown small and sat like two
short slits on your face. And your breasts, the two things you had watched and
persuaded to grow during all your years at Nakawa Katale Primary School, were
like two large jambulas on your chest. And that feeling that I had, the one that
you had, that we had – never said, never spoken – swelled up inside us like fresh
mandazies. I listened to your voice rise and fall. I envied you. I hated you. I could not
wait for the next holidays when I could see you again. When I could dare place my
itchy hand onto your two jambulas.
That time would be a night, two holidays later. You were not shocked. Not
repelled. It did not occur to either of us, to you or me, that these were boundaries
we should not cross nor should think of crossing. Your jambulas and mine. Two
plus two jambulas equals four jambulas – even numbers should stand for luck. Was
this luck pulling us together? You pulled me to yourself and we rolled on the brown
CONTEXT: AFRICA MONICA ARAC DE NYEKO
earth that stuck to our hair in all its redness and dustiness. There in front of Mama
Atim’s house. She shone a torch at us. She had been watching. Steadily, like a dog
waiting for a bone it knew it would get; it was just a matter of time.
Sanyu, I went for confession the next day, right after Mass. I made the sign of
the cross and smelt the fresh burning incense in St Jude’s church. I had this sense of
floating on air, confused, weak, and exhausted. I told the priest, “Forgive me father
for I have sinned. It has been two months since my last confession.” And there in
my head, two plus two jambulas equals four jambulas ...
I was not sorry. But I was sorry when your father, with all his money from the
railways, got you a passport and sent you on the wing of a bird, hello London, here
comes Sanyu.
Mama Atim says your plane will land tomorrow. Sanyu, I don’t know what you
expect to find here, but you will find my Mummy; you’ll find that every word she
types on her typewriter draws and digs deeper the wrinkles on her face. You will
find the Housing Estates. Nothing has changed. The women sit in front of their
houses and wait for their husbands to bring them offal. Mama Atim’s sons eat her
food and bring girls to sleep in her bed. Your mother walks with a stooped back.
She has lost the zeal she had for her happiness-buying shopping trips. Your papa
returns home every day as soon as he is done with work. My Mummy says, “That is
a good husband.”
I come home every weekend to see Mummy. She has stopped looking inside her
maroon case. But I do; I added the letter you wrote me from London. The only one I
ever did get from you, five years after you left. You wrote:
A.
I miss you.
S.
Sanyu, I am a nurse at Mengo Hospital. I have a small room by the hospital,
decorated with two chairs, a table from Katwe, a black-and-white television and
two paintings of two big jambula trees which I got a downtown artist to do for me.
These trees have purple leaves. I tell you, they smile.
I do mostly night shifts. I like them, I often see clearer at night. In the night you
lift yourself up in my eyes each time, again and again. Sanyu, you rise like the sun
and stand tall like the jambula tree in front of Mama Atim’s house.
CONTEXT: AFRICA TOYIN ADEWALE
Toyin Adewale
Listen to Yourself
(In memory of Durban)
Where is a word to hold the edge of blue waters
when the waves wrestle like rival wives?
Where is a word to hold a woman
when she runs, runs, runs ...?
Where is a word to stamp out a fire
when a sky has no home?
Listen to yourself.
Listen to the gossip of seas,
Washing up Nombolisa’s cooking stones.
Listen to derelict hope
swinging cloth hangers at green lights.
Listen to the man you cannot touch,
the manacled children, the rubbished innocence.
CONTEXT: AFRICA SEFI ATTA
Sefi Atta
Excerpt from the novel
Everything Good Will Come
From the beginning I believed whatever I was told, downright lies even, about
how best to behave, although I had my own inclinations. At an age when other
Nigerian girls were masters at ten-ten, the game in which we stamped our feet in
rhythm and tried to outwit partners with sudden knee jerks, my favorite moments
were spent sitting on a jetty pretending to fish. My worst was to hear my mother’s
shout from her kitchen window: “Enitan, come and help in here.”
I’d run back to the house. We lived by Lagos Lagoon. Our yard stretched over an
acre and was surrounded by a high wooden fence that could drive splinters into
careless fingers. I played, carelessly, on the West side because the East side bordered
the mangroves of Ikoyi Park and I’d once seen a water snake slither past. Hot, hot
were the days as I remember them, with runny-egg sunshine and brief breezes.
The early afternoons were for eat and sleep breaks: eat a heavy lunch, sleep like a
drunk. The late afternoons, after homework, I spent on our jetty, a short wooden
promenade I could walk in three steps, if I took long enough strides to strain the
muscles between my thighs.
I would sit on its cockle-plastered edge and wait for the water to lap at my feet,
fling my fishing rod, which was made from tree branch, string, and a cork from one
of my father’s discarded wine bottles. Sometimes fishermen came close, rowing in
a rhythm that pleased me more than chewing on fried tripe; their skins charred,
almost gray from sun-dried sea salt. They spoke in the warble of island people,
yodeling across their canoes. I was never tempted to jump into the lagoon as they
did. It gave off the smell of raw fish and was the kind of dirty brown I knew would
taste like vinegar. Plus, everyone knew about the currents that could drag a person
away. Bodies usually showed up days later, bloated, stiff and rotten. True.
It wasn’t that I had big dreams of catching fish. They wriggled too much and
I couldn’t imagine watching another living being suffocate. But my parents had
occupied everywhere else with their fallings out; their trespasses unforgivable.
Walls could not save me from the shouting. A pillow, if I stuffed my head under it,
could not save me. My hands could not, if I clamped them over my ears and stuffed
my head under a pillow. So there it was, the jetty, my protectorate, until the day my
mother decided it was to be demolished.
The priest in her church had a vision of fishermen breaking into our house:
They would come at night, labalaba. They would come unarmed, yimiyimi. They
would steal valuables, tolotolo.
The very next day, three workmen replaced our jetty with a barbed wire fence
and my mother kept watch over them; the same way she watched our neighbors;
the same way she checked our windows for evil spirits outside at night; the same
CONTEXT: AFRICA SEFI ATTA
way she glared at our front door long after my father had walked out. I knew he
would be furious. He was away on a law conference and when he returned and
saw her new fence, he ran outside shouting like a crazed man. Nothing, nothing,
would stop my mother, he said, until she’d destroyed everything in our house,
because of that church of hers. What kind of woman was she? What kind of selfish,
uncaring, woman was she?
He enjoyed that view. Warm, breezy evenings on the veranda overlooking it is
how I remember him, easy as the cane chair in which he sat. He was usually there
in the dry season, which lasted most of the year; scarcely in the chilly harmattan,
which straddled Christmas and New Year, and never in the swampy rainy season
that made our veranda floor slippery over the summer vacation. I would sit on
the steps and watch him and his two friends: Uncle Alex, a sculptor, who smoked
a pipe that smelled like melted coconut, and Uncle Fatai, who made me laugh
because his name fitted his roly-poly face. He too was a lawyer like my father,
and they had all been at Cambridge together. Three musketeers in the heart of
darkness, they called themselves there; they stuck together and hardly anyone
spoke to them. Sometimes they frightened me with their stories of western Nigeria
(which my father called the “Wild West”), where people threw car tires over other
people and set them on fire because they belonged to different political factions.
Uncle Alex blamed the British for the fighting: “Them and their bloody empire.
Come here and divide our country like one of their bloody tea cakes. Driving on the
left side of the bloody road ...”
The day the Civil War broke out, he delivered the news. Uncle Fatai arrived soon
afterward and they bent heads as if in prayer to listen to the radio. Through the
years, from their arguments about federalists, secessionists, and bloody British, I’d
amassed as much knowledge about the events in my country as any seven-yearold could. I knew that our first Prime Minister was killed by a Major General, that
the Major General was soon killed, and that we had another Major General heading
our country. For a while the palaver had stopped, and now it seemed the Biafrans
were trying to split our country in two.
Uncle Fatai broke the silence. “Hope our boys finish them off.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Uncle Alex asked.
“They want a fight,” Uncle Fatai said. “We’ll give them a fight.”
Uncle Alex prodded his chest, almost toppling him over. “Can you fight? Can
you?” My father tried to intervene but he warned, “Keep out of this, Sunny.”
My father eventually asked Uncle Alex to leave. He patted my head as he left
and we never saw him in our house again.
Over the next months, I would listen to radio bulletins on how our troops were
faring against the Biafrans. I would hear the slogan: “To keep Nigeria one is a task
that must be done.” My father would ask me to hide under my bed whenever we
had bomb raid alerts. Sometimes I heard him talking about Uncle Alex; how he’d
known beforehand there was going to be a civil war; how he’d joined the Biafrans
and died fighting for them even though he hated guns.
I loved my uncle Alex; thought that if I had to marry a man, it would be a man
like him, an artist, who cared too much or not at all.
He gave my father the nickname Sunny, though my father’s real name was
Bandele Sunday Taiwo. Now, everyone called my father Sunny, like they called my
CONTEXT: AFRICA SEFI ATTA
mother Mama Enitan, after me, though her real name was Arin. I was their first
child, their only child now, since my brother died. He lived his life between sickle
cell crises. My mother joined a church to cure him, renounced Anglicanism and
herself, it seemed, because one day, my brother had another crisis and she took him
there for healing. He died, three years old. I was five.
In my mother’s church they wore white gowns. They walked around on bare
feet, and danced to drums. They were baptised in a stream of holy water and drank
from it to cleanse their spirits. They believed in spirits; evil ones sent by other
people to wreak havoc, and reborn spirits, which would not stay long on earth.
Their incantations, tireless worship and praise. I could bear even the sight of my
mother throwing her hands up and acting as I’d never seen her act in an Anglican
church. But I was sure that if the priest came before me and rolled his eyeballs back
as he did when he was about to have a vision, that would be the end of me.
He had a bump on his forehead, an expression as if he were sniffing something
bad. He pronounced his visions between chants that sounded like the Yoruba
words for butterfly, dung beetle, and turkey: labalaba, yimiyimi, tolotolo. He
smelled of incense. The day he stood before me, I kept my eyes on the hem of his
cassock. I was a reborn spirit, he said, like my brother, and my mother would have
to bring me for cleansing. I was too young, she said. My time would soon come, he
said. Turkey, turkey, turkey.
The rest of the day I walked around with the dignity of the aged and troubled,
held my stomach in until I developed cramps. Death would hurt, I knew, and I did
not want to see my brother like that, as a ghost. My father only had to ask how I
was feeling, when I collapsed before him. “I’m going to die,” I said.
He asked for an explanation.
“You’re not going back there again,” he said.
Sundays after that, I spent at home. My mother would go off to church, and
my father would leave the house, too. Then Bisi, our house girl, would sneak next
door to see Akanni, the driver who blared his juju music, or he’d come to see her
and they would both go off to the servants’ quarters, leaving me with Baba, our
gardener, who worked on Sundays.
At least, during the Civil War, Bisi would sometimes invite me over to hear
Akanni’s stories about the war front far away. How Biafran soldiers stepped on
land mines that blew up their legs like crushed tomatoes; how Biafran children ate
lizard flesh to stay alive. The Black Scorpion was one of Nigeria’s hero soldiers. He
wore a string of charms around his neck and bullets ricocheted off his chest. I was
old enough to listen to such tales without being frightened, but was still too young
to be anything but thrilled by them. When the war ended three years later, I missed
them.
Television in those days didn’t come on until six o’clock in the evening. The first
hour was news and I never watched the news, except that special day when the
Apollo landed on the moon. After that, children in school said you could get Apollo,
a form of conjunctivitis, by staring at an eclipse too long. Tarzan, Zorro, Little John,
and the entire Cartwright family on Bonanza were there, with their sweet and
righteous retaliations, to tell me any other fact I needed to know about the world.
And oblivious to any biased messages I was receiving, I sympathised with Tarzan
(those awful natives!), thought Indians were terrible people and memorised the
CONTEXT: AFRICA SEFI ATTA
happy jingles of foreign multinational companies: “Mobil keeps your engine – Beep,
beep, king of the road.” If Alfred Hitchcock came on, I knew it was time to go to bed.
Or if it was Doris Day. I couldn’t bear her song, “Que Sera”.
I approached adolescence with an extraordinary number of body aches,
finished my final year of primary school, and began the long wait for secondary
school. Secondary school didn’t start until early October, so the summer vacation
stretched longer than normal. The rains poured, dried up, and each day passed like
the one before unless something special happened, like the afternoon Baba found
iguana eggs, or the morning a rabid dog bit our night watchman or the evening
Bisi and Akanni fought. I heard them shouting and rushed to the servants’ quarters
to watch.
Akanni must have thought he was Muhammad Ali. He was shadow boxing
around Bisi. “What’s my name? What’s my name?” Bisi lunged forward and slapped
his face. He reached for her collar and ripped her blouse. “My bress? My bress?” She
spat in his face and grabbed the gold chain around his neck. They both crashed into
the dust and didn’t stop kicking till Baba lay flat out on the ground. “No more,” he
said. “No more, I beg of you.”
Most days were not that exciting. And I was beginning to get bored of the wait
when, two weeks to the end of the vacation, everything changed. It was the third
Sunday of September 1971, late in the afternoon. I was playing with my catapult
when I mistakenly struck Baba as he was trimming the lawn. He chased after me
with his machete and I ran into the barbed wire fence, snagging my sleeve. Yoruba
tradition has us believe that Nature heralds the beginning of a person’s transition:
to life, adulthood, and death. A rooster’s crow, sudden rainfall, a full moon, seasonal
changes. I had no such salutations as I remember it.
(Double Storey, 2007)
CONTEXT: AFRICA JACK MAPANJE
Jack Mapanje
From: Beasts of Nalunga
Now That September 11 Should Define Mr Western Civilisation ...
(for Sarah Maguire & Saadi Yousef)
I remember being summoned to the British Council Office
Once, back home; I’d got the Commonwealth Scholarship
Bound for the University of London. The British Council
Lady who interviewed us declared, to get the full benefit
Of our studies in metropolitan Britain, we were to listen
Carefully to what she had to say about “civilisation” – she
Uttered the word as if it were some Country Squire we
Should’ve been told about at our village school long ago
Or perhaps some gentleman once in a striped suit, bow
Tie, bowler hat, about to sit at table glittering with silver
Cutlery, ready to eat the precious bits and bobs we’d
Never hope to taste. For the lady first fell into a deadly
Trance and, as if in defence of the law she feared we’d
Soon break, stressed, “If you do not listen, you’ll be
Embarrassed when you are invited to civilised homes!”
Meaning where people ate with knives, forks, spoons;
Drank from mugs, cups, glasses; not with hands, sticks
And shards like us drinking from calabashes or gourds!
The lady then showed us how the civilised table was
CONTEXT: AFRICA JACK MAPANJE
To be set, with the number of plates minutely spaced
Before us, the knives on the right, the forks on the left,
Knives and spoons on top; which knives went with
Which forks with which food; how we were to begin
With the knives and forks outside the plate and moved
Inside, as it were. “Quaffing one’s drink like American
Cowboys won’t do!” She insisted, “You know what I
Mean!” Of course, we did not know what she meant
Until after entering the British Council Head Office at
65 Davis Street, London, SW1, where the lady’s rules
Of engagement drastically changed. Now, weren’t we
Urged to “Join those Bond Street corner shop queues for
Lunch!” And there, didn’t we have to pick our fish ‘n’ chips
With our flipping fingers, from the cones of London’s
Evening Standard Newspaper? Walking down Portobello
Market that evening, didn’t we laugh, laugh, laugh until
We broke wind, tears running down cheeks, imagining
The British Council lady’s rules so carelessly breached by
Her own mates! That was years ago, though now that 9/11
Defines Lord Western Civilisation of the New Millennium
I thought you might like to hear when first I met the guy!
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE SAMI TCHAK
Sami Tchak
Extrait du roman
Le Paradis des chiots
Reinaldo Gómez, son histoire, c’était simple et compliqué à la fois. Fils vrai d’El
Paraíso, mais, bon, il a eu des diplômes, de gros diplômes, rien qu’à partir des écoles
d’El Paraíso, mais bon, il a eu des grades pour aller à l’université de la vraie ville,
à la grande université publique avec une bourse, et c’est comme ça que quand
il a fini d’obtenir des diplômes, il a eu l’idée de quitter le pays, comme beaucoup
d’autres, pour aller tenter sa chance chez les Amerloques, il avait au pays sa maman
et son grand frère José. Reinaldo, lui, il a eu l’idée de se construire une grande villa
à El Paraíso, pas dans le nord de la capitale, mais dans le quartier où il est né, alors
que ceux qui ont la chance de tomber sur la fortune ils quittent le quartier pour
aller vivre la vie des riches dans le nord. Et il envoyait l’argent, il était revenu au
pays lui-même pour acheter le terrain, et il envoyait l’argent à José son grand frère
pour les travaux de la villa. Et comme il s’agissait d’une villa vraiment château,
les travaux ont duré trois ans. Et José, à chaque étape, prenait la villa en photo et
envoyait à Reinaldo qui, là-bas, disait à tout le monde, J’ai un vrai château chez moi.
Tu sais, quand il est revenu un jour à El Paraíso, avec tous ses bagages, parce
qu’il a pris la décision de ne plus repartir là-bas, de mener sa vie dans son château,
il a vu la vraie vérité, son terrain transformé en latrines à ciel ouvert et en dépotoir
public, et la villa qu’il voyait sur les photos, c’était une belle villa dans le nord de
la capitale que son frère José photographiait pour lui. En fait, le José avait bouffé
l’argent, des mille et des mille, même des milliers de mille dollars, il avait fait la
bringue avec des filles un peu fofolles du derrière et il avait acheté une grosse
bagnole rouge et tout le monde l’appelait Le dieu à la bagnole rouge et il avait
embauché six gardes du corps et partout où il allait faire la fête, des musiciens
chantaient pour lui et il collait des billets verts sur leur front ruisselant de sueur.
Voilà comment il avait rendu son petit frère fou de rage et comment il l’avait obligé
à le flinguer en pleine rue, devant leur mère qui ignorait tout, et voilà comment
leur mère avait crevé deux mois après l’abattage par Reinaldo de son grand frère
José, et voilà comment Reinaldo, il s’était retrouvé dans la cabane de sa mère, au
lieu d’une vie dans un château.
Il écrivait et il disait qu’il écrivait l’histoire de la villa, l’histoire de sa prison,
puisque les flics l’ont menotté et gardé en prison pendant dix jours, c’est beaucoup,
mais ils ont dit qu’ils auraient tué dix fois le frère qui leur aurait fait ça. Et les gens
l’ont félicité [...]
Une nuit, après avoir croisé Laura et Juanito dans la rue, j’ai dit, Il s’aiment, ces
deux-là, et puis quand je me suis éloigné d’eux, j’ai vu Riki qui courait, qui criait, Il
s’est flingué, j’ai dit, Riki, tu dis il s’est flingué, qui? Il s’est arrêté et il m’a pris il main,
il a dit, C’est du sale qu’il a fait, vraiment du sale, il s’est fait sauter la cervelle, il a dit
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE SAMI TCHAK
ça plusieurs fois avant de me préciser que Reinaldo Gómez venait de se suicider,
qu’il était avec lui, qu’ils ont mangé, les deux, mangé et tout et après
il a dit Je vais faire une prière et lui Riki il n’a pas vu les choses venir, et il a entendu
boum! et il a vu le corps chavirer, C’est du vilain ce qu’il s’est fait. Moi j’ai dit, C’est
fou le pays, c’est chouette et fou le pays, c’est vraiment chouette, et je me suis mis
à courir vers la cabane du suicidé et Riki s’est mis à me suivre, et crois-moi, Oscar,
que quand nous sommes arrivés là-bas, une famille était en train d’emménager
dans la cabane du suicidé dont le corps traînait devant la porte, en attendant d’être
évacué par les policiers déjà avertis. Je te jure que la famille, c’étaient un père, sa
femme et leurs cinq enfants, arrivés de leur cambrousse un mois plus tôt et on
la leur a vendue, cette cabane, et j’ai appris plus tard que c’est Reinaldo lui-même
qui leur a vendu sa cabane et il leur aurait dit, Demain, je libère la cabane pour
vous, c’est pour ça qu’ils ne pouvaient pas trop attendre et que quand la police
est venue, elle a trouvé cela normal parce que le suicidé a fait parvenir un mot
au commissariat d’El Paraíso pour lui expliquer qu’il a décidé de se moquer de
la vie et a vendu sa cabane à une famille qui...
C’est alors que j’ai eu l’honneur de le trouver dégoûtant, Reinaldo, même si
je me suis dit, C’est une question de tête, la tête n’a pas tenu à cause du château
avorté par son frère José, même s’il a flingué lui-même José son frère, la tête n’a
pas supporté. Au bout de dix jours, sa mort, je l’ai intégrée dans ma caboche, quand
je passais devant sa cabane et voyais les nouveaux propriétaires, ça ne faisait plus
mal au cœur, je riais même un petit coup et je disais, Est-ce que Reinaldo a vécu ici?
(Mercure de France, 2006)
CONTEXT: AFRICA MWILA AGATHA ZAZA
Mwila Agatha Zaza
A Strange Kind of Gravy
Lunch and dinner always brought the smell of curries wafting over the wire
fence and drying hedge that separated our two houses. Mother had always
hated curries and all things Indian. She liked her food bland, only rarely livened
up with herbs. Her herb pots on the kitchen windowsill grew mostly parsley
and sometimes rosemary. Half-empty bottles of dried herbs, grimy with dirt
accumulated from too many unwashed hands searching for the saltcellar, all stood
in the corner next to the cooker gathering dust.
Mrs Vikay marched over one morning, with a tin of homemade biscuits, and in
halting Chinyanja asked the gardener lazing in the front for his Madam. He called
my mother to the door, and my mother emerged yawning.
“I just brought over some biscuits. I live next door; I noticed you were at home
during the day and thought we should finally meet,” Mrs Vikay explained as I
looked up from the tap at which I was making mud pies.
My mother invited her in, and for a while I lost interest in them. Later,
wandering indoors, I found the two women sitting in the living room drinking tea
and eating the biscuits. They made a sharp contrast. Mrs Vikay looked as if she was
dressed for a special occasion, while my mother was in a T-shirt, jeans and patapata.
I liked the little dot pasted on Mrs Vikay’s forehead, and she was wearing
jewellery during the day; my mother never wore jewellery this elaborate, even
when she went out. Mrs Vikay was adorned in glamorous sparkly stones that
looked like diamonds, and her nails were painted bright red. Best of all I liked her
long, black hair, which cascaded down her back in a single plait.
“You are very pretty.” I told her from where I lay on the floor in my mud-stained
shorts and T-shirt.
“And you are too,” she smiled back. “You know, you should come and play with
my sons – they’re the same age as you.”
“I hate boys,” I replied. “They just make noise and get dirty all the time.”
“Sounds just like you,” my mother laughed.
I stuck my tongue out at her. I didn’t appreciate her saying that – for some
reason I wanted Mrs Vikay to think I was a nice, clean little girl. I regretted having
stuck my tongue at my mother, though, because Mrs Vikay looked as if she had
never stuck her tongue out at anyone.
“Come and visit me sometime, and we’ll cook some sweets.” She made this
invitation with a smile of red painted lips, and I looked at my mother for approval.
“Katie has as much interest in cooking as I have,” my mother snorted. “We aren’t
really the cooking kind.”
CONTEXT: AFRICA MWILA AGATHA ZAZA
I glared at my mother. This was another thing I didn’t want Mrs Vikay to know:
how my mother was adept at shouting at the maid to cook properly when she was
completely incapable of doing it herself. I didn’t want Mrs Vikay to know about the
oily stew and overcooked cabbage that were the staples of our diet.
That evening, alone in my room, I picked up my discarded dolls and sat them in
a row. I brushed their long hair and remembered what my mother had said when I
had declared that I wanted to grow long hair like my dolls:
“Well our hair doesn’t grow like that. Some people, who are not the same colour
as us, have hair that grows straight, and we don’t.”
“But I can grow it one day, can’t I? Mundia, in my class, has hair that is almost as
long as this. It goes halfway down her back.”
“Yes, but ...”
“Oh for God’s sake, Mary,” my father interjected, “why don’t you just tell her it’ll
grow on its own? Why does it have to be so complicated?”
“Why should I lie?” my mother demanded.
My father shook his head and continued to read his book. My mother looked at
me, exasperated. I knew she didn’t know what to say; I always knew when to stop
asking because she didn’t know the answer.
The day after Mrs Vikay’s visit, I found my mother pacing the living room. I
knew she was bored from being on leave from work. When she looked up at me,
she said she was going to visit Mrs Vikay next door, and that I should come along
to say hello. For some reason it occurred to me that my clothes were torn and dirty
as usual – our maid could not keep up with my laundry, especially now in the rainy
season, when I spent all day outdoors in the heat or in the puddles that remained
after the rain.
I shook my head. “OK,” said my mother, “I thought you liked her.” She walked off
towards the hole in the bushes that separated our two houses.
“Wait for me!”
“I’m waiting.”
“No!” I replied. “I want to put on a dress.”
Surprised, my mother followed me into my bedroom and helped me select
a Sunday dress; then I brushed the hair around my cornrows, trying to neaten
myself. I noticed my mother had also made an effort. She wore fitted trousers and a
blouse that she normally wore to work.
Mrs Vikay served us lunch. I savoured the richness and intensity of the flavours.
I was sure my mother wouldn’t like the food. I raised an eyebrow when my
mother praised the curry, along with the chapatis and small bowls of condiments,
declaring that she could never create such a complex dish.
“Anyone can make a curry. It’s just a different type of gravy,” said Auntie Vikay
(as I had been instructed to call her). “Come one day, and I’ll show you.”
She showed me pictures of her husband at work and of her home India,
explaining the difference between Indian and African elephants, telling me the
names of all her clothes. Then she showed me pictures of palaces and told me
about the kings and queens from which she said she was descended.
I found it easy to believe that she was queen or princess, and as my mother and
I walked home, images of Auntie Vikay elegantly atop an elephant went with me.
The next morning my mother’s sister arrived in the early hours, saying there
CONTEXT: AFRICA MWILA AGATHA ZAZA
was a death in my mother’s family. They had to drive at least 600 kilometres to
their hometown for the funeral. It meant they wouldn’t be back for at least four
days. I tried not to look pleased.
Left to my own devices, my father at work, I rummaged through my mother’s
rarely used makeup, finally settling upon a purplish lipstick that I smeared on my
lips, after which, using bright red nail polish, I placed a large dot on my forehead.
The final effect pleased me, and I went to my room and pretended to be an Indian
princess, wearing a dress over my trousers in imitation of the salwar kameez that
Auntie Vikay wore.
My father came home for lunch bearing crispy fried chicken and chips, which
he often did when my mother was away, when the maid’s cooking would descend
to new levels of oil and mush. As we squeezed tomato ketchup over our food there
was a knock at the kitchen door, and I ran to open it. Auntie Vikay gave me a hug
and asked for my mother. I explained about the funeral, but grabbed her hand and
said she had to meet my father. I dragged her in before she could refuse.
My father shook her hand, Mrs Vikay asked after the funeral, and they talked
while I ate the chips and watched Auntie Vikay shyly running her hand through
her hair and occasionally looking to the floor. She looked at what we were eating.
“Katie must feel free to come to our house. There is always food there; you know
these takeaways are not good for her.”
“No, she is OK, the maid cooks very well.”
“It is no bother,” she said, touching my father’s bare arm lightly, “and I am
always home.”
She turned to me. “I will be making samosas this afternoon. Come when you
have finished eating and I’ll show you how.”
She smiled again at my father, said goodbye and left, the embroidery on her
kurti shimmering in the sun.
My dad looked at her as she left. “Maybe your mother should try dressing up
like that sometimes. She also has a nice figure.”
“Mummy doesn’t like fancy clothes.”
“They’re not really fancy clothes, they’re just a different type of clothes.” He
wolfed down his chips and chicken and was about to leave when I asked if I could
go next door. I never went anywhere without permission.
“Sure you can! You can go anytime you want,” he replied, closing the door
behind him.
Abandoning my chips, I rushed to my room and brushed my cornrows, noticing
that they were coming loose and that my hair was sticking out in places. I made a
note to tell the maid to redo them later that day. I paced the kitchen until the clock
indicated two o’clock – my mother always said it was rude to visit at lunch unless
you were invited. At two exactly I told the gardener where I was going and walked
next door, in as ladylike a fashion as I could, through the hole in the fence.
I spent the afternoon enveloped in the aroma of frying spiced mince, learning
to fold dough into little pockets for samosas. Auntie Vikay told me more about her
home, and about her husband’s job, which frequently took him out of town. As we
fried the samosas two boys about the same age as me ran into the kitchen.
She spoke to them in her language, and I was fascinated by its sounds. The boys
said hello to me, grabbed several samosas each and ran out, screaming and firing
CONTEXT: AFRICA MWILA AGATHA ZAZA
imaginary guns.
Auntie Vikay told me she wished she had a little girl. “Your mother must be so
proud to have a good girl like you. It must be hard for her, having to go to work and
leaving you alone every day.”
“My mother loves her job,” I said. “She says it makes her feel ...” – I searched for
the word my mother used about her work – “fulfilled.” I didn’t know what the word
meant exactly.
“Ah.” Auntie was shocked. “How can she say that? Nothing can be more
fulfilling than your husband and children.”
I shrugged, my mouth full of samosas.
When I grew tired, I decided it was time to go, Auntie handed me a large plate
of samosas and a plastic bag filled with enormous, lurid-blue sugar balls. I tried
to balance them with the large book of India that she had lent me, and found I
couldn’t carry them.
“Here, I’ll walk back with you.”
I carried the book and she carried the food, and I skipped alongside her back to
the house. The gardener had gone home, and the smell of burning mealie-meal told
me the maid was in her quarters, cooking for her family.
“So you are going to sit here alone?” Auntie asked me, concerned.
“I’ll just watch TV,” I replied.
“No, come, let’s look at the book together. My boys will keep themselves
occupied; our nanny is with them.”
My father came home several hours later. I was in my pyjamas and Auntie had
said she would get our maid to come to the house and wait until my father came,
not wanting to leave me alone.
“Not going to say goodnight to me?” I heard my father call as I went to my
room.
“Night, Dad!” I called from my room, turned over and fell asleep instantly,
dreaming of silky salwar kameez.
A band blaring loud kalindula woke me up, the sound wafting through the
neighbourhood. Used to the sound, I got up to go to the toilet. In the corridor, I
heard voices. It was late; I knew the band didn’t start until about 10:30.
“No one will see you, the garden light is too dim.” My father’s voice.
“OK,” Auntie Vikay replied. “Bye.” A door closed somewhere in the house.
“You must have had a lot to talk about with Auntie Vikay last night?” I asked
Dad as he ate his buttered bread the next morning.
“Yes!” he replied. “She was telling me about India. You know what? One day
we’ll go there.” He gave me a mischievous wink, and left.
Again I waited until afternoon, then went to Auntie Vikay’s. She was in a very
good mood. “You know,” she said as we sifted icing sugar over a selection of sweets,
“I can see where you get your looks: your father is very handsome, and your mother
very pretty.” The phone rang. Auntie Vikay chatted in Hindi and said goodbye in
English.
“That was my husband. He’ll be back on Wednesday.” She said this in a flat
voice, unexcited.
A car came, and after much whooping and yelling in delight the boys
disappeared to a friend’s house. Auntie Vikay and I, left to ourselves, finished
CONTEXT: AFRICA MWILA AGATHA ZAZA
cooking and sat in front of the TV.
“Don’t you get bored cooking and watching TV?” I asked during a documentary
on mountain goats.
“It can get very boring sometimes,” she replied.
“Mummy says she’d go mad if she had to stay home all the time.” I swung my
feet, fighting the urge to put them on the sofa.
“Maybe she would, but your mother should learn that her husband and children
come first. What does a job in an office give you? Can you talk to your job? Can your
job love you?” Auntie spoke fiercely. I let the topic drop, and we returned to the
mountain goats.
Much later, as the sun outdoors – where I would normally have been playing
– began to fade, I told Auntie Vikay I had to go home.
“I have to stay with the boys tonight,” she said, “but if I don’t see your father’s
car early enough I’ll come to make sure you’re alright.”
My father came home much earlier that night, but Auntie came anyway. I left
them chatting on the sofa and went to bed, calling goodnight behind me.
I saw Auntie the next day, and the day after that. I spent my afternoons up to
my elbows in different types of flour. I mastered the names of different spices and
herbs other than parsley.
On Tuesday evening my mother called and told me she would be home the
next day. I could hear in her voice that she missed me; she didn’t say it, but I knew.
She never said – but I always knew.
The next day I didn’t go to Auntie Vikay’s. Instead I paced around the living
room, flicked the TV on and off, took my dolls out and put them back in their box
again.
I was beginning to lose heart when I heard my mother and her sister drive up
to the house, and ran outside to meet them. I leapt around them while they pulled
mangoes and mushrooms and sweet potatoes from the car. The gardener carried
the loot to the kitchen and I followed, already covered in mango juice, with my
mother and her sister Auntie Jay behind me.
“That smells lovely. What is it?” asked Auntie Jay. She lifted the lid on a pot that
sat on the cooker.
“Auntie Vikay made it for you.” Her maid had delivered it several hours earlier.
“Is this the super-housewife who cooks and cleans everyday?” laughed Auntie
Jay, the sarcasm in her voice apparent.
“She’s very nice,” my mother replied.
“I don’t know how people do it, sitting at home every day just cooking – I’d run
mad!” Auntie Jay used the same words I’d often heard her sister say.
“Auntie says that your husband and children are the most important thing in
your life,” I replied, irked by the mockery.
“So you’ve been going to see her while I’ve been away. And who did you ask for
permission?” My mother hovered over me, her arms crossed.
“Daddy,” I replied, defiant, my chin in the air. “He said I could go whenever I
wanted.”
The sisters laughed. Auntie Jay pinched me fondly. “You, your Daddy would
send you to a mass murderer! How does he send you to someone’s house when he
doesn’t even know them?”
CONTEXT: AFRICA MWILA AGATHA ZAZA
“He knows her!” I crossed my arms and glared at the two of them, and
addressed my mother: “He said she is very nice and that you should dress like her.”
I couldn’t decipher their expressions. I opened the fridge, took out a handful
of samosas and by the time I returned to the sisters, the subject had changed to
something I didn’t understand about people I didn’t know.
That evening my father came home to find us in the kitchen eating the curry.
He hugged my mother and asked about her family, then sat down and served
himself.
“When are you back at work?” he asked.
“Next week.”
“Next week,” I moaned. “But you’ve spent half your leave at funerals!”
“Well, do you want me to not work then?”
“Auntie says that your job can’t love you back.” I repeated Auntie Vikay’s words.
“Not all of us can sit at home cooking,” my mother reminded me. “It’s boring.”
Dad stayed out of the conversation. “Anyway,” continued my mother, “we’ll
spend some time together before I go back to work.”
The next day my mother and I drove into town. We explored the shops and
stopped for ice cream and chips.
“Do you make curry here?” I asked the attendant. He said yes.
“Don’t be silly, Litiya, we can’t eat curry every day.”
We had chips and sausages, and my mother bought extra helpings for dinner.
When we were back home, I asked her if she was going to see Auntie Vikay.
“I suppose we should say hello to her.” My mother didn’t look at all enthusiastic.
She sent the gardener to check if Auntie Vikay was home, and when he returned to
say she was, my mother combed her hair, put on her nice trousers and, armed with
a packet of biscuits, we went to the neighbours’ house. The visit was very different
today. My mother was uptight and kept telling me not to interrupt when I tried
to join in. Auntie sat stiffly, wearing a sari. I didn’t like it as much as the salwar
kameez.
My mother thanked Auntie Vikay for the food, and for looking out for me while
she was away.
“No problem, anytime, you have a lovely family.” She smiled as she showed
us out. I looked back as we crossed into our garden. She was still standing on the
veranda, watching us leave, her hair and makeup perfect in the breeze.
Though she’d bought takeaway dinner, my mother decided she would cook.
“But Mummy, you hate cooking.” Not looking forward to soggy vegetables. I
asked her if I could make samosas, and she said no.
She began chopping up vegetables and was wrestling with the shrink wrap on
a chicken when there was a knock at the kitchen door. The familiar face of nextdoor’s nanny smiled in the doorway, and she carried two pots stacked on top of
each other. The aroma of curry chicken and assorted side dishes filled our kitchen.
My mother took the pots with a grim, mumbled thanks. She slammed the pots
onto the sideboards and asked, “Does this woman think I can’t look after my own
family?”
I whooped with excitement, ignoring my mother’s glare. I danced around the
kitchen, imitating the songs from the Indian musicals I’d watched next door.
“Stop that!” my mother bellowed above my song. Shocked, I stopped mid-dance.
CONTEXT: AFRICA MWILA AGATHA ZAZA
Every request I made that afternoon was turned down. Every sound I made was
criticised; every game I tried to play was too noisy; indoors or out I was being silly
and childish. I couldn’t understand why my mother was acting like this, and by the
time my father came home I was in a foul mood. When her cooking was served, I
demanded that I be allowed to go to Auntie Vikay’s for an hour.
“Now, Katie, you shouldn’t go over there so often. It’s rude to be at someone’s
house all the time,” my mother said. Daddy took my mother’s side unconvincingly.
“Well, I’ll just wait until she comes here again, then!” I was afraid the moment I
said it; my father’s face hardened with anger, his eyes narrowing into a squint.
“What do you mean when she comes here?” My mother demanded. I held my
tongue. I didn’t like her expression. I pulled a sulky face and pressed back into my
chair.
“Litiya, if you don’t tell me right now, I swear you will never see Auntie Vikay
again.” My mother towered over me, casting a shadow. I pressed as far into the
chair as I could, and still I didn’t feel safe.
“Can’t you see you are scaring the child?” My father gently tried to pull her
away.
“Shut up!” My mother turned around and screamed at him. She turned back
to me, and I told her, not because I was afraid I’d never see Auntie Vikay again but
because the look on her face terrified me. I whispered that Auntie Vikay came to
the house in the evenings when she’d been away.
“To do what?” Mother ordered, as my whisper became inaudible.
“She showed me how to make samosas,” I told her because this was very
important, “and she said that if she had a little girl like me she wouldn’t go to work
like you do, she’d play with me all the time.”
“She was with Daddy more than with me!”
In an instant my mother’s anger turned to tears, and she ran to their room.
I sat in the chair trying to make sense of her response. What was wrong with
Auntie Vikay coming to visit? I heard my father banging on their bedroom door
demanding to let in, then pleading with her to forgive him, then threatening to call
her mother.
I would ask Auntie Vikay what was wrong with her visiting us. She’d come to
our house later in the evening than this, so there could be nothing wrong with
going to her house right now.
I crept out the back door into the mosquito-filled night, and tiptoed through the
hole in the fence. Staying in the shadows, I climbed onto the veranda and looked
through the window, balancing on a plant pot.
Auntie Vikay was playing elephant with her sons, dressed in tracksuit bottoms
and T-shirt, not her usual salwar kameez. She wore no makeup, no jewellery; I
could barely make out her red dot. She looked ordinary, not like a princess at all.
There was a figure in the corner. Her husband? A lardy man, in washed-out brown
trousers – definitely not a king or prince.
I walked back to our house, not bothering to swat the mosquitoes. I could still
hear the shouting, and my mother was crying loudly. The dinner had grown cold
on the plates. I picked at it; it seemed orange, oily, nothing more than a strange kind
of gravy. Not exotic or glamorous, the food of kings and queens – just the work of
the bored, television-watching woman next door.
CONTEXT: AFRICA SYLVESTER OMOSUN
Sylvester Omosun
My Dirt
Over the flat straw grass
following the trees
now on the track ...
directly ahead of me,
over twigs and burnt grass
swirling ...
now at the intersection
where several points converge
towards the part where the wild ewe cannot go
our legs took us
stepping over cow dung
humming with jewel-green flies
I accept the triumph
the usefulness of a sacrifice
by people so poor
from all the farms and small holdings
I accept the triumph
stick sticky with cattle dips
I stand dreamily for a moment
hearing the drummers strike the sky
for all the beauty that is here for me.
CONTEXT: AFRICA SYLVESTER OMOSUN
Sylvester Omosun
Untitled
Hopping over grounded cherries
under the trees whose branches shaded me,
I thought of the days when I saw and imagined her
within the fruitage of the savannah green
Imagining footprints in the sand,
I thought of her prints trailing me,
jumping over dunes and mud castles,
tongue charting my black skin.
The mango fruit I picked up
formed the outline of her breasts
the node still at its point of budding
I traced the absence of a thumb-sized, brown nipple.
Blackberries squashed make blackcurrant;
a black woman kneaded makes a willing slave,
cheeriness sucked encircles the lips,
a nipple on a tongue makes the forces real.
A tug at the skin, the flesh of a fruit,
a lover bites an open world
tongue-licking, just teasing,
spillage on the lonely path
trails of sweat, grapes and berries.
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE NADIA GALY
Nadia Galy
Extrait du roman
Alger, Lavoir Galant
C’est jeudi matin, tôt encore. Pour l’atteindre, la Vieille avance à pas menus
en tanguant sur une débâcle de matelas mousse. À son âge, c’est un exercice
hasardeux, mais elle y tient. Elle veut réveiller son grand fils, son préféré, Jeha.
L’aîné, la prunelle de ses yeux, l’unique garçon de la nichée. Vilain à un point
tel que cela force la fascination. Certains le trouvent chevalin, mais ce n’est pas
exactement ça. Simplement chevalin, la Vieille ne l’aurait pas autant chéri. Car
un cheval, même de trait, reste harmonieux. Pas Jeha. Lui, il est difforme, comme
le serait le fruit des amours illicites d’un gnou et d’un alambic.
Aussi Jeha compense-t-il son allure pas comme tout le monde par une
bonhomie et une gentillesse à faire fondre. Les malveillants insinuent qu’avec
un physique pareil, il ne manquerait plus qu’il morde, mais c’est pure jalousie de
leur part. Non, Jeha est réellement désarmant, touchant de laideur. Comme ces
bouledogues aux yeux d’agate, qu’on prénomme Paulette pour bien montrer que
le ridicule ne tue pas plus que le cumul des handicaps. Et d’ailleurs il arbore en
permanence le même sourire échancré avec la langue qui déborde et le petit filet
d’écume au bout.
Malgré son apparence disgracieuse, Jeha est toujours content. Il goûte le
bonheur des menus plaisirs et les joies du meilleur des mondes. Il a vingt-sept
ans et il est épicier. Ce n’est pas une vocation, mais une affaire de discernement.
À l’Université, il a persévéré deux ans durant, deux années noires de safaris en bus
asthmatiques jusqu’à Tataouine, soit sept cents jours à déchiffrer des polycopiés
cabalistiques, deux beaux étés sacrifiés à réviser des matières abstruses en vue
de lauriers hypothétiques, avant de se rendre à l’évidence: tout ça n’était que
balivernes. C’était comme ajouter de l’eau à la mer. Ce qui comptait vraiment, ce
qui était tangible, c’était les affaires, l’argent. Ni une ni deux, il a fait volte-face et
repris la boutique de son père, ouverte chaque jour depuis toujours et à la demande
en cas d’urgence.
Désormais, c’est comme au temps du Vieux, la blouse en moins. Car Jeha ne
veut pas en entendre parler. Lui, il expose ses sapes sous une enseigne à la gloire
d’Ali son père. Sur un parallélépipède de Plexiglas blanc éclairé de l’intérieur, en
lettres rouge vif et un brin gothiques, il a fait inscrire, en français, sinon c’est
incompréhensible: « Ali-Mentation Générale ».
Cette trouvaille le ravit d’autant plus qu’elle tient à un rien. Si le Vieux s’était
prénommé Kamel, ça n’aurait jamais marché ! Un jour, promet-il, il fera des
travaux. Et, de l’avis de tous, ce ne serait pas un luxe. Cependant, il repousse
régulièrement l’échéance au siècle à venir. C’est qu’à chaque vente, le cauchemar
recommence: le stock menace ruine, l’effondrement guette. Alors, organisant la
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE NADIA GALY
résistance, il cale des paquets, bourre les étagères, coince des conserves et remplace
ce qu’il vient de vendre par cinq boîtes de sardines, enfonce une brique de lait à la
place d’une poche de semoule, et ainsi de suite. Bref, il jongle, ne craignant qu’une
chose, ou plutôt deux en réalité: les impôts et l’inventaire. Rien que l’idée le hérisse!
Ce dont tout le monde se passerait bien, compte tenu de sa plastique de spécimen.
À part ça, on ne peut pas imaginer garçon plus facile à vivre. Il est d’un
tempérament si agréable qu’il a même trouvé à se marier. La chaussure à son pied
se prénomme Selma; il l’épousera dans près de deux ans. À proprement parler, elle
n’est pas ce que l’on appellerait un prix de beauté, mais Jeha répète inlassablement
aux langues d’aspic qui le charrient: « Orne la louche et elle sera belle. »
Heureusement, grâce à Dieu, les principales misères esthétiques ont été épargnées
à la jeune fille. À l’exception d’une seule. De la croix qu’elle porte, on ne perçoit
que la partie émergée: un sourcil en couronne d’épines, traversant son visage d’est
en ouest, pratiquement d’une oreille à l’autre. Le reste de l’iceberg, sa pilosité un
chouia débridée, reste religieusement dissimulé sous un hidjab toujours pimpant.
Franchement, ses arcades mériteraient d’être épilées, pour obtenir deux sourcils
honnêtes et mesurés. Mais elle ne peut s’y résoudre, elle chipote sans cesse. Le jeu
en vaut-il la chandelle? Quand on commence, quelquefois, c’est un tel engrenage!
Selma est assez gentille, mais ce qu’elle a surtout d’épatant, c’est qu’elle est d’accord
pour épouser Jeha. Tout le monde en est content, à commencer par la Vieille qui ne
connaît qu’une vérité: « Même laide, l’abeille butine et produit son miel. » En effet,
bonne mère, elle préfère que son fiston chéri assure la lignée tout de suite, plutôt
que le voir s’amouracher d’une beauté qui lui rirait au nez au motif que convoler
avec un girafon, c’est un peu risqué pour les enfants.
Toujours est-il qu’en attendant ses noces, Jeha cultive un certain flegme que
rien ne parvient à démentir.
Treize personnes partagent l’appartement familial, onze d’entre elles sont
claquemurées entre le salon et une alcôve. Autant dire entre la peau et l’ongle.
Les parents quant à eux dorment seuls dans la chambre d’où, fatalement, le
nombre canonique d’enfants qu’ils ont faits! S’ils avaient couché dans le salon
avec les autres, il y a fort à parier que leur descendance n’aurait pas nécessité une
pareille collection de matelas à dix balles. Ce qui est peu pour un matelas, c’est vrai.
Plus cher? Ils auraient tout de même pu. Seulement voilà, la marchandise aurait
été de meilleure qualité, certes, mais aussi plus lourde. Et la Vieille en aurait bavé
pour tout ramasser et empiler, ce qui est cependant indispensable puisque, le jour,
le salon fait salon. Ce n’est que la nuit qu’il est transformé en caravansérail. Le
matin, la Vieille amoncelle les cinq stères de matelas avant de les recouvrir d’une
couverture de velours représentant La Mecque, un tigre à l’affût dans les palmiers,
ou bien le mont Fuji. C’est haut comme un bahut Louis XIII, en plus folklorique
et moins utile: on ne peut même pas s’asseoir dessus sans que la pile s’écroule!
Les matelas à pas cher, ça ne vaut qu’en une épaisseur. Au-delà, ça fait toboggan.
« Comme ce serait formidable d’avoir plus grand! » Depuis plus de vingt ans,
c’est le leitmotiv du clan, le château en Espagne!
Dans la rue, Jeha n’a que quelques pas à faire. Et la voilà, miel de sa vie, sa
’Bicerie ! Elle apparaît entre deux ficus dont il a lui-même blanchi les troncs à la
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE NADIA GALY
chaux. Son chez-lui, sa danseuse! Il ne comprend toujours pas pourquoi sa vocation
s’est faite si tardive, alors qu’il est si heureux depuis qu’il a pris la suite de son père.
Cette échoppe, il la bichonne comme une reine, il la choie. Il la pare comme une
mariée, sème des autocollants scintillants sur la vitrine. Pour elle, il dégotte des
posters, des calendriers; selon les saisons, il la fleurit de jasmin, de mimosa,
de papier crépon. C’était un réduit, un cagibi qui produisait l’effet d’une dent gâtée
entre deux immeubles, et il en a fait une épicerie de music-hall qui se dandine
en bikini. Hollywood, Times Square, les paillettes... Les commerçants du quartier
le jalousent. Ils lui reprochent de se prendre pour la fourmi qui en remontre au
chameau. Pourtant c’est bien vrai qu’eux continuent de gérer à la papa, miteux
et rabougris, comme boulonnés au seuil de leurs kolkhozes.
(Albin Michel, 2007)
CONTEXT: AFRICA NADIA GALY
Nadia Galy
Excerpt from the novel
Algiers, Wash-house Tryst
It’s Thursday morning, still early. To reach him, the Old Woman inches her way
forward, tripping over the foam mattresses cluttering the room. A dangerous
exercise at her age, but she’s determined. She wants to wake her grown-up son,
Jeha, her favourite.
The eldest, the apple of her eye, the only boy of the litter. So ugly that people
are fascinated. Some describe him as equine, but that’s not quite it. If he’d simply
been equine, the Old Woman wouldn’t have doted on him so. There’s a certain
harmony to a horse, even a carthorse. But not to Jeha. He’s misshapen, as would
be the fruit of an illicit love affair between a gnu and an alembic.
Jeha compensates for his unusual appearance with an affability and kindness
that would melt anyone. Spiteful tongues insinuate that with looks like that, it
wouldn’t be surprising if he were to bite, but that’s pure jealousy on their part.
No, Jeha is truly disarming, touching, in his ugliness. Like those bulldogs with agate
eyes whose owners call them Paulette to show that ridicule doesn’t kill, any more
than an accumulation of handicaps. And what’s more, he permanently wears the
same jagged smile with his tongue sticking out, a little thread of saliva on the tip.
Despite his ungainly appearance, Jeha is always happy. He knows the joy
of small pleasures and the delights of the best of all worlds. He’s twenty-seven
years old and a grocer. It’s not a vocation, but a question of acumen. He persevered
for two whole years at university, two grim years travelling to and fro to the
back of beyond on asthmatic buses, seven hundred days trying to make sense
of indecipherable photocopied sheets, two fine summers sacrificed to revising
abstruse subjects for the sake of some hypothetical reward, before he faced the
facts: it was all nonsense. Like pouring water into the sea. What really mattered,
what was tangible, was business, money. Like a shot, he dropped his studies and
took over his father’s shop, which has opened every day for as long as he can
remember, and in emergencies upon request.
Since then, it has been like in the Old Man’s day, only without the white grocer’s
jacket. For Jeha won’t hear of it. He parades about in his street clothes under a shop
sign he’s had made to the glory of Ali, his father. On a white Perspex parallelepiped
lit from the inside, in bright red slightly Gothic lettering, the sign says (in French,
otherwise the wordplay would be lost): “Ali-Mentation Générale”.
He’s all the more delighted with this pun because it hinges on such a tiny
detail. If the Old Man had been called Kamel, it would never have worked. One
day, he promises, he’ll have some building work done. And about time too, was the
general feeling. But he keeps putting it off until next century. Every time he sells
something, the nightmare begins again: the stock threatens ruin, the shop’s on the
CONTEXT: AFRICA NADIA GALY
brink of collapse. So he sets about organising the resistance, propping up packets,
cramming the shelves, wedging in cans and replacing the items he’s just sold with
five tins of sardines, sticking a carton of milk in the place of a packet of semolina,
and so on. In short, he juggles, fearing only one thing, or rather two: taxes and
stocktaking. The mere idea makes him bristle! Which everyone would rather be
spared, given his bizarre appearance.
Other than that, it’s hard to imagine a more easy-going boy. He has such a
lovely nature he’s even managed to find a wife. The name of his other half is Selma;
he’ll marry her in just under two years’ time. Strictly speaking, she’s not what could
be called a great beauty, but Jeha tirelessly repeats to the vipers who tease him:
“Adorn the ladle and it will be beautiful.” Luckily, thank the Lord, the girl has been
spared the major visual defects. Except one. Of the cross she bears, only the tip is
visible: an eyebrow that’s her crown of thorns, traversing her face from east
to west, almost from one ear to the other. The rest of the iceberg, her slightly
excessive hairiness, remains religiously concealed beneath an always-immaculate
hijab. To be honest, her eyebrow could do with plucking to create two decent,
reasonable eyebrows. But she can’t bring herself to do it, she constantly quibbles.
Is it worth it? Once you start, you can’t stop. Selma is quite sweet, but the amazing
thing about her is that she’s agreed to marry Jeha. Everyone’s pleased, starting
with the Old Woman, who’s only sure of one thing: “Even the ugly bee gathers
pollen and produces honey.” And, like all good mothers, she’d rather her beloved
son produce heirs straight away than see him fall for a beauty who’d laugh in
his face saying that marrying a baby giraffe would be a risk to their children.
All the same, while awaiting his wedding, Jeha has cultivated a certain
composure that nothing can ruffle.
Thirteen people share the family apartment, eleven of them cooped up
between the sitting room and an alcove. In other words, between the skin and
the nail. The parents sleep separately in the bedroom – hence, inevitably, the
admirable number of children they’ve produced. If they’d slept in the living room
with the others, it’s highly unlikely their issue would have required so many cheap
mattresses. More expensive ones? They could have afforded it. Only the thing is,
the mattresses would have been of better quality, sure, but heavier too. And the
Old Woman would have had a job lifting them and stacking them up each day,
which is absolutely vital since, during the day, the living room is a living room.
It’s only at night it becomes a caravanserai. In the morning, the Old Woman piles
up the five cubic metres of mattress and covers them with a velvet blanket with
a picture of Mecca on it, a stalking tiger in the palm trees, or Mount Fuji. The pile’s
as high as a Louis XIII sideboard, but it’s an eyesore and less useful: if you try to
sit on it, the pile collapses! Cheap mattresses are only any good one layer thick.
Any more and they turn into a slide.
“It would be so good to have more space!” For more than twenty-five years,
that’s been the clan’s perpetual cry, their castle in the air!
In the street, Jeha only has a few steps to take and there she is, the love of his
life, his ’Bicerie! It emerges between two ficus whose trunks he whitewashed
himself. His home, his venture! He still finds it hard to understand why it took
CONTEXT: AFRICA NADIA GALY
him so long to discover his vocation, when he’s been so happy since he took over
from his father. He pampers his shop like a queen, he cherishes it. He decks it out
like a bride, scattering shiny stickers over the windows, seeking out posters and
calendars for it; depending on the season, he decorates it with jasmine, mimosa
or crêpe paper. It’s a cubbyhole, a storage room, that used to look like a bad
tooth between two apartment blocks, and now he’s turned it into a vaudeville
grocer’s, prancing about in a bikini. Hollywood, Times Square, spangles... The local
shopkeepers are envious. They criticise him for thinking he’s the ant that can teach
the camel a lesson. And yet it’s true they just bumble along, shabby and stunted,
as if riveted to the thresholds of their kolkhozes.
(Albin Michel, 2007)
CONTEXT: AFRICA TOYIN ADEWALE
Toyin Adewale
Explorer of Aromas
As the fire devours the grass,
as flames consume the matchsticks,
The street swallows my steps,
my voice dissolves in soil.
I know the green bile of hunger.
I know the triumph of dust,
the sneering arrogance of the sun
on the carcasses of sodden
rats. I have dined on dried dogs,
flavoured with acrid urine.
And at the feet of elaborate remnants,
I find the most high remains
of chicken thighs unloved by excess.
I, the explorer of aromas,
wading through the maze of rice,
delighting in trash, I say your refuse
can is finger-licking good.
They say the rich also cry,
dancing to soothe their shame,
their throbbing sores.
CONTEXTO: ÁFRICA MANUEL ULACIA
Manuel Ulacia
Express a Marraquech
Express to Marrakesh
Por la forma
By the way
en que se oprimió el vientre con la mano,
she clutched her belly,
la muchacha que entró
the girl who entered
en el compartimiento,
the compartment –
vestida con un amplio chador blanco
dressed in a full white chador
y la cara tapada con un velo
with her face covered by a veil
que dejaba ver tan sólo sus ojos
that showed only her nervous eyes
nerviosos, delineados en negro,
outlined in black –
presentimos que algo sucedería.
we sensed that something was going to happen.
Los altavoces anunciaban
The loudspeakers announced
la partida
the departure
y el ámbar del crepúsculo
and the amber of dusk
doraba la estación llena de gente.
gilded the crowded station.
El tren partió dejando atrás los muros
The train departed leaving behind
ocres de la ciudad,
CONTEXTO: ÁFRICA MANUEL ULACIA
the ochre walls of the city,
los altos minaretes,
the tall minarets,
el Palacio Real,
the Royal Palace,
las huertas de verdura
the gardens of greenery
a la orilla del río.
on the bank of the river.
Muy pronto el cielo se pobló de estrellas.
Very soon the sky filled up with stars.
Viajar al sur es viajar a otro tiempo.
To travel to the south is to travel to another time.
Ayer, al pasear por la medina
Yesterday, strolling through the medina
nos encontramos con unas mujeres
we met some women
que tocando un pandero y cantando
playing a tambourine and singing
escoltaban a un niño.
who were escorting a boy.
Montado en un caballo
Mounted on a horse
– ricamente adornado
– richly adorned
con arneses de plata
with silver trappings
y alcafar de seda bordada en oro –,
and silk cloth embroidered in gold –
iba camino a la mezquita
he was on his way to the mosque
en donde sería circuncidado.
where he was going to be circumcised.
Tan lejos de todo estamos – dijiste –
“We are so far from everything,” you said,
mientras la mujer se llevaba
while the woman again put
de nuevo la mano al vientre, gimiendo.
her hand to her belly, groaning.
Parecía tan sola en su trabajo,
CONTEXTO: ÁFRICA MANUEL ULACIA
She seemed so alone in her labour,
tan sola en el tren, sin ningún cuidado.
so alone on the train, so unworried.
Y al preguntarle si deseaba algo
And when we asked her if she wanted anything
se quedó ensimismada.
she seemed miles away.
El tren se detuvo en una estación
The train stopped in a station
olvidada en la mitad de una frase
forgotten in mid-sentence
y la mujer permaneció sentada,
and the woman kept sitting there
con la mano en el vientre,
with her hand on her belly
mirándonos fijamente,
looking at us fixedly,
como si buscara complicidad
as though looking for accomplices
o pidiera silencio, o ambas cosas.
or asking for silence, or both things.
Hoy recuerdo sus ojos.
Today I remember her eyes.
Eran un grito mudo entre los velos.
They were a silent scream between the veils.
El tren volvió a partir
The train pulled out again
dejando atrás los andenes vacíos.
leaving behind the empty platforms.
Cada uno de nosotros
Each one of us
se dejaba llevar
gave himself over
por sus propios recuerdos
to his own memories
– el jardín de Meknés al caer la tarde,
– the garden of Meknes in the late afternoon
el cruce de miradas
CONTEXTO: ÁFRICA MANUEL ULACIA
the meeting of glances
en los paseos, los altos cipreses,
while out strolling, the tall cypresses,
signos de admiración
exclamation points
ante las vistas que el lugar ofrece –
on the views from the place –
pero la realidad
but reality brings us back
nos hacía regresar al presente.
to the present.
Varias veces la mujer se oprimió
Several times the woman clutched
el vientre con la mano.
her belly with her hand.
Varias veces le ofrecimos ayuda
Several times we offered her help
sin que nos respondiera
without getting a reply
y cuando quisimos buscar a alguien
and when we wanted to look for someone
para que la atendiese
to attend to her
dijo que no con la cabeza.
she shook her head no.
La luna iluminó
The moon illuminated
el desierto: imagen irreal
the desert: an unreal image
de la soledad plena.
of complete solitude.
El express continuó sobre la vía
The express continued on the track,
inventando el poema
inventing the poem
que ahora escribo minetras las imágines
that I am writing now while the images
que rescata la memoria regresan.
CONTEXTO: ÁFRICA MANUEL ULACIA
that recapture the memory come back.
La mujer dio un grito.
The woman cried out.
Se rompieron las aguas.
Her waters broke.
Hubo un cruce de miradas seguido
There was an exchange of glances
por un largo silencio.
followed by a long silence.
No recuerdo cuánto tiempo duró
I don’t remember how long
el trance.
This desperate interval lasted.
No sé si fueron dos horas,
I don’t know if it was two hours,
tres or cinco. Tendida boca arriba,
three or five. Lying on her back
en el suelo, con las piernas abiertas
on the floor, with her legs apart
bañadas en sudor helado y sangre,
bathed in cold sweat and blood,
y sin quitarse el velo,
and without taking off her veil,
jadeaba
she was panting
ritmicamente mientras el anillo
rhythmically while the ring
de carne rojo oscuro,
of dark red flesh
se abría, poco a poco,
was opening little by little,
dejando ver el túnel de coral,
showing the coral tunnel,
el caracol del tiempo,
the conch shell of time,
y finalmente un círculo negro.
and finally a black circle.
Pujando con una fuerza animal
Straining with an animal strength
CONTEXTO: ÁFRICA MANUEL ULACIA
la mujer coronó
the woman forced out
la cabeza del niño,
the crown of the child’s head,
y la expulsó enseguida, boca abajo
then quickly expelled the head, face down
– caliente y húmeda –, sobre mis manos.
– warm and wet – on my hands.
La criature comenzó a respirar
The baby began to breathe
y en esprial giró
and twisted in a spiral
hacia arriba sacando
upward getting out
primero los hombros
first the shoulders
y después las otras partes del cuerpo.
and then the rest of his body.
Amanecía. En el horizonte
Dawn broke. On the horizon
otro sol tiñó de rojo, naranja,
another sun dyed the backcloth of the sky
amarillo, rosa, el paño del cielo.
red, orange, yellow, pink.
Cabeza abajo comenzó a llorar
Head down the child began to cry.
el niño. No recuerdo
I don’t remember
quién le cortó el cordón umbilical.
who cut his umbilical cord.
Por la ventana vimos
Through the window we saw
un diminuto oasis:
a tiny oasis:
cuatro casas,
four houses,
un grupo de palmeras datileras.
a stand of date palms.
Y más allá: un camello que giraba
CONTEXTO: ÁFRICA MANUEL ULACIA
And beyond: a camel pacing
lentamente alrededor de una noria.
slowly around a water wheel.
Al llegar a Marraquech, la mujer
When we reached Marrakesh,
bajó del tren aprisa
the woman hurriedly got off the train
y se perdió entre la muchedumbre.
and was lost in the crowd.
Quise alcanzarla, pero
I wanted to catch up with her, but
todas las mujeres vestían la misma ropa,
all the women were wearing the same clothing,
todas tenían el rostro tapado
they all had their faces covered
y muchas de ellas llevaban un niño
and many were carrying
en la espalda.
a child on their backs.
El calor del desierto
The heat of the desert
A veces desconcierta.
can be bewildering.
Han pasado más de dieciséis años.
More than sixteen years have passed.
Tal vez la madre haya acompañado
Perhaps the mother has accompanied
al niño a la mesquita,
the boy to the mosque,
cantando por las calles
singing through the streets
de la vieja medina,
of the old medina,
y el niño, ya hombre, frecuente el jardín
and the child, now a man, frequents the garden
al terminar la tarde.
late in the afternoon.
Translated by Sarah Lawson
CONTEXT: AFRICA CHENJERAI HOVE
Interview: Chenjerai Hove
Chenjerai Hove is one of Zimbabwe’s most prolific writers, and a leading
figure of postcolonial Zimbabwean literature. His work includes fiction, poetry
and nonfiction, including a celebrated novel, Bones, which won the 1989 Noma
Award for Publishing in Africa. His other three novels are Masimba Avanhu?
(Is This the People’s Power?), written in 1986 in his native Shona; Shadows (1994);
and Ancestors (1996).
Hove’s most recent collection of poetry is Blind Moon (2003); a second collection
of his journalism, Palaver Finish, was published in 2002.
Hove’s poetic imagination is engaged most frequently by such subjects as
colonialism, the ideologies of African patriarchy and the impact of dictatorship
on the lives of ordinary people. He was a founder and board member of the
Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, as well as a founder of the Zimbabwe
Writers Union (ZIWU) and that organisation’s chairman from 1984–92.
As a columnist, Hove’s critical, outspoken political and social commentary
in a Zimbabwean weekly, The Standard, resulted in serious harassment, including
a burglary of his home in which computers and discs containing unpublished
works were stolen; threats against his family; and constant police surveillance.
He left Zimbabwe for France in 2001 and has lived in exile ever since. He is currently
based in Norway.
Rhoda Mashavave speaks with Hove about his anxieties and hopes for a new
Zimbabwe.
Rhoda Mashavave: What were the circumstances that led you to make the
painful decision to live in exile?
Chenjerai Hove: I feared for my personal security after many anonymous
telephone threats to me and my family. At some point, my personal electronic
goods were stolen by burglars. The police officers who came to investigate
informed me they could not help much since it looked like a “political act”. That was
after they asked me to identify myself, and discovered that I was “the writer”. Many
telephone threats continued to pour in, directed at me and my family. Some even
went so far as to tell me that I could disappear at any time. It was at that time that
I also got reliable secret information suggesting that the 2002 election period was
too dangerous for me. So I decided to leave, hoping that I would return when things
calmed down. But things did not calm down. It is probably worse than when I left.
RM: Has living in exile been good for your writing?
CH: Living in exile is never good for anything. I miss the real voices of people,
CONTEXT: AFRICA CHENJERAI HOVE
the sounds and rhythms of home, the background to my poetic language,
the scents, the birds, the colours of my landscape. Although I carry my piece of
country with me, it is not the same. I write out of the longing and desire for the
motherland. It is always a part of me. But I have to write and reflect more, since
exile is also a time to look at one’s country from a distance. Sometimes distance,
another space, [produces] the desired tensions which make the creator of literature
more sensitive to words and imagery, which sometimes is murky when one is
inside the issues.
RM: What do you find difficult about living in exile?
CH: Exile forces me to create new imagery and even search for new words.
It is like being a child, asking people the simple things like names of local birds,
learning new languages and learning to make friends as a matter of necessity.
Europe is an individualistic continent. Sometimes I cannot avoid feeling really
lonely, isolated. People do not talk much to strangers, or even to each other.
In Africa there is always someone near you, talking to you or even harassing you
with all sorts of conversation. It is good to have that human link, the rhythm of life.
I found it difficult to deal with the fact that European writers do not seem to
want to be involved with social and political issues that affect them every day.
They are resigned to being on the periphery. Writers in the developing world are
active in all sorts of projects, literary and social. That is the way it should be.
So, when I tell writers’ gatherings that I am a political writer, they get surprised.
For me, everything is political. That means everything has to do with distribution
of power, use and abuse of power. Humans are either victims or victimisers in
a dynamic shift of power relations, which we live through every day of our lives.
Everything is political, including food, money, education, media, love. All these
have to do with power relations between people and institutions. Most European
writers do not dare take the cultural dialogue this far.
RM: Do you regret being a writer, especially with the persecution that you
face in your own country?
CH: I can’t imagine being something else. If I had been some kind of
businessman or bureaucrat, I would be so miserable. Literature gives me hope
and vision. Literature is life. Through writing I dream my dreams for myself and
for society. I hope readers share some of my visions in order for them to gain
strength to continue with life.
The persecution that I have suffered is part of the risk of being a creator of
new dreams. As a writer I put the mirror of our society in front of our faces so
that we can see how beautiful or ugly we are. Some people want to refuse to see
the mirror. They try to break it because it shows them their ugliness. Literature
has the task of shocking society into re-examining itself. Social contradictions
come to the surface through art and artistic works. If some people are afraid of
ideas, they persecute the bearer of messages. It has always happened in societies
going through drastic changes.
Our country is now a big wound. As a writer I have to say it, to create suitable
imagery to cope with it all. Through words, I have to paint the ugliness that has
descended on the land. It is painful for some people, especially those in power.
CONTEXT: AFRICA CHENJERAI HOVE
So, they choose to make me a victim.
I will continue to write and dream a better life for our country, to give hope
to the smallest and weakest person in our country, so that one day we will not
be blamed by future generations for sitting by while the country was decaying.
RM: Have artists been vocal enough about the social, political and economic
decay in Zimbabwe?
CH: There are different categories of writers. There are those who stand up
and refuse to allow the country to continue to decay. There are also those who
think it is fine to join the bandwagon and get a few crumbs from the decaying
system. The third group pretends not to be involved.
Generally, artists in Zimbabwe have been too silent about the social, political
and economic decay. As individuals, most depict the problems. But as a collective,
they do not stand up in their numbers and refuse to accept social and political
abuses.
Artists are the conscience-keepers of society. Imagine how effective it would
be if artists from all corners of the country signed and presented a petition to
the political leaders on the state of our national decay. That would make a huge
difference.
Look at what artists have done in Latin America: they stand up and organise
demonstrations against social and political abuse in their countries. They demand
change. This is what Zimbabwean artists should do, as a collective.
A Nigerian writer calls writers “the sensitive point of the community”, which
means they have a certain responsibility by virtue of being public figures who
occupy public and private spaces, the space of the imagination as well as being
read. Issues are too urgent for writers and other artists to sit at home and pretend
it is not their job to criticise the political leaders for the suffering they have
burdened the country with.
RM: What can Zimbabweans in exile do to help opposition politics in Zimbabwe?
CH: Zimbabweans in exile should be well organised. They can become
powerful if their organisations can shape local politics back home. After all, they
are a massive economic bloc in terms of their financial contribution to the
Zimbabwean economy. They can become an effective pressure group, demanding
political common sense and dialogue in the country.
RM: A lot should have happened since you left Zimbabwe. What have you
achieved in the literary world so far?
CH: I am writing most of the time. [Since leaving] I have written and published
three books. And there is more to come. Writing is not like baking bread, where
you have to produce a loaf every morning. Sometimes I reflect on issues before
sitting down to write. It is different from journalistic work. A book is a whole
world, and it takes time to create. It is a vast task, which needs profound reflection.
At the same time, I have to work. Not many writers in the world are able
to live from their literary work. As a teacher, I travel all over the world, teaching
creative writing, literature, and [getting involved in] social issues that I concern
myself with.
CONTEXT: AFRICA CHENJERAI HOVE
RM: What do you hope to achieve in the next ten years?
CH: I hope to publish more and more books. In the near future, when
Zimbabwe becomes free again, I hope to go back home and work with youngsters
to help them create literature instead of death and suffering, as is happening
now, [as they are] trained to be bloodthirsty young militias. I want to participate
in restoring our memory, our vision, healing a society torn apart by violence
and hatred.
RM: When do you expect to return to Zimbabwe?
CH: My heart is already back home. I am returning slowly. When the
atmosphere is better, when there is no political violence, I will [go] back. Maybe
one of these days I will pay a visit to see the wounds inflicted on our land by
the current political madness.
RM: Have you made new friends, and are you in touch with those you left
in Zimbabwe?
CH: I am always in touch with friends back home. They keep me informed.
And through them, I receive descriptions of the wounds on their bodies and on
the land. I have many new friends, but not as many as in Zimbabwe. I miss those
street walks, which I never could do without someone greeting me or challenging
me about my last article. It is not the same here.
RM: What are your parting words to Zimbabweans living in exile?
CH: Exiles should keep their vision burning. They should participate in life
wherever they are. They should not degenerate, [fall] into the abyss of despair
and hopelessness. Always dream of a better country tomorrow. Always keep the
smile even when you cry and miss home. After all, you carry a big piece of home
within you. Prepare yourself with skills to go and rebuild the country one day.
Every sunrise must give you hope, and a new confidence that a step ahead has
[been taken].
CONTEXT: AFRICA SHIMMER CHINODYA
Shimmer Chinodya
Excerpt from the novel
Chairman of Fools
He opens his eyes slowly. He is lying in a bed, and his three sis¬ters Tindo,
Bertha and Kata are sitting on a bench beside him. He winks and waves at them
and chuckles, “Muri bho? I hope you guys bought me a really nice coffin, none of
the stuff that rots after a few years.”
Kata, the eldest, starts crying and Bertha says to her, “Now, Sisi
Kata!”
“When did you come?” he asks.
“Yesterday” says Bertha, cleaning her manicured nails. “We
couldn’t find you at home, so we went to sleep at Tindo’s place.”
“How did you two find out about me? I died last night.”
“Tindo called us.”
“How are my children, Tindo?”
“Fine.”
“How long have I been in this bed?”
“Not very long. You hardly closed your eyes.”
“Where’s Wilbert?”
“He’s filling in some forms at the reception.”
A young nurse comes by and he says to her, “When can I go,
nurse? It’s my birthday today.”
The nurse looks at the three women and asks, “Did you bake him
a cake?”
Tindo says, “A very big one, but he can’t have it, unless he gets
better and comes out of here soon.”
“Happy birthday,” says the nurse.
He sits up and tries his legs. They feel fine. There’s nothing wrong
with him. Two bouncers in white shirts and trousers approach the
bed and one of them says, “Do you want to come and talk to the
doctor, now?”
“He came to pretty quick,” says the other. “Do you think we should give him
another jab?”
“No, he’s fine.”
The doctor sits at the end of the corridor, interviewing patients. She is an ample
woman in her early thirties, with high-faced cheekbones, rings on four fingers and
long braids that she keeps tossing back from her face. The queue is long. She is slow
and thorough with her patients. Wilbert comes in with two black bags, smiles at
the bouncers and joins them. When the doctor eventual¬ly calls Farai in, they all
want to go with him but she says, “No, I want him by himself.”
CONTEXT: AFRICA SHIMMER CHINODYA
“Hes Pesvu,” he says to the doctor. He went to university with her and knows
her well. She was a wisp of a woman then and people used to make fun of her
name. One day he had played tennis with her. On another occasion when he
had tonsillitis he had gone to the surgery, where she worked as an intern, for a
prescription and promised to phone her.
She smiles weakly at him and looks at his forms and says, “So what brings you
here, Mr Chari?
“You ask him,” he says, pointing vaguely towards Wilbert, who is sitting outside
in the waiting room. “He dragged me here while they were out there ransacking
my house.”
“Who was ransacking your house?”
“My enemies. They’re all jealous of me.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a writer.”
“But I mean, what do you do for a living?”
“That’s what I do. Writing.”
“Do you make enough to live on, this way?”
“Does it matter?”
“Now, let’s go right back to the beginning. Tell me how your prob¬lem started.”
He goes into reverse gear and tells her everything. He tells her about the
accident and the postponed shooting of his film, about the news on the radio and
the car crashes, about the church ser¬vice and the convoys, about eternity on the
night road and the pending whip-lashing. There is a terrible logic to his narrative,
but she does not see it. She nods her head and lets him roll, while she writes notes
on a card. Then she goes to the waiting room and calls Wilbert over and whispers
to him. Wilbert comes in with the two black bags and goes out with two small
green ones! Farai feels a tweak deep in his crotch and he says to him, “Look, Wilbert.
You fool! Can’t you see what they’ve done? They’ve stolen our dicks!”
Dr Pesvu discharges them and they go out in a bunch to Wilbert’s pickup truck.
At the exit the film crew is waiting – finally. The cameras are trained on him and
the overhead lights blaze down. The cameramen are invisible, behind the lights. He
stands stunned in the yellow heat but Wilbert grabs his elbow and marches him
on.
“Too late now,” he turns back to yell at the cameras. “You left it too late and now
I have to go. You’ll have to look in my archives!”
Out in the park, a little boy cries as he is bundled away, round the building, by a
group of nurse aides.
He sits with Wilbert in the driver’s compartment and his sisters climb into
the back of the pickup. Wilbert reverses out of the park into the road. His sisters’
dresses billow in the breeze. At the gates a security man with a shirt like a
policeman’s stops them. Wilbert shows him some papers and the security man lets
them through.
They turn right and drive through the open gates into the hospital annex.
“Not here, Wilbert,” he says. “We’re lost.”
Wilbert stops the car and comes round to open his door for him. He is not
moving. They’re in the wrong place. What are his sis¬ters doing? He can see them
CONTEXT: AFRICA SHIMMER CHINODYA
moving slowly towards the steps of the building. It is a prison. It is a trap. He shouts
loudly.
“Stop. Stop, we’re in danger!”
They do not turn round. Wilbert’s hand is pressing on his shoulder. He twists
away and bangs his head on the door frame of the car. This is a conspiracy. He is
being kid¬napped. He shouts for help but no one hears him. Wilbert is becoming
an enemy. Part of the racket. Wilbert has his hand on his shoulder, Wilbert is urging
him out of the car. Wilbert is press¬ing him to walk. He can hear voices, his legs
move but his spirit is shouting and his mouth is silent. The walls of the annex
are not made of iron and there are windows and doors, people moving inside,
voices talking. There are no women with shaven heads, wrapped in white sheets,
tumbling from the sky. Tindo knocks on the door.
Wilbert holds him tightly by his elbow.
I could slap you in the face, Farai. Hard. At first I thought you had one too
many and now this – you shaming us both with the non¬sense about people
ransacking your house and the orderlies steal¬ing our dicks and you refusing to
cooperate. So, is this what mad¬ness is about? Stripping off our thin disguises and
exposing our deepest insecurities. Fancy you – that immaculate little govern¬ment
schoolboy with whom I used to study. Remember, we went picking mazhanje
together and later, courted Letwina and Clara. Who could ever imagine you would
end up like this? Yet you were always quiet, sometimes, keeping to yourself and
studying your¬self half blind, writing precocious, melancholic poems about God
and the universe as if the impending weight of the ending world was upon your
shoulders. You the belated virgin imagining your¬self Stephen Dedalus’s twin in
James Joyce’s A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man! (Remember we did the book
in the sixth form?) Maybe you should have pursued something more practi¬cal,
like accounts or business administration rather than stick with literature. Look
where it has landed you. Yet I fear your instability is real, very real. Something I
can’t fathom. Hey, do you remember our classmate Peter Twetwete and how he ran
amok when somebody inadvertently revealed to him that the woman he had all
his life assumed to be his mother was really his stepmother! Remember how Peter
had to be withdrawn from school? I wonder what became of him! I wonder what
triggered your downward spiral. I’ve warned you frequently about being reckless
with your life. We never talked seriously about the prob¬lems in our families as
friends. I should, I realise now, have encouraged you to open up. I fear Veronica
might have been too hard on you, getting carried away with her church stuff and
refus¬ing to give you room to be yourself But perhaps you drove her back too hard.
No woman I know, Farai, wants to stand back with folded arms watching her
house fall apart. Pull yourself together, man. Do you think I don’t have problems as
well? Are you the only married man in this world? What would you do if Clara and
I weren’t here to help you? Get a life, man!
(Double Storey, 2006)
CONTEXT: AFRICA ALKASIM ABDULKADIR
Alkasim Abdulkadir
Flight of Sleep
On this flight of insomnia,
this night of still breeze,
I pen thoughts of years past
from friends who have
traversed the cauldron of life,
crossing my paths in quest...
To clothes long outgrown
bearing shades of faded colours
As these tears sting
my eyes, I wonder what
made the sky so blue,
the flowers so yellow,
smiles so joyous,
why the night holds
a party of stars.
On this flight of insomnia
what became of dreams?
What deflated the pride
That swelled our chests?
CONTEXT: AFRICA JACKIE MANSOURIAN
Jackie Mansourian
In the Light of the Moon
The night I was taken from my village was the night of the full moon.
I remember our whole village was celebrating the end of the maize harvest.
The heavy work was over. Mamá and my aunties danced together in a big circle.
The three drummers had them in a spell. My baby brother lay cocooned on
Mamá’s back, his head hidden inside the capulana. Only his bare legs dangled and
danced. I didn’t need to care for him that night. I played, dancing, singing, chasing
my brothers and sisters, weaving around the fat trunks of the old mango trees,
hiding in their shadows, in and out of moonlight, waiting to be caught in the game.
I joined Mamá and aunties for my last dance. My toes dug into the black dirt,
pounded soft by the feet of the women. It floated up into my nostrils. Esmerelda,
my big sister, and I were led inside the dance circle. The women clapped and
cheered. I tried to move my hips just like Esmerelda, but I knew I wasn’t like
her, even when I was trying my hardest. The clapping got louder as they urged
us to continue. My movements grew even more stiff and ugly. I panted. But
not Esmerelda, she danced like the women, as if she would be there all night.
The drums stopped, almost too suddenly. The men wanted another drink. And
Esmerelda and I fell on the ground and laughed and wrapped our arms around
each other.
Mamá came to us, tugged on one of my strands of braided hair, “Are you trying
to be a big girl already Filomena? Your turn will come to learn to dance.”
I remember the moon was very high when I entered Mamá’s hut. Esmerelda
came to stay with me. Our mothers would stay out all night. We could hear their
laughter, as we lay on our backs on the mats, side by side. We weren’t ready to
sleep.
“Filomena, what do you think Father will bring you from the town?” Esmerelda
asked in a hushed, excited voice.
Papá had gone into town to take some of our grain to the store. He’d been away
since the new moon but we knew he would soon return. We were each waiting for
something new he would bring us.
“I asked Papá for a pair of shoes. I want to wear shoes to school.”
I remembered my disappointment as I went to my first day of my second year
at school, barefoot again. It mattered more than ever. But Papá winked at me as he
sat on top of the ten sacks of maize on the back of the open van. He promised.
“What do you want from Papá?”
“It’s a surprise,” Esmerelda whispered.
I knew she wanted me to ask. But I wanted to trick her. Instead I would ask her
when she least expected it, like when we had to go to the river and carry water for
CONTEXT: AFRICA JACKIE MANSOURIAN
our mothers, or pound the maize, and then she wouldn’t be able to help herself.
So I turned onto my side and nuzzled her neck, “Let’s sleep.”
Loud wailing and shouting noises outside the hut yanked us out of our sleep. I
was off the mat as if I was a stem of lightning trying to hit one of the mango trees
and I threw myself into the darkest corner of the hut, behind Mamá’s big wooden
box.
“I’m here, Esmerelda. What is it?” My throat was dry. I grabbed at her hand. It
was shaking. My heart felt like the heavy thuds of feet scrambling, running outside
our hut. Children were crying. Pleading. Was that my baby brother? Where was
mamá? Someone pushed our bamboo door onto the ground inside, where we
had been lying. In the light of the moon, his massive shadow engulfed our hut. He
wasn’t from our village.
“Get out and keep your mouths shut,” he roared at us. He spoke our language,
but with a different sound to the words.
We held on tight to each other, shivering. I remember an awful sound, as if the
lighting had hit the tree’s trunk and cracked it open. It was on the other side of the
mud wall where we were hiding. Esmerelda and I began crying. I couldn’t help
myself.
“Mamá, where are you? Help us,” I pleaded.
The man found us, hit us hard on our faces and dragged us out. The main hut in
our compound, the hut of Papá’s first wife, was burning. One of the drummers was
lying on the ground, his face down in the dirt.
I don’t remember what else I saw. It was like one of those scary dreams I
sometimes had, when really bad things happened, and I would wake up, and feel
Mamá’s body on the mat lying next to me. I never remembered the scary bits the
next day.
All I remember is standing outside the hut, with my capulana, half over me,
holding hands with Esmerelda. We were crying and calling out. I felt very cold.
Then the same man with the monster shadow grabbed our bodies, one in each
hand and broke us apart.
He took Esmerelda away with him. She had snot all over her face. I stood alone.
“Esmerelda! Esmerelda! Come back! Don’t let him take you. Don’t leave me.”
Esmerelda did not return that night.
I had not known to run. I was pulled down and dragged by a boy I did not know.
He was not from our area. He was yelling at me, waving a machete too big for his
boney, skinny hands. I ran with him to Papá’s pigsty. Other children were already
there.
“Stay here,” he ordered and left.
I remember that none of us looked at one another. We crouched down, curling
our bodies over our knees, tight and small. I looked at the ground following the
hoof marks of Papá’s pigs and where they became smudged by our footprints. One
of the boys wet himself right there, the stream of pee ran down onto my feet. It
didn’t matter. I looked up. José. His name ululated inside me, in my ears and heart.
We had tried, together, to outsmart those naughty monkeys from stealing the corn
from our mamás’ fields. I knew he would help me. We would laugh together just as
CONTEXT: AFRICA JACKIE MANSOURIAN
we had laughed when the clever, hungry macacos had tricked us.
The same skinny boy was behind José, pushing him, yelling things I didn’t
understand, shaking his machete. Then I saw that José was bleeding from a big
cut on his head and the blood was running down his face. I held his hand. The boy
with the machete saw me. He threw himself at us and with bloodshot, bulging
eyes, first glaring at my face, then at our clasped hands, he brought down the
machete on José’s forearm. José fell onto his knees, gasping in pain. I felt hot pee
suddenly run down my legs. A scary feeling came over me, as if the things I was
watching were closing in on me, inside my own body.
I woke up. The boy with the machete was kicking my side. He pulled me off the
ground. My capulana, wrapped around my body was soaked in pee and blood. I
looked around frantically searching.
“Where is José?” I yelled at that awful boy. He spat where José had stood by my
side. He herded us forward, four children. I was the only girl.
I remember the moon. It glared at us from half-way down the sky as we
marched in a line. A memory came of something I heard between Papá and his
wives. He had called his four wives together. Mamá left me to pound the maize on
my own. In the shade of the granary he had spoken softly,
“In my absence, someone may come to collect these two sacks. He will be sent
by Brother Carvalho. Give him the two sacks. Go about your work as if nothing
special has happened. Direct him to where the sacks are stored and he will know
what to do from there.”
The women bent their heads in obedience. But later, after Papá had left, they
whispered amongst themselves about their husband’s unwise friendship with the
men of the forest. Some neighbours called them armed bandits, others called them
freedom fighters.
I did not understand then. But I knew that Papá would never have friends like
the giant who had taken Esmerelda away or that skinny, bug-eyed boy who had
made José disappear. No, Papá would come and find me. He would return from
town in the back of the van with my new pair of shoes and ask Mamá where I was.
He would come on the trail and carry me back to Mamá’s hut, where Esmerelda
would be waiting and where José would tease me about going away with that ugly
boy with the red eyeballs.
Papá did not come.
The Comandante’s wife was the fattest person at the base. When I first saw her,
I thought she must have been a very happy person. I remembered a story talked
amongst Mamá and aunties around the fire – a story about fat people. Fat people
never had anything to worry about, they always had more than enough food to eat
and always ate meat in their stew. I had never seen a fat person before. That awful
boy had taken us straight to her when we arrived. There were rolls of skin hanging
over her capulana at the waist and around her neck. I couldn’t stop myself from
looking at her bulging flesh. I wanted to touch it. Was it soft like the flesh of a ripe
mango or hard like its stone?
“Didn’t your mother teach you manners, girl? Maybe that’s why your father has
sent you here. To teach you respect. How dare you look up at me? Keep your eyes
CONTEXT: AFRICA JACKIE MANSOURIAN
where they belong, looking down at the space between your filthy feet.”
I didn’t want to believe her. She was lying. Papá would never have sent me
away. He had gone into town to buy me shoes. They had bewitched him.
A military base. That’s what everyone called it. Whenever the Comandante
walked by, we had to quickly stand, put our feet together, our arms by our sides
and our eyes on the ground.
At the beginning I did not speak. I understood all the things the Comandante’s
wife told me to do. I did them with the other girls and they whispered amongst
themselves, but I did not.
“Clean the porridge pots.”
“Sweep the yard around all of the huts.”
“Heat water for my bath.”
“Pound the dry cassava for tonight’s porridge.”
The Comandante’s wife even wanted to be my friend.
“Come and sit here girl, on this mat. Tell me your name. Tell me the name of
your father,” stroking my hand she would continue, “Your family has sent you here.
Yes, they want you to be happy in my care.”
When I couldn’t say anything, she would hold my face under my chin and bring
it close to her face. She would pinch my cheeks, twist my skin on my arms, bang
her head on my forehead and push me off the mat,
“You stupid girl. Your people are monkeys, that live in the trees, wild, stupid
people. I know you speak.”
But I had no words. They stayed locked inside me, here where my neck joins my
body.
I counted the passing of the full moon on the fingers of one hand, waiting for
Papá.
But the light of the moon at the Comandante’s base was bewitched. It gave way
for the monsters of my dreams to escape. I tried to keep them hidden, locked in
that place of sleep. But each full moon made their cruelty and my memory of them,
grow.
At Papá’s pigsty the skinny, ugly boy dangled a severed arm in front of me. He
grinned and his teeth and gums showed stains of dark, hardened blood. He was a
bloodsucker.
“It’s yours. You wanted to hold his hand so much. Now you can.”
José’s arm lay stiff on the dirt at my feet. Three fingers had been chopped off.
I rushed out of the hut, falling over the body of one of the sleeping girls,
gagging, full of the urge to vomit. Nothing came out, only groans and the bitter
taste of my spit. I squatted on the ground wrapping my arms around my knees
and a vast shadow crept up behind me, until my body and the ground was covered
by its shape. I turned. The face of the monster shadow was in darkness, the
brightness of the moon shining from behind. But I knew it was him. Up to then I
had only seen him in my dreams, but the boy with the machete was now at my
side.
I couldn’t stop myself. I clutched at the dirt and flung it in his face, kicking him
and tugging, tearing with my teeth on the skin of his forearm.
“Stop! You crazy puta! Stop!”
CONTEXT: AFRICA JACKIE MANSOURIAN
I felt my teeth break his skin and a warm, sticky taste on my tongue. It was
his blood. I spat it out. He held me away and spat at my face, large gobs of spit
splattering over my eyes and cheeks.
She stood there watching us, her capulana, across her hanging breasts. Where
had she been? How had she appeared there?
“Stop spitting on my girl,” the Comandante’s wife ordered.
He stopped, quickly putting both hands to cover his face, as if protecting
himself from a blow and fled. I ran inside the hut. I knew the other girls had been
listening, but as I stumbled to my mat, they did not dare stir.
The Comandante’s wife shuffled away.
She did not call me with her orders for days.
All I could think of was how to get back at that ugly boy. I wanted to beat him,
make him suffer, just as I was suffering. He’d hurt José and stopped him from
coming here. José would have helped me. I wanted to destroy the monster of my
dreams. I needed a machete. I wanted to cut him up, hack him on the forearm
where he had hacked José. How could I get a machete?
Then she came to me. She held out a machete.
“Go and use this on that boy. It belongs to him. I have sharpened it for your use.”
How did she know? My heart thudded as if they were footsteps of my people
scurrying away. She was a witch.
“Go now. He is asleep in my hut.”
Hot, burning tears gushed down my face.
“If you do not go now and cut him up with this machete, you will have to speak
to me. You will tell me all the things that the girls talk in the hut.”
She left me standing with the machete in my hand. I could again feel José’s
hand letting go of mine. I could again see the bug-eyed boy covering his face from
her. I dropped the machete onto the ground.
“Beatriz,” I called out after her, as the machete hit the earth. I would become
Beatriz and never tell her my name. And never again count the full moon rising,
waiting for Papá.
The Comandante’s wife sent me to join in the raids into people’s villages.
We trekked for days before attacking. Nothing to eat. The soldiers gave us stuff
to smoke. It was good. It helped me forget my hunger and helped me move quickly.
Then on the night of the full moon the attack would happen. The moon lit up the
pathways into the village, marking our ways in and out.
I wouldn’t watch what the boys and men were doing. I would keep myself
hidden from our soldiers and from the villagers, at a distance, where I could hear. I
knew the moment that my work could begin. It was the moment as if everything
had gone back to that sleeping quiet of the night, before the attack. As if the
villagers and the soldiers had yelled themselves empty. Their voices had dried up
and there was nothing left to yell or cry about.
That is when I rushed in, into the huts of people who had fled, to find whatever
I could and carry them to the place the soldiers had marked out. Once I found a
radio, like the one Papá had. But most of the time, I could only get the capulanas or
blankets that people were wrapped in before they had run. It was the smell that
was the worst. The smell of frightened people, sweating, weeing, throwing up their
CONTEXT: AFRICA JACKIE MANSOURIAN
evening meal. The smell of fresh blood and human flesh. Its own smell, not like
goat or chicken, or pig blood. But I taught myself not to smell these things.
Then Clara arrived. I think I had been at the base for three rainy seasons. Clara
had been living at a school run by nuns and was captured by our soldiers on her
way to collect cassava from the school farm. At first she did not speak to any of us.
She had light clear skin. I admired her light brown breasts and dark nipples. She
was sent on her first raid soon after she arrived. We stood in a straight line before
the Comandante’s wife, being given the instructions for our next raid.
“Make sure she learns our work well. You, Beatriz, are responsible for the load
she must find and carry. Clara, you will follow Beatriz. She is small but she is fast
and clever.”
Clara stood on something sharp on the third night of the march and dropped
down to the ground in pain. No one stopped. I did not either, but slowed my pace to
stay close. One of the soldiers ordered her up. She began to yell at him. He took his
knife out. I ran back, put my whole body under her left arm and heaved her up on
to her feet. I looked straight into the eyes of the soldier. She was heavy. I wasn’t sure
whether my shoulders would keep her up. It was a risk. I tried really hard not to
blink, to keep my gaze firm. He returned his knife to his belt. I turned around and
marched forward, moving as fast and as far away from him as I could. I knew he
would be watching us for the rest of the raid. I had been careful not to embarrass
him, but he would now notice us in all that we would do.
“Clara, imagine yourself a gazelle. Imagine your feet as the hooves, small but
hard. That is how you must move during these treks, quietly, lightly on thickskinned hooves.”
Clara continued to lean across my shoulders, but her movement became lighter
and quicker as the spirit of the gazelle entered her.
A whole rainy season went and returned and Clara and I were together at the
base. Not that there was rain. The huge bubbles of clouds would build up in the sky
but then they would be pushed away quickly by the hot wind.
That’s when we made our blood pact of secrecy. If either of us broke the pact,
we would be haunted by the spirit of our dead grandmothers. Clara told me the
complete name of her parents and her surviving and dead grandparents and the
name of the small town she was born in. Gorongosa. That was where Papá had
gone to take the maize and to buy me shoes. I remembered it as soon as she spoke
it.
She scratched something into the red earth and told me it said my name,
Beatriz. I asked her to scratch the name Filomena. I had memorised my name and
the name of my father by repeating it as a chant every night inside my head as I
went to sleep.
Clara wrapped her hand over mine and led my finger over each letter.
I rubbed it away. No one else must see it. The Commandant’s wife must never
know.
Clara knew her own age, she was fourteen years old. “Filomena, your body is
still like the body of a boy. Maybe you are ten years old,” she explained as she held
her two closed fists together.
CONTEXT: AFRICA JACKIE MANSOURIAN
All the girls in the hut bled – except for me. During that time in the cycle of the
moon, they stayed indoors during the day. As new girls entered our hut, their cycles
would gradually come together. Those days were the hardest for me. All their work
still had to be done. I tried to do it, cleaning the huts of the soldiers, working with
the Comandante’s wife and the wives of other soldiers to prepare the food. The
girls’ hut smelled of blood-stained, stale earth during this time. They would only
come out at night – to bathe, if there was any water left, careful not to be noticed.
On certain nights when they weren’t bleeding, some or all of the other girls
would be called out from their sleep to go to the soldiers. It was the Comandante’s
wife who waited outside our hut, directing each of the girls to the different places.
Some soldiers had built their own separate covers; others lived together. I didn’t like
to be left alone. I stayed awake listening.
Clara never talked about what happened to her during those nights. She would
return to our shared mat and cover, stinking of the sweat and saliva of others, and
another thick odour, which I only smelled on those nights when the girls returned.
Clara would curl into a tight ball facing away from me. In the mornings she would
not look at me, the skin around her eyes all puffy and red.
Everything changed in the middle of the dry season.
There was no water anywhere. The Comandante was sitting on his bamboo
chair surrounded by some of the other soldiers he most often sat with. Others
circled the outside of the gazebo, the smaller boys with rifles wandering in and out
amongst this crowd. They were all listening to the radio. At times only the radio’s
voice could be heard and then a surge of loud talk would burst out amongst the
men. This had never happened. Even the Comandante’s wife ignored us.
No explanation was given in the girl’s hut. We each heard and gathered
snatches. Our soldiers would be giving in their weapons. Some talked about hiding
their rifles in the forest, others talked about demanding more payment for their
guns. Others talked about returning to find their families. The Comandante wanted
the smaller boys gone long before anyone else entered the base. But he said
nothing to us, nor did she.
We had so many questions.
If the boys were going to leave, what would the Comandante’s wife do with us?
Where would she send us?
What would the soldiers of the other side do to us?
Where would we go? How would we get there?
I don’t remember how we reached the orphanage.
All I knew was that Clara wasn’t coming. She was going to her family without
me. That’s all that mattered. Clara was going to leave me. I didn’t show anyone how
sad I felt, not even Clara. But she knew. She made me a grass amulet with strands of
her hair inside. We would again find each other she whispered.
“Tell them what you remember. They will help find your people.”
How could she be so sure? What if the Comandante’s wife found out I had been
lying to her all this time?
Clara told me to be brave. To go with the people to the orphanage. They would
keep the Comandante’s wife away. She got into the back of an open van. I knew
CONTEXT: AFRICA JACKIE MANSOURIAN
she was looking at me but I couldn’t look back.
“Clara! Clara! Come back! Don’t let them take you. Don’t leave me.” The words
wailed inside me. And when I did look up, Clara was a puff of dust, a long way on
the dirt track. Even then it looked like someone was waving. I knew it was Clara. My
arms felt like boughs of trees, a burden at my sides.
At the orphanage, a long pole held a flag at its very tip. A hoe, a rifle and an
open book fluttered in the hot wind. I’d seen them before, somewhere. Not at the
Comandante’s base. Before. But where? Why were those three things put together,
crisscrossing over each other, as if they belonged together? But that couldn’t be
so. The rifle was the strongest and turned people holding it into their own hidden
monster selves. Their most evil of spirits came out to hurt others. Is that what books
did too? No one seemed to have a rifle at the orphanage. Maybe they hid them, like
they hid everything else.
There was never enough of anything – not enough food, not enough water, not
enough mats to sleep on, not enough blankets for the cold nights, not enough soap
to wash. Just like the base. Some of the girls began to pee in their sleep. I shared a
blanket with Amélia. She came from the base too. She was bigger but she didn’t
act bigger. She used to say stupid things, things that no one else understood. She’d
sit by herself, squatting on the dirt, rocking her body, backward and forward. Then
at night she’d pee everywhere. I’d get it all on my capulana. Our blanket smelled
bad. But the people there didn’t seem to care. They’d tell Amélia to stop peeing on
herself, but they’d still make me share the blanket with her.
Once a group of white people came. There’s something missing in the way they
look, as if their skin hasn’t completely formed. I didn’t like to look at them. They
had red blotches on their face and arms, as if they were bleeding on the inside. The
other children wanted to touch their hair, their hands. I couldn’t force myself to do
it. They looked at us with eyes that were the same colour as the sky on a hot day,
when it is better to sit in the shade.
The Director of the orphanage, Senhor Ernesto put up a big poster on the wall
for all of us to see. The whites sat on three chairs especially brought out from the
room where the Director sat. Senhor Ernesto was wearing a jacket, the length of
the sleeves covered his hands all the way to the tip of his middle fingers. There
were photos of all of us on the poster, he assured us. He called each of our names
and pointed to our photo amongst all the others. Amélia’s head was blocking
my way. When I told her to move, she acted like she didn’t hear me. I couldn’t see
anything. He said that’s how our people would find us. This was the work our
visitors were helping. Senhor Ernesto would make sure that the posters would
go all over the country. Our red, blotchy visitors nodded with approval. Maybe
someone looking at it would recognise us. Know where we belonged. We clapped
and sang and thanked our visitors.
When no one was looking I went and looked at the photos wondering which
one was me? I remember I found Amélia, João, Fernanda ... then there was someone
I didn’t know. I looked carefully at all the others again and then I understood. That
was me. I ran away. Then I went back – my hair was shaved, my eyes seemed to
fill my whole face, as if there was nothing more to me than eyes. I hated it. The
Comandante’s wife would find me. I pulled that paper off the wall and tore it into
CONTEXT: AFRICA JACKIE MANSOURIAN
tiny pieces. They caught me and they wanted me to explain to the Director why I
pulled it down. I said nothing. I looked down on the floor between my bare feet and
his shoed feet. His shoes were torn and his little toes poked out from both feet. He
wouldn’t be able to keep her away.
I remember the day they told me they were going to take me to my village.
Someone had seen my photo and said they knew me. I didn’t believe them. It was
a trick. She had found me. Two men came to take me. I wouldn’t go. The shorter
man looked just like the Comandante. I vomited all over his clean, neat shirt.
Dry long grass crowded the track on both sides. The two men sat in the front of
the car, I sat in the back. One asked me my name. I didn’t answer. My head spun as
the grass and the car seemed to fly past each other, in opposite directions. I closed
my eyes. When I opened them again and lifted my head from the seat, the car had
stopped. The two men were not inside. A group of children crowded the windows
of the car, looking at me. I looked beyond their faces, searching for the sound of the
water I could hear splashing and gurgling over rocks. There was nowhere to cross
the river.
I stayed inside the car, sinking deep into the seat, making my body small. I heard
the voice of the man who had asked me my name. He was repeating it, side-by-side
with the name of my father.
“Filomena Carlos. Carlos Capitão.”
My heart was pounding quickly, strongly, my breath, my breath, I couldn’t keep
up with my heart. There was a lot of talk outside the car. I couldn’t hear the words.
My ears were full of the sounds of frightened screams.
“Mamá, where are you? Help us. Esmerelda, Come back! Don’t leave me!”
I rushed my hands to my ears. I was crying, yelling, my body shook
uncontrollably.
The car door on my side was opened. My yelling grew louder, my body was
throwing itself up and down on the car seat. Then a face, a face I remember from
deep inside me. But I couldn’t keep myself there. I could no longer keep up my
breath with the hard, painful thuds of my heart. I gave into the nothingness closing
quickly in on me.
A little girl, her capulana wrapped across the back of her neck, called out,
“Mamá, who is this big girl?”
Her mother answers in a gentle voice. “She is your auntie. Your Auntie Filomena
has returned home.”
“We must return to the clearing, others have also returned,” softly Esmerelda
explained.
We walked slowly. Esmerelda carried a tin of water on her head and her baby
on her back. I carried a plastic bucket filled with water. Others, too, each carried
something of what the men had left for me – a small sack of maize, which
wouldn’t be enough for two days’ servings for the girls’ hut at the base; a small sack
of beans; one length of capulana. Esmerelda’s daughter carried the head of a hoe.
The track was overgrown.
“Only walk where you can see others’ footsteps.”
We followed each other in a line.
CONTEXT: AFRICA JACKIE MANSOURIAN
Then, before me loomed the ring of mango trees – huge old trees heavy with
blossom. The perfume from the flowers were sweet and sticky. The smell took
me to another time. I couldn’t help myself. A memory rushed forward of children
helping each other unload the heavy weight of water from their heads, laughing
and shouting as they throw rocks high up into the tree. I was amongst them.
Mangoes would come thumping down on the ground. Juice and pulp smeared all
over our chins and cheeks as we sucked the mangoes that had fallen. My mouth
watered with the taste. I had not eaten a mango since then.
Around the outer ring of the mango trees, four small grass huts have been built.
Esmerelda took me to the first hut. She put down her water bucket first, spilling it
as she pulled it away from her head and down on the ground. She took the bucket
off my head.
“The spirits of our ancestors will not yet drink the water from your load. We
must first tell them that you have arrived.”
The others placed my belongings by the side of the hut. Esmerelda entered the
hut and came out stretching a mat made from green reeds. She invited me to sit on
it. She lay down her baby on the mat beside me.
“You must rest now, Filomena. Your journey has been long. When you awaken,
we will all be here.”
As I placed my head on the mat, the warm, green smell of fresh grass carried me
away. In my sleep, I thought I could hear the sound of a baby crying and whispers
around me, the smell of a fire burning, the warmth of the sun disappearing. But it
is the face of the Comandante’s wife, so close I could smell her stale breath and see
each bead of sweat around her lips, which forced me to wake myself up.
As my eyes opened, I quickly looked around me and her fat, wet face was
nowhere to be seen.
I closed my eyes again. My heartbeat softened. As I slowly re-opened my eyes,
I saw the full moon flickering in and out of view between the branches and leaves
of the mango trees. It returned with me to my village. I looked across into the
clearing, where flames and smoke appeared in snatches between the dark shapes
of people’s bodies sitting in a ring on the earth. There was a hushed conversation. I
sat up. Esmerelda lookeds across and came over by my side.
“My little sister, that was your sleep of return. Our ancestors have given you
this gift of sleep as a welcome.”
The other people around the campfire joined us. One by one, they placed their
hands on the top of my head and then swept their fingertips down the length of
my body, touching the earth around the mat. They were familiar but unknown
faces. I was lifted to my feet and taken across to the clearing.
Esmerelda carried a small earthen bowl and laid it by my feet. Water sparkled
inside. She stood in front of me, her voice quivering with the words,
“Your mother and our father have not yet returned. I will guide you until their
return. In their name and in the name of our ancestral family, I take this water and
wash your feet to cleanse the earth of other lands they have trampled.”
Esmerelda lifted my feet one by one and poured water over each.
“I take this water and wash your hands to cleanse the deeds they have done.”
Esmerelda held each hand in turn and poured water over my open palms.
“I take this water and wash your eyes to cleanse the blood they have seen.”
CONTEXT: AFRICA JACKIE MANSOURIAN
She scooped water over my closed eyes.
I joined my people around the fire. Esmerelda sat at my side, her baby on her
back, asleep inside his nest of capulana. The light of the full moon shone from high
above our clearing, into the circle of the mango trees.
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE NICOLE BARRIÈRE
Nicole Barrière
Grand brasier blanc
Au sud, ancestral
la pluie vive sur la terre sèche
le ciel lumineux nous ronge
sous la pierre noircie
le feu couve-plaie sur le brasier du temps
les enfants meurent
le regard mangé de tristesse
puis les femmes
puis les hommes
puis ...
il fait chaud
chaud
et le temps espace sa course comme le soleil à nadir
grand brasier blanc
nous n’avons plus d’herbes
ni de lait ni de miel
le soleil se tue à l’Est
jour braise
nous voici égaux sous l’étoile
et l’idée de la beauté nous a blanchis
mais la nuit creuse nos yeux
remplit le regard d’un chant
que l’on voudrait grandir
grandir
jusqu’à remplir l’humide des paupières
grand brasier blanc
l’espace se replie sur la terre
et nous sommes l’autre versant du dire
l’envers des choses simples et les saisons d’hibernage
tandis que monte de nos bouches
le chant lointain des aïeux
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE NICOLE BARRIÈRE
grand brasier blanc
ton dire n’a plus de sève
la mort a mis son baiser froid
sur chaque souvenir.
grand brasier
sur notre chair
comme sur l’instant qui passe
sur notre vie
comme sur les pierres sales
la roue du temps achève sa route de sel
nous avions soif
de vos écorces pâles
de vos âges adolescents
de vos fronts soucieux
où l’espoir s’est tu
grand brasier blanc
vos chants de cygne sur le fond du lac
nous en avions pétri la mousse
et jeté l’algue
pourtant vos armes parlent le sang
il est rouge
il est noir
grand brasier blanc
de vos détresses quotidiennes
de vos traversées d’orgueil
de vos lames infestées de mépris
il fait chaud, grand brasier
il fait chaud jusqu’à perdre le sens des larmes
c’est la vanité sèche
morte est la fièvre
morte est la feuille, morte est la sève
morts, les morts butinent jusqu’à nos transes
grand brasier blanc debout sur nos traces.
CONTEXT: AFRICA BENJAMIN UBIRI
Benjamin Ubiri
Home
Sunlight peeps at our bare bodies
as we lie on the bare bamboo, indoors;
tears from the moon cascade
through our unfinished roof
to kill the flames for supper.
Ashes, tears mix;
new streams ease out
from under the dwarf curtain
and from our parted legs
of murdered comfort,
into the ocean that now lives with us.
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE LÉONORA MIANO
Léonora Miano
Extrait du roman
Contours du jour qui vient
La nuit était chaude et les rues bondées. Après la guerre qui venait de tailler
le pays en pièces, les habitants de Sombé recommençaient à vivre, mais pas
comme avant. Ce n’était pas pour aller au restaurant qu’ils sortaient. Ils n’allaient
pas voir un film, ni se trémousser au rythme des chansons branchées. Ils allaient
dans les temples. Il n’y avait plus que cela, partout. Des églises d’éveil, comme
on les appelait. Toutes millénaristes, toutes arc-boutées sur les passages les
plus effrayants ou les plus rigides du Livre. Ils n’avaient pas l’intention d’aimer
leur prochain comme eux-mêmes. Il n’entrait pas dans leurs projets de trouver
ce qui en eux avait été créé à l’image du divin, ce qui était grand et beau, ce qui
était lumineux. Tout ce qu’ils voulaient, c’était ériger la noirceur en principe
inébranlable. La haine du vivant avait élu domicile dans la cité, et on avait
déboulonné tous les lieux de plaisir et de joie. La salle de concerts Boogie Down
était désormais une salle de lecture tenue par des évangélistes américains, aussi
blancs que des cachets d’aspirine, et aux cheveux d’un roux qui ne ressemblait à
rien que nous connaissions par ici. On les voyait souvent rougir douloureusement
au soleil, vêtus de chemises blanches à manches courtes et de pantalons noirs, et
on disait qu’ils avaient de bonnes raisons pour venir si loin de chez eux, souffrir
sous l’ardent soleil de notre Afrique équatoriale. On supputait abondamment
concernant ces raisons que nul ne connaissait. Ceux qui venaient à eux avaient
toujours une idée derrière la tête : une idée de voyage au loin, de mariage avec un
Etasunien. Les missionnaires étasuniens avaient repeint en blanc les murs jadis
rouge brique et avaient rebaptisé le lieu EGLISE DE LA PAROLE LIBÉRATRICE, mais
pour tous ceux qui passaient par là comme pour ceux qui venaient suivre leur
enseignement, c’était toujours le Boogie Down. La boîte de nuit le Soul Food avait
gardé son nom, pour abriter un centre de rééducation spirituelle, d’inspiration afrochrétienne. On y enseignait une approche africaine des Ecritures, parce qu’il devait
y en avoir une. La Cité des Merveilles qui n’était pas un lieu ouvert à tous mais
qui constituait une attraction majeure parce que c’était la plus grande habitation
de la ville, était devenue le temple de La Porte Ouverte du Paradis. Il s’agissait
d’une maison tenue par un couple de personnes âgées, Papa et Mama Bosangui,
spécialisés dans les prières de combat, les ordalies – se rapportant souvent aux
démons dissimulés dans les familles –, et des pratiques mystérieuses dont on
disait qu’elles vous rendaient riches du jour au lendemain. D’ailleurs ils roulaient
en jaguar sur l’asphalte défoncé des rues de la ville. Les habitants de Sombé se
pressaient vers ces lieux, vêtus de soutanes blanches, rouges ou bleues selon leur
obédience. Ils tenaient à la main des cierges noirs qui brûleraient aussi longtemps
qu’il le faudrait pour assurer leur salut. Ils n’avaient d’yeux ni pour moi, ni pour
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE LÉONORA MIANO
rien d’autre que les ténèbres qui s’épaississaient à mesure qu’ils les contemplaient.
Ils n’allaient pas se repentir, mais se plaindre. Ils n’allaient pas chercher comment
recréer l’harmonie au sein de leur famille, mais comment bouter hors de leur
domicile le sorcier qui, ayant pris l’apparence d’un proche, avait précipité leur ruine.
Ils n’allaient pas élever leur âme, puisqu’ils n’aspiraient qu’à descendre, toujours
plus bas, là où c’était le plus obscur, là où les pulsions de mort se faisaient passer
pour des règles de vie honorables. Ceux d’entre eux qui cherchaient sincèrement
Dieu espéraient trouver en lui une sorte de vaisseau spatial vers une planète plus
tranquille. Ils en avaient par-dessus la tête de devoir prendre leur vie au collet
chaque jour que Nyambey faisait, pour n’arriver à rien. Ils priaient non pas pour
demander la force d’affronter la vie, mais pour en être délivrés, pour que tombent
enfin les barreaux qu’elle érigeait autour d’eux. Ils voulaient s’évader du monde
réel, n’y avoir aucune responsabilité, n’avoir jamais à s’y engager. Ils priaient
comme certains se font un fix : pour planer.
Telle était la ville, désormais. Les rebelles et l’armée régulière n’avaient laissé
que cela, ce désespoir qui usurpait le nom de foi. Nous ne sommes pas un peuple
cartésien. Nous n’avons pas à l’être. Il est légitime de croire à ce qu’on ne voit pas,
et dont on sent pourtant les manifestations, comme le vent qui sent la poussière
et fait se pencher les roseaux sur les rives de la Tubé. Il n’est pas stupide de
considérer que si ce monde existe, il peut y en avoir de nombreux autres. Ce qui est
incompréhensible, c’est la raison pour laquelle notre croyance se laisse si volontiers
couler vers les abysses les plus ténébreux. Nous n’aimons rien autant qu’éteindre
toutes les lumières, afin de ne laisser brûler que les brasiers qui nous consument de
notre vivant, faisant du lendemain une impossibilité. Après la guerre, il ne restait
plus que le présent, et il n’était plus que perte de sens.
(Plon, 2006)
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE PIERRE ASTIER
Pierre Astier
Demain l’Afrique
Ma découverte des auteurs d’origine africaine remonte à une vingtaine
d’années. Elle s’est faite au travers de mon expérience d’éditeur de nouvelles
d’abord, avec la revue trimestrielle « Le Serpent à Plumes » que j’ai créée et
dirigée de 1988 à 1996, avant de créer et diriger la maison d’édition du même
nom, « Le Serpent à Plumes Editions », de 1993 à 2004. La nouvelle est un genre
littéraire pratiqué de manière plus libre et plus souple que le roman dans presque
tous les pays du monde, qu’un secteur éditorial et une industrie du livre y soient
développés ou non, parce que la nouvelle a deux supports d’édition possibles,
et donc une circulation rendue plus facile: la presse écrite ou l’édition, le journal
et le magazine ou le livre. En France, où les pratiques éditoriales sont anciennes,
où la littérature tient une grande place dans la vie culturelle, la nouvelle a toujours
été (curieusement, malgré la prééminence d’auteurs comme Guy de Maupassant
ou Marcel Aymé, ou malgré le succès récent d’Anna Gavalda) un genre mineur,
peu encouragé par les éditeurs, étudié mollement à l’université.
Dans ma quête de nouvelles francophones de 1988 à 1996, à ma déception de
trouver très peu de nouvelles françaises contemporaines succéda la satisfaction
de découvrir et d’explorer un continent littéraire, la francophonie, regroupant
des locuteurs en français, fourmillant de nouvelles et de romans, des Caraïbes
au Proche-Orient, d’Amérique du Nord à l’océan Indien, avec, au centre de cet arc
littéraire, l’Afrique, la terre ancestrale d’Afrique, d’Alger au Cap, d’Abidjan à Djibouti.
Depuis lors, je n’ai cessé de m’intéresser, de me passionner devrais-je dire, pour
la littérature et pour les auteurs africains, en tant qu’éditeur d’abord, puis en tant
qu’agent littéraire. Cet intérêt pour une littérature d’une exceptionnelle richesse
(Sony Labou Tansi, Yambo Ouologuem, Ahmadou Kourouma, Emmanuel Dongala,
Assia Djebar, Abdourahman A. Waberi, Alain Mabanckou, Rachid Boudjedra,
Aminata Sow Fall, pour n’en citer que quelques-uns de langue française), qui s’est
écrite dans la langue des colonisateurs français, portugais ou anglais, en même
temps que les pays de ces auteurs accédaient à l’indépendance politique, a été
renforcé par plusieurs impressions fortes devenues convictions. La première
de ces impressions a été que l’influence des formes artistiques en provenance
d’Afrique sur les formes artistiques occidentales (que ce soit dans la musique,
la danse, les arts plastiques, la littérature ou la mode) était injustement méconnue
et reconnue par les élites. L’apport considérable et pourtant très sous-estimé
d’une personnalité comme Joséphine Baker par exemple, Américaine « africanisée
» par la scène artistique française dans les années trentes en est extrêmement
révélateur. La seconde impression, plus directement liée à la réalité française,
vieux pays colonisateur n’ayant toujours pas assumé et analysé en profondeur
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE PIERRE ASTIER
ce que fut la colonisation, a été une sorte d’indignation durable devant la
ségrégation vivace dans le monde des lettres français entre auteurs français
(« de souche », comme l’on dit en France) et auteurs étrangers de langue française,
ces derniers ne bénéficiant pas du même traitement que les autres dans les
maisons d’édition, dans les médias, en librairie, dans les prix littéraires, dans
les fameuses « rentrées littéraires » etc, tout cela ressortant d’une crainte (frôlant
l’arrogance et le protectionnisme) que l’histoire multi-séculaire de la grande
littérature hexagonale risquait, au contact de ces littératures d’outremer, de
perdre son âme. Fort de ces convictions, j’ai développé, de 1988 à 2004, un catalogue
d’éditeur, et, depuis 2006, une liste d’auteurs représentés par l’agence littéraire
Pierre Astier & Associés, où les auteurs d’origine africaine ont une place éminente,
aux côtés d’auteurs européens, américains ou asiatiques .
Parmi les faits marquants dans l’histoire de la littérature du monde, au cours
de ces quarante dernières années, il faut noter l’adoption sur tous les continents
de formes littéraires d’origine européenne que sont le roman et la nouvelle,
auquel on pourrait ajouter l’essai. Mais ce qui précède ce phénomène ou lui est
concomitant, c’est le mouvement vers les indépendances. En même temps que
des nations aux frontières incertaines émergeaient, tant en Afrique du Nord qu’en
Afrique sub-saharienne, des littératures émergeaient, témoignant d’une quête
identitaire prononcée.
Avec l’ouverture des frontières et la mobilité des créateurs, ce mouvement
n’en est qu’à ses prémisses. Meurtris pendant des siècles, les Africains n’ont
pas une relation aussi aliénante avec l’Histoire que les Arabes ou les Européens.
Ils entrent de plain-pied dans le monde d’aujourd’hui, en acceptent toutes les
composantes. D’où une extraordinaire profusion de puissants auteurs d’origine
africaine.
En tant qu’agent littéraire oeuvrant à Paris, ville qui demeure un carrefour
culturel est-ouest et nord-sud de premier plan, ville où les minorités africaines
sont nombreuses, il serait impensable d’exercer ce métier sans être attentif à
ce que des écrivains d’origine africaine proposent, qu’ils soient Français d’origine
africaine ou Africains d’Afrique. Dans tous les domaines – roman et nouvelle
contemporains, roman policier, thriller, roman historique, science fiction, sciences
humaines – de nouveaux talents apparaissent. Le rôle de l’agent étant de dépasser
les frontières, c’est pour moi là, après avoir proposé aux lecteurs français des titres
d’auteurs d’origine africaine, un projet captivant que de faire en sorte que des
auteurs d’origine africaine puissent être lus en Scandinavie, dans les pays
d’Europe orientale, dans les Balkans, dans le monde arabe ou en Asie.
L’heure de l’Afrique a sonné, il faut rendre à l’Afrique l’hommage qui lui est
dû, lui reconnaître une influence civilisationnelle remontant à la nuit des temps
et un potentiel créatif inouï pour l’avenir.
CONTEXTO: ÁFRICA MANUEL ULACIA
Manuel Ulacia
Fiesta en un jardín de Tánger
Fiesta in a Garden in Tangier
A media noche
At midnight,
cuando la bóveda
when the dome overhead
estaba cuajada de estrellas
was filled with stars
y los cometas,
and the comets,
uno tras otro,
one after another,
caían sobre el mar,
were falling on the sea,
entraste en el jardín secreto
you entered the secret garden
para hallar en él otro cielo:
to find in it another sky:
cien tortugas llevaban
a hundred tortoises bore
sobre el caparazón
on their shells
una veladora encendida;
a lighted candle;
al caminar formaban
when they moved they formed
constelaciones imprevistas,
unexpected constellations,
titilantes y luminosas rimas,
flickering and luminous rhymes,
otra escritura,
another system of writing,
por el azar creada.
created by chance.
Translated by Sarah Lawson
CONTEXT: AFRICA ETHEL NGOZI OKEKE
Ethel Ngozi Okeke
Once Upon a Night
The couple lay on the bare bed inside the mud hut. Then, a knock: kpom kpom
kpom.
“Who is that?” asked a male voice from within.
“Okoro, open the door fast,” a woman’s voice said.
“Who is the one?” came the question again.
“Well, since you must be told, it’s Oyima.”
“Oyima ...! But ... but ... Rachel is here,” the man’s voice quavered.
“Okoro, it’s better for you to open the door, Rachel or not!”
The man inside the hut was thrown into confusion. Before he knew what to do,
the woman outside had forced the dilapidated door open with everything in her.
As she stormed in, the man, Okoro was already standing, bewildered, in the outer
room. In the inner room, the other woman, Rachel, lay still. The skimpy, eight-spring
bed with a bamboo mat as a mattress was the only tangible piece of furniture in
the room. The couple had put out the paraffin lamp and bolted the door before the
rude intrusion; it was dark inside.
“Mhmmn, I told you, Rachel is here,” Okoro appealed.
Oyima exploded: “And who is she? And where is she? And what is she? Let her
come out, wherever she is. Let her come out. This night can’t go for her!”
Meanwhile, Rachel gathered herself calmly, out of bed, and stepped into the
outer room. All three of them now stood in the dark, each uncertain of what should
follow. Soon Rachel broke the silence.
“Oyima, why this trouble? I can’t understand what you are looking for. But get
it clear now; you can’t intimidate me at all. I have to take my turn, and today is my
turn.”
“Your turn?” queried Oyima.
“Yes, I own this night. Tonight is for me. My turn is today.” Her voice rose sharply
into a shout: “My turn, my turn! Yes, I’ll take my turn!”
Baffled by this boldness, Oyima checked herself, and then said, “I see you are
prepared for me in my own house? This is good. But here is too small for us. So let’s
get outside.”
That had the force of an injunction, as they all stepped outside the hut. Between
the two women it was a battle – which of them could shout louder than the other.
It was a little before midnight, when the first bout of sleep after bedtime had just
crept in. The harmattan wind dispersed the voices to the entire neighbourhood.
Everybody knew where the noise was coming from. It was unmistakable: Okoro
and these women again!
“Oyima, I say it again. It’s my turn today, and you cannot do anything. If you
CONTEXT: AFRICA ETHEL NGOZI OKEKE
like, bark from now till tomorrow, you can’t do anything. This night is for me.
Understand that!”
Oyima stood and listened as if in a trance as Rachel continued.
“I don’t see why you should break your head now. Only today I said to come,
and there you go raving like a mad dog. Well, go on and bite if you can.” That was
Rachel for you – short and full of rocky determination. She ended, feeling cool and
satisfied that she had made a sharp cut.
Oyima felt her stomach rumble. She was not sure she understood what this
woman had said. She grated her teeth together, bit her lips, and her mind ran. How
could a woman, her own kind, do this to her? How could her own fellow take from
her what belonged to her? And with such impunity! And in her own compound!
No, she wouldn’t take it. She had better die in the fight than swallow the insult.
But hadn’t many well-meaning persons spoken to her about this? They had
counselled her to lie low: “Leave this man and his woman alone. Why fight? Why
kill yourself because a man wants to make himself happy? Leave them and face
your children.”
That was time-tested counsel, and indeed the lore. Only a foolish and jealous
woman squabbled about her husband’s involvement with another woman. It was
good breeding to be happy and friendly with one’s husband’s mistress. That was
the wisdom of the ancients, the wisdom of generations upon generations, past and
present. So why fight?
But Oyima had sworn to herself in the name of her god that she would not see
such behaviour thrive in her life. One early morning she had run to her mother to
complain of the incursion into her domain, hoping to receive some solution close to
her heart. To her disappointment, however, her mother had admonished her:
“My child, listen to me. A wise woman never fights over another woman. Men,
I tell you, are cockerels. Cockerels, you know, play with other hens in the day, but
retire to the roost when night comes. That’s the way of all men. A sensible woman
takes charge of her home, keeps busy with her children, and awaits with open arms
the return of her cockerel to the roost. What are you looking for? God has blessed
you with your own children. If your husband wants to go for ten women, what is
that to you? You should be happy it is only this one woman. Calm down, my child.
Live as if this woman is not there. You’ll only hurt yourself the way you are going.
“I have finished. Say I, your own mother, told you so. That is our way, yes, the
way.”
Oyima realized her mother was no help, and then managed to say, “That’s for
you, Mama; certainly, not for me. Never mind. I know what to do.”
She returned to her compound more incensed than ever. Since then, she had
known she was on her own, and didn’t need anybody’s opinion on the matter. She
would handle it her own way.
When she forced the door open this night, she was determined to fight a good
fight. And this determination was fired by Rachel’s shocking boldness. She saw the
need to establish herself as the ruler and princess of her domain. She would have
no concubine point fingers into her face!
“Come, Rachen, or whatever you call yourself, start going. Go away from here,
or else you will know today how dangerous a mad dog can be. Quickly, leave this
place.”
CONTEXT: AFRICA ETHEL NGOZI OKEKE
In all their previous exchanges, Rachel had never seen Oyima as imperious as
this. Her eyes carried rebellion, fire and hatred as she drew close to her opponent.
She towered over her. In her youthful days her mates had nicknamed her
Logologoji on account of her striking height. She was the tallest in her age group. In
spite of the bulk she had gained over the years with the birth of four children, she
still stood erect and tall. Her muscles were well exercised with years of farm labour
and manual work. Rumours had it that she had, on one or two occasions, beaten up
her husband.
Rachel had, tonight, unwittingly courted trouble. She had stepped on a
landmine. Now, all the fury in Oyima had suddenly woken up.
An unusual strength came upon Oyima on this night of provocation. Even if
her mother and the whole world believed all men to be free-range cockerels, there
abode in her something adamant that refused such logic. Something impressed
it hard in her that it was not just right. Men ought to be men, not cockerels. Men
are human beings, not animals. There was a belief like that among the church
people. Had she not heard something those people said about one man, one wife?
Someone out there in the world had been in agreement with her own conviction!
It was as though she heard something loud and clear: one man, one woman, one
husband and one wife. It struck her like lightning, like a revelation granted to the
insane minority but hidden from the sane majority. What else was anybody talking
about? One man, one woman!
“Rachen,” she said agin. (She had never been able to pronounce the name right,
substituting the l with n.) “Not here. Find another place. Not here. Go and look for
another place and another man. What, never again in this compound! I refuse that.
Enough is enough, because I have been keeping quiet?” Choking with anger, Oyima
spoke in staccato. “Yes, you’ve never known me. You never saw the tiger’s skin. You
don’t know me! But now you will know. We shall know who owns what. Rachen, I
say leave!” Oyima’s veins stood out. She was a lion let loose.
Rachel stood, short and stout, not uttering a word. Okoro had perceived an
unusual strain in his wife’s tone. He quietly withdrew into the hut. Oyima was all
fire, pacing up and down – half human, half demon. She drew close to her rival,
pulled at her newly plaited hair, and brought the head under her armpit.
“Come, ooo, come, ooo! She kills me!” Rachel cried.
Rachel had not taken Oyima’s threat seriously. If she had, she would have
speedily disappeared. She believed it would be just like one of those days when
they would engage in war of words, for then she was ever sure to win. On the other
hand, Oyima never talked much. Her power lay in her hands, not in her mouth. The
thudding of hands on Rachel’s back, head, wherever, jolted Okoro back to the scene.
“What are you two doing like this? Why disgrace me like this?” he said, feebly.
“You are disturbing people from their sleep. The whole neighbourhood can hear
you.” Confused and unsure of himself, he might as well have spoken to the winds.
Oyima continued pounding on Rachel.
“I’m dead, ooo, I’m dead! Come, ooo! Help me! Chimu ooo, I die! Ooo, nnamu ooo!
Amushe gbatanu, ooo! Oyima Onu has killed me!”
The howling was becoming more and more desperate. Neighbours sensed
danger. In another compound several metres from the scene, Pa Adonu had been
roused from sleep. A respected elder whose voice meant the world to his people,
CONTEXT: AFRICA ETHEL NGOZI OKEKE
he knew immediately where the disturbance was coming from. He had pricked up
his ears to follow the brawl, and now he could not repress the urge to go. He rose
and went to Okoro’s compound. Several other neighbours could also not restrain
themselves from going to see what the matter was.
Okoro was beside himself with fear and confusion. In a move to avert the
danger looming before him, he cut a bough off one of the trees circling his
compound, plucked off the leaves and lashed out at the combatants. As he did
so, the first two strokes fell on Oyima. Something erupted in her as soon as those
lashes touched her. She jetted off, abandoning her victim, who was panting
like one forcefully felled from a tree. Nobody saw what was coming. Oyima ran
towards her hut, to an enormous hearth over which a drum of palm nuts was
cooking. Then she pulled off a long, heavy, blazing log from the hearth, rushed back
and hurled it right on the head of her rival.
“Hauooo! Chimuooo! ... anwumuooo ... nkem ekpooo!” Okoro exclaimed, covering
his eyes with his hands from the horror. Rachel was too shocked to utter a sound or
even to fight off the blazing log.
Simultaneously, the neighbours flocked in and chorused, “What is it? What is
happening?” They saw, and had no need for more questions. Quickly they battled
to save Rachel from further burns. Much of her hair was singed, and she had severe
burns on her head, face, arms and legs. Her mouth was swollen and numb, and
she spat blood. A wide gap yawned where two of her upper incisors had stood. She
tried to speak, but the gap made it impossible for anybody to understand her.
Oyima, with her lappa knotted tightly around her waist, kept pointing at her
defeated enemy, choking, panting and stammering:
“Tomorrow, come again! Next time, come! Come again! And I will tear you like
cloth. Useless woman.”
“Shut up,Oyima,” an elderly woman hushed her. “I say shut up! You are looking
at a dead body and you are uttering rubbish. Shut up!”
Another added, “Tshue! What is this thing you want to bring us on? We have
lived in peace here. Our people don’t fight like this.” All present knew the matter
would soon be settled with Pa Adonu on the scene. To the entire community, he
was both a father and a sage. There was no squabble that had eluded his mediating
prowess. He had worked in the service of the government, which had taken him to
many cities around the country. Even when he worked in the city he would always
come home to be with his people and attend to the town union matters mostly
held during festive occasions. When he retired from service many years ago, his
people welcomed him home and happily honoured him with the title of ekwunoha
of Amushe.That spoke volumes about their confidence in their worthy son.
“Okoro,” Pa Adonu began, “I know that even if you sold all the land you have, it
would not save you from this trouble you are inviting with your hands. How can
you bring murder into your compound? Terrible!” He flicked his fingers many times
to show his alarm. Everywhere went silent with attention. The little crowd did not
want to miss the tiniest bit from this night’s spectacle. True, the neighbours had
sympathy for Oyima, though they would not reveal it for fear of being accused of
causing trouble in another man’s home. They were secretly happy at the night’s
turn of events. They had wearied for too long of the loud quarrels between wife
and concubine over this faceless man. Over time, they had learned to tune off
CONTEXT: AFRICA ETHEL NGOZI OKEKE
each time a row began. But this night’s episode was certainly different. It was not
for nothing then they had broken the unwritten code restraining people from
dabbling into a man’s bedroom affairs. There was no doubt indeed that what had
happened this night was serious.
Rachel sat disconsolately at one corner. Intermittently she would moan –
“Chimuoo, anwumuoo, mhnnm.” As if by some tacit agreement, everybody ignored
her.
Addressing Pa Adonu, Oyima blurted, “Nnanyi, warn him. Warn this man.”
She pointed at Okoro as she spoke. “Warn him, warn him. Every day, the same
story. Every day, these two won’t let me be. Look at that stump that calls herself
‘concubine’ ...”
“Haba, oshe! Calm down. It’s enough. Don’t say again. Oshe,” one of the women
tried to soothe Oyima.
“No!” Oyima fired at her. “I say, no. Don’t halt me. Don’t push words back
into my mouth. Why won’t I talk? Let me finish. Let me tell you, this is just the
beginning. That thing which Rachel wants from me, Oyima Onu, she must get. Do
you see this compound? It won’t take us two. Call me jealous; call me bad woman,
I don’t care. But you see this compound? It will not contain Rachel and me. Let her
leave it for me! It’s my own! Finished!”
Silence followed. They waited to hear from the man of the house. Silence grew
... yet nothing. All Okoro did was put his palms on his chin and gaze stupidly. It was
Pa Adonu who finally broke the silence that had engulfed the little crowd. By now
they were all sitting on two old weatherbeaten benches permanently kept in front
of the hut, the bewildered man’s lounge.
The concerned neighbours waited to listen to all that had to be said. Okoro
stood helplessly beside them. Opposite him, Oyima stood, full of defiance, sure,
strong and ready to lash out at whomever would say one unpleasant word to her.
Alone and abandoned, Rachel sat on the bare ground, separated from others like an
appendix. Even the man for whom she had suffered this agony appeared to have
distanced himself from her. He was no help in this time of trouble.
When they waited to no avail for Okoro to speak, Pa Adonu spoke instead:
“Okoro, we’re waiting for you. Tell us why you snatched sleep from our eyes.” Okoro
paused, then like a child learning to talk, answered, “Nnanyi, I don’t know. It’s ... ask
them ... ask Oyima ... ask Rachel.” The listeners waited for more, but there was no
more.
“Okoro, I hope you know what you are putting yourself into,” Pa Adonu said
tersely. “Thank your gods this woman’s breath did not cease in your house this
night. I won’t waste words on you tonight; let me first go back to my sleep.” Then
he made to leave. The dumb man’s tongue suddenly loosened as he attempted
a feeble response: “Thank sir, thank sir. I have heard you. Thank sir. I don’t know
again, thank sir, thank sir,” he kept repeating, rubbing his palms together. Pa Adonu
did not wait to hear the babbling. Case closed, the kindly neighbours retired to
their homes, leaving the lover with his household to sort out himself. Nothing else
would be added to Pa Adonu’s words.
On their way, two of the women from the retiring party tactfully separated
from the rest to relish little gossip about the night’s drama.
“Joe Urama,” said one mirthfully, “this one is good! Ehen, that’s right. Good for
CONTEXT: AFRICA ETHEL NGOZI OKEKE
things like this to happen. A woman and her match! Tai, this is good.”
“Obo Eze, do you think it’s you and me that will only cry and complain to
somebody who hasn’t asked you?” the other woman rejoined. “Haba, Oyima has
done well, she deserves a lobe of kola.”
“Ehee, this serves him right. Concubine, concubine. This is someone who doesn’t
give shishi to his wife for anything. Oyima does everything, and there the man
goes a complete loafer. Too bad!”
“Do you blame him? We women are our own enemies. Too bad that Rachel after
all she suffered in the hands of her late husband would not know her own kind.
There she goes, making life hard for another woman. Tushue, women!”
“I say, look at Okoro. This is someone that cannot even tell the boundary of his
father’s land. If not for Oyima, where would he be? People would have taken his
family land. They would have even thrown him out of this place where he lives.
Onye ebete! Can he even say what somebody can understand? Yet he can keep a
concubine! Gbiiii ...”
So the conversation continued between the two women. They were excited at
the night’s turn of events, and for several months afterwards, nothing else would
feature in their gossip. Before long, the rest of the village would receive the spiced
version of this novel incident.
When everyone had left, Okoro found to his relief that Rachel had recuperated.
He walked her home, to her hut quite a distance away. Oyima returned to the drum
of palm nuts, which were by then already cooked. She put out the fire and retired
into her own hut, as though nothing had taken place. Whatever happened to the
pair of them thereafter never crossed her mind. She was satisfied that she had
obeyed her deepest impulse. As it were, she felt as relieved as the sky after a heavy
downpour, following days of rainclouds.
What peace!
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE NASSIMA TOUISI
Nassima Touisi
Extrait du roman
Une lettre à Kahina
« Au fin fond de l’univers, dans des lieux déserts où l’on ne s’imaginerait
pouvoir grandir, vivent des hommes libres. Ces oubliés des temps modernes,
perdus dans l’immensité du décor n’ont connu que misère. Pourtant, ils ne sont
pas malheureux. Ils ne connaissent pas les tentations du luxe enfantées par la
grande ville.
Ces gens vivent l’insouciance du temps présent et la spontanéité des choses;
encore, l’innocence du cœur et l’amour d’une essence, car ils n’ont appris à vivre
que pour la passion d’une vie; celle du grand désert où il n’y a que ciel et terre.
Cet isolement des grandes bâtisses ne leur a pas apporté fortune matérielle, mais
les a gratifiés d’une grande richesse spirituelle.
Ils sont partis, dans l’immensité saharienne à la recherche d’une autre
grandeur: Dieu. En ce lieu, ils l’ont cherché; en ce lieu, ils l’ont trouvé. Alors dans
le langage des âmes, Dieu leur a offert un tout petit «rien» grâce auquel, ils n’ont
pu s’éloigner des choses essentielles de la vie, tels la paix intérieure, la sagesse
spirituelle, la sérénité de l’âme, l’humilité du cœur, du respect pour soi, du respect
pour l’autre; encore, l’amour de soi et d’autrui... »
J’ai gravé cette tendresse du sud dans mon album à souvenirs pour ne jamais
oublier que sur terre, des hommes construisent un bonheur se contentant juste
de ce que Dieu leur accorde.
Pour eux: une très belle nature vierge et sauvage, de l’eau, du soleil, une terre
fertile, de majestueux palmiers dattiers, du bétail et des dromadaires.
Je dois t’avouer, ma chère Kahina, que par rapport à beaucoup de personnes,
la vie m’a gâtée parfois en m’offrant d’abord la chance d’avoir eu une vie familiale
des plus équilibrée, une adolescence épanouie d’une jeune fille de dix-neuf ans
que j’ai été, un petit ami qui m’aimait, des amis fidèles et puis, de la part de Dieu,
des événements, des faits vécus, des rencontres qui m’ont permis d’apprendre la
morale du cours des temps.
Adel, sa mère, sa sœur et moi sommes allés à la ville rouge de l’Algérie,
Timimoun. Nous y sommes allés en la matinée du jeudi 26 avril 1990, laissant
derrière nous le climat doux et printanier d’Alger, pour nous retrouver sous une
écrasante chaleur dépassant les 40°C, à l’ombre.
Après nous être rafraîchis et reposés, toujours accompagnés de notre guide
Bachir, nous nous sommes rendus à une centaine de kilomètres, au sud de la ville,
au ksar Hiha où nous devions rencontrer l’homme aux mille et une sagesses,
le Taleb M’Hamed.
Ce saint, à l’image d’un ange, nous a appris la divinité de la création. De son
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE NASSIMA TOUISI
index, il a schématisé en caricature un corps humain, représentant une moitié de
l’homme et une autre de la femme. Il nous a demandé de repérer et lire en arabe
un prénom se dessinant de part et d’autre de la symétrie du corps.
Kahina, à ce stade de ma missive, j’arrive à la limite du pouvoir éloquent, se
dégageant de l’écrit et n’arrivant plus à te décrire ce que nous avons lu de cette
caricature, je te reprends alors le même dessin à travers lequel nous avons reconnu
le prénom de notre prophète Mohamed:
O
/I\
O
/\
femme et homme; lire sur le corps de la femme:
O
/I
O
/\
lire sur le corps de l’homme:
O
I\
O
/\
Le reflet du premier prénom donne le second. C’est encore, comme si Dieu,
en les rassemblant, unifiait la moitié de l’homme à celle de la femme pour obtenir,
sous une même lecture, à l’endroit et à l’envers, un corps, symbole de la continuité
de la vie. Je réalisais alors que de la magie de l’univers se démarquait toute une
sagesse par laquelle le monde a été créé.
Il y’a plus que du génie dans la création de l’Homme; il y ’a de la divinité, tout
comme dans la création de la nature où, se mélangent harmonieusement en ce
lieu, comme sur une toile, les couleurs du ciel, du sable et des arbres, avec le doigté
fin d’un artiste de renom: Dieu.
Hiha était un ksar d’une centaine d’habitants où les maisons étaient
construites en terre cuite de couleur rouge. Chaque famille possédait sa propre
palmeraie qui, de père en fils, se faisait entretenir par la vigoureuse patience
des femmes s’attelant à arracher les mauvaises herbes, irriguer de la façon
traditionnelle, semer, biner, buter alors que les hommes s’accoutumant à un travail
plus rude, s’occupaient à élargir leur palmeraie après arrachage de jeunes rejets
et traçage de nouveaux plateaux de semence.
Arrivés à la demeure du Taleb, ce dernier nous a fait visiter d’abord sa palmeraie
où il faisait très bon. Protégée par les très larges palmes des dattiers, poussait une
autre verdure plus variée par la multitude des fruits et légumes de la saison.
Un âne, attaché à un arbre a brai à notre passage. Des brebis, galopant de part
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE NASSIMA TOUISI
et d’autre, cueillaient le sainfoin planté en pâturage. Je me suis crue visiter le
paradis des cieux, accompagnée d’un ange en barbe blanche, portant chèche et
gandoura, en un lieu perdu sur terre.
Derrière nous, s’était formée une marmaille de bambins qui, curieux de voir
débarquer chez eux des étrangers, sont venus nous observer. Taleb M’Hamed nous
a expliqué que ces enfants étaient la descendance de sa progéniture regroupés
entre cousins, frères et demi-frères d’un premier, deuxième, troisième et quatrième
mariage.
Lui, n’ayant vénéré que son épouse, est resté des rares, sinon l’unique
monogame de la région. Il nous a invités, par la suite, à nous asseoir autour d’une
assiette de dattes écrasées, à l’intérieur d’une chambre meublée d’un simple tapis
posé à même le sable et de coussins éparpillés dessus. Nous avons attendu qu’on
nous serve du thé.
Dans ce simple et modeste décor, le système protocolaire bourgeois, snob et
mesquin n’avait pas lieu d’être; il ne pouvait exister.
Notre guide, un homme fort agréable, nous a informés qu’à Tasfaout, un autre
ksar situé aussi au sud de la ville de Timimoun, les autochtones célébraient le
retour des Hedjadj et qu’en cette occasion, ils devaient se produire sur des chants
de Ahl Ellil.
Il nous a expliqué qu’Ahl Ellil n’était pas un groupe folklorique. Ils étaient ces
gens venus d’Arabie répandre l’islam en Afrique et s’étaient arrêtés au Sahara.
Pour convertir les nomades et les bédouins à l’islam, ils leur ont révélé le Coran
sur des airs musicaux d’un rythme de cinq temps, permettant à ces derniers de
mémoriser les versets coraniques. Ils attendaient que la nuit tombe pour se réunir
autour d’un feu de camp et psalmodier mélodieusement un nouveau verset;
d’où le nom d’Ahl Ellil.
Puis, au cours des temps, on a inventé, sur un même tempo, d’autres chansons,
en langue berbère du Touât, où l’on pouvait improviser, pris par l’inspiration
du moment vécu. Ainsi, par exemple, camouflant son visage sous un chèche
et habillé en gandoura, tout comme les autres membres du groupe, un homme
pouvait avouer son amour à une femme, dans une totale discrétion ou encore,
parler de ses problèmes en gardant l’anonymat. Alors les plus sages du groupe,
toujours en chantant et en tapant des mains, le conseillaient.
Les femmes se joignaient parfois aux hommes, mais très rarement.
A 23 h, Bachir nous a informés de l’ouverture du spectacle auquel, pour
cette fois-ci, seuls les hommes participaient. Les femmes n’y assistaient qu’en
spectatrices. J’ai trouvé cela dommage et l’ai dit tristement, alors tout en nous
fixant du regard, Bachir a demandé à son cousin d’apporter à chacun d’entre nous
une gandoura et un chèche blanc.
- Je vous promets que vous allez vivre pleinement cette soirée et après votre
retour à Alger, vous ferez des envieux. Vous apprendrez aux Algérois ce qu’est une
soirée d’Ahl Ellil, à Timimoun, nous a dit Bachir.
La mère ainsi que la sœur de Adel, de nature rondouillarde n’ont pas voulu
se prêter au jeu. Par contre, moi, plutôt plate, j’étais ravie de changer de peau et
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE NASSIMA TOUISI
de me déguiser en homme sahraoui.
Ce jeu m’a amusée énormément surtout, quand, avant de me mêler aux
membres d’Ahl Ellil, on m’a appris à me tenir droite comme un homme, à marcher
en écartant les bras comme un homme et à garder la tête haute comme un
homme; tellement haute que j’ai fait baisser celle de toutes les femmes que
j’ai croisées sur mon chemin.
En cette apparence masculine, j’ai réalisé alors le pouvoir qu’ont les hommes
dans notre société. Nous, autres créatures les craignons tellement que nous
baissons la tête à leur passage. Ce comportement d’infériorité qui nous
caractérise m’a révoltée et m’a exaspérée au point de vouloir gifler toutes celles
qui s’écrasaient de la sorte face à cette assurance d’homme puissant, d’homme
fort, confiant et sûr de son autorité que j’ai été, le temps d’un déguisement,
le temps d’une soirée.
Ahl Ellil s’est produit en pleine nature désertique, sous la luminosité de la
pleine lune dans un ciel d’un noir profond, garni d’une infinité d’étoiles brillantes.
Nous avons dansé, Adel et moi et avons tapé des mains en répétant, le long des
chansons, un même rythme musical. J’ai dansé ainsi, moi la femme masculinisée
d’un soir, parmi des hommes, dans leur communauté masculine, sans qu’aucun
d’eux n’ait soupçonné ou découvert mon entité de femme et ce, durant toute une
soirée. Dans leur ignorance, ils se sont laissés emporter par la musique, sans aucune
retenue et au fond de moi, j’ai ri de ce qu’ils ignoraient, car j’avais l’impression,
en violant ainsi leur cercle fermé et interdit à toutes mes consœurs, de prendre
ma revanche de femme algérienne, soumise et écrasée.
Plus tard, bien avant l’aube, craignant d’être découverte, je suis retournée avec
Adel rejoindre sa mère et sa sœur restées assises sur une dune. Nous nous sommes
étalés alors du long de nos corps sur le sable et sommes restés allongés à regarder
la splendeur d’un ciel bien étoilé.
Le charme, si intense, se dégageant de ce tableau admiré de si loin, nous a
donné l’impression d’être si proches du ciel que nous pensions pouvoir, rien
qu’en étendant la main, nous saisir d’une étoile afin de l’offrir à la personne aimée.
Adel m’a dit vouloir devenir une étoile pour pouvoir regarder de si haut les
rondeurs de l’univers et apprécier profondément ce que Dieu a dessiné d’aussi
beau. Nous nous sommes pris par la main et dans une totale détente, nous
sommes restés amoureux de cette étoffe divine.
Rompant alors le silence et en préservant la magie du moment, Adel m’a fait
sa demande en mariage. Aussitôt après l’avoir écouté, je me suis redressée en
sursautant et dans une joie partagée, je lui ai sauté au cou pour lui répondre «oui!».
J’allais faire mes vingt ans, en cette année 1990 et en mes plus belles années,
jamais je ne me suis sentie aussi entière, aussi épanouie et heureuse qu’en ces
lieux et temps, coupés de l’insolence de l’époque, où Adel a fait de moi la reine
d’un présent.
Le lendemain, je suis rentrée chez moi, à Alger, en prenant l’avion à partir
d’Adrar et j’ai emporté, dans ma boite à mémoires, tous ces beaux souvenirs que
Dieu m’a permis de vivre et savourer, en compagnie de ma tendre moitié.
(Editions Zyriab, 2005)
CONTEXT: AFRICA FRANK MACKAY ANIM-APPIAH
Frank Mackay Anim-Appiah
Sygiriya
You are the Lion-Rock,
the capital and abode
of Kasyapa I, great Sinhalese king
of the fifth century;
That massive lion sculpture
still guards your entrance.
But today I can only
see one leg of the lion,
and the famous paintings that adorn the Mirror Wall.
Where are the powerful soldiers
who jealously protected
your impenetrable fortress?
Those bloodthirsty warriors
would have terminated this invasion of tourists
by rolling heavy stones on them;
Maybe you would have intervened, with a royal explanation:
That they have come to pay you homage ...
CONTEXT: AFRICA SEYI ADIGUN
Seyi Adigun
From: Greet for Me My Osheni
I reach the confluence
Do you not hear as I say
That the river calls to me?
Even now my soul is on the way
And my spirit is in haste
Osheni, speak to her
And make her calm with words
So that we may talk together
With threesome reason and plan the days ahead
Yes, Osheni, speak to me
Let your words make me glad
So that as I part I may be filled
With your face and the smell of musk
My angel, words are exhausted
At this hour my ode comes in silence
And you will let me be in quiet
Because surging passion kills speech
Rest your minds my friends
I hear the Benue
Calling my soul
As she gives her soul away
At the confluence,
So must I give my own
CONTEXTO: ÁFRICA MANUEL ULACIA
Manuel Ulacia
En el Ritz de Meknés
At the Ritz in Meknès
Bastó sólo una mirada,
Just one glance was enough,
el silencio entre dos frases,
the silence between two sentences,
el tenue roce en tu mano
the light touch in your hand
cuando pediste la llave
when you asked for the key
en el calor de la siesta,
in the heat of the siesta,
para que el joven conserje,
for the young concierge
con mirada de gacela,
with the look of a gazelle
fuera detrás de ti, al cuatro.
to follow you to the room.
Cuánta delicia al tocar
Such delight to touch
sus muslos aceitunados,
his olive thighs,
con fragancia de azahares,
smelling of orange blossoms,
y al besar sus labios gruesos
and to kiss his full lips
con sabor a cardamomo,
tasting of cardamom
minetras el ventilador
while the fan
daba vueltas refrescando
revolved cooling
los cuerpos entrelazados,
the entwined bodies
CONTEXTO: ÁFRICA MANUEL ULACIA
en su delirio deseándose,
in their delirium desiring each other
como el desierto al agua.
as the desert desires water.
Cuánto goce en un instante
So much enjoyment in an instant
cuando los curepos se olvidan
when the bodies forget
de la realidad dejándose
reality letting themselves go,
ir ¿hacia dónde? ¿hacia dónde?
but where? where?
La ciudad despertó en la hora
The city woke up after an hour.
plena. Los coches, las motocicletas,
The cars, the motorbikes,
la música de una radio,
the music from a radio,
la misteriosa algarabía
the mysterious babble
te hicieron volver al mundo.
brought you back to the world.
El conserje apresurado
The concierge hurried off,
dijo adios y dejó el cuarto.
said good-bye and left the room.
Tú te quedaste dormido.
You went back to sleep.
Despertaste en otro sueño
You woke up in another dream
cuando el moecín empezó
when the muezzin began
a rezar en el micrófono.
to pray into the microphone.
Desde el balcón, el Palacio
From the balcony, the Palace
resplandecía en la noche
glittered in the resonant night,
sonora, llena de estrellas.
full of stars.
Translated by Sarah Lawson
CONTEXT: AFRICA UCHE PETER UMEZURIKE
Uche Peter Umezurike
I am Set in a Burden to Sing
I am accustomed to sing of love among
the pristine marigolds of dawn,
like some poet would serenade
beauty, cushioned
by the leafy caress of maids.
Between emerald boulevards
of obeche,
I am set in a burden to sing
of the pastoral poetry
of my kindred
slaving hungry in
the savannah of foods;
I am set in a burden to sing
of the gaping
black effigies of houses
cuddled by the long,
careless arms of fire
of the froth-clouded,
hot-headed ruler;
I am set in a burden to sing
of ugly scraps,
of bodies scattered,
limbs and arms
mashed in the mud
by the toothed treads of tanks;
CONTEXT: AFRICA UCHE PETER UMEZURIKE
I am set in a burden to sing
of the behemoth belch of fumes
cramming the nostrils of Ethiope
and Forcados, choking the lungs
of Nun and Escravos;
I am set in a burden to sing
a dirge of dead yam fields
and barren barns, the murmur
of slick-smeared mangroves,
the baleful breath
of fishlike bottles;
I am set in a burden to sing
of sore-eyed boys and girls
in sunlit scramble among
crooked, rusted pipes
spewing yellowed water
like gonorrhoea-pained penises;
I am set in a burden to sing
of how mothers rumple
the peace of their brows
at the slightest warble
of wings above, like Heaven’s bread
will plop in their laps;
I am set in a burden to sing
of the haste of fathers breeding
cobra brood; the wait,
like Simeon’s, measured
and pregnant as their dissolution
of time in alcohol;
I am set in a burden to sing
of darkness – quotidian
CONTEXT: AFRICA UCHE PETER UMEZURIKE
dictator of our homes,
the groaning pipelines
beneath our earth
promising barrels
of crude abundance;
I am set in a burden to sing
of the limping cock, the mangy dog,
The one-eyed goat, the wounded pig;
The grim graffiti
of sickness and sadness;
I am set in a burden to sing
of the smashed-to-bits
dugout canoe
drifting on the salted spine
of scorched creeks,
and bones of fish
fossilised
for the future;
I am set in a burden to sing
of the hunched histories
of Oloibiri,
Ogoni, Odi, Umechem
and Egbema; the looming hurricane
in their slow rebirth;
I am set in a burden to sing
of the nebulous Niger,
the foaming flood –
but my voice is a cracked flute,
a shattered urn;
its timbre wafted as ash
on time’s wind.
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE DJAMEL MATI
Djamel Mati
Extrait du roman On dirait le Sud
Les signes de la main
Dans un vacarme assourdissant, le simoun s’est levé, asséchant, brutalement,
l’étang de lumière. D’une main, il balaye tout dans une exaspération instantanée :
le désert fou, le soleil doux, la forêt embaumée, les branches de jasmin, les oiseaux,
les seins de sable, les chameaux silencieux, les ondes fraîches et les poissons-chats.
Tout un monde merveilleux et magique disparaît fugitivement. Le vent chaud
dérange les mamelons de sablon, fouette les pétrifications phalloïdes, gratte les
rochers parés de gravures, soulève très haut le sable fin, obscurcit le ciel, et fait
tomber le soir en plein jour! De brefs instants durant; juste la durée d’une extrême
colère, un vol immense de busards monstrueux projette sur une mer de cailloux
un angoissant nuage de plumes de deuil. La nuit se surprend au milieu de cet
océan ruiné par les siècles dont les souvenirs reposent enfouis au creux de son lit;
une personne s’y retrouve gisante au fond. En l’ignorant, elle se couche au bord de
l’écume, là où l’énergie du temps se meurt sur les rivages. Là, où la colère, la haine
et la folie obtempèrent à la sérénité, la bienveillance et la raison.
Une femme dort, la tête posée dans l’arabesque d’un mystère, avec le rêve
d’images déjà entrevues.
Aussi brusquement qu’il avait commencé, le vent cesse. Les poussières
de sablon pleuvent mollement sur le dos des dunes et le soleil retrouve
souverainement sa place. Tout redevient calme. Le désert vient d’engloutir son
monde aux relents incertains, de chimères incolores et de folie cruelle, une dernière
fois dans une ultime inspiration. Dans le ciel, des flamants frais planent au-dessus
d’un sable délicat, vibrants filaments de pétales de lauriers rosés qui se déposent
sur la rosée parfumée.
Insensiblement, Zaïna est entrée, sans s’en apercevoir, dans une véritable mer
de sable qui noie la terre entre l’orient et l’occident. La jeune femme contemple les
larges vagues nonchalantes qui dessinent de bas reliefs aux galbes cendrés roses
et se terminent dans une houle tranquille, dormante. Le désert, subitement,
change et subjugue la jeune femme. Il ne lui fait plus peur. Il s’ouvre à elle, lui
tend ses longs bras paisibles, une invitation à sa découverte. « Mais où est passée
l’autre face du désert? Pourquoi celle-là me semble-t-elle plus accueillante? »
Des questions toujours des questions.
Zaïna se met debout et regarde tout autour d’elle avec respect les étendues
baignées de quiétude. Elle s’engage allègrement vers le levant, sans vraiment avoir
choisi cette direction. Tout parait tellement rassurant ici. La femme n’en croit pas
ses yeux, son esprit, endurci par toutes les tournures que peut prendre le désert,
doute de ce changement subit, « et si ce n’était qu’un piège, qu’un autre leurre?
Cette nouvelle face que le désert veut bien me montrer pour mieux me tromper,
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE DJAMEL MATI
une fois de plus! »
Après une longue journée de marche, elle arrive au pied d’une immense
dune, décide de l’escalader, espérant découvrir de nouveaux horizons. Qui sait?
En aval de la colline de sable, à quelques dizaines d’enjambées, elle aperçoit
une hutte de forme arrondie. De loin, la zeriba paraissait minuscule, mais, lorsque
Zaïna s’en approche, l’habitation est grande, circulaire, les murs en pierres et le toit
de palmes. Plusieurs palmiers ont dû laisser leurs branches pour sa construction.
À cet instant, une légère brise fouette sa nuque, en se retournant, elle voit se
profiler à l’horizon trois silhouettes qui s’enfoncent vers le couchant... elles sont
déjà ailleurs.
-Entre, petite, invite une voix lézardée et calme, venant de l’intérieur.
Zaïna sursaute, croyant les lieux abandonnés. En soulevant le rideau limé qui
recouvre l’entrée, elle est saisie par une forte odeur de thé, d’épices et de cannabis.
Malgré la clarté du jour, il fait étrangement sombre dedans. Il lui faut du temps
pour habituer ses yeux à la pénombre enfumée, et découvrir une large pièce
misérablement dénudée. Une table basse trône au milieu à côté d’un petit feu
de bois sur lequel repose une immense théière fumante, quelques outres sont
accrochées aux bâtons fourchus qui servent aussi de charpente, deux grands
tapis usés jusqu’à la corde couvrent le sol, un narguilé écumant, prêt à l’emploi,
parachève la pauvreté du lieu. Tapie dans l’ombre, une forme bizarre bouge sous
une robe trop ample, trop vieille. La voix réitère son invitation:
-Entre, petite, n’aie pas peur, entre!
La djellaba se redresse. Elle ne dépasse pas les « un mètre vingt ».
Le harnachement avance en claudiquant agilement vers la porte et s’arrête devant
la jeune femme à hauteur du nombril. Le capuchon du long vêtement se soulève
pour laisser apparaître le visage ovoïdal d’une créature noire qui semble dormir
malgré sa posture. La peau striée de son faciès assemble dans des protubérances
et des lézardes un gros nez aplati qui se termine par des touffes de poils ornant
des narines évasées. Deux larges plissures gercées, rehaussées par une dent épaisse
au milieu, font office de bouche, une humeur aqueuse scelle des paupières plissées,
tombantes, d’un liant blanchâtre. Lorsqu’elle les soulève lentement, c’est pour
fixer, durant un interminable moment, la jeune femme avec des yeux blancs, sans
pupilles. Satisfaite, elle sourit en laissant apparaître son unique dent puis referme
les yeux, comme pour se rendormir. Zaïna la soupçonne de voir, même le regard
éteint. La disproportion de ses gros traits contraste avec sa maigreur et lui donne
un aspect surréel. Cette vieillerie aveugle semble arriver tout droit d’une autre
planète. Malgré ses difformités, Zaïna la trouve sympathique.
-D’où viens-tu? Questionne la vieille.
-Du point B114
-El Dar el meskouna! C’est donc toi qui habites dans la cabane hantée!
Les anciens disent que c’est un endroit maudit et qu’il fut la demeure des démons.
On raconte aussi que cette baraque servait de mouroir aux égarés, qu’ils étaient
sous la garde d’une grosse femme, une tenancière... murmure la vieille édentée.
-Si cela est vrai, alors je suis soit une démone, soit une paumée!
-Non, Djinn, tu n’en es pas une, car si tel était le cas, tu aurais été chassée
dés ton arrivée chez moi. Je suis protégée contre ces créatures. Égarée? Peut-être.
Maintenant, approche-toi de moi pour que je puisse mieux te connaître. Au son
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE DJAMEL MATI
de ta voix, je sens que tu es jeune et belle, mais très mélancolique. Je veux
le confirmer avec mes mains. Avance, n’aie pas peur.
Les paupières toujours closes, avec ses maigres doigts décharnés, la vieille
redessine les contours du nez, des pommettes, de la bouche, des yeux, des oreilles
de Zaïna.
-Ta voix n’a pas menti, tu es comme je t’imaginais
La djellaba se retourne et va s’affaisser à côté de la meïda1 en bois.
-Assieds-toi en face de moi.
Sur la table ronde, il y a trois tasses vides, encore fumantes. « Qui était là?
Qui peut bien s’aventurer jusqu’ici? » Curieuse et étonnée, Zaïna demande:
-Dis-moi, vieille dame, tu viens d’avoir de la visite?
-Tu es bien indiscrète, ma petite, la vieille sourit avec son unique dent, oui, il n’y
a pas longtemps de cela, j’ai accueilli, le temps d’une halte, un couple: une Targuie
et un homme du nord. Nous avons bavardé et bu du thé. Ils n’ont pas tardé, car...
-Seulement deux? coupe Zaïna.
-Oui, ils avaient aussi une chamelle. Quand elle a baraqué à côté de la hutte,
j’ai senti qu’elle devait être lourdement chargée, ce couple doit certainement
voyager loin. L’homme semble être à la recherche de quelque chose ou de
quelqu’un, mais lui-même ne sait pas quoi ni qui. Il a raconté qu’il avait visité
des contrées magnifiques, que le désert qu’ils ont traversé était lénifiant. Mais
cela n’empêche pas que les deux paraissaient soucieux et contrariés. Quant à la
femme, c’est une fille du Sud, ce doit être une noble Targuie. Lorsque je l’ai touchée,
j’ai constaté qu’elle était richement habillée et couverte de lourds bijoux... Au fait,
pourquoi sommes-nous en train de parler d’eux? C’est de toi qu’il s’agit. À moins
que... cela t’intéresse?
-Je ne sais pas! Réponds, promptement la jeune femme en pensant à la bouteille
au message, et aux trois silhouettes qui se détachaient à l’horizon au moment où
elle allait franchir le seuil de cette hutte, « que fait donc ce couple en plein désert?
Nos routes se sont souvent croisées sans jamais se rencontrer... »
La vieille soustrait Zaïna de ses réflexions :
-Qui sait? C’est peut-être un signe. Donne-moi ta main gauche.
-Pourquoi? Demande la jeune femme en tendant instinctivement sa paume.
-Les mains, ce sont elles qui nous différencient des autres espèces vivantes.
Quel pouvoir fascinant! Elles nous servent à tout faire, parler, communiquer, nous
exprimer, manger, travailler. Elles peuvent aussi caresser ou tuer et devenir les
représentantes privilégiées de la pensée. Elles et le cerveau ne font qu’un. Lorsque
nous savons les regarder, elles nous dévoilent même notre avenir, explique la vieille
en malaxant lentement la paume de Zaïna entre ses deux menottes toutes ridées.
« La pauvre non-voyante, à défaut de voir le présent, préfère prédire l’avenir... »
La pensée de Zaïna est tout de suite interceptée par la voyante qui rétorque
poliment,
-Le présent est trop court et nous le subissons, le passé est trop tard et nous
l’assumons, le fatum, lui, n’existe pas encore alors, nous pouvons le connaître.
-Je m’excuse si je t’ai offensée. Après un silence embarrassé, elle demande:
pouvons-nous changer l’avenir?
-La vieille dame sourit et continue à ausculter la paume de Zaïna.
-Pouvons-nous le changer? insiste la jeune femme.
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE DJAMEL MATI
-Non, la réponse est incisive, ensuite la vieille, maternelle, déplore: tu es trop
maigre, ma petite! Depuis combien de temps n’as-tu pas mangé? Tes habits sont
moisis par l’odeur du chanvre.
-À quoi cela me servirait? Je me nourris juste pour rester en vie et me vêts
uniquement pour ne pas avoir froid. Dans ce monde où il n’y a aucun cœur qui
me regarde, aucun œil qui me réchauffe; à quoi bon s’enticher de ces détails?
Quand ce désert ne se recouvre pas d’indifférence, c’est pour s’habiller d’antipathie
à mon égard. Je sens qu’il ne m’aime pas et ne veut pas me lâcher.
-En parcourant avec ses doigts la paume de la jeune femme, la vieillarde
aveugle tressaillit. Elle découvre deux autres lignes parallèles à celle de la vie. Elle
murmure: « La belle. L’enthousiaste... Celui dont le travail est fructueux. » Les trois
stries finissent par se rejoindre vers le bas. De mémoire de chiromancienne, elle
n’a jamais touché une pareille main. Après un long silence, la devineresse pousse
un soupir. Les yeux fermés, elle scrute Zaïna avec un sourire plein de compassion.
-Alors, que te révèle-t-elle?
-Ta ligne de vie se fond avec deux autres lignes. Une des trois est particulière.
-Et cela veut dire quoi?
-Ton destin est lié aux deux autres.
-Comment?
-Je ne sais pas, ment la vieille voyante aveugle.
-Et cette ligne particulière?
-Probablement celle qui va tout phagocyter.
-Parle-moi sans ambages, je dois connaître la vérité!
-La vérité? Oui, tu as raison. Mais, es-tu prête pour ça?
-Je pense que sans elle, ma vie ne sera jamais féconde.
-Alors, écoute: lorsque la quête de celui ou de celle qui est déjà en marche
rencontrera la fougue et l’audace, le lien se fera.
-Quoi?
(2007)
CONTEXT: AFRICA ALKASIM ABDULKADIR
Alkasim Abdulkadir
Lamuso
Because she didn’t
want to grind his kola
and listen to the changing
gears of his thunderous snores
Because he was as old as her dead grandpa
and her lover was bright like a new moon
Because he couldn’t even father her children
For with him she could only be his shiny new medal
when he came for her
He killed desires in her
and killed she the man in him
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE JEAN AUGUSTE DAVID BONNAIRE
Jean Auguste David Bonnaire
Fragments d’étoiles
Une mélodie envoutante qui subjugue,
Une merveille d’œuvre d’art qui ravit,
Un agréable parfum de fleur qui embaume,
La beauté sublime de la nature qui enchante,
Que de douces épreuves pour l’âme et l’esprit,
De rudes tentations pour le cœur et les sens !
Les sensations, les impressions, les émotions sont autant
De dimensions fécondantes mais éphémères de la vie,
Dimensions de nature à faire chavirer notre sensibilité,
Libérer notre imagination, embellir notre existence.
Ressentir, offrir, partager, bâtir relèvent de la vie.
Une miséricorde, la vie !
Une création bénie faite pour la création et une haute soumission
au créateur,
Un univers de vies qui illuminent de vie l’univers
Comme autant de fragments d’étoiles sortis du néant
Pour chasser le néant et passer.
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE JEAN AUGUSTE DAVID BONNAIRE
Jean Auguste David Bonnaire
Le Preux tirailleur africain
(Hommage à mon grand-père Mamadou Mariko, ancien combattant de la première guerre mondiale, et à ses frères d’arme)
Tige de fougère exposée aux obus de mortier et aux bombes
de désolation,
ou brin de filao embourbé dans les tranchées pendant l’hiver
glacial brûlant du souffle fatal de la mitraille,
certaines fois jeté en pâture sur les mines d’abomination
semées dans les champs.
Tu combats sans le moindre souvenir de la déportation due
au vil commerce à figure rigide, ton seul souci étant de préserver
la liberté de l’autre.
Mais la trêve arrachée au prix de ton sang ne te délie pas du
joug de ce dernier et le partage du monde s’opère à l’ombre de
ta conscience.
Tu demeures un pion sur l’échiquier, un combattant méconnu,
une fraction de pension.
Une fois libre, ton fils est de trop chez l’autre pour lequel tu
versas ton sang.
Sous les habits d’or de la mondialisation, quelle infâme cruauté
s’apprête-t-on à t’infliger, fierté du monde ?
Plus de sept siècles de harcèlement ne t’ont pas brisé, âme du
monde.
Toute tentative nouvelle s’avère désormais vaine car :
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE JEAN AUGUSTE DAVID BONNAIRE
l’oubli exhale son souffle ultime,
la mémoire lève son voile
et la postérité se profile.
C’est dire, Ô Preux Tirailleur Africain, combien faut-il mériter
de l’humanité pour réussir à cerner le temps par un tel prodige.
Assurément quand l’oubli disparaît, la mémoire ressuscite pour
accompagner la postérité.
CONTEXT: AFRICA SARAH LAWSON
Sarah Lawson
Evening in Dakar
The flame trees are banked up
for the coming night;
they smoulder in the dark
until they fade from sight.
The palm fronds comb
the greying sky until the comb
fades into the hair;
other swaying branches
seem soluble in air.
Breezes interrogate the nameless trees;
the sky darkens by degrees.
Birds are shooting stars,
black on black,
marshalling the wind
until the sun comes back.
CONTEXT: AFRICA SEYI ADIGUN
Seyi Adigun
From: Letter to Sister
and A Reply for My Brother
Pompholyx
If I were not your sister
I would curse you.
If I were not your brethren’s friend
I would cast upon you
a spell.
The day I was ill
you stayed away.
When pompholyx bid
for my laboured breaths
you left me to lie
in strangers’ arms.
But you are my brother,
my blood brother and
you have a weak heart.
From the day you were an infant
I have known you.
Come now,
come see the marks of pain
on my skin;
come feel the rough striae
and the rouge rugae on my face.
CONTEXT: AFRICA SEYI ADIGUN
Vitriol
Little brother, I thirst
for drink,
and in this hour
I blink.
The sands of the bank
glitter like amethyst,
warning of soured hope,
and I remember our brethren –
Niger troubadours.
They sang many songs –
odes, sonnets and ballads.
When they journeyed by this bank
they sang many songs.
But in their haste,
they ran into the gang
that mixes potions of death
in the winding creeks.
Then they changed their songs
into lullabies,
invoking final sleep
over the eyelids of their dreams.
I will go from this bank
along a new road;
for it is good choice to die
with colours of pride
as a garland by the neck –
holding in the left palm
ashes of many dreams.
CONTEXT: AFRICA MALIYA MZYECE-SILILO
Maliya Mzyece-Sililo
Through the Curtain
of Eyelashes
Mr Zulu, a successful businessman, woke up to a deceptively sunny day. A cold
wind was blowing into his study through the window. Closing it, he resolved that
nothing would dampen his spirits, for he was going to pick up his son from Lusaka
International Airport, after sixteen years of absence.
“The Zulu warrior,” he had fondly called him when he was a little boy. Mushe
had lived up to this name. He had the tenacity of a warrior. Whatever he took on, he
did to the best of his ability, and thus became an all-rounder at school. His curiosity
knew no bounds – making him a father at the tender age of fifteen. Though Mr
Zulu could smile about it now, the sordid episode made the family decide to send
Mushe abroad for further studies after his O-levels. He had kept in touch constantly
for the first three years, and then slowly his emails and Christmas cards become
rarer and rarer until they stopped altogether.
Then came the latest email. It read, in part:
I hear you have taken on a second wife! The whole thing is barbaric and archaic.
How could you subject my mother to this? I do not think that you understand how
much you have hurt her. Men never do. I am coming home in July to comfort her
and to show my solidarity with women. I have news for you, but I think it is better
said face to face.
For Mr Zulu, everything in that email fell on deaf ears except the news that
his son was coming home. He had run out of his study to find his wife. “Mushe is
coming home in July!” he had announced upon finding her with their daughter
and granddaughter. Ignoring the shrieks of joy from the two girls, Mr Zulu watched
his wife’s reaction with keen interest. He saw that glint in her eyes that signalled
deep joy, but it did not spread to the rest of her face. It was as if something held
her body back from experiencing the total abandonment of joy. But Mr Zulu was
hopeful. That glint was the beginning. The rest would come when Mushe arrived,
in July.
That day finally came.
“Are you sure you do not want to come with me to the airport?” Mr Zulu asked
his wife, who was sitting across the breakfast table, picking at her food.
“No, I do not want to come along. I might embarrass myself, and embarrass
Mushe in the process. You go ahead; I would rather welcome him back here at
home.”
“Well then, ensure that everything is ready for him, will you?” said Mr Zulu.
“Have you prepared his room?” He regretted this question immediately.
CONTEXT: AFRICA MALIYA MZYECE-SILILO
“Yes, I have. He cannot possibly share a room with his grown-up daughter and
sister. The guest wing has been taken up by ‘Mai Nini’, your second wife. That
leaves only one choice. He has to share a room with his brother!” There was an
awkward silence.
Mr Zulu attempted to change the subject: “You had better eat. What will your
son think of me when he sees the starved look on your face?” His wife jerked her
head up and glared at him, and Mr Zulu could have kicked himself.
“Get a move on,” said his wife, standing up and walking towards the door.
“It is almost seven o’clock. The plane will be landing at eight.” Mr Zulu followed,
squeezing his potbelly past her on his way to the garage.
The Benz groaned with his weight when he got in. He examined his wife
through the rear-view mirror as he fastened his seatbelt. Her beauty still showed,
though it was marred by a pained look she wore between her eyebrows. It
added five years to her fifty-five. He did not understand her. How could she be so
unhappy in the midst of plenty? He had given her everything a woman could want
in the world – two cars at her disposal, a fat bank account, a dream house with
all the latest gadgets on the market and the respect due a first wife, yet she still
wallowed in misery. “Women!” he muttered under his breath as he drove down the
driveway to the gate. Joining the great East Road, he drove due east towards the
airport and his precious son.
He remembered when he first brought Mushe home from the hospital. He was
a beautiful child. Mr Zulu and his wife had been mesmerised by his beauty, and
would stand in each other’s arms, staring at him as he slept.
Unlike most babies, who are born with soft, furlike hair, Mushe had a thick
mass of curly black hair with a definite hairline. His eyes were big, with eyelids
that bore such long eyelashes that he seemed to see through them; it made them
look solemn.
That is what Mr Zulu enjoyed most about his son: his eyes. They were very
expressive, and seemed to affect the rest of his face. They could be mischievous and
sparkle with laughter, yet look serious and calm at other times. Then there was that
special way Mushe would jerk his head each time something interesting caught
his attention. That movement was special to him; only one other person in his life
had that jerk.
Mr Zulu felt his excitement rise at the thought of seeing his son again within
the next thirty minutes. It made him press his foot down, and the Benz responded.
He brought the car to a stop in the airport’s car park. Glancing at his watch, he
realised he still had ten whole minutes before his son’s plane landed. It seemed like
eternity.
Now that the time of reckoning was at hand, he wondered how he was going
to defend his polygamous marital status to his son, who had called his second
marriage “barbaric” and “archaic”. He was not unduly worried; Mushe would
understand. He was a hot-blooded young man, and there was a fifteen-year-olddaughter to prove it. They say Manzi okonkha mkolo, Mr Zulu thought, meaning
“Water will always run in a furrow”. There was no doubt in his mind that Mushe
would end up like him, in a polygamous marriage or with multiple relationships on
the side.
His thoughts were interrupted by the announcement of the arrival of the plane
CONTEXT: AFRICA MALIYA MZYECE-SILILO
bringing home his most treasured possession. The plane taxied to a stop on the
runway. Mr Zulu watched anxiously as the door opened. A chain of strangers came
out of the plane, but there was no sight of his son. He dipped his hand into his
pocket and retrieved a piece of paper, which he examined. Yes, it was definitely the
right flight ...
Turning back to the passengers queuing up for customs clearance, Mr Zulu
scrutinised them one by one. One young lady attracted his attention, and he stared
at her. Her beauty reminded him of something ... he could not put his finger on
it. The woman was very attractive, tall and dark with high cheekbones. The head
jerked in his direction. Mr Zulu’s heart missed a beat: that young face brought back
memories of happier times ...
For a moment or two, Mr Zulu was at a loss. Then he purposefully walked to the
enquiries desk. “Excuse me, I was expecting my son on this flight, but he does not
seem to be on it,” he addressed the young lady behind the desk.
“What is his name?” she asked him.
“Zulu; Mr Mushe Zulu.”
“Yes we have a Zulu ... but wait a minute, I am afraid we have a Ms M. Zulu on
the list.”
“There must be a mistake. Maybe there is a woman with the same name?” Mr
Zulu looked anxious.
“Both possibilities are likely. Look, do not worry. Come back when the
passengers are through with the customs formalities. We shall call him to the
enquiries desk.”
“Thank you. I will do just that.”
Mr Zulu grew very worried. How was he going to face his wife with the news
that the “prodigal son” had not returned after all? She would be heartbroken. He
had hoped Mushe’s visit would brighten up her life.
His eyes were drawn to the queue once again, and behold, the attractive
woman was walking towards him. She looked very familiar now. Her eyes were a
marvel, and had a mischievous look in them. He wondered if she was a daughter he
had not acknowledged ... (Mr Zulu had sowed quite a number of wild oats when he
was young.)
As she drew closer, he noticed her bright smile, the sparkle in her eyes. It was
very weird indeed, he thought – the lady looked so much like his son. Was the boy
playing tricks on him? Mr Zulu decided his own eyes were at fault: “It must be my
unconscious playing havoc with my mind,” he reasoned, and looked away.
He was about to return to the enquiries desk but could not help glancing back
and taking one last look at the strange woman, only to find she was a few metres
away. He noticed her thin, well-shaped fingers, which looked like fresh bean pods
that had been left in the sun for a day. Those fingers evoked childhood memories of
hot porridge with groundnuts. Yes, she must be a long-lost daughter, the “news” his
son had mentioned in the email. He made as if to walk towards her, but nagging
doubt held him back. In spite of her beauty and familial resemblance, the woman
gave him the creeps. She moved closer, and her smile wavered.
“Hello, Dad, I am your daughter ... I mean your son ... Mushe.”
“Mushe!” Mr Zulu echoed. If he had doubted the testimony of his eyes, he
now doubted what he heard. His whole being rejected what was standing before
CONTEXT: AFRICA MALIYA MZYECE-SILILO
him. “Mushe, my ... son?” He could hardly speak. His eyes focused on the woman’s
protruding breasts. To his horror, he realised they were real.
“Yes, Dad, forgive me. I thought ...”
Mr Zulu did not hear the rest of the explanation. Shifting his eyes back to the
face, they met a pair of worried eyes looking at him through a curtain of eyelashes.
Yes, the solemn look was still there. The eyes! Those had not been changed. It was
his son, all right, but now ... He could not put it into words.
The realisation was slowly sinking in and, at the same time, fear,
disappointment and mental anguish were taking hold. Mr Zulu began feeling that
he was going mad. Sweat streamed down his body. The apparition with his son’s
eyes stretched out her bony fingers to touch him.
Mr Zulu jumped back like a scalded cat. He could not believe his own strength
and agility. Then he heard a horrible sound from somewhere, a hoarse yell of pain,
fear, anger and despair all mingled into one dreadful cry. He put his hand to his
mouth to stop it. The darkness that was slowly enveloping him was a welcome
relief.
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE DJAMEL MATI
Djamel Mati
Extrait du roman Aigre-doux
Les amants, c’est franchement...
« Les poitrines toujours occupées à battre pour l’autre et les ventres vacants
attendant l’autre... c’est franchemen t... les amants; tellement symbiotiques et
antinomiques à la fois, mais subtilement complémentaires! Comme la vie et la
mort, comme la haine et l’amour! Phallique et concave, seul leur antagonisme peut
les unir dans l’extravagance de la vie où le plein cherche le vide et le vide aspire
le plein. Chacun d’eux, le vide et le plein, ignore d’ignorer l’autre uniquement
pour rester toujours soupirant. Les amants vivent le présent dans l’adversité de la
fougue de leurs sentiments. L’avenir, ils l’imaginent dans leur regard, mais c’est leur
cœur qui part toujours en voyage, seul, accompagné par le rêve éclairé de l’autre,
ou d’un autre. Et c’est le hasard qui s’occupe de tout et meuble leur existence
rythmée par l’alternance: un jour, les portes claquent à tout moment et leurs cris
remplacent leurs rires; une nuit, le lit exulte de leurs étreintes, les draps se parent
de quintessence et le plaisir remplace les pleurs.
Les poitrines occupées à battre pour l’autre et les ventres vacants attendant
l’autre... c’est franchement...cupide, les amants. Copieusement, l’exaltation de leurs
sens oublie le temps, ce même temps qui égrène leur passion. Et lorsqu’un oublie
l’autre, le second oublie tout. Leur ferveur est sans cesse traversière, elle butine de
fleur en fleur puis revient toujours chercher refuge chez l’autre... ou un autre, au
hasard d’un petit temps qui cadence l’inadvertance sempiternelle des amants. Un
jour, les souvenirs jaillissent de leur tombe et viennent hanter leur chagrin ou faire
rire leur cœur. Une nuit, la froideur les glace et le doute reprend sa place. Leurs mots
restent avares, bloqués, serrés entre leurs lèvres, et du regard ils construisent des
murs de silence, signent de leur sexe des traités de paix et misent sur la roulette du
hasard. C’est vraiment... parieur, les amants.
Les poitrines occupées à battre pour l’autre et les ventres vacants attendant
l’autre... c’est franchement sourd, les amants. Leurs oreilles se bercent de
symphonies aphasiques jouées par leurs craintes, leurs tourments, mais aussi
par leurs impostures ou tout simplement par leurs désirs. Alors, amphigourique
devient leur esprit, incohérents sont leurs propos; ils se cherchent et ne trouvent
pas de mots pour entendre le désordre de leur amour ou de leur désunion. Le
désordre affectif, c’est l’ordre moins le pouvoir des mots, dirait le poète. Ils sont
partis, leurs mots, dans des chaos, quelque part dans une obscurité où les portes
continuent de claquer, leurs échos se sont perdus dans la connerie des convenances
ostentatoires et de la fidélité obligatoire, factice et hypocrite. Partis, les mots dans
les matins éclairés des promesses éteintes, balisés uniquement par le murmure des
serments. Et les restes des mots sont bâillonnés, enrôlés pour se taire et se plaire
dans l’ambiguïté des silences ou des murmures.
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE DJAMEL MATI
Les poitrines occupées à battre pour l’autre et les ventres vacants attendant
l’autre... c’est franchement muet, les amants. Alors, tout ce qu’ils trouvent à se
dire ne devient que verbiage stérile, puéril. Ils font semblant de parler, mais ils
ne s’écoutent même pas. Alors, volages, leurs lèvres s’envolent pour butiner des
verbes prometteurs dans la chaleur de leur fièvre. Elles glanent des métaphores
menteuses et aveugles dans les champs du virtuel; leurs mots leur mentent, les
enivrent et ils les boivent, trinquent avec. Ils se saoulent même à leur vinaigre.
Facile, il leur suffit de fermer leurs sens afin de désarçonner leurs émotions pour
les laisser affranchies, chaotiques, enfin presque libres; les jambes en l’air, les yeux
hagards, les lèvres scellées et les narines écartelées, ils finissent par humer les
parfums qu’ils se sont créés, sans bouger la langue ou fixer le regard! Ils imaginent!
Les poitrines occupées à battre pour l’autre et les ventres vacants attendant
l’autre... c’est franchement... myope, les amants. Ces yeux qu’ils se refusent d’ouvrir
de peur de regretter la lumière qui les guette dehors, qui leur goberait les pupilles,
les rétines et finirait par éclairer leur cerveau. Ils ne les ouvriraient même pas
devant eux, leurs yeux. Ils savent que l’hypocrisie arrive à faire mentir les miroirs, et
les miroirs savent aussi qu’ils mentent aux autres miroirs, alors comment peuventils croire au regard, de l’autre, du sien, du tien, du mien ou du miroir? Ainsi, dans un
soubresaut, ils lâchent: « pourquoi ne pas le dire, l’écrire, dénoncer cette supercherie
et enfin paraître nus dans la vérité? » Et bien, non! Ils préfèrent se taire pour ce qui
les concerne et parler pour les autres, par commodité, parce qu’il est plus facile de
parler sur une vérité que d’être vrai!
Les poitrines occupées à battre pour l’autre et les ventres vacants attendant
l’autre... c’est franchement... menteur, les amants. Après tout, ils ne sont que de
simples psychés qui essaient de réfléchir sans prendre de risques, sans déranger
les accords, les croyances, les promesses et les rêves... Et la vérité, cette vérité qui
est toujours ailleurs tout comme est ailleurs l’origine des mirages et des aurores
boréales. Voir en s’obligeant de croire que la réverbération des sens est réelle. Non!
Quand sauront-ils que les yeux sont faits pour être retournés au-dedans de soi?
Jamais; qu’ils commencent par s’aimer « soi-même » avant d’envahir le cœur de
l’autre et s’ils n’ont pas compris cela, qu’ils regardent au moins jusqu’au bout de
leur nez, et laissent l’autre vivre comme il lui plaira. La mue doit se faire à l’envers
c’est certainement le seul moyen de la faire juste pour que durant un instant,
un petit instant seulement, ces poitrines occupées à battre pour l’autre et ces
ventres vacants attendant l’autre ou un autre... ils s’uniront dans la plénitude de
l’attachement symbiotique, même si ce n’est que pour une brève étreinte. Et là... là,
c’est vraiment... con et merveilleux d’être amants. »
Au-dessus de l’ex-rue du diable, de tristes nuages maquillent un autre matin,
comme était travesti le rêve de cette exceptionnelle nuit dont je n’ai retenu que
cette prose nombrée qui martela mon sommeil. Après plus de neuf mois de
doute et d’angoisse, j’ai fini par quitter ce quartier, ce passage, cette maison, cette
chambrette: le point B114 et surtout la femme pour qui je pensais être revenu. La
pièce ovale était devenue trop exiguë pour moi, pour elle. Il était temps de sortir de
son existence, je ne me trouve pas le droit de la lui pourrir plus. Comme je l’avais
toujours imaginé, je me suis extrait de la fenêtre pour déchoir comme un fœtus
mort-né qui s’extirpe de la matrice dans un dernier souffle avant de reprendre vie.
Je dégringole sur des marches qui revêtent le relief mouvementé de la venelle. Vers
CONTEXTE: AFRIQUE DJAMEL MATI
le haut de l’étroit escalier, j’aperçois un petit coin de ciel gris. Il fait sombre malgré
l’heure avancée de la matinée. Je choisis de descendre en me frayant un chemin
au milieu des poubelles vides. Je pars, mais... pour aller où? Je me retrouve dans la
rue, sous une pluie grise d’ennui. Un baluchon sur l’épaule résume ma pauvreté. Je
lève la tête et je vois, derrière la fenêtre de la chambre, cette femme, ma compagne,
impuissante, qui me regarde fuir. Je sais bien que la buée dans son regard ne
provient pas de la rosée matinale. Je m’efforce de lui sourire et esquisse un signe
de la main pour lui dire de tenir bon et de m’attendre. J’ai vidé les lieux sans la
réveiller. Comme un voleur? Non, mais je ne voulais pas me voir dans ses yeux
mouillés car je n’aurais pas su trouver le moindre mot du lexique de la rupture.
– désolé, est un mot dur à prononcer et surtout lâche en toutes circonstances. Je lui
ai déjà causé tant de peines. Cette nuit, dans une ultime étreinte, je lui avais dit que
je l’aimais. Elle me répondit, en baissant les yeux: « Il y a des mots qui ne prennent
leur véritable sens que dans l’action; celui de l’amour exige, avant toute chose, la
présence auprès de la personne aimée. C’est comme cela que je conçois l’Amour. »
Un silence s’en fut pour réponse.
« Amour » est la dernière parole que j’emporte avec moi en quittant l’ex rue du
diable, le point B114.
(Apic, 2006)
CONTEXT: AFRICA UNITY DOW
Unity Dow
Excerpt from the novel
The Heavens May Fall
I am sure I am giving the impression that there is no satisfaction in the work
I do. But I shouldn’t be so negative, for only a month earlier I had come back from
court glowing with pride from a skirmish won.
The case of Jane, a sixteen-year-old child who was in turn mother of a twoyear-old child, ought to have given me some hope. These two children became my
clients when Jane’s parents came to me for help. They had played a central role in
the creation of the problem, but they sought its resolution with an earnestness I
did not doubt for a minute. Guilt can be a powerful motiva¬tor, and quite a few
mothers came to my offices filled with guilt. Very often the self-blame was not
grounded in reason, but in the case of Jane’s parents they had a very good reason
to blame themselves.
Jane had been a student at a junior secondary school when, hardly two months
after her first period, she became pregnant. Her parents belonged to a church that
punished out-of-marriage pregnancies by excommunicating the pregnant woman
and her family. They preferred that pregnancies took place within mar¬riage
– even forced ones, even in the case of little girls.
When Jane’s parents found out about her pregnancy they quickly arranged for
the collection of 6,000 pula from the culprit’s parents. They called the payment
bogadi and bundled the fourteen-year-old off to her husband’s home one Saturday
morn¬ing. One day Jane was a Gaborone girl, having been born to par¬ents who
had had little to do with Serowe, the village of their own birth, and the next she
was in Tsienyane, a village she hadn’t even known existed. She was a wife who was
about to become a mother. She could forget about the school netball team she had
been hoping she would be picked for. She could forget about the Whitney Houston
tape a friend had promised to lend her. She could forget about the ballroom
dancing club she had joined in school. She could forget about school, period.
Very few relatives were involved in all this, but the church was happy and Jane’s
parents were able to worship with dignity. They had saved their place in heaven
and what more could any earth-ling hope for? Hallelujah!
Even before the child was born, Jane was being battered and abused by her
husband. Twice she nearly lost her life and the baby, but twice the local clinic was
able to save both children. Finally the baby was born, but very little changed in the
parents’ relationship. The father blamed the mother for her loose morals. If she had
not been so easy, a teacher in his position, who had dutifully agreed to accompany
his school’s debating team to far-off Gantsi, would never have got her to agree to
a behind-the-dormitory sexual act. And if she had not been so easy, she would
not have become preg¬nant. If she had not become pregnant, he would not have
CONTEXT: AFRICA UNITY DOW
had to marry her because there wouldn’t have been the threat of the Ministry of
Education hearing about the behind-the-dormitory sexual act. If there had been
no threat to inform the Ministry of Education, there would have been no threat of
his losing his teach¬ing job. Her loose morals had resulted in his having to shell out
6,000 pula – and in his gaining an unwanted wife and even less wanted child. And
to add insult to injury, his head teacher had ar¬ranged that he be transferred to this
other-side-of-nowhere dusty place to teach in a badly-resourced school. How could
he not be moved to violence?
So he beat her. He beat her for being a lousy cook. He beat her for being a lousy
housekeeper. He beat her for being a lousy mother. But above all, he beat her for
being a lousy sexual partner. First she complained that she was too pregnant for
sex. Then she complained she was too sore for sex. After that she complained she
was too tired for sex. He figured that the least his 6,000 pula could buy him was
continuous and undisturbed access to sex. She did not seem to be willing, so he
beat her. And he drank.
First, she thought of consulting a village expert on love po¬tions, reasoning
that if he loved her, he would not beat her so. But she discarded these thoughts as
soon as they entered her frus¬trated brain. All she needed was to be caught with
some suspi¬cious concoctions and she would surely be branded a witch. Then she
thought of boiling some water and pouring it over his geni¬tals. That would have
been easy enough. He drank, rode her as if she was a donkey and then rolled off,
snoring like a demented hy¬ena. But she didn’t have the heart to harm any living
thing, even one as despicable as the man that abused her. So, one day, when her
brute of a husband was at work, she fled, taking little Michael with her.
She arrived at the home of her Christian parents after a particu¬larly brutal
beating. Her body had been slashed by a sjambok and her eyes almost closed by
fists. She had not seen her parents since the “wedding” because her “in-laws” had
not brought her back for a first visit, as was the custom. Until they brought her
back for a visit, she was not allowed to come on her own, and her parents had not
been permitted to visit her.
Her parents were shocked at her condition. She had written before, to say she
was unhappy and that her husband was beating her. Still, they had not expected
the level of abuse they saw in her face, body and spirit. She looked old and ill. They
decided she was not going back.
There was, however, the problem of the 6,000 pula they had received. The
man came with his uncles and aunts, demanding his wife and son back. When he
thought Jane’s parents did not seem to appreciate how serious he was, he went to
the Customary Court. He sued Jane’s parents, seeking an order directing that his
wife and son be returned to him.
The Customary Court agreed with him. Bogadi had been paid and the son had
been born within marriage. Therefore the two people belonged to the man who
had paid so dearly for them. Jane’s parents appealed to the Customary Court of
Appeal, and the decision was the same. They had received 6,000 pula as bogadi,
and could not be heard to say they wanted to keep their daughter and grandson.
Neither of the two people belonged to them. They were keeping someone’s wife
and someone’s child. The law was clear, and in fact they were wasting the court’s
time. The court set a date on which Jane’s parents should make the wife and son
CONTEXT: AFRICA UNITY DOW
available for collection.
The wife had not been party to any of the court cases. No one had asked for
Jane’s opinion as no one had thought her views mat¬tered. In fact, during one of
the hearings she had been in hospital, suffering from blazing headaches, which the
doctors thought could be the result of trauma to the head.
It was with the clock ticking towards the scheduled day of the handover of the
wife and son that Jane’s parents came to my office. I asked to see Jane, and within
hours we had an urgent appli¬cation ready to be argued before the High Court.
Our argument was simple enough. Botswana had ratified the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child, and thus the best inter¬ests of the child had
to be the primary consideration in all deci¬sions affecting them. Clearly, marrying
off a child without first consulting her and later making court decisions without
consult¬ing her could not be in the child’s best interest. What was more, surely
removing a child from an abusive environment was in the child’s best interest?
The marriage was invalid for the reason that the child had not been consulted. The
Customary Court decisions were not valid for the reason that they were made as if
involving a bag of salt as opposed to a human being. An important princi¬ple of the
law was the audi alteram partem rule, the “hear the other side” rule. The other side
had not been heard, thus the decisions made had to be invalid.
Waltzing through the gaps between the two systems and grab¬bing an offered
opportunity was not always easy, but the High Court agreed with my arguments,
so Jane and Michael did not have to go back to Tsienyane. No marriage had been
contract¬ed, period. The judge recommended that Jane be readmitted to school and
that a social worker monitor her progress.
Jane and her parents thought I was a hero. And for an after¬noon, until the next
case hit my desk I, too, thought I had been pretty good. But it was those cases I lost
that seemed to stick in my mind, making me wonder whether I would find the
ever-shifting goalposts in the legal system.
No doubt my work at the agency gives me a skewed view of life. Surely life is
not all about rape and abuse? And it doesn’t help that I spend so much time with
my cousin Mmidi, whose working days are often just as depressive. Why couldn’t
we be a couple of musicians, belting out ballads to cheering crowds?
(Double Storey, 2006)
CONTEXT: AFRICA OUSMANE SEMBÈNE 1923 – 2007
Amadou Gueye Ngom
Un certain regard:
Ousmane Sembène 1923 – 2007
Il arrive que ce coquin de sort, contre lequel on se plaît à gémir, arrange nos
affaires. Ce ne fut pas hasard que Sembène s’en soit allé, le même jour et une demiheure après le décollage de mon avion vers les Etats-Unis. Son sens du devoir et
des obligations professionnelles était tel, qu’il voulait partir à mon insu, afin que
je ne retarde pas mon départ. Je compris qu’il tenait également à m’éviter de
frayer avec les imposteurs qui viendraient réclamer indûment leur part de sa
mort, à coups de péroraisons funèbres ou d’exploser comme son fils cadet.
Je l’appelais « Grand », il m’appelait « Petit ». C’était dans l’ordre des choses.
Moi par déférence, lui par affection.
A ses funérailles, des hommages de circonstance truffés d’épithètes, d’attributs,
dont il était cliniquement allergique, lui furent servis. Sembène a été si « vilipendé
» que ses propres enfants ont cru qu’il s’agissait de quelqu’u… n d’autre.
On lui a tout rendu, sauf ce qui lui appartenait et auquel il tenait le plus: son
refus des connivences et, plus obstinément, son impertinente lucidité: « l’Afrique
est une belle garce, mais c’est ma mère » avait-il lâché à RFI.
On lui a tout prêté, lui qui de son vivant, n’a jamais rien emprunté à personne
et devait tout à lui-même.
A ses funérailles, on a fait de lui un Monsieur, alors que toute sa vie durant,
il se sentait bonhomme, rien que le bonhomme qui s’ est construit sa vie de
petits bouts en petits bouts. Des corporations d’artistes de tous poils sont venues
en actionnaires, alors que Sembène avait déjà investi son capital auprès de l’artisan
qui se rend à l’atelier, chaque matin, plutôt que d’ attendre l’ inspiration qui justifie
si aisément la paresse et l’improductivité.
Aux funérailles de Sembène, des intellectuels mondains se reconnurent soudain
dans l’homme à la casquette de maquisard ou au bonnet de laine du grand âge,
alors qu’ il n’ a jamais fait bon d’ être vu en sa compagnie, fleurant encore le
poisson et le goudron.
Les politiciens – hommes d’affaires – capables d’extraire le sang à une bouture
de manioc, oublièrent, pour un instant, les crachats dont l’auteur de « Xala » les fit
couvrir par les ignobles « déchets humains » que sont les « humiliés et offensés »,
pour lui chanter l’hymne des héros.
Aux funérailles de « Grand », des cinéastes de la seconde génération riches de
leurs seuls fantasmes qu’ils comparaient en ricanant aux « tarzanneries du vieux
ringard », se découvrent soudain un maître, juste pour donner l’illusion d’être de
ses disciples. Ses vrais disciples, pour autant qu’ il en ait eu, l’auraient célébré
comme un anti-héro. Chez Sembène, seule la prise de conscience, la remise en
CONTEXT: AFRICA OUSMANE SEMBÈNE 1923 – 2007
question permanentes sont héroïques et non les hommes, ni anges ni démons,
mais seulement des êtres que façonnent les circonstances... Dans une discussion
contradictoire, jamais je n’ai entendu « Grand » donner la réplique en commençant
par « je » Il prenait l’idée au bond, se contentant juste de donner sa position
sans le péremptoire et dogmatique « je sais, je dis que ». Pour ce géant torturé
d’inquiétudes questionneuses, « je » ne doit se conjuguer qu’avec un verbe
d’ action.
Pour parler de Sembène, tel que je l’ai connu, il me suffirait simplement de
faire un alignement de substantifs à la Prévert. J’ai connu l’auteur de Voltaïques
et Niwaan, en 1975 à l’Association des Ecrivains du Sénégal dont j’assurais le
Secrétariat permanent. L’homme ne faisait presque jamais de phrases, en parlant.
Il lâchait des mots. D’où mon sentiment premier de doute insinuant quelque
supercherie au sujet du personnage qui me semblait terne et sans bagout.
Impossible qu’il ait écrit Les bouts de bois de dieu me surprenais-je à penser.
Les écrivains défilant au siège de l’Association, me semblaient si flamboyants.
C’est bien plus tard et à force de le retrouver que je compris pourquoi l’homme
était un si piètre orateur. Le souci de précision qu’on retrouve dans chaque acte
de sa vie l’emportait sur la volonté de séduction. Ce trait de caractère s’apparente
à ce que les psychologues désignent par l’expression: esprit de l’escalier. Seulement,
Sembène n’attend pas l’inspiration, d’une marche à l’autre; il collecte ses
arguments et prend le temps de les assembler. Je connaissais mal le cinéaste
dont les films figuraient peut-être une ou deux fois l’an à l’affiche des salles de
cinéma, bien plus hospitalières aux James Bond et autres fureurs de Hong Kong.
Huit ans plus tard, je faisais véritablement connaissance avec Sembène le
cinéaste à qui je demandais orientation vers une école de cinéma. A ma grande
surprise, il dit : «Si tu veux apprendre le cinéma, vas aux Etats-Unis; ce sont les
meilleurs de l’industrie. »
J’en tirerai une bien précieuse leçon sur l’homme et ses supposés aliénations
idéologiques.
Il faut appartenir au monde du cinéma pour appréhender la somme
d’ingéniosité dont Sembène doit faire preuve, tout seul, sans éprouver le sentiment
d’avoir accompli un chef d’œuvre, mais d’avoir simplement fait son travail.
C’est ainsi qu’il construisit sa vie, toute sa création cinématographique, en
assimilant, jusqu’ à l’obsession, chacune des composantes de son métier. Ses
connaissances d’ancien maçon lui furent utiles pour planter le décor des films «
Camp de Thiaroye », la mosquée de « Ceddo ». Dans une interview à New York, il
expliquait la nécessité pour lui d’être à la fois bûcheron et sculpteur ; c’est-à-dire
scénariste, metteur en scène, dialoguiste, réalisateur et parfois producteur, là où
l’industrie euraméricaine mobilise une équipe de plusieurs dizaines de personnes
sur la feuille de paye qu’ aucun réalisateur africain au sud du Sahara ne peut s’offrir.
Seuls ses intimes savent que Sembène se demande toujours s’il a été
suffisamment clair ou percutant au sortir d’un échange verbal. Chaque fois que
j’ai été témoin d’ une de ses interviews aux Etats-Unis, il m’ a tiré à part, aussi
anxieux qu’un adolescent au sortir d’un examen oral: « Alors Petit ... » ?
Le mot « important » n’avait aucun sens pour lui ; il le préférait à « utile ».
CONTEXT: AFRICA OUSMANE SEMBÈNE 1923 – 2007
Il se voulait utile et ne s’entourait que de choses destinées à servir. Dans les
marchés aux puces ou hardware (quincailleries) de New York où je lui servais de
guide, ses yeux pétillaient à la recherche de l’accessoire précis dont il a besoin pour
une séquence déterminée de son prochain film. Chez lui, presque pas de meubles
mais des boîtes à outils. L’ouvrier ne veut pas perdre la main qui lui a permis, avec
l’aide de quelques amis, de construire lui-même « Galle Ceddo », sa maison dans
le quartier de Yoff, à Dakar. Dans un placard de son bureau-atelier sont rangés
tous les costumes ayant servi ou qui iront à des personnages déjà en esquisse.
Et il sait avec exactitude où se trouve la pince ou les tenailles de ses bricolages
qu’il ne quittait que pour le crayon, la feuille de dessin ou le carnet de notes.
Jamais, je n’ai trouvé Sembène oisif .
Il n’était pas gentil, dans le sens accommodant du terme, mais vrai. Derrière
sa rudesse voulue se cachait un homme prévenant sans obséquiosité.
Ses acteurs qu’il appelle « wa ker gi » – ceux de la maison – savaient d’emblée
que les caprices de star ne trouveraient pas preneur chez lui. Nul ne lui était
indispensable et il ne concédait à personne le pouvoir de le contrôler ou de
contrarier ses prévisions. Ceux de la maison le disaient pingre. Non, près de ses
sous comme tous ceux à qui la vie n’a jamais fait de cadeau. Il ne fallait surtout
pas jouer les monstres sacrés avec «Grand » qui a bien retenu du cinéma soviétique
que le contexte fait l’homme et non l’inverse. De héros, point n’en avait.
Je ne saurai évoquer Sembène sans mentionner sa rigueur qu’il insuffle à
ceux qui lui sont attachés. A mon fils qui venait retirer les petites affaires que je lui
confiais au terme de ses séjours américains, il exigeait un reçu dûment signé dont
il s’empressait de m’envoyer copie, par la poste. Au-delà de la rigueur de l’acte, j’ai
mieux compris l’adage faussement insultant qui estime que « la confiance n’exclut
pas le contrôle ». « Grand » n’avait pas besoin de discours là-dessus. L’exemple
suffisait. Il en était ainsi dans tous les actes de sa vie. A ce trait de caractère, il
convient d’ajouter la probité intellectuelle qui lui interdisait religieusement de
juger autrui. Agir sa différence lui servait d’argument et il n’endossait rien, ne
patronnait personne. Rédiger une simple préface à un recueil de Nouvelles lui
apparaît comme une préséance usurpée.
Dans ses films, Sembène réussit le tour de force de ne jamais être de connivence
ou en antagonisme avec ses personnages. Il en laisse la responsabilité au public
de ses films. On lui devine, tout au plus, un rictus qu’on ne sait ni de cruauté ni
de compassion.
« Grand » n’était dupe ni des prix de film, ni des distinctions. Il savait que
le cinéma africain est fait de bouts de ficelle mais avec son esthétique propre
et qu’il ne sera pour le moment qu’ « Un certain Regard » sur le critérium
international. Il sait que le budget d’un film publicitaire américain de trente
secondes peut lui financer cinq longs métrages. Pourvu que le grain ne meure!
CONTEXT: AFRICA CONTRIBUTORS
Alkasim Abdulkadir has had his short fiction and poetry published
in a number of journals and anthologies, including Drum Voices Revue
(Southern Illinois University), Unique Madmen (Association of Nigerian
Authors) and Pregnant Skies, New Beginnings (British Council Nigeria).
In 2004, he was a writer-in-residence at the Fondación Valparaiso, Spain.
He is a radio broadcaster in Abuja, Nigeria.
Toyin Adewale was born in Ibadan, Nigeria, in 1969 and learned English
as a second language, after her native Yoruba. She went on to obtain an
MA in English Literature from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. In 1995
she published her first collection, Naked Testimonies, which earned her an
honourable mention from the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA).
She is the founder and president of Women Writers of Nigeria (WRITA),
which works to improve the position of women writers in that country.
Her work has appeared in numerous Nigerian, German and American
journals, newspapers and anthologies.
Seyi Adigun is a Yoruba medical doctor and poet from north-central
Nigeria. He currently serves on the executive committee of the Association
of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Abuja chapter. His poetry is collected in Kalakini
– Songs of Many Colours (2004) and Bard of the Shore (2005). He is currently
working on a third collection, Along the Niger.
Frank Mackay Anim-Appiah is a journalist, poet, writer, teacher and
a pioneer field team member of the Nonviolent Peace Force in Sri Lanka
(2003–06). He has held various posts, and was the editor of Overseas
Business Magazine in Germany and the Financial Guardian and the
Evening Guardian in Ghana. He is currently Executive Director of Freedom
International, and is also a founding member and President of Ghanaian
PEN and Chair of its Writers in Prison Committee.
Pierre Astier est né en 1956 en Algérie. Sa famille s’installe en France
en 1957, en Savoie. Il vit et travaille à Paris depuis 1973 où il a d’abord oeuvré
dans le milieu de l’art contemporain (Centre Georges Pompidou, Palazzo
Grassi) avant de créer la maison d’édition Le Serpent à Plumes. Aujourd’hui,
il dirige l’agence littéraire Pierre Astier & Associés, l’une des toutes
premières agences littéraires en France, et représente des auteurs de langue
française (mais aussi non francophones) tant dans le domaine de la fiction
que de la non-fiction, avec une attention particulière aux auteurs des pays
émergents et un grand souci de la bibliodiversité.
Sefi Atta was born in Lagos, Nigeria. She trained as an accountant in
London and began to write while working in New York. Her works have
won prizes from Zoetrope, Red Hen Press, the BBC and PEN International.
In 2006 she was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing, and her
CONTEXT: AFRICA CONTRIBUTORS
debut novel Everything Good Will Come was awarded the Wole Soyinka
Prize for Literature in Africa.
Nicole Barrière est un poète et sociologue née en 1952 à Saint-Babel,
France. Elle a publié de nombreux recueils de poésie chez différents éditeurs.
En s’engageant de manière militante pour les femmes et la paix, elle a lancé
en 2001 un appel aux poètes du monde entier : « 1001 poèmes pour la paix
et la démocratie en Afghanistan ». Elle défend la francophonie, les langues
et les cultures menacées en participant activement au PEN International et
à la Nouvelle Pléiade. Traduite en persan, espagnol, italien.
Jean Auguste David Bonnaire est actuellement Trésorier-General de
PEN Sénégal. Il est un poète et aussi l’auteur de la nouvelle Les Exilés d’Eden
(2005).
Shimmer Chinodya is one of Zimbabwe’s foremost authors. He won
the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1990 for his critically acclaimed novel
Harvest of Thorns. His other books include Dew in the Morning (1982),
Tale of Tamari (2004) and Can We Talk and Other Stories (1998), which
was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2000. Chinodya
has written short stories, children’s books and film scripts. He has received
numerous writing fellowships. From 1995–97, he was Visiting Professor in
Creative Writing and African Literature at the University of St Lawrence in
the US.
Unity Dow is the author of four novels, including Screaming of the
Innocent (2002) and Juggling Truths (2003). She is Botswana’s first female
High Court judge.
Catherine Eden studied Hausa and Economics at the School of Oriental
and African Studies in London, graduating in 2003. She has studied in
Nigeria and worked in Tanzania and Sudan on voluntary projects. Currently
she works as a freelance editor, based in London.
Nadia Galy est née à Alger de parents franco-algériens et a baigné
dans les deux cultures. Elle vient s’installer à Paris pour faire des études
d’architecture. Elle y ouvre un cabinet avant de mener ses activités en
plusieurs régions du monde – comme l’île de St-Pierre, où elle restait six
années, et qu’elle a commencé à écrire et décrire cette Algérie extraordinaire
où elle retourne plusieurs fois par an.
Nadia Galy was born in Algiers to Franco-Algerian parents, and was
steeped in both cultures. After moving to Paris to pursue her studies in
architecture, her practice took her to several countries, and to the island
of St-Pierre, where she stayed six years and began to write about that
CONTEXT: AFRICA CONTRIBUTORS
extraordinary country, Algeria, to which she now returns several times
per year.
Chenjerai Hove is a Zimbabwean poet, novelist and essayist. Born in
1956, he was educated at the University of South Africa and the University
of Zimbabwe, and has worked as an educator and journalist. A critic of the
government of Robert Mugabe, he currently lives in exile in Norway.
Sarah Lawson is a member of English PEN. She translates from French,
Spanish, and Dutch, and has translated both the medieval French feminist
Christine de Pisan and the twentieth-century iconoclast Jacques Prévert.
Her most recent volume of poetry is All the Tea in China (2006).
Wangari Muta Maathai was born in Kenya in 1940. The first woman
in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, she obtained a degree
in Biological Science in 1964 and a M.Sc. in 1966 in the US, and a PhD from
the University of Nairobi in 1977.
In 1976 she founded the Green Belt movement (www.greenbeltmovement.
org), aimed at curtailing the devastating effects of deforestation, which led
to the 1986 establishment of a Pan-African Green Belt Network. In 2005 she
was elected Presiding officer of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council
(ECOSOCO) of the African Union.
She has won numerous awards including the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, the
Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights and France’s Legion
d’honneur.
Jack Mapanje is a Malawian poet who has written and edited numerous
books. His first collection of poems, Of Chameleons and Gods, was
published in the UK in 1981 and withdrawn from bookshops, libraries and
all institutions of learning in Malawi in June 1985. He was imprisoned
without trial or charge by the Malawian government in 1987 and freed
only in 1991. The poems in The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison (1993)
were composed while in prison, as was most of Skipping Without Ropes
(1998). He lives in York, UK, and teaches Creative Writing and Literatures of
Incarceration at the School of English, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Beasts of Nalunga (2007) is his most recent collection.
Mohamed Magani est né en 1948 à El Attaf, un petit village en Algérie.
Après des études à l’Université d’Alger et à l’Université de Londres, il
a enseigné de 1985 à 1995 au Centre National pour la Formation des
Enseignants et à l’Université d’Alger. Son roman La faille du ciel a gagné le
Grand Prix Littéraire International d’Alger en 1987. De 1995 à 2000 il était
« writer-in-exile » à Berlin à l’invitation de l’International Parliament of
Writers. Membre du comité éxécutif de PEN International, il vit actuellement
en Algérie. Parmi ses autres ouvrages littéraires sont Le refuge des ruines
CONTEXT: AFRICA CONTRIBUTORS
(2002) et Une Guerre se meurt (2004).
Jackie Mansourian is an Armenian-Australian writer born in Alexandria,
Egypt. She lived in Mozambique from 1987–97, where she was a community
development worker. For part of this time she worked for an international
organisation that supported children, communities and government
services in post-conflict rehabilitation. She is currently Secretary of
Melbourne PEN.
Rhoda Mashavave worked for Zimbabwe’s banned Daily News. In 2002
she was arrested, beaten and detained by Zimbabwean police. She regularly
writes articles for various publications and is currently living in Germany
doing a media programme.
Djamel Mati a publié son premier roman Sibirkafi.com, ou « les
élucubrations d’un esprit tourmenté », en 2003. Sibirkafi.com est le premier
livre d’une trilogie fantasmagorique. Aigre-doux (2005) est son troisième
roman et le deuxième volet de la trilogie, suivi par On dirait le Sud (2007). Il
travaille dans un centre de recherche en tant qu’ingénieur. Lorsque le temps
lui permet, il participe, tant bien que mal, à des marathons (de moins en
moins).
Léonora Miano est née en 1973, à Douala, au Cameroun. Elle a écrit en
moyenne un roman par an depuis ses seize ans, mais ce n’est qu’à trente
ans qu’elle a commencé à songer à se faire publier, s’estimant enfin prête.
L’intérieur de la nuit a été publié en 2005, suivi par Contours du jour qui
vient en 2006. Classé meilleur premier roman français pour l’année 2005
par le magazine Lire, L’intérieur de la nuit fait aussi partie des dix finalistes
de l’édition 2006 du Prix des Cinq Continents de la Francophonie. Contours
du jour qui vient figure sur la première sélection du Goncourt 2006.
Amadou Gueye Ngom est un critique d’art, producteur et réalisateur
de films documentaires, ancien secrétaire permanent des écrivains du
Sénégal et contributeur à Afrik’Art et Ethiopiques magazines et chroniqueur
au quotidien Le Matin (Sénégal). Il est un professeur de français à Berlitz
International Language Center, aux Etats-Unis.
Ethel Ngozi Okeke graduated from the University of Jos, Nigeria, with BA
in English in 1986, and completed an MA in English Literature in 1992. She
currently lectures in the General Studies Division of Enugu State University
of Science and Technology, Nigeria. She has one collection of poems, Spring
from Recession (2000).
Sylvester Omosun is a writer, poet and a technical planning officer at
Bells University of Technology, Ota, Nigeria. He also teaches creative writing
CONTEXT: AFRICA CONTRIBUTORS
in his spare time. His website is www.omosun.wordpress.com.
Amadou Lamine Sall est l’un des plus importants poètes de l’Afrique
francophone contemporaine et le poète le plus doué de sa génération, selon
Léopold Senghor. Né en 1951 à Kaolack, Sénégal, il est le fondateur de la
Maison Africaine de la Poésie Internationale, et il préside aux destinées de la
Biennale internationale de poésie à Dakar, au Sénégal. Lauréat du Grand Prix
de l’Académie française, il est l’auteur de nombreuses anthologies de poésie
qui ont été traduites en plusieurs langues. Il est Conseiller du Ministre de la
Culture du Sénégal et Vice président du centre PEN Sénégal.
Amadou Lamine Sall is one of Africa’s most important contemporary
francophone African poets, and called the most gifted poet of his generation
by Léopold Senghor. Born in 1951 in Kaolack, Senegal, he is the founder of
the Maison Africaine de la Poésie Internationale, and is the president of
the Poetry Biennial of Dakar. A recipient of the Grand Prix of the Académie
Française, he is the author of several collections of poetry, which have been
translated into numerous languages. He is currently the advisor to the
Senegalese Minister of Culture and Vice President of PEN Senegal.
Mary Watson Seoghie lives in Cape Town. Her collection of interlinking
stories, Moss, was published in 2004. She is currently lecturing in Film
Studies at the University of Cape Town where she received a meritorious
publication award for Moss. She was awarded the Caine Prize for African
Writing in 2006. She has contributed several short stories to published
anthologies, including translations in Afrikaans, German, Italian and Dutch.
Maliya Mzyece Sililo is amongst the very few published female fiction
writers in Zambia, and a storyteller who has revived that “lost art”, using it
to transmit folklore and life skills to Zambian youth. She hopes to publish
her first short story collection in due course, in which she will explore the
idea of individual awakening to social issues, the “Eureka” moment when
one attains greater social awareness.
Sami Tchak est né en 1960 au Togo. Lauréat du Grand prix de littérature
d’Afrique noire 2004, il est à la fois écrivain et essayiste. Titulaire d’un
doctorat en sociologie, il est l’auteur de nombreux essais de sociologie aussi
que plusieurs romans dont Place des fêtes (2001), Hermina (2003), La fête des
masques (2004) et Le paradis des chiots (2006). De son vrai nom, Sadamba
Tchakoura, il a d’abord étudié la philosophie avant de s’engager dans
l’enseignement dans un lycée de son pays.
Nassima Touisi est née en 1968, à Alger. Elle est ingénieur d’état en
agronomie et enseigne actuellement les sciences naturelles et le théâtre
dans une école privée.
CONTEXT: AFRICA CONTRIBUTORS
Par ailleurs, elle écrit des articles pour un magazine culturel, C-News. Elle
s’occupe de la rubrique « jeunes talents en herbe ». Sa devise dans la vie se
résume en trois verbes puissants : aimer, aider et pardonner. Une lettre à
Kahina (2005) est son premier roman.
Benjamin Ubiri is a Nigerian writer, performance poet and journalist.
He is a member of the ANA and the Kaduna Writers’ League. His work,
mainly comprising unpublished poetry, includes Konga’s Harvest: Replying
to Soyinka, The Soloist and Onime and Other Poems. His journalism has
appeared in numerous periodicals, though he prefers writing fiction and
poetry to the haste of journalism.
Manuel Ulacia (1953 – 2001) was a Mexican poet and critic. He was
educated at Yale and specialised in the poetry of Luis Cernuda. Ulacia was
the codirector of the magazine El Zaguán from 1974–77. He had several
works published, including La Materia como ofrenda (1980) and Luis
Cernuda: escritura, cuerpo y deseo (1986), and translated poems from
English, Portuguese and French. He was building a reputation as one of
Mexico’s most distinguished younger poets when he died in a drowning
accident off the Pacific coast.
Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike is a Nigerian poet, children’s novelist
and short-story writer. He was among the twenty-four winners of the 2006
Commonwealth Short Story Competition and the winner of the 2006 ANA/
Funtime Prize for Children’s Literature. He is the author of Dark through
the Delta (poems), Tears in Her Eyes (short stories), and Aridity of Feelings
(poems). He is currently working on a collection of poems centring on the
Niger Delta.
Agatha Mwila Zaza was born and raised in Zambia, and obtained a
M.Sc. in Ireland. Currently a technical advisor at a donor agency as well as
a writer (her work has appeared in the British Council’s Crossing Borders
and elsewhere), her ambition is to open a publishing company to promote
Zambian writing and writers.
CONTEXT: AFRICA THE INTERNATIONAL PEN FOUNDATION
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Foundation
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Development Agency
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E-mail: [email protected] Website: www.internationalpen.org.uk
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CONTEXT: AFRICA ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Editor: Mitchell Albert
Design and layout: Forever Studio Ltd
Proofreading: Brandon E. Hopkins and Vincent Rey
The Lilitree from Dinaane: Short Stories by South African Women,
ed. Maggie Davey, 2007, Telegram Books, London.
The Jambula Tree from African Love Stories: An Anthology,
ed. Ama Ata Aidoo, 2007, Ayebia Clarke, London.
Everything Good Will Come,
2007, Double Storey, Cape Town. Sefi Atta
Jack Mapanje’s poems from Beasts of Nalunga,
2007, Bloodaxe Books, Highgreen.
Le paradis des chiots, Mercure de France, 2006,
courtesy of the French Book Office, London.
Alger, lavoir gallant, Albin Michel, 2007,
courtesy of the French Book Office, London.
Chenjerai Hove interview by Rhoda Mashavave,
courtesy of the The Association of Zimbabwe Journalists in the UK,
www.zimbabwejournalists.com
Chairman of Fools, 2006, Double Storey, Cape Town.
Contours du jour qui vient, Plon, 2006,
courtesy of the French Book Office, London.
Unbowed, 2007, William Heinemann, London;
see also www.greenbeltmovement.org
The Heavens May Fall, 2006, Double Storey, Cape Town.

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