Thursday, October 04, 2007

African tales

Despite the light that postcolonial writings have been shedding on Africa in the past few decades, the truth remains that by and large the continent lives, still, in shadow; Africa makes only "rare appearances" in the public scene since the latter continues to be dominated by Western, and to a lesser extent Asian and other, "actors". Hence our entrenched ignorance about the lands, the people, the culture; suffice here to point to the international media for instance - Africa appears almost like a tautology for disaster and grief: Darfur - Rwanda - Apartheid.

This is both wrong and unjust for a continent that is home to over a quarter of the world's countries. But it is also highly misleading, since Africa is far from being drained - that is, despite our consistent efforts to deprive it of all its resources, whether human, animal or natural.

But I wish to go no further with general comments; instead it is a personal experience I wish to share - the feelings of guilt and frustration I experienced earlier this evening in the well-stocked neighboring bookstore. Scrutinizing what was a temporary display of African literature, I was chagrined as I realized that I possess only a handful of books and I have read just a few more; I felt deeply ashamed as I was reading the synopses of all the great books that were lying in front of my eyes and some I had not heard of.

A big splash of extra cold ocean water woke me up to a reality that extends beyond Soyinka's literary and non-fiction writings, Achebe's poetry and Appiah's lucid descriptions of Asante life in Ghana. There I had it all; in front of my eyes there was such a wonderful display of books that spanned from Algeria and Djebar's "Children of the New World" to Kenya and Thiongo's 1964 account of Mau Mau atrocities ("Weep not Child") to Zimbabwe and Dangarembga's "Nervous Conditions". South African accounts of Apartheid and "Truth and Reconciliation" proceedings were not absent either; nor were, of course, horrific accounts of atrocities in Darfur, enough to fill quite a few books and volumes - and, note, the real-life drama of the people has yet to end...

I did not want to leave; at least not until I had sucked in summaries, pages and characters, not until I had jotted down titles and authors. Was I less frustrated? Yes - I must admit. Was I more optimistic? No - much as I did appreciate the book display it did not take me much to realize that beautifully stacked albeit lonely books cannot do much. Plus, most of them have no flashy or glossy clovers... To believe otherwise, seems to me quixotic at best, foolish at worst.. I claim to be neither. But I would love to be proven wrong. I seriously do.

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