Another African statesman and fine gentleman, David Rubadiri, poet, academic and diplomat, has died at the age of 88.
(For Sewe Leah)
It is hard to come to terms
Harder yet to embrace the memory
What once was.
Of flowers that wither in the sun,
And roses that wilt in the grips
Of wanton boys
Who pluck them for sport
To decorate sandcastles.
Seems so vast yet vague and far.
And it is hard
To keep dreaming
When the walls are closing in
And your heart is breaking
One tiny crack at a time,
Then a million shattered pieces on the floor.
(And we make careers
Of picking broken fragments of us
From the ground).
(after seeing a photograph on Flower Rae Shearer‘s wall, overcome by sadness, for the bench)
a lonely bench sits in a park
waiting for stray bottoms
walking through the woods
of life, to sit and make it warm,
only leaves of fall, sad twigs
and sighs of famished trees
keep it company, touching its
wooden ribs and scarred face
with elegies of coming dusk
amu nnadi is author of four collections of poetry, the fire within, winner of the 2002 ANA Gabriel Okara Prize for Poetry, pilgrim’s passage, shortlisted for the 2005 Nigeria Prize for Literature, and through the window of a sandcastle, winner of the 2013 ANA Poetry Prize, runner-up to the 2013 Nigeria Prize for Literature and winner of the 2014 Glenna Luschei African Poetry Book Prize, and the recently completed a field of echoes, a book of almost 300 new poems.
In addition to all this, he is a close friend, mentor, lovely gentleman and teacher.
In collaboration with the Association of Nigerian Authors (Benue State Chapter), it is our pleasure to release the collection of short stories, A Basket of Tales – Benue ANA Anthology…
The collection is made of twenty-five exciting short stories from award winning, emerging and intriguing writers including Unoma Azuah, Hyginus Ekwuazi, Maria Ajima, Pever X, Iquo Eke, Sibbyl Whyte, Victor Olugbemiro, Jennifer Emelife, Myles Ojabo, Agatha Aduro, Enajite Efemuaye, Aondosoo Labe, Joshua Agbo and Kenechi Uzor. The stories cover a lot of grounds from humour to thriller, magical fantasy to realism…etc. There’s a slice of something for everyone.
A Basket of Tales is an anniversary project of the current Association of Nigerian Authors (Benue State Chapter) Executive Committee of the association led by Su’eddie Vershima Agema in collaboration with SEVHAGE Publishers and SEVHAGE Literary and Development Initiative. It the first of a series of quality e-books of literature covering various…
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Growing up, reading was my favorite hobby. I was obsessed with books. Indeed, books were best friends I would spent countless hours with and draw inspiration and strength from. With a book you are never alone.
Though reading had taken me to the continent many times as a child, I felt the adult I had become had to physically travel there and connect with my roots to understand my purpose in life. I literally had an epiphany when I set foot in Ghana in 2009. Instantly, I knew my mission was to share the magic of books with children by building libraries in rural areas across the continent. The Bisila Bokoko African Literacy Project (BBALP) was born.
Fast forward to 2011 when James Bayanai, a young aspiring lawyer from Zimbabwe reached out on Facebook. James had been following my work in Africa and wanted to meet. We agreed to do so in Capetown, South Africa where I was flying to attend the World Economic Forum. How far will YOU go to make your dreams come true ?
James took a bus from Zimbabwe and spent days on the road only to make our appointment ! I was speechless and equally inspired. He shared his ambition to become a lawyer and how brilliant children in his community were. Unfortunately, parents could not afford their education. I was determined to help. Together, we created and launched a scholarship program from the ground up starting with helping 10 of the most gifted children in Chirumanzu, Zimbabwe. There, we also opened the first BBALP library 4 years later ! James eventually became a lawyer and BBALP local Project Manager. From Chirumanzu Member of Parliament Anastancia Ndholuvu to the Ministry of Tourism and Education and the Mayor of Harare (Zimbabwe capital) – our literacy endeavor received warm support beyond expectations.
What could possibly top this ? The overwhelming joy I felt when I received the children’s first school reports and thank you notes — or my deepest gratitude towards James Bayanai and his local team for being a catalyst of unpreceded change. To date, over 200 children are now beneficiaries of BBALP Zimbabwean project.
At the beginning of 2014, we started a collaboration with Chirumanzu school to build another BBALP library but this time inside their premises. The vision was to grant access to students and the community as a whole. We budgeted, built the library and book shelves from scratch. Within a few months of hard work, books were on display and up for grabs.
Zimbabwe welcomed me with open arms. As I shared with its people the wonderful power that lays in reading, I stocked up on smiles for days. The land fed me delicious traditional dishes such as sadza and I shook precious hands that carry the know-how of Zimbabwean ancestral basket weaving.
Just as I felt compelled to share with this beautiful nation, visiting Zimbabwe made me realize how much more it has to offer to the world. Tourism and Fashion are just two examples of burgeoning fields in which I look forward to being actively involved in locally in the near future.
What I learned from this experience is that your talents, your gifts will be revealed to you. The key is to listen to your inner voice. They say the distance between your dreams and reality is called action. Eventually, you will realize that your purpose in life is not so much something you have to force yourself to do but something you cannot help doing. Reading books shaped my future. By hopping on a bus to meet me across borders, James began the life-changing journey of a whole generation. If you doubt you can find your path in your passions or a foreign country, it could very well just be in a book next to you.
Follow Bisila Bokoko on Twitter:www.twitter.com/@bisilabokoko
First published here. Republished on this blog with the kind permission of Bisila Bokoko.
Once upon a time, son,
they used to laugh with their hearts
and laugh with their eyes:
but now they only laugh with their teeth,
while their ice-block-cold eyes
search behind my shadow.
There was a time indeed
they used to shake hands with their hearts:
but that’s gone, son.
Now they shake hands without hearts
while their left hands search
my empty pockets.
‘Feel at home!’ ‘Come again’:
they say, and when I come
again and feel
at home, once, twice,
there will be no thrice-
for then I find doors shut on me.
So I have learned many things, son.
I have learned to wear many faces
like dresses – homeface,
officeface, streetface, hostface,
cocktailface, with all their conforming smiles
like a fixed portrait smile.
And I have learned too
to laugh with only my teeth
and shake hands without my heart.
I have also learned to say,’Goodbye’,
when I mean ‘Good-riddance’:
to say ‘Glad to meet you’,
without being glad; and to say ‘It’s been
nice talking to you’, after being bored.
But believe me, son.
I want to be what I used to be
when I was like you. I want
to unlearn all these muting things.
Most of all, I want to relearn
how to laugh, for my laugh in the mirror
shows only my teeth like a snake’s bare fangs!
So show me, son,
how to laugh; show me how
I used to laugh and smile
once upon a time when I was like you.
Where your eyes stare
those words you whisper
the continual flow of actions…
did it flash forth in a pot
was it something magical growing
from spot to spot?
Is the radiance of the sun
specifically shone on me?
Is utopia carved simply for my warmth?
Has the sun shone forth its bliss?
Why does the moment seize my ease
when dance should be me?
Sprinkle the air with what truth you would
take all the magic that rather should
stand to be the crown of our smiles
Give me this and take away your chance
let me fall to ignorance
and forever enjoy this beauty dance.
In the warmth of her arms he felt safe
As though he was not huge and big
And she was not small and skinny
Fought in a war a few hours ago
His hands stained with blood
He still loved to stay there forever
Another man she belonged to
Missed a game in the forest
Still bitter in heart
His gun quite loaded in his hands
Even now he was behind
The love nest: red and ruthless!
Only her screams could be heard now
Holding his lifeless arm
For love had made her adulterous
Forced in a covenant she despised
Dragged like she was curse herself
Into the world for all to see her shame
No man would behave unusual
So the world: they raised stones and tongues on her
She died looking to heaven
With tears gushing down her lifeless face
After the world took judgment and killed its own
He miserably strode home
Half hoping to see her again
Could not bear the void home
And so a heart
Upon his gun he swallowed a bullet
Leaving the world behind to say
Men, too, love…
There are different views to understanding poetry. You can look at that which you find facing you directly – look at what is written on the surface and leave what is beneath. Some other times you have to look at what lies beneath. Think, why did such a writer write such lines? In what time was such a piece written? What was the condition of the writer? It helps to also read the poetry of contemporaries of such a writer in the person’s place. The contemporaries (poets) of Mandlenkosi Langa are the likes of Dennis Brutus, Oswald Mtshali, Stanley Mogoba, and Sydney Sepamla. Let’s look at the poem in full so that we will go along together in understanding this:
You languished patiently
for months on end
in dungeon darkness
in intestinal convolutions
and indefinable chaos
You had neither shadow
You had every right
to riot and complain
or raise your voice
in protest or defiance
I could feel your lust
to join the dead
Your muted attempts
to burst like Christmas chicken
It is not my fault
that you did not live
to be a brother or sister
or lover of some black child
that you did not experience pain
pleasure voluptuousness and salt
in the wound
that your head did not stop
a police truncheon
that you are not a permanent resident
of a prison island.
(‘Mother’s Ode to a Stillborn Child’ by Mandlenkosi Langa; in Black Poets in South Africa Edited by Robert Royston. London: Heinemann Educational Books,1974)
Tough love, wouldn’t you say? It makes one to think deep again beyond the analysis of whatever might have come down. Let’s look at this from the surface first. We find a mother [yes, let’s give the woman this accord] here who is addressing her stillborn. A lot of mothers will be happy to have a child and when something happens wrong to the child, they are saddened. In this poem though, you find a near nonchalant mother talking to her baby and saying: ‘Oh well, you are better dead’. This is a deep poem on whatever level you decide to look at it. Poetry, like art, is an expression of one’s innermost feeling. It leaves you thinking of what might have gone through the mind of the poet. Like experiences, and other forms of art too, poetry is subject to many interpretations even as it speaks to each reader differently.
To have an idea of a poet’s mind though, sometimes you have to ‘visit’ the person, by understanding the circumstances and situation of the timing and writing of such a poem. This is understanding the poet’s reason for writing as opposed to however you might later understand the poem…for yes, each poem and work of art speaks to us and affects us differently, sometimes in ways that the poet might never have imagined.
The above poem, was written by Mandlenkosi Langa during the South African Apartheid period. The persona [we should always remember that the poet is not always the person in the poem; the person in the poem is called the poetic persona, much like the narrator in fiction etc] addresses her stillborn child. To understand this poem, you need to understand that the Apartheid period was one where blacks [the poet and the persona are black] were maltreated and subjected to a life of living on the run. It was evil to be black and one could be killed, beaten, maltreated for simply being a person of colour. It is more like the highest form of ‘racism’ and it was worse because 1) this land was originally the land of the blacks 2) They had the number in terms of population. 3) They had no access to jobs, proper schooling and a lot that the whites had… among others….
Things got so bad that some women rather than cry at a stillborn would shrug and say ‘Well, you are saved. Rest well’. That’s the spirit of the poem above.
The poem starts with the persona addressing how the baby within started off. Note the careful use of words that are not bright or cheerful: ‘languish…in dungeon darkness…in indefinable chaos’… From the outset, the persona knows that the baby had a difficult time within the walls of her body. [ASK: Could the body of the persona be a metaphor for South Africa and the troubles of the land?] The next stanza questions the essence of the humanity of the baby. The persona states that the baby had no form; no shadow, no silhouette. The baby had every right to protest… [ASK: Could the baby, from this stanza, be a personification of the suffering blacks in South Africa? Remember they had no dignity and are below humanity; therefore without shadow or silhouette… In that case, they had ‘every right/to riot and complain/or raise … voice/in protest or defiance].
The third stanza addresses the lust of the addressed to join the dead. Well, with all the troubles, it will seem that is what anyone will desire… So, in the end, at the last stanza: we find this mother without remorse at the death of the stillborn. She even thinks the stillborn is better dead! After all, ‘you are not a permanent resident of a prison island.’
So, there you go… There’s always more than meets the eye, not so? Let’s have your thoughts on this too and if you can, let’s have you put your heart to paper and scribble the spirit of your soul to show its very depths.
Viashima heard the voice again. What was that song she was singing? He smiled. No I shouldn’t be smiling. I should stay put. He rushed to the window and saw her pass by. It was the beginning of the traditional tale of a man looking at a lady’s buttocks and swallowing. He had read much of it, had even been a victim in some time past. What is it in those butts? Well, whatever it was, it sure sent adrenaline rushing. But this time it was different. He wasn’t meant to be looking. Take your eyes jor. Kai. She must be fifteen. No, he couldn’t do that. That was the same age as the other girl. But she’s been in my brain since forever. No, he couldn’t. He wished he was a drinker. Maybe this would be the time to start. Which kind of temptation is this? Natural one. Take your eyes Viashima. But she looked edible. Edible? Damn!
He had promised to be different in Mbanor. Why was this being difficult? Why was Kano pursuing him?
Flee the Devil and he would flee from thee.
Viashima thought about it and in the end decided that the best way to conquer evil was to face it squarely. Whatever one runs from comes back. After all, one of the laws of engagement was direct challenge. Challenge then conquest. He had been in a few situations to know that. Why else was he in the army? Yup, he would.
The song heralded her passage. He was out in a moment.
‘Hey!’ He called in as calm a voice as he could.
It took six days to get a reply. IT was worth it. They were in his room now. She was a bit older than he thought. Seventeen. They had been talking for a full month now and he knew a lot about her. He always looked forward to their meetings. It was fortunate that the country was a bit peaceful. At least, there was time. She was a worthy companion and his views of her improved. From a pastime, she became an aspect of the day he looked forward to. She was talking at the moment:
‘That is why I am always alone. It is also why I sing. I get sickly sometimes too. So, it would seem I am denied most of the pleasures of life.’
That seemed to click something in his thoughts. He looked at her and the first thoughts came rushing in torrents all the way.
‘There is a certain pleasure you sure wouldn’t want to miss.’
It was a year. He still thought they should wait. She didn’t:
‘Promise it wouldn’t hurt.’
Who usually taught them that phrase? It seemed all of them usually said something of that like or similar. He had heard several people say they had heard something like that on their first.
‘Maybe, we should wait.’
‘You are a very different type of soldier. Come on, this is your last night but one. Who knows what would happen next?’
‘I would come back.’
‘If you don’t, I would come and take something of yours.’
Take something of yours. His mind wandered to a few other things, to different people and different stories. It went mainly to Kano and he winced.
‘Maybe we should wait.’
She looked at him and in her eyes he saw pools of love. Pools of trust. It seemed no hex could stop them that night.
‘Viashima.’ She always got the pronunciation perfectly – Vi-a-shi-ma. Like most times, he became weak.
She stooped, he conquered… and time stopped.
(‘Conquest’ is an excerpt from a work in progress by Su’eddie Vershima Agema. ‘Conquest’ is published here for the first time and appears in February in a new collection edited by Su’eddie Vershima Agema)