Wednesday, May 30, 2012

TO READ OR RUN


I do some of my best thinking (such as it is) or memorising while I’m walking. Unless I’m asleep or on stage, motion is very comforting for me; tapping feet, waving arms, walking, running. I even fall asleep on planes or in cars over long distances. I like the idea of movement, and was drawn to capoeira the Afro-Brazilian dance martial arts for that very reason some years ago (I’ve fallen off the wagon but intend to get off the bench sooner rather than later).  In fact I’m hoping to make it to Brazil for one reason or another this year but before that I head to London this June where two of my interests are converging in the most delightful way, in a kind of abstract sports meets literature romance.
As part of the London 2012 cultural Olympiad the Southbank Center is hosting an estimated 200 poets in a series of events that have been collectively named  Poetry Parnassus ; a non-competitive gathering of primarily poets and some storytellers, rappers and singers. As the poet from Botswana, I’m honoured to be participating in what is expected to be a really big literary party :) and am truly excited about the whole initiative. 
When I was about five years old my parents signed me up to the Young People’s Book Club and each month I got a lovely package – a whole envelope with my name on it and tons of books for me to put stickers in and colour and later read. A couple of years later in primary school I got picked for the junior running team for the first time and these two childhood hobbies stuck with me in one way or another over the years.
This past weekend my nephew Xander who we discovered is oops! afraid of clowns and moves really fast when he sees one, turned two. His parents threw him a superhero party which I  briefly attended so he could see his truant aunt who spends more time traveling than potty training him. After which, ever the proud mother whether I’ve done something she deems exceptional or I’ve merely managed to get through my teenage years without drawing untoward attention to the family, my mama summons me for a weekend stay over and breaks open one of her many private stashes of mommy-stuff to reveal this…

Way back when, my mother thought my commitment to athletics was ‘boyish’ but on the other hand she has kept every sports certificate I ever got perfectly safe, some for over twenty years. Apparently I’m now old enough to be trusted to keep this paraphernalia myself.
I haven’t run competitively for over a decade, a ‘sudden’ onset of mitral valve prolapse (MVP) and Supraventricular tachycardia(SVT) put paid to that bit of budding sportsmanship. In my case neither one of those conditions is life threatening and I certainly didn’t have to give up sports, quite the contrary but back then Botswana didn’t as far as I know have a heart specialist or support centers like the Heart Foundation, so for years I lived with some seemingly adrenaline-induced discomfort and repeated diagnosis of psychosomatic pain – the GPs way of telling your parents that you are imagining the breath-halting fist clenched around your heart and so I just stopped running around. Now I have a fantastic cardiologist with the most beautiful bedside manner and access to really cool machines. Still all these years later whenever the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games come around my eye is always on the track. By no stretch of the imagination was I destined for athletic greatness, I simply enjoyed sprinting and cross-country runs enough to commit to Mr Grihault, and later Mr Walk’s sometimes grueling training regimens in preparation for the national inter-school games. 
Botswana has unfortunately never won a medal at the Olympics but this year, I’ll be in London rooting for Botswana’s 400m world champion  Amantle Montsho who picked up gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games… looking for just a little bit of storybook magic.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

BOTSWANAN versus MOTSWANA

So there's been something on my mind lately, its just a small thing that doesn't take long to rectify but it keeps happening to me over and over, and so I'm putting it in 'print' so the universe can hear me.

There is no such thing as a Botswanan or Botswanian or Botswanese person. Yes shocking I know but its true. The thing with Setswana (the language spoken by Batswana) is that we are big on changing the prefix (maybe its more of a cranberry_morpheme than prefix but its at the beginning so lets not get academic for now) rather than attaching/changing the suffix (except maybe when we are dealing with the diminutive form to convey smallness or endearment). Its a very important distinction for us linguistically because the 'prefix' is often the primary way one can differentiate whether you are making reference to a person or an animal/thing. So here goes

Citizen of Botswana is Motswana (singular) Batswana (plural)
National language is Setswana - although there are various dialects as well as numerous other languages for example I being (n)Kalanga also speak iKalanga which is much closer to the Zimbabwean family of Shona languages than it is to Setswana.

The prefix 'mo' is found in motho (person/human being), mosadi (woman), monna (man), mosetsana (girl), mosimane (boy), morutabana (teacher) versus the 'se' Setswana (the language), setlhako (shoe), setlhare (tree) you see where I'm going with this prefixmania

So when airport officials look at my passport and say with utter conviction "Oh you are Botswanan", I'm not quite sure what to feel.Half out a fear of antagonising someone in a position of power in a legal no-man's-land I usually just smile, and mutter to myself after I get the entry visa. I generally try not to make a fuss, after all sometimes I say things like khaman! (which is a bastardised take on the English exclamation/phrase - come on) when things either go my way or they don't, you kind of have to read the emotion on my face to figure out which one it is. But should this Motswana yell at you randomly one day, just remember its been a long time coming its not you its my frustration with our tendency to bend towards universal templates. Just don't say I never tried to tell you how it was...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Murxen in G minor (a work in progress)


For some it is the music
Or the words, never both

For you who are everything
just enough bread in place of a carrot
to leave the chord hungered past caring
for any kind of sustenance
that does not begin and end
with the taunting call of drum and night
the keening  jaw of wounded beast
wanting at the mouth

I want to be the narrow tip tapping incessantly at sound’s surface
The rustling dip and stop of an empty stomach
filled with nothing but itself
The moment just before
the rest of your body realizes
how air rises around a falling plane
the ground reaching up fractured fingertips to touch
you, who are some lost and found song’s Icarus-sound

I watched your fisted knuckles drag and triple trap
the breath snared between wrist and rim
the quiet howling of heat caught between a missing beat
and ribs that still feel like a sudden cage
of broken rhythms