Monday, March 30, 2015

LIBRARIES IN THEIR HEADS

I can’t remember the song that goes with my favourite fairytale, Kgogomodumo. I can’t even remember the entire tale, not as it was told to me with my tribe’s spin on it. My father’s cousin who first told it to me while making fat cakes – a kind of local beignet - has long died. I have no grandparents, having only ever met my maternal grandfather as he was the only one still living. His mother, my maternal great grandmother (who outlived her husband and all her children) is also now gone. Libraries in their heads. All those books in the ground. So I turn to the available texts, it’s a kind of sulking without making it anyone else’s problem, and come across this:

Lee Nichols of Voice Of America(VOA) writes, ‘I asked if he felt songs, stories and vernacular writing in general were an important part of what is called African literature’.

p’Bitek Okot replies, ‘it is the most important part. The songs such as the ones I’ve published and the stories such as Achebe and Ngugi have published, it’s a small, small, small thing in a big sea of very rich, rich, rich material which we need to mine. I also think that Africa is going to make a contribution to world literature. We have roots, we have to be rooted some place. You don’t just hang in the air’.

If you can find it, grab a copy of Conversations with African writers (VOA) it may have been compiled in 1981 but I like it because it 'kept' something. Bessie Head, and Ramsey Diane Molefhe the Motswana journalist and poet who I never met, are included in there. In any case, it is not a case of history being determined by who wrote it, rather it is a series of transcriptions of 78 interviews mostly as is from the various horses’ mouths. The (for radio) audio tapes should be available in the US Library Congress in Washington.


Of course my dragon song is not in there, what to do about that.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

THIS ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM


I’m watching Chicago Fire and these two are on a blind date. He says to her, What drew you to Golden oldies? – an online dating site (do try to keep up) - anyway she goes into this sweet spiel about how she was reading an article about something or other and the author pointed out that the worst form of punishment in any society is solitary confinement and therefore she’s decided that she’s going to do her absolute-bestest to go out there and live.

I’ve never had cause really to think about punishments beyond the ones we impose on ourselves. Our personal purgatories, where one hopes we are expatiating rather than merely wallowing. Perhaps easier said than done. But back to Chicago Fire the lady says, we are social creatures, implies that we need interaction. I’ve had reason recently to think about how different people communicate, what their silences say, why silence might to someone be an acceptable (or accessible) form of communication. Although I withdraw occasionally (who doesn’t, right? Right) it’s always by choice and I know my people are a phone call or a street away.

But I imagine now an elephant in the room that I must do anything but look at or talk about. The minute you tell me not to do something I think about it. It’s not a strong enough compulsion to make me willfully disobedient – too much excellent training from gendered Setswana training- but it’s there. I'm talker, its what I do and when Im not talking I like to listen to observe. I'm not wired for exclusion, isolation at least being yelled at is a form of engagement even if no one is really listening. Locking me away in a small room is (like) telling me don’t go anywhere, don’t talk to anyone, don’t read whatever you want, don’t move, don’t engage and so the first thing I will want to do is …all of the above.


Here’s an illustrated video by Molly Crabapple on solitary confinement


Friday, March 13, 2015

CAMBODIAN SUN

I'm in Cambodia.

It is a little warm, not as humid as expected, every night theres a cool breeze - I've the better deal here than if I'd stayed home during summer.

I'm a lot happy, a little overwhelmed.

I've shot 2 spoken word videos which will hopefully see the light of day in a couple of months - the Cambodian based, Japanese director Masahiro Sugano begins a 2 month US tour of (his) Studio Revolt's documentary Cambodian son in a day so we'll get to the videos eventually. Video still below so you get a sneak peek.



Masahiro and his wife, the interdisciplinary artist and arts administrator (my words) Anida Yoeu Ali and their three little people have welcomed me both professionally and socially with wide open arms. Won't forget that Fam.

I've met really cool folks, two friends flew in a couple of days after me so we've made a meal of Phnom Penh, along the way we added the like minded to our culture-addicted retinue.

I had a major question to answer in coming here but I think the question has in a lot of ways changed and my original response is rendered obsolete.

The space has asked a few things of me that I have attempted to give/into. But I still cross motorbike riddled streets with greater caution than is exhibited by the amazingly decisive locals.

As a Motswana living primarily in Botswana I have always occupied a position of social power - I am in the majority, local, black, somewhat articulate in the two languages of academic and commercial authority. I didn't see another black person until my third day in Phnom Penh. But on some level I choose these temporary departures from home ground and because my collective memory and ...approach to race is shaped by my national historical context and my social vantage point I am at home navigating temporarily through ...difference.
'Be warned some will exoticise you' was emailed pre-trip as a friendly warning. 'Pretty lady' which I assume is standard attention grabbing stuff, got yelled at me at least thrice on my second day here. A group of children froze then shrieked excitedly all at once but there were cameras around and they must have mistakenly thought I was some hitherto unknown famous celebrity :). Another lot of children touched my hair and frowned or giggled - my position regarding children is clear, I will never shame one for their curiosity. I will rather find time to engage, to instruct on the basics of etiquette -ask before you touch - to demystify this hair that stays coiled like rope when 'mine needs rubbers at the end to hold' :)

The reading I participated in at Java Cafe was one of the best spaces I've stepped into in a while, that had a lot to do with who I shared the stage with and how beautifully the audience's engagement framed the entire night.

I'm here for a short while longer, I've taken a few things off my pre-planned itinerary and I've decided that I will (inshallah, god willing, knock on wood etc) return to this space before too, too long.

What did I expect before coming to Cambodia? Some of what I've seen and a lot that I've had to re-imagine; which always makes for a great trip. I am taking some thing home with me, time will tell if it takes root and what becomes of it.

I had a little bit of work to do for the Sylt Foundation which concerns itself with building networks across the world and with facilitating residencies and translating and publishing various African writers in German. I'm more than happy with the conversations we've had thus far.

A city of many faces - under perpetual physical and social construction: contested spaces, wealth and poverty, backpackers, tourists who never left, exiled Khmer-Americans painfully navigating their (re)new(ed) idea of home, more NGOs per capita than the number of annual rice harvests, very fixed ideas about one's station in life, gorgeous sunsets, plenty tuk tuks, unsupervised children selling jasmine flowers long after dark, fantastic food, petite local girls in the company of foreign men likely to have been their own fathers' baby-sitters, a tenuous co-existence between national memory and what passes for moving past it, and of course various artists working to occupy and reshape these spaces in the national psyche.

constant (re)construction of the city

the day market

playing my position as a tourist



catch PBS's Cambodian made Verses in Exile series online