Thus Spake Roundsquare ....

...and every of his written literary thought!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

You Must to Start Early

Behind the wheel was Abdituk-tuk the Irie Priest, aka Abdi-Arsenaali, the staunch sycophant of Arsenal and always high on this-and-that substance. I had endured this versatile Conqueror of Rush Hour for a long time. I adored his street wisdom, and respected his judgment, clouded in PhD, permanent head damage, chewing khat that made him spell his name backwards; yet he rode the tuk-tuk in a drunken stupor—as long as the tuk-tuk was sober.
~Image: Tuk Tuk Tours via Soweto Backpackers

As the senile century turned nineties, a host of Chinese citizens pounced upon Nairobi with tenacious teeth that clenched tight to concrete dreams. The toothless city received this invasion much easier than the wallahs of India who had laid her foundation a century earlier. Their wills laboured in her underbelly until she birthed colossal skyscrapers and superhighways, cultural centres and tiny pagodas nourished by three-star restaurants, simmering Chinese dishes and exclusive cuisines, Buddhist temples and monkish clubs and Confucius schools. The metropolitan seeds stirred; nurturing, bearing fruits in her concrete jungles, extending a ripened reward to everyone according to their work.

With tyranny of numbers, they settled down to their ‘tiny empires’ in strongly built uptowns—surrounded by Walls of China, fortified by baked brick, reinforced by electric fence—and leafy suburbs watched by CCTV cameras. Big Brother Securicor patrolled their terrazzo-paved boulevards, escorted by dogs, and with clockwork precision, the county council collected their trash bins, greedily sucking up all sewage and excessive wastes, in dead of night, anonymous and in oblivious obscurity. For the Far Eastern Asian denizens, a yearning had been awakened and conquered. Theirs was a satiated city, a sleepy suburb; theirs were bellies bursting with pleasant belches. Theirs was peopled with yellow envoys, peeping with diplomatic eyeballs.

Inviting themselves too, to relish in the ‘green city under the sun’ were swarms of slum hustlers who subsisted hassling in unlisted estates bearing such Sheng-coded names of Isiich Base, Dandoch Massive, Bangla Kona Biad, and all other odds and ends of trashopolistan of Eastlands. Survived strapping, these restless but unwelcome cockroaches, were accorded cold reception by the impassive city under the vigilant makarau wa gava, and as if sprayed, they scurried backwards downtown, preferring riverbanks residence, and along under-construction Chinese bypasses in dilapidated polythene tents. There, they lived in village hovels drying out their dreams as raisins under the sun, as a people battered, in a shanty town, in the ghetto Golgotha, the unsightly town for sacrificial scapegoats, a universal visual evil, an abysmal symbol for the city.

There, the riffraff gawked into the city’s skyline, rising and rising with smog into the ozone-layered sphere as their thousand chimneys blackened their azure sky with smoke. There, they subsisted in a ‘dark city under green-house gases’ and added odds, by multiplying as a mice populace with litters of hustlers; for those who could afford, packed their tired limbs in bed-sitter apartments, high-rise buildings, single rooms, living on top of each other, in plots grabbed by rook or crook, stealing and staring at one another with contaminated collected countenances; a crooked look, of men living and loving their crooked neighbours with crooked hearts—for a friend you could choose; not a neighbour!

Those who wouldn’t afford honest homes, collected rags and tarpaper to build their nests under unfinished concrete jungles and gathered firewood to keep warm their indecent decadence. Though they followed faithfully the scriptures that said, ‘thou shalt eat thy bread in the sweat of thy brow,’ the sad reality was to peasants, a bloated bread that tasted their own sweat, yet totally tasteless, sickened them until the pangs of hunger blurred their prayer into a twisted swearing ‘thou shalt starve ere I starve!’ But since man couldn’t live on bread alone, they toasted too to air burgers polished with leftover oil, hovering in shapes of dreams, airs of dreams floating into their city, realism dreams. The rising dream to escape the reality of peeping poverty staring. The dream to be landlords, demanding a lease of life until they fulfilled their will, become free and great; and moved on to the greener pastures of the city as millionaires.

Life proposing no such promise, instead these squatters of shanty town, crouched eking on their knees, in the sea of mud and scum of earth; that when they walk to work, their second-hand shoes exposed filthy feet and tired toes wallowing in the dirty potholes of Eastlands. Trading their brute force and sinewy hands for food, cleaning Chinese roads, washing Chinese houses, scouring, picking up garbage cans, keeping expired food, unseen, selling useless things hardly thought about, polishing their opportunities and in menacing silence and offended pride, they desired, longing for their own dream; hoping they could live in liberty, finally, and rise to welcome life with vigour and valour or such like values, their ghetto could accord.

Like the Chinese, they too tasted triumphs in the bitter battles to stir up Kenya’s industrial muscle. Open opportunities were grabbed before they exited through the back window with new energies that nurtured on determined wills as its force. Life again became promising, bursting, and blooming, blowing as a soft gale the Y2K bug further into the unfamiliar millennium of unchartered century, for the industries would not only revolutionise Kenya’s economy, but also pollute the environment; and the smooth superhighways speed up global warming!
As expected, a Sino-bourgeoisie class sprang—swelling as if competing to replace the Made in China wares—in uptown; pseudo-technocrats, and former foremen who filled every spare space, supervising with an iron hand African hands, building this or fixing that. China became a poem with a rhyme scheme so enticing as a social statement, and so contemporary as a betrayal even worse as the suffering children of communism who as successful adults, journeyed West and, ironically, kept alive similar capitalism against which they had protested in the first place.

A Chinese scheme, it seem, had been conspired to scatter Maoist seeds into African soils. It seem, of their exploding population, that photocopied pieces of China had been copied and pasted, and forwarded with attachments into the city, and the city ‘owners started noticing’ how many Made in China wares decorated their households; as if they had brought all their China overseas and left none back there. And being all day building bridges, streets, roads, and at night mingling with and singling out the oldest profession, it can be imagined, the results after nine months: Wanjiru wa Wu and Ngugi wa Nging Ngong –the mottled conjugation of Afro-Sino cultures.

One such conjugated union was Murder Shiro, the socialite of Urusi; a juicy story that buzzed across both social and unsocial media. The fecund fruit, Wangui wa Wangdu, was sold away for many pieces of Chinese silver, and went on to live in the custody of his father in Guangdong and with such a drama that’d inspire a Chinese Chalk Circle. Yet, such was the amicable but distant pact that contented the socialite Shiro; for it established her ‘Merde She-Wrote’ notoriety and ensured her daughter’s success.

The Shiro stain had rusted in peace; well, as the Y2K wore on, until we got a call from the most unlikely quarters. Through a referral, a Mr. Wangdu who sent his PA to our Westlands Tuition Centre and required me to personally attend to his child’s private studies after a place had already been secured at the prestigious ISK for an AS Level. The student wanted help taking an IB before proceeding to the States to study architecture like the father.

‘Mr. Busy Wangdu want sree monss for perfect American English.’ He said.
‘Mr. Busy?’
‘Yeah, Busy.’ And he spelled B-i X-i when he saw my confusion, pronouncing it in his Mandarin monosyllables, asking for only three months, for me to tutor her daughter, polish her accent until she spoke like an American.

‘She finish English grammar school in Guangdong only teacher teach English in Chinese.’ The PA struggled in his sluggish Chinglish, giving me the only Learner Info ‘record’ that she had already had her grammar polished by a local English teacher back in her rural China. ‘You come Brook Highs Leakey Crescent Sunday sewen sharp?’ He directed, handing me his master’s card, and after putting down a generous down payment, hastily left.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Review of Mariama Bâ’s "Un Chant 'Ecarlate" ("Scarlet Song")

The status of women in Muslim religion revealed by cultural die-hards, and the mother-in-law!

Mariama  Bâ towers in French Literature; she could have borrowed some salt from (LSS) Leopold Sedar Senghor, when her father worked for his government as a minister for health. While LSS glorified Mother Africa’s past through his Negritude literary movement, Bâ highlighted on the disparity the woman felt in general and as a mother in particular because of patriarchy and religion—Islam for her case—in this self-same society. Her work portrays women of Africa as resilient and proves that this grandmother, this mother, this sister, this daughter, this cousin and this friend is the “mother of Africa” and that she is essential to the very society that is busy alienating her.

In childhood, she was raised by her extended family, and had to struggle to get an education, like most girl children in Africa. Later in her life, her first hand brush with this traditional inequality is seen through her disastrous marriage to an MP and ended in a divorce and the experience found a vent in her ‘So Long a Letter’, what Abiola Irele referred to as ‘the most deeply felt presentation of the female condition in African fiction’. But even then, that was a poor transposition of the length the society has misplaced the woman.
And this is the scenario that gave birth to ‘Scarlet Song’, which depicts the hurdles a woman meets first as a result of a youthful lust, and later after her marriage to a man who leaves her for a younger ‘traditional and beautiful’ woman.  Mireille, daughter of a French diplomat, secretly marries Ousmane, a son of a poor Senegalese Muslim family. He goes through a transformation, in Dakar to Paris, and back Dakar to embrace his roots, traditions and customs of his ‘elders’. As an Occidental, his White wife is unable to adjust and fit in easily with this lifestyle, and it gets worse when his ‘Liberal’ husband takes another wife, a veritable killer in her marriage.

It’s an ingredient of conflict and this is what , ‘a modern Muslim woman’, ridicules—despotism, chauvinism and ‘dying’ tradition, at the same time develops the anguish brought by cross-cultural marriages.
It’s a work that not only explores incompatible culture clash but also with the woman on the losing end.  Their initial idyll liaison to survive against odds is shattered by the realities on the ground and climaxes with a marriage that distresses and depresses both sets of parents. And sooner than later, it’s apparent that their Romeo and Juliet escapades and romance is ‘a poor defense against the pressures of society’. Ousmane is enticed back to his roots, while Mireille is left disgraced, lonely ‘with her exquisite bathroom and expensive toiletries’.

She’s a resilient tigress and bent on saving her marriage against all odds and family and cultural bigotry. This is where the book delves deep into the significantly pressing need for women to create empowerment to dispel titles that define them and disprove the clichés of being referred to as ‘weaker sex’, and societal scapegoats but like tigresses, should pounce as Soyinka said. But Bâ’s misanthropy swings in action when things must nose-dive and plunge into an abysmal moral decay and previously deeply held beliefs confronted after we tread the road to the other side of society where  absurdity lurks and enables us to consider critically sensitive issues of race, intolerance, matrimony, loyalty, and tradition into the bargain.

Their story-book romance is unable to survive ‘ruthless’ traditions and expectations of her in-laws and the general relations of the extended family. The mother- in-law, true to her Mrs. Grundy prudery, mocks her and calls her a jinni that has bewitched her son. Ousmane, now a former self, after being hen-pecked by his mother, slowly reverts into his cultural cocoon, deserting  his wife for his childhood secret crush, Ouleymatou, who had despised his advances when they were young, for the young Ousmane, ‘smelled fish’ and was a ‘mama’s boy’. This is where tradition kicks in and turns a blind eye, even with his religious father and blesses the illicit union because they couldn’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Mireille hopes to have a moment of ‘reculer pour sauter mieux’ in her bid to avenge herself, but only suffers a mental breakdown. 

Hell hath no Fury... Song of Lawino by Okot P’Bitek

                                                                     'One does not uproot the pumpkin of the homestead' 

Sharing one man—legally or illegally—is a source of conflict in many cultures, religions and societies all over the world. Many books filled with such interesting stories are all over—from the Desperate Housewives to the Mexican Soaps and real life dramas having sexual intrigues and marital discord as their selling point. The setting in the poetic narrative, Song of Lawino, is no different. Set in the dim pre-colonial Acholi community from the Northern Uganda, a village woman, Lawino, laments the loss of her husband Ocol, to her ‘rival’ Clementina.  

Lawino fights to keep her man in her bosom, and keep at bay her rival, Tina, ‘the beautiful one’ who has a head start for she’s educated, westernised and a modern woman. Lawino uses the weapon of tradition. She’s not against sharing her man, for polygamy is endorsed in her traditional community—whereas Tina who has seen the light, is single—but for the fact that her rival is having an affair with a married man by laying her ‘boob traps’ that ensnare any rich man through her wiles.
Polygamy is prestigious and admirable in Acholi culture, and there are well-defined rights and duties of a husband and wife. But a modern woman, her rival, her problem, is taking short cuts instead of coming out in the open and consummating her illicit affair. Lawino has no problem with polygamy—it’s not a big deal to share a man—but has a bone to pick with the character of her rival who is destroying the traditional marriage institution. 

Her husband gives her unfair demands—she has to learn how to read, become a Christian and modernize herself—a poor criteria of a good woman, if her own definition and qualification of an African woman is to go by. She finds it odd, for example, that the modern man, through Ocol, is preoccupied with time. He seems to be possessed and controlled by time, and not the other way round. In her traditional setting, she doesn’t even have a fixed time for breastfeeding. Time seem to control Ocol. He is left at the mercy of its elements and her time-conscious rival takes this into her stride. 

She admits her ignorance with anything modern but still needs a man she’s lost. In his rejoinder the husband, through his wry song (Song of Ocol), dismisses her and her tradition and confirms her assessment of negative character and experiences of the ordered western lifestyle. Ocol is incapable of responding to Lawino’s song and he is genuine in his lamenting song for the dying tradition. He confirms what Lawino suspects, that culture is unable to resist the glamour of civilisation. He celebrates the dying of culture—and its minions like Lawino—and embraces the new world without apologies. He agrees with Tina that not only must the old culture be destroyed but is also an inevitable necessity. 


Celebrating womanhood the modern way

Most books on gender debate revolve around the axle of imbalance in the way men and women relate to one another, in their division of labour, including sharing the products of that labour, such as property, and these books further declare that whereas women are part of division of labour, there’s discrimination in distributing the fruits. This is what Margaret Ogola tackles in her works, especially the novel The River and the Source but adds a few tinges of the impacts of colonialism along these gender lines.

She bases her characters on theoretical framework and what we as a society have upheld from time immemorial. She delves deep into the mind concept of a woman (based on ideas) against the societal definition. And therefore, while the image of a woman is celebrated, that of man is trounced in the text, defeating the balance equation she set to address, because the typical men presented suffer greatly—as head of the family, commander, or dictator. This is the shortfall reflected in the text, against the perspective of gender equality (awareness) and mocks such a ‘lovely book on gender equality, just waiting to be read’ as one publisher poured it praises.

Ogola’s premise is the ageing tradition that most—if not all—societies in the world are patriarchal in nature, and culturally excludes women in important matters. Her Luo community is not different because in the private sphere, it not only restricts the woman to the family domain, where she devotes herself to family cooking and taking care of basic needs, but also in the public sphere, as demonstrated in Achebe’s things fall apart, the Ibo woman was not considered a decision maker. For example, when Mama Nwonna asks, ‘is he (the visitor) staying with us long?’ Her husband’s rhetoric reply, ‘when did you become an elder of Umuofia?’ says it all. This discrimination is present in all areas of her life—be it economic activities or in the politics. Patriarchy in Ogola’s Luo community is exemplified in the extreme Otieno’s bigotry, and it’s nothing short of chauvinism.

The text intends to address this imbalance by extolling Wandia, Becky, and Vera (her heroines) to the public sphere, against the basic idea that a woman belongs only at home. The three break this patriarchical tradition by multi-tasking—combining both domestic chores and scaling high in public affairs, all at the same time, a change due to the new circumstances, Becky as a flight attendant and Wandia as professor.

Uta Do? By Agatha Verdadero

‘So…, What Do You Do?’ ‘Aaah…, I Hassle!’

If you are young like Mr. Roundsquare playing hide and seek with job interviews, then don’t let a badge of disappointment mar your brow at the realization that you didn’t land in your dream job, or put your talents where they matter most—and often in one of those a white or other lighter coloured jobs. There might just be a hope and a glimmering smile for you in form of a book. An enterprising business genius—she insists she’s no Branson or Trump in this field, but still gives inspiring and accomplished rags-to-riches stories—has come up with a Young Entrepreneur Series on how to get started and support for you business idea. To offer you ‘solid tips and practical info on what you need to know, do and say as you hustle your way into the business world.’

The book’s title Uta Do?, Sheng’s (a youth’s version of Kiswahili is a cocktail of English and Kiswahili spoken lingo spoken widely by Kenya’s youth) means what and how you would do what you have to do’, is narrated by an all-knowing omniscient, Mjuaji, whom the author utilizes to blend in with the intended young readers—in whose language she speaks—so that they can to stop dreaming and start doing what a man must do. 

In the words of Doreen Baingana, its editor, ‘you may have cleared college, or high school, but now what? Or may have worn out your pairs of shoes, and hired suits better than our Mr. Roundsquare in a bid to land into that dream job.’ But things never work out the way you wish them to, and it hits you that this was neither in the pages that you missed after reading all those books nor wasn’t taught in your bright college years.  Basically, how do you make things happen? How do get your bling-bling job kick? 

Imagine this. You wake up one morning, and BAM! It hits you! You have a novel idea for a new start up of your talents or the current passion that you could turn it into a money minting project. But before you can go to the bank, it occurs to you have no idea about the finer workings of the bank. This book offers to guide you through these rigorous processes.

It promises too, to guide you through its three-part presentations that you don’t need to be a straight-A student or an MBA graduate to grasp the concepts of entrepreneurship. You just have to be persistent and committed to your goals. You too can make it if you try if you follow the numerous success-story real life examples of all those who have made it—against insurmountable odds—to the dream of swimming in a pool filled with thousand shilling notes after someone bought into their business idea, but be prepared to sweat, bleed for its fulfillment.

One such remarkable example is Kenya’s leading chain of supermarkets’, the proprietors of Nakumatt that nothing came easy — the first principle of the school of hard knocks for you. But don’t despair, don’t give up!’ one of the proprietors advises. ‘Don’t think you’ll forever remain a non-starter. There are ways of overcoming those difficulties. And reading the book is definitely one of them.

About Me

My photo

Blog Archive


Networked blogs

Powered by weRead