You can count on one hand the number of times you’ve breezed through passport control, with little beyond a cursory glance and a robotic stamp, sometimes even a “welcome home” that you never bothered to correct. That kind of ease is unusual.
From as early as 5 years old, you knew that the Zambian passport, black and gold, meant a separate line that grew quickly and moved slowly. At 13 you graduated from simply being a name, sex and date in your mother’s passport to having one of your own, and learnt about three month “visitor’s visas” to South Africa that were constantly renewed – necessary for Sunday mass, cross-border shopping trips, music classes, and anything else you couldn’t get while living in the strange, small country within a country.
Elsaphan Njora- © Japicha
January 11th, 2018. Members of the Too Early for Birds crew are seated inside Kenya National Theatre, just off the stage. They are unable to rehearse because of delays with the décor. There is a familiar reggae track playing in the background, a work song for the carpenters and painters onstage. The crew is talking, with Abu Sense (real name Abubakar Majid) using his phone as a microphone. Abu is a handsome man, with a small build and a light brown complexion. His face, about which a lot has been tweeted and posted on Facebook, and which is not-too-subtly used by the show as a marketing gimmick, meshes with his beard in a way that suggests a cute chubbiness when younger, and at the same time somehow confuses one as to whether he is Swahili, Arab or Barawa. Whenever he gets on stage, one is surprised at how loud he becomes, but at this point, neither his face nor his voice are important. What is important is the conversation that has developed this evening as an alternative to the full run of the play they were supposed to do. This conversation, which Ngartia J. Bryan, a cast member who alongside Abu is normally accepted as the public face of Too Early for Birds, keeps on interrupting with his puns, is supposed to be turned into a podcast later. The conversation, conducted in Sheng’, centres on domestic violence. Elsaphan Njora, another cast member, swears to stay out of other people’s fights. Brian Ogola, a cast member who plays Patrick Shaw, the extra-judicial-killing supporting, underage-student-recruiting white supremacist settler Patrick David Shaw, as loud and abrasive offstage as he is onstage, is regaling his listeners with tales of the fights he has witnessed. At one point, he talks about his parents. “That shit, it confuses you. And you end up hating your mother. On the one hand, she is telling you be strong, to be a man. On the other, she is staying in this violent relationship. Hii mambo ya we belong together is absolute nonsense.” Elsaphan asks, in a Ndii-esque manner, “Would you rather stay in that relationship and die? Because sometimes that’s the choice.”
Lizzy Attree is a figure of importance in African writing, particular with her work as the director of the Caine Prize from 2014-2018, a director on the board of Short Story Day Africa, and as the co-founder of the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature. She spoke to Carey Baraka about her short story on Enkare Review this week, A Funeral in Kumasi, and other things in-between.
The MMT buses from Cape Coast to Kumasi run on time. Luggage is weighed and ticketed; seats fill up from the back; and flip down seats are added into the aisle space. The teenager sitting next to Lucy borrows her novel, Arrows of Rain, and reads it as fast as he can. Failing to finish it before they arrive, he gives the book back without a word. The bus stop in Kumasi is packed and chaotic. Vendors saunter gracefully, balance baskets on their heads containing small plastic packets of water, sweets, crisps, plantain chips, cashews and toenail clippers. The centre of the marketplace has been shifted temporarily while a new bus station is built. Lucy and Ben take a cab to the Presbyterian boarding house where they will stay for a few dollars in spartan rooms that at least have a creaky fan and mosquito nets.
Our sense of self is normally tied to a picture of what home is for us. To many of us, home is defined by a particular location and with reference to a particular group of people. Should any of these factors change, then our entire conception of home, and therefore, our ideas of self, risk being destroyed. Think Jende and Neni, the main characters in Imbolo Mbue’s Behold The Dreamers, losing themselves in the United States because the US is not Limbe. Think Isaiah Bolton in Yvonne Adhiambo’s Dust travelling to Wuoth Ogik to pursue the memory of his father. But what does it mean when the physicality and demographic of home remain constant, but neither of the two can remember the person? Is the person’s home still their home?