Author Archives: Malaka

A Beginner’s Guide to Steamy Sex in African Literature!

I’ve recently begun getting into podcasts and This Afropolitan Life (TAL) has become an early favorite. TAL is “a blog that inspires Afropolitan women to live stylishly, adventurously, conscientiously, and confidently—by a woman who’s trying to do the same. “ Clarissa Bannor hosts each show (or at least each episode I’ve listened to thus far) where she catches up with influencers in the arts, entertainment and the table. You thought “politics” was going to take the last category eh? No! I think we Africans are probably more invested in what we eat than who runs our respective democracies/dictatorships.  (See the Jollof Wars for reference.)

So as I was saying, I tuned into this week’s episode because Clarrisa was interviewing Zahrah Ahmed, curator of Book Shy Books about what books should be on our beach/summer reads for 2016. @bookshybooks and I recently began following one another on Twirra, and it’s always nice to place a voice with a handle. I listened in with a smile playing about on my lips for the full 28 minutes. ( Click HERE to listen to their amusing conversation.)

Clarissa and Zahrah ran down an impressive list of authors and titles from varying genres; Genres like sci-fi, young adult and horror that don’t readily come to mind when we think of “African literature”. Ben Okri, Chimamanda No-Last-Name-Needed, NoViolet Bulawayo, Nnedi Okorafor and Buchi Emecheta made the list for obvious reasons. These are all brilliant African writers. NONE of these authors write steamy (African) romance, however. When it comes to sex in the African context – or between two African partners particularly – I think the perception that the sex is primarily (and unavoidably) awkward, messy, cumbersome and/or forced or violent in literature still persists.

Perhaps this perception is what prompted Clarissa to ask earnestly:

“African sex scenes…who does that well? I’ve heard Boakyewaa Glover does a good job in The Justice. Do we typically do good sex scenes?”

…to which Zahrah earnestly replied:

“Well, Ben Okri won the bad sex in fiction award.” Then she mentioned Ankara Press.

…which had me screaming at my iPhone:

“Ladies! Sisters!! Africans write loads of steamy, panty sopping, abeg let me get a drink of ice-water before we continue, sex!”

They couldn’t hear me outchea in the ether, so there was only one thing to do: head over to Twirra and take the conversation there. After much playful banter, Zahrah suggested that I put together a list of steamy African literature for beginners. Never one to back down from a challenge, to scooped up the gauntlet and will now introduce to some and present to others

Ten Books to Get you Hyped about African Romance/Sex/Erotica.

 

  • The Justice – Boakyewaa Glover41bL63TB3pL._SY346_
  • TOWGA (The One Who Got Away) – Sharlene Apples41tYggH9tjL._SY346_
  • Destiny Mine – Nana Prah

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  • Chancing Faith – Empi Baryeh51L-icIpXKL._SY346_
  • Africa Hot: West African Stories of Sex and Love – Nnenna Marcia514l-iNDhlL
  • The Daughters of Swallows – Malaka Grant
  • malaka-book-ad
  • Keeping Secrets – Kiru Taye (Kiru also writes fantastic period drama/historical romance.)D1BnJK4eu8S._SL250_FMpng_
  • Everything Nana Malone has ever written – Nana Malone (Seriously. It’s hard to pick ONE title!)D1okM2PqbGS._SL250_FMpng_
  • Lover of Her Sole – Malaka.51FPn2KcxsL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_
  • Novellas from Ankara Press – Various AuthorsxQdIUpwY

 

The content in each of these titles is diverse with the heat ranging from PG-13 to R. Read your blurbs and choose books according to your steam tolerance wisely! And don’t worry: there aren’t any doe-eyed women strolling wistfully in meadows contemplatively reflecting on whether their paramour would’ve fought harder for the longevity of the relationship if only she’s pounded her fufu a little harder and made it a little softer. What I like about each of these books is that the heroines are relatable and realistic. This is contemporary African romance!

You’ve probably noticed that few of the names of the authors on this list are “big in the industry”. That’s because African romance – with its themes and scenes and reactions they illicit are enjoyed privately – does not have the benefit of broad-based support publicly. That’s a political discussion for another time. Nevertheless, these authors produce great work filled with rich plots and multi-dimensional characters.

 

Have you read any of the books on this list? Is there a title or an African author who you would recommend to someone who’s curious about the genre? Leave the details in the comments below!

 

 

 

The Upside to Brexit: Britons Disprove Their Presumed Superiority

None of my English friends are actually “English”. They are English men and women of Nigerian/Ghanaian/Jamaican decent. Their ties to England (and to their precious, burgundy UK passports) usually begins with some 419-marriage-for-papers; or with their parents lucking out by getting pregnant and delivering them in the UK whilst in university during the 70s; or by overstaying their student visas and slotting themselves firmly into the cog work of English society. They are English in the same way that I am American: African by birth, Western by chance. And yet despite this cumbersome, shaky relationship with our adopted countries, each of us has taken on the mantle of continuing the old rivalries from the original inhabitants (or invaders). African-English folk refer to us African-Americans as “you Americans”, an appellation that is usually followed by the phrase “are so dumb”.

Among our many crimes as Americans are:

  • Voting George Bush into office twice. (I want to add that that wasn’t the fault of the people. That was the Electoral College.)
  • Failing to enact gun control legislation.
  • Refusing to add an extra vowel in the spelling of words such as ‘color’ and ‘neighborhood’, or reordering the placement of the letter e in words like ‘center’ and ‘meter’.
  • Our insane insistence on driving on the other side of the road.
  • Our inability to control our portions, leading to an epidemic of obesity and heart disease.

You get the picture.

There is a tenuous relationship between Britain and America, one built on admiration won and disgust earned in equal measure. Yet through it all, the English have always maintained their position of racial, cognitive and social superiority. America’s latest offense? Allowing Donald Trump to get this close to the presidency. How stupid can you Americans be?

Well, now thanks to Brexit – a contraction and joining of the words Britain and exit – you Brits can answer that question simply by looking in the mirror. Muahahahahaaa!!!

Can I tell you how delighted I am? This is just fantastic!

As I watched the Pound slide to 30 year lows after the results of the vote were announced, I was met with a sense of awe. This quickly gave way to a perverse sense of pleasure. Yes! All your too-known. All your fear mongering and xenophobia. Here are the fruits of the bitter seeds you’ve planted. Who’s the dummy now?

The English STAY dogging the American education system. But how do you send out legions of people to vote who don’t even know what they are voting for? Eh? Did you see this? Did you see what the British were Googling after they realized what they’d done to themselves?

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And then there was THIS chick, whose regrets apparently represent a fair majority of the voting populace. Look at her face.

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Like the guy who found the perfect relationship, couldn’t decide if he wanted to pull out or not, makes a hasty decision, and now he can’t live happily squandering the fruits of Oprah’s hard earned labor. This coulda been YOU, England:

Now, top EU leaders want England to pack its stuff and get out as “quickly as possible”. Hei! Talk about a bitter divorce!

Now, of course these setbacks – the pounds sharp decline, their economy shrinking by 100 billion in ONE DAY, the hysteria and morning after regret – are only temporary. I mean, this is Britain, conqueror of the entire world. They will rebound, because allowing this once great superpower to collapse completely would signal a devastating end to Western superiority as we’ve always known it; And though they may want to punish Britain in the short term, those who believe in the cause of white supremacy will never allow this to happen. Britain can’t become a failed state. It’s not like it’s Ghana where corruption is the norm and patriotism is a myth. This is Britain. The Queen lives there.

Nevertheless, this is a great day for America and Americans. We get to look at England and thumb our noses back, for once. We are finally on equal footing. You Brits, with your cricket and your afternoon tea and your NHIS are no different from us. Our paths our now firmly entwined. Welcome to the future.

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I’ll Never Be Able to Make My Children Happy in Africa

Not that that’s a problem.

I’ve all but abandoned the quest to guide and ensure my children’s happiness.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t do everything in my power to make sure that they are healthy individuals, equipped with the tools to lead sorta successful lives at some point in the future. But happiness? That’s not something I can do for them. It took going to Shack Church to realize this.

Our family goes to worship at a church in Kwanokuthula (Kwano for short), a township just outside on Plett in the direction of Cape Town. In township hierarchy, Kwano is where Soweto was in the 1980’s before Blacks, now armed with middle class income, moved (back) into the township and gave it an economic shot in the arm. There is another township called Qolweni that is about 2 miles down the road, westward. The folks in Kwano call Qolweni a bad place to live. It’s kind of like the pot calling the kettle black, but not really. This pot has some shine to it, ya dig?

Anyway. That’s where we worship.

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Like any township, Kwanokuthula is subject to extensive power outages. These Sunday mornings without electricity don’t bother me. In fact, I prefer going to church without power. EVERYONE has to participate in praise when there it no electricity. There is no competition between the praise leader, her microphone and portable loudspeaker and the children in gumboots stomping their feet with the lights are out. It’s great. I love it. My children don’t.

The two Sundays that we have attended church in Kwano (two weeks ago we were in Port Elizabeth visiting at a colored church) my children have sat sullenly in their seats, their spoiled little faces curled up like sour milk, looking aloof and eager to do nothing else but leave.

They are not used to ‘doing church’ this way. In America, every charismatic church has a similar format: You have praise and worship in the main sanctuary, collect the offering, and send the children back to children’s church where they will be instructed in Biblical half truths and perhaps watch an episode or six of ‘Veggie Tales’. Then they’ll draw a picture of a cross with crayon and present it to their parents. It’s their reasonable service.

Ain’t no children’s church in the township. Ain’t no crayons and TVs. Ain’t no graham crackers in exchange for feigned obedience. Here, you have the word of God, some hymns, and for the next two hours, it’s all done in Afrikaans and/or Xhosa. If you’re lucky there might be a guy who speaks English in the congregation called up to translate a portion of it.

The first time my kids sat frowning and hunched over in their chairs after being so warmly greeted by our new church family, I felt sorry for them. This was new for ALL of us, and my husband was the only one who rushed into service with gusto and authority. I tried to soothe them with promises that it would all be over soon and we’d be home before they knew it; We couldn’t possibly sleep here, right? The guarantees did nothing to console them. They became more and more drear until the final song was sung and the township disappeared from view once we piled into our car. It was only then that the spirit of life filtered into their bodies and their attitudes became bearable again.

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The second time (this Sunday) I was having none of it. They had just eaten a warm breakfast and had plenty of time to laze about until we announced that it was time to leave for church. It began with the youngest caterwauling the moment we pulled up in front of the building, protesting about the length and decibels of worship. I ignored her, but she’s a persistent Muppet. Eventually, she got a reaction from me, although it was not the one she was hoping for. The other three were sitting stone-faced yet again and I began growling under my breath as the spirit of revelation hit me.

“All right y’all,” I snapped. “New rule: When everyone else is standing, YOU stand. When everyone else is clapping, YOU clap.”

Did they like that? Not one bit. Did I care? Even less.

Because in that moment – the moment where everyone else was singing joyfully about stomping Satan under their feet, complete with pantomime – I came to a divine understanding. If you can’t find happiness in a place where you’re within 15 minutes walking distance of a clean beach, have access to a river where you can fish and canoe, a big ol’ field to run around in, cable TV, snacks on demand and internet access (even if it IS sometime-y); and all it costs you is some obedience and/or gratitude? Then there’s nothing I can do to make you happy. That kind of joy is something you’re going to have to invoke from within yourself. In the meantime, you better sit up in this Shack Church and fake praise Him until you make it!

MOM Squad, can I tell you how free I feel now? I anticipate experiencing many moments of this sort of freedom.

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Now that summer break is officially on for everyone is the northern hemisphere, how has it been going for you? Do you feel pressure to keep your kids entertained every moment of the day? Do your children’s cries of “I’m booorrrred!” stir an unsettling emotion within you? Discuss!

Get free, MOM Squad! Get freeeeee!!!!

A rainbow and a sign of God’s covenant. Get free, MOM Squad! Get freeeeee!!!!

Ghana’s Kotoka International Airport Gets A Facelift – But Corruption, Bribery Prevail

There’s ALWAYS some sort of bribery or money bilking scam going on at Kotoka International Airport. Between the yellow fever vaccination booklet scam, the baggage handlers stealing your luggage, and the customs officers’ expectant query about what you have “brought them from America”, it’s always a miracle when the traveler exits the airport’s sliding doors with their wits intact. Kotoka is a den of iniquity. It is a chaotic, incomprehensible hellscape. If you’ve entered Ghana via that airport in the last 20 years, you will attest that this is no exaggeration. Ice Cube got outta Compton with more ease than you will through Kotoka and its parking lot.

But there’s great news! The linear processes aren’t getting any better and the staff are just as arrogant and deceptive, but the airport is getting a facelift! *confetti*

Jemila Abdulai, my sister in blog, recently returned from Germany and had Ghana’s special blend of corruption thrown right into her face as she was trying to Uber home. And since we are storytellers, she did what was only natural: she told the story of how she was subjected to extortion by the airport’s workers. For that ‘crime’, her award-winning blog was hacked. (It’s back up and running now. I personally think the hack was practice for whoever the IGP is going hire on election day, but that’s because I’m a cynic with trust issues.)

With her permission I am re-blogging her account of the ridiculous and heinous events here…because they can’t hack us ALL. And because we’re all tired of them pulling this ish.

Kotoka-branded
By JEMILA ABDULAI

Kotoka International Airport, Ghana’s only international airport, is getting a facelift and it’s beginning to show. From the new “visa on arrival” desk to the expanded arrivals immigration hall and luggage pickup carousels, the much-needed renovation project, which apparently started in 2014, is helping ease some of the congestion travelers experience through the port of entry. As they say however, beauty is only skin-deep. What about the other, more arduous surgery? The one that expunges memories of power plays and solicitation by airport officials and staff, saves the country millions of dollars, and securely establishes Ghana as the gateway to West Africa it claims to be? When does that work begin?

Stepping off the plane around 8:30pm on June 16, 2016, I was tired, but happy to be home. After days of dreary, cold weather in Germany, I didn’t mind that I had walked right into a travel guide or blog post: the balmy, hot Ghanaian air rushing to envelope itself around me while the unmistakable hint of salt danced about. As myself and the other passengers were transported by bus from the aircraft to the arrivals door, I caught a glimpse of bright lights in the distance: the very lights guiding workers through the night as they worked on constructing the new airport terminal. Terminal 3.

Only moments earlier, a KLM crew member had announced over loudspeaker, “Photos and videos on the airport premises are prohibited”. This is a first, I thought to myself, before shrugging it off. Maybe they want to keep things under wraps until the official unveiling, I reckoned – to offer a pleasant surprise to those who have yet to see the renovations.

Having already filled my arrival form, it took me five minutes to get through passport control and make my way over to the carousel. It would take another 30 minutes before my suitcase came into view. While waiting, I checked the Uber app periodically to see whether there were any cars in the vicinity. I finally found one as I placed my luggage on the airport stroller and headed towards the exit: it was five minutes away. After putting in my request, I continued towards customs control, bracing myself for the usual questions: “What did you bring me?” “Where and why did you travel?” “What’s in your bag?” Nothing. Not a single question. Well, that’s different, I thought to myself. Different, but welcome. After 14 hours of total travel time on subway, train and airplane, I was tired and looking forward to taking a shower and going straight to bed. The clock said 9pm, but my body knew better: it was 11pm. Jet lag had me running two hours ahead of time.

Continue reading at Circumspecte.com

Do Ghanaian Men Have a ‘Renters Mentality When It Comes to Marriage?

“Now you are married to somebody… and you’ve put your name on her, she’s called ‘Mrs your name’. That’s a serious responsibility when somebody is called ‘your name’. You’ve overthrown her father, and you’ve taken her father’s place, so, you got to behave seriously. I mean somebody’s life investment has been put in your hands. Don’t take it easily. Don’t just say: ‘You are my wife’. Do you know what it means? It means you are going to share your money”. – Dr. Mensa Otabil

 

Dr. Mensa Otabil is a theologian, philanthropist and founder of International Central Gospel Church (ICGC). I have never attended his church, but snippets from his leaked sermons online are generally well received by the general public, including me. He is a fair-minded man and politically non-partisan, if the re-shares on Facebook are to be believed. His expressed opinions on gender roles in the African and/or Judeo-Christian context constitute a revival of outlooks that were far more egalitarian two centuries ago than they are today. (I’ve written previously about the myriad and diverse freedoms and opportunities that our female ancestors enjoyed prior to contact with and domination by the Europeans. If you can’t find the post here, look for that evidence in a book or two.) So when I saw this quote attributed to him, I was understandably unsettled, as were many women who believe in the cause of social equality between the sexes.

I have struggled in vain to gain access to the entirety of this speech so that it can be put into context. I do not believe Dr. Otabil to same sort of backward woman-bashing, slam-you-over-the-head-with-a-Bible misogynist as Dag Heward-Mills or his spiritual father, Duncan Williams are. I expect this sort of talk from that pair and all whole harken to their insidious views. Dr. Otabil, however, has earned the benefit of further scrutiny, and I am eager to find out exactly WHAT he means by “you have overthrown her father and have taken her father’s place…”

To the casual male observer, there’s nothing wrong with this Otabil quote, even without context. According to the comments I’ve been privy to, this is just about a woman taking a man’s name after marriage and therefore no fuss is required. Feminists are just angry feminizing once again!

But as a WOMAN, a CHRISTIAN and a HUMAN BEING, I find this postulation quite disturbing. Dr. Otabil – who is clearly addressing men either in mixed company or exclusively, we don’t know – talks about the union between man and wife as an “investment”.

  • A woman is another man’s life investment and has been “put into your hands.”: This strips women – adults who have chosen their life partners – of their agency. They are objects to be handed over from man to the next.
  • You’ve overthrown her father and taken her father’s place: Again presenting the idea that a woman’s body is something captured and possessed, like some ancient city in the Middle East.
  • Don’t just say: ‘You are my wife’. Do you know what it means? It means you are going to share your money.: I want to believe that Dr. Otabil did not just equate the spiritual union between man and woman witnessed before God and man as a pyramid scheme!

“You are my wife” means you are going to share your money? Like a director in an Amway tier? Yesu the Messiah just come now on a cloud and take us all out of here!

It’s obvious why any (perceptive) woman would take umbrage with these utterances. Once again, we’ve been reduced to chattel, or jewels, or whatever inanimate object men must equate us to in order to assess value. You know, because our humanity is never enough. But for the sake of the metaphor and nothing else, therein lies my question to men:

Do you take a renter’s mentality when approaching the foundation of your marriage?

Mensa Otabil exhorts men to act more responsibly towards their wives because they have taken their surnames. She is no longer identified as herself – as an individual -or her father’s child, now that she has YOUR name. If she were a city, she’d be Kofi Town (or whatever).

There are several studies that show a stark difference in human behavior when people are given charge over something rented or worked to gain ownership of. The behavior is entirely different.

When you rent a tux for an event, you’re not concerned about if you spill tartar sauce on the lapels because you can get it dry cleaned, send it back to the rental company, and let the next guy deal with the stains you unsuccessfully tried to have washed out. But when that’s your ONLY tux that you bought and paid for, that you’ve worn on one happy occasion after another, you’re more observant about how you handle food around it. Because at the end of the day, it’s coming back home with you to hang in your closet. Same thing goes with car and home rentals. Many people are less concerned about the damage caused to the property because it’s someone else’s possession and in the long run, the damage done is not really their problem.

This is the renter’s mentality that allows certain Ghanaian men to banish their wives back to their father’s house when he’s done using her up because of *insert nonsensical culturally irrelevant reason here*

But, let’s be honest. Didn’t merely reading those scenarios make you feel slimy? Would you want anyone to describe you as a car, or a two-bedroom house, or a Jeep or any of the tired metaphors employed to determine what a woman reminds you of? Why does it take any of that to see Akosua/Patricia/Your Wife’s Name for who she is?

Do you have to own your wife to honor her and take responsibility in and for your marriage?

 

White Privilege Ran Into Our Car Today

The weather in Plett has been absolutely gorgeous, and if you follow us on Instagram, no doubt you’ve been diverted by the pictures of brilliant blue skies, the ocean’s sapphire surf and the majestic mountains all around us. Today, however, the temperatures dropped dramatically and we were forced to stay inside. Marshall had to go into town to get some bank transfer stuff sorted out (a process that he has logged 56 hours trying to complete) and was gone for the majority of the morning. At around 2 pm, he came back looking both triumphant and dejected.

“I got the bank account set up today,” he said sullenly.

I didn’t raise my eyes from my phone screen when I replied. “Great! Congratulations!”

“I also got into a fender bender today.”

“What?”

Now my attention was solely fixed on my husband’s stiff, marbled countenance.

“Yeah. I was at a stop in town waiting for some car to turn and this dude came flying down the street and hit me.”

“Did you call the police?”

“No.”

“Did you exchange insurance information?”

“He didn’t have insurance.”

“Well, did you get pictures of his face, car and license plate???”

“No! I was just too pissed off to do any of that but yell that he’d be paying for the damages! I don’t know how this kind of stuff works here in South Africa! …All I got was his card with his cell phone number on it.”

Marshall was curt and his tone sharp. We’ve had this car for less than a month, and within 2 weeks of Marshall’s re-entry into the country, THIS happens. I looked at the business card Marshall had been given and groaned inwardly.

 

Bad Ben

Crop duster| Musician| Motivational speaker*

 

The guy who hit him was some white surfer kid who played the guitar for a living. Without even meeting this guy, I knew that he was probably the embodiment of every beach town cliché I’d seen on Disney channel or the CW.

I could see why he was so upset. And so, as he’s done so many times for me in the past, I tried to be the voice of logic and linear progression when emotions have gotten the better of me as they’d just done him. I suggested that we call the insurance company, which we did. Their response didn’t make sense.

“So you’re telling me that I have to pay a R1000 penalty for filing a claim for an accident I didn’t cause AND my insurance policy gets dinged for filing said claim?”

“Yes,” said the agent.

Marshall rubbed his temples. I rubbed his back. This is Africa, I mouthed at him. He smiled wryly in response and told the agent he had no interest in filing the claim. Option 2 was to work things out with Brock – I mean BEN – and have him pay for the damages out of pocket as he said he would at the scene of the accident.

We went down to Erasmus Panel Beaters in the industrial district in town and got a quote for the repairs. The entire back bumper needed to be replaced. The impact of the Ben’s car had damaged the sensors in the lift gate. Now, there’s some funky light in the car that stays on, perpetually. The quote to repair the damage came to R5800 ($384). We called Ben with the estimate since it had been decided that having him pay put of pocket for the damage he’d caused rather than penalizing ourselves for the event was the way to go. I couldn’t believe my ears when he answered the phone.

“Yeah…you know, after I went home and thought about it, I’ve decided I’m not going to pay for the damages. I feel like we both bear mutual responsibility for the crash.”

Marshall was having none of that.

“We don’t bear ‘mutual responsibility’. You hit ME.”

“Yes, as I said WE were in an accident…”

“…that YOU caused!”

“Mate, at least your car came out better than mine! You only have a few scratches on your bumper. My whole front end is crushed!”

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“That’s not my problem. Because either one of two things happened when you hit me: Either you were tailgating me, or you weren’t paying attention and didn’t give yourself enough time to stop when you slammed into me. Either way, you weren’t maintaining a safe distance and therefore are liable for the accident!”

“We were in the middle of town! Who maintains a ‘safe distance’ when they’re driving in town?”

What? Who WAS this guy? And what was wrong with him? I listened to the conversation with growing irritation.

“Also, you literally went to the most expensive repair shop in town. I don’t have R5000 to give you.”

“You’re not going to be giving it to me, you’re going to give it to Erasmus Panel Beaters,” Marshall said with as much patience as he could muster.

Ben eventually conceded that he might consider paying for the damages, if it was for about R1000.

“I was going to have a mate of mine fix my entire car for about that much. Why is yours so expensive?” Ben was incredulous. Poor, silly, uninsured man.

Marshall read down the list of damages for Ben’s benefit, which included the sensors for the lift gate.

“Sensors? What sensors? Why do the ‘sensors’ need to be replaced?”

Because you hit a 2005 Chrysler Town & Country, not a 1988 Hyundai Kuntash, you ninny! I wanted to scream.

Finally, I’d had enough. I went into the repair shop and asked for the number to the police station, leaving my husband to yell threats about a lawsuit and Ben’s gallant attempt to appear unshaken by informing my husband that he ‘would not be intimidated by him’.

“Furthermore, you stopped suddenly and then I hit you,” Ben said with more conviction than the fable deserved, lying through what were probably perfect little teeth, probably courtesy of some equally irresponsible parent who’d reared him into the irresponsible prat that he is today.

“It doesn’t matter,” Marshall growled. “The burden of responsibility still lies with you to maintain a safe distance since you were driving behind me.”

The very notion was lost on Ben, who wondered aloud why Marshall was being such a hard nose about all of this.

“Don’t you have insurance? They can pay for all this!”

“Dude, why don’t YOU have insurance?”

Ben thought about it for brief moment and informed Marshall that the fact that he didn’t have insurance was irrelevant. HE had insurance, his company could pay for the damages that he (Ben) had caused, and that really should be the end of it.

I was stunned.

For the past several days, the reality and power of white male privilege has been inculcated in us through the headlines. Brock Turner receiving 6 months for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Oscar Pistorius walking around on his stumps with the aim of inciting sympathy after murdering Reeva Steenkamp. Robert H. Richards IV, the Du Pont heir who raped his 3 year old daughter and was spared any prison time at all because he “would not fare well there” according to the judge who should have thrown him under the jail. The list of atrocities and petty crimes alike that privileged white men are permitted to get away with – incidences that have sent men of color to prison for life in some cases – is exhaustive and exhausting. It dates back to Alexander the Great. In many of these cases, there is a single thread that stands out in the sordid patchwork of impunity: A blatant lack of remorse. An unashamed refusal to accept responsibility to accept blame for their wrongdoings. An unsettling need to place blame for the atrocity on the person they have victimized.

It’s one thing to inspect this cultural phenomenon as a casual observer from the safety of your newspaper or electronic device…and it’s quite another to have white privilege slam into you on a rainy weekend. I still haven’t recovered.

 

 

*Not Ben’s real surname or his profession. I thought about releasing it in hopes that the publicity could lead him to some new gigs, but we saw him at a restaurant in town the night of the accident, so he’s probably doing just fine on the local circuit.

Learning The Language of the Oppressor

The kids were fighting in the back seats of the car, making an unholy ruckus, fighting about who had breathed the last of whose air and why it was so unfair. We were taking a day trip along the Garden Route, destination: I Can’t Recall. After 15 minutes I’d heard enough choruses of “Giiiiive-ugh!” and “Miiiine-ugh!” to last me a lifetime and was thus compelled to do something completely out of character. I turned on public radio. (Pandora is not an option outside of the US.)

Soon, our car was flooded with the sounds of native Afrikaans and Xhosa radio announcers, no doubt encouraging us to attend one event or purchase one product or another. Either way it was all preferred alternative background noise to me. One presenter with a particularly smooth voice caught my attention. I liked how he was saying what he was saying, but that harsh Afrikaans accent was grating on my ears. How could people grunt, growl and hack through so many words so many times a day without spitting up esophageal matter? I turned to my now silent kids, amused by a sudden thought.

“Hey guys! When you go to school, you’re going to have to learn how to speak Afrikaans just like this too!” I cleared a bit of phlegm in my throat for emphasis.

They recoiled at the very idea.

“Oh no, I’m not,” said the eldest.

“Me neither,” said her echo.

Soon the car was filled with vehement protestations – a visceral reaction at the very idea of having to speak a language from a people that they had no relation to or nothing in common with. I allowed them their moment of “American individuality”, knowing full well that after all the noise had died down, they would have no choice but to comply when school started. Some phenomena are universal. You gone do this math exam and you gone write this paper in Afrikaans!

They will be exempt from being tested in Afrikaans, an exemption that expires after two years. Eventually, they will learn the language not because it’s a mandate; because both Marshall and I want them to.

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Today is June 16th, and it is the 40th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Sarafina”, you have a vague idea of what the youth uprising was all about. In the 1950’s, South Africa and North America had adopted similar social and political attitudes with regards to race relations in each respective country. Apartheid and Jim Crow were fraternal twins living half a world away from each other. The Bantu Education Act was signed into law in 1953, providing Black South Africans with an education so parochial that they were only rendered fit to work as domestic servants post graduation. The Mission Schools that the British (who were far more tolerant in their racism than their Boer counterparts) were abolished. It was in these schools that scholarly minds such as Nelson Mandela received a premier education and allowed him to navigate white supremacist political structures in his country.

Mandela also spoke “high Afrikaans”.

In fact, he spoke Afrikaans with such authority and excellence that some Afrikaners were intimidated by his eloquence. Why did he expend the effort to learn the language of the oppressor? According this his fellow prison inmate, Saths Cooper, “He argued it was all a question of knowing your enemy. His position was that you had to know their language, their passions, their hopes and their fears if you were ever going to defeat them.”

Now, my family not in South Africa to be anyone’s enemy nor to defeat them. That’s not our motivation for having the kids and us learn to speak Afrikaans. I believe the same principle of understanding applies if you are on a mission to make friends, conduct business…or to understand basics of the environment in which you live.

I am always amazed by the melting pot of languages I encounter on a day-to-day basis. Everyone here can speak at least two languages. I see Black South Africans exhibiting the most versatility. I have yet to see an Englishman or Boer speak Xhosa in the town in which we reside, but I see Xhosa women slip between Afrikaans, English and Xhosa with ease, depending on their function and whom they are addressing. It’s marvelous.

Last year, I was mulling over the possibility of having Sally & the Butterfly translated into Afrikaans for the kids in the township that we worked in during our 2011 stay. A Ghanaian friend of mine who works in social justice circles balked at the idea. I could hear her frowning through the phone. She is just as well versed in South Africa’s violent history as I am, probably more so.

“Why would you want your book translated into the language of the oppressor?” she trilled.

I thought about it. “Well…isn’t English the language of our oppressor?”

“Yes,” she said after a brief moment of consideration, “but I feel like we’ve made English our own. We’ve Africanized it. We own it.”

I’d like to believe that in post-apartheid South Africa, the once openly oppressed colored/Black banker, the domestic worker and/or business owner can say the same thing – that all though this language was once forced upon them, and brutally so, that they were able to master IT and make it their own. That’s what I want for my kids.

That, and you really don’t want to be that one chick at the salon who everyone is talking about and you can’t say a word in clapbackery.