Saturday, August 27, 2016

So Long a Letter: Read It Because you get to peer into the birth of feminism for a Muslim woman in post-independence Senegal.

So Long a  Letter

So Long a Letter: Read It Because you get to peer into the birth of feminism for a Muslim woman in post-independence Senegal.   The country won its independence from France in 1960 and Ba published this story some 20 years later.  It took me a little bit to get into this story--mainly because I'd never read a book whose format was a simple, lengthy meandering letter.  Ultimately, though, Ba won me over with her tender, thoughtful introspective look at the life of a cuckolded, then sister-wifed, then widowed, then independent and finally (maybe) free woman.  I found myself rereading paragraphs as she bestowed poetry upon the mundane-seeming tasks of a housewife:


Those women we call 'house'-wives deserve praise. The domestic work they carry out, and which is not paid for in hard cash, is essential to the home. Their compensation remains the pile of well ironed, sweet-smelling washing, the shining tiled floor on which the foot glides, the gay kitchen filled with the smell of stews. Their silent action is felt in the least useful detail: over there, a flower in bloom placed in a vase, elsewhere a painting with appropriate colours, hung up in the right place. 
The management of the home is an art. We have learned the hard way, and it is still not over. Even deciding on the menus is not easy if one thinks of the number of days there are in a year and of the fact that there are three meals in one day. Managing the family budget requires flexibility, vigilance and prudence in performing the financial gymnastics that send you from one more or less dangerous leap to another, from the first to the last day of the month. To be a woman! To live the life of a woman! Ah, Aissatou! 

And it's always a bit of a thrill to learn about a culture from a native writer.  You feel as if you are being let behind the curtain into an entirely new and different world.  As Ba unveiled the intricacies involved with polygamy and death in West African Islam, I was enthralled by the deep layers of customs and requirements involved.   The requirement that the secrets of a recently deceased man be laid out in the open was a notable example:

   
The mirasse commanded by the Koran requires that a dead person be stripped of his most intimate secrets; thus is exposed to others what was carefully concealed. These exposures crudely explain a man's life. 


And it turns out that her husband had a quite a few secrets...but as the letter reveals...so did the author.


*One of my Reading Around the Continent books--the full list is here.
**See our 20162015 and 2014 Reading Lists.

For further Study:




So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba
You have 27 highlighted passages
This is the moment dreaded by every Senegalese woman, the moment when she sacrifices her possessions as gifts to her family­ in-law; and, worse still, beyond her possessions she gives up her personality, her dignity, becoming a thing in the service of the man who has married her, his grandfather, his grandmother, his father, his mother, his brother, his sister, his uncle, his aunt, his male and female cousins, his friends. Her behaviour is conditioned: no sister-in-law will touch the head of any wife who has been stingy, unfaithful or inhospitable. 
The mirasse commanded by the Koran requires that a dead person be stripped of his most intimate secrets; thus is exposed to others what was carefully concealed. These exposures crudely explain a man's life. With consternation, I measure the extent of Modou's betrayal. His abandonment of his first family (myself and my children) was the outcome of the choice of a new life. He rejected us. He mapped out his future without taking our existence into account. 
'It's you whom I carry within me. You are my protecting black angel. Would I could quickly find you, if only to hold your hand tightly so that I may forget hunger and thirst and loneliness.' 
Because, being the first pioneers of the promotion of African women, there were very few of us. Men would call us scatter­ brained. Others labelled us devils. But many wanted to possess us. How many dreams did we nourish hopelessly that could have been fulfilled as lasting happiness and that we abandoned to embrace others, those that have burst miserably like soap bubbles, leaving us empty-handed? 
Daouda Dieng also knew how to win hearts. Useful presents for my mother, ranging from a sack of rice, appreciated in that period of war penury, to the frivolous gift for me, daintily wrapped in paper and tied with ribbons. But I preferred the man in the eter­ nal khaki suit. Our marriage was celebrated without dowry, without pomp, under the disapproving looks of my father, before the painful indignation of my frustrated mother, under the sarcasm of my surprised sisters, in our town struck dumb with astonishment. 
hile Mawdo's mother planned her revenge, we lived: Christmas Eve parties organized by several couples, with the costs shared equally, and held in turns in the different homes. Without self-consciousness, we would revive the dances of yester-year: the lively beguine, frenzied rumbas, languid tangos. We rediscovered the old beatings of the heart that strengthened our feelings. 
Sangalkam remains 
To warp a soul is as much a sacrilege as murder. Teachers - at kindergarten level, as at university level - form a noble army accomplishing daily feats, never praised, never decorated. An army forever on the move, forever vigilant. An army without drums, without gleaming uniforms. This army, thwarting traps and snares, everywhere plants the flag of knowledge and morality. How we loved this priesthood, humble teachers in humble local schools. How faithfully we served our profession, and how we spent ourselves in order to do it honour. Like all apprentices, we had learned how to practise it well at the demonstration school, a few steps away from our own, where experienced teachers taught the novices that we were how to apply, in the lessons we gave, our knowledge of psychology and method ... In those children we set in motion waves that, breaking, carried away in their furl a bit of ourselves. 
The assimilationist dream of the colonist drew into its crucible our mode of thought and way of life. The sun helmet worn over the natural protection of our kinky hair, smoke-filled pipe in the mouth, white shorts just above the calves, very short dresses displaying shapely legs: a whole generation suddenly became aware of the ridiculous situation festering in our midst. 
How many generations has this same unchanging countryside seen glide past! Aunty Nabou acknowledged man's vulnerability in the face of the eternity of nature. By its very duration, nature defies time and takes its revenge on man. 
With my help, young Nabou was admitted into the French school. Maturing in her aunt's protective shade, she learned the secret of making delicious sauces, of using an iron and wielding a pestle. Her aunt never missed an opportunity to remind her of her royal origin, and taught her that the first quality in a woman is docility 
And you left. You had the surprising courage to take your life into your own hands. You rented a house and set up home there. And instead of looking backwards, you looked resolutely to the future. You set yourself a difficult task; and more than just my presence and my encouragements, books saved you. Having become your refuge, they sustained you. 
black African, she should have been able to fit without difficulty into a black African society, Senegal and the Ivory Coast both having experienced the same colonial power. But Africa is diverse, divided. The same country can change its character and outlook several times over, from north to south or from east to west. 
Friendship has splendours that love knows not. It grows stronger when crossed, whereas obstacles kill love. Friendship resists time, which wearies and severs couples. It has heights unknown to love. 
Yesterday I celebrated, as is the custom, the fortieth day of Modou's death. I have forgiven him. 
'Nearly twenty years of independence! When will we have the first female minister involved in the decisions concerning the development of our country? And yet the militancy and ability of our women, their disinterested commitment, have already been demonstrated. Women have raised more than one man to power.' 
'We need money; a mountain of money; which we must get from others by winning their confidence. With just one rainy season and our single crop, Senegal will not go far despite all our determination. 
Those women we call 'house'-wives deserve praise. The domestic work they carry out, and which is not paid for in hard cash, is essential to the home. Their compensation remains the pile of well ironed, sweet-smelling washing, the shining tiled floor on which the foot glides, the gay kitchen filled with the smell of stews. Their silent action is felt in the least useful detail: over there, a flower in bloom placed in a vase, elsewhere a painting with appropriate colours, hung up in the right place. 
The management of the home is an art. We have learned the hard way, and it is still not over. Even deciding on the menus is not easy if one thinks of the number of days there are in a year and of the fact that there are three meals in one day. Managing the family budget requires flexibility, vigilance and prudence in performing the financial gymnastics that send you from one more or less dangerous leap to another, from the first to the last day of the month. To be a woman! To live the life of a woman! Ah, Aissatou! 
Daouda put down my letter. Calmly, he stuffed an envelope with a wad of blue notes. He scrawled on a piece of paper the terri­ ble words that had separated us before and that he had acquired during his medical course: 'All or nothing. Adieu.' Aissatou, Daouda Dieng never came back again.
Once more, I was refusing the easy way because of my ideal. I went back to my loneliness, which a momentary flash had brightened briefly. I wore it again, as one wears a familiar garment. Its cut suited me well. I moved easily in it, despite Farmata. I wanted 'something else'. And this 'something else' was impossible without the full agreement of my heart. 
I always tell my children: you are students maintained by your parents. Work hard so as to merit their sacrifices. Cultivate yourselves instead of protesting. When you are adults, if your opinions are to carry weight, they must be based on knowledge backed by diplomas. A diploma is not a myth. It is not everything, true. But it crowns knowledge, work. Tomorrow, you will be able to elect to power anyone of your choice, anyone you find suitable. It is your choice, and not ours, that will direct the country. 
Suddenly I became afraid of the flow of progress. Did they also drink? Who knows, one vice leads to another. Does it mean that one can't have modernism without a lowering of moral standards? 
Remembering, like a lifebuoy, the tender and consoling attitude of my daughter during my distress, my long years of loneliness, I overcame my emotion. I sought refuge in God, as at every moment of crisis in my life. Who decides death and life? God, the Almighty! 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Kwaheri List of Comoros Posts

Compared to a rather extensive Madagascar summary list, looking back I've written a measly five whole posts specific to Comoros.  I have a couple drafts posts--one on the Comorian tradition of "love shacks"--I need to finish before we depart this November.

I probably only traveled in Comoros about ten times the last three years so I didn't have as much experience there but it was a fascinating country with amazingly warm and kind people.

Now that the Peace Corps has return to Comoros--I'd definitely recommend doing a search for some of the PCV blogs--that's my favorite place to start to learn about a new country.  Additionally, the Peace Corps staff there has put together some great youtube videos here on the language.

Homesick reminisces for my daughters while flying high above the Indian Ocean

What it's like to drive in Comoros: A Matador, A Bull, or the Cape

Voyage Aux Comores: Comoros Has Grown On Me

The Kafir of Khartala- (Comoros) -The Only Comorian Novel Ever Published?

'A movie in the making in Comoros' or 'Marooned in Moroni'

Till Bacteria Do Us Part (FAO Pro-Tip #4)

Ode to VapoRub (FAO Pro-Tip #1)

You're Only a Handshake Away (FAO Pro-Tip #2)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Veloma List of Madagascar Posts

Kid's Clothing Factory Location in Tana--Current Sale is Going On This Week!

The Truth About Embassy Parties: Cheetos bags and Joseph Banks Suits

Jardin Secret -- A Secret No Longer Because Now You Can Find It!

Tennis in Tana: Max's, Le Country Club and a pricey COT

The Mada (mora) Beep

List of Tour Operators/Travel Agencies in Madagascar

Madagascar as the Proving Ground for D-Day and Sunken Midget Submarines in Diego Suarez


United States Navy Band Plays at Iris Orphanage

Things I Love About Mada: Cassidy and R. Kelly in the Supermarket

The Street Kids of Madagascar and We Need New Names: My Notes and Kindle Highlights

Daytripping: Getting Away at Le Carat in Ambatofotsy

A Poem: The Road from Tana to Antsirabe

Chez Marcelline by the sea--Fort Dauphin's #1 Restaurant at Ankoba Beach

A Poem: Les Naufrages de Tana or Aeneas' Descent

The Commute: Le Penseur, les soeurs, stern drivers and floating dragons

A Daily Commute: Tana

Le Carre--the Art of the Impossible--Adventures in VAT battles--or For Your Convenience

Beaches of Fort Dauphin and other weird french words

Popping Tags in Tana--L'Antiquaire de Tana

Fevers, Suppositories, Mosquitoes and Madagascar or Help, my baby has a fever and the pharmacy has weird names for tylenol!

Drummers and flutists--a rahpuhmpum in Tana

What's it like? Questions on free-range peeing, embassy life and potholes

One city, 73 restaurants--Eating out and drinking wine in Antananarivo

A sunken ship, a lighthouse, Gustave Eiffel, drunken Rugby players and honey-vanilla sauce: Date night at 313

Beautiful photos of Madagascar by a former Peace Corps Volunteer


Does a painting exist before it is framed? Custom Framing shop in Antananarivo

Buying Fish in Madagascar


Niry and Noro -- The Kruzoo sponsors two twin sisters and you can too!

Of worms, scarves and looms: Silkworm scarves at Hay Kanto

The Malagasy Way documentary


Mercy Ships in Madagascar!

Aces, Deuces and Love: Tennis in Tana

Sunday, February 16, 2014 Madagascar Makes Slate Magazine's Road and Kingdoms column

2013 Kruzoo Family Reading List/Quasi Christmas Letter Excuses

"Happy" in Tana

What It's Like to Buy Beef in Madagascar

Old Kruse Medecine Band--Semper Preparadis (Malaria Test Kits in Mada)

Mango Season in Madagascar (A Vignette from a PCV)

Ode to VapoRub (FAO Pro-Tip #1)


Poem 5 from Rabearivelo's From the Night--My favorite Rabearivelo poem.

Background post on Rabearivelo