Monday, June 1, 2015

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

2015 Reading List

There's a two-lane road that snakes down the hill from Ivandry (pronounced ee-vanjuh) towards Rue Hydrocarburons.  It's the only road you can take to get out of the neighborhood and it often backs up and the quarter mile stretch can take 20 minutes as the line of SUVs and egg-shell Citroen taxis inch their way forward.  It passes by a sizable sports stadium--bordering its walls is a ramshackle collection of shacks and quasi-buildings held together by aged red-brown mudbricks.  Here in Tana they forge these bricks out of the post-harvest mud of the ubiquitous rice fields.  They cut and stack them and smoke them in fire huts.  But the bricks are not the hard-angled solid bricks you'd find in your Home Depot. There's a give to them and their edges quickly dull and deteriorate giving much of the dusty brick buildings a sad decaying facade and an appearance several hundreds years older than they are.

The impoverished families that live in this particular community are mainly mothers with litters of children--the fathers long absent.  You hear anecdotal stories that some of these children are forced by their mothers to spend their days begging on the streets.  From time to time one hears stories of some of these mothers are alcoholics, beating children that don't return with enough money or food.  Over time you come to recognize the faces of these kids as they travel in packs, endlessly rapping on your windows as you sit in traffic and wait.  

We asked and found out it would cost less than $100 to put one of them in school for the year but the local schools here are already overcrowded and don't have space for any more children even if they could pay.

There's one pint-sized kid with short black curls who roams the road in filthy rags that long ago lost any semblance of color or shape.  His face is easy to recognize because we've never seen it without a dirty strip of yellow mucus caked from the bottom of his nose to his upper lip.  It's the type of discrepancy that makes the parent in you want to reach out and clean it off with a kleenex.  But its also heartbreaking because he's likely grown up without a mother to wipe away his runny noses and because he spends his year in a perpetually sickened state. 

One thing you learn living here is that there are no simple answers.  

I think the best that one can do is to support the local organizations/NGOs/missionaries that live here and are doing the work day in and day out.  

Anyway, I share these details because my thoughts drifted to these street kids as I read Bulawayo's masterful tale of a childhood in a crumbling country and an escape to life in America--specifically in destroyedmichigan (i.e., Detroit).   In the first half of the novel she recounts (with an amazing ear for dialect and inflection) a life growing up on the streets as she and her band of friends roamed their city.

The detail and richness of her tale reminded me that everyone has a story.  These street kids that bang on our car and smash their faces against our windows here in Tana have their own lives and dreams and intricate games like Darling and her friend's countries game. And her story is important because it also tells a story about an America that you wouldn't otherwise hear or be aware of--the Catch-22 life of myriad illegal immigrants--all searching for an identity and no longer finding acceptance in their old lives while having to remain hidden in their new ones.   And in the end, New Names is a heartbreaking story about home (and childhood) not always being somewhere you can go back to.

We Need New Names: A Novel (NoViolet Bulawayo)

You have 70 highlighted passages
Good, good, now say cheese, say cheese, cheese, cheeeeeeeese—the woman enthuses, and everyone says cheese. Myself, I don’t really say, because I am busy trying to remember what cheese means exactly, and I cannot remember. Yesterday Mother of Bones told us the story of Dudu the bird who learned and sang a new song whose words she did not really know the meaning of and who was then caught, killed, and cooked for dinner because in the song she was actually begging people to kill and cook her. The woman points at me, nods, and tells me to say cheeeeeese and I say it mostly because she is smiling like she knows me really well, like she even knows my mother. I say it slowly at first, and then I say, Cheese and cheese, and I’m saying cheese cheeeeese and everyone is saying cheese cheese cheese and we are all singing the word and the camera is clicking and clicking and clicking. ThenRead more at location 95

What if you get there and find it’s a kaka place and get stuck and can’t come back? Me, I’m going to Jo’burg, that way when things get bad, I canRead more at location 150

just get on the road and roll without talking to anybody; you have to be able to return from wherever you go.Read more at location 151

That way, people can’t see you with the thing to be reminded that you are a shameless thief and that you stole it from them, so I don’t know what the white people were trying to do in the first place, stealing not just a tiny piece but a whole country. Who can ever forget you stole something like that?Read more at location 207

After the curtain comes the calendar; it’s old but Mother of Bones keeps it since it has Jesus Christ on it. He has women’s hair and is smiling shyly, his head tilted a bit to the side; you can tell he really wanted to look nice in the picture. He used to have blue eyes but I painted them brown like mine and everybody’s, to make him normal.Read more at location 236

What I don’t understand is how this very money that I have in lumps cannot buy even a grain of salt I mean that there is what I don’t understand, she says, anger starting to churn in her voice. Money is money no matter what this is still money, she says. Now Mother of Bones is patting the money like it is a baby. Like she is trying to put the baby to sleep. It’s old money, Mother of Bones, it’s useless now, don’t you even get it? You just have to throw it away or use it to make fire like everybody else. Now they say we’ll start using American money, I say,Read more at location 254


He did that, my grandfather, I was coming from playing Find bin Laden and my grandmother was not there and my grandfather was there and he got on me and pinned me down like that and he clamped a hand over my mouth and was heavy like a mountain, Chipo says, words coming out all at once like she is Mother of Bones. I watch her and she has this look I have never seen before, this look of pain. I want to laugh that her voice is back, but her face confuses me and I can also see she wants me to say something, something maybe important, so I say, Do you want to go and steal guavas?Read more at location 424

If I’m lucky, like today, I get to be the U.S.A., which is a country-country; who doesn’t know that the U.S.A. is the big baboon of the world? I feel like it’s my country now because my aunt Fostalina lives there, in Destroyedmichygen.Read more at location 503

After we sit, the man starts taking pictures with his big camera. They just like taking pictures, these NGO people, like maybe we are their real friends and relatives and they will look at the pictures later and point us out by name to other friends and relatives once they get back to their homes. They don’t care that we are embarrassed by our dirt and torn clothing, that we would prefer they didn’t do it; they just take the pictures anyway, take and take. We don’t complain because we know that after the picture-taking comes the giving of gifts.Read more at location 535

We are careful not to touch the NGO people, though, because we can see that even though they are giving us things, they do not want to touch us or for us to touch them. The adults haveRead more at location 554

You know, one day I’ll become president, Bastard says. We have put up most of the posters and we’re now doing the last of the shacks, towards Heavenway Cemetery. President of what? I say. President of a country, this country, Bastard says. What do you think I’m talking about, you dumb donkey? But you have to be an old, old man to become president, Stina says. WhoRead more at location 608

It’s light rain, the kind that just licks you. We sit in it and smell the delicious earth around us.Read more at location 708

This is what they do in ER, Sbho says. I think, What is ER? I cannot remember, so I just keep quiet. Forgiveness doesn’t say anything either, and I know she too doesn’t know. I saw it on TV in Harare when I visited Sekuru Godi. ER is what they do in a hospital in America. In order to do this right, we need new names. I am Dr. Bullet, she is beautiful, and you are Dr. Roz, he is tall, Sbho says, nodding at me.Read more at location 813

Yes the wife is right it will get better my son and the Lord God is here he will not forsake us he will not for he is a loving God, Mother of Bones said, rubbing her hands together like she was washing them, like she was apologizing for something, like it was cold outside. Mother of Bones said God like she knew God personally, like God was not even something bigger than the sky but a small, beautiful boy with spaced hair you could count and missing buttons on his Harvard shirt, who spoke with a stammer and played Find bin Laden with us.Read more at location 905

That’s how it felt, the way Mother of Bones said God.Read more at location 909

even though God will just ignore her. It’s your father in there. He has the Sickness, we know, Godknows says. It’s no use hiding AIDS, Stina says. When he mentions the Sickness by name, I feel a shortness of breath. I look around to see if there are other people within earshot.Read more at location 987

Then Stina reaches and takes Father’s hand and starts moving it to the song, and Bastard moves the other hand. I reach out and touch him too because I have never really touched him ever since he came and this is what I must do now because how will it look when everybody is touching him and I’m not? We all look at one another and smile-sing because we are touching him, just touching him all over like he is a beautiful plaything we have just rescued from a rubbish bin in Budapest. He feels like dry wood in my hands, but there is a strange light in his sunken eyes, like he has swallowed the sun.Read more at location 1027

There is also a terrible reeking smell, and we look at the other end, and there, near the toilet, we see the words Blak Power written in brown feces on the large bathroom mirror.Read more at location 1298

Bornfree’s coffin is draped by a flag with black, red, yellow, and green stripes, with a white heart on the front. We have seen quite a few coffins like that lately; it’s the Change people, like Bornfree, in the coffins.Read more at location 1325

They talked like that, stayed up night after night and waited for the change that was near. Waited and waited and waited. But then the waiting did not end and the change did not happen. And then those men came for Bornfree. That did it, that made the adults stop talking about change. It was like the voting and the partying and everything that had happened had not even happened. And the adults just returned quietly to the shacks to see if they could still bend low. They found they could bend; bend better than a branch burdened with rotting guavas. Now everything is the same again, but the adults are not. When you look into their faces it’s like something that was in there got up and gathered its things and walked away.Read more at location 1340

Bornfree’s mother, MaDube, is wearing a dress the color of blood even though when people die, you are supposed to wear black, not red, not any other color. Black is for the dead, red is for danger. She is writhing and roaring like an injured lion. She is in pain; you can see and hear for yourself that this is proper pain. Pain-pain. Other women are holding on to MaDube like they heard the lion will leap skyward and rip the sun into bloody chunks.Read more at location 1349

Now the mourners are restless and cannot hold themselves. They murmur and nod their heads. They shout, they stomp the ground. They toyi-toyi. They dance, feet beating hard on the earth like they want to tear it up. Then Prophet Revelations Bitchington Mborro raises his Bible and starts saying holy things. The mourners quiet. Prophet Revelations Bitchington Mborro reads a verse and says a prayer and he calls Bornfree Moses who was trying to lead his people to Canaan. He says more holy things and keeps going and going until I begin to wonder if he doesn’t get tired of talking to a god who doesn’t even do anything to show that he is a god.Read more at location 1358

The people of Paradise too don’t make any sounds. There is this big black silence, like they are watching something holy. But we can see, in the eyes of the adults, the rage. It is quiet but it is there. Still, what is rage when it is kept in like a heart, like blood, when you do not do anything with it, when you do not use it to hit, or even yell? Such rage is nothing, it does not count.Read more at location 1422

Look at them leaving in droves, the children of the land, just look at them leaving in droves. Those with nothing are crossing borders. Those with strength are crossing borders. Those with ambitions are crossing borders. Those with hopes are crossing borders. Those with loss are crossing borders. Those in pain are crossing borders. Moving, running, emigrating, going, deserting, walking, quitting, flying, fleeing—to all over, to countries near and far, to countries unheard of, to countries whose names they cannot pronounce. They are leaving in droves.Read more at location 1432

They will never be the same again because you just cannot be the same once you leave behind who and what you are, you just cannot be the same. Look at them leaving in droves despite knowing they will be welcomed with restraint in those strange lands because they do not belong, knowing they will have to sit on one buttock because they must not sit comfortably lest they be asked to rise and leave, knowing they will speak in dampened whispers because they must not let their voices drown those of the owners of the land, knowing they will have to walk on their toes because they must not leave footprints on the new earth lest they be mistaken for those who want to claim the land as theirs. Look at them leaving in droves, arm in arm with loss and lost, look at them leaving in droves.Read more at location 1442

This is America, yo, you won’t see none of that African shit up in this motherfucker.Read more at location 1453

For memories, one day all you’ll have are these pictures, that’s what she said. This is Bastard and this is Godknows and this is Chipo and this is Stina and this passing by is Godknows’s sister S’bahle.Read more at location 1467

When I was leaving, Mother wouldn’t let go of my hand I thought she was going to rip it off. Mother of Bones looked at me with kindness, which was the first time she ever looked at me like that, andRead more at location 1472

With all this snow, with the sun not there, with the cold and dreariness, this place doesn’t look like my America, doesn’t even look real. It’s like we are in a terrible story, like we’re in the crazy parts of the Bible, there where God is busy punishing people for their sins and is making them miserable with all the weather. The sky, for example, has stayed white all this time I have been here, which tells you that something is not right. Even the stones know that a sky is supposed to be blue, like our sky back home, which is blue, so blue you can spray Clorox on it and wipe it with a paper towel and it wouldn’t even come off.Read more at location 1485

there is food to eat here, all types and types of food. There are times, though, that no matter how much food I eat, I find the food does nothing for me, like I am hungry for my country and nothing is going to fix that.Read more at location 1516

do not know what I would do because I cannot even fight evil now because they made me throw away my weapon at that airport.Read more at location 1558

Uncle Kojo says to him, Shouldn’t you actually be looking at colleges, Prince? You are in America now and you can actually be anything you want to be, look at Obama.Read more at location 1565

Once the snow is gone it will be possible to go outside and see what this Detroit is all about, to see the grass, the flowers, the leaves, the birds, and the litter.Read more at location 1580

Stina also said leaving your country is like dying, and when you come back you are like a lost ghost returning to earth, roaming around with a missing gaze in your eyes. I don’t want to be that when I go back to my country,Read more at location 1588

remember it was the way they said freak that made me want to look it up; said it like they wanted to puncture their bottom lips with their teeth when they said the f part and then making the rest of the word explode from their mouths.Read more at location 1644

but I knew, we all knew just a week later, when they found him hanging near the lockers at school, the word freak! scrawled in a red marker on a locker behind him.Read more at location 1647

The first message is from Dumi’s grandmother, who starts by addressing Dumi with his totems, the way old people like to do.Read more at location 1704

They sound like a tumbling poem, the totems, and it’s just beautiful to hear them read in our language. The grandmother congratulates her first grandson, and she says she hopes he has chosen a healthy, pretty, respectful, and grounded wife who will bear strong sons and teach them our beautiful culture and come home and revive the ancestral homestead as expected of the first daughter-in-law. A wife who knows her place and who will listen to and obey her husband and make him a man among men. A wife who is quick on her feet and talented with her hands and hardworking and pure and faithful.Read more at location 1705

The bride keeps nodding and smiling like she can understand the language, but now I know that smiling at nothing is really a white-people thing so I’m not surprised.Read more at location 1709

He doesn’t tell Aunt Fostalina she looks good, like I’ve heard other people do; he tells her she looks like sunrise. You look like sunrise, Fee, that’s what Dumi says, in our language.Read more at location 1786

and I stare at her because of the way she smiles. Like she is hearing music and she is dancing to it on the inside.Read more at location 1788

America, roads are like the devil’s hands, like God’s love, reaching all over, just the sad thing is, they won’t really take me home.Read more at location 1901

How is Destroyedmichygen? Bastard says.Read more at location 2068

Kristal and I sit there, not moving, just staring, and I know, from how we are not looking at each other, that we will never talk about what we have seen.Read more at location 2142

I’m not even following because I’m busy thinking about what will happen to us; in America, jails are not for just adults and real criminals. Kristal pulls over andRead more at location 2181

Is anybody talkin’ to you, fool? Kristal says, turning to Marina. ’Sides, you better not start nothin’. I’ve seen them Nigerian movies and y’all can’t talk, period; why you think you have them subtitles? Kristal says. I don’t mean to laugh but then I’m laughing. Well, it’s kind of true, in a way. I mean, when I watch your movies I have to read the subtitles myself, even if they’re supposed to be in English. That’s ’cause you are not smart. And what do you mean my movies, have you ever seen me in them, huh? Marina says, knives in her voice.Read more at location 2217

litter at their feet and around the mall to show there are people living there.Read more at location 2270

Inside the car, it feels like the devil is grilling sinners;Read more at location 2322

And when they asked us where we were from, we exchanged glances and smiled with the shyness of child brides. They said, Africa? We nodded yes. What part of Africa? We smiled. Is it that part where vultures wait for famished children to die? We smiled. Where the life expectancy is thirty-five years? We smiled. Is it there where dissidents shove AK-47s between women’s legs? We smiled. Where people run about naked? We smiled. That part where they massacred each other? We smiled. Is it where the old president rigged the election and people were tortured and killed and a whole bunch of them put in prison and all, there where they are dying of cholera—oh my God, yes, we’ve seen your country; it’s been on the news.Read more at location 2369

In America we saw more food than we had seen in all our lives and we were so happy we rummaged through the dustbins of our souls to retrieve the stained, broken pieces of God.Read more at location 2378

Thought, Why does he not hear us, why? Thought, How come we ask and ask and ask and still are not given even a morsel, how come? And blind with rage we flung him away and said, Better no God, better no God than live like this, praying like this for things that will never come. Better no God. But then when we got to America and saw all that food, we held our breath and thought, Wait, there must be a God. So happy and grateful, we found his discarded pieces and put them together with Krazy Glue bought at the dollar store for only ninety-nine cents and said, In God We Trust too now,Read more at location 2381

We ate like pigs, like wolves, like dignitaries; we ate like vultures, like stray dogs, like monsters; we ate like kings. We ate for all our past hunger, for our parents and brothers and sisters and relatives and friends who were still back there. We uttered their names between mouthfuls, conjured up their hungry faces and chapped lips—eatingRead more at location 2388

We looked at people sending their aging parents away to be taken care of by strangers. We looked at parents not being allowed to beat their own children.Read more at location 2393

Because we were not using our languages we said things we did not mean; what we really wanted to say remained folded inside, trapped.Read more at location 2397

How hard it was to get to America—harder than crawling through the anus of a needle. For the visas and passports, we begged, despaired, lied, groveled, promised, charmed, bribed—anything to get us out of the country. For his passport and travel, Tshaka Zulu sold all of his father’s cows, against the oldRead more at location 2399

Perseverance had to take his sister Netsai out of school. Nqo worked the fields of Botswana for nine months. Nozipho, like Primrose and Sicelokuhle and Maidei, slept with that fat black pig Banyile Khoza from the passport office. Girls flat on their backs, Banyile between their legs, America on their minds.Read more at location 2402

Instead of going to school, we worked. Our Social Security cards said Valid for work only with INS authorization, but we gritted our teeth and broke the law and worked; what else could we do? What could we have done? What could anybody have done? And because we were breaking the law, we dropped our heads in shame; we had never broken any laws before. We dropped our heads because we were no longer people; we were now illegals.Read more at location 2415

And when at work they asked for our papers, we scurried like startled hens and flocked to unwanted jobs, where we met the others, many others. Others with names like myths, names like puzzles, names we had never heard before: Virgilio, Balamugunthan, Faheem, Abdulrahman, Aziz, Baako, Dae-Hyun, Ousmane, Kimatsu. When it was hard to say the many strange names, we called them by their countries.Read more at location 2426

We worked with dangerous machines, holding our breath like crocodiles underwater, our minds on the money and never on our lives. Adamou got murdered by that beast of a machine that also ate three fingers of Sudan’s left hand. We cut ourselves working on meat; we got skin diseases. We inhaled bad smells until our lungs thundered. Ecuador fell from forty stories working on a roof and shattered his spine, screaming, ¡Mis hijos! ¡Mis hijos! on his way down. We got sick but did not go to hospitals, could not go to hospitals. We swallowed every pain like a bitter pill, drank every fear like a love potion, and we worked and worked.Read more at location 2438

And when they came to join us in America, hungry and hollow and hopeful, we held them tight and welcomed them to a home that was not ours. We smelled their hair and clothes, we begged them for news of our land—big news, small news, any news. We asked them to describe how the earth smelled right before it rained, to describe how after the rain, flying ants exploded from the ground like fireworks.Read more at location 2456

And then our own children were born. We held their American birth certificates tight. We did not name our children after our parents, after ourselves; we feared if we did they would not be able to say their own names, that their friends andRead more at location 2469

teachers would not know how to call them. We gave them names that would make them belong in America, names that did not mean anything to us: Aaron, Josh, Dana, Corey, Jack, Kathleen.Read more at location 2471

They died waiting, clutching in their dried hands pictures of us leaning against the Lady Liberty, graves of lost sons and daughters in their hearts, old eyes glued to the sky for fulamatshinaz to bring forth lost sons and daughters. We could not attend their funerals because we still had no papers,Read more at location 2480

When our children were old enough and we told them about our country, they did not beg us for stories of the land we had left behind. They went to their computers and Googled and Googled and Googled. When they got off, they looked at us with something between pity and horror and said, Jeez, you really come from there?Read more at location 2488

don’t know. I also know that if she cannot get out of eating she goes to the bathroom and vomits it all. It was all in her diary that I found hidden under the bed while I was cleaning her room; I read it because hidden things are meant to be discovered.Read more at location 2667

Her voice sounds far away, like maybe it was detained at the border or something.Read more at location 2675

Eliot always pays me well, and ever since that Kony video came out, he’s been nice to me like I’m from Uganda, like I’m one of the heartbreaking kids in the film. He has traveled all over Africa but all he can ever tell you about the countries he has visited are the animals and parks he has seen.Read more at location 2697

I know. But last week I saw on BBC— But you are not the one suffering. You think watching on BBC means you know what is going on? No, you don’t, my friend, it’s the wound that knows the texture of the pain; it’s us who stayed here feeling the real suffering, so it’s us who have a right to even say anything about that or anything and anybody, she says. Her flippant tone totally comes out of nowhere and slaps me in the face, just taking me by surprise. I am so shocked I don’t know what to say.Read more at location 2868

We looked down. At the shanty. At the red earth. At Mzilikazi. At the Budapest houses in the distance. Bin Laden could have been anywhere.Read more at location 2908

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