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October 2018: AFRICA

Tingatinga painting, by Omary
About Tingatinga painting…

Contents


Where the Wild Things Are

Andrew Salomon

This was back in ninety-six, a mere two years after democracy. Struggling to find work in archaeology (that’s what you get for just assuming there’s a job at the end of a degree), I worked as a bartender.

The bar was small and decorated in an affable mismatch of objects: a crystal chandelier; a stuffed springbok head; a huge, mottled antique mirror on one wall. Close to the door hung a framed postcard of Mandela as Superman. Someone stole it. We put up another one and that got stolen as well; a small illustration of the manic optimism and rampant crime that permeated our newly minted democratic state.

It was early evening and almost empty, except for two students sitting at the far end of the bar counter. Brandy and Coke for him, gin and tonic for her. I could tell he was keen on her by how hard he was trying to sound indifferent when he asked where in the States her boyfriend was.

‘He’s in New York,’ she said.

‘Oh,’ he raised his eyebrows. ‘What does he do there?’

‘He’s an actor, so he works in a bar.’

At that moment a new customer walked in. He was dark and shiny, like polished ebony, with small, child-like teeth and bricklayer’s hands.

He ordered a Lion Lager in his Mozambican accent, wrapped his meaty fingers around the cold bottle and took a swig. ‘Have you seen one of these?’ he asked, turning the label of the bottle towards me.

The rest of the story, and an interview with the author…
 


Mother and Child by Sinafkish Zeleke
About Sinafkish Zeleke…

Overheard

Ruth Kenyah

“But who can even really tell what she’s thinking? One day you think she’s leaving him but the next day, you don’t even know how, you hear she found herself in his bedroom stroking his back telling him she’s sorry and asking his forgiveness. But does she hear him? He speaks her language, but she refuses to learn his. She came here supposedly to save his people from starvation, bringing her McDonalds tastes with her into his kitchen. He ate it but still slept hungry. Surely, can a man raised on ugali, tilapia and terere subsist on cardboard? Tell me, can he bear it without complaint? Listen. She’s shouting into the phone now; she shouts, cries and then begs. Shut up! If I told you that I haven’t been with my man in years would you believe it? But aren’t I always happy? Don’t I get mine too? Isn’t that the divine power we share?”

About Ruth Kenyah…
 


Market 4 by Tesfa Solomon
About Tesfa Solomon…

Two Prose Poems

Rethabile Masilo

 

Long quarrels

No one could tell the archangels outside that he was dead, no two eyes could not look away, nor not draw the conclusion of their curtains over what was there: a pearl of brain like a lychee on the floor of a room in which the boy slept, left inside his Christmas. What was amiss in all of it was peril, long quarrels with evil in men. These, though substantial, came upon us like nothing we could not defeat, or prevent from disrupting the care received on the side of a road. Dialogue foreshadows hunger. Such a thing as a toenail that grows inward, like we knew that this home’s father would cost us, yet among us no question was asked about it, as the way we lost count of time fiddled with no hope for a better day.
 

Sunrise

In this town where grass welcomes people to the lake, near which tree-tops peer into themselves off the surface to find their faces, she wanders through the streets when the world is asleep, tracking time; at dawn she sits on the banks of the river as Grove begins to get up after she wills it with her thoughts; collars of sunflower live in her yard, ruffles of bright, lemon colour blooms around the dark centres which threatened her life. Those who have seen her say she lives beyond earth and heaven, watching boats on the water, her inner anchor holding her.

They say that’s what saved her, that yoga of her mind, and the fact that every time she walks past Grandview toward Morning Avenue where she lives, the weight on her shoulders waiting for love to remove it, she gets into the focus of a time when happiness lived on the cusp of everything the world had unrolled before her feet .

Interview with Rethabile Masilo…
 


Steam of Life by Eyayu Genet

A Dying Language

Kim Jackways

My grandmother’s feet spiked up like monuments. Still cold, despite the starchy blankets and the heat. The hum and beep of the machines just made her swear under her breath when she woke. Her heart may be failing but her tongue still whipped.

Before she shrank, I sat on the dusty mats, a frieze of springbok dancing around the grotty walls. Mother murmured that the floor was dirty. I popped out my headphones, hip hop beats can wait, and asked Grandmother to teach me.

She pressed her lips together and expelled air with an explosive click, like a dream punctured on waking. I tried to echo her but my lip piercing was all bulky and metallic. My parents watched. Crazy, they seemed to say. Think of the future.

Nobody uses the glottis these days. Slippery as aloe, the concepts slid past: The ostrich egg method of getting water, the perfect amount of Hoodia cactus to suppress thirst, how a young girl left her village to marry a boy.

Then she asked for water. Any more than a sip and she choked. I fed her my tears but it was never enough. The clock ticked faster, like all the sounds I couldn’t save. Click. Tock.

Late. Too late. I knelt at her feet as her tongue lolled, and her agile lips went slack. And the feet of a tribal elder were no longer respected, but tagged and bagged in crisp white.

About Kim Jackways…
 


Lilac-breasted roller, East Africa by Paul Beckman

The Possibilities of Wood

Heather McQuillan

Marimba Man pinches a slab of padauk between forefinger and thumb, knocks with a deep-grained fist. The timber is well dried yet this piece, by combination of waves and knots, grips the music. Stops it short. He is sad because it lacks resonance. It won’t sing for him but will find another purpose. No worries. He shifts our attention to sonorous pieces already cut to different lengths. In each of these he drills a hole, pinches, knocks, listens. The frequencies hum too high, too low, so to elicit the perfect note he must hollow out the centre or shave a wedge.

On an afternoon that buzzes with heat he carves music, shaded by a tarpaulin slung between block shed walls. Plastic tubes lean like teenagers against his workbench

Each finished bar hangs on a nail along the wall in groups of seven. ABCDEFG.
To get to a desired tone he must cut wood away, but never too much.
Each piece embraces its own ideal waveform.
His work is art and it is nitty gritty.
Each piece is its own character.
Each rings a true note.
ABCDEFG.

Marimba Man’s dusty-legged son rushes to his father’s embrace. Marimba Man holds his son’s neck in the crook of his elbow, raps knuckles gently on a close-cropped skull. This boy, he declares, he does not sing. No worries. He will be an engineer maybe a doctor. There is salt at the edges of Marimba Man’s eyes. The boy wriggles free.

About Heather McQuillan…
 


Eric by Lesley Evans
About Lesley Evans…

No Man’s Land

Mary Byrne

When the security woman unzipped my white canvas carry-on bag, the cockroach emerged, antennae first, orange-brown, shiny. Curtained off from the world, we stared at it. At least as long again as its body, its antennae caressed the air as they did from its nightly perch on soaps and detergents in my bathroom and kitchen.

Not only did security not have time, it would cause endless trouble if the presence of the cockroach were now admitted. Our flight was due to leave; we were all pretending to be cosmopolitan: the richer women would visit the airplane toilets to change out of their djellabahs into European clothes. I wouldn’t need to do that, although I’d make my rounds of every bookshop in Paris and sit in every café.

Before that could happen, this intruder from our previous lives, here in No Man’s Land, reminded us of our daily battles, our infested kitchens, Rachida grinning as she swept up their little bodies after spraying: ‘Shall I make soup?’ Things I loved when I was there and loved to escape from time to time.

The security woman decided she wasn’t going to deal with it. She pushed the cockroach back inside my bag, zipped it without searching, and pointed it at me.

Allez,’ she said.

As The plane reached cruising altitude and as the rich women of Casablanca queued for the toilets, I palpated the soft canvas for the moving lump , found and squeezed the struggling thing.

About Mary Byrne…
 


Tingatinga painting by Zuberi
About Tingatinga painting…

Old Bazaar Aswan

Marjory Woodfield

The herbalist sells hibiscus flowers. Good for your heart, he says. Boiled in cold water they’ll bring your blood pressure down. Tamarind. Okra. Black Lemon. When I crouch to take a photo she asks for baksheesh. The money-changer sits outside the madrasa. Hands full of notes. Verses from the Qu’ran painted onto the mosque’s white-washed walls. Women rifle through clothing. Men talk, smoke shisha. Voices of shop-keepers. 1. Buy my small pyramid. 2. I don’t know what you want but I have it here. 3. Come into my shop. Everything is almost free. A small boy weaves through the crowd. He holds a metal tray with two tulip glasses of amber tea, white sugar lumps. Disappears into the blur of people.

Nubian hats. All colours, piled high. Pashminas. Postcards, corners bent and yellowed. “Where are you from?” he asks and I say, “Where do you think?” He lists every country he knows, ends with Australia. “Close,” I say, “New Zealand.”

“Ah,” he says. “Kiwi.” Grins. Just one tooth. “Kia ora.”

About Marjory Woodfield…
 


Water and Child 2 by Shewa Tamerat
About Shewa Tamerat…

First Impressions

Rosalie Kempthorne

We were all born here. Maybe that’s why it feels somehow like home.

And yet the skyline: isn’t it much like where I came from? A smudged sky, a tetrus-scape of tall, window-speckled buildings. An ochre sprawl. The shy emergence of what will become a sea of lights. The same glint of sunlight across a field of glass windows.

There’s a man here to meet me. An uncle, I think, or second cousin. They told me his name would be Michael, and he’d be kind to me. He’d take care of me since there was nobody else.

He’s taller than expected, and his beard is flecked with grey. A hand held out for mine that’s ringed, that’s gnarled with age. A thick silver ring with a green stone, a bronze, red-hued ring.
They make it hard to take his hand.

“Don’t worry,” he tells me. “You’re here now. You’ll be all right.”

“It’s so hot,” I say, for something to say, to stall while I’m running him through my mind, frantically trying to figure out what he is, how he can ever be anything even approaching a replacement.

“You’ll get used to it,” he promises.

There’s so much to get used to. This radical shift in geography is least of it. I’m not sure I want his hand, but I hold it as we leave the airport. It’s a different shade of blue up there. “I’ll try,” is as much as I can offer him right now.

About Rosalie Kempthorne…
 


Mural, Essaouira Medina in Morocco by Sophie Boudet
About Sophie Boudet…

An inheritance

Lutivini Majanja

The three girls make an excellent exhibit even before they are photographed. Their forward march drowns out the catcalls and the “Check your weight!” calls. Three girls in dresses and shoes not quite identical. Shades of purple. They are unfazed from the trip that started with them chasing after the bus that threatened to leave them even though they had been patient, waiting for the next available ride.

Their shoulders move freely as if they hadn’t flinched when the bus conductor nudged their backs as he pushed them, into the vehicle – ‘Harakisha!’ – and then whispering the unsayable to the eldest of them. She is nineteen. The youngest one heard it too. Eight years old, she didn’t understand. The fourteen-year-old will not dwell on the fact that the conductor’s long fingernail tickled her palm, a provocation, when she gave him the fare, and again when he returned the change.

With their various going-somewhere faces they reflect back the sunshine, moving to a beat – their own. Arms swing, claiming all the space that can be claimed on the crowded footpaths. They set aside how frightened they felt when they had to also jump out of the moving vehicle that wouldn’t stop at the bus stop, not even for the youngest one. In their finest wear, they are going to the studio to get photographed for their mother. She wants to remember them innocent.

About Lutivini Majanja…
 


Tingatinga painting by Mkumba
About Tingatinga painting…

White socks

Jana Heise

Girls and boys play together on the beach. Children in old T-shirts and shorts – on the sand, falling, in the shallows, splashing. A girl smiles a sharp-toothed grin. She bends her knees and claps, jumps. She sings Malaika. A boy reaches down, his fingers sifting through stones and pebbles and sharply smashed glass. He takes a handful of sand and rubs it into his scalp, weaving the grains in his short, tight curls, trapping them for weeks to come. Later their mothers will pull white socks up their calves and dress them in shiny shoes, leather shoes, dresses, button-down shirts. Things to be proud of. A stain is an implication, a tear is a smear. Against the family, against their means and ways and life. They will feel this later. They will feel this pride, this distinction. They will know how the little things matter and they will pull white socks up the tiny calves of their own children.

About Jana Heise…
 


Horses 1 by Tesfa Solomon
About Tesfa Solomon…

Lost in Translation

Ricky looked up from his Google translate and leapt bravely into the line of fire.

“Meio quilo de pequena, por favor.” Nailed it.

The Angolan over the counter rattled a string of incomprehensible chatter.

Ricky sighed. The little phone app was proving to be almost useless. He was drowning in Portuguese.

“No comprehendo. Mayo Kilo? De mince?”

More static in response.

Ricky reverted to sign language, cutting his palm in half with his other hand. Pointing at the mound of ground beef.

The Angolan raised one eyebrow. Opened both hands.

“Pequena, mince.” Ricky hopped from side to side. “Mayo, half, mince. ” Chopping his arm in half while pointing at the mince with his foot.

“Half. Mayo. Half. Mayo.”

Pointing at his bald spot. At the mince.

“Ahhh.” Understanding shining in his eyes. “Meio quilo.”

“Yes – si, si.” Ricky held his arms up in success. “That’s what I said. Half a kilo of mince, for chrissake. Obrigado. Thanks. ”

Ricky opened the door and walked into his apartment. It was a relief to get out from the heat and dump his hard-earned groceries onto the bench.

“Did you get the chicken for Masala?” His wife spoke from the couch where she was cuddled into a book.

“Chicken? You said you wanted mince.”

“Nope, chicken.”

He checked his phone.

“Frango. It’s pronounced fucking frango.”

Ricky slammed the door on his way out.

About Conrad Jack…
 


In Search of Shelter 2 by Kidist Berhane
About Kidist Berhane…

Hands

Nod Ghosh

They served a breakfast of salty porridge. Ayoub’s mother said it was made from wheat. She used three Berber words for every one French.

“You should wear this, Janine,” Saeeda said. Asmaa passed me a nylon slip. The sisters avoided looking at my naked legs. “The chef de ville wants to meet you and Chris.” They laughed at my denim shorts. “Didn’t your mother teach you how to dress?”

Ayoub and his brothers took Chris with them. They were gone for hours. The boys’ father stayed behind with the women. He acted like he didn’t know what his sons were doing, though the boys had returned from yesterday’s trip reeking of kif.

Darkness fell. The sisters painted my hands with henna: lines, crosses and V-shapes. I wondered when Chris would be back.

He slipped into the bed beside me. The relentless heat threatened to suffocate us. His hands pulsed and squeezed beneath the borrowed slip. It was the roughness of his skin that gave him away. That and the unfamiliar smell.

Arrêtes, I hissed, and ran into the courtyard where Chris and Ayoub were smoking.

The family stood in line to say goodbye the next morning. “Which brother was it?” Chris asked on the train, his hands rolling into fists.

“I don’t know,” I said. “It was dark.” Though I couldn’t name the boy, I’ll never forget his abrasive palms or the ochre tang of his breath.

They served salty porridge at the hotel in Tangiers. I couldn’t eat it.

About Nod Ghosh…
 


Untitled by Samuel Endalamaw Asfaw
About Samuel Endalamaw Asfaw…

Catfish for Dinner

Mary Krakow

“It won’t die!”

The fish flailed in the boat.

“Hit it with a club.”

“I can’t.”

“What do you mean you can’t?”

“It’s alive. I can’t kill it!”

“What did you think was going to happen when I asked you fishing?”

“This is different. Fish always die when you pull them out of the water.”

“Not this sucker.”

“Do you suppose it’s magic, like the fish in that old fairy tale?”

“The one with the three wishes?”

“Let’s try. Okay. Um. I wish it would die!”

The catfish quivered. The catfish flopped.

“I think you killed it.”

The two friends stood over the Sudanese catfish as it trembled and shook.

It turned an eye on them and whispered, “Fools. You had two more wishes.”

[Note: Sudanese Catfish are air-breathers. They can live a long time out of water.]

About Mary Krakow…
 


Mural 2, Essaouira Medina in Morcco by Sophie Boudet
About Sophie Boudet…

Somarôho

Lola Elvy

There is color in the skies, mirroring the ground’s beat, and the bustle of feet has never felt so lively, and it is suffocating and liberating, the smell of people sickening and overwhelming, comforting and beckoning, drawing you in, conning you into believing that this, this chaos, this unison without form, is home somehow, and you believe it, you do, because what else is there to believe, what other course of action to take, but forward, constantly forward, moving not through or alongside the crowd, but with it, watching it move alongside you, and this is, in truth, an individual act, a motion comprised of individual persons with individual lives, and there is music in the streets today, you know, but you cannot hear it, no, the noise, the noise, it’s too much, it is drowning you, taking your breath from your lungs, but you are at peace, you do not mind, because this, this is home, and the con is not a cruel con, no, because you know it for what it is, a lie wrapped in clothes of red and yellow and blue, but you close your eyes to it for now, because lies are ideas, and they are real, and they matter, and because yesterday there was no music in the streets, and tomorrow there will be no rush of people, but today, today is now, today is present, and today can last forever if you let it.

[Note: Somarôho – Malagasy festival, Nosy Be, Madagascar]

About Lola Elvy…
 


Window Shopping by Lesley Evans
About Lesley Evans…

Margarine

Marty Beauchamp

Cheetahs chasing Thomson gazelle, hyena cackling at the heels of the Land Rover as we raced sunset out of the park.

I spotted a leopard. So rare an occurrence that Peter, our driver, didn’t believe me at first. A steep kopje, bare other than the small rock teetering near its top, a smaller stone nestling alongside. Perhaps the leopard flicked his tail or raised his nose to the afternoon breeze. We made a slow arc back; he sat high above, regal, impervious.

We would be ravenous. John, the cook, the centre of the universe every evening. He guarded his supplies jealously, beamed as he watched our faces light up at the meals he conjured.

Our last night a mango rolled off John’s tiny fold-out table and he leapt after it. A vervet monkey was out of the overhanging branches to snatch up John’s huge tub of margarine before any of us could move. Tossing the lid, the monkey climbed back amongst its clan, grinning wildly down at John. It raised a long finger, held it theatrically, then scooped out a huge glob of the golden prize and plunged it into its mouth.

The monkey grimaced, roared, stood up with his arms thrown wide so that we might know his total disgust. The vervet flung the tub to the ground, where it collapsed into the dust.

About Marty Beauchamp…
 


Untitled by Samuel Endalamaw Asfaw
About Samuel Endalamaw Asfaw…

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me

Nancy Ludmerer

“Go on, Zach,” Dad says from the driver’s side. He unclicks the lock. I clutch the book Molly gave me, Born Free, about a lioness named Elsa. We’re going to South Africa in June for my 13th birthday: Dad, his fiancée Molly and me.

I climb the cracked steps, dawdle in the hall. If only Dad would come in, sit beside Mom, explain instead of just texting. Then he could hear it on the CD player: You don’t have to say you love me.

It was playing when they met. For months after Dad left, Mom played it constantly. My best friend asked: “What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s lovesick,” I explained, like it was a real disease, like cancer or strep. After three years, still no cure.

Now she huddles on the sofa with her wineglass, her dish of almonds, pale shards like ghosts. Dusty Springfield warbles: All that’s left is loneliness. My least favorite line – with plenty of contenders.

Once I saw Dusty on video, looking not dusty but glowy. Like Mom before becoming Mom.

Mom tells me Dusty went to South Africa in 1964, sang to integrated audiences, had her visa revoked. Apartheid is over, Mom says, but not the inequality.

She sees my book. “How ridiculous! Elsa was from Kenya, not South Africa. Besides, Born Free isn’t the whole truth. You’ll always seek the whole truth, won’t you, Zach?”

Years later, I still don’t know what that is. I wish I could ask her.

About Nancy Ludmerer…
 


Croco, South Africa by Agnes Marton
About Agnes Marton…

The Ploy

Joseph Greenslade

“Tonight, ladies and gentleman,” the safari guide says as he gets into the open-air Land Cruiser, “we’re going to find lions.”

“Lions! We’re going to find lions, Grandma!” The boy quivers with excitement.

“Well, we’ll go out but if it’s up to me, the lions can have the night off,” the grandmother replies nervously.

They take off and it’s not long before the guide hops out and looks around on the ground.

“I’ve found some tracks. We’re close!” he says.

They continue on before the Land Cruiser makes a gut-wrenching lurch and stops. The setting sun streaks across the horizon as the passengers gasp. The words they fear are spoken.

“We’ve broken down,” the safari guide says. “It may take us some time to get going again. I’ll check the engine.” The safari guide hops out. The grandmother grips her grandson’s arm. “I’m going to need some help,” the safari guide says.

The grandmother’s grip tightens as her stomach turns. “Don’t you dare get out of this Land Cruiser.”

“Grandma, relax,” the boy says.” I’m sure everything will turn out fine.”

He slides his arm free and hops off the side of the Land Cruiser.

“What are you doing? Get back in here this instant,” the grandmother pleads.

“Okay, I’m going to need everyone out to help push,” says the safari guide.

Everyone but the grandmother gets out.

“It’s alright grandma – hop out.”

Warily the grandmother lowers herself to the savannah floor and sees the picnic laid out.

About Joseph Greenslade…
 


Earth Wind & Fire by Rene Griffith
About Rene Griffith…

The leaving of the storks

Nicholas Fairclough

I look up at the gigantic stork’s nest, searching for the family of four. They’re not to be seen.

“Where have they gone?” I ask some locals, pointing up at the nest.

“To Africa.” I’m told. As if Africa is small and defined.

“But where in Africa?”

I’m given unapologetic shrugs. There’s a pause as the locals look at one another, seeing who will answer.

“Africa.” One of them finally states.

Africa. Conrad’s Africa? Tribal Africa? Apartheid Africa? Coetzee’s Africa? Sahara Africa? Safari Africa? Dinesen’s Africa? Colonised Africa – French, British, …? Christian Africa? Muslim Africa? Flisar’s Africa? Gorillas-in-the-mist Africa? Coastal Africa? Inland Africa? Corrupt and dangerous Africa? Lonely Planet’s Africa?

I make my way down to the lake edge in hope of finding the storks there. My last-ditch effort to see these angelic, graceful birds one more time. An offshore wind is blowing. Leaves, plucked off the branches overhanging the lake, tumble from the sky. They land and float on the water’s surface then, like boats, sail away … slowly and surely on a course defined by the breeze. The wind that’s taking everything with it: The leaves. The storks. Summer. What else will be taken? … and where is it all going? To this mysterious, vast Africa? This unspecified, simple ‘Africa’?

All I’m certain of is: it’s going away from here.

But not from me. The memory will stay, stuck in my head. Heavy. Unmovable. Going nowhere. Certainly not Africa.

About Nicholas Fairclough…
 


Transition by Lionel Smit
Interview with Lionel Smit…

Family Portrait

Jennie Marima

Mama and I went to Uncle’s office.

“Your father was a good man,” he said, tapping my shoulder.

Mama sat coiled in the chair as we waited for him to write a cheque. I smiled nervously.

When Mama spoke about Uncle at home, her voice was loud. She called him ‘no different than an armed robber’. After her spectacular venting Mama would calm down and say, “We must never speak ill of Uncle outside these walls.”

I had pieced together a sketchy timeline of what might have happened. Papa and Uncle had a business. Mama says Papa was too kind to realize what a two-timing snake his brother was.
Papa took ill suddenly. Uncle was never available. Papa soon passed on.

“My husband was a gentle soul,” Mama would say to the few people who came to see us in our one-roomed shack after our dramatic eviction from the prestigious apartments we once lived ‘happily’.
But that’s not what I remember. I remember hitting and slamming. Afterwards, Mama struggled to explain her bruised face. “Oh, the floor in our bedroom is so slippery,” she would say. “One day, it’ll crack my brain open.”

I was 10. I knew Papa hit her. I longed for a time when Mama and I could live without Papa’s constant terror.

The autopsy said it was poisoning. After Papa’s funeral, Uncle visited us in the dead of the night. He would make the case go away as long as we, too, went away.

About Jennie Marima…