Trauma

I Used To Like Tomatoes

 

This poem by Dambudzo Marecher was originally published in 1992 in his collection of poems 'Cemetery Of Mind, Which Of You Bastards Is Death?'

I get tired of the blood
And the coughing
and more blood
I get out of that flat real fast
to some cool quarrelling bar
and talk big to bigger comrades
washing down the blood with Castle an’ Label
shaking hands about Tsitsi bombed to heaven
trying to forget I don’t like cooking in dead people’s
pots and pans
I don’t like wearing and looking smart-arse in dead
people’s shirts an’ pants
(They said yoh mama an’ bra been for you
said these are your inheritance)
I’m soon tight as a drum can’t drink no more
It’s back at the flat on my back
swallowing it all red back hard down
I woke up too tired to break out so bright red a bubble.

 

About Dambudzo

Dambudzo Marechera was born in Rusape in 1952. His first novel, House Of Hunger (1978), won the 1979 Guardian Fiction Award. This was followed by four other novels: Black Sunlight (1980), The Black Insider (1990) and Mindblast (1884).

His poetry, collected together in Cemetery Of Mind, was published posthumously in 1992. Today, Marechera’s work, ideas and defiance live on in Zimbabwe, particularly amongst the youth, for his willingness to be the lone outsider, challenging conventional and authoritarian views.

This poem was originally published in 1992 'Cemetery Of Mind, Which Of You Bastards Is Death?'
Source: Poetry International. Image: Fabienne Verdier. All rights reserved.

 

The Hundred Wells Of Salaga: An Excerpt

 

An exclusive excerpt from Ayesha Harruna Attah's third novel, The Hundred Wells Of Salaga, published by Cassava Republic Press (May 2018).

In The Hundred Wells Of Salaga, Ayesha Harruna Attah, through the stories of Aminah and Wurche, explores slave trade in pre-colonial Ghana. Encapsulated in this exclusive excerpt provided by Cassava Republic Press is the emotive use of language Attah employs throughout the book, which transposes the reader to Salaga — a town in Northern Ghana doubling, both historically and in this novel, as home to hundred hand-dug wells used to wash slaves prior to their sale. In just 8 pages, Attah mirrors the captives' collective yet futile battle against pain, loss and death.


Aminah


T

hey walked and walked. The horsemen raided villages and led their captives to an unknown destination and, as their numbers grew, bound them around trees in rings like obscene jewellery. The horsemen stole cattle, sheep and goats, and mixed up their captives so they wouldn’t plot escapes. Aminah had managed to hold on to Hassana and Issa, whose skin clung to his bones, but they had lost Husseina. The horsemen had pried her from Hassana’s grip and tied her to another group of people. Every chance she got, Hassana craned forward till she could see her twin, and only then would she relax. Children and women were tied neck to neck, their hands free. The wrists of the men – there weren’t many of them – were bound with cord, and the strongest were restrained with wooden chokeholds. Once, when a horseman was retying the cord around Hassana’s neck, she choked. Her skin almost turned purple, and only then did the horseman relent. Husseina had stuck her head out and didn’t break her gaze until the person behind her tripped over her.

A man tried to run away. Aminah didn’t see the horsemen hang him, but in the bright morning light his slack body swayed from a tree, his feet dangling above the muddy soil. His hairless head, shaped like a cone of shea butter, rested against his right shoulder, his bare body gashed with lines of blood. The horsemen chatted around a fire. The smell of roasted meat wafted the way of the captives, digging into the emptiness in their bellies, into their nausea.

‘I hope they have nightmares,’ Hassana shouted. With sunken eyes, she leered at the horsemen.

‘It’s okay,’ said Aminah, trying to hush her. ‘It will get better.’

Hassana stopped talking but her eyes were fixed on the dead man. Aminah didn’t think it was going to get better. She knew nothing, really. And she was wracked with guilt at possibly having enabled her mother’s death. She should have gone into Na’s hut to wake her up.

One woman – also Gurma like Aminah’s people, but not from Botu – had said they were being sent to a lake with no beginning and no end. An infinite lake. She called it ‘big water’. Her weaver husband had gone south to sell in the markets and had seen these pitiful people chained to the fronts of houses. He was told they would be put in boats controlled by white men and sent on the infinite lake. Her husband was shaken by the whole thing; he stopped asking questions. The woman had gone to visit her mother when the raiders attacked her mother’s village. When they started tying her up, she knew her fate.

At least she’d had some preparation. For the rest of the captives, it was like walking in the forest on a night with no moon. They groped, bumped into things. Wild animals lurked and, sometimes, the animals bit.

A gust of wind sent the lifeless body swinging and wafted the smell of meat in Aminah’s direction. A lump pressed hard against her sternum, from inside her body. The muscles of her belly contracted and convulsed. Up came bitter liquid. She swallowed it, suppressed it. It was horrible. She’d never had to swallow vomit before.

After the horsemen feasted, they poured water to quench their fire. They gave their porters the leftovers, and the porters gave some of their captured the bones and gristle. Issa didn’t eat the tiny morsel of meat Aminah gave him. Then the horsemen split into two groups. A porter ran along the file, counted up to a point and cut the cord. The group ahead of Aminah, Issa, and Hassana went to the left. That group included Husseina. They walked until the tall grass swallowed them. Where were they going? Would the two groups reunite?

Aminah wanted to chase after them to get Husseina back, and just as she thought this, a shriek cut all the noises around to silence. It came from Hassana. Her scream froze blood. She doubled over, folded her arms over her belly, and wouldn’t stop. A horseman trotted over and yelled something at her. She was now curling into a ball on the ground, her nails digging into the red soil. The horseman dismounted and walloped her with his riding whip. She didn’t stop screaming. He kicked her ribs, but still she screamed. Only when a patch of red stained her dress, did Aminah break out of her trance. She fell to the ground and wrapped her little sister with her body and tried to stop the shrill scream by covering her mouth. The man’s riding whip whacked Aminah’s body until Hassana quieted down. Hassana whimpered all afternoon. Aminah had lied; it wasn’t getting better.

The captives tried to function as one. They urinated and emptied their bowels at the same time, under watchful eyes. When they were given food, they made sure every one got at least a small piece. But it was impossible to stay united in such conditions. Some of them were in more pain than others.

Issa struggled to walk, slowing down everyone behind him. Aminah begged one of the porters to let her carry him even though she herself had very little strength. He now weighed next to nothing.

After walking for what must have been a week, like they were never going to stop, they arrived at a place unlike any other they had crossed. Rocks jutted up from the ground and trees grew everywhere. Okra-green grass carpeted the land, and even in her despair, Aminah found the green fresh and beautiful, the rocks mesmerising. Not far off, vultures flew in circles.

The horsemen dismounted, trussed up their stolen sheep and goats, and led the captives towards clusters of large rocks and trees with gnarly crowns. On a large boulder, people were gathered, eating. Aminah’s heart pinched itself in what must have been excitement – the first time in a long time she had felt any hope. Perhaps that was the group that had left first. They could be reunited with Husseina after all. Aminah watched Hassana, but said nothing. Her reddened eyes stared ahead, focused on nothing in particular, as if she were sleepwalking.

If they died, would they become spirit walkers? She had to stop herself from thinking like that. She pressed Hassana’s hand – to transmit that something good might be on its way, but also to convince herself.

Up on the boulder, Aminah searched for faces from Botu. The group was unfamiliar. Suddenly, their captors whipped them and shouted at them to move. Aminah didn’t understand the language, but the word ‘Babatu’ was repeated. It was a name she’d heard in Botu, a man who was feared by the people of the caravans. If these ruthless horsemen were also afraid of him, he had to be a terrifying person. As that group left, any hope she had harboured dwindled.

Their horsemen led them to a patch of bald rock and one of them approached three women sitting behind large pots. Aminah couldn’t see what was in them, but she had sat behind enough pots to know the thick, gurgling sound of boiling porridge. The horseman returned and, with his accomplices, divided the captives into smaller groups and sat them before oval troughs smeared with the muddy dregs of the previous group’s leftover porridge. The women slopped the thick porridge into the troughs and the hollows steamed. Aminah cupped her hand to scoop the scalding gruel, blew on it, and led it to Issa’s lips. He shook his head and pinched his lips shut tight. No matter how much she begged him, he wouldn’t eat.

The sight of the skin puckering above his lips began to annoy her. She felt a strong urge to slap him. Hassana swallowed a handful of porridge and twisted her face but kept eating. Finally, Aminah ate what Issa rejected. The millet porridge was sour, with no sweetness. After eating, they were led to larger holes, where water had collected, and from that they quenched their thirst. For the first time, Aminah’s mind and body had pause. Something about having a full stomach calmed her.

She thought of Baba and Na, wondering what had become of them. She had left things incomplete with her mother. And then she hadn’t called her out of the room. How would she ever right that?

When the horsemen said it was time to go, Aminah got up, feeling full. Not satisfied, like after a good meal, but her body had more energy to keep going. Then down the hill they went.

Below them spread groves of trees nestled in lush green grass. It was never this green in Botu, where Aminah wished she could return, and strangely, the sentiment of loss and nostalgia made her hope the big water would come soon. She didn’t know what future it held, but she just wanted to stop walking.

Issa fell. He didn’t trip or stumble. His body was sucked down, as if called by the earth. His skeletal form stacked itself against the grey metallic sheen of the rock. Aminah stared at the way his bony legs had crisscrossed, as if someone had delicately arranged him into a neat pile. It was Hassana who got down and tried to revive him. When they realised Aminah and Hassana were stalling, a horseman and porter raced over, shouting. As they drew closer, they saw what had happened.

The horseman muttered and dismounted. He peeled Hassana off Issa and picked him up as if he were a bird. They carried him, then flung him over the rock. Above the rock, the circling vultures. Vultures were attracted to death. Aminah imagined below them was a cemetery of people like Issa who hadn’t found the strength to go on. She pictured skeletons stacked on skeletons or flesh on skeletons, in Issa’s case. Suddenly cold and afraid, she took Hassana’s hand, small and dry, and tried to think of to say something to comfort her sister, but more to comfort herself. She felt the heaviness of her tongue. She swallowed several times, before words could come out.

‘Maybe this is better for him,’ she said. ‘He was so weak.’

‘I hope he comes back as spirit walker to haunt these people,’ said Hassana, snatching her hand away to wipe her face, wet with tears.

When they left the rocky place, dying began to seem an attractive option. Running away was too costly; Aminah was so disoriented she didn’t know which way home was, and she could fall into a worse situation. The name Babatu was frightening, if even these horsemen were afraid. And how would she do it? Die? Swallow a poisonous bark? But she looked at Hassana and blocked her thoughts. They needed each other.

 

The Hundred Wells Of Salaga was published by Cassava Republic Press (UK) in May 2018.

 
 

ABOUT AYESHA

Ayesha Harruna Attah is the author of three novels: Harmattan Rain, nominated for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize; Saturday's Shadows, shortlisted for the Kwani? Manuscript Project in 2013; and The Hundred Wells of Salaga Cassava Republic Press, UK. A 2015 Africa Centre Artists in Residency Award Laureate and Sacatar Fellow, she is the recipient of the 2016 Miles Morland Foundation Scholarship for non-fiction.

 

What Comes After War?

A review of Ishmael Beah's Radiance Of Tomorrow.

BY RÁYÒ

Image:  Demilade .

Image: Demilade.

In 2009, around the time that I had just read Sierra Leonean author Ishmael Beah’s first book - a memoir titled A Long Way Gone - I watched a film, Ezra, by Nigerian filmmaker Newton Aduakaa. Both were about child soldiers and provided my first real understanding of what war does to everyday people. Until Radiance of Tomorrow, I had not read any full-length text that delved into life after the war. In spite of being fiction and not a memoir, the novel felt like an extension of A Long Way Gone — a natural follow-up to Beah’s personal experiences that were chronicled therein.

The Sierra Leone Civil War lasted from 1991-2002; leaving tens of thousands of people, both civilian and military, dead. Like wars often do, it left infrastructure, institutions, and systems in complete collapse - although many, including the educational systemb, had already collapsed before the war due to widespread corruption and poor leadership. Though the war lasted just over a decade, the troubles faced by those who experienced them often extended long after the gunshots have died down, and into the process of attempting to rebuild their lives.

Beah’s Radiance of Tomorrow opens with an old woman, Ma Kadie, returning to her village, Imperi, years after she fled from war. As she links up with Pa Moiwa and Pa Kainesi - two other old returnees - in subsequent chapters, the beauty of their memories of Imperi has the reader filled with hope, and anticipating the restoration of the village. Hope for the characters returning weary bodies to the last memory of stability and familiarity, after years of war. Hope for the restoration of this fictional place that has been thoroughly devastated by war — a war that was in no way fictional.

 

Personal And Collective Trauma

She had returned home because she could not find complete happiness anywhere else.

As the characters head back home after the Sierra Leone Civil war, each comes bearing scars - physical and/or emotional - and Imperi is filled with people marked through and through by personal and collective trauma. They return with a desire to rebuild what they can of their lives and go to work doing what they can — farming, reopening the school and selling firewood. There is urgency to rebuilding and recapturing their sense of home and community. Yet, held against their memories of old Imperi, their efforts seem paltry, and one’s heart breaks for the devastation that has left their homes burnt or riddled with bullet holes.

Sila, one of the villagers, has returned with two of his children. All three of them have been amputated at different parts of their arms, and some steps behind, the child soldier responsible for this, Ernest, has followed them to Imperi. Marked by the guilt of his act, he tries what he can to make their lives easier from behind the scenes. Other child soldiers have also returned, and they band together; living under a self-appointed leader, Colonel, who also keeps watch over Imperi.

While they attempt to restore their old ways of communality, all of them, young and old, have to learn ways of navigating their new realities. A young boy holding a machete for cutting firewood inspires terror; an old man tries to find a new way of greeting a younger man who has lost his right hand; people try to avoid awakening others’ memories of loss. Whether in little ways like that or big ones like trying to eke a living again in a poverty-filled land, their daily lives continue to be marked by loss and pain.

 

Aftermaths Of War

In a Ted Talk, Margaret Bourdeaux cites a landmark study on post-war public health systems, and concludes: “The most dangerous time to be a person living in a conflict-affected state is after the cessation of hostilities.” While her talk focuses on health systems, the devastation of Imperi and the things that lead to post-war deaths in the novel, include yet extend far beyond health care.

After the war comes the vultures. However, in Imperi’s case, the vultures are not birds. They are miners who have secured a long-term lease from the government and proceed to tear up the land, pollute the water, and employ hapless residents in unsafe conditionsc that kill many. Of course, along with this comes the impunity of their workers who are not from Imperi, and soon, rape, manslaughter, and other ills move into Imperi.

Sierra Leone has a rich deposit of mineral resources — from Rutile (the first being mined in Imperi) to Bauxite and Diamonds. The very things that should be a source of wealth to the people who own the land end up thwarting their efforts at rebuilding and chasing them off land that is rightfully theirs. While the capitalist gutting of Imperi is clearly immoral, the residents of Imperi are forced into grey areas of morality to survive. For instance, the school principal inflates the number of teachers and collects their salaries, yet pays for new uniforms for poor students when the government insists on it.

Two teachers, Benjamin and Bockarie, blackmail the principal into doing good and eventually leave their mostly unpaid teaching positions to work in the mines. As some characters die, leave Imperi or are moved off their lands, I realise that I wanted Radiance of Tomorrow to be easy, neat and restorative. What I got instead was real and raw — the fragmented process of rebuilding lives, and the fact of evil still existing.

 

Extending The Richness Of African Languages Into English

The African writer…should aim at fashioning out an English which is at once universal and able to carry his peculiar experience.
Chinua Achebe in 'Morning Yet On Creation Day' (1975)

The language of Radiance of Tomorrow is very lyrical. While the words are in English, it is clear that they were conceived in another language first. English, in its normal use, does not have the effect that Beah’s descriptions have. The breeze, the land, trees, and lake are all alive in this book. Nature is animated in the same ways that the characters are. In the author’s note section, Beah says he drew on the oral traditions of his mother tongue, Mende.

Writing has become a way to bring to life some of the things I could not give people or provide physically. I want readers to get a tangible, tactile feeling when they see these words, so I try to use words in a way to fit the landscape. This is why the writing in Radiance of Tomorrow borrows from Mende and other languages.
Ishmael Beah

In spite of the rich imagery conjured by Beah’s use of language, one cannot escape the subject of Radiance of Tomorrow: Trauma. Perhaps the language amplifies it, as it draws the reader into the intimate thoughts and lives of the characters, their land, and their culture. However, if one needs the comfort of knowing that they are going to be fine in spite of the horrors they continue to experience, one would not get it from Radiance of Tomorrow. In that way, the tomorrows of the characters are as uncertain as real life often is, but the journey Ishmael Beah takes one on is a priceless one.

 

Have you read either of Ishmael Beah's books? What did you learn from it?

Purchase a copy of Radiance Of Tomorrow online or directly from us here


Notes

a An emotive Ted Talk by Newton Aduaka in which he shares a clip from his film, Ezra, that tells of a child soldier in Sierra Leone.

b As of 1980, the rate of illiteracy in Sierra Leone for people aged 15 years and over was set at 80.5 percent by UNESCO.

c Though fictional in the conext in which Beah wrote the novel, the plights experienced by the characters are fairly reflectant of those involved in the (informal) industry of Diamond mining, in Sierra Leone, till date. Read this paper by Johnson on the history of Diamonds and resource-led conflict in Sierra Leone, and on working conditions here.

d Curious about the reintegration of child soldiers - otherwise known as ex-combatants - involved in the Sierra Leonean Civil War? Here are three reports by the UN, OECD and Humphreys and Weinstein.