Dec 27, 2010

A Heart to Mend by Myne Whitman - A Review




December 2009, Romance
Authorhouse, 250 pages, ISBN 978-1449047504
Available on Amazon.com


Myne Whitman is an author I came across during my (ongoing) epic search for good African literature. She’s Nigerian, and currently based outside Seattle, Washington. I was immediately struck by how engaged she is with her audience on her blog - Myne Whitman Writes, and felt compelled to read more. She is also actively engaged on Twitter (@Myne_Whitman) and Facebook (hint…hint…to other African writers).

Available on Myne’s blog are excerpts of her debut novel, A Heart to Mend which I devoured in one sitting and found myself wanting for more; I was hooked. I went out and bought my own copy of the book, and here are my impressions.

Young and sheltered, Gladys Eborah moves to Lagos in search of work. She moves at the behest of an estranged aunt, who years ago turned her back on the family seemingly because of her distaste for their poverty. Aunt Isioma is eager to help Gladys land a job, and to build a relationship.

As Gladys navigates her way through Lagos, we see her emerge as a competent and independent woman. She’s building a foundation for her career and relationships; one cannot help but cheer for her. She’s a very believable and likeable character, and definitely isn’t a caricature of a dumb village girl gone wild in the big city.

Enter Edward Bestman. Edward is an ambitious and wealthy businessman. He’s immediately attracted to Gladys and pursues her with a single minded goal. He expects Gladys to succumb completely to his charms and at the same time attempts to keep himself emotionally unattached. Edward is haunted by his past, and this makes him a complicated character. Past experience has taught him that most of the women he dates have an ulterior motive and their hedonistic little souls will attempt to suck him dry.

His defence mechanism is to pursue meaningless attachments, in which neither party has expectations for the long-term. This comes into conflict with Gladys’s high moral code. She will not cheapen her affection for Edward nor will she accept his trinkets as her due. She wants to be on equal footing in their relationship which proves difficult given their socio-economic differences and experiences that have shaped their world views. It is difficult but not insurmountable! Gladys is unwavering in her commitment to Edward, even when pushed to the limit. She proves to be a steadying force when needed the most.

Myne does a really good job developing the story. It is neither rushed nor drawn out too long. We are given a first hand look at the lives of ordinary people as they deal with shifting family dynamics, loss, new love, trust and betrayal, and ultimately redemption!

As someone who has never visited Lagos or the surrounding areas, it was refreshing to see vivid descriptions of places frequented by the locals that aren’t your standard fare on the Discovery Channel. It was also nice to look into the workings of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

I really enjoyed this book and can confess to reading it all in one, almost uninterrupted run. My minor quibble overall is that at times the business jargon for the Stock Exchange was a little distracting. I didn’t need all that detail to understand the complexity of Edward’s business. But with that said, it didn’t stop me from reading more and wasn’t a deal breaker.

I recommend A Heart to Mend. I know it’s marketed as a romance novel but it’s much more than that, so please do not let that label act as a deterrent if you're someone who automatically shies away from the genre.

While I wait for her next book to be released, I’ll be reading more book excerpts on her site. Please join me.

Dec 22, 2010

You're not my father!

Every time I hear a modern president being referred to as Father of the Nation I suck my teeth and have to stop myself from bashing my head against my desk. I abhor the term and all that it represents in modern African politics.

Father of the Nation uses paternalist symbolism that I believe is quite detrimental to our way of living and thinking. This paternalism places the president in the role of the father and the citizen as the child. And as we know a parent often acts for the good of the child. I can see how this is appealing to our leaders – being a father figure in our lives makes them feel good about themselves.

This portrayal of a father figure evokes images of a kind nurturer with our best interests at heart. Someone who spends sleepless nights agonising about the future and the difficult decisions that must be made to reach certain goals.

Alas, this is not the case. Our so-called fathers use their elevated positions to mock us. Decisions that impact our daily lives are made behind closed doors, often shrouded in secrecy and when questioned a condescending smirk and pat on the head are the response – “don’t worry your pretty little head about such matters, father and his friends know what’s best for you.”

I am sure you do not need a laundry list of actions perpetrated by ‘those who know better’ that run counter to the interests of individuals. But let’s indulge for a moment.

- overturned election results that favour the opposition
- constitutional amendments to remove term limits
- unfettered political power used to quash dissention and to make everyone ‘tow the line’

I reject the notion of a benevolent father-figure sitting in state house – doling out gifts and favours to well behaved children like father Christmas at the mall.

As a matter of fact, I want that person to be an Executive – answerable to the people who put him/her in that position; a position with a defined job description and length of stay. They do not answer to donors who poured money into their constituencies but to ME, the person who walked into that booth and walked out with purple finger tips indicating I had exercised my constitutional right to vote. We have delegated authority to elected officials to make certain decisions, and if dissatisfied we reserve the right to say, “Thank you for your service, but we’ve decided to go with a different person in a different direction…”

Dec 15, 2010

Do.Your.Part

“A story about a place, a people or a nation can be used to dispossess and malign depending on how the story is told. A story can also be used to empower and repair broken dignity.”
“As Africans we risk losing our culture and heritage by constantly co-opting those of others in our dress, language, music, and value systems.”
I am sure you’ve seen the above statements in one form or another, and have probably even used them too. Your responses likely ranged from incredulity to anger or disappointment to shame. But now I ask a question of you – what are you doing to channel those feelings towards something positive? What’s your active in reversing the negative stereotypes and the ignorance that so aggravates you?

I am not here to preach or guilt tip anyone. I firmly believe we can all make a difference. This won’t happen by some act of God, individual governments, UNESCO or NGOs. It will be you and I to do that work!
  • Speak to your kids in your native tongue(s) – THEIR native tongue(s). Without this ownership our connectedness diminishes and languages are lost.
  • Challenge yourself and others to read books by indigenous writers. Make the suggestions in your reading club, social circles or whichever platform you are engaged.
  • Make your voice heard during constitutional review processes or other forums targeted at citizenship engagement.
  • In the way you are voicing concerns about Julian Assange’s arrest and imminent extradition, do the same about the mounting political pressure on free media in countries like Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Likewise do the same about the erosion of democratic processes such as handpicked succession planning crammed down the throats of voters. 
Above all, do not allow apathy and laziness to rule your thoughts and actions. If you do, then do not expect anything to get better. Take the leap faith to jump off whatever ledge you're desperately clinging!

Dec 13, 2010

Q&A with Austin Kaluba

Austin Kaluba is a Zambian writer whose work I came across during my internet wanderings. After reading his short story offerings, I went on a hunt to find more of his work. As luck would have it, during my phone interview with Theresa Lungu (author of Twilight in the Morning) I happened to mention my interest in Austin’s work, and she forwarded me his contact information. 

Austin graciously accepted my request for a Q&A, and here it is! I would encourage you to read his short stories -
Maria’s Vision (Africa Writing Online); An African Attends St George’s Day (Maple Tree Literary Supplement); The Hate That Hate Produced (New Contrast literary journal).


I am eagerly anticipating his work to be published, and hopefully you will be too.



Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born on 9th April in Kasama Zambia. I am fourth in a family of 10. I went to two primary schools Misolo and Henry Kapata. I later did my secondary education at Kasama Boys before doing a one year journalism course at Africa Literature Centre.


What inspires you to write?
I started writing in my early teens. I was a voracious reader. Reading was like a possession which culminated in writing. I read African writers in the Heinemann African Writers Series. I think Bwalya you remember the orange covered novels. Well, I devoured most of those books together with James Hadley Chase. I thought Chase was American. Later I discovered that he was English though he set most of his novels in America.

When did you start writing, and why?
You might not believe this. I made my first attempt to write a story when I was in grade 7. I can’t remember what the story was about. I found the experience satisfying. With no creative writing school in Zambia, I thought of doing journalism which I found was closest to my career.

Do you have a specific writing style?
I am experimenting with several types of writing which are not conventional. I have written two published pieces in an epistolary form. This is writing a story in a letter form like the Colour Purple by Alice Walker. I am also working on stories written in a stream of consciousness and magic realism.

What themes or genres are you most comfortable writing?
I am more comfortable writing about race especially how blacks in the diaspora live in alien societies of their former colonial masters who ‘created’ or distorted their new cultures which they either love or hate. Most of stories are about rootless characters confused in their new environments. They include illegal immigrants, prostitutes, asylum seekers and women living with abusive husbands.

What do you enjoy the most about writing?
Creative writing like journalism is hard work than most people think. I hate the actual writing process but love to have written. I mean when I start writing it is really hard developing characters, setting, the voice and several technical aspects to make the story come alive.

What are your current projects?
I am working on a novel to be entitled White Shadows. It has a Somalian protagonist who escapes violence back home just to become a terrorist in Britain. The novel will tackle racism, cultural shock and self discovery. A publisher, Ayebia, is looking at my short stories which they will publish soon. The publisher is a former editor with the defunct Heinemann Africa Writers Series.

What books and/or writers have most influenced your life most?
I have been inspired by several writers and novels. I can single out Peter Abrahams, the South 
African writer among my first love. Then there is the Godfather of African literature Chinua Achebe, Soyinka, Ayi Kwei Armah,Ferdinand Oyono, Ben Okri and Dambudzo Marechera.

Most people write part time. What do you do when you’re not writing?
When I am not writing, I play my guitar or read poetry. I also like going to the pub.

As an upcoming author, what are the unique challenges you face?
One major challenge is to revolutionise Zambian literature so that we can compete favourably with writers from countries like Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. Zambia has been rightly called a literary desert. It is high time we made it an oasis of creativity in the field of writing.

Do you correspond with other Zambian or African authors to discuss marketing
strategies, story ideas, writing challenges, etc?

I correspond with my good colleague Theresa Lungu who is one of the greatest story tellers I have ever met. She has read a number of my short stories and okayed them for publication. I also communicate with a fine Zambian poet Wampembe Lukonde. The other writer friend is Leonard Koloko who is on the Copperbelt.

Where is your work available? Online magazines, journals, etc?
My work is available both online and in literary journals like New Contrast. People can google some of my stories online :
Maria’s Vision (Africa Writing Online ); An African Attends St George’s Day ( Maple Tree Literary Supplement ); The Hate That Hate Produced ( New Contrast literary journal )

What are your thoughts about Zambia’s publishing industry -the writing and reading culture?
At the moment there is no literature worth studying in Zambia. Creative writing is still in its infancy. There is work to be done to establish creative writing at the University of Zambia, colleges and online. I remember writing an article in the Times of Zambia entitled Zambia Fails Literary Test. The article was written sometime in the 1990’s. Not much has changed since that time. A scholar of African literature some Obi Nwokolo wrote an article that was published in the Times of Zambia about the changing trends citing myself Theresa Lungu, Agatha Zaza and Ellen Banda as pioneers of the change.

Any last words, thoughts, ideas? How can you be reached?
My last word to UNZA school of humanities is to establish a creative writing course in the English department. I would also advise budding writers to do creative writing courses online to improve their writing. I will soon start a creative writing course for Zambian writers online. I can be reached on
akaluba (at) yahoo (dot) com

Dec 3, 2010

Where is your soul?

I surrender!!! I will never understand the kind of callousness and greed it takes for anyone put in a position of leadership (elected, appointed or anointed) to screw over people. If you read between the lines, you’ll see I am using much stronger language but for the sake of my mother who reads this blog, I’ll behave.

What ever happened to the ideals of serving your fellow man? As I think of the constant news of politicians and their comrades raking up wealth on the backs of the everyday man – I have to ask, what has happened to us?

Perhaps I am incredibly naïve to think that those of us who come from areas with crushing poverty would take our responsibilities more seriously. Who is better suited to fight tooth and nail for development opportunities for an area or group of people than a native son or daughter? If we are truly endowed with intelligence from our maker, why is this not TOP PRIORITY?

Why are native sons and daughters at the forefront looting and negotiating sweetheart deals for themselves and those closest to them - and thus broadening the gap from the rest of society? Are we so different from vultures lying in wait to pounce on an emaciated prey?

We open our mouths wide, crying like dying beasts about the evils of colonialism and neo-colonialism, while forgetting we are now the architects of our predicaments.

…Firms owned by MPs and Ministers overrepresented in lucrative government deals
…Pastors using church offerings and gifts to build mansions
…First ladies developing an appetite for only Ferragamo shoes


All while...

...mothers and children die in childbirth because of inadequate health facilities and trained staff
...thousands of children are growing up on the streets of major cities after the death of parents
...children are allowed to be incarcerated with their mothers in prisons whose conditions are akin to pig houses
...our brightest talents hawk cheap products on street corners and congested markets instead of harnessing their potential in viable industry.
I don’t get it.

Dec 2, 2010

I Do Not Come to You by Chance - A Review




May 2009
Authorhouse, $15.99, 416 pages, ASIN B002KHMZOA
Available on Amazon.com


I finally picked up a copy of Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s debut novel, I Do Not Come to You By Chance, and I’m so glad I did. Who would have thought a story that involves 419 scams would be entertaining, laugh out loud funny, and a little sad in the same package? But altogether, it was fantastic read!

If you asked me to describe the theme of the book in a sentence, I would say this -

It honestly depicts the struggles young, ambitious Africans often face when trying to navigate their way in a world littered with connected elites and the impoverished classes. 

The central character in the story is Kingsley (Kings to his familiars). He is the product of a well-educated, middle class family fallen on hard times in Nigeria. His parents are poor but wear the cloak of honesty and morality proudly. They would rather starve than eat food bought with a crooked farthing. And Kings struggles to balance his responsibilities as the eldest son,
the opara, and his yearning to do something meaningful for himself.
“My father was learned and honest. Yet he could neither feed nor clothe his children. My mother was also learned, and her life had not been particularly improved much by education.  I thought about my father’s pals, most of whom were riding rickety cars...about most of my university lecturers with their boogie-woogie clothes and desperate to fight off hunger by selling overpriced handouts from students. Yet Uncle Boniface – our saviour in this time of crisis – had not even completed his secondary school education.”
Kings is not unlike many of us young Africans who are nourished on the teat of “education is the key to success,” – the means of escaping poverty. However, as he sees the fortunes of parents diminish with the increasing political and economic instability in his country, it’s ever more obvious that being connected aka having long legs is critical. His idealism is severely tested as he has to make difficult decisions that not only impact his life but those of his immediate family and the woman he would like to marry.

In his uncle Boniface aka Cash Daddy, he finds a mentor. Someone who gives him a much needed boost up in the world. Cash Daddy makes no apologies for the lucrative 419 scams he runs; it’s a necessary evil. If people weren’t greedy enough to fall for the scam there wouldn’t be a scam, right? Make no mistake, Nwaubani isn't excusing the criminal element of the scams; what she does is weave a very believable story about the motivations that may drive people to such extremes, and how lives are irreversibly affected.

Cash Daddy is an uncouth but entertaining character. He often speaks unkindly of the ideals Kings and his parents stand for, and this made me grimace a few times.  His descriptions of the
mugus, the unsuspecting white people caught in his trap, are particularly unflattering as well but one can’t help but smile at the mental images. However, I can see why he sees things the way he does. The world he lives in takes no prisoners, and one has to have the street smarts to not only survive but to make IT.  And those that don’t, well...
“Is honesty an achievement? Personality is one thing, achievement is another thing. So what has your father achieved? How much money is he leaving for you when he dies? Or is it his textbooks that you’ll collect and pass on to your own children?”       
Nwaubani is quite adept at describing family and societal pressures, that it hooked me right from the start. I recognised many of the characters and scenarios. The book flows easily and is quite addicting.

This is a very good book, and well worth the price you’ll pay on Amazon or at your local bookseller. Also check your local library and you might get lucky. 

Dec 1, 2010

A new direction

DECEMBER 1, 2010

Today marks World AIDS Day. This is always a particularly sad day for me as I remember the people I have lost to the disease over the last fifteen years or so. However, this a new day in a different year and I am flipping this thing on its head. I need to think positive, and stand in solidarity with those infected and affected.

I do not take my life granted, and even more so as I think of the loved ones who lost the battle before they even hit their prime. My thoughts and my actions can make a difference in this fight. And the same applies to you, dear reader.

An easy way to start transforming our thoughts and behaviour is by changing how we talk about HIV/AIDS.

- We gain nothing by labelling it a disease sent to punish promiscuous and immoral people. I think we all know there are enough people dead or living with the disease that, if anything, were non-promiscuous and moral in their living. And even if they weren’t, who are we to throw stones?
No one deserves to contract this disease! And if you still think that way, you may need to look inside yourself and ask some hard questions about your empathy for your fellow man.

- I know there is a push to have HIV/AIDS accepted a long term illness akin to diabetes or cancer, so as to remove the negative stigmas attached to it, and this is a good thing. However, this is not license to become reckless and immune to the messaging about prevention and care. I have heard enough people adopt a disturbing degree of fatalism that truly saps any optimism we may have to decrease infection rates and to stabilise those who are on lifesaving ARVs. The fight is far from over!

As we live our lives day-to-day, let us not forget the important lessons:

KNOW.YOUR.STATUS
GET.TESTED
STAY.FAITHFUL
AND
HAVE.A.POSITIVE.OUTLOOK

Together we can make a difference, and reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS permanently. 

Nov 28, 2010

Personal responsibility

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now but kept putting it off for reasons that will be obvious as you read on. Events in recent days have brought my thoughts back to the fore and I would like to have my say.

On Friday evening, the FBI captured a would-be bomber in downtown Portland. The suspect is a 19 year old Somali-American intent on detonating a van full of explosives during an annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony attended by thousands of local residents (and visitors).

I live outside of Portland. I shop in that area, and have attended the ceremony, so this is a little close for comfort.

Details are emerging about the young man, Mohamed Osman Mohamud and his quest to perform violent jihad. We’ll inevitably hear accounts about how disaffected he was, how he felt left out in school and so forth. And the usual recriminations about how America failed him and others like him will become part of the narrative.

I don’t discount some of the difficulties immigrants face living in the U.S. and other countries, and how this can negatively impact their experiences but where is the responsibility on US (the immigrants)? For the parents raising children in countries other than your own, what are you doing to ensure your children are well adjusted and making the most of their lives? Where are you when your 14 year-old starts talking about his wish to perform Jihad to punish the infidels? When do you pull your head out of the sand and address issues before they become critical?

It seems that every time stories like this hit the news, we hear about how so and so didn’t feel connected in this new country he/she was living in, and how that anger simmered for years until finally spilling over. If only the schools had paid more attention or if the larger community at hand had been more inviting and welcoming, etc.

Granted, some of these arguments are valid but when did personal responsibility end? I find it quite irritating when people make excuses for their inability to make it when they stack the odds against themselves. What do you gain from living in your own insulated community, refusing to speak anything but your native tongue all at the same time pointing fingers at your host nation for not doing enough to make you welcome?

It’s a give and take relationship, my brothers and sisters. We need to assume responsibility for our own happiness, successes and failures and not fall into negative mindsets that keep us trapped. What are you doing to ensure your survival and that of your family? Are you making efforts to understand the culture and customs of the new land you now call your own? You were courageous enough to seek a new life outside your home country for whatever reason, why throw it all away by inattention or the lack of will? Nobody owes you anything no matter how much you pay yearly in taxes.

Nov 24, 2010

The hidden cost of aid

The news these last two weeks has been dominated by news about Ireland and the Eurozone. Does Ireland need a bailout, and how much? How will this affect the Eurozone? Are Portugal and Spain next? There have been a plethora of interviews with Irish nationals, politicians and economists all weighing in on the issue; and I find this quite fascinating.
I am always encouraged to hear people taking interest in issues of such importance, and how they go about getting their voices heard by the decision makers. If I’ve learned anything at all, it is how proud the Irish are, and the rest of Europe for that matter.
Taking a bailout aka money from the IMF is nothing of which to be proud. Words like “humiliating,” “shameful,” “loss of national pride,” have been bandied about; we saw a similar reaction earlier this summer with Greece, and I am sure the same will happen if and when Portugal and Spain need the same. No one is smiling while the ink is drying on those deals.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – my dear intrepid African leaders, I hope you’re watching and paying attention.
Instead of hurling insults at aid donors and other institutions who lend us money when they ask for accountability of the funds, we should learn to be responsible with money entrusted us. Furthermore, we should think twice about receiving non-emergency aid and come up with legitimate ways to reform our tax structure to ensure that people and businesses are paying their fair share, and that the money is used to fund our own activities without always looking for a “top-up” from the outside.
Granted the situation in Europe is unique to the financial downturn and immediate action is needed but the principle remains the same. What can you do for yourself without needing a hand? And what do you give up when you receive that lending hand?

Nov 22, 2010

Smart and Responsible Investment

This is part of the prepared speech by Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director of the World Bank. She spoke at the 2010 China Mining& Expo on November 16.
"Africa is an exciting destination for mining and other investments. It is possible to invest securely and profitably for the long term. Just follow common sense: Align Investments with Countries’ Development Priorities; Practice Transparency; Add Value to the Country and its People; Pay What is Due and Do What is Right; and Engage with Local Communities."


There are so many truths in this article that are not only applicable to foreign investors in African countries, but to us well, as Africans. Let us not buy into the status quo of back alley deals and fly-by night operations. We have so much to gain by investing in our own people and resources. 

Nov 21, 2010

Still broken

A year ago I lost someone very dear to me, and it's always hard putting into words the emotions that come from such pain. I came across this poem from Reality's Dream a few months ago, and it really says it well. 

"A year apart nothings changed still
The past come full circle now its the present
12 months of sorrow cant even crack a smile
Try to mend the pieces fix them glue together
Piece by piece but still nothing feels right
I’m still broken i cant find the right glue
Or i just cant find the missing piece
The one that can make me whole again
I’m stuck in transit and cant catch my connection
The departure lounge that is my sorrow
Tried to retrace my step roll back to this exact moment
All i see is just tall grass and a foreign land
An alien in my own world your world
This is what it feels like when life happens
I’m still broken……………still"

Nov 16, 2010

ONE8 - Africa Supergroup

A group of African music superstars recently recorded a single here in the U.S. The song is titled “Hands across the World,” it was produced and written by R. Kelly. This is a great collaboration, and I am chuffed that Zambia’s own JK is part of the group dubbed as ONE8. Other artists are:

2Face (Nigeria), Alikiba (Tanzania), Amani (Kenya), Fally Ipupa (DRC), 4X4 (Ghana), Movaizhalene (Gabon), Navio (Uganda) and of course R. Kelly (USA).

Happy watching (listening) and stay tuned for more details on a full album and DVD slated for release later this year. 


Nov 15, 2010

Q&A with Theresa Lungu

As a follow up to my book review of Theresa Lungu’s book, Twilight in the Morning, I did a phone interview with her to acquaint myself and others with her life and work. I hope you find this informative as I did.

Theresa was a joy to talk to and I am even more excited to read her upcoming book when it is released. Stay tuned for more details.

When did you start writing and who/what inspired you?
I have had a lifelong interest in writing. Writing was always one of my favourite subjects in school, and I had a literature teacher who encouraged my efforts because he thought I had a talent for it.  

How did you come up with the idea for your first book Twilight in the Morning (TITM)? And why did you set it in Rwanda?
The idea for the book just came to me. I wanted to portray a romantic relationship between an African and a black American which is a theme not often found in modern literature. Furthermore, in the male character (Denver), I wanted to show a positive portrayal of a black man – a young successful and responsible professional. 

Which of your characters do you most relate with (please give a brief explanation of why you relate to him/her)?
I most relate to Denver. He’s a character who wants to do something meaningful with his life while he still can. Though he struggles, we see him grow and find redemption. That’s how I see myself too.

At the end of TITM you have bonus read titled “Born Again” was that a short story or full length novel you later released?
That was just a short story and it appears in its entirety.  


What are you working on right now?
I have completed my second novel, “Torment of an Angel”. I am currently in talks to get it published. I also plan to publish a collection of short stories once I have a deal negotiated and penned.

The story centres around two characters who have each lost a loved one to HIV/AIDS. They struggle with the emotional trauma and this impacts surviving relationships, work and other aspects of their lives. These are issues we haven't seen tackled in African literature and yet are very real in our lives.

What do you enjoy most about writing? 
Writing is cathartic for me. I write when I am happy or sad, and find it very soothing. I also enjoy sharing my writing with others.  

What do you do when you’re not writing?
I work in the school of Education at Boston College, and I’m also completing my degree work in Communications. I am also the founder of Books for Zambia – a non-profit started in 2003 to provide books for the struggling library in my hometown, Luanshya. I started the project after receiving word that the library was facing closure due to the lack of resources. To date we have received donations (encyclopaedias, children’s books, text books, and so forth) from various groups, including my current employer, in the New England area. This has helped sustain Helen Kaunda Memorial Library. I am looking at expanding our operations to help local area schools in Luanshya as well. More information can be found on our website: www.booksforzambia.com  
 
Do you have a favourite author?
My favourite author is Wilbur Smith. He was born in Zambia and a lot of his books are about old Africa. For anyone unfamiliar with his work, “”Men of Men” is a book I would recommend.

As an upcoming author, what are the unique challenges you face?
As you know “Twilight in the Morning” was self-published; this was a very difficult process because I had to do a lot of the work on my own (marketing, finding booksellers, etc). To have all that work rewarded with a tepid response from my intended audience(s) was a disappointment.

As I look at getting my second novel published, I want it to be well received because I believe it’s not only a good story but one that needs to be told and shared. I also feel that with a good reception my talents and hard work would have been validated.


Do you correspond with other Zambian or African authors to discuss marketing strategies, story ideas, writing challenges, etc?
I am indeed in contact with other Zambian writers. We act as support unit – encouraging each other, providing feedback on works in progress, etc.

Any last words, thoughts, ideas? 
As a Zambian writer I am very eager to see our community grow. Zambia is not short on talented writers – what we have is a stagnant publishing industry that doesn’t encourage new authors. There are many works that go unpublished because we cannot find willing publishers. This has to change.

Furthermore, it would also be nice to see more Zambians embrace our work and encourage others to do the same.   

Nov 11, 2010

Twilight in the Morning by Theresa Lungu - A Review




December 2003, Romance
iUniverse, $12.95, 154 pages, ISBN 978-0595301911
Available on 
Amazon.com and iUniverse.com


Theresa Lungu’s debut novel tells a beautiful story. It is deftly written and brings emotion, hope and man’s ability to persevere against all odds to the forefront. The characters are endearing, and the reader cannot help but feel connected through their journey.

Saara Rushimana is a young Rwandese nurse working in a refugee camp. Her family was brutally murdered by Hutu militia men. It is through her work and her faith that she is able to cope with the horror unfolding around her.

Denver Milestone, an American paediatrician, travels to Rwanda to work for the UN at the refugee camp at the urging on one of his colleagues. He is at a turning point in his life, and feels the need to do something more fulfilling with his life, and this mission to Rwanda fits the bill.

Saara is drawn by Denver’s easygoing manner, and the compassion and strength with which he works.  She is very eager to ask him about his life in America but her shyness and the cultural barriers that limit their personal interactions act as a hindrance. In Saara, Denver finds a friend; one with whom he can share his thoughts and feelings honestly. She helps him navigate through life in the camp. As their friendship grows they both silently acknowledge the attraction they feel for one another.

Denver is well liked in the camp, and one of the more touching aspects of the book is the friendship he strikes up with an impressionable ten year old, Pierre. Pierre idolises Denver and dogs his every step. We see Denver taking on the role of friend and mentor to the young boy. I always love seeing black men portrayed as positive role models. 

The turning point in Denver and Saara’s relationship is when a few months from the completion of his contract, Denver understands the full implications of what his return home would mean if he doesn’t have Saara with him. He asks her to be his wife, and we are privy to the wonderful wedding customs they go through. Despite the fragility of life in a refugee camp we see a group pf people united in the endeavour to see the couple properly wed as dictated by local customs.

Not long after their marriage, Denver is critically injured in an ambush. He’s airlifted to South Africa for medical treatment; Saara finds herself alone again. When she later finds out that she is pregnant, Saara makes the difficult decision to leave Rwanda. She wants a better life for her child than an existence in a war-torn countryside, and the chance for him/her to know Denver’s family.

What follows shows the remarkable resilience of the human spirit. We see the growing love Saara has for her unborn child, and how she learns to cope with her new life in a foreign land. It's a remarkable journey. 

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and I would recommend it. I look forward to reading more from Ms Lungu. 

Nov 7, 2010

Zambian culture in music

"Here we are now in 2010 and as I watch the floodgate of music that washes over the dam of our sensibilities, I hear nothing that brings me the pride of old. It has become a genre that resonates of Western ideologies mixed with local dialect tricks. What was once uniquely distinct has become the verbal musings of under-directed minions acting like little R&B puppets. The music itself is catchy, much like the useless regurgitated nonsense we hear on Western radio over and over. Catchy street phrases are turned into big hits, because they have a good bass line. Auto-tuned voices are becoming the norm, and our youngsters envy a culture they will never understand."
Soneka Kamuhuza at Zambia Insights writes the current culture of Zambian music, and is quite forthright about his views. He's not alone in his views about the evolution of Zambian music which seen an over-emphasis of a lot hip/hop culture and a decline in our traditional sounds and voices. That's not to say there isn't good music being made, there is, but we need to be honest about a lot of the inauthentic sounds taking a foothold.  

Read more of Kamuhuza's article. 

Nov 6, 2010

My Letter to Oprah

Dear Oprah,

I can hardly remember a time in my life when you haven’t been on air. As a youngster still living in Zambia, I saw the power you yield with your words and actions in my own life. Your weight losses and gains are mirrored almost identically in my mother’s life, as are your various hairdos.

You’ve annoyed me, you’ve made me laugh and most importantly, you’ve inspired me! Through you I learned big words like self esteem and empowerment.

Watching Tyler Perry narrate on your show the story of his upbringing which held painful memories of physical and sexual abuse brought me to tears. I cried not only for him, but also for others who have lived through the agony of having their childhood innocence ripped away at the hands of once trusted parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, teachers, etc.

Silence is often a silent killer for the survivors of abuse, particularly child molestation. We often pretend these things don’t happen in our homes, and through this denial give the predators more power over our children.

Getting women and girls to speak out about their abuse is still difficult particularly in the black community, and I can’t even imagine what it’s like for our men. We raise our boys to be tough and to not show vulnerability. They learn they should in control, and that true masculinity means being strong and not showing weakness.

Well, what greater show of vulnerability is there than to stand with 200 other men in front of family members and the whole world, declaring that you were a victim and a survivor of child abuse? I applaud you for opening this door, and hopefully through this, healing may come for those who need it.

I hope that someone who watched the show this past week or the next one airing on November 12 will find the courage to speak out and seek help. Sexual abuse is about power – the power the abuser has on his or her victim. Even years after the fact, the power still remains when the survivor finds coping difficult.

Furthermore, I hope this opens dialogue between parents and their children about the issue. Only then can we start fostering an atmosphere that encourages children to be forthcoming about any untoward behaviour they may have faced, and where parents looks for tell-tale signs that often serve as warnings.

I honour your bravery and genius that drive you to continue to break down such ugly and painful barriers.

MissBwalya 

Nov 2, 2010

Oh Happy Day!

Today is Election Day here in the U.S.! I am positively excited for the end of negative campaign ads that have overwhelmed our lives in recent months. Starting this evening, we will see if the Tea Party is really a movement capable of capturing enough votes to tip the scales; and if Americans are truly frothing at the mouth in anger at the Obama administration.

Once all the votes have been counted and the dust begins to settle, I hope the American public will take a step back and analyse how things were conducted. Will vulgarity and fear mongering become the accepted means of political discourse? Will cooperation between members of opposing parties continue to be a dirty word? And will the interests of ordinary Americans continue to take a back seat to those of special interest groups that have literally pour millions in these races to ensure they have a bigger bargaining chip at the table when ‘their’ candidates have taken office?

If that’s going to be the accepted means of achieving and maintaining a democracy, no thank you! What a damn mess!

I was glad to see the turnout at the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert “Rally to Restore Sanity” in DC this past weekend. The sound and moderate voices that still exist in this country saying they have had enough of the angry and often baseless rhetoric. As others have said, it’s a sad day when comedians are the voices of reason in the political debate.

Now we wait to see who has been elected, and if they have the ability to govern in their respective positions and tackle the issues at hand such as the fledgling economy.

Oct 28, 2010

The idea of sanctions

This morning as I was getting ready for work there was a new story on the radio about the recent round of sanctions slapped on Iran. Apparently this is the toughest round yet, and the effects are already being felt. The U.S. government has been applying pressure on banks in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia to dissuade them from cooperating with the Iranians. The currency had taken a dive prompting their central bank to take action.

The prices of commodities are on the rise, and an unpopular bill to discontinue food and fuel subsidies has been presented to the parliament. The intent is to cut government costs and shift some of the burden to their citizens.

Economic (and political) sanctions are usually sold as a mechanism to force rogue regimes to capitulate to demands from the international community, or better yet to bring about regime change. But I have to ask. How often are these sanctions successful?

For the most part the regimes we are dealing with are not led by rational people. Sure enough it may complicate the running of an economy when they are unable to sell import and export and inflation runs rampant but they always seem to find other regimes to assist them and thus circumventing the sanctions. In trying to hurt the bad guys at the top we end up hurting innocent people by cutting them off from basic living supplies – food, clothing, medicine, etc.

The Iranian government has been under some form sanctions or another since the 1979 revolution. It remains an oppressive state, and the country’s leadership is still bent on becoming a nuclear power. Is the lingering hope that with the increased financial strain the average Iranian will be enraged enough to take to the streets in protest, and thus forcing the government’s hand; and if the government doesn’t come to heel the leaders will be drawn and quartered in a public square? Oh please…that only happens in movies.

You can bet that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his PR machine will exaggerate any negative effects of the sanctions on their economy and point out how ‘the infidels’ are the reason for the country’s suffering. And truly what better way to justify their quest for nuclear power as means of defending themselves from the bullies who want to interfere in their business?

I understand the rationale for applying pressure on government who don’t want to play nice with their neighbours, mistreat their people, misuse funds and resources for personal gain but I don’t know if sanctions are the right solution. Certainly a military incursion should be a last resort (ahem…
Iraq…), but what is the right answer?

The change has to come
from within. Those protests in Iran after the hotly contested elections in 2009 need to happen again, on a bigger scale and with more ferocity. This cannot be done by outside interests in the U.S. or Israel. The Iranians are not going to look outside for military intervention or for those sanctions to bring about regime change. They are going to need rally themselves in order to take their country back, if that is indeed what they want.

Oct 26, 2010

The Dream

Many of us economic refugees have what my friend Vimbayi calls “the Africa dream”. The dream usually centres on what each of us would like to do at home to make things better, in essence giving back. These dreams are often difficult to realise, and many of us stumble and lose heart along the way. Some are realised and are used to inspire others. Others ignore the dream, stifling it until they lose sight of where they came from and where they are headed. 

As I try to make my Africa dream come to fruition in my own way, I have come to realise that I need to surround myself with like-minded people as much as possible. During my undergraduate and graduate years, the one constant mantra I received from ALL my instructors in the business school was NETWORK! NETWORK! NETWORK! It was drilled into my head so much; I think I got my eyes stuck in the back of my head from excessive eye rolling, what did those old geezers know? 

Ha! Oh, what lessons I would go back and share with my naïve younger self.

So, as I surround myself with much wiser and experienced people it dawns on me how little cooperation we as Zambians in Diaspora can claim. We eagerly point to the successes of the Ethiopian and Ghanaian Diaspora communities, and yet we continue to work in silos (for the most part) on various ventures and projects that could benefit from the expertise of others.

My fellow Zambians with the Africa Dream let us work together when we can. We are not in competition with each other because at the end of the day we are working towards the same goal – a better Zambia, and a better Africa for ourselves and our children. 

Oct 24, 2010

Still shackled

"On a hot cloudless late October night in 1964, a young and vibrant Kenneth Kaunda, clad in a Kente cloth Toga, took the stage at the Independence Stadium in Lusaka. His eyes were as clear as the sky despite a sleepless night of trepidation.  The stars reflected brightly in the eyes of an anticipatory crowd. Some eyes were wet with tears, others crinkled at the corners with smiles.  School children performed calisthenics on the field under flood lights.  Kenneth Kaunda, trademark white handkerchief clutched between the fingers of his right hand, raised the hand to officially reclaim Zambia from the British." 
Read the rest of the entry
Theresa Lungu paints a vivid picture of what is must have been like at the inaugural independence celebration in 1964; the sense of elation and hope that was sweeping the nation. As look back at the 46 years of independence, what exactly are we celebrating?

Sure enough with self rule came the possibility for every Zambian to dictate his or her life without prejudicial restrictions imposed by the colonial masters - the ability to walk into a shop using the front door, to buy a home in any neighbourhood, to send your children to elite schools, etc.

For these things and others I am eternally thankful, and they cannot be overlooked. Thank you to all the freedom fighters for what you did.

As Lungu notes in her essay, the job is not completely done. We are still shackled in many ways:

- our reliance on foreign aid to balance our national budget, 
- our poor sense of self-worth that seems to look abroad first for solutions that can easily be sought at home, 
- our inability to prepare future generations to take over leadership roles,
- our inability to harness and nurture local talent, skills, and ideas on a large scale.


Zambia needs to grow, and continually focusing on the glory years of the 60s and 70s won't get us there. We must be focused on learning from our mistakes but most importantly on the road the lies ahead.

We need to start holding our government accountable for their actions, and remaining steadfast in our commitment to getting answers and solutions. Until then they will continue to take us for granted. Let us make the dream of independence worthy of the fight that was fought.