May 18, 2010

Not < blank > enough

I recently finished Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond’s debut novel, Powder Necklace. It’s a fictionalised account of the author’s life of a young girl shuttled between her native Ghana, England and the U.S. The girl, Lila, is sent to Ghana from England by her mother who “needs a break”, and finds herself in a country she has only heard about from her parents and other family members. It makes for a humorous read, seeing how Lila responds and tries to adapt to her new environment – collecting water to take a bath, watching the young maid kill a chicken to prepare for supper, etc.

The most compelling part of the story for me is how Lila struggles with issues of identity and her sense of home. She is referred to as Broni - a black, white girl, and she admittedly feels a sense of superiority because she’s English. As the reality of her situation in Ghana sets in (this is not a short term holiday after all), you start to see a shift in her outlook and attitude.

It makes for a quick read, and definitely triggers some interesting talking points. Lila is made fun of for not “being Ghanaian enough” – she speaks with an English accent, she knows little to nothing of life in Ghana, and she feigns little understanding of her native Twi. I can’t help but think about some of my own nieces and nephews that are being raised outside of Zambia, and what going back ‘home’ would be like for them. Would they even consider it home like I and their parents do?

Would they be horrified at the idea of sitting almost nose to butt cheeks with virtual strangers in a minibus? And would sitting by candlelight because of rolling black outs be enough to send them into a tizzy?  That’s the stuff you have to experience first hand to truly understand and appreciate. Will ‘my’ Zambia be ‘their’ Zambia or will they just be tourists enjoying the sights and counting down the days until they return home.

With that said, it’s not only children living in the Diaspora that have to deal with being not “Zambian-enough” or “African-enough”.  I have a Nigerian friend who gains an almost irrational amount of satisfaction in pointing out what he terms as “un-African” characteristics in others from his country and the rest of the continent, yours truly included. These vary from having not having a deep enough ‘African’ accent to having ‘too many’ non-African friends. Yes, it’s complicated!  I really take his notions with the tiniest grain of salt, and pay more attention to the wider perspective.

I remember a few months ago, the chairperson of the constitution review committee caused a dust up when in defending the 10 year residency as one of the qualifications to stand for president she stated that those living outside the country weren’t Zambian-enough. O.K.A.Y. I appreciate the value of being locally based to understand the needs of our country and being quote unquote in touch. But looking at the track record of our leadership, we may want to engage those in the Diaspora more actively despite the denigrating labels we’re quick to slap on them, and we just might be surprised.

Granted I know of Zambians who are very upfront with the fact that Zambia is behind them; and that there is nothing for them there. That’s a personal decision, while not one I subscribe to, I respect an individual’s right to make decisions and just let it go. This is not for them.  

If you bleed red, black, green and copper, and have a vested interest in our country’s success – then you’re Zambian-enough.

And yes, that also applies to mwenye-Zambians, muzungu-Zambians, and anyone else privileged to carry either a Green or Pink NRC. 

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