Mar 29, 2012

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor – A Review

April 2011, Young Adult Fiction
Viking Juvenile, 349 pages, ISBN 978-0670011964
Available on Amazon (paperback & e-book)

I first stumbled across Akata Witch last year when I was perusing the young adults “new books” section at my local library, and was immediately captivated by the cover. I placed it on my TBR and finally got to read it as the first book of 2012 in my continuing African Reading Endeavour.

The story is told from the point of view of Sunny, a young girl living near the town of Aba, Nigeria. As we are introduced to Sunny, she opens a window into her life and how the world sees her:

“I am Nigerian by blood, American by birth, and Nigerian again because I live here. I have West African features, like my mother, but while the rest of my family is dark brown, I’ve got light yellow hair, skin the color of “sour milk” (or so stupid people like to tell me), and hazel eyes that look like God ran out of the right color. I’m albino.”

She doesn’t quite fit in, and is a loner is most ways. She’s picked on and called “akata,” a derogatory term for an American-born person of African descent. However, things start to look up for Sunny when she finds herself in a new circle of friends, and is introduced to a community known as the Leopard People.

Her new friends have magical powers, and show her that she’s special too. She is what is known as a “free agent,” a person born with magical powers despite no magical parents. She is soon reading literature and taking classes to harness her skills and learn more about her abilities.

In the backdrop, there is a serial killer preying on children. The manner in which the children are taken and killed is indicative of the perpetrator being someone from the Leopard community. Soon, Sunny and her friends are called into action to stop the Black Hat killer, as he’s known.

It’s hard not to go on but I need to avoid giving away spoilers…

This book was very engaging, and for someone who doesn’t typically read fantasy this is a testament to Nnedi Okorafor’s skill as a writer to keep me hooked! I loved reading the encounters between Sunny and her new friends in the Leopard community, and seeing the growth of their friendship and trust in one another. Pardon me for the cliché but this is a great story about growing up and finding your place in your community.

I would have liked to see the character of Black Hat more fleshed out because as it is the climax was little too neat and clinical. Learning more about him and motivations wouldn’t necessarily have made him a sympathetic character but rather someone a little less mystical and ominous. With that said there was still a lot going on in other parts of book that I didn’t feel cheated.

This is a must read for everyone who enjoys good literature. I’m so happy Okorafor has introduced young (and old) readers to a different world of fantasy that goes beyond the standard to which we’ve all grown accustomed.

Mar 28, 2012

Earn your place

There’s an interesting phrase that’s often bandied around when we talk about the lack of adequate representation of women and youth at decision making tables – it’s “earn your place at the table.” Without doubt years of hard work is what gets many of us into positions of power and influence, but we cannot deny the bias that’s inherent in companies, government and other sectors that are routinely dominated by men who typically earn more and are more likely to have a seat at the table.

As I look at this from the political context, I see many examples of women who have been in the proverbial trenches for years and yet when you look at their numbers at the executive level, their numbers are appalling. So, how does one “earn a place at the table?” Or maybe the better question is “what are men doing that women aren’t?”

Perhaps it could be in due in part to the following: (1) the inability of those in leadership positions to mentor and/or step aside for others to take over, and (2) women shying away from these positions because they often cater to those with aggressive tactics, and they fear being labelled a “bitch” or “unruly woman.”

Getting beyond this will require effort by everyone. Women will need to set aside the outmoded defense mechanisms set up by the old establishment that tar and feather women for being ambitious. There is real need to be aggressive in internal political processes as it pertains to nominating and adopting candidates – women need to be aggressive, and support one another from the very outset. Waiting until Election Day is too late in the process and counterintuitive.

Furthermore, mentoring is extremely critical. Both men and women in leadership need to help those coming behind them by showing them how to ‘hoe the row.’ It is of course human nature to protect what you have from real and/or perceived threats but in the political arena, where the issues at hand go beyond an individual it’s imperative to look into the future and groom others to do the job even better than you. Without this we are doomed to continue making decisions from the same narrow point of view.

Mar 20, 2012

Finding an outlet

With the power behind social networking, we’ve really seen the speed at which ideas can travel and how quickly people can latch onto a cause. The most recent example of this is the Kony 2012 campaign by Invisible Children. Don’t worry I am not going to delve into that particular subject; there are many others who have added their voices from both sides.

What I am focusing on here is activism versus slactivism. Slactivism is by definition “the public proclaiming of one's political beliefs through activities that require little effort or commitment.” These passive forms of protest and/or support aren’t a new thing; they are just more visible from our Facebook pages, Twitter timelines and blogs.

It’s easy to look at this condescendingly but I think we do that to our own detriment. While not everybody who likes the “Feel your boobies” Facebook page will actually donate money towards breast cancer research, I believe those users are more likely to do more reading about the disease and educate themselves about self examinations, yearly screenings, etc. Which is a good thing, right?

Awareness is one step. Action is the next.

We need to realise that not everyone who jumps onto a cause by sharing a video or article is going to be the proverbial ‘boots on the ground’ person doing the work that needs to be done. Instead of simply sneering with self righteousness about your personal stints in the slums and hinterlands of god-knows what country, how about forging those online interactions into something tangible that truly effects change? Don’t be quick to scream expletives at the unlearned. Instead use it as a teachable moment to spread truth and provide meaningful outlets for those who have the means and interest to support the cause.

And understand that there are others who will be merely satisfied with ‘liking’ posts and wearing a trendy bracelet. Keep it moving...

Mar 8, 2012

This is for all of us

“Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty.”
March 8th is International Women’s Day. This is a day that makes me pause (a little longer than usual) to reflect on the progress we have made as a society in advancing women’s rights and to focus on the work that remains to be done.

This morning my mother took part in a march in Lusaka under the banner of her employer to commemorate the day. I wish I was there to join her and the hundreds of others who are united as one in recognising the continued struggle that women continue to face in terms of access to health, education, credit, land and protection from violence.

I am immensely proud of my mother and when she messaged me “I am doing this for all of us,” I choked back tears because I know exactly what that means. It’s not simply enough to say I’m for the advancement of women and not follow it up with action. We all have a part to play.

We need to continually invest in women and children, and pave the path for their success if we’re to combat chronic hunger and poverty.