Kanshie Trotro

So this was me, sitting in the trotro, waiting to go home. I was ruefully weighing the pros and cons of my latest crush, telling myself all the reasons for which it was a bad idea when this lady in the trotro came and sat next to me. I paid her no mind until she started talking. At first I was just intrigued by her accent, like “Whoa, where is this lady from,” because I’ve never heard anyone who sounds like her before, but I didn’t ask. My guess is she’s either from somewhere up north, or Tanzania. What a Tanzanian is doing in a Kaneshie trotro, I have no clue.

So she tells me she’s Roman Catholic, says some other things I don’t remember, and then tells me she’s a messenger from God. Now, this got me excited, because this stuff doesn’t happen to me often. Even in church I almost never get called on when the shpirid is moving, so I thought this would be dope.

So apparently I’m one of 2000 males created immediately after Jesus was, whom God has set aside to be his special people in the earth. We will be among the first to be taken up into heaven too. At this point I got even more excited, because after the whole disappointment with Jericho’s prophecies I was really beginning to doubt that I’d ever have the chance to save the world from a zombie apocalypse, but this was giving me hope! I began to visualize all the special ways I would do special things because of the special powers God would obviously have to give me. At this point I was too busy being excited about the laser vision God would give me for zombie-smiting to really pay attention to her, but then I heard her say that because of my special destiny I was not supposed to marry; I was supposed to stay celibate and do God’s work.

I was like:

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Wollop, wollop, wollop
gerrarahere
Gerrarahere for real mehn!

I’m supposed to stay what now? At this point I was cry-laughing in my soul because, uh uh boo-boo, ain’t gonna happen. I should stay what? Anka take your laser eyes. Take! My heroic destiny will have to wait till after my honeymoon. I know, not very heroic and self-sacrificing but fam, this touched a nerve. This crossed the line! I could give up an arm and a leg if it was the only way to defeat the demon ninja army; I could give up both eyes if that was the only way to defeat Medusa’s Cabal; I could sit through ten thousand hours of Hannah Montana if that’s what would stop the Girl Guides from taking over the world (they will, mark my words), but not marry? Anka the world should burn.

With a heavy heart I listened to the rest of her message. I nodded as she casually mentioned that God had also told her to ask me for 10 cedis to go do his work at Kanshie, and tearfully negotiated a discount. God knew I was sad, so He would spare me 5 cedis to buy khebab as I mourn. It’s been too much disappointment. First Jericho, now Kaneshie-trotro-lady. My little heart just can’t.

I tried to get a picture of her, but the angles in trotros don’t favour sneak photography. If you see her around, go the other way before she shatters your dreams of being a special snowflake too.

kaneshie_trotro

She.

She stands at the kerb
Watches light and shadow shake hands,
Exchange their “How do you do”s, and laughs.
She laughs at the dark
Till the shadows cower before her, naked and afraid,
And the light strives to catch her face.
She is many parts shade and many more flame
She screams greyed reds and laughs at the rules
She loves just like talking in her sleep
Her palms are a dare to turn from the truth between the lines.
I cannot read her
Her palms are mirrors
I only see my own naivety.

 

© 2015 k.amoh

Book review: Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

I’ve always loved fantasy and liked sci-fi. Fantasy has a special place in my heart, because good swords-and-sorcery fiction is just made of win. There’s a lot to love in the genre, especially when it’s done well (a la Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch).

All my life I’ve been reading these books, and not once have I read an author who looks like me. Almost every book of the genre that I’ve read was by an American author with your typical nerd history (played D&D, huge Star Wars/Star Trek fan), and I think they’re to blame for my geek leanings. I mean, what business has a Ghanaba like me have wishing we had LARP meets in Ghana?

Not once have I read a fantasy or sci-fi book by a black author. I’m sure there are a couple out there, I just never read one. Then I stumbled upon Nnedi Okorafor, and her novella Binti. I saw a picture of the cover art on my Twitter feed, and was immediately intrigued. A black protagonist? A Nigerian name on a sci-fi book? A female Nigerian sci-fi writer? And she’s getting good press? I immediately had to read this book, and so I did. Let me tell you, Binti is a great book. It’s sci-fi, which as I said is a genre I like, but don’t read much of, and so I came to this book with no expectations. I was only hoping for an engaging read and some interesting characters.

Binti is a Nebula Award winning novella that follows the titular character on her journey across space to Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. She is the first of the Himba people to ever be offered a place at Oomza, but her decision to accept the offer upturns her life and is strongly opposed by her family. Binti is willing to acquire knowledge no matter the cost, and determines to make the journey regardless. She had no idea that what was supposed to be a routine flight would take a disastrous turn, and her life would be changed forever.

I’m trying to not spoil much, because I’d rather you read it as I did, with no idea what to expect, and form your own opinions about it. I really, really wanted to love this book totally and completely, with no reservations, and be completely blown away by it, but I wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the writing, the attention to detail, and the effort it takes to craft a great story and a convincing world in under 100 pages, so I’m not being hypercritical. It’s just some things felt a little forced for me, some things did not play out the way they should have (I’m talking about consequences for atrocious actions), and I had a sense there was far more that Nnedi could have done with this. The resolution felt a little too bow-tied and perfect, but the sections in which Binti talks about the history of her people, their suffering and the richness of their culture are amazing. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s not half bad either. I really recommend you pick it up if you can. The sections about the Himba people alone are worth it.

I like this book for another reason. Nnedi Okorafor is an inspiration to me, being Nigerian and yet writing sci-fi. I’ve always had trouble with the fact that African writers seemed to only write a certain kind of book, that was always set in a certain kind of place, and dealt with a certain kind of theme. I don’t like the fact that the phrase “African writer” evokes images of savannas for cover art and themes of colonial oppression and race and hardship. Yes, much of African history is similar in certain regards and many people in many places across the continent have had similar experiences, but I do not believe there is one “African narrative.” We are many things. We are not an undifferentiated mass of shared experience and choices. We should be allowed to tell our stories how we want to, and I believe Nnedi Okorafor did exactly that, in a fresh approach that resonated with me immensely. I really liked this book. My only gripe was with some of the storytelling choices she made. That said, this is a great book that explores themes of importance to us, and the fact that it’s done in a fresh, unconventional format makes this novella a must read.

I give Binti 4/5 stars.

 

 

Binti is available in audio format on audible.com, and I recommend you get the audiobook if you can. I enjoyed it a ton.

Jericho’s Walls

Jericho’s Walls

When I was in high school I remember I saw a ton of scribbles in chalk and charcoal on many walls in my neighbourhood. I thought it was strange, but paid no mind. A few weeks later I saw a man holding a piece of chalk, scribbling on a wall. He wore dirty clothes, was barefoot and looked like what we in Ghana call a madman. I remember I had a subconscious, superstitious fear that if I ever read his scribbles I’d go mad too, so I stayed away from any walls he’d written on. I got to calling him Jericho—get it? He wrote on walls, so they were Jericho’s walls? I’m punny, I know—and thought I’d like to make him a character in a comic who covered the walls of his city with scribbling that no one knew were prophecies of an impending doom, and how they might be saved, apart from an intrepid young lad who cracked his code *wink, wink*.

I thought Jericho was cool, but after a while, I saw Jericho’s scribbles around less and less. Rain washed the walls of his chalk and charcoal prophecies, so I never got to find out whether it was a meteorite or zombie apocalypse that would wipe out my city, or how to find the secret bunker in which he had stashed his supply of phantom-repellent and kaiju poison.

A few days ago on my way to a SASA meeting I saw Jericho scribbling on the pavement at a traffic light. I was immediately seized with a feeling I can’t quite describe. It began as a mildly surprised “Oh! It’s Jericho,” bubbled into an excited “Damn, Jericho! Back at it again with the prophecies!” before petering out into a guilty “Aw man. He’s still not healthy.” My trotro took off soon after, and I made a mental note to get over my damn fear of my heroic destiny and read his prophecies so I know what to wear the day the lizard-people come.

Sitting in the trotro, I kept thinking about Jericho and the mentally ill in general. There is a fundamental hatred for and fear of them in our society. We’ve all been kids who ran away from the neighbourhood madman (you had yours, I’m sure), deathly scared he would eat us. We’re afraid of them because we don’t understand them, and we shun them because we think they’re beyond helping. Frankly, I don’t believe we even want to help them.

There’s a joke we throw about like it’s nothing but I swear it’s dripping with truth; “Many are mad, but few are naked.” We hear that and laugh, because it’s often used to snidely imply that someone’s behavior marks them as a crazy person. Either that, or we think “mad” applies only to the subset of our society that is homeless and has unkempt hair, and we assume the joke is saying something about degrees of madness, some kind of “madder-ness” that’s extra insane and goes about naked, but that is missing the point. I think that’s not all the joke is saying, but I’ll address that in another post. Back to Jericho. This isn’t meant to be heavy. Well, not that heavy.

After my meeting, I got on a trotro and headed straight home. I got off at the traffic light, and walked over to where I’d seen him writing. I had to see what he found so important that he had to write it everywhere. I whipped out my phone, ready to capture the ingredients of the secret formula that would turn me into Captain West Africa. Instead, I saw:

ADABRAKA PRIMARY SCHOOL

KNOCKOUT COCAO NOUNTEEE

UR STILL ATTACH REINHARDBONNZE

KUMAWO SR KIEGGGG OH SAY MOKOLA PUEGEOT

ATTACH GOVERNMENT PROPERTY

and more gibberish that I guess he saw on signs around the city. Maybe it’s a code, but I don’t have the Robert Langdon level skills required to crack this code. Is he saying advertising is evil? Some tool employed by the aliens to lull us into a consumerist stupor that makes us unprepared for their invasion? Maybe there’s something to be said about how flooded our society is with advertising that it’s all that runs through a madman’s mind, but that’s also for another post. Like I said, this is not meant to be heavy.

It was cool to finally read his scribbles, to finally know I’ll have to look elsewhere for instructions on how to survive the attack of the Donald Trump clones. There’s something else I want to unpack here but I don’t know how to do it without being fake-deep. Maybe some other time. Or maybe, I’m the crazy person for thinking there was some deep truth in the scribbling of a madman, but I don’t think that’s likely. Is it? Nah.

Is it?

Maybe Jericho should have written this post. He’d probably make more sense than I did 😀

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Suitcase

He liked cleaning. Anything that forced order on the world was good.

He avoided the corner farthest from the door because that’s where the suitcase was, and whenever he got too close he heard the rattle of his father’s bones, promising that the trip would be the greatest trip ever. He hadn’t kept that promise. It didn’t matter that he’d died two years ago in a car crash days before the trip. He’d had a chance to make up for every prior broken promise, and hadn’t.

He made sure to avoid the corner farthest from the door.

© 2016 k.amoh

 

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