Posted on 30 July 2011.
Long gone are the days when folks used to stand on the beach and gaze into the alluring curves of the ocean and wonder what lay beyond the illusive horizon. I imagine regal warriors, curious children, and thoughtful mothers all taking a moment out of their respective 13th century day to dare to imagine what secrets the oceans were yet to spit out.
Blink. Hundreds of years pass and such wonderings are quickly quenched. Facebook, Twitter, Google, radio and TV all combine to make it simple and fast to know exactly what’s potting over the ocean. In fact the situation is now such that I’m regularly guilty of knowing what’s going on in some country hundreds of kilometres away and yet be clueless about the goings on in the lives of people I live with (Hi Mom).
Today, cultures rub against each other, fuse into each other, mimic each other, and borrow from each other on a daily basis. In Johannesburg alone, it is expected for you to be multilingual, for instance it is not uncommon to speak English with your colleagues, Zulu with your friend and Tswana with your favourite aunt and throw in some Afrikaans when dealing traffic officers.
Reading this book, ‘You’re Not a Country’ by Pius Adesanmi, my attention was not only drawn to how culturally diverse the world we I live in is, but also on the definition of ‘African’ these days. I think nothing of having croissants for breakfast (French) on Sunday morning, pasta (Italian) for dinner on Wednesday, and vetkoeks for lunch on Saturday, with liberal doses of emailing, texting, tweeting, and ‘liking’ all through the week about royal weddings, Asian tsunamis, South American soccer players, and American rappers. What is so African about my Africa?
This book transported me back to the lecture rooms of Wits and mostly fond memories of my African literature studies. Names like Franz Fanon, Wole Soyinka and Ngugi wa Thiong’o are littered all across this book like radiant lilies on a fresh green plateau. Naturally Chinua Achebe enjoys prominent placement. The book opens with a message from him and characters from Things Fall Apart are constantly being turned to further elaborate whatever point Pius is trying to make.
In his book, Pius shares his personal experiences of being an African, more specifically, a Nigerian man who has had the privilege of surfing the waves of culture around the world. His insights range from amusing, enlightening to brain-knottingly (is that a word? Well, it is now) academic. An amusing experience he had was when he moved to America and found that African Americans did not share his love for Country Music.
He writes: “By far the most delicate situations came with my African American friends. What the heck was this African brotha doing? What’s with him and the music of the southern white racists? That was pretty much the situation the first time I hosted some African American graduate students who had graduated and were leaving town. They couldn’t get over my investment in country music. Not even the evidence of my no less passionate investment in jazz, rap, and R&B helped. The fact that my collection of the musical masters of the Harlem Renaissance was almost complete made matters worse. One of them wondered aloud, albeit jokingly, how I could defile the masters by stacking country music trash so close to them in my collection. I even dared to put Dolly Parton on top of Satchmo (Louis Armstrong) in my CD rack.”
Apart from the amusing, the book takes a serious look at tribal and religious friction within Nigeria, in addition to his international experiences. Honestly, Nigeria sounds crazy! The picture Pius paints is one of corruption, poverty, corruption, country music, corruption, Chinua Achebe… and some more corruption. It’s quite interesting to read about the world our Nigerian brodas come from. Learning more about our fellow Africans will do South African’s good – especially as we try scotch this Xenophobia nonsense.
Do read this one and ponder the thoughts and views this perspicacious man shares. How are you surviving the milieu of this new millennium? Are you merely consuming and regurgitating it or are you taking the time to adapt it to yourself and perhaps even change and affect it in some way (preferably positive, thanks). What is your definition of South Africa and Africa, in fact, let’s be honest… when was the last time you thought of yourself as an African? I know South Africans are regularly guilty of referring to “those Africans” as if we ourselves are not just as African as they are.
Warning: Pius is actually a Professor – a Professor of English in Ottawa, Canada no less – what that means is that he uses words like fissiparous, impasse, comeuppance, concatenating on a very, very regular basis. So do make sure your dictionary app is good and ready to be abused. Being a logophile I devoured these delicious words. For the first few chapters of the book I tossed about in them like Scrooge McDuck swam about in his coins! But around about the third section of the book I had had my fill of the verbiage and my mind was bloated from the gluttony – frankly I was tired of looking up every fourth word.
That, however, is no reason for you to not read the book. Read it. I will make you feel smarter and you’ll have something intelligent to say next time you’re at a chisa nyama, eating boerewors, sipping on Irish brandy and American coke, wearing Italian sneakers, whilst leaning on your German luxury vehicle.