Found Objects: Street Art Kampala

We have short memories here. Part of it is self-preservation and desensitization, how else do you explain reading about our money being misappropriated and stolen every single day in the newspaper and feeling nothing?

We have had a long and bloody time in our short history as an independent nation and therefore it is necessary to re-forget every day that our President is a war criminal, that our cabinet is full of thieves. That way we don’t have to consider our own role in creating, nurturing and enabling these leaders we choose every election cycle.

Because there are levels of war criminals and degrees of genocide and there is distance between me and you and Kampala and Gulu and Kigali and Darfur and Port au Prince and the Bronx and time does not heal all wounds but we keep going anyway.

Chimamanda Adichie, who reminds us that when it comes to Africa Many Stories Matter, has a short story collection called The Thing Around Your Neck, my favourite of which is The Headstrong Historian. It tells the story of Nwambga, a widow who protects herself from her in-laws by giving her son to be educated in the ways of white missionaries, and her granddaughter who grows up to write a reclamationist history of Nigeria.  I love this story because how many African stories are blessed with the continuity of both pre and post-colonial history. How many of us know the multigenerational epic that is our own family history?

If the damage that colonialism did to our history can be compared to complete retrograde amnesia , then not only must we go back and relearn our past, we have to keep reminding ourselves of the present. We must force ourselves to see the malnourished kids on Jinja road as if seeing them for the first time. Art has a role to play in making us see and feel the same images again, differently.

Remember this image?

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South African Queens

Today I am thinking about female African pop stars, the ones who inspired and interested me when I was younger. Intrepid women who kicked down doors and destroyed barriers with the power of their vocals.

I am thinking in particular of three South African women who made a special place for themselves in the music industry and in my heart.

“Princess of Africa”

Ask anyone who lived in Africa during the eighties and they will be happy to sing some kind of localized version of Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s song Umqombothi. It is a song about home brewed beermade from sorghum or mealie-meal. It is first and foremost a party song, and I have fond memories of watching the adults get drunk and dance to it at parties when I was a child. It is also about the women who made umqombothi, and ran shebeens (speakeasies) in order to entertain the working men and feed their children in the poverty stricken townships. During Apartheid especially, shebeens were a cultural centre, an oasis of peace hidden from the burning South African sun of oppression.

Yvonne Chaka Chaka grew up under that sun; in fact she was the first black child to ever appear on South African television. When asked who she admired most, Chaka Chaka said

“My mother because she has always been there for me. My mother raised three daughters single-handedly on a domestic workers salary. That took great courage and strength. She is my mentor and hero. When I was born in 1965 in Soweto, it was during apartheid, and those were extremely difficult times. My dad was a great musician who could never realize his dream. He died when I was 11 years old. I inherited my talent from both parents, so music has always been in my blood .When I was little I would strum an empty tin and blow into a broom stick pretending it was a microphone. I sang in church choirs. I loved singing. I am blessed that I achieved my destiny, and been able to accomplish what my father could not.”

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Chapatti

When I was growing up, chapatti were a special treat. With a full-time job, 3 children and lots of hobbies, my mom did not usually have the 2 -3 hours it took to knead, knead, knead, let rest and then fry to golden, flaky perfection those floury disks of goodness. So we would have them on an occasionally Saturday, with chicken or beans, or whatever other accompaniment was on hand.

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the view from the afternoon

In the town where I grew up there was a wide lovely road called Kabelenga.

On one stretch of the road, at a particular time of year (Jacaranda season), the trees around would burst into a royal canopy of purple flowers.

These elegant and ostentatious flowers are originally from South America, and are actually considered an invasive species in some countries because they can prevent the growth of native plants.

They can be found all over the world, but I will always be reminded of that one road in the town I grew up in…