Writings of the general word's body

Monday, January 07, 2008

New Reads

E.C. Osondu's story, 'Voice of America' is published in Vice Magazine. Onwordi exchanges correspondence with his American pen pal, Laura. He and his friends think it's love, but Onwordi and his 'girl' may be talking at cross purposes.

Onwordi began to read from the letter to us. The girl’s name was Laura Williams. She had recently moved with her parents to a farm in Iowa from a much larger city. She had one more year before finishing high school. She was going to take a class on “Africa: Its People and Culture” in the fall and was curious to know more about African culture. She wanted to know whether Onwordi lived in the city or in a village. She also wanted to know if he lived close to lots of wild animals like giraffes, lions, and chimpanzees. And what kinds of food did he generally eat, were they spicy? And how were they prepared? She also wanted to know if he came from a large family. She ended the letter with the phrase “Yours, Laura.”

“Oh my God,” Lucky said, “this is a love letter. The American lady is searching for an African husband."
- Read Voice of America (and don't forget Part 2).

I was attracted to Chielozona Eze's story, 'Mallam Illia's Meat Shop' - published in Eclectica - for its many literary references, some quite obvious to any reader of Nigerian writing; and a few others recognisable only to literary insiders. But as I read on I wondered a bit about the very pointed ethnic labelling in the story. From the off, the protagonist, Chinelo, is described as "an Igbo woman". Why can't she just be a woman, I thought, especially as her ethnicity is restated in innumerable other ways later in the story (everyone wears their ethnicity in this piece: the Yorubas, the Hausa and the Igbo). But I suppose it comes with the territory, in a story about ethnic cleansing and the intermittent murder of the Igbos in the largely Muslim/Hausa Northern Nigeria. And it is Chinelo's relationship with a Hausa meat seller in her native Igboland that gives heart to this story, set during the killings sparked by the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in faraway Denmark.

In the dining hall were many people, half of them evidently Igbo from snippets of their conversations—patches of English and Igbo phrases, most of which were boastful in nature. "I did it!" "I made it!" "I showed them!" It was usual with many Igbo traders They loved to boast about where they had been and the profit they made in their daring business ventures. About two tables to her left were also some of the conference attendees. She had exchanged greetings with some of them the day before. They spoke Igbo with Owerri dialect. She put two teaspoonful of coffee in the cup, poured hot water, and as she was stirring, readying her taste buds for the first sip, a middle aged, plump woman with cornrow hair braids sped into the dining hall, crying in Igbo, her gaze directed to one of the tables on the left. "Ha emekwa ya ozo"—they've done it again. "Ndi Awusa!—the Hausa people. My broda! My broda. Killed."

Lightning lashed through Chinelo's heart. Three words that should never be mentioned in a breath ­ Moslems! Awusa! Killed—conspired to paralyze her. Hadn't she been warned by her mother? She did her best to shrug it off as there was no panic yet in the dining hall. People weren't yet running to safety. Chinelo was able to gather from the few exchanges between the woman and the people that her sister in-law was living somewhere in the North and had called her by phone to relay the information.

- Read Mallam Illia's Meat Shop.

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