Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Awaiting World Festival 2016, Rochester

I am looking forward to attending the World Festival 2016 which will take this place on April 29 and 30. This is an annual event, and I attended it for the first time last year, as I reported on this blog.

Rochester,  a city in southeastern Minnesota, is famous as the home of the Mayo Clinic It is also a true microcosm of the world, in terms of its cultural and ethnic diversity. It makes perfect sense that this city hosts an annual World Festival.

Like last year, I will be displaying my books, talking with people of different ages and cultures about my work as an educator and cultural consultant. It is likely that I will meet Americans who have traveled to Africa or lived there, or who have family members or friends there, and we will have ample opportunities to share stories about our experiences in cultures different from our own.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

More on Nawal el Saadawi's "The Fall of the Imam"

In my Muslim Women Writers course, we have now read our third text: Nawal el Saadawi's The Fall of the Imam.  I always hesitate to say we have finished reading any work of literature.

I had taught The Fall of the Imam years ago, in my Post-colonial Literature course. Reading it now, I see clearly how it weaves together recurring accounts of what appears to be a dream or a nightmare in a social system ruled by the Imam, supposedly in accordance with shariah.

The rule of the Imam is one of terror, whose claims of piety are hypocritical. In certain respects, The Fall of the Iman evokes Kafka's writing and the existentialist notion of the absurd. The Imam's regime appears formidable, but it is haunted by intense feelings of insecurity, perpetually lashing out at real or imagined enemies.

The main character is a woman who is hounded by the male accomplices of the Imam seeking to punish her for alleged offences. These men's zeal in what they believe is defence of Islam expresses itself in the cruel oppression of women. They believe that independent or disobedient women have to be punished, and the recurring image I have mentioned dwells on such punishments.

The Fall of the Imam  does not lend itself to easy, straightforward analysis. Drawing from and incorporating familiar traditions such as Islamic and Christian doctrines as well as Arabic folklore, it is an intriguing feat of the imagination and a caustic critique of religion and society.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Conversation With Patrick Hemingway

I called Patrick Hemingway today, and we had another conversation. I wanted to touch base and share with him my latest Hemingway adventures and dreams. I told him about my Oak Park visit, my acquisition of the new edition of Green Hills of Africa, my plan to visit the John F. Kennedy Library and maybe the Finca Vigia and other places in Cuba, such as the Floridita Bar.

We talked, as always, about Tanzania. Patrick wanted to know the state of writing in Tanzania, and wondered whether writing in Swahili had a chance in a world dominated by languages such as English. We also talked about the educational system, including the University of Dar es Salaam.

We talked about my plan to go to Iringa, to visit his old home in the Sao Hill area. I mentioned Ernest Hemingway's hunting expedition in the Bohora Flats. Patrick immediately asked if he had told me about a Baluchi settlement in that area. He said the Baluchis grew onions there. He gave a broader account of them as having been brought to East Africa as soldiers and mentioned their role as guards of caravans into the interior. He also mentioned a recent film about animals in the Ruaha National Park.

We talked about the caravan routes, and he said that European explorers used them. I mentioned Henry Stanley, who went inland and met Dr. Livingstone at Ujiji. Patrick noted the important role Dr. Livingstone played in getting Europeans to know that quinine was their salvation in otherwise deadly malaria country. Patrick noted that the evidence of the slave routes remained, in the form of mango trees, especially.

Patrick was happy that I was planning to visit the Hemingway collection at the JFK Library. As he had told me in the past, he told me to let him know when I was going. He would let the library know so they would assist me. I thanked him and mentioned that he had told me this in the past.

Regarding the Finca Vigia, Patrick told me that if I get there, I will be surprised to see how its surroundings resemble Africa, for it was all "nyika." "Nyika" is the wooded grassland vegetation that is so common in Tanzania and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.

I told Patrick that I had bought the new edition of Green Hills of Africa that he had told me was in the pipeline. I shared with him my excitement that this edition contained Pauline's diary, as he had told me. I reminded him that I had dreamed of going to Stanford University to read it. He said it is probably easier to read it in its printed form.

Patrick remains concerned about the population explosion in Africa, and he wonders about the availability of adequate food. He reiterated that the thing that mattered to him the most in Africa was the people. He repeated his criticism of people who return from Africa talking only about the wildlife, and flaunting their photos of lions.

I told Patrick about my plan to return to Tanzania upon my retirement, and that I looked forward to being the host for Americans who go to Tanzania. He commented that I would be a good bridge between the two peoples. When I said that I feel confident about that role, since I know something about Americans, Patrick quickly responded, "You know us very well. I like your book."
He meant my Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences.

Once again, I was touched to hear Patrick say this. He has told me again and again how much he likes my book, and I feel both honoured and humbled.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Nawal el Saadawi and "The Fall of the Imam"

This week, in my course on Muslim Women Writers, we have been discussing Nawal el Saadawi's The Fall of the Imam. Reading this engaging novel, which moves freely between dream and reality, memory and fantasy, and is peppered with irony, sarcasm, and sharp wit, we see its underlying continuous indictment of oppression and injustices perpetrated in the name of religion.

In order to gain a sense of the issues that are central in Nawal el Saadawi's life and work, and to witness the spirit of her activism as a champion of women's rights, we watched this video

Friday, March 11, 2016

From "Sultana's Dream" to "So Long a Letter"

My Muslim Women Writers course has concluded its fifth week. Having read Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain's Sultana's Dream and Mariama Ba's So Long a Letter, we are now reading Nawal el Saadawi's The Fall of the Imam. I just want to say a word about the first two.

Both are works of social criticism, albeit in different ways. Published in 1905, Sultana's Dream presents a reversal of purdah, the tradition of separation of the sexes and the seclusion of women. In the imaginary country of Ladyland, men are kept in seclusion while women run the affairs of the country, with dreamlike efficiency and success.

Set in Senegal, So Long a Letter deals with polygamy, the situation of girls and women, and the political condition and future of a country. Even though the letter writer, Ramatoulaye, has suffered immensely as a result of the insensitive behaviour of men, especially her husband, she avoids any simplistic casting of all men as perpetrators of evil and women as innocent victims. She acknowledges that there are good and bad people on both sides.

While Sultana's Dream describes an utopia and was ahead of its time, So Long a Letter deals with contemporary issues in a realistic manner. It dwells on women's experiences in an Islamic society, especially their relations with men. As a work of social criticism, it highlights the need for social change.

Monday, February 29, 2016

My Book at the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM)

On February 26, I attended a meeting of the board of the ACM Tanzania program in Chicago. Little did I know that my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences would come up in the conversations. Yet that happened.

Just before the meeting began, Professor Paul Overvoorde of Macalester College who had accompanied ACM students on their study abroad semester in Tanzania talked to me about my book. He said he had used it, and he praised it as a valuable resource.

After the meeting started, Professor Karl Wirth, also of Macalester College, mentioned the book and later suggested that the ACM use it as a resource for recruiting students for the ACM Tanzania program and the ACM Botswana program. Eventually, more voices joined in and the idea of a webinar was proposed, which would be based on the book and would involve participants from ACM colleges. Mariah Wika, ACM campus outreach coordinator would work with me on the webinar.

This was pleasant news to me, bearing in mind that the genesis of the book owed some of its impetus to the ACM Tanzania board, more than ten years ago. During one of the meetings of the board, Professor John Greenler, then of Beloit College who was getting ready to accompany ACM students to Tanzania, urged me to write a document, even just several pages long, for cultural orientation.

I set out to write those several pages, but ended up producing a book manuscript. The late Kim Tunnicliff, then ACM vice president, was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the book manuscript. On one occasion, as he was preparing a report on the ACM Tanzania program for the ACM deans, he kindly asked me to allow him to use what I had written on gender issues. He thanked me for letting him use my work that way.

Those are some of the memories I have of the connection between my book and the ACM board. What transpired several days ago at the ACM Tanzania board meeting was not out of the ordinary. I am, nevertheless, very pleased that ACM board members continue to regard the book as a valuable resource and are exploring new ways of using it.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

My Visit to the Hemingway Home and Museum in Oak Park

Yesterday, for the first time, I visited the Hemingway home and the Hemingway Museum in Oak Park, Illinois. I had wanted to do so for some years, as my interest in Hemingway grew and deepened. Yesterday, our group of five visitors was taken around the house by Michelle, one of the tour guides.

There are many things to see in this house: a sitting room, a dining room, a kitchen, a library, and bedrooms. The are many items of furniture, kitchen appliances and utensils, as well as photographs. We learned that this house was one of the earliest in Oak Park to have electricity. We were delighted that we could take pictures freely, in the house and in the Museum.

On the left is the bedroom in which Ernest was born. It was good to be taken back in time and learn that in the early days of this house, and when Ernest Hemingway was a child here, this area stood on the edge of the wilderness, and some of Ernest's earliest encounters with wildlife and the outdoors took place here. Animals and birds were hunted, for meat for the family. Ernest's mother, passionate about music, sought to inculcate the love of music in the whole household. Parents sat around and listened to the little Ernest's tales of adventure, even fabricated ones.

After about an hour in the Hemingway house, I walked the short distance down Oak Park Avenue to the Hemingway Museum. This is a rich repository of materials, including photographs, reports and captions, memorabilia from Hemingway's war experiences in Europe. and a lengthy documentary by the BBC which can only be viewed here.

I was particularly touched by materials relating to Ernest's early school days, including photos and information about his teachers, such as the English teacher who supervised the publication of the student newspaper for which Ernest wrote. I knew about this early writing experience of the young Ernest, but the Museum provided more information. I got a clearer sense than before of the background he had when he went to Kansas City as a teenager and worked as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star.

In the Museum I also saw Ernest's statement from this tender age that he wanted to write and travel. I had known for years that as a school boy, Hemingway had written that he wanted to explore far away places when he grew up. I was delighted, nevertheless, to encounter in the Museum a reiteration of those sentiments.