Friday, December 23, 2016

The Ghost of Hamlet's Father

In the past several days, I have been reading Shakespeare's Hamlet, not only to experience again the power of a creative genius of unequalled talent, but in order to reflect on the ghost of Hamlet's father, one of the characters in that play that has always fascinated me. Ever since I watched a film version of Hamlet, in which Laurence Olivier played the role of Hamlet, I have remembered the ghost of Hamlet's father. This was in 1971, when I was a student at Mkwawa High School, Tanzania.

The ghost's eerie appearances in that film, and his voice,  have continued to haunt me, so to speak. The encounters between the ghost and the sentries and between the ghost and Hamlet are among the most memorable moments in the play. I remember most of all the tale the ghost tells Hamlet which begins this way:

     I am thy father's spirit,
Doomed for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away.... (Act 1: Sc. V)

In subsequent years, reading Alex la Guma's novella, A Walk in the Night, set in apartheid South Africa, I encountered the ghost of Hamlet's father in a memorable way. One of the characters in this novella, Uncle Doughty, is an old, poor Irishman, who lives in a poverty-stricken place, "dying of alcoholism, diabetes and old age". We see him with Michael Adonis, a troubled black man, having an agitated conversation while drinking liquor. The topic of their conversation is life's troubles, and Michael Adonis thinks that, being a white man, Uncle Doughty cannot have troubles.

"Worry? Worry? the old man whined. We all got something to worry about." He mustered himself for a moment and shook a dried twig of a finger at Michael Adonis. "We all got our cross to bear. What's my white got to do with it? Here I am, in shit street, and does my white help? I used to be an actor. God bless my soul, I toured England and Australia with Dame Clara Bright. A great lady. A great actress she was." He began to weep, the tears spilling over the sagging rims of his eyes and he reached for the bottle again. "We're like Hamlet's father's ghost. I played the ghost of Hamlet's father once, London, it was."
   "You look like a blerry ghost, you spook," Michael Adonis said bitterly. He jerked the bottle from the old man's hand and tipped it to his mouth and took a long swallow, gagging and then belching as he took the neck from his lips. His head spun and he wanted to retch. (25)

Every time I teach A Walk in the Night, I point out the presence of the theme of the ghost of Hamlet's father as a clear example of the inter-textual dimension of this novel. I also invoke Richard Wright's Native Son, pointing out the striking similarity between the difficult living conditions of the people in the two novels and the suspenseful police pursuit of Bigger Thomas in Native Son and Michael Adonis in A Walk in the Night.

Contemplating the ghost theme in Hamlet and A Walk in the Night reveals interesting connections. I note, for example, how murder features in the two situations. The ghost of Hamlet's father tells Hamlet the story of his father's murder and urges him to take revenge. Uncle Doughty, the "ghost" in  A Walk in the Night, is eventually killed, accidentally, by Michael Adonis. The shock that Michael experiences as a result can be compared to the shock that Hamlet feels at the news of his father's murder. I wish I could write more, but this is a simple blog post, not a scholarly essay.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

African Storytelling at St. Olaf College

This evening, following an invitation by Karibu, a St. Olaf College student organization, I made a presentation on African storytelling. I am passionate about sharing the heritage of the African people of which I am deeply proud. I have done this in the past, at St. Olaf College and other places.

This evening, as usual, I began by highlighting the central significance of Africa as the cradle of the human race. This has important implications, including the fact that Africa is where language and storytelling originated. I went on to briefly explain the functions of storytelling, such as mediating the human endeavour to interpret and understand the world and the human condition.

In order to illustrate the African way of philosophizing about life, I discussed three proverbs: i) Before you cross the river, don't insult the crocodile's mouth. 2) Even though you may be taller than your father, you still are not his equal. 3) It is because of man that the blacksmith makes weapons. The last two proverbs, from the Ashanti, are published in Harold Courlander's A Treasury of African Folklore.

After this, I told two folktales: "The Chief's Daughter," from the Gurensi people of Burkina Faso, which is published in Steven H. Gale's West African Folktales, and "The Coming of the Yams," an Ashanti tale published in Harold Courlander's A Treasury of African Folklore. Both tales are complex and profound meditations on the dilemmas of life.

In my evolution as a folklorist, I have come to believe that when I am invited to perform folktales, I should never read them to the audience. If I do not know the tale, I read it in advance, and then perform it in front of the audience. That way, I feel I am staying true to the reality of oral performance. The Ashanti tale I told today is one I did not know before. I read it a short while before performing it.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Waiting to Meet Gustavus Adolphus College Students

I have received an invitation from Professor Barbara Zust of Gustavus Adolphus College to speak with students she is preparing to take to Tanzania on a study abroad program. She has informed me that the group will meet on January 2 and 3 at the Mount Olivet Retreat Center for their pre-trip orientation. I responded right away that I will join them on January 2.

Professor Zust has led this program again and again and has always invited me to talk with her students about cultural issues. Before our meetings, she has the students read my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences.

I always look forward to these opportunities to talk with Americans about what they should expect when they go to Africa or when they interact with Africans in the U.S.A. This is the work I do under the auspices of

I have always been touched and humbled by what the students say when they are in Tanzania and after their return to the U.S. A. They admire and appreciate the hospitality of the Tanzanians, and they note how their experiences in Tanzania accord with what I say in my book and in our orientation meetings about cultural differences. As I reflect on all this, I tell myself: what a great way to foster mutual understanding in our world, which is increasingly becoming a global village.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

My First Meeting With the Nu Skool of African American Thought

On Friday 25, I found myself in the midst of a gathering of members of Nu Skool of African American Thought, an organization that functions like an informal school exploring issues pertaining to the global African community. I only knew about this organization earlier this month, when my friend Adrian Mack told me about it and invited me to lead a class. Due to unforeseen circumstances, we did not hold the class as planned, but, instead, held an informal discussion. I was asked to present brief remarks on issues that I thought would be pertinent and suitable for a discussion.

I talked about the need for Africans and African Americans to continue the tradition of Pan African solidarity that was inaugurated more that a century ago and was carried forward by such figures as Henry Sylvester Williams, Marcus Garvey, W.B. DuBois, George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah, Ahmed Sekou Toure, Jomo Kenyatta, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and Julius Nyerere. We had an engaging discussion, exploring such issues as contempoary alienation between Africans and African Americans, and ethnic divisions and tensions among some Africans in Africa and abroad.

We also touched on the issue of African values that, across the ages, have sustained African societies and manifest themselves in some ways in African American life and could be the basis upon which we might build the kind of relationships and mindset that will enable us to deal with contemporary challenges. In response to a question about the trickster figure in African and African American folklore, I briefly highlighted the fact that the trickster is an embodiment and projection of social consciousness. Such are the issues I intend to address in my forthcoming Nu Skool presentation.

I was delighted to be part of that gathering, which included Professor Mahmoud El Kati, whom I have known for some years and with whom I have appeared on discussion panels on Pan African issues. It was a pleasant surprise to meet Njia Lawrence-Porter, after we first met in 2007, when she was preparing a group of students from the University of Wisconsin River-Falls for a trip to Uganda under the auspices of a program called Building Tomorrow. For cultural orientation for the trip, she had selected my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, and she and her group came to St. Olaf College to talk with me. It was exciting to meet again, this past Friday, after all these years.

Adrian announced that the talk I was scheduled to give, on African thought as expressed in folklore, will be held in early January. Given the camaraderie and intellectual excitement I witnessed at the gathering on Friday, I look forward to this event, which will be largely based on my book, Matengo Folktales.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

My Study Guide on the "Song of Lawino"

After several years of both reflection and procrastination, I have published a study guide, Notes on Okot p'Bitek's Song of Lawino. I wrote it hoping it might interest students and teachers of Okot p'Bitek's famous work and of African literature as such.

Years ago, I published another study guide, on Achebe's Things Fall Apart, and have been encouraged by its reception. It was, for example, recommended as a resource for incoming students of Cornell University who were reading Things Fall Apart.

These study guides constitute a reliable indication of the kinds of ideas I share with students in my African literature courses. I look forward to writing more.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Kenya Heroes' Day in Rochester, Minnesota

I returned this evening from Rochester, Minnesota, where I attended a get together organized by the Kenya Community in Rochester to celebrate Heroes' Day, popularly known as Mashujaa Day.  Mashujaa is the Swahili word for heroes. Kenyans hold this annual celebration on October 20, to honour their national heroes, from the struggle for independence to the present time.

I learned about today's gathering from Olivia Njogu, who is seen second from right in the photo on the left. She is a member of the board of the Rochester International Association, which organizes the Rochester World Festival. She met me at this year's festival, which I wrote about on this blog. Recently, Olivia read my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences and wrote me, saying how much she appreciated it. I am grateful to her.

This is not the first time I have attended Kenyan events here in the U.S.A, and I have always enjoyed them, as I have written on this blog. I had the same experience today. I had hardly parked my car when several Kenyans came out to receive me. It did not matter that I knew none of them. We introduced ourselves and launched into animated conversation.

This was a family event, involving children, young people, and adults. In addition to endless conversation, joy, and laughter, there was plenty of food and African music. Kenyan music touched my soul with gentle waves of nostalgia for the times I visited Kenya, starting in 1989.

The ladies in the photo on the left manifest the cheerful spirit that permeated the whole event.

Most of the people who attended I had not met before, but there were several who remembered me from this year's Rochester World Festival. It was a humbling experience to be recognized that way.

This was not a wholly Kenyan affair; even though I did not get to talk with everyone, I did talk with a guy from Nigeria and another guy from Uganda.

Having established a sizeable network of friends and acquaintances among the Africans in the Twin Cities area, I am happy to see myself doing the same in the Rochester area. As a writer and educator, I know that all this is good not only for me, but also, and more importantly, for the future of our African diaspora community, for Africa, and the world.

Monday, October 17, 2016

How I Missed "Woza Albert" at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg

From 14 to 18 June, 2012, I was in Johannesburg attending the ACLS African Humanities Program conference, which I mentioned on my Swahili blog. On June 17, with several other conference participants, I went on a tour of Johannesburg.

One of the places we visited was the Market Theatre, a famous institution in the history of South African drama, which we associate distinguished theatre personalities such as Barney Simon, Athol Fugard, Percy Mtwa and Mbongeni Ngema.

As our tour guide walked with us around the area called Newton, I did not know which sites we were going to see until we encountered them. On hindsight, I appreciate the tour guide for keeping it that way. Suddenly, I saw posters advertising a performance of Woza Albert, and I realized that we were approaching the Market Theatre.

Inspecting the poster, I realized that the performance was due to start in two hours time. Unfortunately, our tour schedule prevented us from staying there that long. That is how I missed the chance of a lifetime.

We did, however, enter the building to take a look. I couldn't believe that I was in such a hallowed space. I was grateful on my own account and because my visit there gave me something to share with my students.

In teaching South African Literature, I had on several occasions shown students a video recording of a performance of Woza Albert. Now, visiting the Market Theatre, I thought that, no matter who the actors were, it would have been a great experience watching such a performance there.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Teaching "The Thing Around Your Neck"

In my African Literature course this semester, one of the works we have been discussing is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's The Thing Around Your Neck. I have taught Adichie's works before, as I wrote on this blog, but not this collection of stories.  reads like a panoramic survey of modern African Anglophone literature in terms of the themes it covers.

In terms of its themes, The Thing Around Your Neck reads like a panoramic of modern African Anglophone literature. At the same time, it deals with themes common in Adichie's works: life on a Nigerian university campus, which features in Purple Hibiscus; the Nigerian civil war, the focal point of Half of a Yellow Sun; the experiences of Nigerians abroad, which is a key theme in Americanah; as well as corruption in its various guises and manifestations.

Though often dealing with painful themes, such as abuse and alienation, Adichie infuses her stories with humour and sarcasm. The last story in the collection, "The Headstrong Historian," bears the influence of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, moving briskly through the main themes of that novel, while reworking them in various ways.

Adichie's fictional works are notable for their cosmopolitanism; they tend to feature contemporary urbanized Africans for whom the world is indeed a global village. They travel between Africa and the outside world, especially Europe and the USA, and maintain their global networks wherever they are. This is a feature of much contemporary African literature, as can be seen in works I have taught, such as Athol Fugard's Sorrows and Rejoicings, Leila Aboulela's Minaret: A Novel, Doreen Baingana's Tropical Fish: Tales From Entebbe. and Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Africa Network Conference: Denison University

This weekend, September 30 to October 2, I have been at Denison University, Ohio, attending the Africa Network conference. It has been a time of intense intellectual engagement and reflection, with about a dozen scholars presenting papers on various topics pertaining to Africa.

The topics ranged widely, including the importance of early African history in African studies, new trends in African studies, the use of exhibits and digital resources, quality in higher education, music as a bridge between Africa and America, classroom and community, study abroad, and the anthropology of multinational corporations in Africa.

The Africa Network conferences have the advantage of being relatively small, enabling participants to explore issues in depth and to their satisfaction. Another notable feature of these conferences has been that though the participants represent different disciplines, the presentations and discussions have always managed to remain accessible to everyone.

A recurring theme of the conference was the need to challenge ignorance and stereotypes about Africa. We know that we have to deal with people who think of Africa as a country, a relatively easy stereotype to dispel. However, there are also more insidious and stubborn misconceptions and biases, such as the tendency to see Africa solely or predominantly in terms of needs and deficiencies.

As usually happens in conferences, many interesting and memorable encounters occur on the sidelines. This conference has been no exception. In the picture on the left, I am standing with two professors. On my right is Stephen Volz of Kenyon College, who said that he is scheduled to lead students of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest to Botswana and is using my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, for cultural orientation.

On my left is Kristofer Olsen of Montana State University. Last year, while teaching a course on mythology, he used my book, Matengo Folktales, and requested me to talk with his class via Skype, as I reported on my blog.

In his presentation to the conference, Professor Olsen talked about that class, noting that his students appreciated seeing me and hearing my singing of the songs in the folktales.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

David, Son of Jackie Robinson, at the University of Minnesota

On Thursday, September 22, I went to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, to hear David Robinson, a coffee farmer in Tanzania. He is the last of the children of Jackie Robinson, the legendary African-American baseball player and indomitable civil rights activist of the forties and fifties, who passed away in 1972.

Visiting Ethiopia as a teenager, David fell in love with Africa and, in the early eighties, decided to settle in a village called Bara, tucked away in the Mbozi district of southwestern Tanzania. He introduced himself to the curious village elders, telling them that he was an African from somewhere in Africa--even though he didn't know where--and that he had been taken from the continent and was lost for several centuries in slavery in far away America. Now he had decided to come back home, and he wanted land to establish a farm.

The villagers showed him a large area and he set about establishing a coffee farm, creating, together with fellow villagers, a cooperative society called Sweet Unity Farms. David talked about the activities of the cooperative farm, the challenges, and the lessons gained along the way.

He talked about not only the work on the farms, but also the business side of things--which is rife with challenges. This includes marketing and selling Sweet Unity Farms coffee around the world. Though located in a rural place, Sweet Unity Farms seeks ways to establish itself in a global market dominated by big multinational corporations.

The photo on the left features David, Limi Simbakalia, a Tanzanian student at St. Olaf College,  where I teach, and me.

There is much information online about David Robinson and Sweet Unity Farms, such as this wonderful article. I have been reading about David Robinson for some years and, in the process, a little about Jackie Robinson. After meeting David, however, I have been learning more about his father and gaining a good sense of the stature and significance of this legendary sportsman and civil rights activist.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Phone Call From Patrick Hemingway

I was resting at home after church today and, at 12:16pm, my phone rang. It was a call from Patrick Hemingway, with whom I speak from time to time. I had called him twice in the last few weeks and left phone messages for him. I was happy to get his call today.

As usual, we talked about many things. He said he has had knee surgery and was recovering well. I was relieved to hear that. Our conversation led right away into Ernest Hemingway. I told Patrick that I am, as I had told him, intent on reading all of Hemingway's works in order to establish for myself a proper framework for understanding Hemingway's African writings. I said that in the last few weeks I have read, in particular, A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises.

Patrick recalled that Hemingway had, early on, read a Francophone African writer, and I joined in with the comment that the writer was Rene Maran, whose novel, Batouala, Hemingway read and reviewed in 1922 when he was living in Paris. We talked about how this novel meant so much to Hemingway in terms of exemplifying proper writing, which should make the reader feel, see, smell, and hear what the writer is describing.

I talked about how, in my writing classes, I invoke Hemingway's ideas about writing, such as his notion of "one true sentence," which can be understood as part of Hemingway's broader concern with authenticity in human endeavours such as hunting, bull-fighting, and writing. I also refer to Hemingway's comment that writing comes easily sometimes and sometimes is as hard as blasting rocks.

When I talked about Hemingway's descriptions, in The Sun Also Rises, of the aesthetics of bull-fighting, Patrick brought up Death in the Afternoon, and I mentioned that I had planned to read this novel next.

We talked about the current political situation in East Africa. Patrick noted the longstanding American economic interests in Africa mentioning, for example, American economic activities in Zanzibar from around the mid-nineteenth century. He said that cloth was one most enduring commodities, and he referred to the persistence of a type of fabric called "Amerikani."

As always, Patrick never tires of talking about Tanzania, having lived there for about twenty five years from the early fifties. Today, while I was answering his question about the regions which produce food for the urban centers, I mentioned Rukwa, among these regions, and he recalled that he used to hunt in a place called Mpunga in the Rukwa region. "Doesn't 'mpunga' mean rice?" he asked me, and I said yes.

Patrick is widely read and is an avid reader still, despite his advanced age. Today, he told me about a book he is reading, by Oscar Hijuelos, which deals, in a fictional way, with the friendship between Henry Morton Stanley and Mark Twain. I listened intently, since I knew nothing about Hijuelos and about Stanley and Twain having been friends.

I told Patrick that I am planning to go again to the Hemingway Collection in Boston in October, and that I deliberately planned the trip this way so I can see the ongoing Hemingway exhibit again before it ends. He remarked that there is a new director there. This should not affect my work, however, and besides, the staff members who helped me last time are still there.

After this conversation, which lasted one hour and five minutes, I went online and looked up information about Hijuelos and his novel. I am delighted to have spent time reading about this author and his novel. I have also learned about Stanley's immigration to America from Wales, his meeting Twain, and their subsequent life-long friendship. I am grateful to Patrick for opening my mind to such things. He always does.

Friday, September 9, 2016

I Started Teaching Today

The fall semester started yesterday here at St. Olaf College, and I started teaching today. I will be teaching on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the courses on each day are First Year Writing, African Literature and Muslim Women Writers.

As I always do on the first day of class, today I talked about myself, my teaching philosophy, and my courses, highlighting, in particular, my commitment to academic freedom, vexed as that concept is. I don't plunge into the course on the first day of class, mindful that it is rife with uncertainties. I want first to put the students and myself at ease.

It is pleasant to be on the threshold of another season of academic engagements: reading, exploring and discussing ideas, writing, challenging ourselves, and broadening our intellectual horizons. It is a privilege to be a teacher, entrusted with the mission of inspiring a new generation of critical thinkers and socially responsible citizens of the world.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Last Week of Summer School

Tomorrow, August 24, is the last day of my African Literature summer course. As I reflect on the experience of this course, I am particularly pleased to have taught Athol Fugard's Valley Song, Mia Couto's The Tuner of Silences and Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, all of which I had taught only once before. Teaching these works again has enriched my understanding. I have also taught, for the first time, Mariama Ba's Scarlet Song.

Valley Song is a short play set in a rural location in post apartheid South Africa. There is an Afrikaner farmer who is rooted to this place and his granddaughter, Veronica, who dreams of going to the city of Johannesburg to pursue a career as a singer. The grandfather is worried, because his daughter, the aspiring singer's mother died in the city, having left the rural village. Fortunately, the matter is resolved, finally, and the old man allows Veronica to leave. There is optimism in the air, akin to the optimism of a farmer who sows pumpkin seeds and awaits a bountiful harvest of pumpkins.

The Tuner of Silences is a deeply moving text, riddled with paradoxes, suspense, and surprise endings. Unfolding under the shadow of the devastation of war, on a landscape rendered as an apocalyptic wasteland, the narrative is infused with existentialist sentiments, with spiritually broken human beings in a world that lacks a moral anchor. It is a tale of man's inhumanity to man, signified by betrayal and oppression, especially of women, and the violence of an unpredictable and disoriented father towards his own sons.

This is not, however, a depressing tale without redeeming qualities. In the midst of all the grimness, we see a bond of friendship blossoming between two women--one white and one black--born of a shared heartbreaking experience of betrayal by the same man. It is a natural bond, in the truest sense, neither sullied nor encumberred by racial differences, but transcending them.

Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is a tale centered on three African young men, from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Congo, who find themselves in the same city in the USA, trying to make it. Despite the challenges they encounter, they exude a spirit of courage and perseverance.

It is not only immigrants who struggle in America. There are poor people and beggars, prostitutes and drug addicts, the homeless and the jobless. In the midst of all this, the human spirit shines bright. The solidarity among the three African young men, who look out for each other, and a friendship between the Ethiopian young man and a white woman Judith and her young daughter is heartwarming.

Our penultimate text for the course was Mariama Ba's Scarlet Song. I had not read this novel, even though I had bought my copy of it on July 21, 1987, in Dar es Salaam. I have been greatly moved by this novel. It dwells on themes found in Ba's first novel, So Long a Letter, especially polygamous marriage in the Islamic society of Senegal. In Scarlet Song, the theme is complicated by the fact that the protagonist, a Senegalese man, marries a French woman, against the wishes of her parents.

Although the woman converts to Islam before the marriage, and although the couple beget a son, cultural differences make her life very difficult, leading to her mental breakdown. In this state, she fatally poisons her young son. It is a tragic ending to an engaging novel which explores the complexities of human behaviour, religion, culture, and race relations.

I had wanted us to conclude our course with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's The Thing Around Your Neck, a collection of short stories. We ran out of time and managed only to discuss the first two stories. In my introduction to Adichie, I had mentioned that her fiction dwells often on life of academics and their families on the campus of Nsukka University, which is where she herself was born and raised.

I had also said that she goes beyond that space and writes about the lives of Nigerians abroad, especially in the USA, where she went to school and spends considerable time. There is a marked cosmopolitanism in both Adichie's life and fiction, and those aspects are evident in the first two stories in The Thing Around Your Neck. Having taught and greatly appreciated other works of Adichie, I plan to teach The Thing Around Your Neck in the future.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Faribault International Festival 2016

The Faribault International Festival took place today. I had hoped to set out from Northfield at around 9:00am, but it was raining. I waited, knowing that the Festival would not start while it was raining. Eventually, at around 10:30am as the rain got down to a slight drizzle, I set out. I got to the Central Park in Faribault, the Festival venue, at 11:00 am. The drizzle had not stopped, but vendors booths dotted the area, under tents of various colours and sizes. Flags of different countries stood in the center, hardly fluttering because they were wet.

I did not set up my table right away, hoping that the drizzle would stop. Instead, I decided to walk around, checking out the booths. Only several minutes passed before I saw two ladies, I knew. I joined them in their booth and we talked for a while.

The clouds cleared somewhat and the sun shone down. Soon several dance groups appeared on stage in succession. One of the groups performed a Somali dance, something I had not seen before at the Faribault International Festival. In any case, the Somali population of Faribault, which in the earlier years of the Festival appeared reticent, has in the last few years come to embrace the Festival. I consider this clear evidence of the positive impact of the Festival.

While the dance performances were in progress, I set up my table and had the opportunity to talk with people who stopped by. I knew several of them. Several I had forgotten, but they remembered me from past years. We had good conversations about my books, my teaching, and my work as a cultural consultant. It was exciting, as usual, to share jokes and anecdotes about the differences between African and American culture.

I had the longest conversation with a woman who showed great interest in literature, and was particularly interested in my work on Ernest Hemingway.

As a regular participant in the Faribault International Festival, I note some unique elements every year. Apart from the increasing participation of the Somali population, I saw today, a booth displaying information about Islam. I thought this a very valuable addition to the Festival.

I wish to commend the Faribault Diversity Coalition for organizing the Festival, which is a great opportunity for people of different cultures to learn about one another.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Summer School Started Today

Today, the second term of summer school started here at St. Olaf College. I did not teach the first term. Instead, I pursued my interests in Ernest Hemingway. I went to the J.F. Kennedy Library to do research in the Hemingway Collection, and, upon my return, read Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, The Sun Also Rises, and a few of his letters and stories.

Returning to the classroom today felt like embarking on a new adventure, even though the course I am teaching this time, African Literature, is familiar territory. I met my students and talked about myself and my teaching philosophy, and about basic issues of the course, starting with the significance of Africa as the cradle of humanity, language and story telling, which evolved as an oral tradition and later embraced writing.

Before we dispersed, I told the class that I would continue my introduction during our second meeting. I want to reflect on the evolution of written African literature, starting from ancient Egypt and moving into the colonial era, which created the conditions for the emergence of African literature in European languages.

Here are the works I have decided to use this term:

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi, The Thing Around Your Neck.
Aidoo, Ama Ata. The Dilemma of a Ghost and Anowa.
Ba, Mariama. Scarlet Song.
Couto, Mia. The Tuner of Silences.
Fugard, Athol. Valley Song.
Mengestu, Dinaw. The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Death of a Matador

Today came the shocking news that Victor Barrio, a famous matador, was fatally gored by a bull in Teruel, Spain. Viewers around the world saw the heart-wrenching television footage of the episode. What a sad day.

For me there is something uncanny about the news, coming when I was halfway through reading Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Riseswhich concerns, in large measure, the Spanish tradition of bull fighting. Having traveled from Paris, the characters in the novel have arrived in Pamplona for the San Fermin festival, and the story of the running of the bulls and bull fighting is in progress.

Readers of Hemingway know that he was an avid and very knowledgeable fan, an aficionado, of bull fighting, which served as a focus of his meditation on life and death, and which he held in high esteem as both a perfect exemplar of his ideal of courage and as a window into Spanish culture. He devoted a subsequent book, Death in the Afternoon, to bull fighting.

Reading The Sun Also Rises under the shadow of the tragedy that struck today in Spain intensifies my feelings arising from my reading. The intimations of danger in Hemingway's descriptions of the running of the bulls and of bull fighting assume an ominous aspect, and the coincidence between what I am reading and the tragic event will remain permanently etched in my memory.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, 1926-1929

Today, I got The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, 1926-1929. This volume, edited by Rena Sanderson, Sandra Spanier, and Robert W. Trogdon, is the third in a projected 17 volume series. Like the first two volumes, this one is a treasure trove of information that illuminates Hemingway's writings, his relationship with family members, friends, fellow writers, editors, and publishers.

Hemingway comes out as a man devoted to his family and friends alike. After the birth of his son Patrick, for example, on June 28, 1928, Hemingway constantly writes in his letters about the event--a difficult, 18 hour experience for his wife Pauline, which culminated in a caesarean operation.

In letter after letter, in the subsequent weeks, Hemingway let people know how Pauline was recovering and how the baby was doing. Patrick, he writes again and again, was a fine baby who slept soundly, hardly ever cried, laughed always and at any joke, and liked to play with his father's gun. I am amazed how, right in his old age, Patrick continues to be jovial, full of jokes and laughter.

In addition to the letters, there are photographs in this volume, some of which I had never seen before, such as one of Hadley and Pauline, Hemingway's first and second wife respectively. Equally memorable for me is a photo of Patrick Hemingway as a baby.

Though Hemingway himself never intended these letters for publication, it is clear that their publication is a great service to humanity. They afford insights into Hemingway which are not available anywhere else. The Hemingway most people know is more myth than reality, and these letters show us the man behind the myth, a human being who is in turn or simultaneously serious, sensitive, conscientious, humourous, and admirable.

Monday, May 30, 2016

An Intimate Portrait of Hemingway

In the last two days, I have been reading Denis Brian's The True Gen: An Intimate Portrait of Hemingway by Those who Knew Him. I bought this book attracted by its subtitle, the opening lines of its introduction, and the blurbs on its back cover.

This is a remarkable and most satisfying book. It not only confirms things I knew about Hemingway, such as his tendency to fabricate stories and pass them on as true, but it also offers new insights into the man famously known as Papa, providing more details than I have read anywhere else about his life and activities.

For example, while I knew that during the second world war Hemingway engaged in espionage against German submarines in the Caribbean sea around Cuba, using his boat, the Pilar, The True Gen provides more light into this matter in the form of testimonies by people who collaborated with him and also documents from FBI files.

I have also gained a new understanding of Pauline, Hemingway's second wife. My previous readings had led me to see her as lacking a maternal instinct, and whose devotion to Hemingway led her to put aside her own children: Patrick and Gregory. The True Gen changed my perspective, when I read the favourable testimony of Carol, Hemingway's sister:

Pauline was very friendly and kind and when I was living in Florida she invited me down to Key West--when Ernest was living in Cuba and was remarried to Martha Gellhorn. Pauline had always been very kind to me and treated me like a younger sister. When I went to Europe she helped me buy clothes and not only gave me the money, but gave me good advice. She knew what I'd need (184).

With my abiding interest in Hemingway's connection to Africa, I wish there was more in The True Gen on that side of Hemingway. Apart from books such as Mary Welsh Hemingway's How it Was, there are letters by Hemingway, and there are people--such as Patrick Hemingway--who could have provided testimonies.

Overall, The True Gen confirms Hemingway's image as a complicated, enigmatic person. Denis Brian's characterization of him is right on target:

Ernest Hemngway had an extravagant effect on others, leaving them beguiled, besotted, bruised, or bitter. To everyone he was an extraordinary, unforgettable presence (3).

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Talk With Patrick Hemingway

I called Patrick Hemingway yesterday evening at 8:22 pm, to let him know that I will soon be going to the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, to visit the Hemingway collection. As usual, his wife Carol picked up the phone, and the moment she realized I was the caller, she got Patrick on the line.

As soon as we had greeted each other, Patrick mentioned his impending birthday and remarked, light-heartedly, that he was not getting any younger. I told him that his birthday reminds me of my visit, years ago, to Kansas City, where he was born, and the places I visited in that city, which are associated with Hemingway: the premises of the Kansas City Star, the Hemingway home, and the railway station. I forgot to tell Patrick that I also visited the Muehlebach Hotel.

I gave him an update of my Hemingway pursuits--that I had been encountering and reading his prefaces to the new editions of Hemingway's books prepared by Sean Hemingway. I also introduced the subject of the work Sandra Spanier is doing in producing volumes of Hemingway's letters. We agreed that Sandra's work is very valuable.

We talked about developments in Tanzania and sub-Saharan Africa in general, and Patrick reiterated his concern about the future, wondering whether our countries will be able to sustain their urban populations. He is concerned about the kind of urban growth that is taking place, and the increasing burden on the rural people who are supposed to feed the urban populations.

Patrick's concerns about the negative developments taking place in Africa remind me of Ernest Hemingway, who also bemoaned the disappearance of the balanced life of the African people he knew, such as the Maasai. Patrick emphasized again and again that he did not know the solutions to the encroaching problems he was so aware of.

I told Patrick that I called him to let him know about my plans to visit the Hemingway collection at the John F. Kennedy Library, in mid-June, and he repeated his previous pledge to introduce me to the library staff. One thing I always note in my conversations with him is that despite his age--turning 88 this June--his memory is incredibly sharp. He told me that this was a good time to visit the John F. Kennedy Library because there is an exhibit in progress which will continue for some months. He said I should make sure to also see the lion on the floor.

I didn't know anything about this "lion on the floor," but just now, while writing this blog post, I have checked online and read about it. To my surprise, this is the famous "Miss Mary's lion" we read about in Ernest Hemingway's Under Kilimanjaro. This is truly exciting, since I didn't know that this lion had been transported to the U.S.A. I also checked online just now and found information about the exhibit. This is going to be a truly remarkable experience for me.

I also mentioned to Patrick my desire to visit the Hemingway home in Key West, but he said I should think more about visiting Cuba. Patrick and I have talked about Cuba before, with a focus on the Finca Vigia, Ernest Hemingway's home. He noted that with the current state of relations between Cuba and the U.S.A., this should be easier than in the past, although such visits for researchers were allowed.

We talked for 25 minutes, which is probably the shortest conversation we have had, but it was valuable and memorable. (The photo above was taken at Patrick and Carol's home in Craig, Montana, on 27 April, 2013)

Saturday, April 30, 2016

At the World Festival 2016, Rochester

 Today, I attended the World Festival at the Mayo High School in Rochester, Minnesota, which I mentioned on this blog. I set up my table, displaying my publications and the Tanzanian national flag. People, some saying they were attracted by my display, came to talk with me about my work and share their stories. I remember, for example, an American lady who said that she has a friend who taught at the Moshi International School in Tanzania. Another lady said that she had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Western Kenya during the mid eighties.

For the duration of the festival, people kept coming and going. At my table and around the exhibition hall and in the corridors, I met and spoke with people from many countries, including China, Philippines, Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, U.S.A., Mexico, Trinidad, and Guatemala.

The two men in the picture on the left are from Guatemala. After I gave them my little newspaper article, "Chickens in the Bus," the man wearing a hat regaled me with tales of how in Guatemala one can see people traveling in the bus with their chicken or piglet.

The lady in the picture on the left represented Trinidad. I told her I have read and taught some Trinidadian literary works. I mentioned Sam Selvon as one of my favourite writers.

She asked if I had read The Lonely Londoners. I told her that that is one of the works I liked the most and that I had taught it a number of times. We went on to talk about other writers, including V.S. Naipaul, Shiva Naipaul, and Earl Lovelace.

The festival involved many aspects. There were artistic performances, drumming, displays of national flags, art, handcrafted items, musical instruments, jewelry, and publications. There was even a karate demonstration.

The diversity of cultures and organizations represented at the festival was impressive. The pictures on this page, taken at random, afford some indication of this fact. The festival presented unique and unforgettable learning opportunities.

It is not possible to recount everything that transpired at the festival. Considering that there were hundreds of attendees, it is clear that there were countless experiences and conversations. This was a truly significant community event with global significance, for which the Rochester International Association deserves much praise and gratitude.

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 remains, 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 staff 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.