Friday, April 30, 2010

Writing About My Country

For about two weeks now, the idea of writing about my country has been foremost in my mind. How did it all start?

Certainly, Lonely Planet has something to do with it. I have been thinking about Lonely Planet perhaps more than at any time in the past, how its writers bring the remotest corners of the world into our lives. Lonely Planet has seen places I have not seen, and might never see, even in my own country.

Before Lonely Planet, however, there was Ernest Hemingway, one of the most gifted writers of all time. For me as an African, Hemingway is precious. His Green Hills of Africa described my country in ways hard to match, let alone surpass. His description of the land, the people, and the animals rings true on every page, as I noted in a previous post. He wrought the same magic, if not more, in his other African stories, including Under Kilimanjaro, published post-humously.

The desire to write about my country owes much also to Derek Walcott, the celebrated Caribbean poet and playwright, a Nobel Laureate like Hemingway, whose works I have read and taught for a number of years. These last two weeks, my thoughts have dwelt on Walcott squarely. What he says concerning his decision to write about his country is unforgettable. Growing up reading English poets, who celebrated, nay sanctified, their native land and its vegetation, such as the oak and the elm trees, the roses and the daffodils, he believed that English trees and flowers were the only ones worth writing about in poems.

He underwent a conversion later, wondering why the coconut and mango trees of his native Caribbean were deemed inferior to the elm and apple trees of England. He decided to strike in this new direction, writing about the coconut and mango trees, sanctifying them through poetry. In his poems and plays, he writes about his people: the fishermen, the fruit vendors, the workers in the tourist resorts. He brings the Caribbean to life, its complexity of colours and shapes, its ups and downs, its pains and hopes.

I think about my village and my home region, up in the mountains east of Lake Nyasa, and I think about Tanzania, my country. The dream of writing about it looms large on the horizon. I am not a poet, but working hard, I should manage to write some decent prose.

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