Friday, October 30, 2015

"Kimbunga:" A Swahili Poem With My English Translation

Swahili, a major African language spoken mostly in Eastern Africa, boasts a written poetic tradition going back several centuries. Evolving on the northern Kenya coast, Swahili spread down the coast and adjacent islands as far as Mozambique, the Comoros, and Madagascar.

Among the greatest Swahili poets are Ali Koti, Bwana Mwengo, Muyaka bin Haji, Mwana Kupona, Shaaban Robert, Ahmed Sheikh Nabhany, Amiri Sudi Andanenga, Abdilatif Abdalla, and Haji Gora Haji, one of whose poems, "Kimbunga," I am presenting here, with my English translation.

A prolific writer, Haji Gora Haji has published poetry, fiction, a dictionary of the Tumbatu dialect of Swahili, and other works. I was privileged to interview him in Zanzibar. This poem, one of Haji Gora Haji's best known, appears in Kimbunga, his first poetry anthology.

Translating works of literature is a challenging and humbling experience. However, it is also rewarding, sharpening one's understanding and appreciation of language, poetics, and aesthetics.

"Kimbunga" is a moving but intriguing poem. It strikes me as an apocalyptic vision reminiscent of W.B. Yeats's "The Second Coming," while exemplifying perfectly Cleanth Brooks's characterization of the language of poetry as "the language of paradox." I hope someday to write about it and my experience of translating it.



1.     Kimbunga mji wa Siyu, kilichowahi kufika
       Si kwa yule wala huyu, ilikuwa patashika
       Kimeing'owa mibuyu, minazi kunusurika
       Nyoyo zilifadhaika.

2.     Yalizuka majabali, yakabirukabiruka
       Zikadidimia meli, ngarawa zikaokoka
       Kimbunga hicho kikali, mavumbi hayakuruka
       Nyoyo zilifadhaika.

3.     Nyumba kubwa za ghorofa, siku hiyo zimeruka
       Zikenenda kwa masafa, kufikia kwa kufika
       Vibanda vyao malofa, vyote vikasalimika
       Nyoyo zikafadhaika.

4.     Chura kakausha mto, maji yakamalizika
       Pwani kulikuwa moto, mawimbi yaliyowaka
       Usufi nusu kipeto, rikwama limevunjika
       Nyoyo zikafadhaika.

5.     Kuna kikongwe ajuza, viumbe kimewateka
       Hicho kinamiujiza, kila rangi hugeuka
       Wataokiendekeza, hilaki zitawafika
       Nyoyo zikafadhaika.

                                 A Hurricane

1.     A hurricane once arrived in Siyu town
       Sparing neither that one nor this one, it was sheer mayhem
       It uprooted baobab trees, the coconut trees surviving
       Hearts went panicking.

2.    Big rocks turned up, tumbling over and over
       Ships were sinking, while mere boats survived
       Fearsome as the hurricane was, it raised no dust
       Hearts went panicking

3.     Great storied houses were blown away that day
       They flew quite a distance, landing wherever they landed
       The huts of the lowly, all survived intact
       And hearts went panicking

4.     The frog drained the river, the water all dried up
       On the shore was conflagration, of the waves flaming
       Half a container of kapok, broke the coolie's cart
       And hearts went panicking

5.     A wizened hag there was, who held beings captive
       She is given to magical powers, changing hues at will
       Those who let her be, perdition will be their lot
       And hearts will go panicking.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Connecting With "Minnesota Prairie Roots"

One of the joys and benefits of participating in fairs and festivals is getting to know people. I learn about the interesting things they do, their experiences, thoughts and dreams.

At the August 22, Faribault International Festival, for example, I met Audrey Kletscher Helbling, a writer and photographer whose blog Minnesota Prairie Roots chronicles Minnesota life in photos and text.

I like Audrey's photographs of Faribault, a city I know well. She deftly captures highlights of the Faribault International Festival. My interest in Literature and Folklore has taught me to see photography as a form of storytelling, and I appreciate it as such.

At the Faribault International Festival this year, Audrey spent some minutes at my table, where I had displayed my books. She took a photo of me, seen above, which she featured on her blog.

Audrey's life story is a rich mix of experiences and accomplishments. I look forward to seeing more of her photographs and reading her works, and perhaps seeing her again next year at the Faribault International Festival.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Interview With Shatona Kilgore-Groves

As an African teaching in a predominantly white liberal arts college located in a predominantly white town in Minnesota, U.S.A., I saw the need, quite early, to enrich my understanding of American society through connecting with other kinds of Americans, starting with African Americans. I joined Pan African organizations in the Minneapolis area. Among the African Americans I got to know was Shatona Kilgore-Groves, seen in the photo, and her family.

Shatona struck me as a person who was genuinely interested in connecting people for the common good. I remember, for example, how she facilitated a gathering of African American authors, which I participated in. I reviewed her first book, in the Minnesota Spokesman Recorder. Naturally, I asked her to share her experiences and ideas with readers of my blog. She graciously agreed, and here is the interview:


JOSEPH:  I wanted to interview you because I have known for years how involved you are in social causes and issues. Can you tell us about your background and how you started in this direction?

SHATONA: I started advocating for parents because of my personal experience with my son who has ADHD. I believe it is important to define ADHD. Especially for people of color who tend to not believe in the diagnosis which doesn’t discriminate based on race or socioeconomic status. Some African Americans feel that black boys are being labeled with ADHD or misdiagnosed because of cultural differences. However, my husband and I were psychology majors in college and knew by the time our son was 3 years old that his behavior was consistent with the symptoms.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, a diagnosis can only be made when there is a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. Our son’s behavior could not be controlled with typical discipline methods that worked with our daughter. He just couldn’t be still, no matter how hard we tried, and we could tell he was really trying.  It was like his inside motor told him to move and he couldn’t shut it off.

At times, we felt like failures, especially around family, a black family that believes in spanking or giving “ the look” and the child should sit still. This didn’t work for us or our son. With children with ADHD the frontal lobe that controls inappropriate actions and thoughts, focus, attention, remembering things from moment to moment, and controlling movement are often disturbed in people with ADHD. So medically our son is different, but ADHD also has positives, most ADHD children are proven to be highly intelligent which our son is. He is highly motivated and normally receives high grades and takes accelerated classes. It took advocating for our child to have a conducive classroom environment to express his gifts.

Advocating for our son led us to requesting an Individualized Education Program (IEP). His program allowed for movement breaks, fidgets, testing accommodations, curb to curb busing, etc. I didn't care as much about the label as much as I cared about his success. However, the IEP meetings were intimidating with an all-white staff and me and my husband the African-Americans. It was about 7-8 school staff and us.

I didn't feel the emotional support from the school which really wasn't their job, but it would of been nice, instead I felt blamed, labeled and that I fit a stereotype that I didn't want to fit into. I knew I wanted to help other parents through the process. I knew I wanted to educate parents on the resources available to them. I knew I wanted black boys to be successful. This doesn't mean I didn't want all kids to be successful. It is ridiculous when people say that, by the way, but some people have a purpose, and it may be exercise and health for diabetes patients, or food for people in Haiti.

My purpose at the time was to help black boys. I then started gathering knowledge on how to successfully do that from parents that had successfully raised a black son because I was afraid for my son. This turned into a book A Black Parent's Memoir: 30 Parents that have Raised an African American Son Tell their Story. However, knowing I couldn't reach every one through the book, I turned it into a weekly support group called The Black Parent Group.

The Black Parent Group is no longer weekly, but we have branched out to workshops, marches, author fairs, women expos, job fairs, and a socializing group. I now offer 1:1 coaching for parents of troubled children. I started on this journey with a bachelor's in Psychology, but because I want to be the most qualified, I obtained my master's degree, school social worker license, and substitute teacher license. I work in schools all over the metro including the Juvenile detention center's to have the most impact on kids.

JOSEPH: Can you tell us more about your current programs?
SHATONA: I view individuals holistically, so I offer programs that can meet not just one need but several.
A Parent Group - a support group for parents of all races raising an African American child.
Women's Expo and Job Fair – An event to promote entrepreneurship and connect qualified woman to careers to increase financial stability.
Networking Group - A monthly networking group that meets to support other entrepreneurs and hold one another accountable to achieve our business goals, this networking group has a free advice FB page and a page to promote our businesses.
Socializing Group - The socializing group is designed for women to take a break from all the stressors of the world and relax. We also focus on building friendships which is harder to do once you become an adult.

JOSEPH: I know you are also a writer. What inspired you to write and are there challenges you face as a writer?

SHATONA: I started writing books to help parents, then my second book was to help people heal emotionally and spiritually, my last book demonstrates to all children suffering from ADHD that they could be successful. 

I enjoy writing and I don't do it for the money, I do it because it is what I was called to do by the God I serve. It connects me to several awesome people like you Mr. Mbele. I enjoy the author fairs I attend and hearing how my books are so well received in every community. I am blessed to be able to write. I now have a blog so I can write about my many interests. I enjoy being a part of the blogging community. They are my virtual family. You can find my blog at - there is so much negativity in the world I decided to celebrate positive news. 

JOSEPH: I have known for years about your  involvement in efforts to bring together Africans and African Americans. What lessons or advice would you like to share from your experience?

SHATONA: I have to say that I am selfish in my attempts to bring Africans and African Americans together. African Americans were robbed of their heritage and were separated from our true families which were from Africa. So bringing these 2 groups together is necessary. My advice is for both groups to stop the nonsense and love one another. Build off each other’s strengths, support one another where the other is weak. Let's come together to create harmony and financial stability. There are differences because of the cultures and the cultural differences should be celebrated, not ignored but this doesn't mean one group is superior to the other. 

JOSEPH: What are your plans for the days ahead, in terms of social programs, writing, and whatever else?

SHATONA: This is a great time for me because my daughter just went off to a great college and this was a personal accomplishment met. My son that has ADHD is 13 and he is managing his life better than ever. We still have our challenges with his organization skills and other health challenges but he is growing up so I am finding more time for myself and  my goals. My husband  is supportive and helps me with my dreams. Thus, in the near future, I am planning for a Black Parent Group meeting with the topic of "What does black mean to you?" to  discuss unconscious biases. I am also planning the 2016 Expo and Job Fair. As always, I am writing and plan to start on another book on a topic I've never written about before. Life is exciting, everyday a new endeavor, and I don't plan on stopping any of my personal pursuits at this time. I will lead programs, teach, counsel, organize events,  coach parents, write, and be everything I was created to be.

To purchase Shatona’s books:

My South Asian Literature Course is Underway

My South Asian Literature course has completed its third week, and I am pleased with it. We have read Bapsi Sidhwa's Water and watched Deepa Mehta's movie of the same name, on which the novel is based. Having taught two other novels by Sidhwa--Cracking India and The Crow Eaters--I found it easy to introduce Sidhwa to my class, situating her within the South Asian Literary tradition.

Reading Water has been eye-opening. Never had I encountered a novel that explored so deeply and passionately the situation of widows in Hindu society. I had some understand of Hindu traditions regarding widows, such as the concept and practice of sati. Water, however afforded a more detailed, more nuanced understanding of the existential condition of widows sanctioned by the religious doctrines going back thousands of years.

The central character is a young girl, Chuyia, married when she was barely ten to a man in his fifties and widowed soon thereafter. In accordance with Hindu Brahmanic tradition, she is taken away from her parents' home and put into an ashram, a home for widows. Chuyia's experiences in the ashram elicit the deepest sadness and sympathy especially since she entertains the hope of returning home sooner rather than later, little knowing that that is not possible.

Before Chuyia is widowed, we hear about the illness of her husband, Hira Lal, through the thoughts of Bhagya, her mother:

She and Somnah [her husband] both knew that if Hira Lal managed to recover, Chuyia would be allowed to return home; but if he didn't recover she would be a widow and she would never return to them....Bhagya's thoughts tormented her all night. She knew that in Brahmin culture, once widowed, a woman was deprived of her useful function in society--that of reproducing and fulfilling her duties to her husband. She ceased to exist as a person; she was no longer either daughter or daughter-in-law. There was no place for her in the community, and she was viewed as a threat to the society. A woman's sexuality and fertility, which was so valuable to her husband in his lifetime, was converted upon his death into a potential danger to the morality of the community. Bhagya's heart was filled with dread (p. 31-32).

When I think about the relationship between films and novels, I assume that the novels came first, inspiring the film makers. Sidhwa's novel, however, reverses this pattern. Watching the film after we had read the novel, I had a hard time keeping this in mind. I appreciated both, nevertheless, touched by the film's vivid portrayals of scenes, characters, and scenery that I had encountered in the novel. The colours and sounds in the film brought back memories of the month I spent in India in 1991.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

If You Like My Writing, Please Support "Papa's Shadow"

I know there are thousands of readers of  my writings out there, thousands who have read my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences. A number of these have told me how much they like this book.

One of them is Patrick Hemingway, the only remaining child of Ernest Hemingway. Having lived for much of his adult life--over twenty years--in my country, Tanganyika (later Tanzania), he knows exactly what I am saying in this book, which he calls "a tool of survival."

I wish to let my dear readers know that I have joined hands with Patrick Hemingway to share our reflections on his famous father. We appear in a documentary film by Jimmy Gildea titled Papa's Shadow, discussing Ernest Hemingway's life, travels, writings, and thoughts, especially those connected with his African experiences in 1933-34 and 1953-54.

If you have read my Africans and Americans book, you will enjoy hearing Patrick Hemingway mentioning it and reading from it as he and I talk about Hemingway's appreciation of different cultures.

Papa's Shadow is a unique documentary. It will change the way people view Ernest Hemingway. I saw this a few weeks ago at its premiere screening in Minnetonka, a suburb of Minneapolis.

The documentary is completed, but it will only be released after certain costs are  met. There is a fund drive going on, scheduled to end just over a week from now. As a contributor to this effort, I am joining hands with Ramble Pictures, the company that Jimmy founded, to solicit the remaining contributions. There are special incentives attached to the contributions, including a signed copy of my Africans and Americans book, for contributions over 200 dollars.

Read more about Papa's Shadow, and, if you can, make your contribution at this Kickstarter site.