This novel is “The road to the north”. The road stretches from Morocco to France (via Spain) and finally the protagonist reaches The Netherlands and its capital Amsterdam.
The writer Naima El Bezaz was born in the year 1974 in Meknes (Morocco), when she was four years old she moved with her family to a small town in The Netherlands. She did her A levels and studied Law at Leiden University. This is her debut as a novelist.
This a story about the search for a job and happiness. Ghali is unable to find both or even one of both in his hometown of Meknes (where Naima was born). His longing for the road to the north is growing. He is even willing to leave his wife Fatima to pursue his dreams he dreams in clear daylight. The story scuttles back and forth to sketch the background of Ghali.
One day me meets Sadi, whom he met when he was very young. Sadi now is a flashy young man, who divides his time between France and Morocco. The longing to travel north blinds Ghali who is unable to see in what kind of world he is entering when he broaches the subject of the road north with Sadi. Sadi is able to help him, he has his contacts, as long as Ghali will handover a substantial sum of money.
And Ghali is slipsliding away on this slippery slope. In the end he reaches Paris and finds lodgings with a on of a friend of his uncle who took care of Ghali for many years. But the past and the bleak future and Sadi (and his boss Yassine) are never far away.
He moves on to Amsterdam, and enters again the world of illegality. What to do? How to make money? How to fend of those who want to harm him? Ghali has to decide who call for help.
When Naima published this book she was still very young (21 years), she has done a good job, showing the difficulties not just on the road, but also the longings for a decent future, the firm relationships that are at the same time very fragile. The prospects are bleak, very bleak. Living down and out is not a happy option. Cut off from the past and the future. The story was and is still very relevant. The novel slowly and steadily moves towards the end, an open end.
Naima El Bezaz – De weg naar het noorden – 1995
Let me not straight away delve into this collection of ten short stories, but write about the author first. Mulikita was born in Zambia in 1928. Part of his formal education he obtained in Grahamstown (South Africa), later on he went to the United States of America to study at Stanford University.
In his working career he started out as an educator, a headmaster at a secondary school. Next he moved to the world of diplomacy when he became the Zambian ambassador to the United Nations from 1964 – 1966. Coming back to his motherland he worked at several ministries as a civil servant and as a minister. In 1988 he was elected as the Speaker Speaker of the Zambian National Assembly. He oversaw the heady days in which Zambia travelled from a one party state towards a multi party state. After that he moved back to the world of education and became chancellor of the Copperbelt University. In 1998 he passed away.
During all these busy days he managed to publish books. One of these is this collection of short stories.
One important theme in these stories is the world of his culture that is fading away. It seems that Mulikita tries to get hold of this soon to be past. He tells how people get together to listen to stories told by grandfather. We see glimpses of the way villagers lived their lives. The colonial masters hardly feature in his stories.
Another aspect, that is linked with the first one, is the prevalence of witchcraft. Even when people try to keep their distance it becomes clear there is more power than we can see with our eyes. An outside researcher, working on his PhD, eventually succumbs to this world of witchcraft and moves away before disaster will overtake him.
Love is another theme, sometimes even romantic love (how modern !), but more important arranged love, welding together two families.
In his stories Mulikita takes his time to set the scene and to elaborate on the developments with at times surprising developments in the story. In a way Mulikita describes a development that does not know a return to the past, the chance to return has been passed.
Fwanyanga M. Mulikita – A point of no return – 1968
This is a story about a money order. Yes, a money order. This story shows the journey of a money order in Senegal. The piece of paper has been sent by Abdou who lives in Paris and who has made some money. The fortunate recipient is his relative Abrahima Dieng. The local postman delivers the letter. Dieng is not at home at the time of the delivery, so his two wives take hold of the piece of paper. Due to the postman telling about his special delivery more and more people hear about it. When Dieng later on in the day reads the letter he finds out that a small sum of money is dedicated to him, part of it is destinated for the mother of Abdou, the largest part is meant for Abdou and his future plans in the village.
But how can Dieng collect the money? He is illiterate and needs the help of a fellow villager. There are no possibilities to collect the money at the place where he lives. The journey continues. Dieng travels and he needs to have a birthcertificate, an identity card. People from the village knock at his door in the hope to get part of Dieng’s share. They approach his wives. They want some extra rice, some extra food. He spends money before he collects the money order.
Dieng becomes becomes a victim of the modern world in which he does not know the right road to travel. Others have adopted the new ways in Senegal and are benefitting from it. Dieng is a blind man in a dark room who wants to honour the age old traditions, but these traditions are fading away. Others have become crooks and conmen. Dieng gropes around in the dark, with the best intentions and firmly rooted in the old traditions.
This is beautiful story about a money order, but most of all it is a story about a firm change in a society. The new ways (a local adoption of western ways ) bang headon with the old ways. And Dieng is right in the hard spot. This story that is in a way a hilarious story is deep down a sad story.
Sembène Ousmane – Le Mandat – 1966
The Senegalese writer Sembène Ousmane takes us to the country side of the West African country of Senegal. We reach the small village of Santhiyu-Niaye. The number of people living in this village declines, young people have moved to cities and places alongside motorways. Old men and women are left, and a very few young people. Dogs do remain and try to find some shade to rest.
Then the shattering news hits the village community. The unmarried daughter of one of the leading lights of the community is found pregnant. The rumours start about the potential father. Could it be the navétanekat (temporary worker) who works for the father of the young girl Khar? He is attacked by Tanor, the mentally disturbed brother of Khar, who fought for the French in Indo China. Finally this innocent young man is chased away from the community.
Finaly the shattering news breaks out. The respected father of Khar is the culprit. Guibril Guedj Diob hails from a respected family-line. The men of the village (including the imam) sit together under a tree and discuss the situation. Does they have to kill Diob? Can they banish him? A cordon sanitaire?
The news is also shattering for mother Ngoné Wat Thadium, her griote friend Gnagma. The son is even more disturbed. Khar is almost left to her own, she carries a child, in her womb, in her arms. The act of the father not only shatters the family, but also the community. Feelings of shame, of despondency, of lostness. What will be left, when the old and proven ways are left?
Ousmane takes us by the hand and makes us a witness of the deliberations, the slow pace of events, the heat of the sun, the sand under our feet and the sphere of a crumbling society.
(often this novel is published together with Le Mandat (1966), see next week)
Sembène Ousmane – Véhi Ciosane ou Blanche-Genèse – 1965
This novel brings us back to the nineteenfifties in the harbourtown of Marseille, in the south of France. Diaw Falla has left his mother and siblings in Senegal and travelled to France, the colonial master. In the harbour of cosmopolitan Marseille he has odd day jobs to unload the ships that come in. It is hard work, and not just the work itself, but also the circumstances and the attitude of the bosses. This becomes clear during the days that Diaw becomes, by chance, the leader of a spontaneous strike in the harbour.
Diaw is a man in his early twenties, but he is well respected in the community, especially in the Wollof community. In his limited spare time he writes a novel about slavery. He travels to Paris to get his novel published, but is hard to find a publisher. In the end he meets a budding writer, her name is Ginette Tontisane. She will try to get the book published.
Diaw travels back to Marseille and his girlfriend Catherine Siadem. Catherine hopes to get married to Diaw once his book is published and there will be some money to start a family. She is pregnant. Her stepfather does not like her relationship with Diaw and he has a relative waiting for an opportunity to whisk Catherine away to the shores of marriage.
In Marseille he hears that a book has been published by Ginette Tontisane, on the topic of slavery. He finds out that she gets the praise for his novel. Immediately he travels by train to Paris and confronts her. He realises the chasm between the races, the difference between a thief and the victim. In the scuffle that follows Ginette falls and gets hurt on her head and she dies. In Marseille he is arrested and brought before the court in Paris.
In his early days the Senegalese wroter Ousmane was a dockworker in Marseille for a period of ten years. Here he did his first writing in the early fifties. He could not get a publisher and it took quite a few years before the black dockworker saw the light. Ousmane became an important writer and cineast.
In this book he traces the hardships of the dockworkers, the latent racism in the manyfold relations in the country. The life of this young man has been grounded and whose fault is it?
In his first and final letter from prison Diaw writes to his uncle about his situation. About his three years young son. About his almost-to-be wife Catherine, who walks the streets of Marseille. He also writes about the effects of time in prison: it does not kill your pain and it does not cure you.
Sembène Ousmane – Le docker noir – 1973 (privately published in 1956)
It took some time before I got into this book by the writer Mudimbe (1941). He studied in Belgium (a Ph.D.) and France. He moved to the United States of America in 1979 (the year of publication of this book), where he pursued an academic career.
First, there is an introduction to this book. The book is a collection of notebooks by a Congolese / Zaïrois historian. During a few days he wrote down his thoughts about the very same day and about his past. Each notebook represents one day. At the end he is found dead. It is decided by a friend to publish these notebooks. In the notebooks some thoughts are well developed, others are in an embryonical state. Before publication, no attempt has been made to fill in the gaps. This makes hard reading at times. Where I am now? Where is the protagonist in this very sentence?
Second, the notes itself. The historian Ahmed Nara is doing research on an ethnic group in a library in Kinshasa. He studies Kuba, and he plans to write the history of these people. He is very enthousiastic about it and he wants to share this with his friends. One of the workers at the library is Aminata, this lady (with two children) takes care of him. She acts like a mother to him (or maybe at times as a potential lover).
In the past he has studied 5 years in France at an university. During those difficult years he met Isabelle (with lips like a negress). He is unable to forget Isabelle. Her memories haunt him and confuse him. One point of discussion with Isabelle were stereotypes and prejudices on people of the African continent.
Ahmed spends time with his psychiatrist Sano, to talk about his past in France and his present in Kinshasa, to find out who he is, dangling between Europe (Isabelle ) and Africa (Aminata), dangling between two cultures.
Will he be able to find a new modus to live? A way of reconciling the two forces in his existence? His death cuts short answers to these questions.
V.Y Mudimbe – L’ecart – 1979
This is not a story of success. It is a story of a Swiss couple that moved to the very south of Africa. The man, an trained farmer, gets a job on a farm in the Venda area near Louis Trichard. Max has some experience abroad, an experience he gained during his training. Margrit is an empty page in her foreign experiences.
They settle in a rundown small cottage somewhere on the edge of an undercultivated farm. The manager (or the owner?) drops them in front of this house and shows them the young boy Samuel who will help in doing some chores in and around the house. Very and very soon the long rains set in, more extreme than in previous decades, they learn later. The rains isolate them from their work and the people around. The cottage cannot stand the rains that enter in any way possible.
With these wet beginnings the couple tries to live and work. Margrit writes about her despair, her contact with her husband who is not very talkative, but just stubbornly gets on, contact with the people in a nearby kraal, the moments of joy and fright, the shopping trips by bus to Louis Trichard or on the tractor to a local duka run by an Asian.
Their story in Venda land is blown out because the owner goes bankrupt. Max and Margrit make the hard decision to move to South West Africa (now Namibia) to find work. The trip, thousands of kilometers, is a hard and dry and lonely one. In Windhoek they join the growing army of unemployed people. A severe drought has hit the country. Margrit is stung by the racism in Windhoek, according to her this racism is much stronger here than at their previous abode. They are strangers at Windhoek, not accepted by the hard and fast drinking Boer. At times Max finds a temporary job.
In the end they make the decision to return to Switzerland. The end of a dream. The end of a hazardous journey.
Margrit Helbling – Kleines Haus im Dschungel – 1965