Well, I’m no longer in Dar. I left, for what should be a little while. My heart is most certainly doing split-time between here and there, but my brain has relocated to Canada and is participating in a Masters in English Literature, with a Collaboration in African Studies.
My last year spent in Dar had been incredible, doing just about everything you can imagine, filled with memories I hope to share retroactively as very clearly I was not keeping everyone abreast with my daily activities. Which is in fact the beauty of a blog kept over many years leaving room for growth. I don’t even want to think about my just arrived in Dar reflection days!
Tonight, I had an experience that made me want to write and question myself and my ideas. Something that I had struggled with over the past year finding the moments when Liz Gilbert’s notion of the creative genius, the “force” if you will, came over me. It always strikes at the most inconvenient time, first thing in the morning, before any words can be spoken I must open my now dead-laptop and vomit the hazy thoughts outwards so as not to lose them, while wanting only to snuggle-in instead.
This evening, in my post-seminar turbulence of the mind, I decided an update/reflection was in order.
In the seminar, Transnational Literatures with Prof. Pius Adesanmi, examining Autobiography and Self/Life-Writing in Africa, we were discussing and critiquing Wole Soyinka’s You Must Set Forth at Dawn. A book that I cannot decide if I am enjoying or not, but merit his successes and have personal struggle with critiquing one of the forefather-greats (something I will and must get over).
Anyways, at the mid-seminar pause there was discussion of analyzing this piece of writing using Post-colonialism and Feminism, and the frustration within reading the story that essentially Soyinka has written women entirely out of the text, which is meant to be a personal auto-biography but also a cultural-historical-biography of Western-Yoruba in Nigeria.
There is one part, another student brought up, about Soyinka’s blatant “slut-shaming” (my word not hers) when describing a woman as a nymphomaniac, to which my brain and mind responded, it was a brilliant bit of writing there and such an accurate depiction of what I can assume of the situation. I will leave you (reader) to go and seek the book to find out to what I am really referring. In a nutshell, it is female greed, male lust and the rise of nationalism in Africa.
Ultimately my response to this other student was an attempt to contextualize and say that there are just things you cannot expect of the African first generation male writers. This was their vital flaw. It has been beaten to death. Essentially it is a boring argument to me now. I said too that I am a staunch feminist, but I don’t ask too much of these writers on the feminism front.
Another student stepped in to explain that it is still a critique-able point, that lack of feminism, which is why we were discussing it.
Another student brought to the table that she has read about a similar idea that there is so much more to critique because Feminism is just missing out of this text and most African first generation male texts.
To which, mentally, I thanked her.
The thing is, that only in a hindsight can I recognize my own personal growth with this topic.
While studying my undergrad at Carleton, all African Literature and Post-colonial courses I took, actually who am I kidding, everyday of every moment of every course was about Women, Gender, Feminist-frameworks and lenses were all I focused on. To a fault, potentially?
And tonight I suddenly realized I have come past that to a different lense when reading African Literature, more specifically male writers from Africa. Should I expect them to step up? Yes. Do I get disappointed when they don’t? No. They were carrying a different burden with their writing. A place and time for all?
This may not be okay. Actually, it definitely is not, but at what point do we forgive the First-Generation-African-Male-published writers (excluding oral literatures, orality, and using the term First-Generation generously and loosely) one-break? Which left a beautiful space for the formation and development of African Feminism in new spaces and places and dialogues.
Reflecting on my own “intellectual” growth I think has more to do with my acceptance of certain mentalities, that previous my close friends would know was an ever-cumbersome burden, of Poco-Third-wave-Feminist-ing at every chance, to everyone. I accept that historically, we cannot change the past, particularly in the case of old works that obviously cannot be re-written or unpublished. In terms of new works to challenge these old ones, great! Go for it! Take down whatever “man” you are fighting! And in terms of re-writing the past to include what has been intentionally left out or missing from histories, as Susanne Klausen calls it “the Gendering of History”, is a brilliant and very, very important academic venture.
I personally laughed when Soyinka describes that situation, with the “nymphomaniac”, more-so at the portrayal of the “dumb-white-girl” within what he is presenting, but most pertinently at the fact that he is showing just how dumb the first generation of potential “cream of the crop” African leaders were in their youth… or in their age as they grew to not change? Soyinka is tongue-in-cheek, and maybe this is what my personal growth is. Understanding the nuances of the writing in new ways that I didn’t see before. The African literary orality that one knows is preformed in a way with a raised eyebrow seeking the attention and approval before continuing, but ensures an all-knowing elbow poke at the audience of his horrible, bad humor. I wonder too, if the cultural observances of the roles of women and in African (or any other) Feminism would not be Soyinka’s place to locate the women in his story or be representative of his personal culture?
Is this what living in Tanzania has done to my brain? That I no longer anger at the nuances that come with cultural acceptance that not all people live in a Feminist life or mentality? I guess it is so.
*There is no ill-intentions towards any other students, I am just reflecting on my own growth and truly am shocked at this growth because me, one-year ago would have had the same opinion! I apologize in advance if any harm is done with the above opinions, and it most certainly is not the intention of this reflection!