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Ndibe, Nwosu, Bola’s fictional responses to migration and displacement of Africans

By Enifome Ukodie and Melody Fidelis
30 July 2017   |   3:14 am
With Goethe-Institut’s Literary Crossroad Series, African writers, both on the continent and the diaspora, now find a common ground to discuss contemporary trends and themes in their writings.

Ndibe, moderator, Safurat Balogun and Bola at Goethe-Institut’s Literary Crossroads… in Lagos

With Goethe-Institut’s Literary Crossroad Series, African writers, both on the continent and the diaspora, now find a common ground to discuss contemporary trends and themes in their writings. The sixth edition recently held in Lagos and featured two African writers – Nigeria’s Okey Ndibe, U.S.-based and Democratic Republic Congo-born JJ Bola.

Ndibe discussed the major aspects about his recent book, a memoir, Never Look an American in the Eye. He explained his fascination with immigrants, stories of exiles, and why he thinks it is important to base his book around it, when he said, “The narrative of travel is so intrinsic to what makes us humans; the narrative of travel is that narrative that we began to hear as children when we heard folktales about tortoise and other animals. Even the animals sometimes migrated into the space of humans for adventures or to interact with humans. So the idea of travel is closely linked with the idea of displacement; when you move from one place to a different place, it is a displacement and there is great drama there.”

According to Ndibe the belief about following the footsteps of influential writers such as Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe in writing a memoir is not something that is done consciously. He said, “When one starts writing, there is a stage where your commitment is to imitate because that’s all you know. You love different kinds of writers, so you pattern your writing around others’ writings but after a while you begin to distil a style that is completely yours.

“Writers like Soyinka, Achebe, Toni Morrison, and Kofi Awoonor are some of the influences in my life. The influences have always been, and in a lot of ways, they have mixed up to form what I think is my own unique voice in the world.”

Bola, on the other hand, who is a Congolese-born but London-raised writer, poet, and educator, has published three books of poetry – Elevate (2012) and Daughter of the Sun (2014), and his third, Word (2015), is his most comprehensive poetry collection. His debut novel, No Place to Call Home, Bola said was inspired as a result of growing up in a Congolese culture, where there was always the presence of a political discussion that went on in every gathering or party he ever attended.

According to him, “The Congolese party is a very flamboyant and colorful party, with music. The men are always dancing, and shaking their hips together along with the women and I grew up watching all of this. What was never missing in a wedding situation, parties or even funerals was the political discussions or the stories on how they grew up, what life was like in Congo, what their experiences were.

“I was just thinking, if they were spoken word artists or poets, they could wow the whole world! So, I was trying to carry on that tradition by sharing all I have experienced. It was really a movement kind of process; it was not me trying to create something political but it was what always existed in my community and for me, I just found one medium in which I was able to transmit the inside of my community to outside of my community and to the world.”

In explaining the place of familiarity in writings and whether the public should read stories because they are familiar with the stories, because the stories are brilliant or because of the literariness of the stories, Bola said, “As a writer, I want as much as possible for people to be able to relate to my stories in terms of its literary value and also what it contributes to the people’s lives. At the end of the day, what matters most is the universality of our human experiences and the value that the arts we create contribute to our lives and everyday existence.”

In a similar context, Maik Nwosu also had a discussion on the migration phenomenon plaguing Africa, as encapsulated in his latest novel, A Gecko’s Farewell. Parresia Publishers Limited recently hosted the associate professor of English at University of Denver, Colorado, U.S. to a book-reading event at its office on Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos.

Nwosu explained to his audience how millions of desperate Africans make hazardous trips across national boundaries on the African continent just to get to the west in search of livelihood and how they often face rejection and victimisation in their new environments.

Nwosu said Africa’s many tragedies, bad government and policies are pushing people out, adding, “People can realise their full potentials in Africa if the circumstances were right. Africa has incredible potential, but the governments specifically, are not actually (helping the people to) realise these potentials. A place like Nigeria has the potential to make its citizens fully (stay) at home but we have millions of Nigerians over all the world and it wouldn’t be bad if they are going there if they want to, but they are going there because they have no alternative, that says something about the country.”

He stated that people leave Nigeria sometimes with unrealistic expectations, warning that people should be mindful of what their expectations are and also be willing to adjust to new circumcises, adding, “I see people come to America, look around and say, is this it?!

Head of Parresia Publishers Limited, Azafi Omoluabi-Ogosi, complained about lack of funding and sponsorship in the publishing industry, saying there were limited numbers of potential buyable manuscripts. However, she advised new writers to continue to write and keep holding on, saying, “I believe in things getting better. Maybe one day something will happen and there will be that financial backing that we need. Because things are this way, I will not advise them to look at the present situation; they should continue to write.”

Gecko’s Farewell is a story about three Africans – Etiaba, Nadia and Mzilikazi – who eventually try to leave Africa, but there are consequences for all three of them. Etiaba is from Nigeria, a village schoolteacher, who loses his job and moves to Lagos to try to study and find a better life. In Lagos he meets fraudsters and scammers, but quits, as he does not fit into that game. So, he travels to America to school, but making that decision has big consequences for him because adjusting to America also means his wiliness to suffer and do things he apparently wouldn’t have liked to do. While in America, he meets a woman called Nadia online and, even though that is very unusual for him, they decide to get married without seeing each other.

Nadia is an Egyptian and a photojournalist, who comes to India and is then pushed out because she takes a picture of an Islamist terrorist. To escape the danger to her life, she relocate to France but on getting to France, she discovers that she is also classified as a Muslim, which is the same as a terrorist. This forces her to leave again. While in France, she meets Etiaba online and they become engaged without seeing each other.

The third character is Mzilikazi, a boy soldier and an orphan, but he manages to go to school in London. However, he realises it is impossible for him to go back as his village, was completely destroyed. But even if he decides to go back, there is nobody to go back to.

The trio eventually manages to connect with themselves and to share experiences and plan a return to Africa because even though they had physically left Africa, it is still with them psychologically.