Let’s talk about sex…

No, not S-E-X; there’s a time and place for that and it’s not now. I mean, females and males. Throughout history, a woman’s value has generally been determined by her appearance, ability to produce children, and tend to family. Picture-5.jpgWhere men are frequently represented in literature and media as leaders, hard workers, and the breadwinners; women are shown as nurturers. They’re the ones responsible for raising the future of our nations because a woman’s motherly instincts make them perfect for the role of parent. Right? I mean, all woman dream of mothering something to death, don’t they?

Well, In Baho!, a Burundian novel by Roland Rugero that explores the aftermath of war over wealth and social status, women are sexually objectified by their own husbands and neighbors. They’re treated like a commodity; their appearance and youth revered instead of their strong spirits and individuality.

Here, have an example from chapter 4, or IV if you’ve got Baho! cracked open and don’t understand Roman numbers all that well (don’t worry, you’re not alone, while writing this I had to check in with Google). The text refers to Kigeme, a girl everyone believes has just been saved from a rapist, as “precious goods” (Rugero 26). The actual passage reads like so:

“Izobikora turns towards his brothers and summons them to respond to Nyamuragi’s affront. Sullying precious goods acquired with great value over many years (a dowry, a marriage proposal, and long nights to convince the shy girl)? No! That’ll be enough of that! By raping Kigeme, the cursed mute has defiled all the other women in the region, and the men of Kanya consider themselves all affected. It’s time to crack down.”

In this case, women aren’t seen as humans, but instead as property. They either belong to their fathers or their husbands, in both cases; however, a man. And the mentioning of dowry here lets us (the readers) know that women are valuable to their family in that with her engagement they’ll receive some form of currency. It doesn’t necessarily have to be cash, it can be land or stocks (refer to page 4, paragraph 2: “Four weddings had solidified the family’s patrimony of goats and cattle”).

There’s also the entirety of chapter 10 we could look at. This chapter tells the story of “a daughter so beautiful that fig leaves bowed whenever she passed by.” Nicknamed Inabwiza, which means “she who has beauty,” her father desperately wants to delay marrying her off (Rugero 59). Because like your typical Disney princess,Snow-White-and-the-Prince she’s supposed to wait until her prince charming comes along and sweeps her off her feet. Once more, this text shows that a strong focus is placed predominately on a woman’s complexion. In fact, in this chapter, the reader literally learns nothing about Inabwiza except that she’s gorgeous. Whether it be her father, her brothers, or the countless young suitors begging for her hand in marriage, it’s her appearance that’s worth mentioning. Inabwiza is only important and sought out for by so many men because of her sex appeal. Need more proof? Well here’s a question: What’s her real name? Do you want to know the answer? Too bad, I don’t know it! Nobody does; it wasn’t significant enough to mention.

What I want to get at is that while women have doubled-down on their fight against gender stereotypes and actively promote equal opportunities; novels such as Baho! document the oppression of women across borders. Literature is useful in that it can reflect culture and address the problems within a society, no matter how great it claims to be.

Advertisements

Imagine Reality

 

“You don’t mess with your destiny, the Negus liked to say. It is written: born in the mines and the trains, you shall spend your whole existence swarming about the quarries until the prophecies come to pass” (Mujila 182).

Tram 83 by Fiston Mwana Mujila is a novel originally written in French and translated by Rolan Glasser. The plot plays out in City-State, a city in Africa where corruption and the fight for survival reign the lives of citizens. There are two constant character’s, Lucien and Requiem, and they’re polar opposites. Lucien is a writer trying to capture the stories and history of his people. Through his writing, he hopes to bring some means of hope and inspiration to them. Whereas Requiem is a man of many names, an extortionist, but most importantly a pessimist. He represents Afro-pessimism; or the belief that no change or improvement will come to the nation (of Africa) even after its decolonization.

In this City-State of Tram 83, most people have the same mindset as Requiem. They don’t see themselves capable of moving upwards in life. Poverty and following the footsteps of your ancestors is expected. We see this in the quote at the start of this post. In which the belief of living one’s existence in the darkness and crowdedness of the mines and trains is all there is. It’s “destiny;” something assigned to the people of City-State by some greater power and there’s no fighting it. In my opinion, I think this is a rather odd way of interpreting destiny. Rather than it acting as a motivation (such as that gif of Brittney Spears saying “Choose your own destiny” or the sayings, “Your destiny’s calling”), it’s a way of trapping people into accepting their unfortunate experiences.

However, this concept isn’t suddenly sprung on the readers; it’s sprinkled throughout the novel. For example, it’s also introduced as early as chapter 5 when City-State is described as a place of suffering. Where “you start out baby-chicks or slim-jim or child soldier. You graduate to endless striking student or desperado. If you’ve got family on the trains, then you work on the trains; otherwise, like a ship, you wash up on the edge of hope” (37). That’s to say, in the City-State moving up the social or economic ladder is impossible because the cycle of poverty is so ingrained in their lives. Unless someone was born into power, they won’t have or ever gain it. Progression isn’t expected and it isn’t sought after.

Weird, right? Or perhaps whether the City-State perspective on life and one’s role in it is jarring depends on our upbringing. I could say, “Imagine living in a world where you don’t expect more than what you’ve already been granted,” but that’s actually happening. Tram 83 may be about a fictitious city in Africa, but it’s inspired by reality. The relationship between the self and their future and community goes beyond the pages of Tram 83.

 

La Frontera

It’s 2017 and news about improving the border along US and Mexico is plastered all over media. In fact, just recently The Independent reported that in exchange “for extending protection from deportation to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants,” President Donald J Trump wanted his immigration policies prioritized. One of his demands being the support to build “his promised wall along the southern border” (Click here for to read more). So I say, what better time than now to discuss Uri Herrera’s novel, Signs Preceding the End of the World. It couldn’t get any more relevant!

_____

If you don’t already know, Signs Preceding the End of the World is a tale about a young Mexican woman and her journey to America. Sent off with a mysterious package and minimal instructions, Makina’s goal is to locate her older brother and bring him back home.

The novel touches on subjects such as emotional and physical connections, familial relationships, death, sexuality, self-discovery, but most importantly, borders.

 

110922111600-arizona-border-gi-story-top

People trying to enter Arizona from Mexico

 

Source

Unless you’ve had parents, cousins, or friends that trecked across the desert or mountains in hopes to make it to America, you probably aren’t all that familiar with the insanity that is crossing over. (That’s not to say borders are limited to Central America and the United States, but being that Signs Preceding the End of the World centers around these two, so will this blog!)

Luckily for us, we’ve got the Internet and novels; two places where people can share their experiences and open our eyes to the unknown!

Focusing on the novel aspects, Yuri Herrera illustrates the border as a site of movement and activity. Right before Makina meets up with Chucho, the man responsible for safely moving her from point A to B, she comes across “a string of hotels facing the river” and “small groups walk[ing] the length of the line, moving farther from the glimmer of the northern city till they found their point of departure” (Herrera 34, 36). These descriptions show that there’s life around the border; that it’s not a desolate or sad place. And while crossing the border may be a nerve-racking experience, especially with the knowledge of patrols looming on the other side, there’s also a buzz of excitement lingering in the air.

Another passage that illustrates how the border is porous is when “one of the first to strike it rich after going north came back to the Village” (Herrera 44). This scene shows how people come and go, crossing the border with the intent of returning to their homeland; their roots. And I want to bring attention to this because while we usually think of Central Americans migrating to America to stay permanently, there are many that dream of returning. This results in the border not solely existing to separate Americans from Central Americans, but also Central Americans from their own.

BorderPeggy620_489073225.jpg

Jimena Angulo, 5, meets her father, Luis, for the first time, at a ceremonial opening of the border gate

 

Source

So, while I’m aware Signs Preceding the End of the World is fiction, that doesn’t mean the relationships, the emotions revolving immigration and borders, or the journey is any less real. I think Makina is a representation of Central Americans. Her journey is their want to reconnect with lost family members, and borders are the challenges they must face to finally reconnect; to find themselves and loved ones.

Lesser of Two Evils

In most novels, pointing out the protagonist and antagonist comes to us rather easily. Authors use the latter to exemplify traits our heroes are struggling against or for. And we know who’s bad because they go against our own morals and values. However, with Ahmed Towfik’s science fiction novel, Utopia, we don’t have that luxury.

The story Utopia is told from the perspectives of two narrators: Alaa and Gaber. A Utopian and an Other. Raised in completely different environments, their paths cross only after Alaa leaves Utopia with the plan of murdering an Other and bringing home a limb as a trophy. You’d think that’d be enough to tell us Alaa is the monster and we should side with Gaber, but then [spoiler alert] Gaber tries raping Alaa’s sorta-kinda-more-for-convenience-sake girlfriend after knocking her out with a concoction of drugs. He doesn’t go through with the act, but he gets as far as standing over her sleeping body. And for me that’s his downfall; the tear in character that forever changes my perception of him.

See, when I read a novel, I want a hero. I want to read stories where the good prevails. But then I come across Utopia and I’m stuck asking myself what my next step will be. What do I do when I can’t read about Gaber and think he’s an innocent man anymore? Do I suddenly side with Alaa, a privilaged sixteen year old that’s never had to work a day in his life? Who romanticizes death and prefers sexual gratification over intimacy? Who places a high power distance between himself and the female sex?

I can’t.

I know Gaber’s no hero, but at least he’s the lesser of two evils. I side with him because where Alaa lacks humanity, Gaber at least shows some signs of hope. I’m siding with the poor man that always keeps his sister in his thoughts. I’m siding with the college graduate whose diploma was worth nothing after the disapearance of the Middle Class. A man that can’t find it in him to kill the Utopians that would kill him in a heartbeat if the roles were reversed.

And perhaps that says something about me and my need to find examples of humanity within fictional characters to prove that I’m not a bad person. That they are. I’m just trying to look at the silver lining.