Wednesday, September 5, 2012

When the Beams of Hope Shone on us: A Novel of Soulful Hope (novel in progress)

Chapter 1: How it All Began…

Carmina woke up one morning and realized that the reason to believe in a brighter future seemed deem and the future was no more aspired than the past because both had a common denominator–despair and hopelessness. She had dreamed of an African Renaissance, a dream of transition from a continent looming with wars and an unending array of conflicts to one of green pastures blossoming with indigenous knowledge systems, celebration of indigenous languages, and traditional African values. However, the dream had just been a dream in its purest sense! The renaissance once spoken of by the intelligentsia had shifted to be a millennium plan or something of that sort, which was essentially an attempt toward a more manageable aspect of business that confined with standards of international trade, Western-generated success benchmarks, and the like. The renaissance had been substituted; the African Renaissance person was a victim of unexplainable death; a demise worse than the unfathomable syndromes of our age.

Carmina woke up casting down a face of sorrow, pain, agony, yet in the heart of hearts there was a seed planted that could not be uprooted by the most avidly starving storm for it was deep inside the soul and it defined the essence of the future, so the memories of the time when the beam of hope shone continued to live within and needed not cease. Deep within Carmina’s heart there was the desire to re-live that beam of hope, even if for just a short moment.

I stood at the bus stop and reflected on the words of one of the beloved Mozambican writers,

O que mais doi na miséria é a ignorância que ela tem de si mesma. Confrontados com a ausência de tudo, os homens abstêm-se do sonho, desarmando-se do desejo de serem outros. Existe no nada essa ilusâo de plenitude que faz parar a vida e anoitecer as vozes. [Mia Couto (1987). "Vozes Anoitecidas." Lisboa, Portugal: Caminho.]

The voices, indeed, had been made night by who knows whom. Someone or some people perhaps close… perhaps far… perhaps in the imagined world of economic and political markets… had made the voices of the Renaissance dormant and meaningless and had allowed nothingness to stop the life and hope of many. Mia Couto’s words are very insightful and relevant to the core plight of Carmina. The ignorance of misery is more painful than the mere existence of misery; and, in facing absolute lack, humans do loose the will to dream and they disarm themselves of the will to change their fortune. I pondered swayed by voices in the distance echoing abstract realm of my being, “Could Africa in general be facing such a challenge or is Africa’s dilemma rooted in deeper issues?” “Did we make our own voices night because we are afraid of keeping them in the light of day for what they represent to us?”

In that very moment, while waiting for a delayed bus, I thought of how many years had passed since the first thought of writing a book overwhelmed me because the book had to reflect my deepest inner thoughts and the circumstances of my continent, even if only of a segment of the large African continent. From the age of nine I was interested in writing for publication, yet the journey had culminated in a series of frustrations that ranged from writing Portuguese-language poetry to English-language poetry, but never getting an opportunity to publish. Misfortune would visit as if an old uncle claiming a relationship we never had, only to spoil my sense of accomplishment—in such a personified fashion my work either got lost in the hands of an inebriated General Secretary of the Writers’ Association in Mozambique or crashed with my computer to the point of no-recovery. “What could I do? I was only 10 or 11-years-old and had no idea what it meant to have to protect my own work or keep copies for my own records!” I reflected in a way to comfort myself from such a dire loss of invaluable work. However, overwhelmed by the desire to let others know what most of the humans I have encountered fantasized about and what my creative ability could generate, I engaged in this journey of turning pieces of my academic and fictional work into a creative lyrical painting that would describe the plight of a people whose blessed day may never come, a people whose desire for self-affirmation seems remote, and a people on whom beams of hope once shone yet no one knows where such beams have gone.

It was in the year 1997 when I first came face-to-face with the term African Renaissance brought to the public’s attention by Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa after Nelson Mandela. Immediately, I fell in love with the term because it seemed to embed most of my plight for a liberated Africa. I had dreamed of a liberated Africa with new beginnings, new hopes, new visions, and a re-invigorated people whose sense of identity was unshakable and deeply rooted in the traditions of their forefathers yet a people that could live in a world of multiculturalism and internationalism. Through poetry I had already sent A Cry for my People when I wrote:

My people are in great distress
in great suffering we dwell by day
and nightmares haunt our night-lay.

Babies are born everyday

while thousands of talents die each day
with them succumb precious dreams
beautiful African dreams once held sway.

is crying. . .
Crying endless tears of pain and disdain
tears that never knew refrain or gain.

Africa is crying. . .

Crying for the salvation of her Children
living Children now dying
knowing not their eternal destiny

We are now crying tears of pain

tortured by the depression of the mother-land
a land that suffers great slain
where drought, famine and war seem to land.

My hope in writing poetry was to enlighten the world about the difficulties to live and grasp the circumstances we were facing in Africa. Enlightenment, being the key of my intentions, became in part a reason for my pursuit of Mbeki’s advocacy for an African Renaissance and since an investigation of a Renaissance required an investigation into history and literature, I saw myself plunge into the works of celebrated African writers and those referencing celebrated African names such as Equiano and Leo Africanus and movements such as Negritude and Pan-Africanism. My journey into the African Renaissance was gradually rewarding, as it became more and more a part of my life rather than just an academic exercise. The beams of hope brought by the vision of an African Renaissance provided warmth to my pursuit of knowledge and inspiration. I soon suspected that this thing termed African Renaissance was purposefully termed as such by people that willed a re-birth of some sort in the African continent. This suspicion caused me to acquaint myself further with the famous exploits of the humanists, during the European Renaissance, such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante, etc., depicting a spirit of a continent’s re-birth. Essentially, I suspected that if Africa was to term anything renaissance then the understanding of a prior renaissance was crucial; however, I also suspected that the actual experience of a re-birth, one that would not be termed renaissance, was not contingent upon the experience of Europe for the term re-birth had been used under other contexts such as that of religion. “I am thinking like an academic again!” I rebuked myself mercilessly, “but I am an academic and it may be impossible to escape this cycle I accepted as my lifestyle after all,” I justified myself as if making a case before a jury.

“What are you doing?” my mind asked itself.
“I am thinking about my journey as a writer!” it responded.
“What does that have to do with the whole jazz of renaissance?” my mind asked again.
“What?” I protested.
“Yeah, you were reflecting on your childhood and all of a sudden jumped to think about the African Renaissance…”
“I’m not following you… are you not a part of me?”
“Of course I am!”
“So, why are you asking me these questions? You’re diverting me to self-criticism when I am supposed to think progressively about my journey!”

This is how my mind would play tricks on itself and engage in these internal conflicts. In such times it acted so selfishly and caused splits within itself in such a way that it turned into an ambiance matching a family feud and at times it split itself into so many factions that it triggered a global warfare amongst its factions. In most days, however, the solidarity was so great that it generated such wonderful thoughts that translated into tangible masterpieces. Because I know my mind in times when it starts to split itself, I had to gather my courage and summon it back to thinking in a linear fashion like those who educated me in Western-fashioned schools and advocated that linearity is logic… against which I often protested in favor of defining logic as a phenomenon that takes complex shapes and orientations. In any case, the compromise was that we cease the argument and summarize our thinking about the term renaissance.

As I thought about the term, I encountered several considerations that were useful in my attempt to understand the linguistic battles between some of the great minds of the African continent. Since European languages are inherited commodities that served some Africans as weapons to fight against European colonialism while serving other Africans to gain acceptance into European social ranks, the issue of whether using Renaissance to describe an African phenomenon was politically correct or not was unavoidable and many scholars gibberished around the topic loosing sight of the imperative issues that characterized the phenomenon. I recognize the differences among our scholars and the positions of each camp as positions that are characteristic of their socialization and interests. In my view, the issue of language is one that will remain with us for as long as we utilize colonial languages as official languages and have to describe African phenomena in terms that the whole world ought to understand yet the rest of the world is not bothered by trying to include us in the understanding of their terms by using our languages. Nevertheless, my core interest was rooted in something beyond language – the essence of the African Renaissance and the beam of hope inherent in its essence.

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