Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Red cheeks in Mauritius - the red-whiskered bulbul

Mauritius was home to the infamous dodo, now extinct. But it has a vast range of coastal, water, and inland birds from parrots to flamingos. 

The red-whiskered bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus) is a tropical bird commonly found in forests and urban areas across Asia, India and Mauritius. It has also spread to Australia, particularly along the south-eastern coastal areas.

It is a medium-sized bird of about 20 centimetres (8 inches) with black, white and brown markings. It has a distinctive pointed black crest with red cheeks and a thin black moustache. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Mauritian seaside

The island of Mauritius lies in the Indian Ocean, between Madagascar and Australia. Closer to the African continent, about 2,000 kilometres away, it was first visited by the Arabs and then the Portuguese. It became a French colony from 1715, after the Dutch left in 1710. Under British rule from 1810 it resumed its original name of Mauritius, which the Dutch named after Prince Maurice. It became independent in 1968 and a Commonwealth republic in 1992.

Mauritius is 65 kilometres long and 45 kilometres wide with a population estimated around 1.3 million. It has 150 kilometres of coastline with rocky outlets and sandy beaches – and the third largest coral reef in the world.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Secret Lives of the Four Wives by Lola Shoneyin: book review

The Secret Lives of the Four Wives (2011) is set in Ibadan, Nigeria. Baba Segi is advised by the Teacher (“the noble one whose rays of wisdom have guided me through darkness”) to return to his city and marry the woman his mother has chosen for him “lest the women of Ayikara bitter my blood with their bile.” Thus in 1984 Baba Segi takes Iya Segi as his first wife, who bears him two children, Segi and Akin.

As Baba Segi says, “Lust points its finger at every man and soon after I married, the women of Ayikara began to look like princesses and goddesses.” He was happy to see these women while being married, but the Teacher advised, “Two women at home are better than ten in a bush.” And so Baba Segi takes a second wife, Iya Tope, in 1989 as a peace offering from a desperate farmer. She has three children: Tope, Afolake, and Motun. In 1994 he takes a third wife, Iya Femi, because she “offered herself with humility” and gave him two children, Femi and Kole. Now with seven children, he chose his fourth wife, Bolanle, in 1999. She accepted his offer of marriage for all the fineries of life - and to get away from her mother. Each wife had their own reasons for marrying Baba Segi for he wasn’t the wealthiest or most handsome man in town.

Three wives managed amicably, but when the fourth wife was educated with a degree, it upset the harmony in the home. Jealousy and spite resulted. But Bolanle, after two years, had not given her husband a child, and children were most important to Baba Segi. And that’s when the secret is unearthed. Baba Segi falls into disgrace and visits the Teacher once more for advice.

This is a novel narrated by the four wives of the polygamist Baba Segi, as well as Baba Segi and his driver. There are also chapters in third person narrative. Together they form a psychological web of relationships between husband and wives, between wives and wives, between wives and children, between Baba Segi and the children, and between the children.

This novel is a storytelling feat. For such a mixed bag of narratives, the novel is remarkably well connected and fluid, transitioning effortlessly from one narrative to the other, as more and more about the household is revealed. There is nothing fancy or complicated in the descriptions or plot, yet it is about the complexities of a family of wives and children, their loyalties and sympathies, their greed and revenge, their quick wit and slow seething, and their generosities and wickedness. It is simplistically, elegantly, and dramatically told, building suspense and drama until the end, when the secret changes their lives forever.

Monday, October 20, 2014

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo: book review

We Need New Names (2013) commences with a young girl called Darling from shanty Paradise who crosses Mzilikazi Road to get to Budapest to steal guavas. Darling, the narrator, is 10 years old. She hangs around with her friends: Godknows is ten, Bastard is eleven, Sbho is nine, Stina doesn’t know her age because she has no birth certificate, and Chipo is eleven and pregnant.

It is in Zimbabwe where these friends play country-game in which “we fight over the names because everybody wants to be certain countries, like everybody wants to be the U.S.A and Britain and Canada and Australia …” Nobody wants to be countries like Congo, Somalia and Iraq. Darling always wants to be the U.S.A where her aunt Fostalina lives. School doesn’t exist for these children, not like it did before their fathers lost their jobs, before they lived in the shanty town, and before her father left home to go to South Africa. He returned home with the Sickness, skinny and dying of AIDS. He wasn’t the same and she wasn’t sympathetic – he shouldn’t have left her and her mother for so long.

The election did not change a thing, not as her parents hoped. “Look at them leaving in droves, the children of the land, just look at them leaving in droves.” They are leaving “because it is no longer possible to stay. They will never be the same again because you just cannot be the same once you leave behind who and what you are, you just cannot be the same.”

Darling leaves too. She leaves her mother and her friends to live with her aunt in Detroit. It’s not the same as her home. At school, children “teased me about my name, my accent, my hair … the way I dressed, the way I laughed … in the end I just felt wrong in my skin, in my body, in my clothes, in my language, in my head, everything.” She soon learns, from television, to talk like an American, and look people straight in the eye.

Bulawayo speaks from experience. She left Zimbabwe at eighteen to begin a new life in a new country. This is a child to teenager transition, growing up, out of country and out of place. Missing the old friends and making new ones; being dissed by the old for talking like white folk and being dissed by the white folk for being not. Life changes and people do too. And with it, the language of the novel changes, from that of a young Zimbabwean child to an American teenager and beyond. The innocent language of jacaranda trees and smells and colours and watching men play board games - the poetic language - transitions to phone text shorthand, relationships, and American politics - the serious language.