Friday, 23 April 2010

"He could be as a ugly as a monkey’s behind"

The case of the Criminal Walk and Other stories by Hama Tuma, Outskirts Press, 2006.

It was published in 2006 but I do not know when the stories were written.

“As people say, misery is a brother and happiness just a passerby.”

Readers, please excuse but I am going to be rambling on for the next three paragraphs which you are more than welcome to skip, don't miss Hama Tuma's quotes though, am sure you'll love his style.

I never wanted to study History, I always used to dodge lessons or snore in the front row so that I would get thrown out of class. There isn’t much I find remotely mentally titillating in the records that human beings - or should I say ‘man’ beings ;-) - keep. The earliest examples of writing, as archaeological findings indicate thus far, does not recount romances, love, not even hate nor war, but economy, pure and simple mathematical calculation (actually not that simple!).

History's body is literature, through it, with it, it thrives, invites, seduces - literature does mean to know one’s letters, entire cultures can know their letters without ever having written them. The History of all people travels on lips, pulses heart beats, generation-in generation-out. This telling, this imprinting of the memory of past events, is to me History with a big H. The History that my liver (the seat of all emotions in Ancient Mesopotamian belief and in pre-islamic Arabic poetry) was longing for I found in language classes where one is exposed to the texts in the form they were found, in their original tongue, expression and handwriting, and what an invitation is the writing of the hand and its flowing, transient movement.

In Hama Tuma’s writing I found not only the blossom of words and the many magical shades of meaning they provide, but also the History of a people and its past, well no, its future because story telling is a tribute to Time itself, so that with this offering it is Time who will remember and stand witness.

Ok sorry, enough … This book opens with a dedication:

“The arrogance of power is still there, injustice abounds but the martyrs and silent and discreet heroes are remembered and their banner still flies high under the Ethiopian sky.”

It is both his skills at similes I love in his writing and his portrait painting-writing.

Talking of lies:

- I have heard they ask a lot of questions to trap you in a lie?
- As if a lie is not white and it is not the ferenji who invented every lie on earth!

Talking of marriage:

“You are sold off by your parents long before you reach puberty” went on the woman “handed over to a man you had never seen. He could be as a ugly as a monkey’s behind aside from being a brute like most men. He could stink like an outhouse; he could have some undeclared skin disease, no matter. Arranged marriage, the deal is made before you stop suckling at your mother’s breast. Is this fair, I ask you? They cut off your nails so that you cannot scratch at your husband on the wedding night. They expect you to fight though since no fight means you are an easy woman. Come wedding night, your half drunk husband throws himself at you with as much sensitivity as a rushing flood. He enjoys your scream, the whole family enjoys your cry of pain and the blood smeared cloth or bed-sheet is shown to all and accepted with ululation. Welcome to the world. What a welcome. By thirteen you feel torn, soiled, abused, and old. Is it a surprise if I hate him?”

This is my favourite portrait, I rolled with laughter in the bus as I read it (literally, I bumped my head on the board crouching from cracking up). Of course, this character is fictitious…

“He was Prime Minister of the impoverished country, a coward perceived as the strongest man in the nation of seventy plus million people, the man all men feared and, he hoped, all women desired. He had passed years in the jungle as a leading member of a guerrilla organization and though he had cleverly kept away from the frontlines and taken part in a battle only once (he fled and was almost executed for cowardice), he paraded as a tested and veteran guerrilla. A verbose man, he actually came across as a vulgar street-smart political con man that liked to parade as a seasoned political strategist or war commander. He had a whore of an ego but he was realistic enough to know that his colleagues and the people at large laughed at his posturing.

It was a Wednesday morning in the month of April when he woke up […]. The bathroom was full of mirrors and the moment he entered he was confronted by the image of the former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. Ordinarily a coward, he fainted outright. […] What had happened [to his face] overnight?

Then in his fury and utter dread this dictator banished all mirrors. The story ends with my absolute favourite line:

“If you meet Ethiopians who look unwashed or are passing clandestine hours in front of a mirror, please remember that they have been denied the right to look at a mirror and see themselves.”

Fab writer wouldn’t you say?

Hama Tuma is to be found here

Notes with fingers jumping to ooohhh yessss, Masai Hip Hop!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was lovely lol Enjoyed it! btw on the first one, was it about lies or frenji? ;)

keep them coming!