ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
I actually feel sorry for the cockroaches that fall on their backs and can’t
get up. If they are sick and dying slowly, the ants don’t wait for them
to die. They march right up and start working on a leg or two.
Reflections on Fiji
Turn of the Century: December 1999
By Kiini Ibura Salaam
greetings. this is kiini ibura salaam. i’m spending four months in the south pacific and my father asked me to send a report. this report includes my initial observations, which makes them not fact, but opinion [which is all facts are anyway]. it also includes statements various fijians may have made to me at one time or another. i don’t pretend to know the validity of the statements as i’ve only been here for three weeks, but i’m sharing them with you. as with all that you read, consider the writer, his/her motives, and his/her perspective, then judge for yourself. now that all blame has been disclaimed :), on with the report.
i arrived to nadi, which is the main tourist center of fiji, three weeks ago. the two first things i noticed were both men and women with flowers behind their ears and women wearing medium sized afros. Knowing i was in a tourist center, i wondered if these floral-clothed folks weren’t dressed for the benefit of foreigners. As i took the four-hour bus ride to suva, however, i was pleasantly surprised to see a construction worker with a beautiful flower tucked behind his ear. he was working on the side of the road, certainly not concerned about the tourist industry.
here in suva, capital of fiji and location of the main campus of the university of the south pacific, i noticed most of the fijian women wore afros. my host, a university lecturer, says that angela davis believes the afro started here. whether that’s true or not, it is certainly alive and kicking. upon closer examination, i saw that the jerry curl is also alive and kicking. not in a hanging, dripping sort of way, but in a softening and texturizing sort of way.
any processing done to the hair seems to be for the purpose of producing a more buoyant and manageable afro. that said, i have seen a few perms, nothing as bone straight or lustrous as i am accustomed to in the u.s., but perms nonetheless.
as you may have noticed, what interests me about a country is its people. the people of fiji come from a number of different cultures. people of different cultures communicate with each other in english and often in fijian, but each culture also has its own language. fijian can be a nationality or an ethnic distinction. ethnic fijians are what we would consider black. they are brown skinned, kinky haired, with familiar variations on that theme. and fijians speak fijian.
[bula means hello or welcome… that’s all i can say, besides na ka, which means thank you.people speak to me in fijian. I, of course, can’t respond, but anywhere i can fool the people, i’m comfortable.]
there is a large east indian population here, consisting of hindus and muslims. there is also a community of mixed race people, european and pacific islander being the most common. there are also other pacific islanders: tongans, samoans, cook islanders, and others. now that i have come to fiji, i have a desire to visit all these islands. culturally, they seem to influence each other.
[hey, did you all know where bora bora was? i never knew. it’s in tahiti!!]
my first big challenge in coming here was the rain. it’s the rainy season/the hurricane season. a fact my host pointed out to me before i booked my ticket. a fact i waved off as insignificant. i thought i could handle it. i handled brazil’s rainy season, how difficult could it be?
well, you know the statement that eskimos have thirty million different words for snow. The way it rains here during the rainy season, fijians should have thirty million different words for rain. My first three days in suva were filled with rain: pounding rain, sprinkling rain, showering rain, streaming rain, barely-there rain, bone-soaking wet rain.
Yes, for three days, i experienced different qualities of rain. i was sick, i was coughing, i was depressed. there should be some sun soon, my host said. and she was true to her word. there is sun now. i’ve worked out an acceptance of the rain and i feel grateful for the sun. there hasn’t been another three days like my first three, thank god. my baptism by rain is over.
Fiji is made up of two big islands and a number of smaller ones. It is beautiful, lush, fertile. This campus, the suva campus of the university of the south pacific [usp], must be one of the most beautiful in the world. there are hills and valleys, and wooden bridges, and huge ficus trees, and jackfruit trees, and palm trees, and coconut trees, and many others i am not knowledgeable enough to name. there are sections of the campus i could photograph and you would think i was in a rainforest or on a nature hike. beautiful.
my second challenge is the mosquitoes. i won’t bore you with a description of them. just know that they’re mean and hungry and i’ve got my battle scars.
before i came, my host told me that people in fiji dress pretty modestly. and she’s right. it’s hot, but people are pretty much covered up. the last place i traveled to was brazil and they walk around half naked. the contrast is striking. though there are young fijian women, they don’t stand out as much as the adult and elderly fijian women [at least not to my eye]. They wear long floral dresses with an underskirt called a sulu. Men wear sulus too; for men, the sulus are fitted, often with pockets, reach about mid-calf and are used for official occasions, dressing up, school uniforms, or work uniforms. One of my favorite sights so far is seeing a group of school children, the girls in their dresses, the boys in their sulus, all with flowers behind the ear. when it rains, there are many, especially children, who stay out and get wet. it is the custom of taking a rain bath. i took one by mistake one day. i was soaked, but it felt good.
i have found fijian people to be soft spoken… by that i mean low voice levels, not much shouting. i also found the energy to be very gentle. when i landed it felt soft, as opposed to chaotic and aggressive [as in new york, salvador bahia, jamaica]. that does not mean however, that fijians don’t suffer from many social problems. there is a high incidence of domestic violence [80% of the households], lots of drinking [i’m a lightweight, i’ve protested when they want me to go further than my two/three drink minimum], children begging on the streets is a new problem [and a strange one in so lush a land, kind of like looking at homeless in the u.s., so rich a land], violent crimes are growing. i haven’t had much contact with the street and as a result have only witnessed a little of the social problems. but i’ve seen the government housing, it looks tighter than the projects in new orleans. Five story metal [?] buildings with laundry hanging off the balconies and windows. it looks like every doorway is a compartment-like apartment. i haven’t been inside, but it doesn’t look like the residents have much room to flex.
i visited the museum of fiji. when i went in it was raining. when i came out, there was a mini river rushing across the driveway… i had to wade through to get home. anyway, three interesting facts about fiji. fiji was annexed by britain late in the game. i don’t remember the facts but i believe at the time britain had all the colonies it could handle. slavery may have been outlawed and/or was seriously on the decline. sailors had passed by/through fiji often, but when they started settling, management problems developed. americans in particular did not follow fijian law/rule and incited disturbances and threatened to call in the american marines to ‘protect themselves and their property.’ as a last resort, the king/chief of fiji asked britain to annex them. and so britain did.
the second fact is that christianity was not forced upon the fijians. i think the missionaries had by then learned their lesson with force and won the fijians over with persistence. the fijians converted out of a sense of politics, thinking it might put them in a better position.
third, parts of the fijian society were cannibalistic. communities that worshipped cannibalistic gods were in turn cannibalistic [mostly for ceremonial and ritualistic purposes]. those that worshipped more peaceful gods were not. part of the exhibition detailed an example of a christian missionary who was cannibalized. apparently he offended a community who had converted to christianity. since they couldn’t cannibalize him themselves, they got another community to do it. i can’t help seeing the humor in that.
there were many interesting things in the museum, exhibitions of HUGE boats, feats in construction and architecture. an example of some really elaborate male hairstyles, that included braids, twists, afros, often all mixed up in one hairstyle.
but for me, coming from america where our communal conception of colonialism is by force and blood, the idea that fijians had a choice in the matter of religion and government throws me for a loop. Granted, the choice was not really a choice, but a maneuver intended to protect them from harm, but still, there is a different historical reality at play here. the fijian community is very christian, which is different for me. my contemporaries are free spiritualist and want nothing to do with a church. i saw a really ironic cartoon. it was simply done with two panels. the first panel shows european missionaries wearing shoes, and hat, and long sleeves and dress, holding a bible, pointing at two native fijians, both wearing nothing but short leaf skirts. It is dated 1835 and they are demanding that the natives “cover up.” The next panel is 1978, two fijians are modestly dressed, proudly sporting afros, self righteously pointing at european tourists who are barely covered in shorts and bikini tops. Condemning the bare-skinned tourists, the fijians demand that they “cover up.” Life is irony.
Fiji will be one of the first nations [if not the first] to welcome the new year. Since I’m going through it before all of you, that makes me ‘avant garde.’ I’ll say happy new year early. Here in Fiji we will be eating a TON of food… smoked root vegetables [the likes of which I’ve never seen before] cooked underground (called a lovo), a ton of barbecued meats and various coconut flavored seafood. and of course lots of liquor, song and dance.
A postscript about small creatures:
I spent last week at a summer house. The house is surrounded by lush vegetation, walking distance from a lovely beach. The week was characterized by me negotiating the various harmless animals that inhabited the house and grounds. At night, the mosquitoes came out and tore us to pieces. The geckoes also came out at night, crawled out of the walls and roamed all over the ceiling. Their skin was translucent. They look like albino cave lizards, no color, could be blind. They made clicking sounds that almost sounded like someone knocking on a door.
At night, when we turned the porch light on, bugs were attracted to the light. So were the geckoes. There would be about twenty of them, crawling on the ceiling near the light. I would rush into the house, terrified one would drop on me. It’s good luck when they fall on you, my host assured me. Uh-huh, I said. I woke at dawn one morning to see a crew of them clustered on the wall. I watched them for a while. Made my hypothesis that they had crawled out of two odd wood-rimmed holes in the wall. I had never seen so many on the wall before, maybe the ceiling, but not the wall. I must have caught them on part of their slow journey back home. I drifted off to sleep again. When I opened my eyes an hour later, they had gone.
The ants were busy all day. I think ants are horrifying and I praise god that they are so small. They are single-minded and ruthless. They don’t mourn their dead, they just reroute their path and continue their task. The worse thing about ants, besides their quick response to a dropped grain of sugar or a spilled bit of juice, is their lack of compassion for other insects.
I actually feel sorry for the cockroaches that fall on their backs and can’t get up. If they are sick and dying slowly, the ants don’t wait for them to die. They march right up and start working on a leg or two. If a bug is maimed and trapped on the ground, it better hope an ant doesn’t find it. Because if it does, any hope for future salvation is over. I saw a fallen bee with a nice round body. Huge in comparison to an ant. No matter, a team of ants worked together to haul this treasure away. They carried it along the window sill, dropped it off, then tried to force it through their ant hole. When it didn’t fit, I saw them milling about. I didn’t know what they were going to do about the dilemma. My guess: they were chomping the still-dying bee in half.
There was a huge brown moth that rested, perfectly still, in the exact same position on the window sill for two days. It’s body was an aerodynamic wonder. Sharply curved wings, carefully carved body. By mistake, I hit the window shade and rustled it awake. Then it flew around the light, making me paranoid that it was going to brush up against me. I woke one morning and shook out my sheet. As I was folding it, I noticed a brown fleck on the sheets… a roach leg! Then I found another, and another. I tried to convince myself it wasn’t a cockroach, but another bug. One with better p.r. But then I found chips of the body. Hard, shiny fat crescents. I didn’t want to think about it and flicked it to the floor.
Cracks in the tub often weren’t cracks, but rather worms. There was one odd worm. It seemed to be attached to a leaf shaped cocoon and it valiantly dragged its load all the way across the bathroom tiles. I always wondered where these creatures were going and how would they know when they got there.
My favorite by far were the frogs. When it rained, they would peek out from their cool resting place under the concrete porch. Then they would leave the shelter and head for some destination. As I sat on the back porch, it looked like they were headed for high ground. It is a strangely beautiful sight. Big frogs and little, hopping, then sitting still. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Then hopping again. In this way making a slow journey to their secret rain place.
When I watched from inside, it looked quite magical. The grass would be still. Then rain would fall. Then before I knew it, the lawn would be alive with the slow movement of frogs.
Reflections on Fiji #2
Turn of the Century: December 1999
i found myself faltering in the past few weeks knowing that i had agreed to write another report on fiji. because i am leaving next week saturday, this will be my final fiji report. however, i don’t feel equipped to make a “final” statement on fiji after two short months. there’s so much i still don’t know/understand… so let’s consider it “my last words for now.”
i didn’t have a very fijian time in fiji. that is to say, although i’ve befriended, bonded with, shared space and time with people who are fijian by nationality, i haven’t spent much time with people who are fijian by “race” (black people). those fijians i have spent time with were outside of the context of the fijian community. this is not a problem for me b/c as a traveler i take things as they come. rather than decide ahead of time what type of experience i’m going to have, i go with the flow and do what’s most comfortable. so here are more accounts of the experiences that crossed my path.
i climbed a mountain. we have mountains in the u.s. lots of them. but i never climb them. i’m not very athletic nor am i attracted to communing with nature [though i do need trees around… this is becoming more about myself than about fiji . . .]. but somehow, when you travel, you find yourself doing things that are accessible to you in your town . . . going to markets, spending weekends with other families, and climbing mountains. climbing mount kirababa [pronounced korumbamba, fijian “b” is pronounced “mb”] i learned some things.
trees are useful. when the earth starts to incline at a 45 degree angle, a tree is your best friend. you grab onto it and hoist yourself up. but you must test the trees before you pull on them, they could be rotting and thus soft and thus of no use… or they could be unstable and when you pull on it, it could fall and you fall with it… or some evil climber could have left gum on it… or there may be a slug or any other creature in nature clinging to its bark… so you tread carefully, check out the tree before you hold onto, but when you do, don’t let go until you’ve regained your balance [sounds like instructions for life]
i also learned about the power of the bou-tay. going down these steep inclines. when you are too frightened to run and jump and step. you can squat, sit on your butt, stretch your legs forward and scoot down. your butt anchors you, grounds you, keeps you safe when there are steep ravines dropping off on both sides of you.
i learned that if you keep going you usually make it [although your legs might be trembling and your heart might be pounding a war dance in your throat]. and if you should make a mistake and step into some black mud at the bottom of the hill, and this mud should suck your flip flop off your foot and you should be forced to dig through this mud knowing full well it is probably swarming with bacteria and vermin, then you’ll probably be desensitized to the dirt and bugs by the time you’re really climbing. by then, climbing a mountain barefoot won’t seem like such an insane idea.
the view at the top was amazing. it’s the highest peak in the city of suva. nothing spoiled the view. i saw a black slug. i saw a leaf with the most intricate patterns i’ve ever seen. i got sunburnt. i enjoyed the shade of trees and the beautiful leaf-filtered sunlight. i swam in a natural freshwater pool, i drank out of a creek and tried not to think of little swimmy things that were probably enjoying the creek water along with me.
fiji was a british colony so their english is based on british english. their accents are softer than brits (thank god) and much more attractive. since i’ve been here, i’m very concious of how “round” i speak. i feel like a southern hick. they pronounce almost every syllable [often they pronounce it differently, so that i have to ask twice what they just said]. it’s been really funny walking up to someone and asking them something and they just stare at me. it’s one thing to adjust to another type of english, but when strange sounds fly out of the mouth of someone who looks just like you, you’re a little taken aback. you kind of need to regroup. i usually smile good naturedly while they regroup… i can be good natured about this because (besides the fact that i have no choice, if they can’t understand me, they can’t understand me) i’ve had worse trouble when trying to speak another language. waiting for someone to adjust to your accent is a lot easier than trying to ask for something in spanish or portuguese. especially if it’s something i really need, especially when i don’t know the right word or sentence structure to use.
once while shopping i pointed to this dress and i said, ‘this doesn’t look like cotton.’ ‘what?’ my friend said. and i repeated myself. and she repeated herself. and i repeated myself. and she finally figured out that i had said ‘cotton,’ and i finally figured out that i *hadn’t* said ‘cotton’ at all. i said: ka-un. i did not pronounce the two “t”s at all. and my ‘o’s were no longer ‘o’s. oh god, i said to myself, i can’t speak!
other linguistic differences cause confusion. for example, if you say, “you’re not going to wear that dress?” they say “yes.” meaning, “yes, you’re right, i’m not going to wear that dress.” whereas americans say “no.” as in, “no, i’m not going to wear that dress.” there are the usual charming differences in word usage… “you gang” instead of “you guys.” you “reckon” instead of you “think.” “canvas” or “runners” instead of “sneakers” or “tennis.” and there is a colloquial slang that the middle class folks use to tell jokes in. it employs broken english, exaggerated accents, and grammatically “incorrect” phrasing, similar to middle class black americans’ use of ebonics.
a bizarre aside: a rotuban friend who went to school with all sorts of people said that some of the fijian guys in his high school would slit the skin on their penis and insert round balls about the size of a peewee marble. they would push the ball back along the shaft and let the cut heal. he said it wasn’t that difficult to do so they would do it in the bathroom at school. the most he’d seen was one guy who had five [each ball must be inserted at a different point in time, not all five in one sitting]. the purpose: to give a woman more pleasure during sex. apparently, b/c of the network of nerves, it is a lot more difficult to take them out than to put them in. unfortunately, i can not relay any first-hand experience in this matter. maybe if i stayed another month. 🙂
boys in fiji are circumcized at a later date than boys in the u.s. the circumcision is done between the ages of 6 and 8. traditionally it was done with bamboo to a large group at once so that the boys could share the pain. many men have painful memories of the experience. it is customary after circumcision to take a sea bath. as you drive along the coast, you may see young boys with sulus [cloth used for wrap skirts] tied around their necks. they are holding the cloth away from their bodies and gingerly tiptoeing towards or away from the sea. you sigh, with the knowledge of the circumcision they have just experienced.
on the front page of the paper yesterday was a story reporting on a young girl committing suicide because she didn’t pass her form 4 exams. instead of grades (1st grade, 2nd grade, 12th grade) in fiji they have forms [form 4, form 5, form 6]. i think form 7 is the highest, but i could be wrong. at the end of certain forms, you are giving an exam. if you pass the exam, you can stay at the school. if you fail, you are kicked out. and you either find another school or find something else to do with your time. these exams also decide whether you’ll go to university or technical school or get a job. as one australian national observed, this system (based on the british education system) seems to be geared at weeding people out so that they won’t have too many educated people on their hands. the less educated people you have, the less skilled jobs the country has to fill. in small places, there are few resources and few skilled jobs. everyone else must find something else to do.
sugar cane and tourism are fiji’s biggest industries. as you drive down the highway, you pass rows and rows and rows and rows and fields and fields and fields and fields of cane. it’s everywhere. new cane, old cane. cane, cane, cane. i had noticed narrow tracks on the side of the road from time to time and wondered what kind of train could function on such narrow tracks. during a recent trip to the west coast i saw what the tracks were used for. those tracks transport cane from the fields to the crushing factories. the cars hook together as needed and crawl down the track LOADED with chopped sugar cane.
also, all over fiji, including all over the city of suva, there are loads of fruit trees. also papaya plants and taro [a leafy root vegetable] and other root vegetable plants. these plants feed parts of the population. as an article i read said, the people who plant the land, aren’t necessarily the people who own the land. and the people who eat the crops aren’t necessarily the people who own the land. this article suggested that this usage of land is rarely considered when western economic teams come to make assessments of fiji. they often don’t even recognize the plants as they look like they could be decorative.
in addition to sharing land for planting, some fijians share land for living. one man i recently met, inherited a family with his land. when he bought a house surrounded by lots of land, there was a tin house on it. in the tin house lived a man and his family. they kept the property for the previous owner. so he came with the house. the landowner now, not only employs the man, but built him a wooden house, expects to help solve economic and family problems, pay school fees, and provide various other services. he says he has this type of fluid, familiar relationship also with the woman who washes clothing for him and others. and as he drives from his house outside the city, into the city, he picks up laborers and neighbors who may need a ride.
this man recently took me to the village of nabua. it is a fertile valley. small, friendly town. he took me to the house of friends. apparently, this family is very poor and had nowhere to live. they found an abandoned house and moved in. the father of the family cultivated the land around it and renovated the house. the indian owner of the home, who moved to california, is happy with the agreement as his property is not only being looked after, but improved.
when you drive into the gravel driveway, there is a pond with lilypads and fish. the father has planted banana trees and other fruit trees around the house. he’s made a mosaic footpath with stones leading up to the house. across the road, between the house and the beach, is a tangle of trees. when you enter, you see that the father has cut a path through the trees and lines it with stones. the sand is nicely raked and there are circular paths that lead nowhere, other paths lead to benches, and one path leads to the beach [unfortunately this coast is suffering erosion, if something isn’t done, the land will be devoured by the sea, bit by bit].
the edges of the shaded property have been lined with interesting pieces of collected driftwood. under the shade of trees it is cool. a delicious breeze blows through. as we are talking, i look up to see the father bringing a plate loaded with pineapple slices and bananas. this moment is so luxuriously perfect. my host comments that the difficulty of this family’s poverty is lessened by the bounty of the land. i am inclinded to agree. i’ve never spent much time in the country. in simple houses surrounded by fruit trees. maybe a weekend, but i always run back to the city. in this moment, i found myself wondering what it would be like to spend a month or two here. then jamaica kincaid’s words come to mind.
while here, i read jamaica kincaid’s “a small place.” it is about antigua, the clash of citizen and tourist, what it’s like to live in such a small place. and she talks about the beauty of the place as a prison. the constancy of the place as a trap. and she states that tourists are ugly people. and that everyone is a native somewhere and everyone has the capacity to be a tourist. and that tourists travel to escape the dull monotony of their lives. and that natives hate tourists, not because tourists are bad people, but because most of them can’t afford to be tourists. they are trapped in their dull monotonous lives and can’t escape, not even for two short weeks. she goes on to say, that natives also hate tourists, b/c tourists somehow get pleasure from the dull monotonous lives of natives.
this pounded through my head as we were driving away from the family’s house in nabua. the son stopped us and gave us a huge load of bananas. “i’m sick of eating these,” he said, “i get rid of them every chance i get.”
an aside for single folks: everyone’s married here! o.k., not everyone, but about 50% of everyone. the young ones, the old ones, the middle aged ones. the ones flirting with you, the ones kissing your friend in the bar, the ones who are nice to you, the ones with the sexy bodies, they’re all married! and as i was told during my first weeks here, when people get bored, they have affairs. and when people have affairs, other people gossip about it, constantly. i’d have to say, gossip is like a number one fijian sport.
i’ve heard so many stories about so many people, before i meet them, i know half their history. and, i’m told, people memorize license plates and later say, ‘i saw you driving DT982. i didn’t know you had a new landcruiser!’ or something to that effect. it is a small place. addresses aren’t as important as names. i was lost in a taxi, and the driver kept asking me the name of the owner of the house. i didn’t know it, all i had was the address. we drove up and down the street, there were barely any house numbers anywhere. when we finally found the house, we drove into the driveway and the taxi driver said, ‘oh, he’s a lawyer, you should have told me. richard ________.’ no privacy, nothing you do is secret.
i recently met a fijian who greeted me in fijian. i responded. then he asked me something else in fijian. i said, i’m not fijian. so he switched to english. “i was just asking what villiage you are from.” “I’m from the u.s.” i replied. “so then your village would be?” “new york,” a friend said. “no,” i said, “new orleans.” i have always been adamant about saying i’m from new orleans. after i say i’m from new orleans, someone might ask me a question about new orleans in recent times, and i have to say, ‘well, i live in new york.’ and if i say, i live in new york, they may ask me a question about growing up in new york or a native new yorker and i have to say, ‘well, i’m from new orleans.’
just as i thought i was complicating things, i learned this about fiji: when fijians say they are from a certain village, it means the village where their family is registered. it’s possible that they’ve never been there. it’s possible that they were born somewhere else and live somewhere else, but that is their village and the people of those village are those they identify with. land rights are connected to this system of identification, as are voting rights and political representation. “there is some village in africa where my family is from,” i said. “lots of new orleanians are descended from senegal, but we really don’t know.”
“same here,” he said, “we presume we come from africa somewhere, but we don’t know.” only the fijian coming was a self-selected migration that had nothing to do with european forces. these migrants became fijian and established a fijian culture before contact with the europeans. but it all remains a mystery.
there’s more, of course. there’s always more, but it’s lunch time and i’m hungry. i’ll go get a curry wrap from the shop and go home to work on a collage. my final word on fiji for now is that it is a good place to visit. it is beautiful, the people are kind. there’s lots of crime, but i haven’t experienced too much first hand, and i haven’t been hustled too much just b/c i’m a tourist. mind you i look fijian, but i’ve been to places where i’ve been terrified to open my mouth. i didn’t want to reveal that i was american. here, i feel comfortable going to town, asking questions, etc. the calmness of the people and the still energy of the place is conducive to writing [the reason i came].
i thought the men were quieter than men in other places. as i’ve walked by them, they haven’t bothered me too much. a phrase here and there, but not the bombardment that i’ve experienced in other places. when i mentioned this to fijian women, they looked at me like i was crazy. obviously my perception is colored by something: maybe they have been screaming at me, and i haven’t understood them b/c i don’t speak fijian; maybe they don’t think i’m cute, so i escaped notice. i don’t know, but for the most part i’ve been left alone.
then i traveled to the country. i went to the village of nakelo. as we passed by groups of men resting after work in the fields, they yelled (not too attractively, and with quite a bit of aggressive enthusiasm) “uro, uro, uro.” there’s been some discussion of exactly what “uro” means. my one friend said it refers to pig fat. but everyone agrees it refers to food, and it is used to say “yummy!” so when you see a sexy man/woman, you say “uro”: yummy!
in nakelo, as it was close to new year, there were still people dousing folks with hoses and buckets of water. that’s a new year’s greeting: “happy new year”, splash! we went to the river to swim. i didn’t realize what it would mean. my friend says, “you want to go to the river to swim?” “sure,” i say. so we go through the backyard, we’re sniffed by and followed by her five country dogs. old dogs, mangy dogs, smelly dogs [can you tell i’m not too keen (keen is another word they use here) on dogs].
we walked over narrow wooden planks to cross gutters. we ducked barbed wire and entered the cow zone. where the cows live, there are humps of dry earth surrounded by muddy water [or watery mud]. if you slip off one of these humps, toads hop out everywhere as you are invading their home. so after we made it through the cow field, we got the dogs to chase the cows away. “what will the cows do to us?” i asked, not too thrilled at the prospect of outrunning a cow. “nothing,” my friend assured me, “i just have a phobia b/c i was chased by a cow as a child.”
when we finally got to the river, there was oil on the surface and the bottom was covered in mushy silt… yuck! but the water felt nice. after we were in, they told me about the fish and the eels that lived in the water. no sharks! they promised. before the sunset, the sky came alive with bats. they were waking up and going to feed. when we returned home, we showered and ate. my friends mother [who is indian] cooked a shitload of food: spinach, curry potatoes, curry veggies, dhal soup, chutney, puree bread, nan bread, dhal stuffed nan bread. only vegetables b/c friday is the vegetarian day for indians [i’m not sure if this is just for muslims or hindus and muslims]. but just in case we didn’t want the indian food, she also roasted two chickens and ten potatoes! in the morning we had samosas, at lunch we had prawns, at dinner she made curried lamb. the next day they fried fish, chicken, and french fries.
for consistency sake… here’s an addendum to my postscript of small creatures:
in the country i was acquainted with two new animals. the bat and the wasp. the bats darken the sky at sunset. and as you are relaxing, watching t.v. in the evening, you hear them squealing as they fight over fruit in the surrounding trees. the wasps make themselves at home in your home. they fly in and out of the house innocently. but if you make a good inspection, you will find that they have built homes in the nooks and crannys of porch swings, under the seats of dining room chairs, on the side of couches, and in beneath the shelves of bookcases.
i forgot to mention the precautions the ants make necessary. first, you can’t leave any food out. not even for five minutes, without attracting a battalion of ants. a speck of spilled juice, a glob of peanut butter or jelly on a butterknife, a crumb of bread, are all enough to invite an ant invasion. so all eating utensils must be washed or rinsed immediately. and all cooking and eating surfaces must be wiped as soon as they are no longer being used. you have to have your trash can sealed tight or left outside. anything you have to leave out, such as cough medicine or a cake, must be raised on a moat. first you fill a bowl with water, then you place a cup in the middle, then you balance a bowl or a plate on it to hold whatever food product you need to leave out and keep ant-free.
i have progressed with my battle against mosquitoes. i can now feel them on me as they are making their bite and in one swift movement smush them with a smack [sometimes stinging my skin in the process]. also, i can allow them to bite me without being miserable. i’m tougher now.
there are these curious red millipedes that insist on coming into the house. i keep an eye out just in case one is underfoot, wouldn’t want to squish them. they are a beautiful shade of red, but once they get into the house, they don’t seem to be able to find their way out. they wander around until they die [unable to find food]. once they die, they turn stiff and black and i have to throw them in the trash. once on my way back home, i saw two of them spooned together like lovers… how lovely, i thought. another time as i went in and out of the living room, i saw one marching around the perimeter of the room, tightening the square with each revolution. after it went around five times, i realized it was trying to find an exit. poor thing, i knew i’d be picking up its carcass soon.
the rain has come to claim the earth for another couple of hours. the sky is cloudy, so this shower may last long. i’m off to eat and lock myself in my house. blessings and smiles from fiji.
in the spirit of travel, art, and life,
kiini ibura salaam
© 2000 kiini ibura salaam
Kiini Ibura Salaam is a realistic woman.
She likes the feel of a warm bed, understands the necessity of food, so she works. At her day job, she corrects inconsequential errors while remembering mornings spent wrestling with words and sucking meaning from images. She frets, knowing her 9-to-5 threatens her fragile relationship with writing.
Yet she always manages to coax writing back into her graces. She begs writings absolution with essays published in Colonize This, When Race Becomes Real, Roll Call, Men We Cherish, Utne Reader, Essence, and Ms. Magazine. She prostrates herself obediently with fiction published in Mojo: Conjure Stories, Black Silk, When Butterflies Kiss, Dark Matter, and Dark Eros. She tithes her art form with the KIS.list, a monthly e-report on life as a writer. She produces www.kiiniibura.com as an altar, an online offering of words.
Writing, expansive and forgiving, responds with a flood of inspired embraces. Whether she be in her native New Orleans, her adopted Brooklyn or her beloved Bahia, the writer unabashedly bares herself to the caress of words. She writes with holy gratitude, forever in love with her craft.
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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By Wole Soyinka
Aké: The Years of Childhood is a memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and perception
a lyrical account of one boy’s attempt to grasp the often irrational and hypocritical world of adults that equally repels and seduces him. Soyinka elevates brief anecdotes into history lessons, conversations into morality plays, memories into awakenings. Various cultures, religions, and languages mingled freely in the Aké of his youth, fostering endless contradictions and personalized hybrids, particularly when it comes to religion. Christian teachings, the wisdom of the ogboni, or ruling elders, and the power of ancestral spirits
who alternately terrify and inspire him
all carried equal metaphysical weight. Surrounded by such a collage, he notes that “God had a habit of either not answering one’s prayers at all, or answering them in a way that was not straightforward.” In writing from a child’s perspective, Soyinka expresses youthful idealism and unfiltered honesty while escaping the adult snares of cynicism and intolerance. His stinging indictment of colonialism takes on added power owing to the elegance of his attack.
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By Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
Somebody has to tell the truth sometime, whatever that truth may be. In this, her début full collection, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie offers up a body of work that bears its scars proudly, firm in the knowledge that each is evidence of a wound survived. These are songs of life in all its violent difficulty and beauty; songs of fury, songs of love. ‘Karma’s Footsteps’ brims with things that must be said and turns the volume up, loud, giving silence its last rites. “Ekere Tallie’s new work ‘Karma’s Footsteps’ is as fierce with fight songs as it is with love songs. Searing with truths from the modern day world she is unafraid of the twelve foot waves that such honesties always manifest. A poet who “refuses to tiptoe” she enters and exits the page sometimes with short concise imagery, sometimes in the arms of delicate memoir. Her words pull the forgotten among us back into the lightning of our eyes.Nikky Finney / Ekere Tallie Table
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys muscles jabbered like chickens.
Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake.
She conveys something fundamental about Eschs fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.
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By Kiini Ibura Salaam
Ancient, Ancient collects the short fiction by Kiini Ibura Salaam, of which acclaimed author and critic Nalo Hopkinson writes, ”Salaam treats words like the seductive weapons they are. She wields them to weave fierce, gorgeous stories that stroke your sensibilities, challenge your preconceptions, and leave you breathless with their beauty.” Indeed, Ms. Salaam’s stories are so permeated with sensuality that in her introduction to
, Nisi Shawl, author of the award-winning Filter House, writes, ”Sexuality-cum-sensuality is the experiential link between mind and matter, the vivid and eternal refutation of the alleged dichotomy between them. This understanding is the foundation of my 2004 pronouncement on the burgeoning sexuality implicit in sf’s Afro-diasporization. It is the core of many African-based philosophies. And it is the throbbing, glistening heart of Kiini’s body of work. This book is alive. Be not afraid.”
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By Tracy K. Smith
Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection’s “lyric brilliance” and “political impulses [that] never falter.” A New York Times review stated, “Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we’re alone in the universe; it’s to acceptor at least endurethe universe’s mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith’s pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the books first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant.” Life on Mars follows Smith’s 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet’s second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans.
The Bodys Question (2003) was her first published collection. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 17 January 2012