Saturday, May 06, 2006

In the beginning... (ruminations and ramblings on why I'm starting a blog)

Tonight, half as a reward for (wai) "finishing" half (or third depending on what I do with a chunk that I decided to put later) of my second thesis chapter (on Helon Habila's appropriation of other texts in the writing of his novel Waiting for an Angel, ie. intertextuality etc.), and half as a procrastination technique from starting the next half/third (which will be on his complicating the simplicity of interpreting the text merely symbolically--ie. the writer in prison is a metonym for the populace of a country under military rule but there were plenty of imprisoned writers. Rape is a symbol for the abuse of a country by a military, but rape is also quite real--not JUST a symbol. Habila does an amazing job of writing on several different levels--of exploding political binaries and exploring very real charachters but still maintaining a symbolic layer. The danger in writing on a text like this is getting so caught up in the literary language and symbolism of everything that you forget to come back down to earth and acknowledge the actuality of these events.), I have decided to create a blog for my summer in Kano. (And I am starting to realize already that my use of parenthesis could get quite annoying for outside readers. I'll try to control myself)

This should be a good way to keep let those who occasionally wonder how I'm doing know how I'm doing without the dreaded mass email, which I always save for later reading and then forget. The mass email tends to arrive, long, solid and guilt-inducing (I should read this but I don't have time right now) in the email inbox. On the other hand, I've enjoyed so much more blogs that I can read whenever I'm feeling like a moment of procrastination. Thus, with my rationale for creating a blog behind me and well justified.... here's what I'll do with mine:

In keeping with my dislike for writing "newsletters," I will probably make this a random scrapbook of what I am doing this summer and beyond--photos, perhaps brief attempts at translations at things I am reading, occasional journal entries that ask me to share them. Basically, this will be for me---a motivation to keep writing about and analyzing what I'm learning this summer. The idea of an audience also motivates me in a different way--what would be interesting to share--and how can I phrase it in such a way that it could be understood by someone who knows nothing of this situation.

All in all, I think this is a good way to keep me thinking, and if anyone wants to evesdrop on that process, to, bismillah. And skip all the boring parts (like my ruminations on what I will do in the first and half chapter of my chapter two...)

The name of the blog is Talatu-Carmen, the two names which have begun to feel the most like me. My old Hausa teacher in Jos gave me the name of Talatu--meaning I was born on Tuesday, Talata. I hated the name at first because it sounded so common--Tuesday (blech). My favourite Hausa names: Amina, Aisha, Ramatu... all these are lovely. But I didn't think of them at the time when he was naming me, and I have grown into the name, Talatu, just as I grew into Carmen, which I disliked as a child (I was too shy to ask people to call me Carey, which I thought, at the time, that I would prefer. I'm glad that I didn't!). Now Talatu defines a part of me in a way that no other name can. It captures the person I am in Sokoto/Kano/northern Nigeria. There Carmen is the formal name. I jump when I hear it.

Talatu is not the same person as Carmen, though she is tied to her by that hyphen. The hyphen is the in-between space, the dry cool air of a trans-Atlantic flight--the round double-paned window between one world and the next, the moment of interpretation between two spaces, which more and more comes to define who I am. And the space isn't that far--it's just a hyphen. An ocean that can be shrunk to a stream. When I was twelve or thirteen, a painfully shy girl living in Port Harcourt with my parents and homeschooled because I was too old for the international school which only went up to the 6th grade that my siblings attended, I dreamed one night that we discovered a place where you could get to America only by crossing a stream. It was closer than Cameroon, closer than Benin. It was right there, and no one had seen it until our discovery. It's so simple, I remember thinking. It's been here all this time, and no one knew about it. I was so happy at the thought of being able to straddle both worlds--to flit back and forth whenever I wanted. It took a few minutes after I woke to realize that it was only a dream, that it wasn't true, that it was a geographic impossibility.

But perhaps it was true-er than I thought in those disappointed moments after waking, lying in the dark under the fan that sawed through the heavy air. Perhaps there is a truth to the dream on a more metaphysical level, of the space we cross when we live in/between/across several different cultures--and of the possibilities that dreams can open up.

Deja vu struck me when I first read the following passage from Helon Habila's Waiting for an Angel. And perhaps this feeling is familiar to more readers than just me, perhaps it is a truth of the collective unconscious:

In the novel, the boy Kela is narrating a trip to the beach he took with his teacher Joshua:

"In front of us the water was pale blue, but further in it was a deep indigo, stretching on and on until it disappeared in a white, smoky mist that hung like a curtain between heaven and earth. Its infinite vastness, its restless heaving and roar overwhelmed me. Joshua pointed straight at the misty horizon and said somewhere on the other side lay America. He said that if the vast ocean were magically shrunk into a tiny brook, or a narrow river, we could be staring at some beach on the American coast--New York, perhaps. He said the world was not as big and incomprehensible as some people would have us believe. He said everything lay within our grasp, if only we cared to reach out boldly" (128)

Habila, Helon. Waiting for an Angel. New York: Norton, 2002.

There is more to say, but realizing again that this is a public forum and not a private journal where I can ruminate and repeat myself as much as I want, I will let that quote close this entry.

Sai'anjima, Talatu-Carmen

1 comment:

Mike Blyth said...

Great to have you blogging, Talatu. I look forward to reading you regularly and particularly learning from you about literature and Africa. I hope you'll visit when you're in Jos.