Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Three Pet Peeves on assumptions people make about my research interests

Abbas Sadiq and Zainab Idris

15 June 2006, Tuesday

Things here continue to go swimmingly. Last weekend and this Monday, I went with Director Sango to a couple of fascinating dance productions held at an open air theatre: actors dancing to recordings of the film song and dance numbers to an audience of (mostly) men—and one bench reserved for women, which is where I take my place. I’m not quite sure this is considered “respectable” entertainment, especially for a woman, but since I am a foreigner, I exist in a liminal space anyway. Yesterday Abbas Sadiq and Zainab Idris were there (, so it was fun to see their screen-work translated into real life. Here’s a photo of them.

So, with a positive introduction to let everyone know that I am still having a good time and am not filled with peevishness as my title may indicate, I still wish to take this space to enumerate on three little pet peeves that are starting to grow around assumptions other people make about my research—and this is not just here but in the U.S. as well. And before I start this little rant, let me say ahead of time that no offense is intended to scholars in the fields of linguistics, anthropology, or public health. They are all fine fields, which provide very useful interdisciplinary resources to my own research… they are just not my area of focus….

1) That I am a linguist. Since the name of the department in which I am studying at Wisconsin is the Department of African Languages and Literature, people tend to focus on the “language” bit and leave out the “literature” part. So, since I have begun in the program, I get so many “linguistics” questions about the structure of the language, the future of language, etc. etc. etc. While I have do have two linguistics courses to my name (an introductory one [which nearly killed me—I couldn’t manage the “mathematical” formulas and proofs etc. although for a basic introduction, it was useful] and a literary linguistics course [which I enjoyed a hundred times more]) and while I do understand a few linguistic things about Hausa which helps me figure out why certain sounds turn out the way I do, and while I’m taking a socio-linguistics course next semester because the question of language in society is interesting (and I need to pass the linguistics part of my prelims), I am in no way a linguist. I keep telling people: I am a literary critic—it’s just that I am starting to read and write about literature written in the Hausa language. That does not make me an expert on Hausa grammar, structure, whatever, whatever, any more than being an English major in college made me an expert on English grammar, structure, etc (which was one of those assumptions people used to make about English majors that peeved me back then). So, yes, I am interested in the Hausa language, but mostly as a vehicle for literature and expression and not as an end in itself. Although I am not opposed to using linguistic tools to look at that literature and I have and probably will continue to make use of those tools, my focus is literature.

2) That I am an anthropologist. No offense to my friends in anthropology, but it gets under my skin when people assume that because I am studying Hausa literature that I am somehow an anthropologist. Are people who study British literature anthropologists? Why is there an assumption that if you are interested in Africa, you are somehow an anthropologist rather than a literary critic? While I greatly admire and make use of the work of trained anthropologists like Brian Larkin and Arjun Appadurai, which blur the boundaries between literary and cultural theory and anthropology (and while I think it is very important to try to understand culture alongside literature—and not be a strict structuralist—where everything is just a sign and symbol), I’ve never been interested in being an anthropologist. Of course, the field of anthropology has changed greatly in the past hundred years, and this anxiety of being assumed to be an expert on something of which you have only just scratched the surface also haunts my own work on Hausa literature (how can I ever really be qualified to have a PhD on a topic I’ve only studied for a few years—I think one thing I’m learning about a PhD is that it teaches you your limitations) [...] My anxiety is probably more about the assumptions people have when they assume that I am an anthropologist rather than what most anthropologists do (if that makes sense!), I am (and probably many anthropologists are as well) interested how people represent themselves, in their own words—I’m interested in describing these representations—my concern is not with whether these representations are “true” or “accurate” but with the sign and symbol itself as entwined with culture—and what can that mean?

3. So, this leads me nicely into my third pet peeve, which is a recent one, and one I probably invited upon myself by deciding to study representations of HIV in Hausa literature and film. I’m really, really tired of being introduced as a researcher who is interested in HIV AIDS and reproductive health issues. As bad as this may sound (as I probably really should be), I actually am not interested in reproductive health issues. I’m interested in literature and culture and how HIV-AIDS is used as a symbol.

This is the history behind this project: when I was in Jos on the Fulbright and stayed an extra year, my Fulbright friend Katie (an anthropologist—so Katie forgive any thing I may have said about anthropologists, they were not meant for you) got me involved with Faith Alive Clinic, one of the most amazing grass-roots level HIV NGOs I have ever seen. The support group (and clinic) has grown exponentially since I left in 2003, and people living with HIV-AIDS are involved in all aspects of counseling, prevention education, and care (many of them are trained nurses). It’s an exciting and impressive initiative, founded and directed by Dr. Chris Isichei. They have since gotten a quite a bit of foreign grant money (which is always a bit of an ambiguous thing, because very little grant money comes without strings attached), but have been able to maintain a lot of control over how the money is used. So, as Katie and I began to interview women living with HIV for a project to allow these women to tell their own stories, I began to think that I wanted to do anything I could do to use my area of expertise to help fight the pandemic. (Something my Dad talks about a lot with his Christian/Muslim faith based education initiatives—Everyone needs to use their area of expertise to approach the pandemic on many different levels—not just use one approach.) And my area of interest is literature, so I thought perhaps at the PhD level, I could look at representations of HIV in African literature. One thing I found as we did the project, was that interviewing these women in English wasn’t “really” letting them tell their own story in their own voice…. It’s so much harder to express what you want to express in a second language—not to say it cannot be done—many African writers have done it admirably—but that in a project of that sort, interviewing in English was extremely limiting.

My thinking was that HIV/AIDS is becoming a deadly and ever more devastating reality in Africa—eventually, it is going to be reflected in literature, just as other social problem are reflected. And that is an angle I can take. How is HIV/AIDS viewed in literature. How is it dealt with in literature? What kind of coping mechanisms does literature provide—what kind of agency in the face of devestation does it provide. (For example, in the South African novelist Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying [which does not deal with HIV, but is a good example] he uses “magical realism to explore extreme social disfunction and tragedy. It is a painful book to read. I wept for an hour after the first time I read it. However, it is also extremely powerful, beautiful, and touching, and part of the reason I cried so long afterwards was because I was so struck by the courage and hope the characters revealed in the face of despair. In other words, it was able to deal with great tragedy in a way that gave agency to the people who suffered and presented them as human beings and not just National Geographic photos of poverty-stricken masses or as Conradian body parts (hands clapping, teeth glimmering, bodies shrunk to mere shadows on the Congo river banks). So, my interest was and is in looking at representations, agency, and symbols of hope that come out in the literature that deals with the pandemic.

I’m beginning to steer my interests away from this area, though, because I’m tired of being on the HIV/AIDS bandwagon, and I’m tired of didactic NGO sponsored work. (For example, _Akwai Mai Fita_ [There is a Way Out] which was sponsored by John Hopkin’s University (which does not deal with HIV-AIDS but with other reproductive health issues). It has some very clever parts, and by the end I had become engaged with story, but the purpose and function of the film is about as subtle as a sledge hammer—it was obviously promoting Youth Service Centres as a “culturally-appropriate” part of society. It wasn’t a bad message; it just wasn’t necessarily an organically presented and grown piece of literature—and it’s the more organic (non-NGO sponsored) stuff that I’m interested in (although I’d still like to argue that NGO-sponsored films can still reflect older structures of Hausa literature).

This does not mean I won’t write a chapter or a paper on it, but that I don’t want to be a part of the “industry.” I was talking to Dr. Umar Farouk Jibril in the Department of Mass Communications at Bayero University yesterday, and he seemed almost relieved when I expressed my frustration with the didactic nature of the NGO-sponsored films. “I keep telling them,” he said, “that if they let it grow out of what is already in society [which is what I have been interested in] it will be much more powerful than pushing a certain agenda and preconceived ideas about what the film must include.” And actually, I keep hearing a lot of people say they have scripts they have written about HIV. But a lot of them are looking for NGO funding to produce them—and I wonder how that will change them… I guess that might be an interesting thing to research… it’s a question I already have in my interview questions… [One thing that at least two filmmakers have told me is that when they have included strong religious elements into their proposals or films, they have not received outside funding. Whether that had anything to do with why their proposals were rejected I don’t know, but I certainly don’t doubt that it had some influence on donor agencies worried about strict separation of “church and state.”]

So, all that to say, I am a (beginning) literary (and perhaps cultural—which… I know, I know… starts getting into that ambiguous anthropology area) critic. I cannot make any wide and sweeping claims about society—just what I see happening in a text. The text is the only realm I have any authority over. And that authority is only to make observations and suggestions about what it might signify and not to say that this is definitely what the author had in mind or that this then means this is the way society is. The text is an imaginative exploration of possibilities, that I argue, grants agency. My job is to tease out those possibilities.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Ghana/USA match and Abbas Sadiq

This morning when I "hau"-ed an acaba with an elderly driver, I was delighted, and I knew that I was in safe hands. No man with white hair is going to go zooming around a round-about against cross traffic with me. As we meandered through many muddy back roads, I thought, oh, this is great, he's so careful that he's taking all the back roads.... eventually, however, I realized that we were nowhere near Zoo Road. Apparently, and this is the first time I'm hearing this, there are two Zoo Roads in Kano, and he thought I was going to the other one. Eventually, we got to the right place, and I got a nice tour of the back roads of Kano... and felt very safe the whole time... {-; I gave him a little extra money for the extra time...

Yesterday, I hung out in the office of the director Mohammed Balarbe Sango, who has taken it upon himself to make sure I go to plenty of cultural events while I am here. We went to a Sudanese Hausa concert the other night--a lot of Arabic influence. His office is in a business centre where apparently a lot of writers and filmmakers congregate to edit books and films. They were watching the USA-Ghana worldcup match. I surprised everyone by traitorously cheering for Ghana. I like watching football—not really because I’m actually that interested in the game but because I like being with people (especially Nigerians) and hearing all the shouts and arguments and commentary, etc. When they cleared out the front room for the afternoon prayers, I moved into Malam Sango’s office where I started showing a few people some of the photos I had taken with my digital camera of people watching a football match. A guy started talking to me and as soon as I looked up, I knew that he was Abbas Sadiq, who directed and acted in Albashi, the film that I had written my final Modernities paper on and the paper I am hoping to present at this conference in July. (A couple of times I’ve met someone here and thought I had met them before, but it turned out I just knew their face from a film—-fortunately, I have watched Albashi enough times to know instantly who he was). We chatted for a few minutes before I said, “You’re Abbas Sadiq, right?”

Apparently, Albashi was the second film that he directed, and he had created Albashi because of all the problems that he had had with the censorship board with his first film. He had not known all of the things they would look for, so he had used NYSC (National Youth Service Corps) uniforms in the film without getting permission from NYSC etc. So, he used the NYSC song sequence(which he had not been able to use in his first film) in Albashi, after he procured all the necessary permissions. According to him Albashi was a blockbuster, and he used those profits to go on to produce several other films: some of which have yet to be released: Jamhuriya, Gwamnati, and Albashi 2 and 3. I think Jamhuriya is supposed to be a film empowering disabled people. He said he’d get me a copy of his first film and the rest of them, and now I’m thinking it might be interesting to do a comparative study of all of the films—reading them as part of an intertextual “series,” dealing with similar contemporary themes, rather than individual stories (it looks like most of the actors are the same etc.) Of course, I need to see them before I produce such a study, but if Albashi is any indication, these promise to be equally complex.

Abbas Sadiq and Zainab Idris (who is listed as producer on Albashi) are apparently part of the Jos film contigent (which according to Prof. Abdalla Adamu is slightly different from the ethnic Hausa filmmakers because they are more Westernized… and from what Abbas was saying, there do seem to be more direct links between the Jos scene and the Lagos scene.). Someone was working on the jacket covers for Jamhuriya and Gwamnati, but the cd burner on the computer had spoiled. I loaned them my flash disk so they could move the files to a different computer. When they opened the flash disk, we had to dump a few things off so that there would be room and one of the things we had to dump were some MP3 files of songs by Lagos-based musicians P Square, 2Face etc. “Oh, I know them,” Abbas said. Apparently P Square is from Jos too, which I hadn’t known. When Abbas was at University of Jos, he was part of the student council that auditioned entertainers so he met a lot of them, and was also apparently part of a singing group. The major influence on PSquare was Michael Jackson (which I had figured out from listening to their music) and Usher—according to Abbas, the sound is Michael, the look is Usher.

I’m fascinated by this whole creative movement that seems to have been going on in Jos in the late 1990s. Helon Habila and Toni Kan were writers who came out of University of Jos, and apparently (now I’m learning) so were now popular musicians and filmmakers (although not all of them were at the university).

I was able to chat informally with Abbas Sadiq for a few hours while he did several other things, and then we moved upstairs where it was quieter where I recorded a 30 minute interview with him. Hopefully, we can talk some more later, because there were a few things about Albashi I forgot to ask him. My only problem now is that my whole thesis for my paper centred around the fact that the film was (wai) produced by Zainab Idris and was thus representative of new genre through which women could reclaim their own stories. (There are women producers here (who often come up with the idea for the story), but very very few women directors—according to the people I’ve talked to, this is because it is still very hard for women to do things by themselves in this environment—the marketers, etc., won’t deal with them without having a man along.) This followed nicely from Binta S. Mohammed’s claim in “Male Chauvinism: A Major Factor in the Manifestation of Sexism in Hausa Home Videos,” (in Hausa Home Videos: Technology, Economy, and Society, ed. By Adamu, Adamu, and Jibril) that “Women producers formulate policies and control their films, depicting female characters as they see them rather than as male-oriented Hausa societies would want them to be. They portray themselves as dynamic, agile, and strong, traits usually portrayed as masculine in men’s productions” (176). However, when I talked to Abbas, he told me he had come up with the concept, the story, had directed it etc. (and when I went back to look at the credits in the film, sure enough, he is listed both as screenwriter and director), but he had given Zainab Idris production credit because he didn’t want to take credit for everything. I’m, of course, hoping to talk to Zainab Idris to get her take on the story too, but I have no reason to believe that this isn’t mostly Abbas Sadiq’s project. So, this means, that I’ve got to revise the “autor” part of my thesis, but the content of the film stays the same, so it is still a good exploration (even if directed by a man) of the tensions experienced by the woman emerging into the public sphere (unless people want to argue with me that because these are Jos-based practitioners that they don’t “really” represent Hausa culture—I think I can deal pretty easily with an objection like that… I hope…) I was glad to see that my interpretation of the last two songs of the video as Umar’s fantasys (in good visual Bollywood film language) coincided with the directors intent. Many of the Hausa film critics I’ve read, including Abdalla Adamu, dismiss the song and dance sequences as mere money makers which have nothing to do with the story. While this might be the case in some of the films, it is obviously not the case in Albashi or a few of the other films I’ve seen. The song and dance numbers directly contribute to the interpretation of the story.

I forgot to ask Abbas if I could take his photo, so I’m uploading a photo cut out of the jacket cover file that he gave me on my flash disk. (and speak of the devil, just as I was about to upload this, he called. Hopefully, we can meet up for another interview later.)

Mosque time here, so I'm going to stay in the internet cafe until around 3:00, when I'll walk over to Malam Sango's office. I'm delighted with the fast service at this new internet cafe I'm trying.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Informal Annotated Bibliography of Hausa creative writing read so far this summer

A very quick annotated bibliography on Hausa creative works that I have read since I have been here. (Warning: spoilers for anyone who might actually be planning to read these works in Hausa—most of them have no translations…. Yet….)

Katsina, Umaru Danjuma. Kulb’a Na B’arna. Zaria: NNPC, 1979.
The title of this play is part of a proverb—and it is something about a lizard. I need to find the exact translation. A girl who is sent to a Western-style school against the better judgement of her uncle and her fiancé ends up as prey to a rich alhaji. She breaks up with her fiancé, thinking the alhaji will marry her. But after he impregnates her, he abandons her, and she ends up as a prostitute. (Eventually one of the boyfriends her uncle had driven away takes her home and marries her.) In many works by men there is a strong sense that women are “spoiled” when they are sent to a makarantar boko—Western style education. Women writers and filmmakers often challenge these preconceptions.

Yakubu, Balaraba Ramat. Alhaki Kuykuyo Ne… Kano: Raina Kama (or Gaskiya Corporation), 1990.

Like many Hausa novels, the title is part of a proverb: “crime is like a dog”… (it follows it’s owner). When the wealthy trader Alhaji Abdu marries an “old prostitute,” as a second wife, his family goes through a crisis. After a fight between the uwargida and her children and the new wife, Alhaji Abdu kicks his first wife and her ten children out of his house, denies them any kind of support, and refuses to even recognize any of them in chance meetings on the street or when his eldest daughter gets married. What was initially a disaster for the abandoned wife Rabi becomes a liberating self-sufficiency. Supporting her children through cooking and selling food, she is able to put her eldest son through university and see the marriage of her eldest daughter to a rich alhaji. The book follows the story of Rabi, as she makes a life apart from marriage, and her daughter Saudatu, as she enters into marriage and the decent Alhaji Abubakar’s life as a third wife. Alhaji Abubakar seems to have had a hard time of it with his first two wives, who are disrespectful and quarrelsome, and he gets rid of the first one right before he marries Saudatu and gets rid of the second one shortly after his marriage to Saudatu. In the end Rabi’s ex-husband, Alhaji Abdu, gets his just reward when his shop burns down in a market fire, his car is stolen, and he finds his second wife (the old prostitute) in bed with the repairman. He begs Rabi to come back, but she refuses, until she is (seemingly) forced back by her male relatives.

This is probably the most complex and ambiguous novel I’ve read thus far this summer. I was not sure whether Alhaji Abubakar was supposed to be a sympathetic character or not—and I think that’s probably part of Yakubu’s intent in reflecting society. He’s a decent fellow, who just wants some peace and quiet, which he eventually finds with his gentle and good third wife, but in throwing out his first two wives, isn’t he behaving similarly to Alhaji Abdu? Also, he is one of the ones that forces Rabi back into a loveless marriage with Alhaji Abdu, who has become a madman. (I’ve got to reread the ending, to make sure my interpretation is grounded.)

[Update 22 October 2012: Alhaki Kuykuyo Ne is now available translated into English as a Kindle book, for only $4.99. Check it out!

Gidan Dabino, Ado Ahmad. Duniya Sai Sannu. Kano: Gidan Dabino Publishers, 1997.

I’m not sure if I can provide a good translation for the title. It’s something like “Take the world a little bit a time”

Half of the novel is told in the first person voice as Ruk’ayya recounts to a sympathetic friend her misadventures in her first marriage. As a good and dutiful daughter, she marries one of her fathers followers (although she had preferred one of her other suitors), and helps him (through setbacks and disasters) build up his small scale business to a large operation. Unfortunately, she has no children, and one day, without consulting her or even telling her, her husband Ja’afaru marries another wife. Though initially shocked and upset to find another woman in the house, she patiently takes it in stride and helps her young co-wife through childbirth and other difficulties. Ja’afaru marries another two wives, and the other women disrespectfully taunt Ruk’ayya about her barrenness. When Ruk’ayya challenges her husband on some unethical business practices and when one of her co-wives picks a fight with her, Ja’afaru divorces her for no good reason. The first person narration ends with Ruk’ayya in her parents house (her father is still sympathetic to her ex-husband), telling her story to a friend. Now in third person narration, her friends hooks her up with her good and patient eldest brother who had recently been prevailed upon by his relatives to divorce his harpiesh wife. Ruk’ayya marries him and finds a happiness she had never experienced in her former marriage. She even gives birth to a baby girl, beloved of both parents. One day, she meets up with one of her former co-wives, with whom she had gotten along with, and the woman tells her about the downfall of her former husband, who ended up marrying again and eventually divorcing all of them after losing his fortune.

While Ado Ahmad’s novels are not as socially complex or ambiguous as Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s novels, I am very interested in his use of structure and voice. The four novels of his that I’ve read so far experiment with first and third person narration as well as the incorporation of songs, and the dialogue is playful and a delight to read. For some strange reason, his writing style reminds me of one of my girlhood favourites’s Lucy Maud Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, etc.)—something about the playful social “realism” that is incorporated into the “unrealistic” structure of a romance.

Gidan Dabino, Ado Ahmad. Kaico! Kano: Gidan Dabino Publishers, 1996.

Kaico! Means something like “alas!”

Told in the first person. When Baba’s (nicknamed this because he is named after his father) friend Kabiru confesses that he is in love with Baba’s little sister Bilkisu, Baba helps him talk to Bilkisu and their parents. As they begin to plan for Kabiru and Bilkisu’s wedding, his elder sister advises Baba that the family has a girl in mind for him, as well. Hindatu has always just been his little sister’s friend, with whom he has a joking relationship, until he is pointed towards her as a potential spouse. He willingly enters into an engagement with her and the two are soon passionately in love. The double wedding date (plus the Cocktail party, tea party, luncheon, and dinner) is set, the engagement photos are taken, the announcement is made on television and the radio, the calendars and wedding invitations are printed when disaster strikes. Three days before the wedding, Baba’s father is killed in a car accident on the way to another wedding. Grief-stricken, the family postpones the weddings for another three months. But with time, they begin to plan the festivities again, retake the engagement photos, reprint the calendars etc. etc., until again only a few days before the wedding, Hindatu is taken ill and after the lovers weep-together in the hospital, she dies. Baba weeps at her graveside and wants to die. Eventually, the wedding date for Kabiru and Bilkisu is set, but Baba refuses to find another girl. He knows he will eventually marry to fulfill his promise to Hindatu to name his eldest daughter after her, but it will be a long time before he can think of marrying another woman.

Three songs are incorporated into the novel, and of most interest to me is that Ado Ahmad writes his real-life friend, the song-writer Sani Yusuf Ayagi into the novel, as a one of Baba’s friends, who writes a song both for his upcoming wedding and for Hindatu after she dies. This permeation of the “real” with the “fictional” is one of the things that obsesses me in Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel, so I intend to interview Ado about this. What was he intending, and did Sani Yusuf Ayagi actually write the songs in the novel? (I’m suspecting he did, although I know Ado writes many of his own songs as well).

Abdulwaheed, Hafsatu M.A. So Aljannar Duniya. Zaria: NNPC, 1980.

Not sure I can really translate the title. It’s something like “Love is Heaven on Earth" or "Love is the Heaven of this World."

An novel by one of the first Hausa women writers (and the mother of my hostess), which won an NNPC writing contest in 1981. I liked it so much that upon finishing it this evening (Monday), I sat down to start translating it. It is a short novel at only 54 pages, but for some reason I had a harder time understanding it than the previous novels, so my summary might not be quite correct. I intend to read back over it much more carefully—obviously, since I have started translating it.

Bodado, a Fulani girl, is determined to marry her beloved Yasir, a boy of Arab descent from Egypt. Despite the fact that he is a “stranger,” her family reluctantly agree to the marriage. As the marriage negotiations are going on, Yasir is accosted by a beautiful jinn, who asks him to marry her. When he turns her down, she promises him that she will seek her revenge on him and Bodado. Shortly after their marriage, the vengeful jinn threatens them again. After the arrival of a jealous relative of Yasir’s (who doesn’t know why he married a Fulani woman instead of her), Yasir’s mother relates the story of the family’s flight from Egypt and the curse of the jinn that followed them. Yasir must undertake an arduous quest to free their family from the curse and kill the jinn. Along with a friend, he takes reluctant leave of his mother, cousin, and pregnant wife and sets off into the daji. After a series of adventures, in which he and his friend save a princess from a kidnapper, and he finds a magical sword that allows him to kill the threatening jinn, Bodado returns to his wife and baby daughter. Unfortunately, his friend (with whom the princess had fallen in love) is killed during the journey. Likewise, when his jealous cousin accidentally drank the poisoned milk that she had prepared for Bodado, she gets her just reward. Shortly after his mother had died. So, the ending is bitter-sweet. The family is reunited and no longer are troubled by the jinn, but they miss their friends and relatives.

Allah ya ba da hakuri

For Professor Abdalla's young son who passed away last Thursday.

Allah ya jikan shi. Allah ya sa ya huta. Allah ya kai rahama ka kabarinsa. Allah ya sa ya huta. Amin. Allah ya ba mu hakuri.

When I wrote my dad about the news last week, he told me later, he had a sinking feeling--a memory of the 30 years ago now when my older brother Nathanial died. Share that with him, when the time is appropriate, he told me. My heart is with them. Allah ya ba mu hakuri.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino da Talatu, Radio Freedom, Ran Alhamis

Here some photos that kept not loading for my last post:

daga Faisalis Cafe, ran Asabar, 2:21pm

14 June 06 (Thursday)--from journal

Much of my life I've struggled with a crippling shyness--a fear of humiliation that becomes more humiliating than what I feared--an ineptness at dealing with large groups of people (even church), unless I am there in some official capacity: (hostess of party I can manage because I can run around and do things, a conference I can manage because I'm presenting a paper or have an objective in mind.) There is something liberating, therefore, about facing the most humiliating situations possible and transcending them:

ie. being interviewed by Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino on a radio station that reaches potentially millions of people, in a language of which my grasp is tenuous.

When I was growing up my problem in language classes was that I was so afraid of humiliating myself in front of the class that I crippled myself. I wanted the grammar, the accent, everything to be perfect.

Later I discovered that I had to be immersed in an environment--to force myself to communicate as a matter of survival. I realized the other day that my Hausa accent is terrible. But, I'm speaking, and hopefully the accent will improve with time.

So today Ado interviewed me on Radio Freedom. I did OK. My Hausa started breaking down when I tried to talk about my research--which is not good. I couldn't express what I wanted to express. Fortunately, it wasn't live so hopefully they will edit out the worst parts.

That's the first great transcendending humiliation moment. The next one is yet to come... ie. being up on a poster for a conference on Mass Media and Popular Culture to be held at Bayero University on July 12 and 13, and listed as a keynote speaker alongside such Hausa popular culture luminaries like Prof. Abdalla Adamu and Brian Larkin. I found out about the conference when Prof. Abdalla wrote me that I would be speaking at it. I was a little nervous, but I figured it would be good for me to present my ideas in a Hausa environment, where people could give me the best feedback.... It wasn't until I got here that I found out that I have been advertised (on the poster) in universities all over the North as one of the keynote speakers.

I skipped right over the "I'm going to die" stage, because if I think too hard about it and allow myself to, I could make myself very ill. (At this very beginning stage of my research, what do I KNOW to be able to give a keynote?) But there's no point to even putting a little toe into that stage, because this is obviously something I have to do, despite the fact that I am extremely underqualified. It could potentially be the most humiliating experience of my life, but there's no wiggling out of it--aside from leaving the country or making myself ill, and I can't do that. I've got to just rise to the challenge. (Cliches come in so handy at certain times.)

If I can do this, I can do just about anything. I'm not an extreme sport person (partly because it costs so much money--although I love rock climbing and would love to hang glide some day) but I think I understand something about why people do it: the rush of terror that becomes exhileration.

So, the thing now is to find somewhere where there will be electricity long enough to sit down and rehaul (and CUT down) a section from the paper I wrote for my Theories of Modernities class. Part of the reason I worked so long and hard on it was because I knew this conference was coming up--(not that I was a keynote). We've been averaging about two hours of NEPA a day, an hour and a half last night and about forty-five minutes sometime around 5am this morning--I woke up when the ac kicked in.

I also need to figure out how to harvest video clips from a vcd and put them into powerpoint....

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Nasir Gwangwazo: screenwriter

Nasir Gwangwazo, screenwriter Waraka and Rubutacciya—which are on HIV. Among his other credits are films like like Sarmadan, Sanafahna and the upcoming Kambun So (which from the trailor looks like a historical epic). When I asked him if he had written any novels, he said he has been working on one, but there is more wahalla in a book than there is in a screen play, because with a screenplay the diretor has imput, the producer has imput, etc, but for a book, it's the sole responsibility of the writer. So, writing for film, therefore, seems to be a more collaborative and communal process.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Internet cafe, 3:45pm, Friday, 9 May 2006, Kano

Please, dear Lord,

let my Hausa improve.... Everything continues to go swimmingly, except that, gaskiya ne, my Hausa feels woefully inadequate. Everyone is being so terribly helpful and friendly and I've done more in this past week than I had really expected to do the whole summer, yet I feel ignorant and mute. Can someone like me really do rigourous work on Hausa literature? There are so many more qualified people. Either my Hausa has gotten worse, or I'm trying to express more complex thoughts on the spur of the moment than I've ever had to express before, and the words flee my tongue. The nice thing is that when I talk to and interview people, for the most part, they speak normal fast Hausa--so I'm getting some good recordings of interviews, which I will hopefully be able to go back over later and they will be really helpful. And I DO understand the jist of what is being said, but for the most part I kind of nod my head and smile and hope the recording turns out so that I can listen to it over and over again. And let me sing the praises of my little Olympus 1 GB digital recorder that I ordered right before I left the US. It is really exactly what I need (as opposed to the rather unwieldy minidisc recorder that I had before--it had better quality recording but I couldn't transfer it to my computer), although it does pick up a bit too much atmospheric noise.

Yesterday, I interviewed Nasir Gwangwazo, who is the screenwriter for the award-winning film Waraka (on HIV/AIDS) and a few other films that I've seen. Today, Alkanawy took me to see Ruqaya Umar, a producer and actress who acted in Jann Kunne, another award winning film on HIV. She was very nice to me, despite my horrible Hausa. I started out asking her questions in Hausa, and after recieving a couple of uncomprehending looks after my tortuous round-about way of asking things, Alkanawy said, just ask in English and I'll translate for you. It worked out fine. But, seriously, I wonder if I will ever really be qualified to do this work? I continue with the recognition that my work will be minor compared to what researchers here will (hopefully) accomplish, and with the recognition that I will need to do collaborative work with people here. I will need to figure out a comparitive angle. I also continue with a prayer, dear Lord, please, please, help my Hausa to get better. I'm sure it will, over the course of the summer. I fear the lengths of time that I go without using it (while I am in the U.S.). I wonder where I will end up, and if I can really ever accomplish anything significant if I don't committ to staying here? One thing I know I will come away from this summer with is humility--an acknowledgment of my own huge gaps in knowledge, all of my ignorance--hoping that I can do something useful with what I am learning but knowing that my story is just one small drop in an ocean of stories. I'm happy that I've been able to help edit a few documents written in English--I'm glad I've been able to be of some use.

I sit in an internet cafe beside the open sliding glass doors. Outside on the road, a boy walks by with a bucket of cakes, taxis and, acabas speed by. Over a loudspeaker, A muezzin calls "Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar." The breeze is pleasant. NEPA is on, so the generator is no longer puttering outside. I hear car horns, the clink, clink, of fingernail scissors clacked together by a boy advertising grooming services. A man comes up and greets me, "Talatu, yaya dai? Ina gajiya?"

I'm glad to be here. I glad to be learning. The Hausa will get better. I'm hearing more. Now to find the time to read. I'm in the beginning of two novels right now. I must finish them this weekend.

Na cika da murna da farin ciki

(this didn't post yesterday for some reason)

I resisted “hau”-ing an acaba (small Chinese made motorcycles used for public transport) until yesterday, but, it’s just too difficult and too expensive to get around otherwise. I don’t have the money to always be chartering taxis. And really, there are a whole lot of back roads in Kano, so I have not yet felt that I have been in mortal danger. It’s a liberating feeling to just climb on one and go where I want to go.

I’m here at a internet café in the same building as the Centre for Hausa cultural studies. I had intended to write something for my blog before I signed on, but my key didn’t work at the office, so I had to come to the internet café before I had written anything. So, this won’t be quite as eloquent and well-thought-out as it would have been otherwise.

My time here continues to exceed expectations. Yesterday I spent the day at the censorship board and watched two films with them (Hamshaki and Amincin So)—along with the director or producer of the films. The censors were amiable good natured men (and one kindly looking woman), who chuckled through the films and passed them with no comment. Bayan haka, I went to a series of five 15 minute short films, Reel Dialogues who had been chosen for support out of two-hundred entries, being shown at the British Council. I’m slightly uncomfortable with the kind of language used at the British Council: these are grants used to promote filmmaking in “developing” countries, and there are some kind of training seminars that go on. My interest in Hausa popular literature and film, I realize, has made me very interested at what is happening on the grass roots level—what do people choose to watch and why? What is the genre that grows out of popular tradition and is not necessarily determined by “outside” training? (Ie. Ado Ahmad did not go to a Western-style school, but he is very much an intellectual—his works, therefore, are not constrained by a “European” idea of a novel but are something else altogether.) That being my little caveat, the Reel Dialogues event has provided a fantastic forum and funding for filmmakers who want to experiment with non-market driven films, and of course, you can not divorce any cultural production from the “outside”. I don’t want to be so concerned by the language that I throw out the substance of what has been done: ie. five very, very impressive films (which although more “arty” and “cosmopolitan” (?) perhaps than the feature-length films still have a certain Hausa structure to them, not determined by international standards, although I can certainly see these being entered in international film festivals.)

I had met one of the directors Mustapha Adamu Indubawa at the Association of Nigerian Authors, Hausa Section, last Sunday, and he had invited me to come. So, I ended up sitting with him on the front row. The films were really fantastic: Dara directed by Sulaiman Surajo; Joker directed by Salisu Ahmad Koki; Rashin Sani directed by Grace Sokyes (from Jos); Sorrowful Joy (that’s the translation of the Hausa title I forgot to write down) directed by Mustapha Adamu Indubawa; and Ta Leko directed by Rufai Bawa (also from Jos), which was a beautiful star-crossed love story about a girl and a crippled man. It was structured as a folktale (with a Gata nan gata nan ku at the beginning and a kurunkus at the end). The others were also quite excellent, and I’d say my next favourite was Sorrowful Joy, about a girl who was forced to go hawking by her mother and subsequently became pregnant, followed closely by the hilarious Rashin Sani, about a man with two jealous ignorant wives, and one educated wife (mai kirki). Most of the actors were from the mainstream market, but the stories told in the short films were in the words of Ian Masters “no escapist fantasy stories but ones that went to the heart of society.” I would argue that the popular films often also go to the “heart of society” using fantasy as a medium, and that these five films, while marked by a certain realism that you don’t necessarily see as often in the feature length films, also utilized fantasy in the denouments.

After the films, I went to Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s house. She’s one of the founding members of the Raina Kama writers group that Ado Ahmad was also a part of, and has been anthologized in the Anthology of Popular African Literature and was the subject of Novian Whitsitt’s PhD dissertation. She was quite nice. I wish I had read more than one of her novels: that is my homework for the next few weeks because I do mention Whitsitt’s reading of her novel in one of my papers.

I’ve been passing out electronic copies of some of these articles, which the authors had not yet seen. Before I leave, I’m also planning to give away my Anthology of Popular African Literature, which features a translation of part of one of Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s novels and photos of Ado Ahmad’s In da So da Kauna and the translation The Soul of My Heart, which we used in the Hausa Verbal Arts in Translation class I TAed for last semester. Neither Ado Ahmad nor Balaraba Ramat Yakubu had seen the anthology, which is a bit of a shame. I also, with fear and trembling, gave Professor Abdalla Adamu, the director of the Centre Ahmad Alkanawy, Dr. Yusuf Adamu, and Ado Ahmad copies of the papers I have written on Hausa literature so far. I am terrified of what they will say, because I can see all the holes of what I don’t know, and BS I put in. But, it’s necessary. I can’t grow if I don’t get constructive criticism from the “real” experts, ie. people living here. If they tear it apart, so be it. Better now than later.

And finally an excerpt from my journal last night:
“In the living room with Abdullahi, Abba, and one other teenage boy watching a delightful campily-dubbed Chinese kung fu movie. The 1970s American accents are fabulous.”

Monday, June 05, 2006

Kano, Monday, May 6, 2:20am, Living with filmmakers

I'm not quite sure why Jos, Plateau State is still showing up on my blog, since I've been trying to change it to Kano since last week. At any rate, I am now in Kano, currently typing on my hostesses laptop since mine has not yet been configured for the dial-up access we have from 11pm-6am.

This will be brief, as I do intend to sleep tonight, but I seem to have landed (to use Louisiana English for a minute) smack dab in the middle of Hausa writers/film community--my first few days have exceeded all expectation. I spent most of the day Saturday and Sunday with Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino, the author of the bestselling In da So da Kauna and current chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Kano chapter, who I met last year and wrote a paper on (the paper on In da So da Kauna, not him--too tired to figure out how to phrase that properly). And I am living with several film practioners. (A fascinating subculture that I'm not quite sure what to make of yet--it's quite urban and different from any of my other experiences in this country.) In fact, as usual, everything seems to be moving a little bit too fast for my comfort (I like to take my time and research everything extensively ahead of time, but I seem to always be plunged straight into the action, knowing very little, learnig on the run--kind of like getting the West Africa Research Association pre-dissertation fellowship for this summer--it was just a trial run application, but since I got it this year, I plunge ahead, hoping that I don't humiliate myself too badly discussing things I know so little about. I keep trying to remind people, I am a student, I am here to learn, I know so little...)

At times like this, I wrote in my journal today "sometimes the way things happen, you have to rise to the occasion," like my hostess Zainab sitting on my bed this afternoon and dialling up any number of Hausa film stars (and I mean THE biggest stars) Ali Nuhu, Sani Musa Danja, Saratu Gidado, Ishaq Sidi (and so on)telling them there was a researcher from America here who wanted to meet them and then handing me the phone. I did not tell her that I have had a lifelong phobia of phones. That I used to sit at my editing job in New York and give myself a ten minute pep talk before picking up the phone and dialling some free lance factchecker or illustrator that we wanted to offer a job. That all these phone numbers I am collecting here (including that of Sadiq Balewa whose film Kasar Mu Ce, I helped teach last semester in the class Hausa Verbal Arts in Translation that I TAed for) fill me with dread. I must take advantage of this contact info while I am here,of course, but I'm panicked at the thought of just picking up a phone and cold calling someone like that, especially people whose busy fame sort of echoes out of their voices over the phone. (I probably should not be writing this on my blog--so as to maintain the appearance of unflustered and professional preparation--but I'm going to post this anyway.) After that series of heart-pounding brief conversations, I sat down and wrote a series of questions in Hausa to have on hand should I find myself suddenly and unexpectedly interviewing some actor/director/screenwriter/producer/writer that I run into. My next job is to prepare individualized questions for each person Zainab called today. The next few days will be a flurry of cramming.

Anyway, so, yeah, things are going far better than expected thus far, except that my Hausa is completey disappointing me--I can't manage it in these cold calls--although I was speaking fine Hausa to friends who called me up in Madison a few months ago in Madison. Hopefully that is just the transition stage and the anxiety of the new, and surely it will improve as I become more comfortable here. Everyone is so very nice.

More photos, excerpts from interviews etc. when I get my own computer configured for the internet. For now, I must get offline and go to bed.