Book: In the House of the Interpreter

In the House of the Interpreter: A MemoirIn the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir by Ngugi wa’Thiong’o

The author writes about his years at Alliance High School in Kenya. The writing is very good, with fairly interesting anecdotes and vignettes of Kenyan society, youth, and evangelism.

The last few chapters, cover the author’s return trip to his village after earning his first pay as a temporary teacher, and this is the part where I most related with the protagonist. He was arrested under the state of emergency and spent some time in jail. For me, the book is worth reading for these pages alone.

Overall it is a story of African people, their survival under difficult circumstances and the choices they make; when it is acceptable to compromise and when it is not.

From a character point of view, there are a few memorable ones. Carey Francis the British principal of a school for Kenyan boys. An officer of the colonial power, who is deeply dedicated to educating native boys and presenting them as equal to their white peers. He reconciled both conflicting interest with Christian belief.

Good Wallace, Ngugi’s brother, who fought with the Mau Mau resistance in the mountain.

Also interesting is the ambiguous and often false relationship between evangelism and true morality. Worth reading, even if the story could not maintain tension and interest equally throughout.

Book : Baking Cakes in Kigali

Baking Cakes in Kigali Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Angel Tungaraza is a Tanzanian expat in Kigali, Rwanda. Her husband works as a special consultant at a local university and she has her own home-based business, baking individually designed western-style cakes. This helps make extra money for her large family, because after the death of both her children she cares for five grandchildren and their young minder.

As Angel designs the perfect cake for each customer and occasion she gets to know her customers and becomes sometimes part of their lives, and through their stories we get to know their world. Angel is true to her name compassionate, and exceptionally tolerant. She intervenes whenever she can giving people a push in what she figures is the right direction or helping them see things more clearly. Her good intention are rewarded most of the time.

There are many issues encountered in this book: The Rwandan genocide, AIDS, child soldiers, Gender equality, sexual orientation, poverty, African identity, female genital mutilation, and African wildlife (especially the endangered gorillas) among many others.
Angel is someone I would love to have as my best friend, because she has exceptional understanding and tolerance for all these themes. Although the book does not explain how a woman who has always lived on the continent and only went for visits to Germany, while her husband did postgraduate studies there, could arrive at such worldly tolerance and wisdom.

The book is fine for people who do not know anything about Africa, it brings it to them gently. It does not vilify Wazungu (White people) completely although it is funny to note that the only two asshole characters were a Canadian working for the International Monetary Fund and an American who the whole community knows to be working for the CIA. Other minor baddies/ eccentrics include an unbalanced former child soldier, the drunk manager of the building, and the Indians who are afraid of catching their death from germs; these characters all come across more comical than evil. All African characters are essentially good, even the prostitute is an honest working woman who looks after two sisters and an orphan.

If you are willing to suspend your disbelief for a few hours, and enjoy a story where small people try to make a difference and succeed, then you will enjoy this book. It is gentle and warm, does not have a complex plot, and reads like a series of stories with some direct sermonizing. But a skeptic like me would end up with a few exclamation marks (!) knocking about inside my head. For example, how on earth could an Italian-born man be such a strong proponent of “circumcising” his own daughter, while her Somali mother is not ?

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The Pharaohs

Egypt won their sixth Africa Cup of Nations championship (AFCON) yesterday. In this country most people would have preferred it to go to Cameroon, not North Africa.

There is a deep divide between the north and south, even here in Africa. The prevailing feeling is that the northerners are not real Africans, and this perception might hold more than a little bit of truth. The North Africans are fair-skinned, live in different climate and ecosystems, and most importantly they are from a race which colonised the rest of Africa centuries ago. Their ancestors traded other Africans as slaves, and prosecuted them as heathen.

In modern times the divide is still clear, as is the mutual distrust between real Africans (Sub-saharan) and the northern inhabitants of this continent.

In my experience the Egyptians think of themselves above the rest of Africa. They are the pharaohs, they had the civilization, and they are not Africans.

I had the questionable honour of taking part in professional African forum in this country, where one of the delegates was Egyptian. The delegate thought that because of my origins I was bound to feel certain affinity towards him. He considered me to be one of his people, and did not bother to hide his disdain to all things African.

He found fault in everything from the travel arrangements, to the flights, the hotel and even the food – which was disgusting according to him. I tried very hard to tone down this negative attitude, and harder still to sympathize or relate to him. But as the hours passed, I started to identify with the African he disdained and condescended and was no longer the Arab he wanted to gang up with. The incident widened the rift between me and my origins and brought me closer to my adopted African identity. Would my attitude be different, if I also came from the land of the Pharaohs?