Saturday, November 29, 2008

The White Road and other stories by Tania Hershman – a review

For me, this book is unique. In Southern Africa it is uncommon to come across collections of short stories, especially in bookstores in Botswana, but I have yet to see a collection that mixes flash fiction among short stories. I cannot comprehend the aversion of publishers to short stories. One would think in this world of rampant ADD and time gobblers at all corners, short stories would be the exact package for fiction and flash fiction would be even better. When publishers in this part of the world will catch a wake up, I don’t know. The mixture between short stories and flash in The White Road is very nice.

A lot of hype has been made of the fact that some of the stories in The White Road are inspired by articles in the New Scientist magazine. Hershman is a former science journalist and has a strong science background, so finding stories in the collection stemming from that would not be unlikely, but my fear is that some might give the collection a pass, scared off by the science. Please don’t.

I think the better terminology, in this case, would be that the stories are sparked by science; the writer read a scientific article and from there her imagination got in the driver’s seat and drove the car to a place that, in almost all the stories, hardly holds a passing resemblance to the starting point. An example, the story ‘Self Raising’ was inspired by an article about coronal mass injections, basically the sun spitting. That’s the inspiration, but the story is about a woman who studied to be a scientist but was captured, as many women are, by marriage and children; her own dreams thrown to the side. She finds herself middle aged, baking cakes in the shapes of test tubes, Petri dishes, and the sun. The theme of the story is the taking back of her life, the science is incidental. This is how most of the science inspired stories are, so please, don’t be scared off.

The thing that stands out so startlingly about this collection is the ease in which Hershman approaches her stories. There is no tangled language that fights with the reader. She is not a flashy writer. She uses simple, strong, confidant language to walk with the reader through profound issues.

One of my favourite stories in the collection is ‘Evie and the Arfids’. You start the story with a middle aged woman telling her own story in her own voice, husband gone, children gone; she’s drifting, struggling to find anything to cling to; a common identifiable story for many women. She gets a job and then a friend and you as the reader cheer for her. But that is not the story Hershman is telling; her story is a commentary on the abuse of technology, a terrifying ending waits for the reader. Simply written; slyly told. Hershman does not want to bash you over the head with a stick, but she still wants you to fall down.

Some of the flash fiction is quite exceptional. My favourite is ‘I am a Camera’ about a woman losing her memories. ‘Heavy Bones’ was a fun piece of flash. (Isn’t good flash such a delight? When will the publishing world wake up to that???)

I personally could relate to ‘Express’ which is about trying to learn another language when living in a land where you were not born, and the daily struggle with it and the subconscious relief when suddenly you are back in the land of your first language. Hershman lets the reader into that mental state in such a smooth-as-silk way. Very nice.

There are so many excellent stories in the 27 story collection. They often have humour mixed with an undertow of sadness, a good example is ‘The Incredible Exploding Victor’ about a boy who believes he will one day explode because his sad, sad mother keeps forcing food on him and ‘You’ll Know’ about the odd prescriptions often demanded of people wanting to adopt foreign babies.

There are a few editing slip-ups that distracted me since I thought UK publishers would do better. In a way, perhaps it made me feel better about our local publishers in an ‘even the big guys make mistakes’ way. I was also a bit disappointed by the lack of stories set in Hershman’s adopted home, Jerusalem. I would think stories abound there; my hope is that her next collection will take that into consideration. On the other hand, as a person who also lives in a place that she was not born, I am aware that stories come from where stories come and, if we are to be true to ourselves, we must write them. Pushing a story to fit where it doesn’t, never works. Hershman’s Israeli stories will find their way out when the time is right.
So folks, read the book, and then send me questions for the author because on the 29th of December, Tania Hershman will be stopping by Thoughts from Botswana on a stop during her blog book tour. Send questions to

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Butterfly People

At the top of the mountain my spirit sank. The stingy acacias and the rocky ground underneath them was all I could see; another valley, another dead-end. I came searching for the lost tribe of the Amandebele, the powerful warriors that wrecked havoc in Southern Africa, and realised once again I would go home unsuccessful. For more than a hundred years the legend passed from mouth to ear, in a chain of hopeful people; the legend of the Lost Tribe, hidden somewhere in the hills of eastern Botswana, cut off on the trek of the tribe from South Africa to Zimbabwe, and then never seen again.

I sat down on a pink sandstone boulder patched black with lichens. I took out my water bottle; my throat was parched from the climb and the biting dry air of winter. I wondered if it was time to head back to the camp, the valley below didn’t look promising, but I decided to check it out anyway and rearranged the pack on my back and started the climb down.

As I descended the steep side, I realised the distance had been distorted, the valley was much deeper than I originally thought. The mountain side was shaded by the hills opposite and the temperature lowered at least ten degrees. The moisture in the air increase as well. I was no longer climbing through sharp thorns, but pushing aside the soft leaves of trees I wasn’t familiar with. I still could not see the bottom.

I watched each step, careful not to fall, and something brushed like a feather across my cheek. Looking up, I found myself in a cloud of butterflies; crimson and jade, navy and orange, black and brown- every colour of the spectrum. Then I noticed a noise just above the level of hearing. A strange, whispery sound. I felt my body relax into it as if its systems, the movement of my blood, the snap of electricity between the synapses, the beating of my heart, all synchronised with this almost unheard noise. I closed my eyes and turned my face into the coloured cloud and wished for the sensation to continue. Time slipped away, it could have been minutes, hours, but then without warning the butterflies parted and I opened my eyes.

There before me was a collection of tidy mud huts. The thatched roofs pushed far out over the walls creating a wide, shady veranda around the whole diameter. Each had a large enclosed lowlapa at the front. Intricate patterns dyed in the colours of the butterflies decorated the walls of the huts and the lolwapa. In the distance, I could see fields of green crops trailing off though the thin valley. The houses were arranged in a wide circle and in the middle people were collected perhaps a hundred, no more than three hundred. They watched me with cautious eyes as I walked toward them.

“Dumelang,” I tried not knowing what language the lost tribe spoke, for I was sure I had found the Lost Tribe of the Amandebele.

A tall, middle-aged man stepped forward. He wore only a leather loin cloth, his bare chest muscled and hairless. He spoke a language I was not familiar with and yet I knew exactly what he was saying. “Welcome.”

After he spoke the women gathered round me ululating. They closed me in and herded me toward a large rondavel at the far side of the massive circle of huts. A young woman with thick, black lashes resting on her cheeks slashed with two traditional marks on each side took my hand and we entered the cool darkness of the hut. She smiled and indicated a leather mat in the corner. “This is where you will stay.”

“Stay? Thank you for you hospitality, but I can’t stay.”

Smiling, she ignored me, turned, and disappeared leaving me alone. I looked around the hut; it was nearly empty. There were a few clay pots and the leather mat which was apparently to be my bed. I sat down on it and waited, not sure what to expect.

I was thinking about how excited everyone would be back at the university when I told them about my find, when an elderly man wearing the skin of a leopard entered. He was followed by a line of elderly men. I could see that the man at the front must be the chief, the others his council. The chief spoke first. “We are happy that you’ve decided to join our tribe. We always welcome foreigners.”

“No, I…” I started but one of the elders raised his hand and shook his head to indicate I should remain silent.

“There have been others before you. We welcomed them as we welcome you. Ranania has shown you this house. You will live here until you marry. We encourage marriage to foreigners. Just indicate which young woman you would like to marry and all will be arranged. There are a few rules. You must never climb the surrounding hills. They are home to the gods. The butterflies that welcomed you will not be so kind if you try to leave. We live in harmony. There is no fighting. No war. No murder. Unlike the world that you come from. We share everything. There is no want and no greed. All is done for the benefit of the group, unlike your world where the individual rules at the expense of the tribe.”

The old men who were now sitting behind the chief on the smooth dung floor of the hut, nodded in agreement. They whispered a word, “Phypere. Phypere” like a mantra. Others closed their eyes and hummed the word as the chief continued. Every time it was spoken I felt the same sensation I had in the cloud of butterflies. I slipped into a synchronisation with the sound waves produced by the word, a wash of contentment flowed over me. Phypere, phypere. I suddenly realised the word was the gentle hiss of the butterflies on the hill.

“You will find a life here that is pure and allows your mind to reach areas it would have no chance of seeing on the other side of the hills. Embrace this life and happiness will follow.” The chief got up and reached his clasped hands out to me. I took them in mine. “Phypere,” he said.

I looked into the deep recesses of his eyes and discovered that I had found the home I had not been searching for there among the butterfly people.

Africans and their love of English

There is a hilarious article in the Mail and Guardian about Africans, Nigerians in particular, and their love for bombastic words- the longer, the more obscure, the better; maintaining the meaning of the sentence takes second seat to the beauty of the vocabulary. The article is entitled ‘Metal on concrete jars my drink lobes’ and is written by C Don Adinuba. He gives laugh-out-loud examples such as, “I never perused the inner anatomy of the female homo sapiens.” This was said by the historian Emmanuel Ayandele when pointing out to a group of students how he had remained celibate through his undergraduate years.

Botswana is not immune to this phenomenon. The good lecturers at the University of Botswana, according to my husband when he was there, are the ones that used “powerful jargon”, the ones that took ten words to say something that could be said with two. If you found that person, you knew you were in for some real learning.

I used to type letters for an elderly man who was the head of a tiny political party with a socialist inclination; so tiny in fact I often wondered if he might have been its only member. He was always busy dashing off letters to the president and to international bodies complaining about what he thought was going wrong in the country. He was a big fan of using two or three words where only one was needed. He did this most often with verbs and adjectives. A sentence such as, “I read your long letter” could not be left in such an anemic state. He’d beef it up to, “I perused and studied in an attempt to understand your lengthy, extensive correspondence.” I’d sometimes edit claiming I couldn’t read his handwriting and he’d always carefully instruct me about the words I had so carelessly left out. He had a reputation to uphold.

The title of the M & G article is actually the first line in Wole Soyinka’s novel, The Interpreters. Very funny indeed.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Life Built on Choices

I had a friend for quite a few years who I realised at one point was unhealthy for me, and I slowly distanced myself from her until now I doubt either of us considers the other a friend at all. I think about her sometimes and feel sad, it’s always sad to lose a friend, but I know looking back it was the right thing to do.

She would always say to me, “Lauri, you could do so much more with your life. You have so many talents. You’re hiding yourself here in Botswana. You must leave this life and find the one you were destined for.” She would say this in so many ways and in so saying she was negating the life I had chosen. She seemed to have a plan for me and often led me by the hand down the path that she had chosen. When I look back, I often wonder how she did that as I’ve been known to be stubborn; maybe she got me at vulnerable moments. Twice I nearly left my husband because of her. I drove away certain I was on my way to the life she knew waited for me elsewhere, but I didn’t quite know the way. That alone frightened me. I’ve run away before; my life has a theme of running, but always I knew where I was going. I had a plan, a map drawn out in my head. It was because the leaving was of my doing I guess. It was a choice made by me, not imposed by the wishes of another.

I don’t know if it’s because in a few weeks I will be 45, but I look back on my uncertainty during that time and I feel sad and not a little bit scared. Scared how easily I could have done the wrong thing. How many times in our lives have we made choices? Some good and some bad, but most made on little more than instinct, sometimes not much more than a mental flip of a coin. It is terrifying to realise what comes of such whimsical decisions. What if that 16 year old girl I was so long ago hadn’t got on the bus that took her away from the psychotic abuse she could stand no longer? What would my life be if I hadn’t run from America to Botswana? What if I hadn’t chosen to remain in Botswana and marry my husband and instead went off to the internship at the United Nations? What if I hadn’t decided to take that leap of faith that led me to become a full time writer? Out there somewhere in ‘what if land’ lay the lives I chose not to live.

We should look back every once in awhile I think, not with regrets, because I have no time for those, but to assess; to take a look at the path that we’ve built by those choices. At 45 (less a month or so) I feel I haven’t done so badly. I’ve carved out a small, simple life for myself that keeps me sane (a big deal in my family of legally declared loonies). To others, my former friend included, small and simple are not important attributes for a life, they are not something that should be striven for; but that doesn’t matter. For me it is exactly what I’ve been searching for. A little spot to be safe, and happy in the odd moment; the successful life defined and built by the only person that matters- me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

HIV/AIDS and Botswana’s Battle

In the 1990’s I used to feel like a blanket of sadness covered the country. People were dying everyday it seemed. No family was immune from loss, including mine. You wouldn’t see someone for awhile and then you didn’t want to ask as it was likely they were dead. We went to so many funerals. Achingly sad funerals of people far too young to die. I think about all of those dead and how if they could have lasted just a few more years they would have been saved. Now the government gives out free ARV treatment, so those same people would likely have survived and they would still be with us today.

The government in so many ways must be applauded for their efforts regarding HIV/AIDS. Former President Mogae, unlike many presidents around the world, never hid the problem. We are a small country, only 1.6 million, and he knew if nothing was done we could perish, all of us. That’s how it felt at that time anyway.

I was under the impression that things were getting better, but in yesterday’s Daily News (the state newspaper) the headline reads “Botswana leads in HIV/AIDS Prevalence”. According to a speaker from Scottish Livingstone Hospital in Molepolole in the south of the country, Botswana is still number one in Southern Africa for the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. I found the article so disappointing. I really thought we were getting better.

Part of the problem might be a disconnect between traditional practices and modern life. PSI Botswana is running an advertising campaign about ‘the small house’ and how it fuels HIV infection. Traditionally it was accepted to have concubines and this is what the small house refers to. But there were rules that governed this behaviour. What has happened now is the traditional practice is maintained without the rules, which were lost along the way.

When a young woman gets married she is taken to the side to sit with the older, married women to be told the ways to be a good wife. Among the advice is that a married woman should never ask a husband who is coming home late where he has been. Again there were reasons for this. Those reasons have been forgotten, but men have held tight to the practice. A wife who queries a husband arriving late in the night is a bad wife needing a sharp clap or a visit to her uncles for a complaint.

Both of these practices lead to concurrent relationships which is one of the drivers of HIV/AIDS in the country. Culture is often a sacred cow that should not be questioned or tampered with, but sometimes cultural practices that are causing harm should be dropped or at the very least questioned and better understood.

Botswana’s Vision 2016 has as one of its goals zero new HIV infections by 2016. Something is not working if after spending millions of Pula we are still having the highest prevalence rate in the region. We better change tactics if we want to reach that 2016 goal.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Intangible Cultural Heritage

I spent two days in Serowe at a workshop on the 2003 UNESCO Convention on Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). It may sound slightly boring, but in fact it is fascinating. It is all about saving the parts of heritage that we can’t touch things such as language, dance, song, and proverbs, but also other less obvious things like body language and gestures. The Department of Culture and Youth is moving around the country (doing quite an excellent job BTW) meeting with stakeholders to consult. After this it will go to Cabinet and Parliament who will decide if Botswana should sign on to the Convention. Culture is suddenly taking its rightful place in Botswana, so it is likely the Convention will be ratified.

Our facilitator at the workshop was Zimbabwean dramatist and writer Stephen Chifunyise. He is so passionate about his culture it is infectious. He very easily showed us where Botswana’s ICH is endangered in many areas. Our dances, for example, are slowly changing being influenced by modern dances to the extent that sometimes the original dance and its meaning have been lost. A lot of ICH is lost in this manner. Colonisation and modernisation have done a severe number on ICH all over the world.

He told a story about a dance in Shona culture called Mbende. The dance represents human creation. It is danced by a man and a woman who are eventually synchronised in their movements. At one point, they come together and push their hips at each other. When the missionaries went to Zimbabwe they looked at the dance and immediately banned it thinking it was too sexual. The dancers didn’t want to leave this important dance behind. To them it meant the synchrony and union of man and woman to create a family, a very important part of their culture. So they thought and decided to give it a Christian sounding name, that this might appease the missionaries. So they called the dance Jerusalema. Voila- all was fine with the church and they continued with their dance. Then independence came and the dancers were sure that maintaining such important cultural heritage would be paramount in the new administration. Within a short time, the freedom fighters, still struggling with their colonised minds, banned the dance at all government sponsored events. This nearly led to the loss of Mbende/ Jerusalema. Luckily cultural workers in Zimbabwe applied to UNESCO to have the dance declared a Masterpiece of Human Creation. The application went through and now they have been given a large sum of money so that they can safeguard this important dance.

Though in Botswana we haven’t had any out right banning, some traditional Setswana songs are not played on the national radio stations because the station administrators believe them to be suggestive and yet they play all sorts of songs from America which are far more suggestive. This is the same sort of censorship that can lead to important ICH being lost.

For myself as a writer, I think I have a role to play here. I made some very important contacts and am looking forward to seeing where this path leads me. Exciting, exciting.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What inspires you?

There are few questions I hate more than – what inspires you?. I am always blank (obviously ‘Your question’ is not the right answer), and I usually give an answer that is fictional and almost always stupid. To be honest, mostly I get inspired when I’m done writing and I look back and say “Hey that’s not so crappy!”. But today I realised something. It appears, at least in some cases, the news inspires me.

Those who read Thoughts from Botswana know I love newspapers. I love the smell, I love the mess. I read and talk to the newspaper at the same time. I rage and laugh. It is a total emotional experience. In Botswana, newspaper days used to be Wednesday for Midweek Sun and Gazettte, and Friday for Mmegi and The Guardian. Now we have Mmegi every week day and Sunday we have the Sunday Standard. YEAH!

I also love TV news. I love France 24, the only 24 hour news station we get since we stopped DSTV in protest of their monopoly, and a few other things I’ll not mention- NO, it is not because the Botswana woman decided to have oral sex on Big Brother. I am, despite rumours that may suggest otherwise, NOT a prude. But having said that- I mean YIKES!

As I said I’ve discovered, before I went off topic, that the news inspires me, it’s not the only thing, but at least it’s something, an answer next time I’m asked. I wrote this week’s Search Engine Fiction story around a baby dumped in a pit latrine after it became a big news story here in Botswana. Funny enough, my writing partner (She Who Will Remain Unnamed) also wrote a baby in the pit latrine story. That got me to wondering if I do this often. Do I write stories inspired by news? It seems that I do.

One of my favourite stories is The Collector of Lives about an Indonesian man left alone in the wreckage who waits to collect bodies as they wash up on shore and then buries them in case the families ever come back. It was inspired by the tragic news of the tsunami victims. I have another story about 9/11, surprisingly with a happy ending (how many writers could do that?). I even have a story about the terrorists in Russia where my terrorists, to my astonishment, were wearing baklava instead of balaclavas ( and yes, I submitted it to a publication like that...). Even the week before this one, my DRC story was inspired by the news.

So now I’m ready…….

Next time:

“So Lauri, what inspires you?”

“Well, Oprah, I get quite inspired by the news.”

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More Press-Yikes!!

This week the press angel seems to be looking down on me- or could it be I have friends who are journalists??? Hmmm... Either way Gasebalwe Seretse wrote such a nice article about me in Wednesday's Mmegi. Here it is.

Kate Gomolemo Makes the Papers!

What a surprise I got last night when reading a book review in The Botswana Gazette newspaper to find a bit about my detective, Kate Gomolemo, right in there with Mma Ramotswe. What a lovely surprise! Read it here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Born a Winner

In her life story, her mother had only a brief walk on part. She squatted in the darkness of the bush, hoping the border guards wouldn’t see her, and gave birth without uttering a single sound. When the baby fell onto the still warm Botswana sand, her mother was thankful she didn’t cry. She needed to get moving and a baby would slow her down, so she dashed out into the moonless night and without another thought, dropped the baby into the pit latrine, convincing herself that death was a better path for this small one than the life she herself had been condemned to live. An act of kindness. Then she made her exit forever.

The old man heard the wailing for some time and was becoming increasingly annoyed thinking the neighbour’s dog was, once again, harassing his goats. Finally, though he hated going outside at night since he had a pathological fear of snakes, he went out to take a look. He didn’t find a dog or even a victimised goat; instead when he shined the light of his torch down the toilet from where the sound came, there at the bottom laid a baby. As soon as the light hit her she became silent, sticking her tiny thumb in her mouth, and waited to be saved.

People grabbed up spades and big earth moving machines arrived and they dug the baby out. The police officer whose name has gone missing, some say it was Mompati others Mogami, wiped the shit out from between the infant’s wrinkled fingers as he sat with her at the back of the police car racing to the nearby hospital, and thought, this baby would grow to be something special, she was saved from a certain death for a reason. He thought, this baby was born a winner.

At the SOS Home where the baby was taken, a gnarled woman who was employed as a mother, proving in every one of her actions why paying someone to do such a job was not wise, looked at the old eyes in the baby’s small face and warned, “Those eyes hold some old secrets.” And so the baby from the pit latrine was given the name Diphiri, secrets.

As Diphiri grew, she was told the story of her birth. She had no opinion about it. It only gave her evidence that humans were a difficult species and she stepped forward with caution. She often used the pit latrine story to help establish observational distance between herself and others. Telling the story upon meeting a new person helped her. Their pity for the small baby was often superficial, while their eyes scanned her looking for the invisible traces of shit, metaphorical or otherwise. Diphiri watched and stepped away. There was no need to let them closer, neither she nor they wanted it, and that kept her safe.

On the day Diphiri’s life took the important turn towards the prophecy of the policeman’s words, she met a young man who came into the takeaway where she worked since leaving the SOS Home. She watched him walk up to the counter throwing his arms forward one at a time, each leg following with a slight hesitation as if they wanted to refuse the bossiness of the arms. Diphiri smiled at the argument of his walk. As the man got closer, she spotted a familiarity about him. His eyes, almost hidden under heavy lids, were coloured ancient with sights from an older time, a time from where her own secrets emanated. She was immediately captured and so stayed very silent and still, waiting.

He got his Fanta orange and magwinya then said, “I think one day I’d like to be married to the president.”

“Is that so?” Diphiri laughed at such silly words.

The man sat down on the front stoop and Diphiri, as there were no customers, sat down next to him. She noticed the smooth brown of his skin and how he smelt of coconut. “So what is your story then?” he asked chewing a piece of a fat cake.

Diphiri was surprised to hear herself tell him about her birth, and more surprised to realise that she wasn’t telling him to push him away, she was hoping that the telling would pull him in to her.

He listened, not looking away from her secret eyes, or searching her body for evidence of the shit from which she’d come. Diphiri noticed, too, that he didn’t pity the baby, instead his hooded eyes sparkled. “People are not saved for nothing. You must be very excited about the life you’re going to live.”

She’d never thought of it like that, and with a click-click her mind set out on a new course, a course set towards greatness. The young man finished his drink and fat cakes and left, but only temporarily. He came back because even his dream was now set in place to come true.

Writing For Radio

I have my third post up at Blood Red Pencil. It is about how writing for the page and writing for radio are the same, but also different. Check it out here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Dandelion Wishers

Rejection doesn’t always mean your story is bad. I always tell writers this. A story is rejected for many reasons. I have a story I wrote the second year I started writing seriously, The Dandelion Wishers. I’ve always liked that story. It won a highly commended in a contest and it gave me hope that it had some merit others might recognise. Then I sent it off to a few markets and it piled up the rejections. I set it aside for a while and then sent it off to African Writing earlier this year, a fantastic showcase for some of Africa’s best writers. They accepted it and I was very happy.

But then African Writing disappeared. I thought it had gone under like so many good intentioned literary projects and The Dandelion Wishers had sunk with it. Well today they are back with full force (thankfully)! Read the Dandelion Wishers here as well as a lot of other great African writing.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Want to laugh?

Click here.

Saturday Saturday

Last night I stayed up late to read Half of a Yellow Sun (Olanna- how could you? How could you sleep with him? My heart is broken. I fear I have more heartache ahead though.) so when I finally fell asleep I was not too happy to be woken up by the African Sausage Dog barking like a mad man. People who follow this blog know that waking up in the night to see what the dog is barking at in MY garden is NOT a good idea (refer to
The Baby Snake Massacre ) but after a full hour of non stop yapping, I had no choice.

And what did I find? my dear reader asks. I found out that my dog is an ignoramus. Sad but true. For a full hour he was barking at my husband’s punching bag which had fallen off the tree; a punching bag that had hung from said tree for four years. Was it really such an incredible thing for a punching bag to fall two feet to the ground that he had to bark at it for an hour? And what was worse, as soon as I went out and saw the punching bag on the ground, the African Sausage Dog retired for the night in his cosy blankets, his job obviously complete, while I sat up another hour to fume. Grrrrrr!!!

So today is Saturday which usually means a bit of work and a bit of fun, but today, I am going to give myself the whole day off. Yesterday my publisher called to tell me that Mmele and the Magic Bones was selected by the Ministry of Education as a set book for standard five. That was fantastic news indeed, but he was not finished. Two of the short story anthologies I wrote with Wame Molefhe and Bontekanye Botumile earlier this year were also chosen by the Ministry for standard 6 and 7. YAHOOOY!!! I think that deserves two days completely free to do what I want. (The weather seems to agree, as the sun is out and I am ready to hit the pool.)

For writers in Botswana, getting books taken by the Ministry is really the only way to survive as a writer. Though I rant about it, I am practical. Yes, I want to write for a mainstream reading public, but in Botswana that market is not there, and until I can write the book that will allow me to break out, this is my world. It does mean, though, that some time in the future, perhaps about 2010, I will have a bit of money and for writers, money equals breathing space and time to do what they want with no practical limitations. In that space, a writer can find what she is looking for. Lying in the sun dreaming of 2010 today……

Friday, November 14, 2008

Commonwealth FINALLY Announces!

The results are out for 2008/2009 Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Short Story Contest (CBA). Congratulations to all of the winners!

A special shout out to Tania Hershman who scooped UK Regional Winner for her story 'Straight Up'. (Thoughts from Botswana is a stop on her book blog book tour for her short story collection The White Road . It's in December so keep your eyes open for it)

It's time to get your computers tapping and pens writing for the next year's CBA contest, deadline in May.

This contest holds a special place in my heart having been highly commended twice; the first time just when I started writing in 2004/2005 for my story 'A Pot Full of Tears'. Such wins really give you confidence that you're on the right track. It's also great to hear your story read by professional actors and to listen to the other stories on the CDs from all over the Commonwealth. I find myself listening to the CDs over and over again.
Kudos to the organisers!

A Fragile Light Falls on the Congo

(My short story for this week's Search Engine Fiction prompt)

She could hear the pound of boots on the hard, wet ground and the clang of metal, guns hitting against strings of bullets, buckles knocking against grenades strapped to belts. She held her hand over Adolphe’s tiny mouth and locked her own breath in her lungs. In the thin fragile light of morning, she couldn’t make out if they were the government troops or the CNDP; it didn’t matter anyway, they were all dangerous. She just wanted to be left alone. Once they passed, she tied the baby tightly to her back and she slipped across the road. The lines of refugees threaded westward, but she was making her way to the border to the east. She’d seen too much. It was time to leave the DRC.


“What the hell do you think? Get in there and get in there fast. It’s going to be a fucking free for all. You get as much coltan as you can!” Jack Miller slammed down the phone just as he heard the knock at the door. “Come in.”

He smiled as the Rwandan entered; a cat’s smile revealing little of the thoughts behind, or so he believed. He offered the tall black man a seat and poured whiskey into two glasses, handing one to the General. “So General Bienvenu, how is the situation in Goma?”

“By month end we should have the whole area evacuated. We’ve kept some of the men for labourers.” The General took a drink from the glass offered. It stung his throat and left a bitter taste in his mouth. The cheap stuff. This American had no respect. He was a fool anyway. He supplied the guns for the army to get the ‘new black gold’, the dull black metal used to power the technological world. The money built their mansions and powered their cars, but only a small fraction reached their pockets; they mistakenly thought otherwise. The American, so condescending, so sure of himself and his position. The General smiled too.

“A lot of media frenzy lately, that could be dangerous,” Miller said with a scowl to emphasise his annoyance. He knew subtlety was lost on an African.

“Not much we can do. Nkunda has the people riled up. Our soldiers are just trying to get control. You can imagine their frustration. It’s understood. Besides the journalists are making it political as usual. All about tribalism, Hutu militias. Let them continue making their stories. It keeps the light off of us.” The General brushed his hand through the air to indicate the nonsense of Miller’s concerns. “It will all settle down and we’ll be back to normal. There are too many people with too much money tied up in the Eastern DRC. They won’t let the nonsense last much longer. Kabila must save face. He’ll just sweep it under the mat and turn his head as usual.”

“I hope so, General.”

The General set the empty glass on the desk and stood to his 6’3” height. Miller felt a moment of fear. He was, in the end, sitting at a desk in an office in a country at war. A dead foreigner would be understood and not investigated. He was not stupid enough to think the Africans were not aware of the amount of money involved. The General moved suddenly and Miller stepped back holding his breath. He looked down and saw the outstretched hand and exhaled. “Yes… of course..” He hesitated. “So do you think next week the coltan will be coming through again?”

“No later than Friday,” the General assured him.

He watched the big man leave, and then he pulled a small bottle of bleach from his desk and went to the sink in the corner carrying the glass the General had used. He rinsed it and wiped it clean with the bleach. Then he placed it back with the cheap whiskey in his desk drawer.


She watched for an opening. For two days, she sat in the mountains waiting for the chance to slip through the border. She knew the trucks they used to take the black stone out of the country. She knew, too, that no border guard took a second look at the trucks. They got the money to make sure they wouldn’t. She needed to get in one of those trucks. On the third day she got her chance.

The drivers also knew the value of their cargo and often stopped a few kilometres before the DRC/Rwandan border to sell coltan to people who came out from the forest. She waited there without food, licking dew from the leaves for water. On the third day, a careless driver left the back door unlatched when he went to urinate, and she slipped in closing the door behind herself and the baby. She would be free of guns and violence and death and evil. She sat on the stones, the black rocks that kept the cellphones working and the computers operating and ensured that the people she left behind would die brutal deaths until all of it could be torn from the ground.

For a moment, a thin, weak light falls on the forgotten heart of the continent. Would they see clearly? Would they bring the beacons and the floodlights so they could look beyond the cursory outlines that lied about the truth? It was doubtful since too many craved for the shadows. The dark heart of Africa was not an indigenous, intrinsic truth; it was a blanket that covered what they didn’t want others to see.

She pulled Adolphe from her back and let him suckle at her breast. She bumped along to her new life and she too hoped for a dark blackness, opaqueness so dense nothing from her past would get through, none of what she had seen, what she had experienced, and she hoped her eyes would only be able to look forward to what lie ahead

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Dilemma of Word Verification

I don’t understand the word verification system that operates when you want to post a comment on a blog. I suppose it’s to stop some sort of crazy cyber-criminal who wants to post all sorts of wild comments and attribute them to you, but I don’t quite get the point. If I can see those letters and re-type them, why can’t he? And also, what’s up with the crazy fonts and strange morphed letters? How does that stop these comment thieves? I spend a lot of time getting word verification wrong. Is that a B or an H? Is that an I or the side of the N? I often must try two or three times. Then I wonder- why am I not being stopped by the cyber-robocops? I’m obviously not fit to leave comments if I can’t figure out these simple letters. I must be some sort of suspect person.And yet eventually I'm allowed to leave my comment. I wonder what the cut off is. If you miss 10 times you're out? 20?

I also spend a fair amount of time trying to sound out and find meaning for the nonsense word verification words. Terackcb-hmm…sounds a bit dinosaur-y to me. How would you pronounce it? Or a great one today- Womiser. I think I might start incorporating that one into my writing. Such a wide array of meanings for that. A good insult perhaps- “You’re just a stupid womiser anyway!” Or it might be a tool, like for getting the cheese out of the holes in the cheese grater- “Hey, hand me the womiser; this cheddar is very stubborn”.

I guess, in the end, even if it doesn’t stop infiltrators of the world of comments, at least it increases my vocabulary.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Rain Loving Creatures of Botswana

Yesterday late afternoon we had a tremendous storm. The kind I love with thunder and lightening, black skies and sheets of rain. I knew this morning, out on my walk, I would find all of the morning rain lovers and I was not disappointed.

After a good rain, the red furry spiders come out. My son has informed me that they are not spiders; I can’t confirm or deny this. They look like spiders anyway. I know nothing about their ecology, but I imagine from the look of them they are either poisonous to birds and others that might want to eat them or very bad tasting. This morning while trying to get a picture of these fast furry fellows, I found one which sat very still for me. It was dead; busy being eaten by a mob of tiny ants. So at least I know now that ants eat them. My husband has informed me that when they were children they called these furry red spiders (or not) ntsanyana ya modimo- the puppy of God. I think that is delightful especially if you keep in mind how precious rain is here and how these guys only pitch up when we’ve had some.

The other rain loving creature that was out in force and in a multitude of sizes this morning was the millipede. We have incredible millipedes that love to come out after the rain. I’ve seen some as long as my forearm. This morning I saw small ones and medium size ones and quite a big one. Being a much better photographer in theory than I am in practice, I took pictures of all sizes, but upon loading the pictures into the computer I realised that I didn’t put anything in the photo for reference so they all look about the same size. Sorry about that. The Setswana word for millipede is one of the first that non-Setswana speakers learn as it is so much fun to say- sebokolodi.

Now tonight we will have the flying termites. They come after a good rain. I don’t know if it is true, but I was told once that they have wings for only one night to fly in the sky in search of mates. They fly for only a few hours and then fall to the ground and their wings fall off. They crawl around then and find ‘the one’. If you leave a light on, they will crowd around it en masse. In the morning, you will be left with piles of light brown, transparent wings under the light, but no termites. Look out in your yard. If it is nicely cleared and swept, you will see hundreds of little mounds of dirt. I got such a shock the first time I saw them. The termites have all disappeared underground. It only happens after the first few good rains then it’s over until the next year. The dikokobele will be finished for the year.

Although dung beetles (khukhwane ya boloko) are not exclusively rain lovers, I was happy to see one this morning. You’ve got to appreciate their industriousness.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Writer’s Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, not so long ago, a group of writers met. Not in blood and bones, because they were kilometres and oceans apart, but in the wires, in the air, in that odd nebulous place that can’t quite be envisioned and maybe isn’t always believed in- cyberspace. These twenty odd writers met and their leader, a stubborn man living in the land of literary giants, kept the wayward group together because he had a plan and he would not be deterred. He wanted the voices of the world, the part sitting, in the descriptions of others at third place, to step forward and speak. He wanted to hear how those people might define their own lives. He thought something special might just happen if together this group of writers could work towards this common goal.

And so the writers wrote. They wrote and shared and critiqued and discussed and laughed and sometimes even fought, all of it leading toward the goal, written in the dreams of their leader, for he wanted a book. A book of these writings.

The writers got to know each other. The coming together created a crazy domino falling magic that knocked against them pushing them out of line in a delightful way. Accolades and prizes rained down and the writers celebrated each other’s successes. A camaraderie formed that pulled all of them forward.

Then yet another child of this extraordinary country, this country that has given so much to the written world, came forward to help the leader. She took the dream in her hands and moulded it and rubbed off the sharp edges and then she threw it hard and with determination into that scary land; the land most writers fear, the place where horrifying stories are told by the wounded and walking dead- the land of the publishers. (EISH!)

But what the group didn’t know was that there was a publisher who was waiting for just such a book. The woman, the daughter of the literary giants who already walked tentatively in their footsteps, threw the ball of dreams so straight, so accurately, she scored one with one and the book of a dreamer found a publisher in waiting.

And the dream gained form. It went from dots and fuzz to concrete lines and paper and ink. From a thought to a reality, grown from a beautiful connection made among a diverse group of people in a make believe place. A fairy tale of a story not normally believed in the sceptic, jaded world of sad stories and sadder realities.

Believe it though,

for it has happened.


Out during the Northern Hemisphere Spring 2009!!!

Published by The New Internationalist.

The writers:

Elaine Chiew (Malaysia)
Molara Wood (Nigeria)
Martin A Ramos (Puerto Rico)
Henrietta Rose-Innes (South Africa)
Lauri Kubuitsile (Botswana)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)
Shabnam Nadiya (Bangladesh)
Ravi Mangla (USA)
Chika Unigwe (Nigeria)
Dipita Kwa (Cameroon)
Vanessa Gebbie (Wales)
Sequoia Nagamatsu (USA)
Jude Dibia (Nigeria)
Konstantinos Tzikas (Greece)
Petina Gappah (Zimbabwe)
Ken Kamoche (Kenya)
Lucinda Nelson Dhavan (India)
Adetokunbo Gbenga Abiola (Nigeria)
Skye Brannon (USA)
Wadzanai Mhute (Zimbabwe)
Ivan Gabriel Rehorek (Australia)
Ovo Adagha (Nigeria)- OUR LEADER!!!!
Jhumpa Lahiri (USA)

(Yahoo for us!!)

Monday, November 10, 2008

10 Things NOT to Do When Submitting Your Short Story

I have my second post up at Blood Red Pencil. Just a bit of advice for those sending short stories out. Hope it's helpful.

Sarah the Scapegoat

The Republican Party in a bid to breathe life into their moribund campaign roped in the Alaskan governor. They wanted to divert the public’s attention away from the Obama Magic that was blinding people after the Democratic Convention. They thought they could hoodwink the American people. She would snatch up the disgruntled Hilary voters. She would snag the far right who were alienated by John McCain’s centre position. She did all of that. Now they want to hang her out in the wind to be bashed around like a piñata to try and get people to believe that the problem of their party is just this little add-on that can be excised with a slice of a sharp knife. Not quite, folks. The Republican Party’s problems lie far deeper and sorting them out will likely have tsunami like repercussions.

Now it’s all about leaking tit bits to Fox. She couldn’t name the countries in Africa, wasn’t even sure we weren’t one big country. Yeah so? I doubt George W knows eight years after being commander –in-chief and certainly didn’t know at the start of his first term.

Watching all of this is sickening. The question I keep asking myself is “Would they be doing this if she were a man?” The answer is a resounding “No!”. She was pulled out of the Arctic to trump up a campaign that was dead in the water. She did it at quite a significant personal expense to herself and her family. I am no fan of Sarah Palin and her right wing fringe perspective, but I do think she is being treated abysmally. Where is the magnanimous John McCain now? Why can’t he step in and stand up for her? Why can’t he sort out his undisciplined team, members who are too cowardly to step forward in the light of day with their ‘information’, but instead whisper it anonymously into phones in the dark of night. Shame on them!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

News from Sunday Standard

Anybody who lived in Botswana in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s knows the book Love on the Rocks by Andrew Sesenyi. It was a Romeo and Juliet story of love between two characters from different classes; Moradi, the wealthy young city woman, and her poor village boyfriend, Pule Nkgogang. The book was published by Macmillan as part of its Pacesetters Series. It was a set book in schools in Botswana for many years and, according to the MC at last weekend’s launch of Charmiane Muirs’ short story collection Tapestry, where Andrew Sesinyi was a speaker, it was also a set book in schools in other countries around the continent. Exciting news in what is fast becoming my favourite Sunday paper, Botswana’s Sunday Standard, is that Love on the Rocks will soon be a movie!

It has apparently been bought by Flame Power Multimedia a local production company. They have roped in a South African scriptwriter, Marina Bekker, to write the script, keeping Mr. Sesinyi on as a consultant. According to Thuso Oitsile the CEO for Flame Power Multimedia, they have an estimated budget of P20 million and are busy fundraising. It appears Botswana Tourism may be one of the funders having made a precedent with the Mma Ramotswe film.

The other very exciting thing in today’s Sunday Standard is a new column on all things creative by Tiro Sebina, University of Botswana English Academic, well known poet, and someone who is always exceptionally supportive of Batswana writers, and this Motswana writer in particular. It is not clear, but it appears to be entitled ‘Culture of the Ordinary’. He defines the column as being “part of a bigger narrative” about the daily struggle for survival and the writer’s obligation to ensure “that the future is more congenial”. He believes that “the struggle for a better tomorrow is also a cultural struggle”.

Mr. Sebina says, “In these hard times of moral degeneration, our communities need plenty of technicians of the heart and engineers of compassion. As a society we need more not fewer writers.” (Yeah Tiro!!)

He promises to devote part of each column to advice for creative writers.

In what I believe is the first instalment of the column, he speaks about characterisation and how to get to know your characters. His advice? “Learn to live with them. If you let them they may guide you to shape better stories. Care about your characters, even those characters who abuse and hurt others need to be loved enough to be understood.”

I look forward to Mr. Sebina’s future column and applaud Sunday Standard for providing space for this type of literary advice.

Friday, November 7, 2008

It Only Takes One Person

(Because of him)
for Selma

Carlos walks through the metal detectors while suspicious-eyed, white police officers dismiss him with one look. A gang banger. A wet back. Another mouth to feed with hard earned tax money. The heavy cold judgement hammers him another inch into the ground, the ground threatening to hold him where he is, to keep him from the clouds where he knows he belongs. What the white eyes don’t know, what the circumstances can’t uncover, is that Carlos holds one thing they can’t touch with their pronouncements about him. His hand grips tightly around his own small bit of hope. He will not let go of it.

Benjamin, the teacher, drags himself to the front of the class, the friction from the futility of it beats at him. What’s the use? A class of brown, black, and yellow faces, single mothers, poor neighbourhoods, drugs, knives, guns, hopelessness- what chance did any of them have? But he spies a slim chance. A sliver of a space that will allow them to pass if only they can see it, if they can fit through. He has hope that in each passing from here to there, the space is widened allowing more to make their way. And so he tries again and again and again.

Black Diana has made bad choices to survive. Sharing beds for money, taking drugs to hide the reality of a life without a single door leading out. But she sees herself in the mirror, not the lined face of a middle aged woman battered into submission; it is the little girl she recognises there. The one she left behind. The one who dreamed of dancing until she was told, “Not for you”; the one who wanted her name in lights. She whispers to her, “I haven’t forgotten you.”

He was a skinny boy with a foreign father raised by a single mother. Not black enough, not white enough. Labels threatened to weigh him down and push him into the boxes they chose. He was intelligent, and that let him through, but many are intelligent, and they don’t move mountains. He was eloquent, but eloquence can be taught. He held something more valuable. He asked himself questions that only he could answer. And he didn’t shy away from the answers he found deep in his heart. He didn’t make excuses. He held his hope jealously and used it as a beacon through dark nights and darker days where the light revealed the obstacles ahead. He knew his destiny held more than those around him were able to imagine. He followed what he knew to be true.

Carlos, Ben and Diana stand in the crowd of hundreds of thousands, their hearts quivering in their chests, recognising themselves in the faces around them. They’ve all made a pilgrimage in search of validation.

He stands before them, speaks, and suddenly those handfuls of hope held in brown, black, yellow, red, and white hands all over the world make sense. They are not silly dreams of ungrounded people without their practical feet stuck in the concrete of reality. They are now the paths to a day written in the stars and across the universe. It is easy to see now; those handfuls of hope are the wings that will set each of them free.

Hope empowering hope; the chain reaction has started

and it cannot be stopped.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Writers Association of Botswana (WABO) Gets New Blog!!

The Writers Association of Botswana (WABO)has a new blog. Please visit and learn all about literary events happening in Botswana. Comment with your feelings about the state of bookish things in Botswana, in Africa in the world at large. We invite everyone to be part of it!!

(I'm the vice chair of WABO)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An Historic Day

When we got married, we decided that we would live in Botswana. I knew I couldn't bear to see my black husband subjected to the racism that is endemic in America, nor let my brown children be told that they could only go so far.

I'm not naive enough to think that the racism will be wiped away with today's election results, but it does mean that the majority of Americans have laid down the gauntlet and said- No More. It does mean that all people of colour in America have a thin path cut out for them, a path that never existed before Obama. That is a huge thing.

A great man has entered centre stage and I for one am expecting great things.

(And I'm relieved I can finally stop telling people I was born in Armenia- that Armenian accent has been tough to maintain)

An African son is now taking up residence of the White House............Yaoza!!!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Launch of The Seed Children

The launch of The Seed Children was everything I thought it would be. Unfortunately my camera went crazy and I have no pictures. There is a great article by Gasebalwe Seretse in this week's Mmegi Monitor with a picture of the author dressed as Mother Nature at the beginning of the performance. It starts out quite scary with a stern message to audience regarding our abuse of nature.

Bonty's books focus on different aspects of Botswana's natural and cultural heritage. This one is about children who defy the taboo of eating the seeds of wild fruits and become transformed into trees themselves.

Bonty uses very talented unemployed youth from her home Maun to put on the performance. The costumes, the music, the dances - they were all fantastic. She's made a DVD of the show. So please- anyone looking for a great Botswana-made performance for your next writers festival or book fair or even an environmental event (the book and performance have a strong environmental theme) contact Bonty at This year she had a choir in the show and the kids had shades of the stupendous Soweto Gospel Choir- and these are not trained singers. Amazing!!

The illustrations in the book were also top notch. I met the young illustrator, Debra Stein, an untrained artist, South African, also living in Maun (Does Bonty give back to her community or what?). The paintings are truly beautiful. Here is one of my favourites:
Wonderful stuff coming out of Botswana- heh????

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mmele and the Magic Bones Out!!

My children’s book, Mmele and the Magic Bones is out. I received copies on the weekend. Yeah!!

The book was short listed for UK Macmillan’s African Writers Prize in the junior section earlier this year. It is about the quest of a boy, Mmele, and his dog, Mpopi, who must travel to The Falls of Life and bring Mmele’s grandfather back from the Place of the Ancestors.

A fun, scary, exciting, adventure!!