Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Greetings from Lagos!!

I'm in Lagos Nigeria at the Farafina Trust Workshop. Though I'm a writer, I can't quite find the right words to use to describe how great this workshop is. Our teacher/goddess is Chimamanda Adichie. I've joined her cult. She is amazing in so many ways- beautiful, humble, generous, laser intelligent, fantastic teacher and very, very funny. I'm having a series of epiphanies about my writing that started with the reading of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao a couple weeks ago and being reinforced by what I'm learning here. I know the writer me that returns to Botswana in a few weeks will be different from the one that left six days ago (is it only six days?), I suspect the person me won't be the same either.

The other amazing part of this workshop is the talented, interesting participants. This morning for one of our writing exercises I wrote the small passage below:

She speaks of fingering and blow jobs and I think of differences. If I think back some weeks ago when I sat in my wintry office in Botswana and got the news I would be going to Lagos, to Nigeria, it seems a mental year ago. I try to remember what I thought Nigerians would be like. Religious- ala Prophet Joshua. Loud. Patriarchal. Conservative. And, oddly, in my mind everyone wore green like their flag and their football team. I wasn’t sure it would be easy for me to find friends here, people I’d have anything in common with. In any case, it was all about the writing, I told myself. I was going to Nigeria to learn how to write properly and that was all that mattered.

And the beautiful, sexy but somehow still innocent Buchi speaks about anal sex and nipple touching and I think about difference and actually, maybe more than that, similarities. Nigerians, I find, are very liberal, more than most Batswana, and free to speak about anything, and everything. In five days I’ve had conversations about sex and HIV/AIDS, the obsoleteness of the male species, discussions about politics and the adrenaline rush of being part of a mad mob. Crazy, free conversations like those I have at home with my husband and kids and friends. I expected to find strangeness here, but I was wrong, and the hope that has given me, may end up being the most valuable thing I take home.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Last Night's Lunar Eclipse of my Mind

Last night I braved the cold to watch the show put on by the cosmos. Excuse the photo, it was taken with my iPhone. I knew it wouldn't be any good, I just wanted a record that I was there.

For me the most interesting part was seeing the shadow of earth on the surface of the moon. I was, in a different life, a science teacher and I understand (at least in a certain part of my mind) that we live on one of the planets in our solar system. We have one sun and one moon. I understand how those bodies move around. But something shifted in me when I saw the shadow of the edge of our planet up there on the moon. Suddenly I understood where I was. The reflection of our planet so far away up there gave me insight into this home of ours. Suddenly the ground on which I stood meant the same thing as the planet called earth. Seems simple and straight forward but until last night I didn't really get that.

I wondered last night if maybe that is what we all need to get true insight about ourselves, to see our reflection on someone or something else. We may think we know a lot of things about ourselves, but maybe we only know them to a limited extent. Perhaps the true definition and understanding of ourselves cannot be found within us, it must be found somewhere out there.

In Setswana culture there is something called botho. Botho is a term used to describe a mature, polite Motswana. A person who shows respect to others, who is disciplined, well mannered and courteous . You gain botho through your interactions with others. Perhaps botho is a bit like the shadow of earth on the moon.

Coming from a family with mental illness, I've never quite trusted the inside of my head. Sometimes I think that may be why I write. I trust words on the page. So if I get the words out of my untrustworthy mind and on the trustworthy page I can see what they mean, what I mean. Maybe that's a bit of the shadow on the moon too.

Perhaps I'm rambling. Just my thoughts after last night. What did you think about the eclipse and our shadow way up there?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Grass Suffers When The Elephants Fight

And so with one announcement from the unions, the strike is over. At the end of last week, things got scary with people in Gaborone breaking windows of shops and public buildings. The unions felt things were getting out of hand and called for the strike to end and for the civil servants to go back to work this past Monday. They got none of their demands.

In the meanwhile, workers lost almost two months pay. Essential workers who were striking were dismissed. They've been told they can re-apply for their jobs, but it is not clear if they will be re-hired at the same place they left or will be considered new workers.

The cost to the public of this strike is hard to know but likely huge.

And what about the fighters? President Khama wins. He has pushed the labour movement in this country back to the dark ages. A place where his rich friends in and outside of the country will be pleased to find it. If reports in the private media are to be believed, the IMF had been advising him not to give in to the unions' demands. No surprise there.

The union leaders? They still have their jobs, never lost a thebe of their salary. Hopefully they learned a lesson about hubris. They got excited by the support they had during the first ten days of the strike, and, without planning for the outcomes, extended it indefinitely, to their detriment. One can wonder which worker will put their faith in them again?

In the end, like always, the ones most unable to withstand the pain, must be the ones that bear it completely.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Who's in the Driver's Seat? Authors!

Yep, that's the truth. For us writers here in Botswana it may not seem that way, but worldwide publishers are accepting what they thought worked no longer does and that the sinking or the swimming of any given title is back in the hands of the author.

The author must organise their own readers, their own platform. And as Jane Friedman said in a recent interview, if you start doing that once the books is published it is too late. It will be seen as an insincere marketing tool and will fall flat. You need to build up relationships with your readers over a long period of time.

Publishers are scrambling now to see where they fit in the new publishing world. This excellent article asks what most of us have already asked ourselves:

And that’s why more authors are asking: If publishers don’t know what they’re doing and rely on the author to sell their own books, why should authors endure the long, frustrating, seemingly impossible job of finding a literary agent and selling your book to a commercial book publisher?

I'm not saying everyone should self publish, what I am saying is that we have all sorts of choices. The choices we make are not set in stone. You can publish one book with a traditional publisher, the next you can self-publish.

But don't be deceived into thinking every thing is now an easy walk in the park- it's not. No matter which path you choose, the success you get will be almost directly equal to the work you put in.

There are no rules and you are in the driver's seat. The only problem is that most writers are still stuck thinking they're sitting in the back seat being driven by their publisher to a destination only the publisher knows. It's time for a mental shift.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cyber Friends

Today on Facebook someone spoke about a friend they'd met on the internet. The friend had been very encouraging and when this person had some news, he'd sent this friend an email only to get an email back from the friend's wife saying he'd died in a car accident a few days before. The man was shaken by this, by the death of his friend who he'd never actually met. It got me thinking about cyber friends.

I've had a few cyber friends who just vanished. When I first got internet and started being serious about my writing a met a man at Writers Weekly who became my friend. He was also just starting out as a writer and we started communicating. He was very helpful and I relied on him for advice on many things about writing. But then suddenly he disappeared. I never found out what happened to him, though I often think about it.

Some think cyber friendships can't be as important as flesh and blood ones, but I'm not sure about that. I have quite a few cyber friends who I care about. Some I've gone on to meet in person like Colleen Higgs, Tania Hershman, Vanessa Gebbie, Sue Guiney, Fiona Snyckers, and there are many others. Because of my isolation from other writers, the internet is where I find other writers to discuss this business with. Those discussions are very important to me.

I suppose there are people who show a completely false side of themselves on the internet. I've not had much experience with that, but I've heard the stories. Mostly I've met bright, interesting engaged people, the sort of people I would seek out in my flesh and blood life. My life is fuller thanks to my cyber friends, and I'm grateful for that.

What do you think? Are your cyber friends as important as your flesh and blood ones?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Up the Gear to Wild Wonderful!

So I've been already getting very excited about going to London for the Caine activities. Travel plans are getting sorted. I've booked tickets for Mr K. The 11th of July, the day of the Caine Awards Ceremony, is also our 20th wedding anniversary, so I wanted us to be together. I already missed Valentine's Day when I went to London for the LSE talk in February, so I couldn't miss our anniversary too, especially such an important one.

So like I said, I was getting crazy excited about London and I completely forgot that I had applied for the Farafina Trust workshop in Lago Nigeria. And then I remembered all of a sudden because I got an email yesterday that I was among the 20 writers (out of 400) chosen to attend! How crazy is that! And luckily it doesn't clash with London. The workshop is from the 22nd June until the 2nd of July. I'll go straight from Lagos to London since the Caine things start 5 July. I come back to Botswana on the 15 July. Lots of travelling and wonderful literary things to feed my brain. I can't believe how lucky I am.

The Farafina Trust is a nonprofit organisation that promotes reading and writing and the literary arts. The workshop is run by Orange Prize winner Chimamanda Adichie. This year other teachers include Malaysian writer Tash Aw, American Faith Adiele and Kenyan Caine Prize winner and founder of Kwani! Binyavanga Wainaina, a real all-star cast. I'm so excited and I'm sure this workshop is going to help me to push my writing up a notch or two.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Botswana Civil Service Strike June 1st

Yes the strike is still on. Essential services workers (including nurses, doctors) were ordered to go back to work, they didn't and they've been fired, about 1500 of them. Schools re-opened yesterday and temporary teachers have been brought in, from where I don't know since now none of my children are in school, one is at university one waiting to hear about university. Also the government is taking a "no work- no pay" attitude so the striking civil servants received no pay this month. This is having a ripple effect through the entire country since most civil servants support many other people on their pay cheque. Businesses are suffering as well.

The unions dropped their demands from a 16% wage increase to 3% with the condition that workers be paid during the strike and essential workers that have been fired be re-hired. The government said no.

Meanwhile President Khama has sent his cabinet members out to the kgotlas around the country to try and get the government's position regarding the strike to the people. In most instances the ministers have met with near empty kgotlas or have been heckled. In Mahalapye yesterday Vice President Merafhe attempted to speak and people got up and left.

Today in Mogoditshane a similar thing happened. The workers then marched from there to Gaborone to the Civic Centre. As I write this (it is almost 7 pm) there are rumours that the workers are considering marching to State House. They've built a bonfire at the Princess Marina Circle, it's very cold tonight.

Despite propaganda being issued from the government the strike is weakening, it is getting stronger and because of the President's obstinacy and refusal to discuss the issue with the unions ( a position contrary to the Setswana culture of consultation) many are calling for him to resign. Opposition parties are capitalising on the situation. And still the government digs its heels in.