I'm posting this on behalf of Paola...
‘Going’ Places, or ‘Getting’ There?
Living only one life,
in one town only,
one country only,
one universe only,
Living in only one world
This is the first stanza of a poem called ‘Prison’ by Ndjock Ngana, a Cameroonian poet who has been living in Italy for thirty years. I find it liberating, particularly if I am in one of those moods when I am tired of moving around and start longing for a ‘real home’.
As expats, migrants, travellers, pilgrims - whatever we like to call ourselves - we have all wandered from ‘home’, whether as children with itchy-footed parents, for family or employment reasons, or simply towards a sunnier future.
Experiencing a new culture is hugely enriching, broadening our minds, making us more flexible and tolerant, and less judgemental.
Just have a look at what Foreign Flavours has to offer: a melting-pot of inspired or experienced stories from the far reaches of our planet and beyond: quirky characters, nostalgia, dreams, relationships fraught with cross-cultural issues, earthquakes, linguistic misunderstandings, pain and joy - stories that would not have existed had their creators not travelled.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly rootless, I almost long for that secure prison described by Ngana. But the feeling doesn’t last. Each new posting, each new trip, is a challenge. I want to know what makes a people, a culture, a country tick. So I read. I read books set in, or about my host country. It helps me understand.
In Johannesburg I read ‘Laying Ghosts to Rest’ by Mamphela Ramphele. I had vaguely imagined the difficulties of moving forward in post-apartheid South Africa, but the book brought home the depth of the pain the country is still experiencing more than ten years on. One sentence haunts me: ‘The increasing brutality of violent crime in South Africa could in part be traced to tolerance of violence in the past.’
In Bangladesh I read Tahmima Anam’s ‘A Golden Age’. At boarding school I had done a lot of praying for Bangladesh during the 1971 liberation war, but knew next to nothing about the country. Little did I imagine that I would end up living there. The novel is a beautiful love story set against the backdrop of a country which emerged both shattered and victorious after the horrors of 1971, and now I understand why this war is at the forefront of every Bangladeshi’s mind - why the scars have not healed.
Rohinton Mistri’s ‘A Fine Balance’ has opened my mind to an India whose surface I had hardly scratched.
In my travels I have discovered poets such as Seamus Heaney in Ireland, Mario Benedetti in Uruguay, Derek Walcott in the West Indies - and now Djock Ngana.
Ngana, in another poem, called ‘Foreigners’, says
‘...they go to Africa
to live in Europe;
they go to Africa
but they never get there.’
My wish is that as ‘displaced’ writers we all really ‘get to’ our destination, and make the most of it.