Yes, as the headline says, the Africa Region finalists for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers' Prize were announced recently, and here in Accra, too! Not too surprisingly, I guess, as the Chair of the Africa Regional jury this year was Ajoa Yeboah-Afari, writer, journalist and most recently editor of The Ghanaian Times newspaper.
The Africa Region winners are:
- Best Book: The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (Sierra Leone)
- Best First Book: Happiness is a four-letter word by Cynthia Jele (South Africa)
There was pretty good coverage online here in Ghana, with stories on the Ghana Government website and also on Ghanaweb . OK, some of the headlines were a little unrealistic, or should I say overoptimistic, but still it is something.
And of course the more likely the books will become available to we omnivorous readers of contemporary African literature. I am not surprised at the choice of the Aminatta Forna book; it has had pretty good reviews. I guess I will just have to wait until the Jele book hits the international distribution circuit!
March 2011 Archives
Your donations have enabled us to help (with numerous partners, including CESRUD in Ghana, UgCLA in Uganda, Peace Corps volunteers and their families in Burkina Faso) establish eleven libraries in Burkina Faso, three in Ghana, and one each in Uganda and Tanzania.
More importantly, your donations help pay the monthly salaries of the librarians and reading coaches, the summer reading programs, the purchase of African novels, the regular training sessions, and reporting and institution-building that goes on in all these libraries. Visitors to all the libraries (or maybe almost all, we have our warts) are amazed at how well and normally they function, especially in comparison to government-run institutions.
We think this is the best thing your donations are helping us invest in: experienced personnel who are engaged in their villages, and have a long-term commitment to help students and grown-ups expand their reading horizons.
I'll repeat my mantra: For Burkina Faso, there are 8,000 villages, and as far as we know, only about 15 have libraries. There's a reason for FAVL. Thanks!
The Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), France's national library, has an entire department dedicated to children's literature: Centre national de la literature pour la jeunesse--La Joie par les livres). Viviana Quiñones, who works in its international section, very warmly welcomed us. First we had a nice exchange of the work of FAVL and BnF, then she gave us a detailed tour of the building (complete with an exclusive view of Paris from the 18th floor), the children's section, how to access BnF info via the web, plus a free entry into the temporary exposition "Gallimard (1911-2011) un siècle d'édition". It was an incredible visit and Viviana was so kind and welcoming. The fact that she gave more than 15 new children's lit books by different African authors for us to bring back was just the cherry on the pie.
We've been thinking about a lot of new ideas for activities to do with various age groups that will be different from the reading strategies taught in the summer camps. We're looking to organize two-week after school mini-camps with 4th-graders that will focus on the mechanics of reading words (phonics, pronunciation, syllables, etc) so that they will have a solid foundation for learning the comprehension skills that come later. We do have a lot of constraints that we need to work around in organizing these camps though - for example, our number one priority right now is doing inventory at all three libraries, a process which takes 2-3 days per library. We also need to renew our visas before the end of the month, so we are planning a trip to Burkina Faso for the 3rd week in March to visit some of the libraries there. So right now, we are looking to start up three evening programs with 5th graders, 6th graders, and 7th graders, respectively. We hope to combine reading activities, word games and puzzles, arts and crafts, phonics, creative thinking activities, and writing in these classes. We have so many ideas and not nearly enough time to do them all! We also need to figure out a way to recruit students for these activities - we were originally planning to visit the schools and talk to the headmasters and teachers, but it seems the teachers will be staging a protest on Tuesday, and it remains to be seen whether they will commit to a long-term strike over wages, benefits, etc. I'm having flashbacks to my time volunteering in Santiago, when I showed up for three weeks to volunteer at a high school, only to find the students and/or teachers on strike.
Le salon du livre de Paris s'est refermé ce soir. J'ai eu l'occasion d'y faire un tour cet après midi du lundi. Près d'une centaine de stands présentant un choix immense de livres francophones. J'ai plus particulièrement aimé le stand du Congo et de la Guinée qui proposaient de la littérature d'auteurs africains, et où je me suis volontairement attardé. Et, entre autre rencontres, j'ai eu celle de Bouba et Zaza, deux personnages africains ! Bouba et Zaza est une collection de livres illustrés, écrits en français et en anglais, pour enfants africains et qui traitent des questions dont l'explication aux enfants n'est pas toujours évidente. La gestion de l'eau, l'acceptation de la différence, le VIH/Sida sont entre autres thèmes abordés, simplement et de façon appropriée à la compréhension du jeune lectorat.
C'est une heureuse initiative qui fait sa première présentation au Salon de Paris. Mademoiselle N'Guessan une responsable du stand m'a présenté le catalogue des 16 minis livres de la collection et m'a offert un exemplaire qui, j'en suis sûr, sera très apprécié dans la bibliothèque FAVL qui en serait l'heureuse bénéficiaire. Et bonne nouvelle ! Nous recevrons gratuitement, toute la collection de Bouba et Zaza dans les semaines à venir, au profit des Bibliothèques de Villages au Burkina Faso.
Pour une première participation au salon du livre de Paris, je pense que c'est une manifestation qui va au delà de ce que peut imaginer un burkinabè qui ne connait de salon de livre que celui de Ouagadougou (FILO)! Pour les amoureux du livre et de la littérature francophone en général, c'est le rendez-vous par excellence à ne pas manquer !
J'ai lu un excellent article dans Le Pays d'hier, qui traite de la lecture au Burkina Faso. Voici un extrait :
"Moi, je peux en parler aisément parce que j'ai une bibliothèque honorable (des gens ont même dit que ces bouquins m'ont rendu fou ; ils ne savent pas). Quand leur professeur de français leur donne un exposé, ils défilent chez moi pour négocier les romans africains ... C'est vrai que les bibliothèques manquent cruellement dans les quartiers, que les maisons d'édition se meurent et que les centres de lecture en province se ferment ... Peut-être que le gouvernement peut tenter de résoudre tous ces problèmes. Mais lui sera-t-il possible de redonner le goût de la lecture aux plus jeunes sans le concours de leurs parents ? Ouais ! Il ne faut pas demander ça à l'Etat. Tout se tient dans cette affaire en fait. Chez nos ancêtres les Gaulois, de nombreux livres sortent chaque année parce que les Français lisent beaucoup aussi... Mais, en histoire - géographie, j'étais fort au lycée. Et je me souviens que toutes les révolutions industrielle, économique et politique sont parties d'idées exposées dans des livres. Donc, les livres ne sont pas l'apanage des ringards et des gars qui ont du temps à perdre. Pendant qu'on y est, au lieu de donner un gadget à votre enfant pour son anniversaire, pourquoi ne pas lui offrir un joli livre bien illustré qu'il gardera en souvenir ?"
Llire la suite dans Le Pays, "la chronique du fou"
This context makes is difficult for FAVL to realize one of its objectives, which is gradual "turning over" of responsibility of managing libraries to local mayors, and concentrating on program support services for the libraries. The mayors just aren't seeing increases in their budgets and capacities. So our commitment is to ensure continued operations of the eleven libraries now operating in Burkina Faso. We hope you will continue to contribute!
- Crossword puzzles with several CE2 students. The puzzles were not easy for the students because they did not know how to start horizontally or vertically. So, together we did one until they understood how to do it. The puzzles were on verb conjugations.
- Spelling tests. We used a school text book in the library to do the spelling tests. It was easy for the students; they did not make very many mistakes
- Hopscotch alphabet. This allowed children to play hopscotch while practicing the alphabet and words that start with each letter. The children really liked this game and worked together to find words
- Sound Workshop with young students to practice the pronunciation of letters and words. The children enjoyed the activity and showed that they have much capacity in this activity.
- Debate on the activities of both men and women and what they do. After a long discussion we came to the following conclusion: No matter if you are a man or a woman, both are able to do anything. In other words, activities that men do can also be done by women. The only difference between man and woman is that it is the woman who gives birth.
- We did a reading activity using the small books that Elisee sent us. The children each chose one book among the 16 booklets available, read it, and shared the story with the others. The children were really interested by this activity.
- Educational discussion on hygiene with 15 CE2 and CM1 students. The students had to answer my question "What must we do before we eat?"
J'ai eu l'occasion de regardez "Paris mon paradis" un documentaire de la Burkinabè Eléonore Yaméogo, qui décrit la misère des immigrés africains dans la ville de Paris. Des témoignages poignants et à visage découvert, révélant la vraie vie de beaucoup d'africains qui, arrivés à Paris ont été confrontés à la dure réalité. Des africains qui ont quitté leur "pauvreté" pour se retrouver dans une misère totale à Paris.
I had the opportunity to see "Paris mon paradis" (Paris, My Paradise), a documentary by Burkinabè Eleanor Yaméogo describing the plight of African immigrants in Paris. Poignant, with the subjects' uncensored faces revealing the true lives of many Africans who arrived in Paris forced to face the harsh reality. Africans who have left their "poverty," only to find themselves in total misery in Paris.
Wikipedia has a nice review and background of the novel.
Rage registration; And they're off!!
and happy walkers! ;
Em handing 6K champ Ronald his prize
This morning FAVL organized its first annual Race for Reading. Overall, it went well.
We were nervous about how it would go considering the massive demonstrations held yesterday just a few streets away. The race was supposed to start at 8 am. but by 7:50 only three people had signed up. The U.S embassy truly saved the day, however, when at 8 a large van pulled up with a dozen embassy workers. A few more participants trickled in and the race began at 8:15 with a total of 25 participants.
It's hot season in Burkina, so we made sure to have three stands with ice cold water and bananas. It was definitely a jovial, non-competitive atmosphere with participants of all ages running and walking. We also had a small table set up to showcase and publicize FAVL. At the end we handed out prizes (certificates to restaurants, hotel pools, etc) to the 1st 6K finisher, 1st 3K finisher and the 1st youth to finish.
We only made about $100 from the race, but considering we just spent $10 to organize it, we still made a nice profit. The money, in addition to funds we receive from tonight's Jungle Party, will go toward all nine FAVL libraries in Burkina Faso.
We were a little disappointed, as we were hoping to have 50 to 100 runners. We were at the park by 6:30 to set up and saw nearly 50 people going in and out of the park to do their morning exercise, people who were clearly not too interested in the race. While we highly publicized the event via internet and posted race flyers at the park, we unfortunately attracted few Burkinabe. (Though a big thanks to Elisee's friend Jaques and Peace Corps staff member Diallo for participating!) A couple expats even suggested that we should increase the registration fee, but we're determined to keep it at 1,000 cfa to enable everyone to participate.
So overall, pretty good. After the race everyone felt tired but good and participants thanked us for organizing the event, saying they would definitely participate in any future Race for Reading. An embassy staff member who works as their communications person said she'd help us publicize any upcoming FAVL events.
This is definitely something we will do again and in fact we are already thinking of organizing the 2nd Race for Reading come September/October, when the RWA group is here. The day is still not done...tonight is the Jungle Party, which should be a fun and laid back event that will hopefully bring in some more funds for FAVL.
One day last March, students crammed into the Great Hall at the University of Ghana to hear Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born billionaire who built one of the first mobile-phone networks in Africa. In his speech, he noted that while Africa is a very rich continent, it has the poorest people on earth. He blamed this state on "a catastrophic failure of leadership and governance...too many dictators, too many megalomaniacs, too many thieves, who bled this continent for their personal and family interest." Ibrahim, who is sixty-four years old, is often hailed as a hero in Africa. His mobile-phone company, Celtel, contributed to the development of civil society across the continent, and he's now spending the money he earned to try to change the values of the dictators, megalomaniacs, and thieves. Each year, he offers the Ibrahim Prize, which bestows five million dollars on an African leader who is elected to office, promotes democracy, does not steal from the people, and cedes power peacefully. He has also created the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, a numerical ranking of Africa's fifty-three governments.That is Ken Auletta in The New Yorker. The profile is pretty good; I started thinking Grace Kelly when I saw the photos of Ibrahim, pipe in hand, on his balcony overlooking Monaco... Several years ago I nominated Ibrahim to receive the annual Global Humanitarian Award from the Tech Awards of the San Jose Tech Museum. Somewhat to my chagrin the award was presented to Queen Rania of Jordan. I think Mo Ibrahim would have been the better choice.
SANOU Dounko, FAVL's regional activities coordinator, has just returned from the Pobé-Mengao Library, where he spent two weeks training Béléhédé's future librarian. A detailed report will follow shortly but here is a quick account of his time in Pobé:
Du 25 mars au 10 février 2011 j'ai séjourné à Pobé-Mengao pour former KOUNDABA Alou, futur bibliothécaire de Béléhédé, et pour renforcer les capacités d'animations de celui de Pobé-Mengao . « La formation s'est très bien passé, » a dit le bibliothécaire de Béléhédé à la fin de la formation. Il est satisfait et reconnait avoir reçu toutes les notes nécessaires pour gérer et animer sa bibliothèque. Quant à KONFE Hamidou, bibliothécaire de Pobé, il reconnait avoir reçu un acquis complémentaire.
C'est avec un regret que j'ai quitté la localité pour des raisons de services dans la zone du Tuy. Les lecteurs qui étaient en ambiance permanent, ne voulaient pas que je les laisse. Il faut noter que pour ma part, j'ai été bien reçu par la communauté, le gérant et les lecteurs. Entre nous bibliothécaires nous avons échangé sur d'autres sujets, sur nos coutumes et nos communautés respective dans une ambiance de parfaite convivialité, pendant nos heures de repos.
From March 25th to February 10th 2011, I stayed in Pobé-Mengao to train KOUNDABA Alou, Béléhédé's future librarian, and to help improve the Pobé librarian's skills organizing and running library activities. "The training went very well," said Béléhédé's librarian. He is satisfied and acknowledges having received all the necessary training to manage and run his library. As for Hamidou, Pobé's librarian, he says that he has acquired many new skills.
It is with much regret that I left the village of Pobé to return to my post in the Tuy Province. Readers who participated in the library activities did not want me to leave. Note that for my part, I was well received by the community, the librarian and library visitors. Between the librarians we discussed several subjects, our respective customs and communities, in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere during our hours of rest.
Yesterday as Emilie and I made the rounds to pick up prizes for the Race 4 Reading and Jungle Party fundraisers, we stopped by a small restaurant called La Naza and were so impressed by the owner we felt we had to throw up a blog post.
La Naza is a small, non-descript restaurant on a quiet side street in a tucked away corner of Ouaga that seems almost impossible to find unless you set out specifically to find it, which is fortunately just what we set out to do. What makes La Naza unique amongst the countless small roadside eateries here in the capital is that all of its offerings are vegetarian. The menu has the same familiar offerings as most of its competitors (rice, couscous, fries), but instead of meat, the dishes feature tofu and lentils. The stand-out item on the menu, and the one which drew us all the way from the other side of town, is the tofu brochette. While you can find meat-on-a-stick anywhere in Ouaga, I am pretty sure La Naza is the only restaurant in town that offers this delicious tofu variation. The tofu is covered with a peanut sauce and grilled with onions and zuchini, making it some of the most flavorful tofu I've ever had (that said, I should note I don't frequently order tofu, even in parts of the world where it is plentiful). It is by far one of the most delicious things I've eaten here in the past two years.
While the food itself is wonderful and novel, what really struck Emilie and me about La Naza was the establishment's owner, Christine Tabsoba. She came in to meet us and donate several prizes for the fundraisers (including certificates for free tofu brochettes). As she wrote out the certificates, Emilie and I couldn't refrain from bombarding her with questions about her restaurant. As far as either of us knows, La Naza is the only vegetarian restaurant in town, so we were intrigued to know the history of the place. Apparently Christine is part of an association that practices meditation and healthy living and learned about the health benefits of vegetarianism from a visiting guru several years back. Christine felt that more Burkinabe had to know about the benefits of eating healthfully, especially since the diet of the average Ouagalaise contains so much meat and carbs. She pressed the association to open a restaurant, and they suggested that she (wo)man the helm, which she finally did in 2004. Christine and her partners made the tofu by hand for several years, which was a somewhat difficult and time-consuming process, but a couple fo years back they were finally able to purchase a machine to do the hard part for them. Now they have more time to make deliveries all over town.
After Christine finished explaining the history of her association and restaurant, we asked her why they had chosen such an out-of-the-way location. Apparently they had another more central location when they opened, but for various reasons they were forced to move and their current spot was the best they could get, considering how difficult it is to find space in Ouaga. She is keeping her eye out for a place closer to Zone du Bois or Ouaga 2000, because La Naza has proven to be a big hit with the expat community (the first time I had teh brochettes was at a Peace Corps tree planting) and she and her staff spend a good deal of time driving across town to make deliveries to the expat enclaves. While she waits for a new spot to open up, Emilie and I have decided to change our exercise routines so that at least once a month, we will bike across town to reward ourselves with brochettes.
It seems we've had a lot against us. Sponsorships fell through so Race for Reading is being organized on a very tight budget. Despite all the recent news, the past few days have seemed relatively quiet here in Ouaga. Though today, students are expected to lead a mass demonstration. Unfortunately this has led to PC putting all volunteers on a temporary Stand-fast, meaning they cannot travel. So, volunteers who were planning on coming to participate in the race can no longer attend. In the meantime Charley and I have been running around like crazy to get different restaurants, hotels and stores to offer prizes for race winners and Jungle Party raffle winners.
Having said all this, we are really excited for tomorrow. We're expecting a good turnout and hopefully, if the race proves a success, we hope to make it an annual event.
The three day conference will be held in Aarhus, Denmark on June 19-21, 2011. Congratulations! Or better yet... "Tillykke"
(Luckily he doesn't worry about having to learn Danish...the conference is in English!)
The conference will involve speakers from across the globe, interactive sessions, creative workshops, study tours, and, most benefiting to Elisee and FAVL, networking!
Check out more information at http://nextlibrary.net/
Ouagadougou - Around 20 prisoners escaped in Burkina Faso on Monday after teenagers set four police stations on fire to protest against violent clashes that killed four students last month.
La situation reste toujours tendue en Côte d'Ivoire. Sur le front ouest, aucun combat n'a jusque-là été signalé ce mardi 8 mars 2011. En revanche à Abidjan, suite à une marche des femmes du RHDP, des violences ont été signalées cet après-midi à Treichville où quatre personnes ont été tuées. Le calme ne revient pas en Côte d'Ivoire alors que l'Union africaine se réunit jeudi à Addis-Abeba pour évoquer la crise.
OK here's the real deal: The theme of Mines is how tenuous life can be on the outside, from an objective point of view. But the underneath that tenuousness, inside it, in the heart, lies a rich commentary, a detailed and sharp monologue, a fine intelligence. By the end of the story, a prison guard is our friend for life, because we appreciate how she retains her humanity, her dignity, through her struggles.
BOUE Alidou, Dohoun
La bibliothèque villageoise de Dohoun est aujourd'hui à sa 5e année d'expérience. C'était un début difficile avec 136 livre et un personnel inexpérimenté. Même s'il reste encore beaucoup à faire, la bibliothèque a tout de même réussit à relever certaines difficultés qui sont:
-Augmentation des livres : 136 à 1.990
- Formation du gérant (gestions, animations)
- augmentation de la fréquentation : entre 600 à 1.000 lecteurs
- augmentation mensuelle des sorties de livres : 80 a 200 livre par mois
- Nombre d'abonnés annuel est passé de 100 à 280 abonnés.
The Dohoun village library is now in its fifth year. It was a difficult start with only 136 books and an inexperienced staff. Although there is still much to do, the library has surpassed several challenges including:
- Increase of books: 136 to 1,990
- Trainings (management, library activities)
- Increase in participation: between 600 to 1,000 visitors
- Increase in checked out books: 80 to 200 books per month
- Number of subscribers increased from 100 to 280
OUEDRAOGO Bibata, Koumbia
«La bibliothèque de Koumbia a connu beaucoup d'évolution de l'année 2008 à nos jours. L'augmentation des livres dans la bibliothèque, qui s'explique par les partenaires qui nous ravitaillent en livres. En suite la fréquentation des adultes a augmenté. Les camps de lecture permettent aussi l'augmentation des fréquentations. L'innovation des certaines activités avec l'utilisation du guide d'animation m'a permis d'être compétant en animation. Avec les enfants, lors des séances je suis très tranquille par contre au début j'avais très peur, surtout quand j'étais en face des enfants pour une activité. »
"The Koumbia library has seen many changes from 2008 to today. The number of library books increased, thanks to our partners who help purchase/donate books. The attendance and participation of adults has also increased. The reading camps have led to an increase in library visits. The innovation of new activities, by using the Activities Guide, allowed me to become proficient in animations at the library. With the children, I am very calm but at the beginning I was very scared, especially when I was in front of children for an activity. "
When part of the point of the film is precisely to celebrate the process of making the film, and the inclusion and learning that goes on, it seems somewhat unfair to launch into a critique. So I'll say that I enjoyed a lot of the film- nice visuals throughout, the first 30 min had great editing and attention to setting the scene, the soundtrack is excellent, the documentary footage of post-election violence is interesting... The story itself starts off pretty good, and the actor who plays Otieno is quite a screen presence... with a good story and more training he could be someone to watch! Go in with moderate expectations and you will be rewarded with a good 90 min. cinematic experience.
I promise this review will be shorter than my last, mostly because I just burned my hand making coffee and typing is rather unpleasant at the moment.
Last night I headed to CineWemtenga, the outdoor theater near our place, to see 3 short films submitted for the competition.
When the lights went down and the projector turned on, what I took to be the first film featured two old men playing checkers in some rural location. The two started discussing female circumcision (or, more aptly monikered, female genital mutilation). One of the two players appeared to be a maribout or religious leader, the other an important man of village. The latter began inquiring about what Islam has to say on the subject, to which the former replied that, as far as he knew, Islam didn't demand it and that it was an African tradition that predated Islam's arrival. Turns out the short was actually a PSA intended to dissuade Africans from continuing the tradition. The second short also turned out to be a FGM PSA, as did the third, fourth and fifth. All of them presented different scenarios and members of society (doctor/patient, boyfriend/girlfriend, teacher/students, women in the marketplace) and did a great job presenting counterarguments for the typical justifications for the practice. Pretty impressive.
What was less impressive was the actual first film of the night. "Drogba est mort," by Moussa DIARRA, was a brief vignette that depicted a young African street child, part of an Islamic school community, as he plays soccer by himself in a dump, dreaming of being a famous soccer player. There are some shots of kids begging, people ignoring traffic laws, children from the school with their ubiquitous tomato paste cans with which they beg for food and money, and then our hero gets hit by a car and dies. At the end of the film, as the las scene fades to black, cueing the somber music, we are presented with the message that, "Every year, thousands of tomato paste cans cross the Mediterranean Sea." I don't know if the film was supposed to be poignant, touching, cute, or just a quick view of an African cityscape, but whatever it was supposed to be didn't work for me, as I at least know it wasn't meant to be funny and it took all my effort to hold back my laughter at the end. Thankfully several Burkinabè women behind me started laughing, which at least made me feel that my response was somehow legitimate.
The next film was "Zebu and the photo fish," by Nyaruri ZIPPORAH, which was a bit longer and a bit better than the first. It presented the story of a precocious young boy whose family is in debt to a local merchant. To pay back the debt, the boy and his father must hand over their daily catch to the heartless merchant. The boy, piqued that his family can neither eat the fish nor sell it for themselves at the market, and worried about his sick mother who can't afford her medication, devises a scheme to pay back the debt while at the same time taking care of his family. The film wasn't wonderful, but it made me smile, which was good enough after the first film.
The final film of the evening was quite a bit longer than the other two and quite a bit better. "Soul boy," by Hawa ESSUMAN, was a modern fairly tale set in a Kenyan slum. It follows the adventures of a young boy who, in order to save the soul of his father, which has been taken by local witch, must complete 7 tasks before sunrise. The film, set in the largest slum in Nairobi, was a collective effort which teamed an established production company with local aspiring actors and filmmakers, whose training consisted of putting together this film.
My favorite element of "Soul boy" was the young hero's sidekick and foil, a young girl from the slum. She was strong and witty throughout, standing up to both older boys in the neighborhood, as well as her friend when he made unintentionally misogynistic comments. There's a great scene where they stumble upon a crowd watching a street performance, and they are called up to improvise the roles of a typical mother and father and their responsibilities regarding the upbringing of children. The boy holds a typical view that the welfare of the children is the mother's responsibility because the man must work and think of the future, which elicits stern rebuke from the young heroine. The boy, distracted by something going on in the background, runs off, leaving the crowd with a strong impression of who had the stronger argument.
It was really wonderful to see such a strong young female character who, while supporting the male protagonist, understands that he still holds some fairly typical chauvinistic attitudes that need some adjusting (and which she has no problem adjusting for him). I'm going to check out a few more films tonight, including "When China met Africa" which I've been looking forward to for a while, but I have a feeling that "Soul boy" may tie with "Donoma" for my favorite film at FESPACO. We'll see how the jury feels tomorrow at the presentation of the Etalon dor de Yennenga, the festival's grand prize.
One of the main problems with FESPACO is that there are so many films that it's hard to choose which ones to see. Fortunately this is one of the few problems for which I have no complaints.
After the opening ceremony this past Saturday evening and film tributes to African filmmakers who have passed away since the last installment of FESPACO, this year's films began showing on Sunday. I was fortunate enough to luck out on both of the films I picked rather randomly to go see, as both were thoroughly enjoyable (if, at times, depressing).
The first film I saw was showing in a neighborhood I wasn't all that familiar with. When I showed up I was immediately impressed with the theater itself. While I enjoy the cinema in our neighborhood, it is enjoyable for its very simplicity (long stone bench stadium-style seating, no concession booth other than a small stand selling cigarettes, and the best part - no roof so you can look up at the stars if your attention starts to drift from the film). The cinema in Neerwaya had a completely different atmosphere. Outside the theater there is a large, covered veranda where you can order food and drinks, secluded from the outside world by beautiful foliage all around the courtyard. The building itself had a large lobby with posters advertising local movies and such Hollywood fare as Salt and You, Me and Dupree. Inside viewers are treated to air-conditioning and comfortable, plush seats.
The film, Donoma, by Haitian filmmaker Djinn Carrénard, was apparently the result of a challenge the crew and cast set for themselves: make a feature film for under $200. The result was surprisingly good, if at times a little too conspicuously artsy for my taste. The narrative was a triptych of love/lust stories which presented sometimes touching, sometimes disturbing scenes of life in the Paris of poor/lower-middle class youth from mostly immigrant families. The acting was superb all around and quickly drew your attention away from the production itself (if I had to choose a best actor/actress, I think I'd have to say Salomé Blechmans took the prize), which with a budget of $200, was obviously rather raw. While I didn't always buy the scenarios the characters found themselves in (a charged student/teacher relationship which explodes rather suddenly in an after-school sexual encounter, for instance, or the Ghanaian photographer who decides to choose her next boyfriend by closing her eyes, taking a photo in the metro, and then bringing the subject home for a month of pantomime of new love), their interactions and relationships were honest and passionately presented. I could have used without the artistic flairs, such as long scenes without audio or visuals, or the supernatural touches of stigmata and levitation which to me just seemed gimmicky. Overall though, a thoroughly enjoyable and at times deeply moving film - I already find myself missing the characters and wondering what they're up to in Paris while I'm stuck here in Ouagadougou.
Since I don't usually see more than a couple of films per year in a movie theater, I certainly wasn't
planning on seeing two in one day, but the friends I went with wanted to check out the evening offering at the French Cultural Center, so I reluctantly tagged along. We purchased tickets, enjoyed a light meal at the Center's courtyard restaurant, stood in line, and were informed at the door that the film was invitation-only. While I took that as a sign to go home to bed, my friends took it as further
evidence of Burkina's poor-planning and implementation of FESPACO and went back to the ticket booth, where the FESPACO staff proceeded to tell us it wasn't their fault for selling us tickets to a film we weren't invited to, but that it was the Cultural Center's fault for not understanding that their invititational screening wasn't supposed to be exclusive. After some discussion between the FESPACO staff and the Cultural Center staff, we were allowed to wait until all of the invitees were seated and then see if there were any seats left. There were.
While I hadn't been particularly looking forward to the film (London River by Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb), I'm glad that I went. The film followed two parents searching for their children in the aftermath of 2005's bombings in London. Both parents lived far from London, a British mother in Guernsey and a West African father in rural France, and had nothing in common until their solitary searches for their children led them to the discovery that their children had been dating and taking Arabic classes together at a London mosque. The film was tightly focused on the search for lost loved ones and the discovery of common ground in a world quickly realizing how small and interconnected it is; there were no secondary stories or subplots and almost the entire film was spent following the parents from home to London and from police station, to vacant apartment, to mosque, to hospital.
While this could have quickly made for tedious viewing, the parents' emotional journey carried the burden of such a simple plot and I never got tired of watching the father's slow, stolid striding through a city whose language he doesn't speak or the mother's frantic discovery of a cultural world she doesn't know and therefore fears (one of the funniest scenes in the film, of which there are a surprising number, is when the mother goes to the school where her daughter was taking Arabic classes and asks the teacher, "I don't understand. Why would my daughter be learning Arabic? Arabic? Who even speaks that?" to which the instructor calmly looks around the room and gently responds, "Why, all of us do."). Though there were no surprising plot twists (unless the end was supposed to be surprising, in which case the film did have a rather serious flaw), no special effects, and not much change of pace or scenery, I was absorbed by and devoted to the characters' search from the first scenes to the last. And while the story of cross-cultural acceptance, even without understanding, in the post-September 11th world has been told many times and by now often comes across as trite, the director and cast offered it up with so much touching humility and honesty that I just about forgot how much these types of stories tend to irk me. Very well-done.
Hopefully the length of this post will hide the fact that I have yet to see any other films (I was out of town visiting a friend and just got back last night), though I plan to rectify that tonight, even if I don't opt for a double-header this time.
One that I recently saw and thoroughly enjoyed was Moloch Tropical by Haitian director Raoul Peck (director of Lumumba). The film revolves around the president of Haiti's last 24 hours before his fall. A fictional film, but realistic and very fitting considering the current political protests going on in countries across the world.
The film's entirety takes place at the isolated castle of the president, who is preparing for a big celebration at his palace while outside, all hell is breaking loose.
Jean de Dieu, Haiti's fictional president, is drunk on power. He's a pathetic yet violent man whose completely in denial. "I love my country. I love my people and they love me," he says while TVs in the background show violent civilian uprisings, burning flags and protesters chanting to bring down the president. As the film progresses, so does the president's delirium. By the end he's comparing himself to the Messiah, Charles de Gaulle, Julius Caesar and even Joan of Arc; refusing to step down despite everyone close to him telling him otherwise. The film may be fictional, but while watching it one can't help but think of the current situations in countries like the Ivory Coast, Libya and Egypt and make comparisons. During several of Jean de Dieu's crazy rants, I swear I saw Kadafi.
The film is only about 90 minutes yet the slow pace seems to drag the film out at times. The director does, however, throw in several hilarious scenes to keep you interested. (All I can say is that the majority of the characters are incredibly sexually frustrated!). The film may revolve around the president's last 24 hours but it still would have been nice to film some scenes outside the castle walls.
This is definitely an interesting political satire, filmed in Creole, French and English. If you have the opportunity to see this film, it's worth seeing, though I wouldn't necessarily go out of my way to find it.
Here's the interview: Haroun Mahamat Saleh: «Je commence à être très déçu par le Fespaco»
H.M.S. : C'est-à-dire qu'il n'y a pas d'exigence dans la sélection. C'est le seul festival qui ne va pas chercher les films, il faut lui envoyer les films. Donc il n'y a pas un désir de chercher ce qui se fait. Et du coup, on attend tranquillement, en bon fonctionnaire, qu'on nous envoie les films, et à partir de ce moment-là on les sélectionne.
RFI : Vous n'allez pas vous faire que des amis, en disant ça.
H.M.S. : Non, je ne cherche pas à me faire des amis, parce que j'ai toujours été un solitaire. Et puis, on a besoin de débats en réalité. Face à certaines situations il faut bien parler. On ne peut pas « se la jouer à l'Africaine ». En fait, cette tradition consiste à être en permanence dans le non-dit et à planter des couteaux dans le dos.
We constructed a corpus of digitized texts containing about 4% of all books ever printed. Analysis of this corpus enables us to investigate cultural trends quantitatively. We survey the vast terrain of 'culturomics,' focusing on linguistic and cultural phenomena that were reflected in the English language between 1800 and 2000. We show how this approach can provide insights about fields as diverse as lexicography, the evolution of grammar, collective memory, the adoption of technology, the pursuit of fame, censorship, and historical epidemiology. Culturomics extends the boundaries of rigorous quantitative inquiry to a wide array of new phenomena spanning the social sciences and the humanities.
March 1st, 2011 marked Peace Corps' 50th year of existence. A nice celebration was held in the garden at the Mayor of Ougadougou's office. There were speeches by the Mayor, Peace Corps' Country Director, The U.S. ambassador and the president of Friends of Burkina Faso. Volunteers, PC staff and all Peace Corps partners (including FAVL) were in attendance.
The event was a great opportunity to meet and greet and publicize FAVL. It's a good thing Elisee was there then, because my priority revolved around the free food and drinks. While I was busy chasing down the waiters carrying trays of delicious appetizers and stuffing my face, Elisee was busy chatting with the Mayor about FAVL and inviting him to our upcoming Race for Reading. This led to the Mayor asking him to set up a meeting with him so that he could hear more details. Elisee also met with a couple journalists that were in attendance to try to get some publicity during Race for Reading.
"I think that having the library in my village is a good thing for all students and especially for me. I come to the library to check out novels, to read, to improve my French, to have a good command of French vocabulary, to learn about current affairs, to get ideas for my future and improve my knowledge of spelling and grammar. By reading, I found that I have improved my French written language. "
2) « Je viens à la bibliothèque pour lire car c'est important pour moi de lire. En lisant ca me mène a la découverte de beaucoup de choses, et aussi ca enrichir mon français...en lisant je rencontre des mots qui enrichisse mon vocabulaire. »
"I come to the library to read because reading is important to me. By reading, I can discover many things and improve my French... by reading I discover new words that enrich my vocabulary."
- Domboué Hakani, 5e2
3) « Je viens à la bibliothèque pour apprendre a lire et a écrire correctement les mots sans faire une faute...quand j'ai fini de lire, j'essaye de comprendre ce que le livre veut dire. Aussi je viens chercher un mot dans le dictionnaire français ou anglais »
"I come to the library to learn how to read and how to write words correctly without making a mistake ... when I finish reading, I try to understand what the book means. I also come to look up words in the French or English dictionary."
-Coulibaly Sidiki 5eB
4) « J'aime lire et venir à la bibliothèque parce que c'est un endroit tranquille...ici a la bibliothèque il y a de l'ordre. Tandis qu'a la maison c'est différent les enfants me dérange et surtout quand il y a du dolo à vendre c'est encore pire, le bruit des bavards me gène. »
"I love to read and come to the library because it is a quiet place ...there is order in the library. Whereas at home it is different, the children bother me and when there is dolo for sale it's even worse, the noise of the customers bothers me. "
-Malo Charlotte, 3e