I am starting a series of beginnings through various media; alternative photography, short films and text. As far as short films are concerned, “Out of the Box” will be the first one out (of a larger box still, hahhahah) in connection with Soundscapes from the Sahel. What does this mean? It means that I am teasing out improvised beginnings of stories of fictional characters, inspired by my relatively large archive of photos. You know how it goes, when you suddenly look back at some photographs that you took years ago and you immediately reconnect with the time and place of the photo. But what if someone who does not know you nor the background of the photo would interpret what the story behind a particular photo is. That is what I want to play with. Stay tuned!
I finished two books recently: The Book of Khartoum – A City in Short Fiction edited by Raph Cormack and Mack Schmookler; and The Jungo, Stakes of the Earth by Abdel Aziz Baraka Sakin. The former is a collection of stories in a series named “A City in Short Fiction” and it is a very poetic ride and a peak in some contemporary Sudanese fiction. I would have appreciated an edition with longer excerpts though and I’m also asking: why, almost as a rule, are the original titles in literature translated from the Arabic so often missing? Anyway, if you know who is Mehdi, you will have a good time with these excerpts.
I am already missing Baraka Sakin’s novel. It’s one of those stories in which you hate to get closer to the finish because you would like the sesame-picking seasonal workers in al-Hillah, close to the Sudanese-Eritrean-Ethiopian border, to keep you company on and on. I had a few good laughs out loud with this book! The strength of this novel is in the way it is told, almost circularly with a hint of repetition on whatever strange topic or incident shakes the lives of these people.
“We headed back to the market, leaving Alam Gishi behind to get ready for her new job. It was noon, and the bank workers were hard at work. The bank would surely be up and running before the next agricultural season. Rumors were circulating that the bank was destined to change the map of wealth and power, and restructure production relations in favor of those in lower income brackets, small-scale farmers and the poor. It was meant to extend interest-free Islamic loans to every producer and farmer. Some analysts interpreted the word “producer” to be an all-inclusive term that embraced literally everyone, without exception. Based on that analysis, it included, without limitation, the big endaya owners, peddlers, ladies selling date arrack, and charcoal sellers. Wad Ammoona thought about opening a small bar by the river bank, similar to the existing one on the eastern bank of the Setit River overlooking Hamdeyit village, which was frequented by clients who would have to swim their way to the other shore, into the Ethiopian territories, carrying no passport, ID, or even a paper with their name on it. Wad Ammoona’s bar would be a blessing for those pleasure seekers and would spare them the risk of drowning in transit.” (p. 85)