Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Uwem Akpan and Say You’re One of Them

Screen shot 2013-07-28 at 11.55.52 AM

This is a very troubling book, and, for me, a difficult book to read. It has taken me weeks, and I will admit I have often interrupted the reading of it to read other, easier books. This book makes me very uncomfortable. The stories and images trouble my sleep.

Uwem Akpan is of the tribe of Annang, from Nigeria, and has committed to an even larger tribe, the Catholic Church, of which he is a priest, and this gives him a unique perspective. The stories in this book often focus on tribal differences, including religious differences, and although they are set in different African states, have parallels in lives lived elsewhere. Those tribal differences are between Moslem and Christian, but also between Pentecostal and Catholic, Tutsi and Hutu, and, most significantly, the differences between to tribe of the very poor and the very rich.

Each story is told through the eyes of a child living in a different African state – Kenya, Benin, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda.

In one of my favorite segments of the book, strife has broken out in Nigeria, strife between the Moslems and the Christians, but also throw in the Pentecostals and the Pagans and really mix it up. A bus is waiting in the bus station to take people back to the southern part of Nigeria, and on this bus is a young man, half Moslem, half Christian. The bus stands idle for hours, while the bus driver seeks fuel to make the trip. During this time on the bus, many conversations take place, and what I loved was how alliances shifted with each conversation. The people on the bus were from different traditions, but came together as a community. No community is without arguments and dissensions, however, and consensus builds, diminishes, shifts – it is a microcosm of the tensions and stressors pulling apart the Nigerian nation state.

Uwem Akpan treats the children in each story lovingly, treasuring their innocent perspective and the sweetness of their hearts and vision. The adults don’t come off so well, passing their days in drug-induced stupors, drunk, selling children into slavery and prostitution, chopping off their limbs with machetes, and closing themselves off into groups which protect themselves and exploit others.

It would be an easier book to read if it were about aliens, or if these stories were confined to Africa, but the stories of these abused, neglected and exploited children echo in every continent, country and city in the world.

Uwem Akpan writes prose that is poetry; the surroundings are described with such detail that you feel in the moment, you see through the eyes of each child, and you see things that are beautiful as well as scenes you did not want to see. As you can see, I have a lot of ambiguous feelings about this book. At the same time I can admire the writing, the stories have left images in my mind that cannot be erased. Dark images. There is hope in the persistence and resilience of many of the children, but concern about their long term survival. It leaves a heavy weight on my heart.

July 28, 2013 Posted by | Africa, Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Parenting, Poetry/Literature, Values, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment