Sunday, January 13, 2013

"I Am Not My Father." and other things.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree- maybe it does maybe it never really does, who knows?
I am Not my Father takes this notion and spins it so fast your mind will be blown away. But, I am not going to talk about Fathers. That is still a sensitive subject to me and at the moment, I will talk about something in Literature. In Kenya, Literature is one of the most celebrated disciplines-and we are honored to have had Masterpieces like Chinua Achebe, Ngugi, Cyprian Ekwensi and Mazrui all give public lectures at the University of Nairobi. Yesterday, I heard that the Minister of Education will ban a set-book because it has gay nuances. I found that interesting enough because I looked through the Kenya Institute of Education archives and found that it was approved by the Ministry hence this list .
I also asked myself why one would approve a book without reading it and subjecting it to an analysis. Then it hit me, they depended on reviews! See, reviews are like opinions-they differ and most readers would get to read a book based on the majority of reviews! But, that is not it-personally I loved reading The Whale Rider .I loved it because it opened my mind to a new culture- a way of life that I found very weird and different from what I knew. I had long known that in New Zealand there were myths about whale riders and I would thank KBC for airing a show on the same back in the nineties. It was always aired before Sinbad and had this girl who could summon her friend (who was a whale) and together they helped other sea creatures from humans. The movie was released in 2002, and I loved it too-even though I was disappointed that some of the characters names were altered.
But-back to the matter here-why ban the book after approving it?
Some would say- it's never too late to correct a mistake. Others would say-it is if you had the time to know there could be a mistake. The Minister has a point. Kenya still holds that homosexuality is not allowed-and we still have gays and lesbians fighting for their rights. Kenya has her reasons and her people have their beliefs which I am glad to say, I understand.
But when it comes to Literature- words are meant to build and show you what a society is. You might think at this point that the book only refers to the Maori culture-but in the 21st Century and last year alone we had so many people coming out of the closet and declaring their sexual orientation. Homosexuals are there. They could be the people we board buses with, we sit with in church, we study and even interact with. They could be a friend, brother, sister, cousin or partner. They are there. How does this link up with "I am Not my Father and other things?" Well, in life we mostly hate that which we do not understand. Children who suffer in the hands of their parents grow up swearing that they'll never be their parents. They live their lives struggling not to be something and failing to be themselves. They obsess about being so good and perfect, that they don't have time to make a mistake and show that they are human. In the end their loved ones lose hope on them and they figure out that they are indeed like their parent that they hated.
Teenagers in Kenya have access to so much information right about now than they did a decade ago. They do have sexual education in schools-that hails from one point of view. They also do have friends who are gay. And a report that was submitted a year ago, shows that in same-sex schools the cases of homosexuality outweigh other indiscipline cases by a margin of 75%. Would this book be of help? That's what we need to ask. And now that the Minister has said he would ban it-there's not much chance of anyone ever taking the time to read it and even look up the Maori culture and learn about them. Instead like all the other cases it has been stamped "DISAPPROVED." The other down side is that students had bought it, some had started reading it. The author, Witi, still made his money from the sales, but we have a 50/50 scale. We have students who are aware of it and those who aren't. Nothing spreads faster than words- and in an attempt to do away with Literature that could have enabled students and teachers discuss matters to do with sexual orientation and culture- what the Ministry has done is created room for that discussion amongst students at their own free time.
It would be lovely if this doesn't happen-but I am sure that it will. Because the next time they will approve a book and then someone will bicker about it and it will be removed-not knowing what power words have-especially those from a book. For once you start reading a book-you have unlocked the key to a world that will only be locked when you finish reading the book. But on the bright side-The Whale Rider though a good book, (the best I have read by Witi) it has more symbolism that can only be understood and appreciated by an advanced reader-and an adolescent cannot grasp that easily, not with the pressure of passing his/her KCSE exams.