Monday, April 9, 2012

The Nervous Conditions of my US trip and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s.

I did not know that my aversion to rules, order and the routine of schedules could extend to my reading habits. So, when I committed to participating in the Africa Reading Challenge (ARC) 2012 and corrupted the rules to suit my circumstances here, I did not know that I would end up disobeying the rules and a schedule I set up for myself. We are now in April, and despite having listed the books I would read before June/July, I still have not read them, but have instead read other books, those I did not list. When I was making the list, I left a gap for a Phase II that would include more books. My original thinking was that the books I would fall in love with, while reading those in the first phase, I would add to the list in Phase II.

But I still have Ngugi wa Thing'o’s Wizard of the Crow, John Ruganda’s The Burdens, Elechi Amadi’s The Great Ponds, Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel and J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace safely displayed on my shelf, unread. I had read a substantial part of Coetzee’s Disgrace but had not finished it when something happened. I do not know whether it is just the aversion to rules and schedules or because I am simply not the type that enjoys challenges. Challenges sound so much like competitions, things we do to prove ourselves; things I think distort the fluidity of life. Challenges take away the beauty of the arbitrariness of whim and impulse. I am a friend of whim. I like the energy of doing things on an impulse. I find impulse an irresistible force and I always obey its decrees, at a great risk to myself most of the times.

So, one day, in the final stages of preparing for a trip to the United States, a trip that was not to be made, but was successfully made because of the overwhelming force of resolve and a penchant for risk and ambition, I entered the library intending to drop off some over-due books. While I did the handing over of the books, some unforeseen influence, like a monsoon wind blew me towards the fiction section. I told myself that I would just peruse a few titles and leave; after all I had to do some work at the Students Union office before lunchtime. A few minutes, my eyes darted off all the Granta issues but failed to go beyond Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions.

I was apprehensive at the time, it was a day to the flight date and I still had to sort some issues before I could fly to the US, issues that had a direct impact on whether to make the trip or not. The flight fare was paid already, by the university and it was too late to get a refund in case I did not make the trip. There was force from one side pushing me into the risk, but my integrity was on the line, what if, what if --- mine were nervous conditions. That is why I opened the book; the title aptly captured my state.

I was not sorry when my brother died. Nor am I apologizing for my callousness, as you may define it, my lack of feeling. For it is not that at all. I feel many things these days, much more than I was able to feel in the days when I was young and my brother died, and there are reasons for this more than the mere consequence of age. Therefore I shall not apologize but begin by recalling the facts as I remember them that led up to my brother's death, the events that put me in a position to write this account.

I have not met very many entrancing first lines as the one Tsitsi Dangarembga begins her first novel with. I instantly decided to borrow the book after reading the first page and left the library. I saw a good story unfolding and could not wait to read it to the end. Meanwhile, my apprehension over the US trip was increasing. I was to go. “To be self-assured, to be diplomatic, to be insistent” Prof. John Shattuck instructed.

Armed with a backpack, a few clothes and Nervous Conditions, I made for the airport. I was late for the airport check-in and so did it online, printed the boarding pass with the help of the university travel agent. I was on time for boarding, and as soon as I was on board, I immersed myself in Nervous Conditions only to be disturbed by the air-hostess serving brunch. I did not realize we had reached Munich where I was to rush for a connecting flight to Boston, because Nyasha’s conversations with Tambu could not let me. To be honest, I soon forgot about Nahmo's death. I can understand Tambu's callousness for not being sorry about it.

Nervous Conditions is humorous and beautifully written. It is sensitive enough without obscuring its major concerns. Some paragraphs from the book have stayed with me long after reading it. The narrator's tone is conversational and manages effortlessly to engross the reader into her world. I became ‘female’ the whole time I was reading Nervous Conditions. I even found myself endorsing the advice that one is better off losing their virginity to a tampon, which wouldn't gloat over its achievement, than to a man, who would add one’s hymen to a hoard of others. Who would not hate losing their hymen to men who wear them (hymens) around their waists, like scalps? Tsitsi Dangarembga’s writing is that seductively strong.

I have no regrets that I broke the rules and read a book I had not put on my ARC Phase I list. I have no apologies for following my impulse. Because in the condition I was, I deserved a book like Nervous Conditions to take me away from the discomforting news I received relating to my progress with the Ugandan bar-course while on my US trip. Like Tambu was not sorry for Nhamo’s dying, I had no ‘sorry’ feeling for the bad news. I enjoyed the Harambe Bretton Woods Symposium; I immersed myself fully into Yale, Harvard and Mt. St. Washington Hotel, like Tambu did at the Mission. I was determined to fly high into the clouds of social entrepreneurship, of Cultural Excellence, of Writing Culture into Development, while running determinedly from the pitiful world of boring legal practice and the slave-like brainwashing that our education system and the colonial status-quo does to us.

As the plane touched the Hungarian soil at Budapest Ferehegy Airport, like Tambu I realized that: “Quite unobtrusively and extremely fitfully, something in my mind [was asserting] itself, [questioning] things and [refusing] to be brainwashed, bringing me to this time when I can set down this story.”


  1. But you are cheating. This reads more like your experience than a review of the book.

  2. And to imagine that this was meant to be both - like my idea of review is my experience of the book and in this case, Tsitsi's Nervous Conditions is tied to my experience of the book which comes with my own apprehension --- that is me swelling and being deflated at the same time!