What a beautiful journey. From the seeming encumbrance of metered school life in South Africa the to the sights, sounds and people of home, Binyavanga details in his short story the (re)discovery of home, one’s roots, one’s people, in a very descriptive, witty, engaging and emotive style. Discovering Home is 13 months of a trip back home laid down in an enjoyable 4-chapter short story.
In fact, he says little about South Africa except the farewell party, the goats on their roads that look at him in defiance and that Cape Town is mellow in relation to Nairobi which is like a shot of whiskey. We are immediately taken into the journey home, musing about the miracle of life being the ability to exist for a time in defiance of chaos. This is attributed to the fact that he could have missed the flight due to hangover issues, postponement and the tickets almost not materialising. The lesson is inserted like a bookmark but one must not miss it
Phrases swell, becoming bigger than their context and speak to us as truth.
The journey starts in Kenya. Binyavanga makes a commentary on the social and inadvertently the political issues in his home country. From the traffic jam and the Matatus which are unwittingly Kenya’s mobile art galleries; to the relentless cart pushers and women selling fruit on the roadside who despite their country’s failing economy manage to push on with a smile. Wainana’s imagery strikes a point easily. For example, the man wearing a Yale University sweatshirt and tattered trousers. He is stuck in the jam with his wheelbarrow competing for space with cars. However when he sees a friend across the road he smiles heartily as if life’s problems have all been solved.
It’s impossible to miss the different tribes of Kenya being highlighted plus their interactions. The Maasai, the Kamba, the Kikuyu, the Samburu are shown as the different people that give life to the variety of Kenya. Who works harder, who loves better are all issues that come together, not in a competitive way but a complementary way. Wainana is able to poke holes at things like female circumcision without necessarily being offensive but causing considerable thought and reflection.
There is nothing wrong with being what you are not in Kenya, just be it successfully.
It’s unmissable, the fondness and estrangement when it comes to community relations. In Africa, the party is a party but when the morning comes, there is an awkwardness about having shared so much with a stranger the previous night. Nonetheless the joining factor is the food, the dance, the music of community. I guffawed in laughter as Wainana took to describe the Dombolo dance.
To do it right, wiggle your pelvis from side to side while your upper body remains as casual as if you were lunching with Nelson Mandela.
He takes time to engage Maasai land’s beauty from an African point of view. This is much unlike the romanticised view from much of the West, where elephants and rolling hills are the heroes. When he talks about Maasai land, he talks about the people mostly.
I enjoyed Christmas in Bufumbira, the final chapter. Wainana journeys through Uganda to get to his mother’s home in Bufumbira, talking about Ugandan hospitality, neatness, and the different tribes he meets. Wainana’s view of Baganda women is like seeing oneself from another’s eyes. Sure, there are many inventive Baganda women but much of culture has painted them as always waiting on their husbands. Wainana brings to note that a lot of Baganda women are industrious as they are attractive.
Home in Bufumbira is sombre yet not tear jerking. There is a control with which Wainana writes. He talks about the events in Rwanda, the people who have been through it, their sacrifices, gently putting them on a pedestal without telling it on the mountains despite the fact they are in the mountains.
This book is a story of fortitude, hope and the camaraderie of home. It is a view of Africa unbiased by the usual African themes. You will not find deep tragedies, only history, nostalgia and a new found respect for home.
It’s again another enjoyable piece from the Caine Prize Winner, Binyavanga Wainana.