24 April 2008

Book Talks

In the last couple weeks I've been going to schools to spread the word about my cool book PATH TO MY AFRICAN EYES. My first visit was to Anacapa School in Santa Barbara where I was a guest at their Breakfast Club. I addressed the entire school - from 6th grade to 12th grade - as well as the staff. Boy, was I nervous! But the audience was so fantastic. I could tell from their faces that they were enjoying what I had to say. They responded, asked questions, and requested a reading. I read for about 8 - 10 minutes after which they gave me hearty applause. They certainly made me feel like a celebrity. What an awesome school!

The next school I visited was Solvang School. I did four talks there in 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade classes. The kids were great and I do love discussing with them the craft of writing. So I started out by asking them what they knew about South Africa. I said, "Write down whatever it is that comes to your mind." Here is a list of typical responses: animals, hot, desert, jungle, villages, tribes. Needless to say, I had to work really hard to make them understand the kind of life the book's main character had led as a middle class child in Cape Town. After explaining to them that Thandi's everyday life wasn't much different to theirs, I asked what problems they thought she would encounter on her first days at a California school. I was very impressed with the responses I got. Almost all of them felt that Thandi would encounter racism. "You really think that we still have racism right here at our schools?" I asked. They nodded, much to my surprise. "You think people would make her feel bad about her color right to her face?" They hesitated on this one. "Well, maybe they would gossip about it," some kid said.
Even after I described what Cape Town is like - a modern, world class city - they still had a certain stereotypic 'African' image of Thandi. They imagined that on the first day of school she would have dressed in traditional clothes that other kids would make fun of. They also felt she would have difficulty with academics. So I said, "Why? Do we have the best schools here in America?" Silence. So I said, "Be honest now. I'm a writer and I want to know what you really think. Who thinks America has the best schools in the world?" Nobody raised hands.
Anyway, it was a lot of fun for me to interact with the audience for whom I wrote the book. It is depressing how little American teens know about the African continent. And hopefully books like PATH TO MY AFRICAN EYES will help enlighten them!

07 April 2008

An Author I Are!

Well, guess how I spent my Friday evening? Like so many folks the world over, I too was at the Border's Bookstore near me. But I was sitting at a table near the front of the store signing my book. And my books were actually put on a visible display case. Of course I'm not kidding. Take a look at the photos. Now ain't that the coolest thing? Everyone at the store was fussing over me and customers were delighted at meeting and talking to a real author. So I smiled a WHOLE LOT and chatted and DIDN'T CRINGE at the ignorance that exists out there (Cape Town is a not like Karachi!) . I keep wondering why I write and does the world really need another book, etc. But when I realize how little people know I not only want to write, I want to shout out what I write!!! Lordy lordy lord. I'll never be able to change the world. Do I look famous or what!!

New topic: Zimbabwe.
Hey, I was wondering, isn't this a golden opportunity for Mbeki? So Mugabe seems to be having trouble manipulating the election results in Zim this time around. Clearly, the people have spoken. So why isn't there any intervention from the outside world? Mbeki is the best positioned leader to bring about some sanity in Zim. Imagine how much respect he will gain from all over the world. Right now his popularity ratings are abysmal. It's so bad that even the Women's League supported Jacob Zuma for leader of the ANC. Mbeki is in his home stretch now as leader and he can leave with his head held high if he stepped in and solved the election crisis in Zim.

02 April 2008

Africa on my mind

Current mood: Irritated. Lynne Duke, in her book MANDELA, MOBUTU, AND ME pisses me off, okay! Another self-righteous westerner condemning the African continent. And she's a black sister too. Well, high yeller actually. Duke spent four years (1994- 1999) living in Johannesburg as the Washington Post's bureau chief and covered the years when South Africa transitioned into democracy under Mandela. She wrote a book describing her experiences and observations. I found that while she nailed many issues quite accurately, her harsh criticisms and cynical analyses of Mandela and the TRC quite shocking. It was as if she hadn't fully comprehended what Mandela had inherited. She hadn't fully grasped the consequences of the apartheid government. In fact, I doubt she really understood apartheid, a policy far more damaging than the segregation that existed in the American South. Her musings are in stark contrast to Donald Woods' RAINBOW NATION REVISITED. After reading Duke the reader is left depressed with the feeling that Africa is a lost cause. Don't waste your time holding your breath. African leaders can't lead and the people just don't have what it takes for a successful society. That's how this sister makes you feel when you read her book. Donald Woods on the other hand, makes you feel quite the opposite.
South African society and politics is so complex and yes, there are many, many problems. The incidence of violent crime and the high level of tension under which people live is quite a downer. Politicians don't seem to have their priorities straightened out and the nouveau riche don't seem to feel a need to reach out and help their fellow citizens. It would be easy to dwell on the negative aspects and get depressed over it. However, when I think back to my two months in the country at the end of '07 I recall delightful days. Warm, hospitable people, gorgeous scenery and landscape, beautiful parks and gardens, outstanding cuisine, first class service, and solid infrastructure. I saw signs of improvement everywhere. Despite the bleak newspaper articles, the country is moving forward. For example, whereas in the past blacks were denied a basic education, today the universities are full of black students who will soon be part of the workforce and live mainstream middle class lives. I feel optimistic about South Africa's future. I see your shocked faces. But what about Jacob Zuma, the new ANC leader, you ask? Yes, I know. I'm afraid things might get worse before they get better. But they will get better. I know this because each time I travel back to the country I notice changes for the better.