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Ideas of homea



First things first. Answer to last’s week’s lateral thinking poser: Alfred is a midget with a bad hip (so he can only reach so far up the panel of buttons in the lift—to seven and not to twelve–and he can’t jump). My faithful readers may well find what I’m dishing up this week pretty strange, but I’m doing it by way of setting up a launching pad for a review of a novel called Home is Nowhere, which will follow next week. A bit of personal to begin with. Before I returned to the UK in 2016 I spent 38 years in Africa, mostly in Lesotho and Nigeria. I have very mixed feelings, to say the least, about my birth country, where I now trundle along (with frequent rests on the way). But my feelings about the British political class are unambiguous. One of the meanest, most hurtful things I’ve heard a British Prime Minister say (Theresa May, in this case) was “if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” A reasoned response to which would have been “if you, madam, believe yourself to be competent to fulfil the role of Prime Minister, you are seriously deluded.” I shan’t bang on again about “Lesotho or Nigeria?”—I think you’ve had enough of that—but I’m happier, if not healthier, in either country than I am here, my official “home.” And I remember how wonderful it was when, after leaving Lesotho and putting in a three-year stint at the University of North-West, South Africa, I returned to Roma and several Basotho colleagues greeted me with “welcome home!” If only Theresa May could have exhibited in her pronouncements a similar sweetness and generosity of spirit. A word that is very much in currency nowadays is “Afropolitanism” (along the lines of “cosmopolitanism”). Many recent African novels and essays explore the experience of Africans living outside their birth country, and the word and the thinking it has sparked off have proven controversial, with heated debates about the danger of romanticizing Afropolitan experience, of looking down on those who don’t share it, and so on. Whatever. Afropolitanism is an important experience of our times and deserves exploring. I’ve been writing a string of academic papers on it, as well as on the related concepts (and apologies at this point to any polysyllablephobes amongst you) of interstitiality and intersectionality. These have to do with feeling oneself to be in-between, not quite one thing or another, or with feeling oneself to be more than one thing at the same time (for example, communist and Christian; British and Nigerian; or highly educated and yet a simpleton. I’m sure readers can come up with their own positions—and intersectionality can have more than two components). The literature that is coming out of the Afropolitan experience is remarkable. I’ll quote just two poems, both written by Nigerians. The first is from “Deadly Sin: Sloth” by Logan February, who self-identifies as being non-binary and bipolar (as well as being “a happy-ish owl who likes typewriters and pizza”; yes, he is quite something!): “Home to me / Is the distance from home.” The second is from a wonderful book-length poem, The Sahara Testaments, by Tade Ipadeola: “One thing about foreign soil; it’s costlier / Every inch than home soil. Dear as the soul / Hungry as hyena.” To which lines one could respond that home soil can be pretty costly, too, in every way. And that there is a huge difference between, on the one hand, leaving home soil to enhance opportunities one already has, and, on the other hand, leaving as a refugee, in order to flee starvation, persecution or war. There is, finally, another kind of home, the home one yearns for. Thanks to the Reverend Ian Corbett, whom some readers may remember as Anglican chaplain at the NUL, I’ve been reading a book called The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey through Anguish to Freedom by the Dutch Roman Catholic priest Henri J.M. Nouwen. Though less than a hundred pages long, this is one of those books that can be looked upon as a life-changer. The blurb on the back cover explains how the book came about: “It was written during the most difficult period of Nouwen’s life, when, following the breakdown of a close relationship, he suddenly lost his self-esteem, his energy to live and work, his sense of being loved, even his hope in God. Although he experienced excruciating anguish and despair, he was still able to keep a journal in which he wrote each day a spiritual imperative to himself . . . For the countless men and women who have to live through the pain of broken relationships, or who suffer from the loss of a loved one, this book offers new courage, new hope, even new life.” The book contains around seventy very short pieces, best read one or two a day, rather than as a long sequence. Each piece encourages us not to immerse ourselves in whatever pain we bear, turning it over and over in our minds. And also not to pretend that the pain does not exist, but (to put it crudely) to place it in perspective. To embrace the love that God has for us and to accept that love as being entirely reliable, forever, relentless. And in that way one can achieve the ultimate: home from home. Chris Dunton

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