Married But Available
377 Pages
English
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Married But Available

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377 Pages
English

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Married But Available ventures into a theme about which people say as much as they withhold. It explores intersections between sex, money and power, challenging orthodoxies, revealing complexities and providing insights into the politics and economics of relationships. During six months of fieldwork in Mimboland, Lilly Loveless, a Muzungulander doctoral student in Social Geography, researches how sex shapes and is shaped by power and consumerism in Africa. The bulk of her research takes place on the outskirts of the University of Mimbo, an institution where nothing is what it seems. Through her astounding harvest of encounters, interviews, conversations and observations, the reader gets a captivating glimpse into the frailty and resilience of human beings and society. Lilly Loveless comes out of it all well and truly baptized. And so does the reader!

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Published 15 September 2008
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EAN13 9789956715831
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MARRIED BUT AVAILABLE FRANCIS B. NYAMNJOH
“T is is perhaps Francis Nyamnjoh’s boldest and most ambitious novel
yet…. His writings are pushing the boundaries of discourse in literary
and scholarly fi elds.”
- Dr Wangui wa Goro, Critic and Translator
Married But Available ventures into a theme about which people say as much
as they withhold. It explores intersections between sex, money and power,
challenging orthodoxies, revealing complexities and providing insights into
the politics and economics of relationships. During six months of fi eldwork
in Mimboland, Lilly Loveless, a Muzungulander doctoral student in Social
Geography, researches how sex shapes and is shaped by power and consumerism
in Africa. T e bulk of her research takes place on the outskirts of the University of
Mimbo, an institution where nothing is what it seems. T rough her astounding
harvest of encounters, interviews, conversations and observations, the reader gets
a captivating glimpse into the frailty and resilience of human beings and society.
Lilly Loveless comes out of it all well and truly baptized. And so does the reader!
Francis B. Nyamnjoh has taught Sociology, Anthropology and Communication
Studies at universities in Cameroon, Botswana and South Africa. He is currently
Head of Publications with the Council for the Development of Social Science
Research in Africa (CODESRIA), Dakar, Senegal.
Cover Design: Abidemi Olowonira
Langaa Research and Publishing
Common Initiative Group
P.O. Box 902 Mankon
Bamenda
North West Province
Cameroon
6.00 x 9.00 6.00 x 9.00.837TitlesbyLangaa RPCIG
FrancisBNyamnjoh SusanNkwentieNde
StoriesfromAbakwa Precipice
MindSearching
TheDisillusionedAfrican FrancisBNyamnjoh&RichardFonteh
TheConvert Akum
SoulsForgotten TheCameroonGCECrisis:ATestof
MarriedButAvailable AnglophoneSolidarity
DibussiTande JoyceAshuntantang&DibussiTande
NoTurningBack.PoemsofFreedom1990-1993 TheirChampagnePartyWillEnd!Poemsin
HonorofBateBesong
KangsenFekaWakai
FragmentedMelodies RosemaryEkosso
TheHouseofFallingWomen
NtemfacOfege
Namondo.ChildoftheWaterSpirits PeterkinsManyong
HotWaterfortheFamousSeven GodthePolitician
EmmanuelFruDoh JohnPercival
NotYetDamascus The1961CameroonPlebiscite:Choiceor
TheFireWithin Betrayal
ThomasJing Albert Azeyeh
TaleofanAfricanWoman ReussiteScolaire,FailliteSociale:Généalogie
mentaledelacrisedel’AfriqueNoire
PeterWutehVakunta Francophone
GrassfieldsStoriesfromCameroon
GreenRape:PoetryfortheEnvironment AloysiusAjabAmin&Jean-LucDubois
MajungaTok:PoemsinPidginEnglish CroissanceetDeveloppementAuCameroun:
CryMyBelovedAfrica D`unecroissanceéquilibréeàundeveloppement
éequitable
Ba'bilaMutia
CoilsofMortalFlesh LukeEnendu&BabsonAjibade
MasqueradeTraditions
KehbumaLangmia
TitabetandtheTakumbeng CarlsonAnyangwe
ImperialisticPoliticsinCameroun:
VictorElameMusinga&RoselyneM.Jua Resistance&theInceptionoftheRestorationof
TheBarn theStatehoodofSouthernCameroons
TheTragedyofMr.NoBalance
BillF.Ndi
NgessimoMatheMutaka K`Cracy,TreesintheStormandOtherPoems
BuildingCapacity:UsingTEFLandAfrican
languagesasdevelopment-orientedliteracytools KathrynToure,ThereseMungahShalo
Tchombe&ThierryKarsenti
MiltonKrieger ICT&ChangingMindsetsinEducation
Cameroon'sSocialDemocraticFront:ItsHistory
andProspectsasanOppositionPoliticalparty, ExcelTseChinepoh&NtemfacA.N.Ofege
1990-2011 TheAdventuresofChimangwe
SammyOkeAkombi Alobwed’Epie
TheRapedAmulet TheDayGodBlinked
TheWomanWhoAtePython&OtherStories
BewaretheDrives:BookofVerseMarried But Available
FrancisB.Nyamnjoh
LangaaResearch&PublishingCIG
Mankon, BamendaPublisher:
LangaaRPCIG
(LangaaResearch&PublishingCommonInitiativeGroup)
P.O.Box902Mankon
Bamenda
NorthWestProvince
Cameroon
Langaagrp@gmail.com
www.langaapublisher.com
DistributedoutsideN.AmericabyAfricanBooksCollective
orders@africanbookscollective.com
www.africacollective.com
DistributedinN.AmericabyMichiganStateUniversityPress
msupress@msu.edu
www.msupress.msu.edu
ISBN:9956-558-27-3
©FrancisB.Nyamnjoh2009
Firstpublished2009
DISCLAIMER
Allviewsexpressedin thispublicationarethoseoftheauthoranddonotnecessarily
reflecttheviewsofLangaaRPCIG.Toallthosewhocontributeknowinglyandunknowingly…1
illyLovelesssatstaringatherGmailinbox,onacoldwintermorningin
Muzunguland. Unlike other days, she had come in earliest of all theLpostgraduate studentsattheMuzunguland AfricanStudies Institute at
Bruhlville, because she was expecting an urgent email. Her co-supervisor in
LivingstonetownhadpromisedherthecontactdetailsofanAfricancolleague
attheUniversityofMimbowhereshewasseekingaffiliationtodofieldwork
forherPhDon‘Sex,PowerandConsumerisminAfrica.’Shewasexcitedand
relieved,nowthatherresearchproposalhadbeensuccessfullydefendedand
the way cleared for her to undertake her second African visit. The Ethics
Committeehadgivenheratoughtimeandaskedgrillingquestionsaboutthe
dangersofvoyeurismposedbyherproposedstudy,butsheeventuallysailed
throughreassuringly.
Funding had been secured from the Ministry of Cooperation, the
Royal Aids Foundation and the Michel Foucault Institute for the Study of
SexualityandPower.Ridinghighonheraccomplishmentsandbubblingwith
prospects,LillyLovelesswassettogo.
Allsheneededwasaletterofaffiliation:thesefamousletterswithout
which, so shehadbeen told,Muzungulandersfinditimpossible topenetrate
the bureaucracies of African ministries of research. ‘Nopermit, noresearch’,
that’sthemaxim.Withoutaletterofaffiliationshecouldn’tevenaspiretoget
avisafromtheEmbassyofMimboland,thecountrytiedtothegrantsshehad
received. She had tried persuading the consular officer. This might have
worked,hadshenot,mostregrettably,boastedthatshewasafterallinjecting
millionsofMimdollarsintothe strugglingMimboeconomy, so“Whyallthe
fuss?” Her attitude seemed to have toughened the resolve of the consular
officer, who came short of screaming: “Forget your bloody money,
arrogant…!” Now she knew only a letter of affiliation from Dustbin’s
collaborator at the University of Mimbo, bearing all the stamps and seals of
approval,coulddeliverhervisa.
She recalled reading, in Nigel Barley’s Innocent Anthropologist,of
similar experiences the author had had with the embassy of another African
country, not too dissimilar to Mimboland. She stood up and looked through
her bookshelf for the book, opened the relevant page, which she had
dogearedfromherundergraduateAnthropologyyearsandread.
How similar in their indifference to progress African countries are!
And how insensitive to the need to protect even their own self-interest! To
discourage potential visitors with such attitudes of callous indifference was
worse than shooting oneself in the foot. Little had changed for the better,
muchfortheworse.
Her experience of Africa was limited though, very limited. Apart
from the masses of books she had read, books written mostly by
Muzungulanders and by Africans whose knowledge of their continent was
like a river humbled by the dry season, Lilly Loveless had had only a short
two-weekholidayexperienceofthelovelybeachesofSunsandland,oneofthe
mostexotic,excitingwondersofthetropics,dreamsofwhichhavekeptmany
aMuzungulandergoing.
Theemaileventuallycamethrough.LillyLovelessclickedandread:
1Dear Lilly, the contact details of my Mimboland colleague whom I
insistyoumeetashehassimilarresearchinteresttoyoursare:
DrWisemanLovemore
DepartmentofSocialWork
UniversityofMimbo,Mimboland
Email:Wiseman.Lovemore@yahoo.com
DrWisemanLovemore isa fascinatingandaccommodating fellowwhomIam
sureyouwilllike.Heisn’texactlyinternationalin termsofGoogle,buthe isan
intelligent man with solid convictions. I cannot locate his cell number, but his
emailaddressshould suffice.Justemailhimyour traveldetails,andifyou are
lucky and he checks his mail, which unfortunately he doesn’t do often, he
would most certainly go to fetch you at the airport. If you miss him for
whateverreason,simply makeyourway to the universitycampusuponarrival
– some 40 to 50 minutes away by taxi, in Puttkamerstown. Ask the first
person you meet, and you should be taken to the Department of Social Work
whereLovemoreisassolidasanoakandtheeasiestpersontofind.
Safetripandenjoyyourfieldwork.
Best
Dustbin
LillyLovelessstartedtypingimmediately.
DearDrWisemanLovemore,
My name is Lilly Loveless. I am a student reading Social Geography
at the Muzunguland African Studies Institute, Bruhlville. I am writing to you
aboutthe research I’d like to carry outfor my PhD over the nextsix months in
Mimboland. I am writing courtesy of Professor Dustbin Olala, who has
pressed me to contact you. Given your expertise on the subject I’d like to
work on, I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts now and once I am on
the ground. In a nutshell, I shall be investigating changing sexuality and
power relations occasioned by growing obsession with material possessions
and the desire to consume Muzungu products in a context of screaming
poverty.
I am very interested in your work, which, I must admit, I haven’t read
but which your friend, my co-supervisor Professor Dustbin, thinks very highly
of. The most recent thing by an African that I have read on this theme is the
paper: ‘Fishing in Troubled Waters: Disquettes and Thiofs in Dakar’. I would
like to know what you think of this paper, which fascinated me, although the
author writes as if African women are irredeemably consumerist and
helplessly easy to manipulate by men of wealth and power. I can’t say
whether ornotthesituationhepaintsisrealand widespread,butIcouldbring
a copy of the paper along for you, if your library does not subscribe to Africa,
the journal in which itwas published. Indeed, it would be a huge honour ifwe
couldmeetuptodiscussthetopicassoonasIarrive…
She was full of questions. First, she urged and pleaded with him to
2send her anurgent letter ofaffiliation, dulysigned by theVice Chancellor of
the university. Failure of which, the letter must be signed by the Dean. She
alsohadquestionsaboutwheretostay.
“Sorrytobombardyouwithallthesequestions,”shewrote,“butasI
am sure you can understand, I would like to do as much groundwork as
possible before I get out there. Finding accommodation is a critical part of
this. I would really appreciate it if you could be so kind to make necessary
arrangements for me in this regard as soon as possible because I am very
worriedabouthavingadequateaccommodation.”
She equally wanted to know if Dr Wiseman Lovemore knew of any
NGOs “that have sexuality, consumerism, empowerment and gender
transformation as particular goals,” that she could contact. “I would ideally
like to present case studies on two or more such organizations, in order to
gainacriticalunderstandingoftherelativesuccessandinfluenceofnon-state
actorswiththephenomenon.”
She concluded her email with, “I cannot thank you enough. I look
forwardtohearingfromyousoon,”signeditoff,andclicked‘Send’.
DrWisemanLovemorerepliedsoonerthanLillyLovelesshadfeared:
“I look forward to welcoming you to Mimboland, although I’m unable to
thinkuppossibleaccommodationforyourightnow.”
Intruth,hedidn’tevenwanttotry.Stillfreshwasarecentexperience
with another female Muzungulander student who arrived only to accuse a
colleague, who had bent over backwards to accommodate a similar request,
of having acted dishonestly by conniving to stick her into an expensive
mildewed“rathole.”
Sohewrote:“IfIfindnothingbeforeyourarrival,herearethenames
and prices of a few hotels for you to choose from … It rains round the clock
herethistimeofyear,soexpecttheroomstobedampandmouldy…”
He was not unaware of the fact that even zero star hotels such as
thosehehadrecommendedareexceedinglymoreexpensivethanliving with
a family or renting a place, but he simply wouldn’t allow his efforts to be
rewardedwithingratitude.
“You could always find more appropriate lodging once on the
ground.”
With regard to NGOs he didn’t want to discourage her by saying he
lacked faith in them. Instead he said she could easily link herself to one or
several on arrival, as “Mimboland is a place where NGOs are formed and
deformed on a daily basis”, and “the University of Mimbo has even
employed the services of a fulltime money doubler to liaise with
mushroomingNGOsthatwitherawaylikeblightedplants.”
Thenhegaveherthegoodnews:“Findattachedaletterofinvitation,
not affiliation, signed not by the VC, not by the Dean, but by the HOD. It is
thebestIcandoforyou.Hopeitworks…”
And as a special favour to his friend Professor Dustbin Olala, he
offeredtomeetherattheSawangInternationalAirport,“ifyousendmeyour
flightdetailsintime,andiftheInternetgodsaregoodhumoured.Inanycase,
lookoutforamanwithyournameonaplacard.”
“Safetripandheclicked.
The next week for Lilly Loveless was one of hectic preparations for
whather mom worriedly termed “Lilly’simpending African misadventure.”
3In a way, her mom was right to. The first and only time she ventured into
Africafortwoweeksofvacation,LillyLovelesscamebackwithafewscrews
rearranged. Herchoice of musichad changed overnightintoappreciationfor
wild drumming. She had plaited her lovely curly hair into dozens of little
braids. She had practically forgotten her boyfriend of two years. All reasons
whyhermotherwouldrathershewentelsewheretodoherfieldwork.
“Tribal communities are all over the third world, why your
fascinationwithAfrica?”
“Mom, you too much,” Lilly Loveless would say, whenever her
motherwentonandonabouttheneedtorethinkherchoice.
“AndIamrightto,”hermomwouldpersist.“Africaistoodangerous
forayoungwomanonherown.Seewhathappenedbetweenyouand…”
“Africahadnothingtodowithit,”LillyLovelesswouldinterrupther
mom. “The relationship would have ended with or without what happened
inSunsandland.”
Her mother would shut up only to resume yet again, at the next
mentionof Mimboland. ButLillyLovelesshad made upher mind,and there
wasnoturningback.
***
The Air Mimbo flight was hitch free. The few women on the flight
with Lilly Loveless were black, elegantly dressed, heavily jewelled, and
mostlyworeartificialhairgraftedintotheirownhairoraswigs.Themajority
of Lilly Loveless’s co-passengers however were men, mostly black Africans,
with only a handful of whites whom she thought were businesspeople,
development agents,international civil servants, orhusbands of Mimboland
ladies.TherewereafewArabsaswell, mostlyLebanese–washerguess–if
the literature on these parts of Africa was to be believed. And there were
Chinese as well, lots of them, of whom the Muzungulander media had
become so jittery of late, posing as they do, as the new conquerors of the
consumer world.Sheimaginedeach ofthemwith ‘MadeinChina’stampsin
theirbriefcases,readytoconquereverycityandeveryvillageinAfrica.
LillyLovelessdidnotregrether“courageous”decisiontoflyAfrican.
Her initiation into Mimbo ways started just as she had wished. Already, she
haddrankthreecansofMimbo-Wanda,thecountry’smostpopularbeerwith
its trendy, pacesetting, football-loving, Internet-crazy, cell phone conscious,
vivaciousyouth,thankstothefriendlystewardess,Yoyette,whowaskeenon
making her feel at home. She attracted Yoyette’s attention while standing at
thebackoftheplane,watchingthestewardessmakecoffee,asshewaitedfor
another passenger to finish up in the toilet. In her smart Air Mimbo outfit,
Yoyettemovedaroundthesmallkitchenopeningthisminiaturemetalcabinet
and closing it securely before turning to open another. Lilly Loveless could
not help remarking, “You girls sure do know how to manoeuvre in small
spaces.” The stewardesspaused, gracefully holding a small coffee cup by its
handle, turned, and looked Lilly Loveless up and down, and back up, and
saidslowly,“Wesuredo,pretty.”Andtheybondedinstantly.
Lilly Loveless sat next to an elderly man with a fulfilled belly –
politician by profession or aspiration. “You’ve got lovely blue eyes and nice
curly blonde hair,” the man told her. He kept insisting she must come and
studyinNyamandemthecapitalcityinstead,because,tohismind,noserious
4knowledge ever comes from the periphery, not to mention a rat hole like
Puttkamerstown. “Nothing that matters happens in backyards,” he said
repeatedly, licking his lips as if he had smeared them with honey. “Truth
hailsfrom the centre, falsehood from the margins,” he claimed, and with the
fullness of his eyes, he protruded onto her face, “That you should know,
beingfromthemother ofallcentres.” Whatmadeher slightlyuncomfortable
was the way he splashed his sneezesand coughs asif everyone around him
wantedhisshowersofblessings.
On her other side, at the window, sat a thin light-skinned black
womaninacolourfullacytopthatexposedhermidriff,tight-fittingjeans,and
big gold loop earrings. Her straightened shoulder length hair with waves
almost overwhelmed her small face but with stunning effect. Before takeoff,
she worked frantically on her laptop. Then she spoke on her cell phone in a
rapid stream alternating between languages and interspersed with “Bisous,
bisous.” Later, over a meal, Lilly learned she had just completed a degree in
reproductive health in Muzunguland where her mother wasoriginallyfrom,
and was now returning home to Mimboland to take up a post to train in
HIV/AIDS prevention. When Lilly asked her how she lived her ‘métissage’
the womanreplied thatthese days,evenif itdoesn’t showinthe skinwe are
allmixedsomehow.
The descent to Sawang International Airport was breathtaking. The
plane plunged gently through the clouds, revealing a vast and extensive sea
of green in glorious synchrony with the sleeves of the Atlantic Ocean. This
was the once virgin rainforest Lilly Loveless had only read about or seen in
documentaries on TV. Even with the pride of its virginity gone, the balding
rainforest was still a rare environmental hope in a world busy writing
cheques the environment couldn’t possibly cash. The sooner more and more
people understood that one can only command nature by obeying it, the
betterforallandsundry.Herheartflowedouttothemangrovesbelowandto
the shorelines of the beach to the east, full of colourful fishing boats and
people in screaming attires. But her enthusiasm was tempered just as they
approachedthe runway–a maze ofgreyshacksrosefromthe swampslikea
nightmare.Greyer,becauseoftherain.
Thelandingwassmooth.
Aftertouchdown,thewomantoherrightofferedLillyLovelessabox
of 250 condoms, saying “life’s too sweet and too short to waste”. Lilly
Lovelessbrokeoutintoabigsmileandthankedherforthetimelygift,having
forgotten to bring some along despite repeated insistence by her reluctant
mom.The womanalsohandedherabusinesscard saying,“Don’thesitate to
give me a call if you need something while in Mimboland.” What a lofty
missionshehad!Inacontinentalreadydevastatedbylordsofwar,itmadeall
the sense in the world to snatch what was left of life from the jaws of
HIV/AIDswithlaudableactionslikehers.
“Afewthundercloudsshouldn’tdampenyourenthusiasm,”theman
toherrighttoldLillyLoveless,givingherhiscard,onwhichhehadaddedby
handhispersonalcellphonenumber.Astheyseparated,hewhisperedtoher
with his eyes, “I’m waiting for you in Nyamandem. Call me.” She looked at
the card which had a Nyamandem address on one side and a Muzunguland
address on the other: “Honourable Epicure Bilingue”, she read with a shake
ofherhead,asiftosay“Whataname!”
5If there was one thing Lilly Loveless regretted with the start of her
Mimbolandadventure,itwasthefactthatinherrushtogettotheairportin
time, she had forgotten to bring along her yellow booklet of vaccines. As a
result she was detained by a no-nonsense health official at the Sawang
InternationalAirportwhoforcefullyadministeredinjectionswhichherefused
toacceptshehadhadjustdaysbefore.
“How do you expect me to believe that? Show me your card!” The
man blared, making her feel like a child lying in broad daylight. She would
not be allowed to contaminate the land of Mimbo with yellow fever, cholera
and meningitis. And she paid for the vaccinesata rate more than exorbitant
in money, comfort and time. The whole exercise took nearly two hours,
makinghervirtuallythelastpassengertocome throughfromimmigrationto
thebaggagearea.
The scorching heat, humidity, poor ventilation and the officials’
undisguised reluctance to be understanding compounded the stifling feeling
inLillyLoveless.
Bythetime shehadfinishedoiling the thick drylips ofthetwolady
customs officers who had insisted on looking beneath her mom’s dirty XXL
underwear,whichshehadpackedontoppreciselytodetersuchameticulous
itembyitemsearchfor God-knows-what,Dr WisemanLovemore,a mannot
giftedinpatiencebyanystandards,hadgivenupwaitingandlefttheairport.
So Lilly Loveless, seeing no placard with her name, succumbed to the
aggressivepersuasionofadeterminedtaximanandimplored:“Universityof
Mimbo,Puttkamerstown,s’ilvousplait.”
“Yipleasemetimenodey,”thetaximansoughttoreassureher,
mimicking her whiteman-woman accent, the way a child would with its
fingers to the tip of its nose singing: “Whiteman with your long nose, since
mamotherbornmeInobaseemewhiteman…”“YougopayMim$40,000,”
hetoldher.
“That’s too much,” she screamed. “I look for another taxi!” Dustbin
hadforewarnedheragainsttheexorbitantratesoftheopportunistictaximen
inSawang.
“La distance est longue. Puttkamerstown faway. Na ara kontri,” he
triedtoexplain.
Shewasadamant;theamountwasjusttoomuch.
“Sonahowmuchyougopay?”heasked.
“Wait a minute,” she told him, taking out her notebook. She
consulted it, then said, “Not more than Mim$10,000.” That’s the amount
Dustbinhadadvisedhernottogoover.
“No, no. Dat moni small plenty. No man for here go take you to
Puttkamerstownfordatamount.”Thedriverswore.“YoupayMim$20,000or
youtakearataxiifyouseeam.”
Lilly Loveless studied the pros and cons of wasting more time
haggling with a second, and perhaps a third and fourth taxi man, and
concludedshewasbetteroffyielding.“Let’sgo,”shesighed.
“But if road long, and traffic dey, you go pay more, foseka petrol
dear,”thedriverinsistedassheenteredthecar.
She pretended not to understand what he said, but was determined
nottopayacentmore.
“Yoursafetybeltisunsafe,”saidLillyLoveless,asshediscoveredthe
6belthadbeencutintotwohalves.
“NaalldatIget…Nofear,”hetoldher.
The taxi man was far from reassuring. Once he started driving, he
seemedtoheadstraightforthepotholesperforatingthebatteredroads.Inhis
equally battered Toyota Corolla that had no shock absorbers to cushion the
tortuousride,theytrottedalongasif ona hooflesshorse. The frontandback
windshields of the car were splattered with adverts, including one which
touted,“MyToyotaIsFantastic.”
More like “My Toyota is in Plastic,” Lilly Loveless thought, hardly
bringing herself to appreciate the irony the way she ordinarily would. To be
fair though, one could have the slickest car in the world, but with roads as
rubbishasthis,there’slittletodobutpull,diveandstumblealong.Justthen,
shenoticedaveryslickcarprovingthepoint.
LillyLovelesswasamazedbythecratersizepotholesmadeworseby
pools of muddy rainwater. This was testing to the limit her philosophy of
‘wetter is better’, especially as the splashes made by the passing cars stank
like sewage. Rotting refuse mountains at the corner of every street were
colonised by swarms of flies, maggots and rats nonchalantly fattening
themselves up. Lilly Loveless and the taxi man went through swampy
neighbourhoods, where the car gathered mud and children struggled with
floating household refuse and sewage, as if in a sort of fashion parade. The
car, which already smelt oddly, picked up more nauseating stenches as the
tires grew thicker with mincemeat of unattended waste. At one point, she
thoughtshesawamanlyinginthemiddleoftheroad,perhapsdead,butno
one bothered to stop and help, her own driver included. She fumed, but
conversationbetweenthemwasdifficult,aswhatthetaximansaidseemedto
suggest the man was catching up on sleep in preparation to lose sleep as a
nightwatchman.
If she hadn’t done her background reading, she might have thought
Sawang had been at the heart of a savage war and bombing in which chaos
had mass murdered order.She knewMimbolandasthepeacefularmpit ofa
turbulentAfrica,andnowshewasbeingforcedtoreappraisewhatthebooks
had told her by the bumpy reality of a city hardly at peace with itself. The
city’sroadsandrefusehadbeentotallyneglected,justastheairconditioning,
toilets and other facilities at the nightmare of an airport. It was as if
Mimboland had gone for decades without a government, for not even a
warzone devastated by warlords and years of reckless abandon could look
thismiserableanddisabled.
She was glad to be heading for Puttkamerstown, as she simply
couldn’tstandSawang.
Thoughempathetictohim,LillyLovelesswasalsosuspiciousthatthe
taxi man was not in a hurry to bring her to her destination. He exasperated
herwithhisbackstreetoptions,indirectionsandindecisions,butshe wastoo
scaredtoputherfootdown.Thecarlurchedalongbumpily,yetnouniversity
wasinview.
At one point, the taxi man stopped abruptly and turned to her.
“Whosaiyou sayyou digo?” he asked.It was evident he eitherdidn’t know
theUniversity,orhewassimplyeatinguptimeinthehopeofsqueezingeven
moreoutofher.
“University of Mimbo!” she screamed and rolled her eyes, barely
7containing her mounting impatience. She could see he looked equally
perplexed.Shegatheredcourageandforcedhimtoaskfordirections.
“That’sfarawayfromhere,wayoutofthecity,”abendskinridertold
them. “You’re in the wrong place, wrong direction,” the man looked
questioninglyatthetaximan,asifaskingwhathewasdoingwitha taxiina
city he mastered so little. “Turn left, left again at the first roundabout, drive
straight ahead for three hundred metres or so, make a right turn after the
mangoorchards,anddriveon,lookingoutforthesignpostsfordirections.”
Lilly Loveless took down notes, not sure her driver understood a
thing. She would guide him. They thanked the Good Samaritan bendskin
rider,andmadeaU-turn.
LillyLovelesscouldseetherewerehundredsofmotorbikeriderslike
theonewhohadgiventhemdirections. They werepickingupanddropping
off passengers, apparently much abler to negotiate the potholes and traffic
than the taxis that competed with them. She also noticed people on bicycles,
some with crates of eggs mounted behind them.They seemed to ride so
nonchalantly, unaware of the risk that, with one too-quick movement of the
handlebars, a whole day of earnings could be smashed to the pavement in
whiteandyellowglowingandmovingglobspunctuatedbybrokenshells.
There was this lady, mounted on her bike, doubtless on her way to
somewhereimportant,as she wasnotstoppingforpassengers.LillyLoveless
admired the straplesstop she wore, made of a printfabric with leopard and
tiger designs combined.Her two-toned braids matched her top.Some were
gathered loosely on the back of her head while others tumbled to grace the
space between her bare shoulders.Her long brown trousers were wide and
her heels, braced against the pavement briefly for traffic to ease up, were
high.Herhandbagwaitedobedientlyoverthehandlebarofherbike…
There were lots ofpeopleonfootaswell,furious and provocativein
their busy-ness. The stench emitted by the farting gutters and refuse
mountainsmadethemspitinthestreetsasifinaspittingcompetition.
A few kilometres on, a nervous Lilly Loveless asked in silence:
“Didn’t he turn the wrong way again?” Not to, said a voice in her, he’ll find
hisway.
Whatever the sights of Sawang and its inhabitants, Lilly Loveless’
mind was firmly on her fate. She was full of anecdotes about the
unpredictability of this land of Mimbo, and it appeared the Mimbo people
themselves made no secret of the attribute, as they would proudly proclaim:
“NothingisimpossibleinMimboland.”
Lilly Loveless couldn’t contain her joy when the taxi man, after an
hourandahalf ofcountless contoursand detours,eventually stopped at the
entrancetotheuniversitystillunderactiveconstruction.Awhitebannerheld
together by wooden poles and scaffolding had “University of Mimbo”
inscribedinboldblackletters,followedby“ThePlacetoBe”inamuch,much
smallerfont,almostimpossible toreadfromanydistance.Shemadeamental
note ofthecontrast.She wouldaskDrWisemanLovemoreif there wasmore
to the inscription than met the eye, although she had read somewhere that
young Mimbolanders were reluctant to study at home, preoccupied as they
were with dreams of seeking authentic qualifications from Muzunguland. A
tallfence was being constructedaroundthe university campus. Thisalso she
madeamentalnoteof.Shehadreadthatthistwenty-year-olduniversitywas
8oneoftheyoungestinMimboland,butshedidn’tknowitwasthisfledging,if
hereyesandfirstimpressionsweretobetrusted.
The plainclothes, casually dressed security guard in rubber sandals
inspected the documents of the taxi man but would not touch the passport
LillyLovelessinstinctivelytenderedhim.“Noneed,”hesmiled,andletthem
through.
“Dis na university, farm for book people,” said the taxi man, half
serious,halfmocking.
LillyLovelesssmiledcomfortablyforthefirsttimesincetheairport.
“Whosaiyouwanmakadropyou?”
“DepartmentofSocialWork,” she said,fidgetingwithhertrousersto
untiehermoneybelt.
The guard indicated the way and the taxi man proceeded to the
FacultyofSocialSciences.“Maroadendforya,”heannounced,stretchingout
hishand.
LillyLovelesshandedhimMim$20,000,astifflookinhereyes.
He got the message, thanked her, and drove away, a broad smile on
his face. Even without the bonus he had hoped for, he was satisfied to have
met a client who paid generously. Neither his wife nor his girlfriend would
callhim“Japanesehandbrake”today.Butfirst,hewouldheadforthenearest
kiosktoplacehisbetandhopeonhisfavouriteMuzungulandhorse,andthen
prepare himself to watch the race on TV, sponsored by Pari Mutuel Urbain
Mimbolandais.
Itdidn’ttakeLillyLovelesslongtolocateDrWisemanLovemore.He
was quite well known – a solid presence on campus à la Dustbin. The first
person she asked was able to take her right to his office, where he was
explaining to a female student behind closed doors aspects of a lecture she
had either missed or not understood, or had insisted on having as a private
tutorial.
This would never happen in Muzunguland, a lecturer alone with a
female student in his office, with the door closed, the thought crossed Lilly
Loveless’mindassheintroducedherself.
Short, thick, big-headed, almost neck-less, and with eyes like a
butterflyinaflowergarden,DrWisemanLovemorewelcomedhisguestwith
a smile, his mind at work – a hunter contemplating his tools in the face of
game. He fumbled between an offer of tea and a seat, as he dismissed the
student,mumblingsomethingaboutcontinuingtheexerciselater.
Lilly Loveless was keener on sorting things out right away, so she
declined the tea, which normally she would have loved, as the weather was
chillyandteawithherwasawayoflife.
“Sorry we missed each other at the airport,” Dr Wiseman Lovemore
shook hands with her warmly, slightly uncomfortable with her height and
sharp,blueeyesthatseemedtoabsorbeverythingtheysettledon.“Ithought
youwerenotontheflight,sinceIwaitedandwaited…”
“Iwas delayedatimmigrationand customs,details of whichI won’t
boreyouwith.”
“Hopeyoudidn’thaveanyproblemfindingataxi...”
“Let’snottalkaboutthetaxieither.Canyoubelieveit?Igetintoone
and ask to be taken to the University of Mimbo. The taxi man has no clue
where this is, but insists on taking me, only to drive round and round.
9Luckilyweaskedsomeonewhoshowedhimthewayatlast.”
“ThankGodhebroughtyouhereinonepiece.Itcouldbeworse.”
“I’mnotcomplaining.”
“Iseeyouaremarried,”remarkedDrWisemanLovemore,abruptly.
Lilly Loveless looked at the gold ring on her finger and smiled, but
said nothing. She didn’t know how to begin to tell him her mother had
insistedupontheringasawayofkeepingpryingandpreyingAfricanmenat
bay.
“I know you must be tired. A quick tour of the department and the
faculty, then we go,” said Dr Wiseman Lovemore, picking up his bag and
leadingtheway.
Hedidaquickroundofintroductionsinthebuildingthathousedthe
DepartmentofSocialWorkandFacultyofSocialSciencesbeforetakingherin
his car to drive round the expansive, impressive but very underdeveloped
campusoftheUniversityofMimbo.
Again,thefenceunderconstructioncaughtLillyLoveless’attention.
“This is a long and expensive fence in the making you’ve got here,”
sheremarked.
“Yes,andacontroversialonetoo.”
“Whatdoyoumean?”
“Opinion is divided and there’s lots of tension in the air,” he
whispered.“That’sallIcansayfornow.Morewhenweareoutofhere.”
Lilly Loveless nodded. Dustbinhadn’t mentioned a thingabout how
paranoid Mimbolanders were. Or was Dr Wiseman Lovemore being overly
dramaticandmysteriousaboutthefence?
They drove back, packed his car “because petrol isdamn expensive,
andthereistoolittleofitinthecar.I’mjustapoorlecturer.”
She smiled knowingly this time. Dustbin and others had already
preparedherforthisandalotmore.
“Financially, how we survive here at UM is difficult to say,” Dr
Wiseman Lovemore unfoldedhispoverty.“AllIknowisthat we beat Christ
whenitcomestomiracles.”
Lilly Loveless took the cue. She would have to babysit him
financially,iftheyweretosocialise.
Theybothjumpedintoa taxi,withLillyLovelessstatingupfrontthat
shewouldpay,whichslightlywoundedDrWisemanLovemore’sego,buthe
didn’tprotest.TheyheadedforMountainViewHotel,wherehehadreserved
aroomforherforthefirstfewdaysofherfieldwork.
Thegirlatthereceptionwasfairincomplexionandyouthful.Shehad
a sweet face and her dimples were merry. Lilly Loveless noticed her lips as
well, poised gently and firmly, one luscious lip on the other, together they
spoke even when no words moved them.Covered in a creamy gloss that let
their deep natural glowing brown colour show, the girl’s lips warmed you
just by looking. One turned up at an impressive angle and the other sharply
down,accentuatingthelinethatseparatedandbroughtthemtogether.
The girl herself seemed unaware of the arresting power of those
prominent lips proudly protruding. She introduced herself as Britney,
parttimereceptionistandfull-timestudent,studyingduringthedayandworking
evenings.“YouarewelcometoMountainView.”ShehandedLillyLovelessa
form.“Youcanstayaslongasyoulike.Wearenotexpensiveandtherearen’t
10manycustomersinanycase.”
Lilly Loveless smiled to herself, wondering if her employer would
keepherifheheardher.
Dr Wiseman Lovemore helped Lilly Loveless to her room with her
luggage and returned to wait in the dingy reception lounge while she
showered.
When she came back downstairs, she looked fresh and had changed
intoapairofjeansandawhiteshirt.Shewascarryingasweater.
“I didn’t know it would be this cold in the heart of the tropics,” she
toldDrWisemanLovemore,assheputonhersweater.
“It must have escaped Dustbin, for Puttkamerstown is generally a
cold place, all year round. It used to be worse before the university was
created. Since then, there hasbeen a population explosion thathasmade the
townslightlywarmer.Lotsofpeoplefartingintotheair…”
“Wheredidyousayweweregoing?”
“IthoughtI should welcome you with a drinkand something toeat,
ifthatisOKwithyou.”
“Goodidea.”
“Let’sgotoMountainValley,aplaceIknowwell.”
“MountainValley?”
“It’sarestaurant,adrinkingplace,andalso…”helaughed.
“What?”
“Itisalsoarestingplace.”Hewassmilingmischievously.
“Restingplace?”
“Yes,wheremenandwomengotorest.”
“Youmeansugardaddiesandsweatmamas…wheretheybringtheir
catch?”
“Icouldn’thavestateditanybetter.”DrWisemanLovemorethought
tohimself,thiswomanisdynamite,muchmorethanmeetstheeye.
“Interesting,definitelyaplaceworthdiscovering.Theperfectstartto
myfieldwork.”
Mountain Valley was a walking distance from Mountain View. Rich
invegetationincludingahealthyabundanceofflowersbothwildandtended,
thelandscapeattractedLillyLoveless.IftherewasonethinginMimbolandto
command her resilience and pleadforforgiveness for allthe sins ofSawang,
she was sure it was the scenery of Puttkamerstown. There was the
overarching Mount Mimbo, with all its hypnotic majesty, impressive and
mystical like the chariot of the gods, to crown it all. Luckily the skies were
clear, allowing the mountain to throw off its dark and white blanket of rain
cloudsand reveal the fullness ofitsbeauty towelcomeher eyes, marveland
sense of spectacle. She felt good, like a tropical flower that cannot blossom
withoutthesun.Instinctively,shemadethesignofthecross,andthankedthe
stars, which was significant, for she was neither Christian nor religious. A
worshipperofnaturemaybe,nothingmore.
Dr Wiseman Lovemore told her of the mountain race, an
internationaleventthattakesplaceeveryyearinthemonthofFebruary,and
thatentailsrunninguptothetopofthe5000metreshighmountainandback.
She wasimpressed by hislengthy account of how a local female participant
whohabituallyracesbarefootedandhardlylooksher agehadbeencrowned
“MountainHare” forwinningmoretimesthananybodycanremember.Lilly
11Lovelessfelttemptedtotakepartinthenextrace,evenifitmeantonlygoing
asfarupastheUpperEdenorStopOne,ofwhatDrWisemanLovemoresaid
wasathree-stop-racetothetop.Themountainwasfullofgods,shewastold,
who needed constant attention, and who were known for showing
displeasure once in a blue moon by coughing out red hot fire so vicious it
couldswallowwholevillages.
LillyLovelesshadthefeelingDrWisemanLovemorewasaddressing
theanthropologistinherbytalkingofgodsandfireinsteadofvolcanoes.She
madenocommentasasocialgeographer.
They walked past several relics of Muzunguland colonialism, which
DrWisemanLovemore,nota touristguidebyanystretch oftheimagination
and neither overly romantic about the past or keen on sightseeing, did his
utmosttobringhometoLillyLoveless,whomhewasdeterminedtoimpress.
There was the Bismarck Fountain, which had long ceased to flow, just like
Bismarck after Willem II became Kaiser. There was the prestigious Lodge,
initiallyconstructedbyPuttkamerasa birthdaypresentforadaughterofthe
soil who had mastered the needs of hisheart. A significant symbol of power
orpowerlessnessinaway,thelodgehadbeenpasseddownfirsttothePrime
MinisterofWestMimboland,thentothePresidentoftheFederalRepublicas
afederalpalace,andfinallytoPresidentLongstayoftheUnitedRepublicasa
Regionalresthouse, whichineffect meantanend to occupancy,asLongstay
hardly ever saw the need to venture into the periphery. He is famously
known tohaveproclaimed recently whenthecountry wasup inflameswith
thirstfor variousfreedoms: “Democracy isa very expensive disease; we feel
better when it is cured. As long as Nyamandem breathes, Mimboland is
alive.” To mark the solitude, disuse and neglect the Lodge now enjoys, the
clock which had been faithful throughout the history of colonial presence
ceased to tick in 1972. It is rumoured that President Longstay dreamt with
such conviction that federalism was a wasteful nightmare that the clock
ceased to tick in evidence. So, tourists, when they get close enough, can see
thattheclock’shandsarestuckat5.45–dawnordusktheycan’ttell,butwho
cares?
They came to the colonial graveyard, which Lilly Loveless said she
must see, but which Dr Wiseman Lovemore was cold about, given his
convictionthatthedeadmustnotbedisturbed.Sohe stoodbythemainroad
while shewenttosee.Shecountedthenumberofgraves,wrotedowninher
notebook the names on the tombstones, and placed the colourful leaves of a
nearbyplantonthegraveclosesttoherasasymbolicwreathe.
“There are twelve of them,” she said, upon rejoining Dr Wiseman
Lovemore.“Whatdoyouimaginetheydiedof?”
“Illness, probably. Malaria,” he didn’t know for sure. “There was a
war between the local population and the Muzungulanders who came
seekingtheirlandandtakingovertheirlives,”headded.“Buttherewerenot
that many casualties. So it must have been to the mosquito that they finally
succumbed.”
“Probably.I’llfindoutfromtheArchives.”
“MuchasnatureluredtheMuzungulandertoAfrica,naturealsohad
awayofcuttingdowntosizetheirfantasies.Ifitwasn’tdisease,itwastough
terrain that made it particularly difficult for them to penetrate and humble
the heart of darkness. And many fell by the wayside, thanks to these
12hazards.”
“Ifthereisanytruthinwhatyousay,theArchiveswillbeabletotell
me.”
“I can see you swear by the Archives,” said Dr Wiseman Lovemore,
half mockingly. “I’ll show you the Archives tomorrow. It is too late to go
theretoday,asitislongpastofficehours.”
“Nohurry.”
“Itiscuriousisn’tit?”
“What?”
“That your Muzunguland forefathers in Mimboland should survive
thewarbutfalltothemosquitoes.Thismeansthatbothwereinvolvedinthe
liberation struggle. We might never have had our independence had the
mosquitoesnotjoinedinthestruggle,”hechuckled.
“Interesting perspective,” was all Lilly Loveless could say. She had
neverthoughtofthingsinthatlight.
“Doyouknowwhytheyfelltothemosquito?”
“No,”saidLillyLoveless.“Doyou?”
“I read somewhere that when they came, they did not manage more
than a bed of radishes, when all sort of vegetables do so well here and
elsewhere in the region,” said Dr Wiseman Lovemore. “They depended on
tastelesstinnedfoodsinsteadofscratchingthesoiltogrowfood…”
“What has that got to do with dying from mosquitoes?” Lilly
Lovelessinterrupted.
“Can’t you see? Dependence on canned foods means that your
forebears did not keep gardens, and no gardens meant that they lived
surroundedbybushes,andthereforemosquitoes.”
“Cleverthinking,”LillyLovelessagreed.
“Their failure to domesticate their surroundings led to the mosquito
showingthempepper, whichis whyIbelievethere ought tobeamonument
inhonourofthemosquito,ineveryAfricancountry,”hewenton.
LillyLovelesswasabitirritated.
“Yes,” he insisted. “We need a monument to the mosquito, in the
publicsquare!”
“That reminds me.” Lilly changed the topic in exasperation. “Could
wepassbyapharmacyformetopickupsomemosquitorepellentspray?”
“Mypleasure.”
13