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  • Welcome to Applied Fiction
  • Jean-Pierre Bekolo (bio)
    Translated by Simon Burt

In the beginning there is always a story. When I return to my village, I stop at each house on the single road that crosses the village. The ritual is always the same: I get out of the car. I offer a salutation, which consists first in touching the breast—the breast from which the breath comes, so from which life comes. Then follows a little trial of strength to test the solidity of the bones—the structure of the other, their armature. It's a question of finding out whether the other is here or there. Then the arms slide along the other's arms and stop nervously at various points—as if measuring the blood pressure, the heartbeat. This means ending up at the hands, which are kept hand in hand, a sign for generosity—one gives and takes with the hands. This physical journey around the other's body is followed by a story, a timeless story that remains nevertheless an every story. An old woman wastes no time in telling me that the Tsinga, which both she and I are, are an extraordinary people who will always be involved in great undertakings. This was the case with all my ancestors, who she begins to recite for me. One did this, another that, ending up with my father who had not only been an authority in the land, but had also not forgotten his own people. He brought them water, electricity, the road. He was concerned with all his people's problems—bereavements, marriages, imprisonments. The story goes on, telling me how she had last heard of me—on the radio. She doesn't hesitate to tell me of all the fuss and bother she had with this radio—the batteries, the children that leave it running or change the station, making it difficult for her to receive Bebela Ibouk, a local language program she likes very much. Suddenly she gets angry: "How is it that the only [End Page 106] time I hear of you these days is on the radio, my son," she says. She stops and lets the tears run down her cheeks. Then she says, "It's all right. Go and do great things like your ancestors, bring honor to your people, show the way [tracez la voix], build the path/show the way. Go nowhere without letting everyone know that a Tsinga has been there. But . . . don't forget. Never forget that you come from here. Let no one mislead you. Put no trust in our poverty, the things of the earth belong to the earth. We will all move on, leaving behind all the riches which were never ours in the first place but belong to God who made us."

It's years since someone has spoken to me like that. I'm bowled over, not so much by the story, but by the way I'm included in the "epic" recital, my current life, along with the cosmos, the dead, the living, science and technology, an Africa I haven't known, a millennial voice . . . I am "touched." I feel strange. She goes on: "We are here, as you see. When I see the day, I thank God. When I have something to eat, I thank God. We don't matter any more. We have done what we had to do. It's your turn now, as I never stop telling your sister who married into the Bamiléké. She came back with three children. Apparently there was trouble with her husband, and she was fed up with it all. Has marriage ever been easy? And what's going to be done now with all those children? School, medicine, food, to say nothing of clothes. I am worn out. Where is the strength for it all? Where is the person (of myself)? It's the end." Now I can't hold back the tears. This old woman has just called into question the whole direction of my life. Who am I? What am I doing here? There? On the Earth? I go out to get a little air, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-7989
Print ISSN
0306-7661
Pages
pp. 106-113
Launched on MUSE
2008-11-16
Open Access
No
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