Sada Malumfashi is a writer living in Kaduna, Nigeria. His works of fiction have appeared in Transition Magazine and New Orleans Review, while his nonfiction pieces have appeared or are forthcoming in Saraba Magazine, Enkare Review, This Is Africa and Music In Africa amongst others. He was a participant at the Goethe Institute Literary Exchange Program in Cameroon in 2016 and is currently on the shortlist of the Koffi Addo Prize for Creative Nonfiction administered by Writivism.
This conversation took place between a green bedroom in the sweetspot of Gaborone, Botswana and a bed sprayed with books in Kaduna and the vicinity of a campus courtroom in Zaria.
Gaamangwe: Congratulations for being shortlisted for the Koffi Addo Prize. How are you feeling about being shortlisted for this prize? What does it mean to you that this particular story is shortlisted?
Sada: Thank you very much. It is really an honor to make it to this stage. There were so many incredible and inspiring writers on the longlist, so much talent, which shows the growth of creative nonfiction in Africa. It is really exciting. When the call for the Koffi Addo prize was announced, I always knew this was the particular piece I would be sending in. I am really glad it made it all the way to the shortlist as it provides a means for me to pull others into this part of the world I love to write about.
Gaamangwe: I am excited for you, it was really great to be part of your world with “Finding Binyavanga”. I felt like I wanted to be there with you and your friends and Binyavanga, like your experience is a replica of a dream I might have about Finding Ben Okri or Nnedi Okorafor. Tell me more about this part of the world you love to write about?
Sada: Wow. Such great names. I would love to be invited to be a part of your dream too.
Kaduna is my own literary city. I grew up reading books, mainly Hausa books with imaginative characters and magical cities, and in my mind I situated those magical cities to be Kaduna, the part of Kaduna I grew up in. This is a city that used to be cosmopolitan, a representation of the country Nigeria. Then, this magical city got torn apart along divisions, and there was bloodshed. I left Kaduna when I was young clutching with it those images of a magical city. When I returned back to Kaduna, almost a decade later. I went in search of that city of magic. But it was nowhere to be found. I was only left with bouts of nostalgia, of what the city used to be. So I began to write and situate my characters in the midst of this nostalgia. Of what I knew Kaduna to be, of what Kaduna is now and of how I want Kaduna to be.
But Kaduna is unpredictable. And I only discovered this with the arrival of my friends in ‘Finding Binyavanga’ into this idea of Kaduna I nursed. So the city appeared to me in a different light, like something I have been staring at, without actually having a good look at it. I finally met this City in its nakedness and out of preconceived ideas, and I realized, no, I cannot write Kaduna. Kaduna uses me to write itself.
Gaamangwe: Your reflection take me to my own personal experience. I spent some of my impressionable, childhood years in a village called Lerala. I find that to this day all my stories, imaginations and night dreams are based in the Lerala of my childhood. There is just a deep psychic charge to this place of my memory. I am not too sure that what I remember of it is what was. But the village carries me, haunts me and like you, uses me to purge its stories through me. I find these psychic charge fascinating. I do think of places as living, vibrating characters, that exists as we do. Yet, like you I am also jarred when I encounter the Lerala of the moment of now. I see her in a different light, which many times alters how I perceive my life experiences and all those memories of my times there. So I have to keep re-writing her every-time I experience her.
So with your Kaduna, now in this new light and nakedness, what’s clear to you about Kaduna? And what does she need to be written about her?
Sada: I totally agree with you. It is really fascinating. I read Wole Soyinka’s ‘Akè. The Years of Childhood’ while I was quite young, and it left an impression on me. The distinctions in the mind of the young character between his immediate compound which he evokes like a complete city, different from Akè the town his compound is situated in and completely different from the major town that is Abeokuta. In that book, Soyinka evokes the vulnerability of a young mind and the ideas of locations, that gets imprinted on the mind right from childhood.
I think for me the trick then is not to allow myself to be drowned in the nostalgia of the past anymore. As I said earlier, after discovering Kaduna in its nakedness, I stopped writing Kaduna, but rather allowed Kaduna to write itself. So I could now write about the nostalgic memories of the city of my childhood and swim around all the wonderful stories without drowning or forgetting to return to this present city. Because in all it’s different eras, all its different forms, the city is yearning to tell its stories. I am now just a vehicle, and I can no longer gate keep the stories, I cannot allow my nostalgia to blind me from the present, and I cannot allow the fear of this new city block the memories of yesteryears. It is a difficult balancing act, as the city is now the storyteller and the least we can do is listen to its diverse stories in all its divergent forms.
Gaamangwe: That is powerful. I lived in Pune, a city in India, not so long ago. My Indian friend once said to me: “Joy, tell me about the India of your eyes? Tell me how you are experiencing my India”, and he was so fascinated and shocked of my personal view of his home. Often amazed by the clarity of what he took for granted, what he missed. But for me, because I was in this new place, I was super aware and awake. I saw and felt everything; the endless buzz, people everywhere, crazy rickshaws drives, Bollywood songs blaring in every street corner, the regularities of celebrations and festivities. And the subtle things: the Indian head-shake, the shyness of Indian people around strangers, the constant use of “itself” and “only” in every sentence. Later, I too started to speak in that manner. Heck, a year later, I still say “Meet me on Thursday itself!”.
But all these things were new for my Indian friend. Of-course he knew them but they had somehow faded from his awareness. The whole conversation was shifting for me too. And so since I’ve been home, I often try and imagine how a visitor sees my Gaborone. It’s always a strange exercise. I wonder, for you, how do you imagine the experience was like for Binyavanga? To experience the Kaduna of now as a visitor, an outsider who is devoid of nostalgia?
Sada: The clarity of what we take for granted. That is it. I was with Binyavanga for just about two days in Kaduna. For him, Kaduna was a new place as such he was also super aware and awake to virtually everything. And he loved to ask questions about the things he saw and felt, the subtle things. Now, the awareness that descended on me that made me feel and see the things he asked about made me also feel and see Kaduna as a completely new place.
And for Binyavanga, I wouldn’t say he was completely devoid of nostalgia. Yes, he did not have a nostalgia of Kaduna because he has never been to Kaduna, but he had a nostalgia of somewhere else. His childhood growing up in Nakuru was his own nostalgia and all his questions about my city were based on the emotions he had of his own place, his city. It was in a way a means of searching for the memories of his home in Kaduna. When we were at the hospital, all he could see were the similarities of the old catholic hospital here in Kaduna to the hospitals back in Kenya. Our discussion of politics was a comparison of the Kenyan and Nigerian situation. He viewed the history of my city through the lenses of his Nakuru. When he sees the old colonial houses, his eyes lit and he shouts, “For the Mzungus” and it takes a little bit of translation for us to realise he is saying the same thing as us saying “For the Oyinbos”. He asks about the weather here in relation to his own Nakuru: “Where do your rains come from. In Nakuru we have mountainous rains”. So the nostalgia is always there, just exhibited in different ways.
But what the whole experience has taught me is also to try and see things in my own city on the way an outside might project them. To remember that the rains in Kaduna came from the Atlantic Ocean and that for a person from Nakuru, that is important.
Gaamangwe: Aha, we do carry all of our worlds into new worlds! But it’s also refreshing to realize that our worlds are more similar than different, especially as Africans. The nuanced aspects of our culture, expressions, landscapes and meanings. Binyavanga’s Mzungu, your Oyinbo, and my Lekgowa means the same thing: white person. It’s the naming that’s different. This sameness or familiarity shapes our experience of things, our relationships with ourselves, friends and countries. Familiarity definitely fosters feeling of love. For me, places that seem more familiar to my world easily become and feel like home. I am interested in this notion of home, what makes Kaduna home? What are the things about your Kaduna that feel familiar, like they belong to you?
Sada: It is those little things that make Kaduna unique, different from anywhere else. Nigeria is a diverse country of more than 200 tribes and Kaduna is the melting point of all these ethnicities. So, what is it that makes it familiar? It’s the cosmopolitanism of the city. Kaduna as a microcosm of the amalgamation of Nigeria. The multiplicity of lives and varied humans co-existing in one entity.The interrelation of religion, culture, industrialization and tradition. These are the reasons we love to brag about our city. And also the same reasons why we keep nagging and complaining when the city is then divided, classified and stretched into lines of religion and ethnicity. Because the Kaduna I am familiar with is liberal and unifying. The familiarity of knowing we are all different, but we all have Kaduna in common.
Gaamangwe: Wonderful! What are the lessons/realisations/shifts you carry with you today from your encounter with Binyavanga?
Sada: I would say my worldview tilted. My idea of this place I call home shifted. I unlocked a different world like a chicken out of a cracked egg. I learnt that we are all odd in our different ways, but it is our oddities that make us and shape us. I learnt to look at myself and my home naked, devoid of notions and built perceptions. I did realize that the Binyavanga moment would not last forever, even though I would have loved it to, so I learnt to be able to swim across the river that separates my city, and be comfortable in both sides, knowing that really they are all the same, because with Binyavanga, they became uniform, so the aim is to maintain that uniformity even without him. Most importantly, my writing found a purpose.
Gaamangwe: Thank you for your reflection Sada. All the best of luck with Writivism!
NB: This interview is part of a collective book project with all the incredible and talented shortlisted writers for the 2017 Writivism Prizes.