Culture: He Did It All For Love

“Love, something you know nothing of, cause love doesn’t turn and run and leave you standing in the dark…”

– All For Love by Lady Antebellum

So much is written about love, but what is it, really? Well, if the media and books, movies and songs were the spring of true knowledge, we would assume that it is a purely emotional and physical connection with someone; that love is measured by how much the other person gives, by how much we feel while ‘in love’.  Love would be about what we receive and never what we give.  And how could the other person dare complain about what we give, after all, it is about “I”, not “WE” nor the world around us.

We are taught that love is personal and we have the right to stand against any obstacle in disagreement with our feelings…even if the obstacle is our spouse or our child’s happiness.  Oh, did I forget to mention that our celebrities remind us that love is strong but temporary…while exceptions exist, love only last a few days…or a few hours, depending on the season.  So Lady Antebellum keeps singing:

“Love, what was I supposed to do? Falling out can be so cruel but I just can’t ignore the truth…

“So, don’t tell me I don’t understand cause I don’t want this on my head but that’s all there’s left to do…

“I can’t fight these feelings inside of me, as much as this hurts it’s the only way, believe me when I say I did it all for love”

This selfish definition of love is common and seems to be widely accepted. The beauty is that in America as I know it, this physical, emotional and senseless love is unbiased and genderless.  In the Congo I was raised in, selfish love was allowed to men, never to women.  You see, polygamy is very common, officially or under the covers 🙂  It used to be backed by laws in the Zaire era.  I believe it is not recognized today but widely accepted in the society.

So, men were allowed to marry as often as their heart fell in love…as long as they could provide for each wife and her kids.  The women – and especially the first wife – were to forgive and remain supportive because he is a man, and cannot help it.  Furthermore, some tribes in Congo define richness and social status based on the number of wives and kids one has.  As a result, polygamy, rivalry between wives and forgiveness are recurring themes in the Congolese music of the 1960-1980’s.  “Beyanga” by Mbilia Bel is a perfect example of such thinking.

mbilia_bel_phenomene

A friend told me that polygamy is everywhere and affects all of us the same.  She may be true, but I do not know…I still had doubts even after watching few clips from ‘Sister Wives’.  In the culture I was raised in, girls have a sense of helplessness when faced with it.  They do not want it, but do not seem to want to be out of the situation on their own terms.  We are raised to be independent, morally strong to raise kids, proud of our beauty and family values, independent.  We are taught to care for a household and for ourselves just in case our husbands do leave us.  While the first thought here would be “Let’s divorce”, back home it’s more “Oh, well, where do we go from here: is it a one time thing, is she a true rival, will he ask me to leave?”  Also, many refuse to divorce to ensure a better future for their children…

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When the 1960-1980’s Congolese woman finally decides to leave (or is forced out), she leaves her head high because she cared for her kids before herself.  She usually will move on with her life and harbor no resentment towards her ex-husband and his wives.  At the end, she’s freer as society does not require her to remarry.  She can then focus on living life on her own terms and help her kids learn life as adults…I do not understand the reasoning and have always rebelled against it but it is what it is.

Now, Congolese girls from the newer generations definitely think differently.  Most of my friends say they would not waste a minute on a cheating husband.  But who can predict the future?  One thing I have experienced: while the person in love with someone else is living bliss, people around are hurt deeply and rarely recover fully.

“You tell me that your feelings have changed, and you don’t wanna stay and break my heart but baby, it’s too late…

“Cause what about the times that you said to me that I was everything that you’d ever need…

“How can you just stop and walk away, and look me in the eye and say you did it all for love…”

Pictures from Blog and Google.

Culture: Cornelius Nyungura – Beyond War and Bitterness (20 Nov 13)

In my teenage years, Corneille’s tune “Avec Classe” was a major hit.  Indeed, what girl doesn’t want to be respectfully wooed into believing she is the most unique specimen on earth 😉

In the song, Corneille begs me to listen to him.  He promises that he’s not like the other ‘flashy’ guys because he can discern that I am not impressed by cash.  In “Avec Classe”, Corneille promises that, if I’d allow, he would admire my interior beauty with class.  That he’d desire me with class, that my smile and my voice are enough to make him lose his head…that he truly is sincere…Then, he shouts out to his male friends that men owe women a little respect after all, since every man has a sister and their mothers were young too…a new school that Corneille guarantees every man will join at some point in life.

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Up until this week, Corneille was just that flirtatious singer, with a charming voice and a cool style.  I knew his parents were Africans, that they were killed during a war and he had to run for his life at a young age, but I did not look beyond his smarts and melody.  However, if you’ve been following me, you may have noticed that I have been on memory lane lately.  As I was looking for new artists, Spotify recommended some French Canadian musician based on my history (you see, I had recently listened to “Quand tu danses”, a remix of Jean-Jacques Goldman’s hit song, reprised by Corneille as part of the Generation Goldman effort*).  Ok, back to THE story 🙂

Instead of clicking on the artist, I chose to look at Corneille’s portfolio and listen to some oldies.  Of course, Spotify did not have any of those, but a few of his later hits.  I then decided to google Corneille and listen to his songs on YouTube.  There appeared his biography on Wikipedia…and my heart melted for the young man born in Germany who grew up in Rwanda and had to watch his parents, brothers and sisters killed during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.  I will leave the Rwandan Genocide for future days if I gather enough strength and time to accurately summarize it.  Today, I want to focus on Corneille and his music.

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His biography states that Corneille enjoyed music during his teens and was getting his group together when the genocide took place.  As he moved from Rwanda to Congo-Kinshasa to Germany and finally to Canada, music remained his outlet.  I do not know Corneille personally, nor can I pretend to be a steady fan.  I will not pretend to completely understand his pain either, but I can relate even if only to the smallest extent because the exposure I have had to war has marked me for life.  I was not physically hurt but I remember the trauma that comes with the prospect of pain and death at any point of time.  I remember images of dying women, raped little girls, and children being forced to join militant groups.  I remember the panic in my dad’s voice.  I remember my uncle’s determination to protect my mom, my baby brother and I…He did not even care for his own life, focusing solely on us.

War and difficult times can leave any one bitter, angry, lost. I do not know if this applies to Corneille, but his songs seem to convey the image of a man who’s been hurt at his core but still finds a way to smile at life.  His tunes are upbeat though the lyrics are deeply sad at times.  I am curious if this is his true personality (or maybe not, maybe it is better to know the minimum), and if so, what has helped him move past war and its massacres.  In my case and many others’, the bible truth has brought into light the origin of suffering while giving a hope for the future.  So we keep on living each day to the fullest, ‘as if it were our last one…because we come from so far’, would say Corneille. Then, again, how to properly live one’s life to the fullest is another topic 🙂

Corneille - cover_je_me_pardonne

Yes, I am impressed that Corneille’s songs convey good manners (I hope they all do!), respect for women and letting go.  They are definitely fresh air from the painfully explicit but empty lyrics so in vogue nowadays…or am I just a twenty-something old soul.

In any case, let’s listen to Corneille together.  See video links for “Avec Classe”, “Le Bar des Sentimentalistes“, “Parce qu’On Vient de Loin“, “Toi“, “Si Tu Savais“, “Je Me Pardonne” and “Ensemble“.  His English album on Amazon HERE.

*Generation Goldman (I and II) is a compilation of Jean-Jacques Goldman’s hits, as remixed by today’s popular French/Canadian/European singers in an effort to honor Goldman and introduce the younger generation to his profound music.

Images courtesy of blogues.lapresse.ca, Youtube and Google.

Culture: What is the What (Le Grand Quoi) by Dave Eggers – An Ode to African Immigrants in the U.S.

During my interesting college years, one professor used to say that we were all immigrants (or should I say emigrants?)  He argued that an emigrant being a person escaping from something or someone, each human being is trying to escape.  Some are fleeing wars, hunger and poverty in their native countries.  Others are running away from responsibility, battered family life, physical abuse, violence or reality.   Some immigrate to another country; others immigrate to a different state of mind.  However, the most distinctive characteristic of any immigrant would be that we never feel at home anywhere.  We remain foreigners deep down, forever nomads in search of complete relief…

source: syllabe34.unblog.fr

I am always biased when it comes to generalization, and would not go as far as to say that every single human being feels the need to escape.  However, the professor’s words never left my mind and when I started reading Dave Eggers’ novel “What is the What”, the words echoed some of my feelings as an African immigrant to the U.S.  Unlike the main character Valentino Acha Deng, I did not run away from war, though many had to escape the country to save their lives.  I was asked to leave to advance my education and make a ‘better’ life for my family and myself.  Like Acha Deng, I have often wondered where in the world I landed, and have asked myself numerous times if I am indeed better off here than where I grew up.

I will confess that I purchased the book three years ago but have never had the heart to finish it because it felt too personal.  You see, when I read a novel or watch a movie, I want to escape from reality completely…oh wait, we all do…was the professor right after all? Of course not! 🙂 🙂  This is one reason why I have not been able to watch Eddie Murphy’s “Coming to America” since I have been in the U.S.  If I were to be honest, I would admit that I never liked the movie back home because I could not fathom why a prince would come to this country and work for a fast food chain simply to get a woman.  I know, he did it all for love…sure 🙂

Regardless, I feel ready to get back to “What is the What” and complete its reading.  If you get the opportunity to read the book, or if you’ve read it already, please let me know your opinion on the subject!  Maybe I will muster enough courage to rent “Coming to America” and watch it again, for good time’s sake…hmmm maybe not; I have never been a fan of Eddie Murphy anyway.

Let’s end this post with a quote from Roosevelt:

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

* What is the What is entitled Le Grand Quoi in French.

Culture: To My Mom by Camara Laye

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Image credits to designblog.rietveldacademie.nl

My African heritage begins and ends with my mother, the lovely woman who has given her whole for her children and remains a beautiful lady inside and out, despite all the trials and losses she has experienced throughout the years.  A picture of my lovely mother below:

Maman_grad_Bog

While I was searching for my first topic on African culture, a song that I learned back in primary school* played in my mind.   The song is an excerpt from the book ” L’Enfant Noir” by Camara Laye. This translates to the “Black Kid”.  The book was published in 1953 in Paris.

enfantNoir_CamaraLaye_cover

Camara Laye was born in Haute-Guinée in 1928 and decided to write about his childhood at age 25 while in Paris.  His book is a powerful description of customs and traditions of his people, back when he was a young boy.  The excerpt that is forever inscribed in my memory is his poem to his mom.

The original text in French below, and my attempt to english translation further down.  Laye’s poem rings true to the African mothers I have known…and I hope that the newer generation of mothers stays true to this description.  I can only hope…

*As a background, the Belgium system I was raised in, back in Congo-Kinshasa, segments education into two categories: primary school and secondary school.  Primary school starts from age six (or five) to 11-12 years old, grades are one to six.  Secondary school begins at age 12 to 17/18.

À MA MÈRE

Femme noire, femme africaine,

Ô toi ma mère je pense à toi …

Ô Dâman, ô ma mère, toi qui me portas sur le dos, toi qui m’allaitas, toi qui gouvernas mes premiers pas, toi qui la première m’ouvris les yeux aux prodiges de la terre,

Je pense à toi …

Femme des champs, femme des rivières, femme du grand fleuve,  ô toi, ma mère, je pense à toi …

Ô toi Dâman, ô ma mère, toi qui essuyais mes larmes, toi qui me réjouissais le cœur, toi qui, patiemment supportais mes caprices,

Comme j’aimerais encore être près de toi, être enfant près de toi !

Femme simple, femme de la résignation,

Ô toi, ma mère, je pense à toi … 

Ô Dâman, Dâman de la grande famille des forgerons, ma pensée toujours se tourne vers toi,

La tienne à chaque pas m’accompagne,

Ô Dâman, ma mère, comme j’aimerais encore être dans ta chaleur, être enfant près de toi …

Femme noire, femme africaine,

ô toi, ma mère, merci;

Merci pour tout ce que tu fis pour moi, ton fils,

Si loin, si près de toi ! 

English Translation by Sissi:

Black Woman, African Woman,

Oh, you my mother, I am thinking of you

Oh, Daman, oh my mother, you who you carried me on your back, you who breastfed me, you who directed my first steps, you who opened my eyes to the marvelous works of the earth,

I am thinking of you…

Woman of the fields, woman of the rivers, woman of the big river, oh you my mother, I am thinking of you,

Oh you Daman, oh you my mother,  you who dried my tears, you who rejoiced my heart,  you who patiently endured my whims

How I wish I could be close to you again, be a child close to you again,

Woman of simplicity, woman of resignation,

Oh you, my mother, I am thinking of you,

Oh Daman, Daman of the large family of blacksmiths, my though always revolves around you,

Yours is with me at each step,

Oh Daman, my mother, How I wish I were in your warmth, to be a child close to you…

Black woman, African woman,

Oh you, my mother, thank you

Thank you for all you’ve done for me, your son,

So far, yet so close to you

What is your memory of your mother? Please share!