Archive for June 9th, 2013

June 9, 2013

Pede Hollist, “Foreign Aid”

In Pede Hollist’s “Foreign Aid“, a young man named Balogun moves to America, reinvents himself as “Logan” and returns many years later to his family in Sierra Leone for a short visit.

When you title a story something as blatant as “Foreign Aid”, you’re already signalling something about what it’s likely to be, what it’s likely to mean, in this case what Ben refers to here as the “relationship between the individual/humanistic and the systemic”. And so Logan’s interactions with his family and other countrymen (and I’m using that word here only to deny it later) are framed as if to be read as some sort of analogy for the relationships between nations, and a reader ends up looking for what the story has to say about that. When the answer is “not much”, it’s too easy to entirely write it off as a disappointment.

Reading this story as an Indian reader is interesting because we (like most other postcolonial countries, I assume) have our own narrative of the NRI (Non-Resident Indian). I’ve never actually met someone who has changed the name Krishna to Chris; if I’m sure these people exist it’s because I’ve read countless books and seen countless movies in which they are either comic (look at the entitled idiot from abroad who doesn’t know how things work!) or tragic (look at this poor person caught between cultures!) figures. It’s a stereotype to me, and I suspect to anyone reading from a similar context.

And possibly to Balogun/Logan himself. Frequently in the story I got the impression that Logan was playing a part, that of the magnanimous visitor from abroad:

“Get us some drinks, Bro.” Logan dipped his hand into the fanny pack. Eyes trained on him and a hush descended on the gathering.

Ohmos, Sa?
“Two dozen beer and two dozen sodas.”
Soda wata, Sa?
“Naa, meh. Soda is what we call soft drinks back in the States.”
“Why, Sa?”
“Er … er … we do things differently in America, dude.” And with a flourish, Logan whipped out different-colored bills, fumbled with them for a bit—feigned exasperation when one dropped to the ground—and finally slapped a fistful of notes into Tunde’s waiting hand. The boy and his friends bounded off.

(Emphasis mine)
That’s a very tiny moment, and I don’t know if it needs to mean anything beyond the fact that obviously Logan is enjoying showing off how much money he has in the role of rich relative from abroad. The role that he thinks he’s playing and the role the reader thinks he’s playing need not necessarily be the same. But there’s a need to have his part acknowledged constantly- “I’m from the States, bro?”. Most of his setbacks seem to come from the fact that other people (perhaps they’ve been watching the wrong movies) don’t seem to recognise their parts in the story: his parents should have needed a little less money, his sister been a little more excited at the prospect of a trip to America, her friend Tima a little more willing to sleep with the exciting America-returned cosmopolitan. Ali Sayyar is the worst of all–not only does he not have the courtesy even to be properly foreign so that Logan can despise him on that count, but he’s also fulfilling his responsibilities towards Ayo and doing more to help Logan’s family than Logan could indignantly demand. And it’s funny, and it’s a tiny victory every time Logan’s vision of Sierra Leone is disrupted–when people argue with him instead of being grateful, when his suitcases are returned.

Read from this perspective, this becomes a story about thwarting the narratives placed upon it–by Logan, by the title, by its readers. And if I’m not sure it entirely works that could be because some of those narratives (like that title, again) are things it brings upon itself. Or because I’m completely wrong, of course.

**********************************************

Other people’s thoughts:

Kola Tubosun
Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva
Veronica Nkwocha
Aaron Bady
Kate Maxwell
Scott Ross
Ben Laden