Society has always been evolving to become better. For this to happen there are certain uncomfortable conversations that have to be held. It takes the most courageous to lead on these conversations. And that is what the stories in Jirani & Other Short Stories are all about. These stories are here to challenge our thought structure.
These stories live among us. We are these stories. Stories are the mirror through which we laugh about the things that stifle our growth. The norms we fear talking about. The culture we fear to challenge. Someone once said “tradition is peer pressure from the past”. I guess they were right. There are so many uncomfortable things we carry in our lives that we cannot explain but continue to carry because it is the tradition.
Culture and religion
When culture meets religion, its the people that suffer. Joseph expects to have an heir from his wife. When she fails, she is kicked out. A man is expected, by culture, to have an heir—in this case a boy. It is the tradition and Joseph falls for it. Men like Joseph who cannot stand to claim their space suffer in situations like these. Jajja does not approve of girls’ education just as she questions Christianity’s stand on divorce. This is a debate of the new versus the old.
Opinions are formed from what we are told and what we see. Once this is repeated over and over it becomes a norm. We take it to be a truth. Opinions like those of Jajja in Namale’s Baby and Maama Kagenda in Jirani would contradict those of the Jirani herself. Once education is reduced to a threat then it cannot attract others to join in. The same is true for Namale’s Baby when one of the women in the labour ward argues that pills are for bazungu. Conversations of child birth control are limited to what could go wrong other than the benefits. It is always the quality of conversations that shape opinion in any society.
Time happens to all men. It is interesting to learn that much as the stories in this collection are set in the 80s and the 90s, their impact can still be felt today in 2022. The more things change the more they remain the same. In the Trips to Mombasa, Mombasa was the go-to place for traders at the time. Sometime back Juba was the hot cake. Today, you could say that place is Dubai yet the detail is not in the trade but rather the trip. There are so many Butares who are exploiting their spouses’ hard work for their personal selfish benefit.
Time is responsible for the coincidental meeting of Sonia and William. A childhood encounter that takes another twist in adulthood. No one prepares you for such things yet they are the backdrops on which the silhouettes of our lives are drawn.
There is power in choice. Nothing is as rewarding (to self) like the choices you make for yourself. The best example is Grace’s mother in the Parcels of Fish. Society is bent and built on bias. It does not extend the same grace to both women and men when they take similar decisions. Society “understands” when a man sends away his spouse but does not find the same applicable to a woman. Grace’s mother extends to herself this kind of grace because it is what she needs.
It is out of choice that Peggy in The Fundraiser lives the way she does while at university. We have the liberty to make any choice but each choice comes with a consequence and we do not choose the consequence. Such is life.
This collection is a revelation of many things that have survived time. Things which crossed over from one generation to another. The way of life, the beliefs and norms have a tendency of taking a slow and gradual change. The cause for unlearning, learning and relearning is something we need to be aware of in whatever we do. The voice of these stories is a new breath that we all need to renew our minds.
AUTHOR: BALABA ASEKA
TITLE: JIRANI & OTHER SHORT STORIES
PUBLISHER: KITARA NATION LTD