An Excerpt of ‘Voice of America’

As you all know, E.C. Osondu’s Voice of America will be in bookshops this May. Well, one of the stories in it, JanjaWeed Wife was awarded the 2011 Pushcart Prize

You can read an excerpt below. Enjoy!

Our tents at the Zagrawa Refugee Camp looked like the humps of thousands of ocher camels crouching in the sand. We all liked to call them tents, but they were not real tents. Some were merely old rags tied together; others were made of old plastic bags, while a lucky few had real tents constructed with tarpaulins. Children from whose tents smoke rose were jumping around and playing, the smoke an assurance that they would soon have something to eat. Tents like ours from which no smoke rose filled with the sullen faces of those of us waiting for our mothers to come back from where they had gone to look for irewood. Nur and I would always watch the road for dust rising into the air, our sign to go get our buckets and water basins and go form a line and wait. Sometimes we were lucky to be among the early ones in the line, because after the first few people, the line would scatter. I was happy that the wells had dried up. Each time I looked into the well while fetching water, I would usually see Father’s head floating around in it. I would close my eyes and continue to fetch the water without looking. I never told Mother; I did not want to add to her worries. Since we had come to the camp, she had thrown silence around her like a black-colored shawl. These days she smiled only with her teeth, unlike in the past when her smile rose from her heart and I could see the three wrinkles on each corner of her eyes.

When there was still water in the well, fighting went on all day as boys and girls struggled to grab the long rope and tie it to their buckets. More water was spilled in the fight over the rope than was fetched. The strong boys helped the girls they admired to fetch water. I remember that it was while standing by the well watching the fights that I first saw Deng. I cannot talk about Deng now.

Mama did not frighten us with the Janjaweed anymore. She did not even want us to mention the word around her. The only time she had been her old self was when we came back from the office to our tent with clothes that were sent to the camp from America. The Red Cross people had made us wait as usual, and then we were told to walk to the bundle of clothes and pick one T-shirt each. Nur picked one with the inscription “I’m Loving It”; I picked one that said “Shake What Ya Mama Gave Ya.” It had a drawing of a girl with long hair and large breasts, who was pointing at her breasts and smiling. I was lucky to get a shirt that was my exact size and was very proud to wear it. I was hoping that Deng would see me wearing the shirt.

“Where do you think you are going to with the picture of that half-naked girl with a hump on her chest?” Mama shouted at me. Nur covered her mouth and began to laugh behind her fingers.

“Answer me, or has someone suddenly cut off your tongue? Or you think because your father is not here, you now have the license to dress like a wayward girl? You better remove that flimsy piece of cloth and return it to wherever you got it from,” she said. She walked into the inner tent, where she began to blow on the firewood, her eyes quickly filling with tears, whether from the wood smoke or from her shouting at me I could not really tell.

Nur was still laughing. I turned to her and whispered that I was going to tell Mama that the inscription on her T-shirt said something bad. “What does it say? How can you say it is saying something bad? Or is it because you love the girl with the hump on her chest?”“Yours says ‘I’m Loving It.’ What exactly are you loving? You are loving being with boys, eh?”

Want to win a free copy? Well, watch this space!


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