May I invite you into my office?

May I invite you, via this first post, into my office? It's where I work on my blog and my Africa-centered novels. One look at what I’ve hung on my walls and placed on my bookshelves would no doubt show you how much Africa matters to me. If you sat at my desk and turned to the right, here's what you would see: 

NL office wall cropped

My current office: view of the wall closest to my desk

Every item pictured above triggers strong feelings and memories. The last thing I want is to bore you, so I'm going to focus on five, starting with the map of Africa.

I’ve always been fascinated by maps and enjoyed geography lessons in grade school. But I'm sure I would have had even more fun learning if my textbooks had included such brightly-colored maps. My eyes are usually drawn to one of the twenty-two African countries I’ve worked in, and then to the other, fascinating yet unknown ones (like Namibia). I bought this map years ago in Benin, where the appliqué technique is still alive, long after its original introduction around the eighteenth century in the royal courts of Abomey (in present-day Benin). Members of the tailor’s guild would use costly imported cloth and bold, simplified designs to produce colorful banners, and large canopies, as well as umbrellas and headgear, in honor of their patron king. Banners (including one dating back to King Agadja’s rule from 1708-1740) are on display today in the awe-inspiring Abomey Museum, housed within the Royal Palaces of Abomey, a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

It was also in Benin that the batik of a family of refugees caught my eye. I can only begin to imagine how hard it must be to flee in the face of war, or be forced by a severe drought or the economic meltdown of your country to move, simply in order to survive. Did you know that approximately half the world’s 25 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) are in Africa? And that the continent is also home to about 3.5 million refugees? If the baby on the mother’s back is a little girl, then the group of three women, two girls, one man, and one boy is almost statistically accurate, as 80% of refugees are women and children.

Two other made-in-Benin items are a gift from my beautiful and gifted daughter: the carved mask, decorated with miniature pearls, and (climbing down the spine of a Bambara language method) the wooden gecko with its curved tail. She bought both carvings while accompanying me on a literacy research project to Côte d'Ivoire, Mali and Benin, aimed at promoting the publication of reading materials in national languages. I know parents are biased in favor of their offspring, but I can truly say that our daughter is one of the most empathetic and multiculturally-sensitive people I know. It may well have something to do with the fact that she spent her early formative years in Botswana, living in a village where her joyful playmates were all African. Botswana was very welcoming to non-citizens when we lived there. More recently, the country’s well-known tolerant attitude unfortunately appears to have undergone some change for the worse, in parallel with an increase in the number of (both legal and illegal) immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers from countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa. 

The 27th of April, 1994, was one of the happiest days in my life. That was when South Africa held its first one-person one-vote elections. After several years of gradually dismantling apartheid legislation, a cruel era was finally over. Will Zimbabwe soon take a turn for the better? Sometimes it is hard not to weep at what is happening in that beautiful country of 12.6 million inhabitants, home to the Victoria Falls and the Great Zimbabwe National Monument (another UNESCO World Heritage site, built between 1100 and 1450 CE). 

The fifth and last item I want to share with you is a book by a Zimbabwean author. Zenzele: a letter for my daughter sits right there under the batik of the refugee family. This poignant literary debut by J. Nozipo Maraire was a gift from Jim, my husband extraordinaire. Jim (rightly) believed the novel would strike a chord with me. We had just returned from joint attendance at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF), held in a beautiful park in Harare (sadly, exclusively reserved for whites until the country’s independence in 1980). And he knows that his wife comes from a long line of female letter writers.

Which reminds that I want to send off a letter to my (elderly) mother. Regrettably (or maybe for the best, I think on some email- and tweet-filled days) she missed the whole "digital revolution", ending her acquisition of new technologies with a word processor. So I can't send her a quick email, nor a few recent photos to help shorten the distance between us. But writing longhand is still a lovely experience. And my letters seem to make her day. 

So I'll stop here and head home (via a one minute commute on foot as I am fortunate to have my office right next to our home). There's more I'd love to share with you in another post. 

Thanks for reading this one and take good care until your next visit. 

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