I keep a bulletjournal, that’s kind of like a MASH-UP of my whole life. I do daily to-do lists which are less overwhelming than they sound. I write my favorite quotes from the books I’m reading, grocery lists, recipes I find on the interwebs for crockpot goodness, goal lists and project maps. Basically, just everything.
Something I’ve done since high school is keep a collection of quotes from the things that I’ve read. In high school, most of them wound up taped to my vanity mirror, but a lot of them were hidden on little scraps of paper from my purse (mostly receipts). Some small fragments I tuck into my wallet as a reminder. I got one tattooed on my shoulder when I just finished college. A few I write on envelopes to my lovely pen pals, but almost all of them end up in a journal, whichever one is dominant that day. I used to have a tiny little notebook that I hid in a sock drawer for quotes, but then I found that I needed to carry them around on my day to day missions.
This is a long story just to say that I find so much power in the written word that I have to copy it down and carry it around. Some girls carry lipstick, I carry words. Some girls collect shoes, I collect letters put together like a math equation until they’re meaningful. So, in an effort to blog more than book reviews, I want to share a quote every week from whatever I’m reading and kind of explain it’s meaning to me and how I think it can influence the society that I live in.
Currently, I’m reading Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
I’m not quite sure how to summarize where I am, but there are four voices (organized by chapter) and the one that is talking/thinking in this chapter is Olanna who dates Odenigbo. Olanna is from a wealthy family in Nigeria and Odenigbo is a college professor in Africa that very much wants to support Nigerian values, but also bring Nigeria to a culturally aware world that is not dependent on British expectations and British rules. In this part, Odenigbo’s mother comes to visit and basically gives Olanna the “what for,” and tells her that she’s no good for her son and needs to go away.
Odenigbo: “Nkem, my mother’s entire life is in Abba. Do you know what a small bush visage that is? Of course she will feel threatened by an educated woman living with her son. Of course you have to be a with. That is the only way she can understand it. The real tragedy of our postcolonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather, it is that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world.”
I think this quote is beyond powerful. It blends the idea of gender roles and gender expectations with class roles and class expectations with cultural roles and cultural expectations. It’s a big hodgepodge of influence. In a world where women are still supposed to be the virtuous part of a working relationship, and certain religions look down on others for the “looseness” of their women, this quote outlines a generational gap as well as a cultural gap in a time of growth on this continent. In some countries women aren’t even allowed to leave the house without a man and must have men testify in court on their side in order to defend a rape allegation, this quote shows the bias of a mother when she’s forced to reconcile with a woman who breaks the expectations. Olanna is living with her lover without the “benefit of clergy” (as my Catholic confirmation sponsor would call it).
However, this isn’t even the most commanding part of the quote. Odenigbo manages to wrap up my feelings on poverty, and colonialism, and culture clashing, and third world vs. first world in one quick sentence. How can people from one culture waltz in and dominate another without giving the initial culture the resources and advantages to live in this new world. First off, what does it mean to be “civilized?” And who’s right is it to decide that? Then, when one group of people is “civilized” a la Things Fall Apart, there’s no real way to do this without playing dirty. If someone walked up to me tomorrow and told me my whole life was a sham and I need to live a different way, I would laugh in their face and walk in my mall jeans home.
Nonetheless, colonialism has happened in our world and once it has happened, what is the role of the “conquerer” to help the “conquered” deal with the new values, new rules, new expectations. In poverty training at my old teaching county we were taught that all department stores are marketed and made-for middle class people. What must these stores feel like to those that are loudly rich, or those that are severely poor? How can we make a world work where everyone feels at home navigating the waves and the issues of that world, where everyone is allowed to troubleshoot? How do we even teach this? I’m constantly asking myself this question as a teacher and I’m constantly mulling it over in my head as a human. That’s why I find the power of these words so successful.
And as a teacher, here are some essential questions I find relevant to this topic:
- How do individuals reconcile competing belief systems within a given society (e.g., moral beliefs conflicting with legal codes)?
- What are the politics and consequences of war, and how do these vary based on an individual or cultural perspective?
- How does literature reveal the values of a given culture or time period?
- What does it mean to be an insider or an outsider?
- How do decisions, actions, and consequences vary depending on the different perspectives of the people involved?