Tuesday 28 April 2015

X is for Xenophobia...and Xaba

Xaba, Makhosazana (1957 - )

Makhosazana Xaba is an award winning South African, feminist poet, fiction writer and biographer.  She is one of the influential, upcoming literary voices in her country.  Her works have been translated into several languages.  This post uses her poem 'Come' as prompt.

Braids and blessings

The girls in my school - I was fourteen then
and my hair wasn’t something I appreciated often –
they would come up to me and gently touch and pat
the top of my head and slide fingers down my plait,
exclaim “how beautiful!” It baffled understanding
what was special in straight hair, no curls or waves or wings,
I wore it braided for lessons, as schoolgirls do;
but my classmates wore many, and I wore max two.

Sometimes after school or at the long recess
I would watch some of them sit close and dress
each other’s hair, the long-toothed combs couldn’t get
easily through that thickness, and oh, the intricate
ways they did it up, half a dozen partings or hundred,
sculpted, tight braid, and shapely, contoured head;
a Japanese Zen garden of hair, magical, feminine.
Why they wanted to touch mine I couldn’t imagine.

I would run my fingers along those myriad partings
over a hundred cornrows and feel them spring
against my hand, tightened darkness against my palm;
how could boring straight compare with this level of charm?
Each side got mildly fed-up, each side somewhat sore,
“all mine are, are bad-hair days, what do you touch these for?”
I wished my hair was curly, they prized only straight.
The blessings given freely we early learn to hate. 

It's a rather sad coincidence that the word Xenophobia has landed up here alongside a South African activist poet in the same sentence. Because of course I tackled the difficult letters first, so the poem was read and the response written way before the attacks hit the headlines. The original was titled Xenophilia, which felt out of place as I looked at it just now and so the phobia word came in.

Xenophobia -  it's not a nice thing that's happened in South Africa this April. I remember Nigeria in the 70's when she actively supported the anti-apartheid movement and ANC.  Black South Africans had the staunchest support from both their Nigerian and Indian brethren long before the West finally rallied to their cause.  Of course the current generation of Nigerians and South Africans have reworked their relationships in the post-apartheid era, and young people perhaps do not feel obliged to carry the burden of ancestral loyalties/gratitude for entire eternity, and maybe they shouldn't either, I don't know. They don't have to start killing anybody though. I am not getting into the rights and wrongs of the situation or a political debate here. But it bothers me awfully when Nigeria/Nigerians go through a bad patch. Heartfelt wishes for all rifts/injuries to heal soon.

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2015


  1. Xenophobia is really tearing the world apart. I wish everyone could just appreciate everyone for their differences instead of hating them for it.

  2. Hi Nila - yes Xenophobia in South Africa is so sad - but sadly I do blame the present and recent leadership ... we need to lead and be fair. Baltimore is in turmoil too ...

    I hadn't hear of Makhosazana Xaba ... but I do know that new poets and writers are coming out of southern Africa ...

    Let's hope rifts heal and leaders lead and not power grab ... Hilary

  3. When in truth, we are all just people.

  4. I'm sorry I just don't know about the Xenophobia in South Africa, but I sure do now. I feel so bad inside, but bad things & happenings is not unknown to the United States either anymore. The whole world is upside lately. I don't remember these awful goings on when I was a kid... or even in the movies. I feel so sad. So very sad. :( It is nice to meet you though & yes, I am now following you. thanks.

  5. ''a Japanese Zen garden of hair'' -wonderful phrase

    zannierose A-Z visitor