Thursday, May 15, 2008

Two books I didn't mean to buy

There is really only one bookstore here in Kampala and that is Aristoc. The other day I got out of work early and decided to buy something trashy to read. With the time I have in the evenings without television or internet to distract me, I had thought I would tackle some Masterworks with a capital M, and so I have been plowing through Crime and Punishment for the past few weeks. Enjoying it, too, but I wanted something…well, trashy, as I said.

Unfortunately, to get to the trashy book section, you have to walk through the entire rest of the bookstore (you enter through a turnstile), and there on top of one of the displays was a book that I realized I needed to buy. Not a book I necessarily wanted, mind you, but one I thought I ought to add to my collection. Namely, Same Gender Unions: A Critical Analysis by six African authors with a forward by the Anglican Archbishop of Kenya.

Oh my, is what I have to say. When in the first paragraph of the first essay, the author writes that “Among the most well recorded accounts of the same gender union is found in the first book of the Bible, Genesis 18 and 19 [the story of Sodom],” you know you’ve got a ways to go. A mob demanding of a homeowner that he send his guests out so the mob can rape them is not exactly my idea of a “same gender union.” Homosexuality is described as an addiction that “one might compare…to the urge to taste the highly intoxicating and lethal drink Kumi Kumi.”

However, and this is a major shift, I think, there is some sense and understanding that “there are among us people who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation” (from the Archbishop’s preamble). This is huge! If, indeed, this is beginning to be understood, then I suspect deeper understanding will follow. I think, though, that there’s a mix of feelings about this. One woman is quoted thusly: “Even a mad man does not sleep with another man and it is a matter of common sense that negative attracts positive. I refuse to accept gays and if I realized my boyfriend was gay¸ I would immediately terminate the relationship.” (emphasis mine) I mean, it’s one thing if the Archbishop of Kenya quoting Lambeth resolution 1.10 1998 says some people recognize themselves as gay, but when your Kenyan beautician says it, perhaps people really believe it.


Meanwhile, back in the bookstore, I eventually made it to the trashy novel section where a staff member asked if there was a particular novel I wanted. I said, no, I just wanted something to read. She asked if I had read any Ugandan authors. No, indeed. She took me over to yet another section of the bookstore and pulled out a number of books I might like. I bought one called The Official Wife by Mary Karooro Okurut (which I had actually seen recommended in another book I had bought a while ago, Uganda Observed by a British columnist for the Daily Monitor): “…a dissection of modern day polygamy in a Christian setting. It is a cheeky and wicked peep into the polygamist’s bedroom and an insight into the mind of his troubled wife.”

I finished it last night and enjoyed it quite a bit—very wicked, indeed. Also very revealing about the culture. As our heroine decides what to do when dealing with the fact of a co-wife, “I wonder why the traditional African woman accepted polygamy. I ask around. Maybe I did not have to do so much research in order to find out the truth.

Marriage in Africa had really nothing to do with love. The traditional African man never married for ‘love’—it was out of necessity. Free labour for his farm(s); and complaint or rebellion was unimaginable.

The first wife was always respected. More highly respected by the husband than all the other wives. But modern day polygamy is built on totally different premises. The other woman comes as a competitor, to snatch love from the official wife for herself…In modern day polygamy your typical Number Two will make sure the man builds her a better house than Number One’s…In traditional polygamous marriages, the most beautiful house belonged to the official wife. It was known as the big house. The small house belonged to the second wife, a symbol that she was the lesser in status. With modern day polygamy it’s the other way round.

Isn’t that interesting?

And then I bought a John Grisham novel.

1 comment:

qoe said...

California ruling yesterday overturns previous. Same gender marriages are now legal. More states likely to follow.