The opening story of Sandra Aikaruwa Mushi’s collection of poetry and short tales, Stains on My Khanga, features a harrowing scene:
The day arrived when he beat me because I refused to serve his mistress a plate of ugali. When it was clear there wasn’t enough for his mistress he kicked his plate of ugali to the floor, and kicked me too. He jeered. Was I supposed to cook for his mistress too? She laughed and cheered him on as he forced me to eat from the floor like a dog.
Mushi’s prose isn’t refined and she isn’t subtle, but there is a rawness that lends power to her writing. She shines a bright light on issues facing Tanzanian women today. The style sometimes reminded me of Rupi Kaur’s poetry collection milk & honey. Another example of that raw cry shows through in Mushi’s poem, “Mine,” which begins “My short skirt / My tight pants / My plunging neckline … / They are mine … / My things have nothing to do with you.” In another poem she likens politicians with empty promises to lovers who treat one like a sex worker:
“Tell your friends about me,” he said as he left, throwing a few notes on my creaking bed…
Timidly I covered my nakedness
with a torn piece of my khanga…
I had let him have the only thing I had
the one thing he wanted from me
the only valuable thing I had–
(That one reminded me of Lena Dunham’s likening of the first time you vote to your first sexual experience.)
Not all the pieces are about women. In one, an underpaid teacher takes bribes in exchange for test scores. In another, migrants to the city each overstate their success in letters home, leading others to miscalculate the expected gains. But abuse and exploitation certainly center the assemblage. The whole collection is a quick, powerful read.
Here are a few additional passages that struck me.
On alcohol and abusive relationships: “The bottle was her solace. The bottle was his ally.”
On mothers and daughters with abusive men: “When I watched her, I watched her watching him watching me. Like me, she watched in silence.”
On prostitution: “What’s the point if I make in one night more than you make in a month?” (Spoiler alert: In the story, the retirement plan doesn’t end up being great.)
This is book #30 in my effort to read a book by an author from every African country in 2019.