Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Cheryl and Pamela: Props in My Distress

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One of my favorite novels is So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba, a Senegalese writer who died in 1981. I read the book, which was originally written in French, while taking an African Literature class at Hunter College in the early 90s. The book has continued to feed and uplift me since I was introduced to it.

The main character, Ramatoulaye, finds strength and independence after her husband dies. In the aftermath, she communicates her anger at both her husband and the customs that allow polygamy in her long letter to her lifelong friend Aissatou.

In times of stress and turmoil in my life, I have consistently been able to turn to my good friend Cheryl in Los Angeles. She is always there with a kind ear, loving heart, and good advice. I hope I’ve been able to support her as much as she’s uplifted me. Recently, my sister-in-law Pamela has also become a wonderful sounding board. She’s been supportive and wise. Pamela and Cheryl have been two of my most steady “props in my distress.” I don’t know what I would do without them during this awful season in my life.

Here’s an excerpt from So Long a Letter. If you’re a female friend or relative of mine, look forward to receiving a copy of this book from me some time in the future.

Dear Aissatou,

I have received your letter. By way of reply, I am beginning this diary, my prop in my distress. Our long association has taught me that confiding in others allays pain.

Your presence in my life is by no means fortuitous. Our grandmothers in their compounds were separated by a fence and would exchange messages daily. Our mothers used to argue over who would look after our uncles and aunts. As for us, we wore out wrappers and sandals on the same stony road to the koranic school; we buried our milk teeth in the same holes and begged our fairy godmothers to restore them to us, more splendid than before.

If over the years, and passing through the realities of life, dreams die, I still keep intact my memories, the salt of remembrance.

I conjure you up. The past is reborn, along with its procession of emotions. I close my eyes. Ebb and tide of feeling: heat and dazzlement, the wood fires, the sharp green mango, bitten into in turns, a delicacy in our greedy mouths. I close my eyes. Ebb and tide of images: drops of sweat beading your mother’s ochre-coloured face as she emerges from the kitchen; the procession of young wet girls chattering on their way back from the springs.

We walked the same paths from adolescence to maturity, where the past begets the present.

My friend, my friend, my friend. I call on you three times.


2 comments:

Anne said...

I wish I had something wise to say now. Just know that I'm praying that God grants you understanding and peace.

This is why all women are sisters.

Alicia Benjamin said...

Anne,
Thanks for the prayers. I really appreciate it.