Monday, November 04, 2013

The great grandma and the teenage rebel

I stumble across an article about the struggles to prevent female genital mutilation in the paper.

It’s close to my heart because I translated a play about it. BINTOU by Kaffi Kwahulé. A beautiful and angry piece about a young girl, a gang leader in a French slum, whose family decides to mutilate her specifically to try to tame her wild spirit.

The ‘operation’ goes wrong and she bleeds to death.

I loved Bintou and lived through Bintou and felt so angry and sad at her dying.

I live through all this again as I read the article. It’s beginning to alarm me, how often I find myself saying: “I wrote a play about that...”

Have I really written about so much?

No wonder I feel tired. No wonder the cartilage in my knees has worn away, no wonder bone is rubbing painfully against bone. 

It’s all the emotional journeys; the thousands of miles I’ve walked in my imagination. The endless wear and tear of all these surrogate lives.

Not to mention the frustration at all these plays being so thoroughly forgotten.

I do the duty trip to my mother-in-law, wrap her her up in her coat, put her in her wheelchair, and take her on a to the nearby canal. 

I forget the pain in my knees as I witness how it’s with the most intense delight she breathes in the wintry air, revels in the wintry sunshine, and takes pleasure in the memory of the canal holidays we’ve taken together.

And she laughs at the memory of her grandmother, Nannie Mima, in her splendid bath chair with its embroidered velvet cushions and its tassels and how she pushed her around. And how regal she looked, “like Queen Mary” in her utterly splendid hat.

“And I never thought I’d end up being pushed around like that, too”. And she’s laughing again. Jean is 89, and afflicted by multiple chronic life threatening diseases,  and yet I sometimes think her grip on life is stronger than mine and more intense is her delight in its pleasures.

When I get home I look up the script:

                         Bintou Bintou
Small savage flower
growing on cold concrete
of a part of town not even the pigs
dare enter
full of hatred
full of love

Bintou Bintou
Bintou the gang leader
Bintou slum amazon
the town she hated
the school she hated
the law of the father she hated

Bintou Bintou
Bintou only loved three things in the world
she loved her gang
that her aunt called the “Lycaons”
she loved her body
her belly that she could turn in a perfect circle
she loved her knife
the knife Manu gave her
her boyfriend Manu who only saw through Bintou’s eyes
who only heard through Bintou’s ears
who only breathed through Bintou’s lungs

Bintou Bintou
Bintou who was “good for nothing”
as her mother said
Bintou who was “a blasphemer”
as her uncle said
Bintou “the whore”
as her aunt said

But she still had a dream
a dream in which she could handle everything
And for hours on end
And for days on end
She shut
herself away to train
to practise once to practise again
all the steps and the sashays
far far beyond the farthest reach
of weariness and exhaustion

Bintou ended up dancing like a goddess
and her boyfriend
called her Samiagamal

But it’s now the family comes
It’s now the time of the shadow of the woman of the knife
It’s now the time of the big decisions
and Bintou is just thirteen

And I’m suddenly having the strangest fantasy: of adapting these lines so they fit the experience of this remarkable woman who’s spent her life conforming to a repressive christian sect, spent her life being the good girl but who still somehow retains a wild love of living in defiance of encroaching death.

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