I remember as a little girl, living in the Gambia, being with a group of school children to listen to a talk about chimpanzees from a woman, with straight, thin, silvered blond hair and a low, soft comforting voice that told us about her love for and experience with her beloved primates, in calm and measured tones. She spoke of reintroducing captive chimpanzees to the wild and having to use pincers on their butts, to get them to sleep in trees, rather than on the ground. She feared a chimp would become too comfortable living on the ground and make itself prone to predation. I believe this woman was Jane Goodall.
This would have been likely within the same year as the death of Dian Fossey on December 26, 1985. My first personal contact with a non human primate was about the year 1987 when my family took our weekend trip to the islands off the coast of Guinea. An American-French couple had brought their chimpanzee with them. It was a juvenile and wore a diaper. (I am not going into the proper morality, nor scientific construct, if there is one, for keeping chimpanzees as pets at this moment.) I was standing on the beach, and was six years old at the time.
The chimp had been made confused and ran along the golden-white sands screeching, and at that age, as now, I was tall. I was five feet by the age of eight. The chimp, ran up to me and wrapped all four appendages around my right leg. He looked about and screamed as if he wanted me to do something and I just looked down at him. He quieted for a moment, looked up into my face and froze with the thought, "Wait, you're not my mommy," written on his face. He then took off to find his real mommy, or so it seemed.
I find it intriguing how Fossey's love for gorillas began before she knew them. She came to Africa in September 1963, with two of her main goals being, "to visit the mountain gorillas of Mt. Mikeno in the Congo and to meet Louis and Mary Leaky at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. Both wishes came true."
For her, in her first encounter, "Sound preceded sight. Odor preceded sound in the form of an overwhelming musky-barnyard human-like scent. The air was suddenly rent by a high-pitched series of screams followed by the rhythmic rondo of sharp pok-pok chest beats from a great silverback male obscured behind what seemed an impenetrable wall of vegetation."
I will never fail to be amazed at the trust Fossey has in approaching animals who are so much stronger and seem weary of human contact. But she did. In the black and white photos of my 2000 Mariner Books edition, it is amazing how submissive her movements and mannerisms toward these creatures are. She is saying, "It is your world, but may I be so bold as to be your guest?" The gorillas said, "yes."
And so came nineteen years of a life solely devoted to a specie, of two hundred and forty mountain gorillas, that has a singular home of twenty-five miles long and varies in width from six to twelve miles, upon "six extinct mountains within the Virunga Volcanoes."
And I would prefer to go by the book version of the story rather than the film on this take. Despite breathtaking shots of Sigourney Weaver as Fossey among the gorillas, the film portrays the scientist as a renegade loser who begged Leakey to work with gorillas because she was used to being around disabled children. Fossey served for eleven years as an occupational therapist and her background did consist of a majority of science courses at the university level, before she began work with gorillas. The film is in part based on, "the work by Dian Fossey," and "the article by Harold T.P. Hayes" who later wrote the novel, The Dark Romance of Dian Fossey.
The Gorillas in the Mist novel is based on extensive field notes and perceptions about four main gorilla families. She depicts these creatures as having incredibly complex and intense family bonds formulated under the control of silverback leaders who she named Whinny (Group 4) Beethoven (Group 5), Rafiki (Group 8) and Nunkie's Group, who she does not give a number to for some reason.
Each gorilla is his or her own character within a story-frame of love, passion, lust, family bonds, incest, illness, infanticide and many hours spent grooming and playing. The average group consists of a single silverback, his harem of about three females, whose rank depends on order of capture by her mate for life, and their various offspring. When a male grows old enough he will go off from the group to secure his own females, usually by herding them away from their original groups. Violent fights will break out among the silverbacks in the acquiring of females. If she already has a child by another mate after having been newly obtained, the silverback will likely kill her offspring in order to dominate her and reproduce with her as quickly as possible himself.
Despite that it cannot be said that they are "nice" these shy creatures will also willingly die by the multitude to protect a single one of their own, which is why capturing mountain gorillas for exhibition in zoos is so dangerous. The capturing of a single gorilla can involve corruption among various lines of both African and European officials. "Without any abashment whatsoever, the Conservator admitted to having asked the leading poacher of the park, Munyarukiko, to organize a group of poachers to make the capture. What money passed through whose hands at this point I do not now know, nor did I then care. The men had climbed Mt. Karisimbi and selected a random group containing an infant. Later I learned that ten members of the gorilla group were killed in the capture." And all of this was for the Cologne zoo.
Fossey's novel does not run in an entirely linear fashion, but flows back and forth in time, though in a manner that functions well. The only criticism is not of the writing itself in a direct right, but of her portrayal of men she so often calls, "the Africans." She also refers to them as "the porters." Men who were essential to her maintaining her camp and who worked side by side with her for years to cut down trap after trap set by poachers as part of active conservation. She does not portray them badly nor does she portray them highly. Their name for her was Nyiramachabelli, which means: the women who lives on the mountain alone without a man.
She seems a very hard driven person and perhaps is a little condescending to those who do not have her education nor innate love for gorillas. She also never goes into detail about the mysterious poachers who were natives of the land and knew the mountains at least as well and likely better than she. Little is known of the Africans and their culture outside of their very direct effects on the gorillas as well as a dry, scientific overview of the country of Rwanda at large.
Research students were also hard placed to meet the competition that was a daily part of her world. Fossey came to realize she would need to train researchers to both aid in current work and carry it on for prosperity. Very, very few people are made to be able to transfer academic excellence into sustainable field work. One student collapsed at her feet after their first hike together. Another accidentally burnt down her own cabin from trying to dry clothes. A high ranked visiting botanist also burnt down his own cabin, leaving Fossey and the Africans with severe smoke inhalation from putting out the flames.
It came to Fossey's realization that what was a wilderness heaven for her, would be crying spells for people who think they really want to study primates in the wild because they achieved good grades and have been camping a few times. The question of salary also comes up when it comes to researchers as Fossey herself was never once salaried for her work in the mountains.
It is incredible what Fossey's passion, analysis and love for one specie meant for the world. "More than a decade later as I now sit writing these words at camp, the same stretch of alpine meadow is visible from my desk window. The sense of exhilaration I felt when viewing the heartland of the Virungas for the first time from those distant heights is as vivid now as though it had occurred only a short time ago. I have made my home among the mountain gorillas."
By Sarah Bahl
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and illustrated by N.C. Wyeth was given to me, by my mother for Christmas in 1991. I was 10 years old, and loved the story for its soft, slow understanding of nature and the South. I knew it to be a tale of growing up, a child's loss of a yearling deer, and the theme being that one cannot be an adult without surviving a permanent and unfair loss.
My memories of the work consisted of the image of Jody, a pre-teen boy and his flutter mill he would make and lazily gaze at. Also, an understanding that a pet was killed, similar to Old Yeller. But re-reading the work as an adult, it struck me how sad the story is. Perhaps children are more likely to withhold an immunity to sadness as people and situations are seeming to pass by uncontrolled and unquestioned.
Though, at the time I read the story, I was not a stranger to death. Nor without a respect for nature. As a little girl growing up in West Africa, I knew death more personally than is usual for Western culture. This may be because while the family resided in the Gambia, my father was given the gift of a grown ram by the natives. He came to us on a white flat bed truck, the natives sitting there holding him, their legs dangling over the side. My mother moaned and complained through puffs of endless cigarette that if they wanted to give my father a gift, which was sweet enough, then why not a canary? Or something manageable within a cage? He ran about our orchid, among the orange trees and would ram people. I christened him Ramsy. And so Ramsy he was. After he had thoroughly bruised my mother with me behind her, and my girlfriends and I (along with everybody else) would walk about the orchid in fear of being plowed down, it was decided perhaps a ewe would be of benefit to him.
So, Ramsy was given Sparkle (I named her as well, it was the mid 80s), a matching gift from the staff. Ramsey chased Sparkle around and around the orchard. I remember Sparkle running as fast as she could, along the hollowed brown gate surrounding the orchard with its trees of lemon, grapefruit, cashew nut and orange. Behind her would be Ramsy. Sparkle was pregnant soon enough. Then one morning, I walked out to the orchard, in those pinafore dresses they had with the elastic over the front in an empire waste fashion. It was the dry season as the day was filled with a hot golden sunshine, and a sticky scent of citrus and African earth waved through the air. The gardner was digging a very large rectangle. Next to the grave lay Sparkle. There was blood and I remember the sweet, pungent smell of death. The gardener told me she had been too young. I knew what he meant. The lamb had not survived either.
So, I knew death. To know someone who has died and to know death are two different things. I felt sad and it felt unfair, but I did not deeply mourn for Sparkle. I had never loved her. In the West, death is clean. Death is somewhere else. But not in Africa. The next day, I came back to the grave. Fresh earth had covered the scent of demise and the newly laid, broken ground held a silence unto itself.
There was one moment when I did mourn. It was years later, and my best friend Karine and I were on the beach of Conakry, Guinea. It was a rocky, polluted area that we were forbidden to go. But being eight year old girls, Karine and I somehow, never always listened to what we were told to do. It was not dirty in the sense of trash strewn everywhere, but the water was not clean enough to swim in. We walked along, and talked and as it began to rain, I noticed a large grey dog. He looked like an Irish Wolfhound. The tide was rising and the dog was on a tiny island of rocks, between the waves and the shoreline. The waves grew higher and began to wash over the dog's legs.
At this time there was a group of school aged boys. They were throwing stones at the dog. Big ones. I shouted at them to go away. They ignored me. They were told by Karine, to go. The waves were getting even higher and the rain came down. The sky was as grey as the dog.
Then, my heart dropped into the bottom of my stomach as I realized they were going to kill it. I could hear the hollowed sound of the rocks hitting the dog and saw the waves washing over it. I ran across the soft purple-grey stones of the beach, through the black back yard gate and around the side of the bungalow crying, back to the servants of my friend as they were sitting in the garden shaded from the rain, and begged them. Go they are killing the dog. Please go. I pointed as the crow flies, back to the ocean, to where the adults should be to make it better. They laughed at me. "Look at that white girl caring for a dog," Karine's maid said, as she bent over in hysterics. My utmost tragedy was their comedy central.
Nothing. I returned to the beach on my own. Karine was still there. She was stoic. There was no dog now. Karine said he had gotten to shore but they kicked him back, a couple of times. I walked the shoreline and I could swear I heard a sad whine that was not of the waves. But I could not find the dog.
Karine's father returned and wanted to know, what she and I were thinking going to the beach on our own in the first place. We had always been forbidden to do this. But we had. And I mourned that dog's death more than I had ever mourned anything. It was not natural. There was no need for it. The shore had been right there. The dog could swim just fine.
The servants were in trouble, as well for their response. But this time, there was no earth to cover. There was no comfort of an objective gardner to give to a little girl. The waves would take the dog with them in time.
Our family's maids would laugh at me for how much I could eat, as I would come to the kitchen for meals so often I could have been a cartoon character. But that evening, I had no appetite. I could not stop hearing the gasping, dying whine and the sound of the relentless ocean waves, oblivious salty waters. I stared down at my dinner as if I had never seen food before, and tried not to cry. After dinner, my mother took me in her lap and said, in between puffs of cigarette, "It is a harsh country that makes for hard people and the animals fare no better." I understood her logic, but it brought little comfort. (The life expectancy for the average Guinean at the time was 42 years at the most). Yet that night, I was given Henry and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary, among a pile of books we had recently gotten. It was an old library copy with a yellow cover and the picture of a dog with a boy, in 1950s style illustration. Ribsy is a worn down dog, whose ribs show and he is found and given a home by Henry. I devoured that book. Curled up on the couch, the world regained order.
Two years later I was given The Yearling for Christmas. And as melancholy as losing that grey dog was, The Yearling is sadder. It knocks Black Beauty out of the park. It's as if there is some unspoken rule that a tale must never be too tragic. There are tragic characters, but they are rarely the main ones. Rawlings ignores this rule and she provides no answers as to why. Perhaps this is what granted the novel its popularity, for whatever a person may have been through in life, The Yearling is somehow sadder.
As an adult I realized how much loneliness centered within the lives of all Rawlings' characters living within the world of late 1800s northern Florida. A country of farmers and hunters who live off the land, but not with it. Man is an animal with a gun in a spanish moss decorated forrest filled with wild life. Jody Baxter, is part of this setting. He goes to the creek and makes a flutter mill upon the shallow, slow moving waters. He lives in a small three room house, with his father, Penny and his mother, Ory. Penny is smaller than Ory, and why he choose her for a wife is not certain, but he did:
"Sich doin's! Nobody acted that-a-way when I were a gal."
"No," Penny said, "I was the only one wanted you."
She lifted the broom in pretended threat.
"But sugar," he said, "the rest just wasn't smart as me."
Ory lost a few children to rural living and the travails of the time. But Jody survived. A wide eyed boy with one friend, Fodder-wing Forrester, a neighbor who is a cripple and dies, but not before naming Jody's new found friend and playmate, Flag.
Penny was bit by a rattle snake while on a hunt, and he lives by shooting a doe, cutting out her organs and using them to draw poison from his own blood. The doe had a fawn who becomes Jody's Flag, as his white turned up tail is like a flag.
The Baxter's home is sparse, but Jody has never been starved. Never beaten. He goes on hunts with Penny and learns the ways of farming. The men all live bound on what nature provides. If they need to eat they go out and hunt. But they also hunt for sport. As if all that is natural will always come out of nowhere, continuously and forever. Men are animals competing with animals for food and space. But men have guns they can kill easily and repeatedly with in a way other animals cannot do to them in turn.
Jody, sensitive and thoughtful, is raised to be a man such as these men. There are no other examples. Penny, is better than most and contemplates unnecessary killings of wolves, but in the end he helps to kill off the last wolf himself so as not to be outdone by neighbors, who kill and capture at will and for profit.
Jody's best friend is Flag. The two play together and wherever Jody is, there is Flag to be found soon enough, prancing along and butting his un-horned head at imaginary enemies. Both are yearlings, growing up side by side. But there are premonitions that Flag's life is in jeopardy when it becomes clear he does not understand the difference between forrest foliage and the Baxter's plantings. The Baxter's survive on their crop. Hours and days of labor go into their yield. And when Flag%
This is the story of life as it is under the eyes of God, where all creatures are given a presence. The cats of this short novel are central characters, as the life of the story stems from them, with their person counterparts as watchful and commentative outlines to the world of nature within which they themselves play an undefined part. (I was first given this book as a 5th grade Christmas gift by my mother. I promptly devoured it. It has been several years, at least since I have read it, so I hope I remember it well. I have chosen to keep to the few main characters as with all blogs in the column.)
Lessing tells of her first cat, a little grey creature picked up as a stray by her as a little girl, living on a farm with her family in Southern Rhodesia. Lessing loved her kitten, but one day it fell between some pipes into a drain and was fished out by servants to be washed, dried, and placed in bed with Lessing who was recovering from an illness herself. It was the cold season but the windows of her room were kept open as the walls had been recently whitewashed. It was cold during the night. Cold during the day, when the room filled with white light. All around Lessing felt sterile and cold but within her arms, there was a warmth. A grey, purring warmth. The kitten, Lessing's compatriot in illness had caught pneumonia and eventually the sweet feline's purr grew dimmer and lessened until all was quiet and cold in the room. The deceased kitten was tossed into a shaft and that was that.
Though Lessing lived in a world of cats, cats on walls and in gardens, it would be years until she would ever have room in her life for another cat. And no cat would ever compare to the grey kitten who gave warmth and her purr to Lessing for as long as she could. Lessing is an adult with a flat in the U.K., when she had room in her life to love another cat: grey cat. A beautiful butterfly tabby-Siamese mix who had been taken from her mother too young as a kitten. She was grey cat, the flirt, words of admiration would be cooed to her and she would half close her eyes to each compliment, as she lay upon the rug of the flat to be admired.
Grey cat was charm, Lessing wrote that if a fish is the movement of water encaptured in a singular solid form, grey cat was the embodiment of air, as if a butterfly. Grey cat was a princess. Every visitor would come to the door to exclaim, "Pretty cat!" And grey cat would soak in the admiration while twining about legs. When grey cat went into heat, Lessing and her friends watched as she cried and frolicked and lolled on the grass for a mate. An old ugly tom wins the bid. But he bungles the job.
As Lessing is in the garden having wine, her friend exclaims what a shame it all was that such an enchanting creature should go to a brute of a tom with no idea how to make love. He would make love to grey cat himself if he could. The friend's wife implies he is disturbed for this and so the commentary continues.
Grey cat is impregnated, eventually, to become a disaster of a mother. Grey cat has no idea what is occurring when she goes into labor and instead of finding some quiet place to have her litter, she constantly demands attention from the people around her. Lessing eventually makes grey cat a nest, herself, and when grey cat has the litter, she gets up and wants to play and be admired. Lessing sends grey cat back to the bed to nurse. The kittens are a motley crew and are all given homes. Grey cat has about one more litter until she is fixed.
Lessing is in inner turmoil over the revocation of her cat's sex. But cats can have up to 4 litters a year. Lessing ponders the logic of nature, but in the end she decides to fix grey cat.
Grey cat then changes. Her face broadens, she softens after the surgery to become, a "plump, if pretty cat." Then the world of grey cat darkens more, as in the tumultuous world of people, drama has occurred and a pretty blond girl, a student studying for exams in a room above Lessing is no longer able to keep her cat. And so Lessing is given black cat, a pretty and simple black cat on a red leash and collar. Where grey cat was a creature of line and sophisticated coloring, black cat was simple. A cat of the underworld. "Midnight cat!"
Grey cat hates black cat. If black cat rests in a chair, grey cat takes to the bed, or wherever is higher than black cat. And so it goes on in such a manner. Black cat proves to be a wonderful mother with machine like consistency. Eating when she would rather not just to serve as example to her kittens.
The desexed grey cat watches but does not hurt the kittens. Grey cat is a people cat, except until years later in her old age she chooses a neighborhood cat as a friend. He was an unremarkable creature with no fineness of quality other than being chosen by grey cat. It is unusual for female cats to befriend other cats. Grey cat had chosen him, and he came with her into the flat. They would share time together. He disappeared from the neighborhood after some time, and grey cat looked for him. She never liked another cat before or after him. He was the only friend of her kind, she ever had.
By Sarah Bahl
Viva Laldjérie is a film about three very different women trying to survive on a daily basis in a man’s world, when there is no man. The year is 2003, and Algeria is dealing with a rise in internal terrorist activities, due to rallying from 9/11. Goucem is the lead protagonist, living in a world, of conflicted emotions.
She works in a camera shop during the day, for a Mr. Mouffok. She is bi-lingual and able to speak English, though; she never speaks about her educational background. Goucem is 27, gorgeous, and having an affair with a married surgeon, named Aniss. Goucem and Aniss argue over having dinner in public together. Goucem is angry at Aniss for not spending the weekend with her. And when he drops her off at what appears to be an Algerian version of a piazza, a stranger sees her get out of Aniss’s car and realizes she has money. Though, the money Goucem has, is her own. Mr. Mouffok had paid her that day.
Her payment is stolen out of her purse, and the scene skips to Goucem, with a couple boxes of pizza, sitting with the restaurant owners after closing. Goucem is in shock and asks to use the phone. She does not have a cell phone. She either cannot afford one or else does not want one in order to protect herself from potential terrorist operations toward her. Or both.
She calls Aniss, who does not pick up. She leaves a message. Then Goucem is at home, in her small apartment, with her mother, Papicha, who is rather masculine seeming, an ugly woman to be honest – the mother, does not seem to have much to do. She eats the pizza Goucem brought home and comments on what Goucem is doing, getting dressed, clubbing up to go out.
When Goucem leaves the apartment she puts on a body cover, an elegant type of long poncho and a hijab, over her club dress. At the club she plays pool by herself. She meets a man there and they hook up in some sort of weird empty warehouse by the sea. The man asks to see her again. She rebuffs him.
Also pursuing Goucem is the sweet and understanding Samir, who stops by her work fairly often only to ask her banal questions about passports and photos. Samir admires Goucem’s spirit, though of course she treats him terribly because of how the surgeon lover, is treating her. Goucem is also earnestly afraid to lose Aniss because he seems like a protector in an insecure world.
Goucem’s father has passed away at the age of 51, and she and her mother never discuss why. They visit the grave of the father- and on the way to the headstone, they pass a man with a beard and Papicha becomes afraid, that he recognizes her. The reason for this fear is due to Goucem and Papicha laying low from terrorists because Papicha used to be a dancer. It is implied they have moved from the suburbs after the death of the father, to a small apartment in the city, to avoid notice and survive.
Goucem confronts the bearded man directly, asking him if he recognizes her mother. He does not. Also, when Goucem and Papicha first leave their apartment complex to visit the deceased father, with flowers, Goucem sees Aniss’s car. She cries, “Aniss!” and begins to chase the vehicle. The car never stops. Then, Goucem gets to deal with the further dignity of being drilled by her mother as to whether that really was Aniss’s car.
The only friend in Goucem’s life is Fifi. The prostitute next door. Fifi’s character takes the whole, whore with a heart of gold cliché to another higher note. Fifi protects Goucem, by listening to Goucem and caring.
Then Goucem is bored, after a fight with her mother over how to handle their lives, and she enters Fifi’s room. She goes through Fifi’s client’s clothes, while Fifi and he are in the bath. Goucem steals the client’s gun and leaves.
Perhaps Goucem is jealous of Fifi. Goucem is sometimes spoken to as a whore by her mother, and treated like one by her lover, while she is trying to make a non sexual related living. These mental undertones might have lead to Goucem taking the gun. The gun gives Goucem a sense of empowerment. When Fifi states her client is missing his gun and he wants it back Goucem says nothing.
Fifi listens to Goucem and she takes Goucem to the local fortune teller. Fifi pays a large sum for this. Fortunes do not come for free. With Fifi there, all the other women are asked to leave for the day so Goucem can have more time with the fortune teller. Goucem asks the fortune teller, an otherworldly woman with a white painted face, if Aniss loves her at least. The fortune teller does not answer, but asks Goucem, if she loves Aniss. Goucem cannot say yes.
Later, Goucem tries to visit with Aniss, but his wife starts screaming about it and she leaves. Aniss; in this series of scenes is not revealed as the strong distant protector Goucem feels he is. He is a man, tired and not sexy, pulling socks off a laundry line and with a screaming wife, now that Aniss is remarrying. Though, not to Goucem.
Aniss’s son tells Goucem as she is leaving Aniss’s apartment complex, not to come there anymore, and to do it at the hospital. Goucem tells the son, she is more than happy to point out to Aniss that his son is homosexual. This stops the son from being more of a jerk than he would be otherwise.
Goucem, then has a sandwich type meal by herself, sitting on some steps outside of the complex. (Aniss’s wife was having pasta alone). Goucem and her mother eat separately. Everyone in the film eats by himself or herself, for the most part. There is one scene where people are eating together, and that is for business.
While Fifi is at the fortune teller her client breaks into her room to look for his gun. Though, the manner he goes about it, implies he is not just looking for the gun. He does not like Fifi hooking up with anyone else (nevermind she is a professional) he also does not like her financial independence. On the way back from the fortune teller’s Fifi sees her client and comes up to him to say hello. He throws her in a car with a driver who is huge and has cold distant, pale eyes. Fifi tells the client, that they have been friends for awhile and if she needed a gun, she would have asked him for it. She asks him if he needs money. He says no, that he wants his gun. The client happens to work for “National Security.” Fifi asks where she is being taken and the client refuses to say.
Meantime in Fifi’s apartment her items are being removed and stolen. She has nice taste and very fine things. Three men come and clean out her apartment in silence, and give away to the residence what they do not take. The landlord steals Fifi’s things before she is even killed. Giving them to his children. His wife tells the children their father bought Fifi’s items at a market. Goucem sees a child wearing a shawl of Fifi’s and freaks. She goes to her room and pulls the gun out from under the bed. Goucem realizes what she has done.
The car Fifi is in, stops because of a wedding party blocking traffic. Fifi gets out and starts to run. She gets in one of the wedding party cars. No one questions her, as she is dressed like a lady. Fifi is discovered when a child in the front seat turns around and says, “Why are you crying?” There are only other women in the car. They take Fifi seriously and try to get through to the anti-terrorist brigade, but cannot because of a poor phone connection and the noise from the wedding party. When they cannot get through to the brigade, they kick Fifi out of the car due to the safety of the group, especially the boy.
Fifi increasingly panics for her life. Her eyes are huge and she starts to hyperventilate and cry and clings to the women, who push her away. She is removed from the car, under orders of the family matriarch. And she begins to run. The driver with the pale eyes, silently follows on foot.
Goucem goes to the police to report her friend as missing. They tell her they do not deal with terrorist kidnappings. Goucem says she does not know. At the police station Goucem runs into Aniss’s son, who got into a fight with another man. They leave the station together and Goucem saves Aniss’s son from an attack by pointing the gun at the assailant. Fifi was a much better person than the son. It is not fair. But it is the happenstance of life under a strange system.
Aniss helps Goucem retrieve Fifi’s body from the morgue. A strange place in the basement of the hospital with a foot of water. Aniss finally becomes good for something. Goucem loved Fifi. For many reasons.She mourns incredibly for her friend, holding Fifi's head and wailing. Aniss tries to comfort Goucem, but she shrugs him off.
Goucem is the only person attending at Fifi's grave. Then, she catches the bus, as there is a highway right next to the grave site. Goucem sees Samir playing a ball game with friends in a court yard. She gets the bus to stop, and joins Samir and his friends. She watches him play while speaking to his friends, who she seems to have things in common with.
Her mother, Papicha, has now found a job as a singer, as she is too old for dancing. Papicha comes across as beautiful onstage, her facial features are interesting this way. And so life goes on in Algeria. Whether fair or no.
By Sarah Bahl
By Xin Wen
Days ago I had a little conversation with my cousin, and this conversation armed me with an unprecedented sense of pride—as a student of liberal arts, for the first time, I felt I’ve actually learned something. The conversation started with a question my cousin asked me: “why does a relatively old lady can hardly be considered as ‘attractive’ but a relatively old man can still be ‘attractive’? For example, Meryl Streep is still glamorous, but Harrison Ford is attractive.”
I replied: “That’s because we were born into a patriarchal society—Men control political power and social wealth. In this culture, young beauties are shopping-rush goods. So when faced with a youthful body a man will never consider an old lady beautiful. He may think she is elegant, but definitely, not beautiful.” My cousin asked with puzzle: “but we are women right? Why do we think old ladies unattractive too?” I said: “that’s because we—women are born into this culture as well. We can’t totally resist the impact of cultural products all around us.”
So when I came across the decorations and make-up of adolescents from Surma and Mursi tribes, I was surprised. I am glad to know that there is still people living-- whose aesthetic standards are not affected by our modern society. Even today some African tribe people are born into their own culture, and grow their own criterion toward beauty. I am glad since I believe difference is all that matters. If all the cities become New York, there is no point travelling. If all women dress like the latest Vogue cover girl, there is no ‘good taste’ at all. Umberto Eco said in <History of Beauty> that ‘The idea of Beauty is not only relative to diverse historical epochs. Diverse aesthetic ideals may coexist even in the same period, and even in the same country.’
A photographer named Hans Silvester in the book <Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa> provides us with amazing pictures of young Surma and Mursi people. It’s unbelievable that these people made all their decorations with materials they can find easily: leaves, twigs, flowers, fruits, white clay pot, etc. It’s more unbelievable if you take their reserve of make-up devices into consideration: they don’t have mirrors—they create these beautiful decorations without the aid of mirrors!
If you think the beautiful decorations of them indicate a very joyful culture, then you are definitely wrong. Young children in Surma and Mursi tribes are used to getting scars. The more scars one has, the more courage he/she possesses. Some anthropologists indicate that this is a kind of training—preparing for danger and bloody fight in the future. Once adolescents are mature enough to get married, for males, what lies before them is the fiercest fight—stick fighting. (Some young people use guns these days) and for females, lip plates are a necessary. Cattle is the most important commodity in the Surma and Mursi tribes. It is said that “every boy is given a young bull to look after, and his friend call him the name of the bull.”
Surma and Mursi people inhabit in the Omo valley of Ethiopia, which locates in the area bordering Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sudan. Visitors rarely tour this area because it’s too far and the culture is different from other parts of Ethiopia. Recently because of the building of a national park and the wars in Sudan, Surma and Mursi people were evicted and displaced. On one hand they are forced to fight with enemy tribes who moved to their land because of war; on the other hand, they have to sign on papers which indicate they are the illegal residents on their own land. Look at these beautiful young faces; can you imagine the hardship and cruelty in their upcoming lives? I can’t and I know there is not very much I can do to help.
Pictures come from: