Sunday, June 2, 2013

Bev is Blogging the Caine-Foreign Aid by Pede Hollist

Interestingly, the only non-Nigerian on the 2013 shortlist has written a story called Foreign Aid. When I read it, I felt, what a quirky character this Balogun is, the protagonist who spreads his two-decade sojourn from Sierra Leone to America and back to Sierra Leone, or Salone for the latter part of the story. His physical appearance on his first arrival to America undergoes a fundamental change. He was a feeble looking twenty something with one pathetic suitcase but on his trip back to Salone, now in his forties, he is a much sharper dresser, with two brimming Samsonite suitcases and a chubbier belly. While in America, Balogun’s pivotal moment is when he pushes his fortune too far after being kindly hosted by a cousin and he is discovered in bed with his cousin’s wife’s teenage sister. Kicking him to the curb, literally, he finds his African wit tested in inner-city America. Gaining a few credit hours, he works his way to a well-paying job as an on-call operator in the midst of two failed marriages and three child support payments. His promises over long distance calls to bring his sister Ayo to America become far from the reality in the face of the turmoil of his existence, thankfully later as a documented citizen. The story is riddled with similes which can be a distraction because the images are jarring. For example, when he is thrown out of his cousin’s home, “With the eagerness of an only child on his first day of boarding school, Balogun disappeared into the gray, half-boarded apartment complex…” Page 1. The image may have served better with more specifications since this was a specific moment in Balogun’s life. As he hoards enough money and regains his lost ego, he is able to find the obedient and unflappable Yamide, also from Sierra Leone, who he marries. Their relationship is just enough to seal his troublesome manhood before returning to his home. Overflowing with good intentions, his enthusiastic father meets him at the airport. Regrettably, the readers miss this critical interaction between father and son because of the unnecessary similes. One of them is, “Logan returned the hug with the affection of a child instructed to greet an overweight uncle with bad breath.” Page 3. Further down, “Are those your bags?” Father rippled with the excitement of a refugee at the sight of a Red Cross vehicle.” Ibid. However, on further analysis, this image of Red Cross and refugee does reflect the title, Foreign Aid because the father is one of the main recipients of Balogun’s foreign currency and benevolence. Driving home in two cabs, the cab with his more valued luggage is lost during an incident of a convoy led by The Minister of Mines who cuts through the traffic to make it in time for the ferry, regardless of the drivers in the cars who have been unduly inconvenienced. The interaction with his father is the first major one, the second is this, the latter being of a more impudent nature with no consideration of his American status. On arrival at home, his mother shows a more realistic homecoming, hugging him warmly and appraising him. As a reader, I am personally doubtful if a traditional woman from Salone would welcome her son wearing a cotton nightdress but then again, the characters are rather eccentric. Her gauntness and rusty cavities expose a difficult life-style and sets the stage perfectly for Balogun’s foreign aiding. When the father introduces Tunde, the boy they have been looking after since his parents were killed in the war, once again it is a perfect set up for aid and Balogun (Logan) dishes out his first wad of 20 Dollar bills for a round of beer. Given the way Logan demanded his luggage back at the ferry incident, he seems to be unaware of the realities in Salone and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had asked, which war? To him, that did not seem to matter, it was an opportunity to show off his status. And then he bestows more hundred dollar bills to his parents for medical checkups. Another instance where the title Foreign Aid comes into play is when he determines to confront the Minister of Mines over the incident at the ferry. Waiting outside the office long enough to realize that he is being cheated once again by others cutting the line; he approaches the receptionist for an explanation. In a humorous response, a Ministry official gives him some money as is the usual custom for people who wait outside that particular office. Logan is disinterested in this type of aid and is extremely disappointed yet again. As is expected in many African communities when there is a returnee from the West, visitors and relatives come in large numbers with open hands to hug and receive their share of the foreign aid. It is Ayo, who is ironically one of the main foci of his visit, because he means to return with her to America. She is not engrossed by the prospect of America anymore and prefers to remain in Salone to care for her unborn baby whose father is a Lebanese man whose children she tutors. Foreign Aid revisits with a nuance when Logan meets head-on with the man who it appears has been paying for the livelihood of his parents as well including the car. Despondent at the emptiness of his pockets, the after effects of unchecked kindness and at the face of his parents’ lies, his own Yamide is adamant when he asks her to send him more money. With literally one final surge of manhood left, he makes an appointment to spend his final night with Tima, a timid girl whose character is similar to Yamide’s when they first met. Tima’s failure to make the appointment is the perfect closure to a string of one disillusionment after another. The occurrences also echo a man who is far removed from the realities of his home and also how a lot of Foreign Aid coming to Africa does not reflect the real needs of the people. Coincidentally, Dambisa Moyo, the Zambian economist and author, has been in the public eye this week (27 May to 31 May), defending her stand in her well researched and relevant book for our times, Dead Aid. The youth cab driver in whose vehicle Logan lost his Samsonite suitcases appears at the very end of the story with one of the suitcases, and promises to return them to Logan’s father. This ambiguity offers the reader more insight into Logan’s defeated attitude where before he would have publicised his Americanness and told the youth off. The youth by the way was more interested in pursuing a career in Nigeria than America much to Logan’s disbelief, showing that aid in whichever form does not always come from across the oceans. Of all the shortlisted writers, I have not been in touch with Hollist but from his brief bio, his short stories, Going to America and Back Home Abroad reveal a man who is deeply moved by the journeys to and fro the two homes of Sierra Leone and America. Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva


  1. I actually liked this story, the imagery was descriptive and Tima showed that not all African women will batter their bodies for a bit of 'foreign aid.'

    1. that is very true. The story had so many layered meanings on foreign aid, even with that Ali man...