BOOKS: Other side of the Aids story

Sunday March 11 2007

By BILLY MUIRURI, [email protected]

Book title: Voice of a Dream
Author: Glaydah Namukasa
Publisher: Macmillan Publishers (2006)

It is no comedy movie stuff for a child to watch as a parent languishes in pain before eventually succumbing to HIV/Aids.

Such a child undergoes mental turmoil as images of a blurred future become more realistic with the final closure of the eyes. This is because the family is squarely placed to bear the brunt of the pandemic.

An exploration of authorship on Aids in Africa reveals a disturbing trend — writers concentrate on horror-like suffering by victims of the disease. This unconsciously leaves out those that suffer silently as relatives drop dead one after another.

But Glaydah Namukasa, a Ugandan midwife, has her eyes on the other side of the Aids story — suffering by close family relatives.

In her new novel, Voice of a Dream, Namukasa brings a new style in writing on Aids, which saves readers from the scare of reading horror-like tales of how the virus eats into its victims.

The story replicates others that mould the girl into a fighter, and Namukasa’s main character confronts societal setbacks before emerging on the other side of life unscathed but scared. Created in a Ugandan setting, the author adopts the use of simple present tense to tell her story. This style gives the story an easy touch.

The author creates Nanfuka, a teenage girl, who has lost a father through Aids. To compound her predicament, her mother abandons the ailing husband, tired of nursing a never-getting-well patient.

Just like any other child, Nanfuka is dumbfounded by the two occurrences. However, what weighs her down is how to fend for her siblings, her dream of a becoming a nurse notwithstanding.

Will an early marriage orchestrated by aunt Naka be the panacea to the family’s problems? Will evil ever triumph over good?

These are some of the questions the author sets out to answer in this text that won last year’s Macmillan Writers Prize.

The novel borrows its title from the dream young Nanfuka wishes to realise — to become the first nurse in Kitala. The turn of events in quite a number of chapters can be juxtaposed with the biting theme of early marriage espoused in Kizza Kamulega’s novella, A Second Chance for Nando.

In Kamulega’s book, Aunt Tomiso attempts to marry off Nando, a schoolgirl, so that she can use her bride price to buy land for Nando’s “little brats’’ — her brothers orphaned by the death of parents through Aids.

Though the intention is a cry for the future of the children, the use of Nando’s marriage to salvage the situation is a violation of her rights. It exposes her to child labour.

But Aunt Naka’s intentions are both demeaning and wilful. She colludes with the provincial administration so that she can marry off Nanfuka, and then sell her parents’ piece of land.

Naka’s grouse over the burden of her brother’s children echoes that of aunt Rehema in Ahmed Latif’s Ndoa Kutoka Kuzimu. Aunt Rehema is full of joy after her brother dies as, naturally, this leaves her as the sole trustee of his property.

This proves hard as Amani, his eldest daughter, plans to sell the property for her selfish ends. The more reason she intends to marry her off so that culture blocks her from interfering in any way with her family’s property.

In the three texts, the authors warn of the tragedy of children whose parents die without leaving a Will. Theirs is a cry for the children who, more often than not, come face to face with an uncertain future.

By treating early marriages vis-à-vis child labour, Voice of a Dream is a wake-up call for society to treat orphans in a more decent way, lest they suffer from God’s wrath.

In Namukasa’s writing, one sees a keen determination to give hope to the hopeless, and a new lease of life for the wretched. It is not by sheer coincidence that the new government offers universal primary education. This saves young Nanfuka the herculean task of seeking fees through the sale of unmarketable mats.

While the language is simple, the work’s literary thrust is somehow thrown into oblivion as the author appears to have little savings in her literary bank. There is no denying that a plain language does help the reader grasp the main message. However, creative works have, as main ingredients, the use of colourful and artistic linguistic devices.

For example, there is little suspense in our wait for Mama Nanfuka’s return. The text also lacks any iota of creativity in choice of chapter titles. They are borrowed from the actual names of the characters and, at worse, they are repeated. This puts to question the author’s and publisher’s grasp of techniques to capture readers’ attention.

The exposure that comes with the Macmillan Prize will expose the text to teenage readers, thus a chance to inculcate in them the virtues of determination and hope for a bright future.

Born and brought up in Entebbe, Namukasa studied nursing and mid-wifery to college level. Though working as a nurse, she is currently a tutor with the British Council Crossing Borders Writing Scheme.