By Paula Akugizibwe
with commentary by Yewande Omotoso
A short distance from where Ghana’s Volta River meets the Atlantic Ocean, I rise at sunrise to immerse myself in this balance between the gentleness of freshwater and the dynamism of the sea. It’s our first morning in Ada Foah, where the 2019 African Women Writers Workshop (AWWW) is about to begin. I am barely waist-deep in the water when hotel staff rush to the banks, urging me to return to shore. The brochures in our rooms warn that Guests Swim At Their Own Risk—but the subtext, it seems from these reactions, is that the risk is too high: guests should not swim at all. Still waters run deep. Not-still waters run fast. This is both. It’s not safe, the staff warn. Assuring them that I can swim, I plunge in, at my own risk.
I hesitated to accept my invitation to the workshop, weighed down by months of relentless tragedies in my personal life. Maybe I shouldn’t go, I thought, since my energy is so low. Or maybe I should go, since my energy is so low. Writing, like all art, demands energy in the same breath with which it replenishes it. Community has that effect too. It is difficult to know where the balance will land, until you plunge in.
On our last morning in Ada Foah, when I wade into the water, my swimming prompts no alarm. If you approach them right, these waters are not as dangerous as they seem. They teach the art of surrender and flow, much like the energy I experienced during the workshop, where the currents ran fast and deep. They remind us that staying afloat – as with writing, or life – is less about clutching at air than it is about letting go. In embracing that understanding, we reclaim our power to plunge into the unknown and find our way back to shore. It is this fluid art of reclamation that the 2019 AWWW participants are exploring in this edition of ODD. As elucidated by Yewande Omotoso, who led the workshop:
Importantly the theme is “reclaiming” and not “reclaimed”, suggesting process, journey, back and forth, avoiding destination, absolutes and definites. I have a small shrine to the Aesthetics of Doubt and I tend to it devotedly. It’s uncomfortable, hard to meme or hashtag, slow to accrue followership and downright unpopular but it feels the truest thing, for me at least, in these times. The contributions in this edition speak to the discomfort of grappling, the courage required, the strength of mind; they are deeply tender offerings, to wrap in tissue but also to hold right up to the brightest light – bring it.
Having spent ten days with some of the contributors as part of the African Women’s Writers Workshop in Accra it was impossible to read the pieces without seeing the faces, hearing too the timbre of voices, laughter, sharing. It remains one of the most humbling privileges of my launch into writing to have facilitated three of these workshops over the past five years. And as with both previous workshops I experienced myself being deeply challenged by my participation, in a good way I should add. I felt stretched by the demands of the participants, invigorated by their enthusiasm and critique and inspired by their courage and trust.
Working through the words on offer here has been a gentle continuance, one I hope, you, reader, can infer for yourself, can allow to occupy and accompany you, perhaps, in your own reclaiming – in progress, ongoing, courageously uncertain and awake.
In this issue:
Brown and Bright – Louise Mutabazi
Three Poems – Paula Akugizibwe
Angry. Black. And Woman – Sophie Efange
War at SoMa – Awa Badara Joof
Say Vagina – Jessica Mandanda
These Marks, My Map – Jessica Mandanda
‘Black Girl Joy’ is a paradox – Gcotyelwa Jimlongo
Lover’s Weather – Shameelah Khan
The One With The Afro (TOWTA) – Ndapewoshali Ndahafa Ashipala
Reclaiming The Water – Paula Akugizibwe
Photos from the African Women Writers Workshop (Ghana, 2019) – Bigoa Chuol
Yewande Omotoso was born in Barbados and grew up in Nigeria, moving to South Africa with her family in 1992. She is the author of Bom Boy, published in South Africa in 2011. In 2012 she won the South African Literary Award for First-Time Published Author and was shortlisted for the South African Sunday Times Fiction Prize. In 2013 she was a finalist in the the inaugural, pan-African Etisalat Fiction Prize. She lives in Johannesburg, where she writes and has her own architectural practice. Her most recent novel, The Woman Next Door was published in 2016.