Lorraine Hansberry, an American playwright famous for her work, ‘A Raisin In The Sun’ said, "Never be afraid to sit awhile and think." Covid-19 period is making us do just that, and part of reflecting is immersing ourselves in the thoughts of others in books. This week, BDLife spoke to Oyesa Oluchina and Mumina Bonaya on the books that are keeping them busy.
MUMINA BONAYA, Chief Administrative Secretary of Education
What are you reading?
I am reading because of my six-year-old daughter. A colleague recently recommended ‘What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know: Preparing Your Child for a Lifetime of Learning’. This book empowers parents to prepare their children for a lifetime of learning. It has helped me answer questions like the kind of knowledge and skills that my child is expected to learn in a good kindergarten programme and how I can help her at home.
Any favourite author(s) living or dead, you would have dinner with?
Paulo Coelho. I can’t get enough of his books; I get so engrossed every time I grab any of his titles.
How do books help you navigate your role in the Ministry of Education?
I am a trained high school teacher, my past work experience was in the field of climate change and finance. When I got appointed to the Ministry of Education early this year, I needed to read on education matters to invigorate my knowledge in the sector so that I can effectively undertake my work.
I spent the past few months reading a lot on education goals, policies, and systems across the world, and how different countries have organised their basic education as I passionately got drawn to our own curriculum framework for a comprehensive understanding of basic education; pre-primary, primary, secondary, and special needs education. This has enabled me to catch up.
Words have power. What book has changed you? And how did you discover it?
I read ‘The River Between’ by Ngugi wa Thiong’o in high school and it helped me understand the pull between cultural beliefs, a new religion, civilisation, and marginalisation of girls and women.
As much as the story in this book explores life in mountainous of Kenya, it was so relatable to my own setup. It is after reading this book that I become conscious of the struggles that women go through.
Do you re-read books?
I do. I have done this with literature books. Actually, I plan to reread ‘The River and the Source’ by Margaret Ogola. I adore Akoko’s personality in this book. I know we have many such women today but we hardly celebrate them.
Zoom is playing host to book clubs these days and there are many audiobooks. Do you reckon the technology is the future of literature consumption?
Actually, we needed to have embraced e-reading and learning a long time, perhaps Covid-19 was the disruption that we needed to embrace technology in reading.
What do you remember most about creating the reading culture growing up? And how can society nurture this in the children?
My parents had little influence in nurturing me into reading. This is understandable as they both didn’t know how to read or write, and were yet to appreciate the importance of formal education.
I grew up in a very remote village and getting a book to read was a rare experience, getting one to borrow was equally an uphill task, and if you are lucky enough to get one, you were given a day or less to read and return as the entire village is waiting to read the same book.
A child needs to be cultivated into reading, I missed out on that but I thank God I now have a chance to correct that by guiding my daughter for a lifetime of learning and reading to her or with her is among many ways of getting involved in inculcating a reading culture in her at home level.
I would appeal to parents, now that all learners are at home, to cultivate a reading culture together.
The lockdown helped shift priorities and create a new culture of reading. Do you think it’s merely a form of escapism?
No at all, reading even if a chapter should be a lifetime routine, but we sometimes get so overwhelmed by life hustles and fail to create time to rejuvenate our minds through reading. Covid could be the disruption that we needed to re-configure many things that we have overlooked in the past.
OYESA OLUCHINA, freelance writer
What are you reading?
‘It’s Our Turn to Eat’ by Michela Wrong.
Why do you turn to books? Is it for intellectual stimulation, emotional comfort, or do you have a music playlist/Netflix for that?
Mostly to enjoy the story, and the intellectual and emotional stimulation that comes with it. I enjoy reading stories and connecting with the story together with the questions that arise with it.
I’ve educated myself on many ideas and beliefs after reading a book. Books talk about realities, emotions, and things that we’d rather not talk about, or that are difficult to talk about. Reading Warsan Shire’s poetry collection ‘Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth’, for instance, helps answer questions we struggle with and opens a door to one’s own misery and fears ...
Music too gives an entirely different pleasure which I equally love and enjoy.
Which author(s) living or dead, would you have dinner with and why?
Suzanna Arundhati Roy. She writes so beautifully which makes me think she’s an intriguing person. I’d like to pick her brain and know the Arundhati Roy behind the story. NoViolet Bulawayo equally fascinates me after I read her book ‘We Need New Names.’ She writes so effortlessly and yet with such lyrical craftsmanship that makes her work hers.
It has been said words have power. What book do you reckon has changed you? And how did you discover it?
I’d say a couple of books, but ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy has stuck with me for a while now. The reality of how we relate with one another; the perception of life as a child and as an adult; and how a single action can weave into your entire life is a powerful thing for me. The book reveals so much that is part of life as we know it, but with the intricacies that make you wonder about so much more. I bumped into the book somewhere on the internet; a review of it and the title of the book charmed me, so I ended up buying it and I loved it!
Zoom is playing host to book clubs these days and there are audiobooks for the picking too. Do you reckon the technology is the future of literature consumption?
It is inevitable that technology will be part of pretty much everything we do, and literature isn’t an exception. It comes with its perks and it seems younger generations largely prefer it; yet, there’s the oral and written bit of literature that I believe has a place in how people chose to consume literature and will continue to do so for a long time to come.
What do you remember most about your parents creating the reading culture growing up? And how can society nurture this in children?
I was a shy child and I found myself reading old newspapers and magazines to sort of keeping myself company. That grew into a love for storybooks and in high school, I got more interested in literature and history and anything that promised a good story.
The beauty of children is (among many other things) that they are willing, and many times even eager to learn. Parents and guardians, big sisters and brothers, have the simple task to introduce and nurture the culture of reading to/with kids as they would introduce any other game or hobby. Make it fun and more important, know what your kid is into by trying out different material from comic books to cooking books; who knows, your children might be excited by culinary literature.
The lockdown helped shift priorities and create a new culture among them, reading. Do you think it’s merely a form of escapism that’s why it’s caught on?
The lockdown has definitely coerced some people to pick up a book which they’d normally not have time for or even disregard altogether. Escapism or not, I reckon it’s a good shift. For some, it will be a revival of a dying habit and they’ll keep up with the reading. For those who looked to escape, which means that they’ll abandon reading when the routine buzz resumes, I can only hope the books are helping. In which case I’d recommend an escapism starter pack with Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine, Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘Interpreter of Maladies’, and ‘Kill Me Quick’ by Meja Mwangi.
Any recommendations for books that made you laugh hard or silently cry the most?
The ‘God of Small Things’ made me cry softly and go back to the times when I was a child seeking pearls of wisdom. The ‘Kite Runner’ wrenched my heart and I cried, even more, watching the movie. NoViolet Bulawayo’s ‘We Need New Names’ made me laugh and gasp and feel sad. And Wole Soyinka’s play ‘The Lion and the Jewel’ always makes me laugh.