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We need new names
March 05, 2013
like this. China is a red devil looking for people to eat so it
can grow fat and strong. Now we have to decide if it actually breaks
into people’s homes or just ambushes them in the forest, Godknows
even make sense. Why does it need to grow fat and strong if it’s
a devil? Isn’t it all that already? I say.
We are back
in Paradise and are now trying to come up with a new game; it’s
important to do this so we don’t get tired of old ones and
bore ourselves to death, but then it’s also not easy because
we have to argue and see if the whole thing can work. It’s
Bastard’s turn to decide what the new game is about, and even
after this morning, he still wants it to be about China, for what,
I don’t know.
I think China
should be like a dragon, Bastard says. That way, it will be a real
beast, always on top.
I think it must
be an angel, Sbho says, with like some superpowers to do exciting
things so that everybody will be going to it for help, like maybe
pleading or dancing to impress it, singing China China mujibha,
China China wo! Sbho says. She is dancing to her stupid song now,
obviously pleased with herself. When she finishes she does two cartwheels,
and we see a flash of her red panties.
What are you
doing? Godknows says.
Yes, sit down,
that’s just kaka, who will play that nonsense? Me, I’m
drawing country-game, Bastard says, and he picks up a fat stick.
Soon we are
all busy drawing country-game on the ground, and it comes out great
because today the earth is just We are back in Paradise and are
now trying to come up with a new game the right kind of wet since
it rained yesterday. To play country-game you need two rings: a
big outer one, then inside it, a little one, where the caller stands.
You divide the outer ring depending on how many people are playing
and cut it up in nice pieces like this. Each person then picks a
piece and writes the name of the country on there, which is why
it’s called country-game.
But first we
have to fight over the names because everybody wants to be certain
countries, like everybody wants to be the USA and Britain and Canada
and Australia and Switzerland and France and Italy and Sweden and
Germany and Russia and Greece and them. These are the country-countries.
If you lose the fight, then you just have to settle for countries
like Dubai and South Africa and Botswana and Tanzania and them.
They are not country countries, but at least life is better than
here. Nobody wants to be rags of countries like Congo, like Somalia,
like Iraq, like Sudan, like Haiti, like Sri Lanka, and not even
this one we live in. Who wants to be a terrible place of hunger
and things falling apart?
lucky, like today, I get to be the USA, which is a country-country;
who doesn’t know that the USA is the big baboon of the world?
I feel like it’s my country now because my aunt Fostalina
lives there, in Destroyedmichygen. Once her things are in order
she’ll come and get me and I will go and live there also.
After we have sorted the names we vote for the first caller. The
caller is the person who stands in the little inner circle to get
the game started. Everybody else stands in the bigger circle, one
foot in his country, the other foot outside.
The caller then
calls on the country of his choice and the game begins. The caller
doesn’t just call on any country, though; he has to make sure
it’s a country that he can easily count out. It’s like
being in a war; in a war you don’t just start to fight somebody
stronger than you because you will get proper clobbered. Likewise
in country-game, it’s best to call somebody who is a weak
runner so he can’t beat you. Once the caller calls we scatter
and run as if the police themselves are chasing us, except for the
country that’s been called; that one has to run right into
the inner ring and shout, Stop-stop-stop!
stops, the new country in the inner ring then decides who to count
out. Counting out is done by taking at least three leaps to get
to one of the countries outside. It’s easier to just count
out the country closest to the outer ring, meaning whoever did not
run that far you just do your leaps nice and steady; the other country
is counted out and has to sit and watch the game. But if you are
the new country in the inner ring and cannot count anybody out in
three leaps because you were not fast enough to stop the other countries,
you pick the next caller and leave the game. It continues like that
until there is only one country left, and the last country standing
We are in the
middle of the game, and it’s just getting hot; Sudan and Congo
and Guatemala and Iraq and Haiti and Afghanistan have all been counted
out and are sitting at the borders watching the country-countries
play. We are running away from North Korea when we see the big NGO
lorry passing Fambeki, headed toward us. We immediately stop playing
and start singing and dancing and jumping.
What we really
want to do is take off and run to meet the lorry but we know we
cannot. Last time we did, the NGO people were not happy about it,
like we had committed a crime against humanity. So now we just sing
and wait for the lorry to approach us instead. The waiting is painful;
we watch the lorry getting closer and closer, but it seems far away
at the same time, like it’s not even here yet but stuck somewhere
else, in another country. It’s the gifts that we know are
inside that make it hard to wait and watch the lorry crawl.
This time the
NGO people are late; they were supposed to come on the fifteenth
of last month and that month came and went and now we are on another
Eyes look at us that we cannot really see because they are hidden
behind a wall of black glass. month. We have already cleared the
playground because it’s where the lorry will stop. Finally,
it arrives, churning dust, like an angry monster. Now we are singing
and screaming like we are proper mad. We bare our teeth and thrust
our arms upward. We tear the ground with our feet. We squint in
the dust and watch the doors of the lorry, waiting for the NGO people
to come out, but we don’t stop singing and dancing. We know
that if we do it hard, they will be impressed, maybe they will give
us more, give and give until we say, NGO, please do not kill us
with your gifts!
The NGO people
step out of the lorry, all five of them. There are three white people,
two ladies and one man, whom you can just look at and know they’re
not from here, and Sis Betty, who is from here. Sis Betty speaks
our languages, and I think her job is to explain us to the white
people, and them to us. Then there is the driver, who I think is
also from here. Besides the fact that he drives, he doesn’t
look important. Except for the driver, all of them wear sunglasses.
Eyes look at us that we cannot really see because they are hidden
behind a wall of black glass.
One of the ladies
tries to greet us in our language and stammers badly so we laugh
and laugh until she just says it in English. Sis Betty explains
the greeting to us even though we understood it, even a tree knows
that Hello, children means Hello, children. Now we are so excited
we start clapping, but the other small pretty lady motions for us
to sit down, the shiny things on her rings glinting in the sun.
After we sit,
the man starts taking pictures with his big camera. They just like
taking pictures, these NGO people, like maybe we are their real
friends and relatives and they will look at the pictures later and
point us out by name to other friends and relatives once they get
back to their homes. They don’t care that we are embarrassed
by our dirt and torn clothing, that we would prefer they didn’t
do it; they just take the pictures anyway, take and take. We don’t
complain because we know that after the picture-taking comes the
giving of gifts.
Then the cameraman
tells us to stand up and it continues. He doesn’t tell us
to say cheese so we don’t. When he sees Chipo, with her stomach,
he stands there so surprised I think he is going to drop the camera.
Then he remembers what he came here to do and starts taking away
again, this time taking lots of pictures of Chipo. It’s like
she has become Paris Hilton, it’s all just click-flash-flash-click.
When he doesn’t stop she turns around and stands at the edge
of the group, frowning. Even a brick knows that Paris doesnt like
Now the cameraman
pounces on Godknows’s black buttocks. Bastard points and laughs,
and Godknows turns around and covers the holes of his shorts with
his hands, but he cannot completely hide his nakedness. We are all
laughing at Godknows. When the cameraman gets to Bastard, Bastard
takes off his hat and smiles like he is something handsome. Then
he makes all sorts of poses: flexes his muscles, puts his hands
on the waist, does the V sign, kneels with one knee on the ground.
You are not
supposed to laugh or smile. Or any of that silly stuff you are doing,
You are just
jealous because all they took of you are your buttocks. Your dirty,
chapped, kaka buttocks, Bastard says.
not. What’s to be jealous about, you ugly face? Godknows says,
even though he can be beaten up for those words.
I can do what
I want, black buttocks. Besides, when they look at my picture over
there, I want them to see me. Not my buttocks, not my dirty clothes,
Who will look
at your picture? I ask. Who will see our pictures? But nobody answers
After the pictures,
the gifts. At first we try and line up nicely, as if we are ants
going to a wedding, but when they open the back of the lorry, we
turn into dizzied dung flies. We push and we shove and we yell and
we scream. We lurch forward with hands outstretched. We want to
grab and seize and hoard. The NGO people just stand there gaping.
Then the tall lady in the blue hat shouts, Excuse me! Order! Order,
please! but we just laugh and dive and heave and shove and shout
like we cannot even understand spoken language. We are careful not
to touch the NGO people, though, because we can see that even though
they are giving us things, they do not want to touch us or for us
to touch them.
The adults have
come from the shacks and are standing slightly to the side like
they have been counted out of country-game. They don’t order
us to stop When they look at my picture over there, I want them
to see me. Not my buttocks, not my dirty clothes, but me. pushing.
They don’t look at us with talking eyes. But we know that
if the NGO people were not here, they would seize switches or pounce
on us with their bare hands, that if the NGO people were not here,
we would not even dare act like we are doing in the first place.
But then the NGO people are here and while they are, our parents
do not count. It’s Sis Betty who finally gets us to stop by
screaming at us, but she does it in our language, maybe so that
the NGO people do not understand.
What are you
doing, masascum evanhu imi? Liyahlanya, you think these expensive
white people came all the way from overseas ipapa to see you act
like baboons? Do you want to embarrass me, heh? Futsekani, don’t
be buffoons zinja, behave at once or else we’ll get in the
lorry and drive off right this minute with all this shit! she says.
Then Sis Betty turns to the NGO people and smiles her gap-toothed
smile. They smile back, pleased. Maybe they think she just told
us good things about them.
We stop pushing,
stop fighting, stop screaming. We stand in a neat line again and
wait patiently. The line moves so slowly I could scream, but in
the end we all get our gifts and we are happy. Each one of us gets
a toy gun, some sweets, and something to wear; I get a T-shirt with
the word Google at the front, plus a red dress that is tight at
Thank you much,
I say to the pretty lady who hands me my things, to show her that
I know English. She doesn’t say anything back, like maybe
I just barked.
After we get
our things, it’s the adults turn. They stand in their own
line, trying to look like they don’t really care, like they
have better things to do than be here. The truth is that we hear
them all the time complain about how the NGO people have forgotten
them, how they should visit more often, how NGO this and NGO that,
like maybe the NGO are their parents. Soon the adults get small
packets of beans and sugar and mealie-meal but you can see from
their faces that they are not satisfied. They look at the tiny packages
like they don’t want them, like they are embarrassed and disappointed
by them, but in the end they turn and head back to the shacks with
alone who does not join the line for food. She stands there like
a baobab tree, looking at everything from the side, in her bright
gown with the many stars. There is a sadness on her face. One of
the NGO ladies takes her sunglasses off and waves to MotherLove,
but MotherLove just stands there, not waving back, not smiling,
not anything. Sis Betty holds out some packages.
Sis Betty shouts in a silly voice like she is coaxing a stupid child.
Please come, bantu, can’t you see we’ve brought you
gifts? she says. The NGO people hold out more little packages to
MotherLove, and the two white women even bare their teeth like grinning
dogs. Everybody is waiting to see what MotherLove will do. She turns
and strides away, head held high, the bangles on her arms jingling,
the stars on her dress shining, her scent of lemon staying in the
air even after she is gone.
When the NGO
lorry finally leaves, we take off and run after it; we have got
what we wanted and don’t care how they want us to do. We wave
our toy guns The NGO people hold out more little packages to MotherLove,
and the two white women even bare their teeth like grinning dogs.
and gifts in the air and shout what we want them to bring us next
time: shoes, All Stars, balls, cell phones, cake, underwear, drinks,
biscuits, US dollars. The groaning sound of the lorry drowns our
voices but we continue to run and shout regardless. When we get
to Mzilikazi, we stop because we know we cannot get on the road.
Sbho screams, Take me with you! and we’re all screaming the
words, screaming and screaming, like somebody said the lorry would
turn around and take whoever screamed the loudest.
We watch the
lorry get smaller and smaller until it’s just a dot, and when
it finally disappears we turn around and walk back toward the shanty.
Now that the lorry is gone-gone, we do not scream anymore. We are
as quiet as graves, sad like the adults coming back from burying
the dead. Then Bastard says, Lets go and play war, and then we take
off and run to kill each other with our brand-new guns from America.
an extract taken from We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo, which
will be published by Random House on 21 May.
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