Cover of Chanda's Secrets
Most people will only travel to Africa via the pages of a book. But even then, some books about the continent are hampered by stereotypes and bias. Brenda Randolph, the director of the non-profit group Africa Access, works to make sure children in particular have access to authoritative works on African life and issues.
In that spirit, the organization's 2005 African Book Award was given to Allan Strattan for his children's book, Chanda's Secrets. Randolph talks to Farai Chideya about the importance of getting truthful, compelling books about Africa to young people.
From Chanda's Secrets:
Mrs. Tafa taps her nose. "If you don't mind me saying so, you be careful around that Esther friend of yours."
"What do you mean?"
"May her parents rest in peace, but I hope she burned their sheets and buried their dishes."
"There's nothing the matter with Esther," I say. "Her mama died of cancer. Her papa died of T.B.. They died like they said at the funerals."
Mrs. Tafa winks slyly. "A word to the wise: there's what people said, and there's what people say."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh yes you do," she whispers. "Oh yes you do."
Mrs. Tafa is right. I do know what she's talking about. New cemeteries overflow as fast as they open. Officially it's because of pneumonia, T.B. and cancer. But that's a lie, and everyone knows it.
The real reason the dead are piling up is because of something else. A disease too scary to name out loud. If people say you have it, you can lose your job. Your family can kick you out. You can die on the street alone. So you live in silence, hiding behind the curtain. Not just to protect yourself, but to protect the ones you love, and the good name of your ancestors. Dying is awful. But even worse is dying alone in fear and shame with a lie.
Thank god nobody whispered "AIDS" when Esther's parents got sick. Her papa had a cough and her mama had a bruise. It started as simply as that.
© Allan Strattan 2004 Annick Press