Simonobisick is a character from Blick Bassy’s new novel Le Moabi Cinema. He spends his time hanging out with his mates in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon in West Africa. None of them have jobs, or much in the way of prospects. They mostly sit around drinking large amounts of beer, killing time and chatting about nothing and everything. And dreaming, copiously. They dream of wealth, of bagging a beautiful girl-friend, of playing football like Samuel Eto’o, of making a success of their lives, of standing on their own two feet, of being ‘someone’. Most of all they dream of getting a visa and escaping to Europe. But hard as they try, those dreams remain stubbornly elusive. I won’t reveal any more because it might give away too much about this engaging and insightful novel. At some point, I won’t say when, Simonobisick writes the following letter to his mother and reads it out to his friends in the local bar that is their unofficial HQ. It reads like a statement of Africa’s youthful frustration. I thought it was well worth translating into English, pending a translation of the whole novel. Blick Bassy was kind enough to give his OK, and approve the result. So here it is…Simonobisick’s letter to his mother:
I’m leaving this earth. I’m leaving this country. I’m leaving this truncated existence, this sham, this sheep-life, this dog-life. I’m leaving and I won’t be coming back. Not even as a ghost: a real one this time, not one of those false returnees, those Diaspora people, who waltz in here on a regular basis and taunt us because they’ve made it, with their sparkling watches, their fine togs, their bling, and all those other signs of success that smack you in the eyes. I’m giving up on democracy, which is just the law of most heavily armed rather than that of the 50 percent of voters plus one. I’m saying this loud and clear: no longer will I queue up at two in the morning to be seen at ten o’clock in the hope of securing a visa. I should have hit the road to tempt the devil and take my chances heading in the direction of Tangiers and Algeciras, like the clandestinos who grab their visas with their own two feet. I lacked the courage to leave my friends. But I won’t bow my head any more. I’m renouncing the beggar’s life and deciding, as a free man, to rejoin the silence. They’ll never cover me with diadems or marble. But my friends will know that I’ve been loyal, that I’ve respected the pact of true friendship. I’m leaving with a righteous anger, in the hope that they will succeed where I have failed. The West must listen to us, or hang us out to dry once and for all. It takes everything and leaves us with the crumbs. Yesterday, it took our valiant ancestors and today it takes our youth, at least those who aren’t all washed up in beer. My mother, my very dear mum, give the family and your friends a kiss for me. You raised us and believed in us; we became disenchanted and no longer believe in anything. I know you did what you could. Go together and tell my father that I know he had to flee when he could. Go and tell my uncles that it’s not back in the ancestral village that I want to be laid down to rest, but where the earth dances, and trembles.
Yours Simonobisick…who loves you, you poor mums.”
Written by Blick Bassy. Translation by Andy Morgan.
Reproduced with kind permission from the author.
Le Moabi Cinema is published in French by Continents Noirs, an imprint of Gallimard.