Wednesday, September 30, 2015

[Memphis Reads 2015] Fresh Reads Top Ten Winner Latifa Juma

What is the What
Latifa Juma

Achak’s father narrates how God created the world. After creating the Earth, the first thing he created were the monyjang. He blessed them with everything possible: beauty, fertile land, and most importantly cows. After all of this, God decided to test the monyjang. He asked them if they wanted the cows or would they prefer the What. Of course, the monyjang chose the cows because they could see that the cows were a blessing. They provided food and would multiply and grow. Achak’s father didn't mention in his story to the baggara that God then gave the What to the Arabs. That is why they are inferior and the Dinka are superior. The Arabs also wanted to be blessed with God’s bounty, so they stole the Dinka’s cattle and grazed them on Dinkaland. Arabs were unable to do that on their land, because they lived in the desert. That is the literal meaning of the What in Achak’s father’s story, but I think throughout this book, metaphorically the What is uncertainty. Achak has been given the What. Even though he didn’t ask for it, it was given to him. He went through his life with uncertainty. Most children at his age know what grade they are going to attend, what outfit they want to wear for Christmas, or what they want to eat for lunch. However, Achak’s childhood and even adulthood was filled with uncertainty (the What). During one of the lion attacks, Achak states, “the lion was a simple black silhouette, broad shoulders, its thick legs outstretched, its mouth open.” This is what Achak had to go through, the uncertainty that he might or might not live until the next day. Each day held a new adventure, new uncertainty, and new problems to be faced. When Achak is thinking about the version of the story his father told him, he states, “and though it was unfair, that was how God has intended it and there was no changing it.” Little did he realize that would apply to his own life just a short while later. It wasn’t fair what happened to him, but it was what God had intended.  

I have had similar experiences as Achak. However, my experience is nothing compared to Achak’s. Achak went through great difficulty, but we both came to America because of the same reason: war. I was also given the “what.” The war in Afghanistan brought my family to the United States. I was only five years old, and like Achak, I didn’t know what the next day would hold. Thankfully I had my wonderful mother and siblings with me to take the difficult journey with. I didn’t know what America had in store for us. Slowly but surely I got the hang of my new life. At first it was very difficult, because I didn’t understand the language or culture, but everything worked out. One uncertain moment I still remember was when my mother took us for our interview to come to America. It was in another part of the city. It took hours on the train to get there and once we were there, we stayed in line for our turn; it seemed like forever. After the interview, I didn’t know what was going to happen next. The following week, my mother got a call saying that our case was approved and we should prepare to leave for America. And here I am.

--Latifa Juma

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