NOT TO BE MISSED
"Motus et bouche ... décousue", a personal narrative by Jacqueline Fatima BOCOUM
Saint-Louis du Sénégal: Xamal. 2002. (72p.).
Ce compte rendu en français
Motus et bouche ... décousue is a dazzling exposition of Dakar life by Senegalese journalist Jacqueline Bocoum . This text combines a derisive witticism with a boundless love for the megalopolis. It is brilliantly written and thrives on the many contradictions that inform the lives of the millions who inhabit the Senegalese capital city. A scathing judgment on politicians, scorn for men who are slow to understand their partner's needs and an unlimited confidence in women's resilience are at the centre of this interesting chronicle. The city suffers many ills, yet it succeeded in making the best possible gift to the narrator: it taught her, she says, to love life.
Motus et bouche ... décousue broaches many important social issues but what makes this book such a good read is the author's facetious penmanship. Her gift for writing humorous puns on the most serious of topics is undeniable and her play on words wholly entertaining. The very title of the volume provides indeed the first example as it plays on the French saying that means "Mum's the word" and proclaims outright that, contrary to Shakespeare's famous line, the author is going to unseal her lips and say it all. And as one discovers upon reading Jacqueline Bocoum's satire, she does so with no fear or favour on a variety of topics.
Males' attitudes towards women is possibly the subject that attracts most coverage. Needless to say, the big macho tough guy who "shouts to make himself heard and beats others up to gain their respect" (p.27) is savaged by the author. So too is the philanderer who wants only to marry a virgin girl (p.31), the elderly gentleman who compensates his declining sexual potency with the size of his bank account (p.45), the polygamist who invokes the Koran but disobeys its rules (p.45), the autocrat who considers his wife as his eldest daughter (p.24), the lover raving about his partner's breasts and never mentioning her intelligence (p.25). One could easily go on extending this list of these unsuitable male companions, those who do not make the grade because they refuse to consider women as equal partners and are slow to change their ways.
This lambasting of the male, self-proclaimed role in Senegalese society humorous in its enunciation, but deadly serious in its implications is matched by an equally perceptive appraisal of women's conduct, attitudes and deportment. In Dakar, like in the rest of the world, women have intruded on all spheres of human endeavour: they have gained financial independence, are supporting their families and compete for high level positions that used to be reserved for men only. "There is no single male intellectual achievement that hasn't been matched by a woman ... competency is asexual" (p.26), the narrator argues. But all that, she suggests, counts for little when one falls in love and surrenders to that Prince Charming who has been the central element of a girl's enculturation. More often than not, the reality will soon kill his bride's illusions, but in the eyes of many women, having a child and a husband is worth compromising one's ideals and dreams. So too is the desire to keep a man under one's roof, thus the ongoing warfare between new wives and mistresses fighting over unfaithful, philandering partners. In these circumstances, real friends are few and far between and social intercourse consists, far too often, in a continuous flow of slurs, character assassinations and malicious gossip.
Every aspect of Dakar life and therefore of Motus et bouche ... décousue is suffused with gender relationships, yet this all-important subject never becomes an obsession for the author. Many other issues are catching her attention when she observes her contemporaries with a mixture of puzzlement and frustration. The quagmire of local politics and the result of corrupt politicians proliferating like microbes (p.15) makes her blood boil; so too the despondency of local youth (p.17), the ill-effects of foreign aid (p.48), the predatory activities of foreign banks (p.51) and big business (p.54), the collective madness of the Senegalo-Mauritanian war (p.54), feminism (p.70), and the failure of French foreign aid (p.50). Many issues irk the narrator and if one thing is for sure, it is that radical changes are needed in all matters, political, familial, social and personal.
The concept of francophonie, for example, has outlasted its usefulness in an age dominated by the internet (p.53). Furthermore "French resolve to associate the Senegalese with their linguistic family while barring them from entering their homeland" (p.53) should seal the end of a relationship that has brought nothing but hurt and delusion to the region. Foreign aid experts and consultants need to be shown the exit door, but Senegalese boasting, self-confidence, bragging and ill-informed belief that they know everything have to be challenged as well. "Ordinary Senegalese claim extraordinary expertise in everything", the narrator says, "from soccer tactics to political theories, economic advice, women's behaviour, and development theses". It is time, she adds, "to lose some ego and to accept some of the country's real shortcomings instead of boasting of imaginary qualities"(p.35). Reduced to a life of survival, Senegalese have lost touch with life's fundamental values, they have lost their sense of purpose, their dreams and they lack a vision for tomorrow.
Ms Bocoum's lampooning of her fellow-citizens, however, is not a mere exercise in futility. On the contrary, it provides a frank analysis of the impediments hindering real development and suggests some steps that should be taken in order to move forward. Acknowledging the importance of women in the affairs of the Nation would be one. Educating all the children of today in order to prepare them for tomorrow would be another. The need to revisit social hierarchies inherited from the past is important too. "All hope is not lost", the narrator says, "if we stop counting on our fingers the valiant ancestors that family lore multiplies to the power of infinity... Forget our unproven warriors' ancestry, caste-lines and rivalry between the descendents of that Damel or this Brak. Let those ancestors rest in peace and let us buckle down" (p.40). "I know" the narrator adds, "that it's not as easy it seems. One doesn't always have the means to reach one's goals. But it is always possible to start moving forward" (p.40). "The future is not given. It needs to be reinvented, endlessly" (p.70).
Iconoclastic and irreverent, Motus et bouche ... décousue is definitely a very good read. It might have some old fogies gnashing their teeth, but it is a sincere and ardent testimony to women's power to change the face of Africa.
1. See Bocoum's interview by Abdou Karim Ndiaye Diop : « Jacqueline Fatima Bocoum, Journaliste : Je rêve de refaire la télé... ». "Le Quotidien" 26 Janvier 2006 - ["Seneweb.com". http://www.seneweb.com/news/article/290.php - Sighted 29 December 2009.]
The University of Western Australia/School of Humanities