A while ago the Danish writer Carsten Jensen wrote an outstanding review of Jakob Ejersbos Tanzania triology in the Danish daily Dagbladet Information. Read it here.
Ejersbo is a favourite writer of mine. And I have started reading his Tanzania books over again.
In the above mentioned review, at one point, Carsten Jensen writes:
'Men der er en endnu vigtigere forskel: Karen Blixen var kvinde, Jakob Ejersbo mand. Blixen har nok ikke været i seng med nogen af sine afrikanske protegéer. De vidende erotiske skildringer i Liberty, der i deres intensitet og påtrængende detaljerigdom næppe overgås i dansk litteratur, lader ingen tvivl, om Ejersbo også her havde gjort sin research grundigt. Han har bogstaveligt talt været inde i Afrika.'
My translation: 'But there is an even more important difference: Karen Blixen was a woman. Jakob Ejersbo was a man. Blixen probably didn't have sex with any of her African protegees. The knowlegdable erotic descriptions in Liberty, which in their intensity and intrusive detail hardly surpassed in Danish literature, leave no doubt that Ejersbo here also had done his research thoroughly. He has literally been into/inside Africa'.
It made me wonder - not only about Carsten Jensen's choice of metaphor, but also of the Tanzanian context and of female and male writers in Africa: What if Karen Blixen had actually had sex with African men? What if Ejersbo wasn't a man, but a woman, would Carsten Jensen then have said 'Africa had been inside her'? And what difference would that make?
We feminise Africa. Africa is the motherland. Men are the active, while women wait, endure receive, and are penetrated. In Kiswahili you're married as a woman, while a man marries you (kuoa/kuolewa). And, yes, Kiswahili does offer more rude verbs when it comes to sex, which builds on who is the active and the passive.
But do also take colonisers, missionaries and explorers (men, active) who did not only go 'inside women', they also went 'bara la Afrika' - inside the territory of Africa. The dynamics are simply coded in Swahili, and no amount of travel to Western worlds can cancel out these fundamental ideas about gender/power/sex/dynamics.
However, if you start from the premise of this assumption that a male writer can 'know Africa' because he's 'gone deep inside', can you also pose the same question for a woman what it is like to research as a writer, to take it all in?