On October 4th, I woke up to this beautiful photo on my facebook feed. It had this caption:
These 5th graders have surprised us with their reading abilities as they have accepted the challenge of reading poems aloud from a poetry collection authored by one of their own “a South Sudanese.” The program was meant for their seniors/secondary school students, but they were like “we can read and write poems too.” Which they have read perfectly.
I was breathless for a moment—a scene from my wildest dreams. My ambition somehow fulfilled. All I could say is that this photo right here is beyond magical.
The magicians involved are fellow poets, Ade, Deng Afrika, and their team who have been teaching school children poetry. They have decided to use my two collections of poetry as teaching materials. I cannot wait to accompany them on one of these beautiful days, for I am obsessed with the thought of listening to children, like these, read a poem or two. As far as I remember, it has been my ambition to have my poetry as part of the curriculum in South Sudan. A purpose that I am working diligently to fulfill.
Growing up in Khartoum, I enjoyed to memorize and recite the poems/songs taught us in school. Those poems were full of patriotic messages and essential values. Though as a child, I didn’t reflect on their meaning much. I know now that singing those poems embedded subliminal messages in our psyches, messages that, I am sure, influenced our characters’ development.
Literature is an integral part of education – the rearing of productive and responsible citizens for the Nation-State. At this point in our development as a country, the rearing of a new generation with shared values and the common objective of contributing to our nation’s prosperity should be of paramount importance. Furthermore, we, as a people, must anchor ourselves historically and develop a collective identity. To this end, our collective psyches’ excavation to unearth stories of origin, emblems of pride, and triumphs of shared struggles is essential for weaving a collective identity and articulating a shared vision. Our cultures, languages, and customs are rife with features that could serve us well, should we focus on equally celebrating our divergencies and similarities.
I was told by some who read some of my poems before publication that my language is too advanced. And that the “typical” South Sudanese won’t easily comprehend my poems. I remember telling them then that my single-minded ambition is to contribute to the literature of South Sudan. Once stabilized, we will teach English again, the way our fathers and great aunts learned it. So, I am amazed and proud that these 5th graders can read and comprehend my poems as I am always by the excellent speech of aunties in their late sixties and early seventies, who only had primary school education.
Growing up, I didn’t have the privilege of reading anything written by someone like me. I am happy that I am now privileged to author books to be consumed by these, our children. I am humbled and appreciative of having this sublime glimpse of South Sudanese children reading my books.
This precious image is what heaven is to me.
© Apuk Ayuel Mayen 2018. All rights reserved.