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. This is a scene from my wildest dreams. My personal ambition, somehow fulfilled. All I could say, is that this photo right here is, beyond magical.
The magicians involved are fellow poets by the names of Ade and Deng Afrika, who had a team that has 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. It has been my ambition, for as far as I remember, to have my poetry as part of the curriculum in South Sudan. An ambition that I am working diligently to fulfill .
Growing up in Khartoum, I enjoyed very much the poems/songs we were taught to memorize and recite. Those poems were full of patriotic messages, and important values. Though, as a child, I didn’t reflect on their meaning much. I know now that because we have sung those poems, subliminal messages embedded themselves in our psyches; messages that, I am quite sure, influenced the development of our characters.
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 the prosperity of our nation should be of paramount importance. Furthermore, we as a people must anchor ourselves historically and develop a collective identity. To this end, the excavation of our collective psyches to unearth stories of origin, emblems of pride, and triumphs of shared struggles, is essential for the weaving of a collective identity and the articulation of 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 my poems won’t be easily comprehended by the typical South Sudanese. I remember telling them then that my singleminded ambition is to contribute to the literature of South Sudan. Once stabilized, we will teach English again, the way our fathers and great aunts learnt it. So, I am as amazed and proud that these 5th graders are able to read and comprehend my poems, as I am always by the excellent speech of aunties in their late sixties and early seventies, who were only educated up to the end of primary school.
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 being able to have 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.