a love supreme – anti-valentine – random gum of february 2018 soundtrack

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a love supreme – anti-valentine
february 2018 – the good goo of random gum

01 The Supremes – Love is Like an Itching in My Heart
“Just an itching in my heart and I can’t scratch it”
02 Cate le Bon – Are You With Me Now?
03 Margo Price – Hands of Time
“Turn back the clock on the cruel hands of time”
04 Nana – Menino Carioca
05 Mary Lou Lord – I’m Ahead If I Can Quit While I’m Behind
06 BC Camplight – You Should’ve Gone to School
07 Sandie Shaw – (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me
08 Sibylle Baier – Softly
Here’s to hidden women making their belated mark
09 Grizzly Bear – Losing All Sense
“Like a rogue wave you/Wash right over me/Losing all sense of what my body could feel/I was able to drift away from here/I have lost all control”
10 Gingerlys – Incandescent
11 BRONCHO – What
12 Sofia Freire – Canção da Bruxa
13 Dita von Teese, Sébastien Tellier – Bird of Prey
14 Marta Kubišová – Už se léto schovává
…Hang up the Czech habit. Love to Anne, to Martina, to Mr MI
15 Claudine Longet – Medley: Jealous Guy/Don’t Let Me Down
16 Belle & Sebastian – I’ll Be Your Pilot
All the Glaswegians
17 Nap Eyes – Delirium and Persecution Paranoia
18 Angel Olsen – How Many Disasters
19 The Supremes – Forever Came Today
20 The Barry Sisters – Vyoch Tyoch Tyoch
Can’t resist a Yiddish song, now can we?
21 Tommy Allen – Ghosts in the Walls
22 The Fall – There’s a Ghost in My House
RIP Mark E. Smith – who seems like the type to linger as a ghost in another dimension, tormenting people for all eternity from the beyond.
23 Jenny O. – Lazy Jane …I’m feeling blue/Cause I can’t have you…
“I’m never gonna be a cheerleader/I can’t do tricks/And I ain’t that sick”. For all those so far away now I will never get them back
24 Emma Gatrill – Odd Ones Out
“Don’t judge a book by its cover/Its façade is simple, simple to see/But by twenty pages in/You’ll find the story is not what it first seemed”
25 Over the Rhine – Latter Days
26 Al Masrieen – Men Awel Deqiqa
27 The Fall – Feeling Numb
One can only feel numb at the passing of Mark E. Smith (RIP), knowing the end probably could easily have come earlier. Still, the only good thing about his death is that I have learned about so many more people in my circles who are fans of The Fall, and I might never otherwise have known.
28 Hollie Cook – Desdemona
29 Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guébrou – The Homeless Wanderer
Ethiopia
30 The Fall – Big New Prinz
I didn’t think much about how The Fall served as a soundtrack thread through most of my life until the recent passing of the cantankerous Mark E. Smith. All the way back to my adolescence, when my friend Terra and I would be sucked in by the aggressive sounds of “Big New Prinz” (and the rest of the songs from the same album), and not too long thereafter when my bricklayer pen pal Peter in the north of England would send me mixed cassettes that included loads of The Fall. And then how Naomi and I would share this connection and even see The Fall together many, many years ago. The Fall continued to help me forge surprising connections through the years.
31 Renata Zeiguer – Follow Me Down
32 Duke Garwood – Blue
33 France Gall – Laisse tomber les filles
34 Mattiel – Whites of Their Eyes
35 Yo La Tengo – I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
36 Slow Club – In Waves
“You can’t tell me you’re not like this/Staring down the pages of the shit you’ve missed/Hoping you’ll find a way to change/Days spent waiting in my living grave”
37 Julia Lucille – Darkening
Such pretty sounds “As I’m darkening I must go alone”
38 Brigitte Fontaine – Une fois mais pas deux
39 Ofege – It’s Not Easy
Nigeria
40 Luwten – Pinball
“I am the pinball/I am the deer/I hear the shot/I disappear”
41 Mogwai – I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead
“Jim Morrison… Van Morrison more like!” For S (naturally with an additional nod to Glasgow in Mogwai)
42 Wooden Wand – Mexican Coke
Martina! You know if it’s Mexican I will tag you!
43 The Fall – British People in Hot Weather
I had been an avid anglophile as a kid/adolescent, and I don’t really know what happened to make me so negative on the English. Still, The Fall has been something of a ‘negative soundtrack’ all along.
44 De Lux – When Your Life Feels Like a Loss
45 Ramona Lisa – Dominic
“Forgive me if I was too forward too fast”
46 The Fall – Powder Keg
And what else is the world today than a powder keg?
47 Sexores – Bluish Lovers
Ecuador
48 The Supremes – Someday We’ll Be Together
…but will we?
49 The Psychedelic Furs – Sister Europe
“Words are all just useless sound” … for all my Furs friends
50 Tori Amos – Josephine
51 Cowboy Junkies – Cowboy Junkies Lament
Memories of college-era road trip with my Russian class, all long disappeared, all of us singing together in that fleeting moment of closeness. And the long, lost Townes van Zandt, who wrote this song for the Cowboy Junkies. “There’s a hole in heaven where some sin slips through/Close your eyes and dream real steady/Maybe just a little will spill on you”
52 Al Green – How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?
“I could never see tomorrow/I was never told about the sorrow”
53 The Cranberries – No Need to Argue
RIP Dolores O’Riordan. I remember listening to this song on repeat one year during college – it had such a sad, resigned finality to it that resonated with me (as I greeted endings, particularly of relationships with this kind of sad resignation. I have never been the type to really “freak out” and go crazy). This seemed like the perfect anthem for that kind of sad acceptance. Much as we must go forward with sad acceptance when people die too soon.

Follow me on Spotify to find all my random gum soundtrack playlists.

Random Gum: Spring into Action 2017

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I never intended for this springtime playlist to grow to such massive proportions. It’s just that I was exposed to so much music – so much sound – so much joy – so much pain in the last few months, and this is the result. My experience and memory filtered into an auditory blueprint. Effortlessly. It’s long – so long – but I did not feel like censoring or making choices because I do that all the rest of the time in my life. You don’t have to listen or like this compilation of 110 bloody songs (although on the burned discs I’ve mailed by post, it looks like maybe only 109 of them actually worked – sorry)… but I am sharing all of it anyway because it’s just what I do.

I never imagine that very much happens or changes in my life, but then when I have an opportunity to reflect, I realize that major things have happened almost weekly over the course of the last six months…. I won’t go into the minutiae of that. I will only say that, as ever, nothing is settled. I am spending a lot of time thinking, reading and writing… and it’s all I feel like doing. It makes for a bit of an insular life that yields very little to tell/share (other than ‘insights’ or takeaways from the things I read and listen to…).

The postal versions (to those for whom I have postal addresses) are going out in the mail this week.

To move on you must move through… Love to all of you.

Random Gum: Moving on Again – How to live with a phantom: Spring into action 2017
(Almost) complete playlist on Spotify.

01. Ed Harcourt – Born in the 70s
Thanks to MP & chats on generational issues. “But can you count on me?/I might let you down/In a world that is so sensational/No you can count on me/I’m living for the now/Up against the older generation’s wall”

02. The Shacks – This Strange Effect …and I like the way you kiss me, don’t know if I should/but this feeling is love and I know that’s why I feel good…

03. The Associates – Love Hangover …I don’t need no cure…
Thanks to William

04. Psychic Twin – Hopeless …And I remain hopelessly alone in the heart/Like I’ve always been from the start…

05. Bubblegum Lemonade – As Dead as Disco …I’m San Francisco; you are New York…
Thanks to some random Glaswegian Twitter guy

06. Girl Ray – Trouble …I don’t want to win anymore, Cause honey, winning it just make me feel sore…
Trouble always finds me. Slight 70s sound; good lead-in tone and theme wise to “The Lonely Man”

07. The Incredible Hulk TV theme song – The Lonely Man
For SD

08. Howard Jones – Things Can Only Get Better
Planned to include this (thinking 2017 could only be better after 2016 – wrong so far!) and then realized dear Bethany also put it on a recent mix she sent – and even gave the mix this title.

09. Bill Ryder-Jones – You Can’t Hide a Light with the Dark …The way you fall apart/I still adore it…
“The light’s on in your backroom/Are you with him/Are you with him/The lights off and it’s darkness/You’re so heartless”

10. Maud Lübeck – Mon amourenboîte
Thanks to Laurent

11. Palehound – Cinnamon …Mellow, cringing ugly fellows/Mixing water into gin/And chasing it with cinnamon…

12. Minor Victories – Breaking My Light …Will these shadows lift/They’ve been breaking my light…
Thanks and love to MP, who once or twice helped lift some shadows

13. Rabbit is Rich – Kick Your Ass
More thanks to the incomparable William, king of Christmas cards and cool music mixes

14. Andrew Bird – Tin Foil …What is moving will be still/What has gathered will disperse…
“Evil Knievel shot up from dead grass/And I loved him better each time that he crashed”

15. Maria Andersson – The Girl Who Loved Islands
Probably just because I am nothing if not an island girl at heart

16. Bill Pritchard – Mother Tongue …They lived in separate countries, as we watched their future unfurl…
“What’s that you mean?/I don’t think I caught your tone/Say that again in your mother tongue”

17. Max Shrager – Thoughts of You …to hold onto my thoughts of you…

18. The War on Drugs – Red Eyes
Always a driving song… don’t drive as much as I used to but still need songs for the road

19. Boy & Bear – Southern Sun …You see I’m not gonna wait till the end of me/’Cause I got the burning fire in bed of my soul…

20. Crystal Stilts – The Dazzled …It can’t be saved. It’s already lost, it thrives on my resistance/We are bound and marching to an ever static distance…

21. Vetiver – Can’t You Tell …Look ahead where our future hides/But the world waits wide-eyed…

22. Trailer Trash Tracys – You Wish You Were Red …Oh my darling, you’re a dying red star…

23. Steve Mason – The Letter …could it be that you don’t know me any more?…
Was supposed to see this dude twice within a week (Gothenburg and Oslo). Canceled. It was not how I had imagined anyway, so just as well that none of it happened.

24. Cass McCombs – There Can Be Only One
“Like a master’s baptism of fire/I know you have your ways/And two masters at once, no man can acquire/You set my heart ablaze”

25. Japanese Breakfast – The Woman that Loves You …You should try to do as little harm as you can to the woman that loves you…

26. Neko Case, kd lang, Laura Veirs – Down I-5 …Driving down I-5/I don’t ever want to die/Cause I’d no more get to see/All this beauty passing by me…
How many fruitless trips down I-5 have I taken? “You know you’re living if you’ve sinned”

27. Thelma – If You Let It …lines are crossed of will and fear/it is ringing loud and clear…
“Feel the limits you put/on yourself and those around you/you deserve more, you deserve more”. Here’s to seizing more.

28. Chelsea Wolfe – Appalachia …like black diamonds, ash and light/like the mines and anthracite…

29. Timber Timbre – Velvet Gloves & Spit

30. Totally Mild – Christa …It doesn’t matter what you do/It only matters who you do it with…

31. Childish Gambino – Me and Your Mama
For Naomi, who did not realize Donald Glover was Childish Gambino.

32. Houndstooth – Canary Island …it’s never been quite right/always taking things to dark inside/a restless mind is hard please/most of the time…
“Oh to be the dust that covers/everything”

33. Hefner – Half a Life …Life without my sweetheart is only half a life…

34. Stereolab – Ping Pong
Socialism in song… hitting the musical ball back and forth with MP

35. Beachbuggy – Japanese Radio Ad
More Japanese noise and more love to MP
36. AdriAnne Lenker – Jonathan …listen up, I’m a wreck I’m a mess, this is not the effect/Of a loss or a vex, this is you…
“Let me be the honest home where you can rest/Your tired mind”

37. Tinariwen – Cler Achel
A very Al Jazeera documentary-loving, Henry-Rollins-style travels kind of music

38. Chelsea Wolfe – Flatlands …I want flatlands/will you go there with me…
“When it’s said in the dark and you know it’s always there/when it’s dead in our heart but your mind is unafraid/when it’s said in the dark and you know it’s never coming back/when it’s there in your heart in your mind you set it free”

39. Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker – I Never Learned French
Where have all my French connections gone?
40. Cats on Fire – It’s Clear Your Former Lover
Funnish Finns. “Now, it’s possible he may have been the one who loved you the most/I don’t want to compete and I don’t like the smell of his ghost”

41. The Horrors – Still Life (Connan Mockasin remix) …Slow down/give it time…
Preferred this remix to the original; sitting in a shopping mall parking lot waiting for a friend, listening and absorbing the message: “Don’t hurry, give it time. Things are the way they have to be.”

42. Baxter Dury – Other Men’s Girls

43.Morgan Delt – Some Sunsick Day …After the blast levels our town/We can relax and watch it come down…
“After we start over again/We’ll start to feel safe in our skin/Maybe we’ll be wrinkled and grey/Or maybe we’ll get new plastic faces/We’ll finally find what we need”

44. Vashti Bunyan – Love Song
Thanks to, love for MP

45. Space Needle – Before I Lose My Style …I tried to be it all/when I left you behind…

46. Galaxie 500 – Snowstorm
Thoughts of MP and an almost-snowless winter

47. Itasca – No Consequence
With love for Annette – plenty of consequences.

48. The Limiñanas – Down Underground

49. Jenny Hval – Conceptual Romance …I want to give up but I can tell/My heartbreak is too sentimental for you…
This song is everything. ”A sexual holding pattern/Stuck in erotic self-oscillation/This landmine of a heart/The only one I’ve ever had/I’ve ever had”; “So I lose my gaze to keep you/Creating a curve for the eyes/A rejected body/And losing it is constant, but such a lonely place/What can I say?/I don’t know who I am, but/I’m working on it…”

50. Psychic Ills – Mind Daze …I’m doing fine/when I’m out of my mind…

51. Suuns – 2020

52. Minor Victories – Give Up the Ghost …When you act like I’m nothing to you/Make me feel like I’ve been replaced/I could tear you apart/Leave a brand-new scar…
53. Amber Arcades – Constant’s Dream …It’s not different we’re just getting used to it/But we’ve always known what to expect…
“Our bodies are full and nobody is trying/It’s not like we don’t want to, we’re just not desiring”

54. Still Parade – Walk in the Park
Poetry, Wanstead Park and Denise Levertov’s ark-of-the-ache-of-it connection: “Wanstead drew me over and over into its basic poetry”. For MP

55. Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker – Something Familiar

56. Twin Limb – Don’t Even Think

57. Nice as Fuck – Door …All the shit that we talk is a smokescreen/It’s a waste of your time/A waste of my being…

58. Family Friends – Look the Other Way …I think there’s some things you forgot from when we used to talk a lot…

59. Chastity Belt – Seattle Party …Your life is so raw/You’ve been through so much…

60. Pixie Geldof – Wild Things Grow
Not anything I ever anticipated including despite lifelong weird obsession with Bob Geldof; thanks to Travis, this finds its way here
61. Lee Hazlewood – Hey Cowboy
Love to Naomi

62. Matt Duncan – 1000 Boys …This record’s skipping on a sigh… (but not an Eliot sigh…)
“That I’m smitten with my worries and my doubts/No lovelorn prince would ever dare to sing about”
63. Shintaro Sakamoto – In a Phantom Mood
Japan time!

64. Allo Darlin’ – Kiss Your Lips …Then I kissed your lips and for a moment it was heavenly/Because you found me, baby/Baby I found you…

65. Weyes Blood – Seven Words …I want you mostly in the morning/when my soul is weak from dreaming…

66. Julia Jacklin – Pool Party …Said you’re sorry you were drinking through the day then/Only stopped to let your lungs take the hit/Said I won’t blame you now but you lost my love somehow/Then you jumped right in…
I sort of misjudged this song when I first heard it – kinda fitting when I really listened

67. The Innocence Mission – Bright as Yellow …And I do not want to be a rose/I do not wish to be pale pink/But flower scarlet, flower gold/And have no thorns to distance me…

68. I Break Horses – Winter Beats …When your heart in winter beats/Don’t let that cold blood freeze/Cause frozen love will bleed…
Represent the home team (Sweden!) and other people’s Spotify playlists

69. Kim Jung Mi – Haenim
I read about “Korean folk” music, which is like 60s folk rock and nothing to do with traditional Korean music. And you can hear that when you listen to this interesting, if odd, song.

70. Vivian Girls – Where Do You Run To …It’s alright just leave the light on, I will never ask you why/Once you’ve gone remains the question baby/Where do you go? Where do you go? Why do you leave me all alone?…

71. Sam Patch – St. Sebastian
Another one of those whose sound I like…

72. Amber Arcades – Right Now …But we could go right now/We could have another life…
“I made my mind up long ago/The road is long and slow/So many things to leave behind/But everyone can live their lie/I’m not even sure that I don’t like mine”

73. “J’ai perdu mon Eurydice” – from Orphee et Eurydice, Gluck, Donald Runnicles & Orchestra of San Francisco; Dawn Upshaw, Alison Hagley, Jennifer Larmore

74. Wasuremono – Cuddling
As the dear Scots say, to mean ‘cuddling’, “coorie in”
75. Spain – Nobody Has to Know …Girl we’ve fallen so in love/It was just a year ago/And you’ve kept it to yourself…

76. Blake Mills – Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me …I was wrong to turn honesty against you/And sure, some of them could use a good talk…
Seems like a timely kind of song, with thoughts of trying to keep secrets about people “fucking up”

77. King Creosote – And the Racket They Made …And your words chased round and round in my head/Last night…
To the peaceful days that started the year and the endless discography of King Creosote, which droned on all morning and throughout our entire absence when wandering through the cold countryside. “And the tide shrinks back into its womb/And I hope the empty shells and bones of your stories/Will litter and clutter the shores/And I hope that when I find them/I’ll remember how they danced/And the racket they made/When they were alive”

78. William Onyeabor – Ride on Baby …You don’t know why you love me so much, baby…
RIP William, king of Nigerian funk… reminds me of a weird time in my professional career working with insufferable hipsters who spent much of their lives in downward facing dog pose (since they had to be posing somehow…)

79. Glen Campbell – Guess I’m Dumb …The way I act don’t seem like me/I’m not on top like I used to be…
Acknowledging when you’re not on your A-game…

80. Nick Garrie – Can I Stay With You
Calm in the eye of the storm; love for MP

81. Cigarettes After Sex – K. …I remember when I first noticed that you liked me back/We were sitting down in a restaurant waiting for the check/We had made love earlier that day with no strings attached/But I could tell that something had changed how you looked at me then…
What a beautiful song… its combination of beauty and hope kinda makes me feel melancholy.

82. Bubblegum Lemonade – This is the New Normal
Hoping that the world we live in right now is not the new normal…

83. Tenniscoats – Hikoki
Thinking of back when my mom expanded her vocabulary to include the Japanese neko and hikooki

84. Spinning Coin – Albany …When the weather comes/It comes in measures/When the pain comes/Instead of pleasure…
“I don’t know I thought I knew you but I was wrong/I was impressed by your love for complexity”

85. Wolf Alice – Bros …Are you wild like me/Raised by wolves and other beasts…

86. The Duke Spirit – Serenade …slow you remind me/how to be silent/and your story leaves me wanting/and the way I feel is changing…

87. Desperate Journalist – Distance …oh your heart/a hurricane…
How much I want to create distance. “I’ve lost you” – yes, you have.
88. Surface to Air Missive – Time Being …I don’t know where you are now/but it’s someone else for all I know…
The guilt of unanswered/unreciprocated missives. Bigger than surface

89. Billy Bragg – Upfield
“I’ve got a socialism of the heart.” Nothing describes me better at this stage in life

90. Los Campesinos! – You! Me! Dancing!
Thanks to MP and his mad, made-up music ‘game’/DJing a Friday night from afar, as ever

91. Slowdive – Star Roving
To made-up middle-of-night games pitting songs against each other and admissions of never cottoning to Slowdive back in the old days

92. Minor Victories – Scattered Ashes (Song for Richard)

93. Cat’s Eyes – Drag …Oh you’ve been dragging me down…

94. Grouper – Headache …why does love keep letting me down?…

95. Antonio Carlos & Jocafi – Você Abusou
Something from the Cerys on 6 BBC Sunday radio, listened at someone’s suggestion

96. Dirty Projectors – Up in Hudson
Love and thanks to Andreas. The sound here is not mine, but the lyrics… dear, dear heavens

97. Tasseomancy – Dead Can Dance & Neil Young …fade into folk song…
Enjoyed getting lost in the sound…

98. Valerie June – Astral Plane
Thanks to Travis

99. Princess Chelsea – The Cigarette Duet
Thanks to dear Gabe and of course love for New Zealand

100. Super Furry Animals – Hermann Loves Pauline
Gute Nacht, mein Liebling, Roscoe

101. The Proper Ornaments – Memories …memories will go/slowly float away/but I can see your face/from here…

102. The Saxophones – New Tradition
“But I haven’t shown you my best part; it’s too hard, and I’m quick to judge”

103. Sibelius – In the Stream of Life (Rautavaara)
104. Robyn Hitchcock – Goodnight Oslo

105. Spell – Stone is Very Very Cold …my hand may tremble now and then/but my heart can never break again…

106. Julie Byrne – Follow My Voice …To me, this city’s hell/But I know you call it home/I was made for the green/Made to be alone…
“I’ve been called heartbreaker/For doing justice to my own/I, too, been a fault-finder/But that life is broke/How I love you/You’re the one my heart chose/And so I will be here”

107. Ultra Vivid Scene with Kim Deal – Special One
Watching the video on a hotel room bed in Oslo, nearing the end of the five-day bubble, memories of high school for me, an intro to something new for him

108. Sheryl Crow – The Book …I didn’t know by giving my hand/that I would be written down, sliced around, passed down, among strangers’ hands…
A mainstream thing you won’t know, a lot like Friends, but still has its place in pop culture. And this song has always struck me – writers as “voyeur, the worst kind of thief” of such personal details; always be on the defensive. “I read your book/and I find it strange/that I know that girl, I know her world/a little too well”

109. Steve Mason – Hardly Go Through …I’ve never cried over someone I hardly know/But I can feel it/Can you feel it?…
“In my head I hear a voice, they say/You made the wrong choice/And you don’t need me, you’ll never need me”

110. Blondie – Fade Away and Radiate …Electric faces seem to merge/Hidden voices mock your words…
The musical definition of my earliest childhood, still resonating as I burnish in middle age. Isn’t that what memory, intellect, age and living do? Haha. One can hope. “Ooh baby I hear you spend night time/Wrapped like candy in a blue, blue neon glow”

Africa 101: Togolese radio, stereotypes and Africa in small doses

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“What is Africa to me:
Copper sun or scarlet sea,
Jungle star or jungle track,
Strong bronzed men, or regal black
Women from whose loins I sprang
When the birds of Eden sang?
One three centuries removed
From the scenes his fathers loved,
Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,
What is Africa to me?”

-Countee Cullen – “Heritage

Like many “westerners” (or whatever you want to call us – which is a group of mixed, all-over-the-place folks), I never used to give much thought to the specifics of the African continent. It was some “other place” I had not seen, dreamt of or had feelings about one way or the other. It was not really included in any appreciable way in my education, and I did not know anyone from Africa or who had been to Africa. Thus, it was a nebulous concept – just “Africa” without subtlety and nuance. It was not unlike the application of this blanket term “westerners”. What does it even mean?

Of course when I got older, it dawned on me that Africa is a vast place and the diversity was something I could not even begin to fathom. If each state of the American union, sharing a common language and currency, can each be as different as they tend to be, then the countries and regions of Africa would have to dwarf American diversity in some ways (although of course America is a land of immigration, making it a strange concoction as well. In fact most western countries, through years and years of immigration activity, have become their own strange concoctions).

Still, despite the few little tidbits of specific information I gathered haphazardly – nothing systematic about it – Africa was still just a jumble of faces in magazines or on tv, stereotypes, unusual names, places with ever-changing borders, names and leaders but nothing cohesive.

I could swear I had written about this “incremental introduction to Africa” in a previous blog entry before but cannot find any evidence of it now. All I can find is someplace that I wrote: “It seems that it does not matter how much one protests that Africa (especially sub-Saharan Africa) is not just one monolithic entity. Most will continue to treat this massive and diverse continent as though one remedy, one answer, one strategy works for the entire place.” Not that I was ever that different before really giving it some thought and consideration and a lot of time learning.

Where did all the questioning start? I cannot pinpoint an exact moment. In elementary school, when I was a child, I had absolutely no exposure to Africa or anything of direct African origin, other than some carved wooden turtle knick-knacks my grandmother gave me. They were “made in Kenya”, which she informed me was a country in Africa. It sounded so far off and exotic – very hard to comprehend. Later, in elementary school, our social studies textbook mentioned “Mba, Aubame and Bongo” – the only thing I learned about Africa in my entire public school education. The fact that I remembered only their names and a picture but nothing about where they came from shows only how disconnected this piece of information was from anything else. It was as though the textbook creators wanted to mention Africa but did not really have anything to say about it. (Later, of course, with these disconnected names floating around in my head, I checked into it to discover that these men were figures in la politique gabonaise.)

Later, as late as university, I felt a real elevation in my consciousness about this idea of “Africa” as a monolithic entity. A musician from Ghana, Obo Addy (RIP, 2012), came to my university and lectured about this topic – and it was, even though obvious, as though a light came on. The light of ignorance versus stupidity. Haha. No, I wasn’t stupid – I just didn’t know and, like most people, had no reason to think about these things. How did Ghana differ, I started thinking, from Nigeria, or from Gabon? How, even, did North Africa differ from sub-Saharan Africa? As ridiculously surface-level and limited as this sounds now, for 17-year-old me, it was all new. Meanwhile many of my classmates had spent parts of their lives in places like Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire (I want an Ivorian passport – it has an elephant on the front!) and thus had this air of experience and of being cosmopolitan. They had such a different worldview – or seemed like it – and I had no reason or circumstance to know more than I had before this point in time. I suppose this is partly what filled me with an awkwardness and feeling of inadequacy – that my life then was so sheltered and limited in scope. Even my aspirations, reflecting on it, were so puny and plodding. In a comparative light, my experience, despite being mine, just felt like nothingness. My closest encounters with Abidjan were little French-language profiles in my high school French-language text when we were optimistically introduced to all kinds of characters in le monde francophone. (Naturally I also enjoyed our little vignettes of the Swiss, Canadian, Tahitian and Martinique francophones!) To this day, it is hard to imagine spending part of childhood in some part of Africa (again, high school viewing of the Claire Denis film Chocolat should fill that gap in some one-dimensional, take-a-quick bite kind of way).

But then, all my knowledge about “African things” comes from “take-a-quick bite”, almost accidental approaches. From the strange trend in my life of meeting a string of strange men from Gambia (either in the Turkish fruit-and-veg store I frequented in Oslo to being seated next to a Gambian on an Icelandair flight) to the unusual way that Congo (formerly Zaire) keeps popping up in my life (watching When We Were Kings, reading a book about Congo that I found in Trondheim, Norway, seeing a film about Patrice Lumumba and thinking that maybe – just maybe – there was a mention of Lumumba in a schoolbook in my childhood, but that might just be wishful thinking. It’s hard to resist a story with names like Lumumba, Kasa-Vubu and Mobutu Sese Seko), it is as though I am meant to absorb Africa in small doses.

There was the strange flood of postal letters in both English and French that I received from misguided but hopeful suitors from Togo that put Togo on the map (quite literally) for me. Years ago when I was very active in the postal pen pal community, I used to exchange “friendship books” – small, decorated little booklets one might make for herself or a friend that included some info on interests and the postal address. You would send this to a pen pal, who would include his/her information and forward it to another of their pen pals and so on, until theoretically, this little booklet would be full of decorated pages and addresses of new potential friends. Occasionally these booklets would make their way, somehow, to African destinations. Normally this resulted only in a few unwanted letters (many people actually made a point of specifying on their friendship book pages: “No Africans!” – it still strikes me as kind of a horrible generalization but I imagine people had their reasons). In many cases – and very likely for a good many others – it resulted in a few weeks of receiving 50+ letters, daily, from men in Togo who were, according to their letters, “very excited for our marital relations to begin”.

I had no idea who these men were – where were they getting my address? Eventually one of the letters explained that they had heard an ad on the radio – someone was selling the addresses of women in the once-again-undefinable “west” seeking African husbands. All these guys had paid some undetermined amount of money to get their hands on addresses of women who had no interest whatsoever in an African husband. I imagine some enterprising, entrepreneurial type got his hands on one of these friendship books and used it to make a bit of cash. (Advertising on the radio seems a bit weird, but then I don’t have a clue if the radio in Togo is a normal means of advertising.) After seeing probably 400 or more letters come to my postbox, I really could not take it anymore. I just started throwing them away without opening them. Receiving the letters suddenly felt at once creepy and sad.

But I had my little slice of Togo and took in information I would not otherwise have had.

I met a French guy who had African parents (from Ghana and Benin); I knew quite a bit about Ghana by that time, but Benin was a bit mysterious. I managed to learn that Benin is the only country in the world (or at least at that time) which counts voodoo among its state religions. Voodoo, widely associated with Haiti, is only so associated because of the slave trade. It actually came from places like Benin.

I worked with a guy who was part Tanzanian, part Norwegian, who remarked on the “personal space bubble” of northern Europe. If you were to get on a bus, for example, in Tanzania and sit alone, the next person who got on the bus would sit down next to you – somehow being alone or perceived as lonely or wanting personal space is not perceived as “normal”. Life is much more about being a part of a community.

Eventually getting into development studies, Africa is often at the core of this discipline. My studies have taken me (virtually) to Mali (warfare and the films of Malian-Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako – such as Bamako, which was a film I watched several times for its multilayered commentary). My obsession with news and tendency to watch AlJazeera English (which focuses a lot of attention on Asia, Latin America and Africa – all under-reported on American news channels) has given me insight into Sudan, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Mali – among a million other things, including France’s continued influence in the African sphere, as evidenced by its eagerness to jump into military conflicts and/or peacekeeping (most recently in Mali and CAR).

But it is still a slow and incremental learning process, especially because I am only doing it on screen or paper. I still have not travelled to Africa. But because Africa, African geography, African issues are all so distant and perceived as so esoteric, if you happen to know one or two facts about a given African country, people – sometimes even people from that country – imagine you are an expert. Comparatively speaking, maybe I have become a pseudo-expert – but I am still a novice with so little expertise or experience. After having eaten Ethiopian food perhaps once and knowing that the spongy bread is called injera and is made from teff flour, an Ethiopian guy decided I must know everything about Ethiopia (he was just impressed perhaps that I was not one among the multitudes of insensitive assholes who always reply to comments about Ethiopian food with, “I didn’t know Ethiopians had food.”)

Most recently, I watched a film, Rêves de poussière (Dreams of Dust), which was about a man from Niger who travels to Burkina Faso to try his luck as a gold miner in horrific and dangerous conditions. Cinematographically beautiful, all these films, I am still a geography dunce. I find – still – I always have to look at a map.