Arnie is a fascinating person. At the end of a long-term romantic relationship, this Dutch-South African embarked on an unusual journey of self-discovery. His journey was unusual because, by looking outward, not inward, by talking to men all over the African continent, story-catching as he calls it, he hoped to use other men’s lives as mirrors by which to re-examine himself.
His travels took him to diverse places, from Monrovia among juju men to Kayole and Kibera, through to Kisangani; from the alcoholic wrecks in Soweto to the corridors of the stately home of former Zambian President, Kenneth Kaunda. And the result of all that travelling is a book titled Spots of a Leopard, which is an extraordinary, non-fictional exploration of what it means to be a man in modern day Africa.
On August 7, 2010, at the Storymoja Hay Festival taster, held at the British High Commissioner’s residence, I had a chat with Arnie (a name I formulated because his full name, Aernout Zevenbergen, kept tripping my Ndumberi tongue).. The question was, of course: What does it mean to be a man?
Are men still protectors in the day and age of G4S? Are we still providers in these times of rising female domination in financial and corporate fields? And if we are not, then who are we? To quote the angry female saying: ‘Who exactly needs a man?’
Aernout Zevenbergen’s response to this question is that the anger that is evident in men today, whether it is the alcoholics in Kibera drinking themselves to an early grave or the Eagles in Soweto riding their Harley motorcycles to ‘relieve stress at home’, comes from a sense of not knowing what is expected from them. And unfortunately, that anger is often let out on the weakest in society.
How do we deal with this anger? How do men shape a role that will make them feel that they are meaningful members of society even though they may not have a job or may not have the financial clout of their partners?
At the 2010 Storymoja Hay Festival, Aernout Zevenbergen will try to answer these questions and discuss themes from his book with Oyunga Pala, the well known columnist who represents the voice of Kenyan men. We invite you to come share your insights and experiences during this riveting session. The festival will be held at the Railway Club grounds from the 1st to 3rd of October.
Come and let’s see who really needs men.