Friday, 3 July 2015

From: Beasts of Nalunga - Jack Mapanje

Now That September 11 Should Define Mr Western Civilisation ...
(for Sarah Maguire & Saadi Yousef)

I remember being summoned to the British Council Office
Once, back home; I’d got the Commonwealth Scholarship

Bound for the University of London. The British Council
Lady who interviewed us declared, to get the full benefit

Of our studies in metropolitan Britain, we were to listen
Carefully to what she had to say about “civilisation” – she

Uttered the word as if it were some Country Squire we
Should’ve been told about at our village school long ago

Or perhaps some gentleman once in a striped suit, bow
Tie, bowler hat, about to sit at table glittering with silver

Cutlery, ready to eat the precious bits and bobs we’d
Never hope to taste. For the lady first fell into a deadly

Trance and, as if in defence of the law she feared we’d
Soon break, stressed, “If you do not listen, you’ll be

Embarrassed when you are invited to civilised homes!”
Meaning where people ate with knives, forks, spoons;

Drank from mugs, cups, glasses; not with hands, sticks
And shards like us drinking from calabashes or gourds!

The lady then showed us how the civilised table was
To be set, with the number of plates minutely spaced

Before us, the knives on the right, the forks on the left,
Knives and spoons on top; which knives went with

Which forks with which food; how we were to begin
With the knives and forks outside the plate and moved

Inside, as it were. “Quaffing one’s drink like American
Cowboys won’t do!” She insisted, “You know what I

Mean!” Of course, we did not know what she meant
Until after entering the British Council Head Office at

65 Davis Street, London, SW1, where the lady’s rules
Of engagement drastically changed. Now, weren’t we

Urged to “Join those Bond Street corner shop queues for
Lunch!” And there, didn’t we have to pick our fish ‘n’ chips

With our flipping fingers, from the cones of London’s
Evening Standard Newspaper? Walking down Portobello

Market that evening, didn’t we laugh, laugh, laugh until
We broke wind, tears running down cheeks, imagining

The British Council lady’s rules so carelessly breached by
Her own mates! That was years ago, though now that 9/11

Defines Lord Western Civilisation of the New Millennium
I thought you might like to hear when first I met the guy!

Jack Mapanje (born 1944) Malawi

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please keep your comments relevant and free from abusive language. Thank you.