Terese Svoboda writes for The Rumpus about teaching writing in Sudan. The article is noteworthy not simply for Svoboda’s descriptions of her experience, but for the questions it engages, primarily inspired by Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s insistence that African writers should write in their native languages, as a way of “de-colonizing the mind.” As an outsider teaching there, Svoboda is curious and perhaps implicitly skeptical about such claims:

…how do writers writing only in their own language help a country just starting out? Some forty years ago, Sudanese diplomat Francis Deng, Under-secretary General in the UN, translated the Dinka songs. The Dinka are the Nuer’s main rivals and as close culturally as cousins. They have been killing each other as recently as last January. If the Dinka read the Nuer songs, will it rouse them to battle or lead them to recognize themselves? Songs have been used as evidence of incitement in Sudanese courts. Unity is a fragile construct. Writing in another language didn’t muffle Joseph Conrad, I think, watching a parade of Lexus cars pass the hotel.

Originally Published: January 14th, 2011