Photograps: Thierry Mallet/Ap. 15 april 2019. World Vision Aus News. April 2019.
Authorial Note: This long poem was co-authored by ten poets, from Africa and the African diaspora, following the global outpour of grief and rapid, huge financial donations after the fire accident at Notre Dame de Paris on 15 April 2019 vis-à-vis Cyclone Idai’s deadly devastations in south-eastern Africa in March 2019. The poets include Nsah Mala, Cham Formoukum, Laura Ngaba Tinzoh, Ekpe Inyang, Star Precious Okpeh, Agogho Franklin, Nnane Ntube, Mbizo Chirasha, Joyce Ash, and MD Mbutoh. All the poets were brought together by Nsah Mala who initiated and coordinated the collaborative poem project.
This text is a selection of the original poem. Click here ‘Notre Dame de Paris, pray for Cyclone Idai’s Children‘ to download the full text.
Notre Dame de Paris, pray for Cyclone Idai’s Children!
Feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless,
Your Son taught us, Notre Dame de Paris – Mother of the World.
But when Idai swallowed over a 1000, Westminster Abbey was mute.
Because black lives deserve mass death?
Because white bells don’t ring for black lives?
Because black lives bore?
Oh yes, because black lives don’t matter!
Notre Dame de Paris, pray for Idai’s Children –
That African chiefs blind to Mozambique do not see Paris.
That black thieves eager to please masters do not see Paris.
That philanthropists who ignore Louisiana do not see Paris.
That no one rebuilds empty cathedrals while millions are roofless.
That no tyrant weeps over empty churches while roasting his people.
That no billionaire drapes touristic interests in religious garments.
Oceans of tears
Now flood the world
After zéro mortin Paris
Whilst on those same eyes
A dreadful drought descended last month
When Idai swept across southeastern Africa devouring
Over a 1000, injuring countless, & affecting millions?
Notre Dame, Mother of God, pray for us to our God of Justice
For the acts of God have caused us death.
It’s been a month but your children still suffer
To recover and cope from their pain –
They are sick and hungry in a world of plenty!
Oh children of Idai, wipe your tears and be strong to die!
Perhaps, the stone walls in Paris are worthier than your lives.
But who’s fault is it? Who’s meant to care for us?
Where’re those leaders their democracy has given us?
Who’re quick to weep for wooden crosses and roofs …
Who’re mute to our agonies and pains and sorrows…
Who’re keen to sell us and our resources and our sweat …
Who’re fast to procure sweet doses of oppression to soothe our hearts …
Oh children of Idai, wipe your tears and be strong to die!
For with this ink we pledge to cry & tell our stories to generations unborn.
They owe us reparation for years
Notre Dame de Paris, pray that Paris keeps controlling
That great power shouldn’t come with responsibilities!
Oh children of Idai, they stand aloof and watch us die!
Perhaps, only oil, diamond and gold matter, not life!
But we understand your shock! It hurts to lose her to flames!
Notre Dame de Paris was hypnotically beautiful.
But those houses in Madagascar were also beautiful.
But those men in Zimbabwe were also beautiful.
But those women in Malawi were also beautiful.
But those kids in Mozambique were also beautiful.
For new technologies, battles heat the earth,
So dig and dig and dig for free
But in the end
Send back small pieces of our stones when nature gets mad
And our leaders set up communities against each other.
These tales have been told long ago but we refused—
Yes, we did refuse to start life with hatred for aliens.
When our grey hairs laid us on age-old mats before their
Bare feet and basked in the golden moon of the cradle of mankind,
We still refused to blame our troubles on strangers.
Until Idai preceded Notre Dame.
We know better now, that Idai couldn’t unlock any wallet,
Yet old rocks could empty a nation’s treasury!
But in your world of expensive rocks, fame is bought—
When you are tired possessing fame with wallets, come and have peace here for free.
Oh, give me a bouquet of roses there!
I want to throw a rose on this soil
Give me kola nuts to break!
Our ancestors need to wake up from their sound sleep.
Kindly open the keg of palm wine,
We need to cleanse our land.
Where are the cowries?
Since we’ve refused to learn from the old bark of history,
Since our brains have grown heavy with democratic pneumonia,
We now leave our daughters in the care of those
Who graced our wives’ huts while we were in the field muscling with logs
And scratching the thighs of mother earth to feed grunting machines
In the suburbs of Bordeaux.
Two hands they say wash each other—
Yesterday Idai pealed the skin from African soles in the East,
Wreaking havoc from yard to yard.
Disgruntled Idai moved like giant agama licking weeping ants,
As if sent by the gods to test our resilience. Our Comrades were
Quick to our rescue! Media rating rose, heroes created from its
Massive media coverage, and the stocks raised smiles across Dawning Streets.
Paris is the world Centre of culture— even Vladimir and Beckett
Graced its towers and drank its beer with relish…
But Paris is also a nest, an ancient nest with twigs from different bushes
Gathered with the progress of millions of moons…
To the admirable regression of 3rd-world countries – poor Africa!
So, don’t ask me why rich people chose to put their currencies
In the rebuilding of Notre Dame—who doesn’t want to cleanse his
Soul after eating human pythons since 1830s to 2019?
Why did our fathers pledge to put the masses’ money into
The rebuilding of Notre Dame? My brethren, leaders are the
Guarantors of their citizens’ souls—even in ancient Hebrew chief priests
reigned, so can our prodigal fathers dish out to mourners of old Damsel.
Well done our fathers, well done moulders of unknown future!
But for the African child, it was Idai first, then old Paris second.
Whether they like it, Africa must rise; Idai’s kids must rise & survive!
Nsah Mala is a poet and writer from Cameroon, author of four poetry collections viz. Chaining Freedom (2012), Bites of Insanity(2015), If You Must Fall Bush (2016), and CONSTIMOCRAZY: Malafricanising Democracy (2017). He has won literary prizes in Cameroon and France. His stories and poems appear in magazines and anthologies like Scarlet Leaf Review, Tuck Magazine, Kalahari Review, Wales – Cameroon Anthology (2018), Best New ‘African’ Poets Anthology (2018), Redemption Song – Caine Prize Anthology (2018), and Cendres et mémoires – Ashes and memories (2019). His French poetry collection Les Pleurs du mal is forthcoming.