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Path To My African Eyes: An Interview with Ermila Moodley
Q. How closely is Path To My African Eyes based on your own personal experiences?
A. In Path to my African Eyes the narrator, Thandi Sobukwe, is a product of educated parents in a newly democratic country, whereas I grew up in poverty in apartheid South Africa. So my life has been quite different to hers. However, in the story Thandi confronts similar issues that have troubled me. The main one being finding one’s place and identity in a White dominated society.
Q. When did you leave South Africa and why?
A. I left South Africa in my early twenties to experience living in a free society.
Q. When I studied about Mahatma Gandhi, I learned about the Indian Community in South Africa. Tell me a little about this community.
A. Indians started arriving in South Africa in 1860 and were brought by the British to work as laborers in the sugar cane plantations. These Indians came willingly because they wanted to escape famine in India, and they were promised great opportunities. Once they arrived Indians were essentially treated as slaves. Living conditions were awful and many committed suicide. Later, wealthier Indians from India arrived in South Africa to set up businesses. These folks would not tolerate dehumanizing treatment from the ruling white population and fought hard for basic services for all Indians. When Mahatma Gandhi arrived in the early 1900’s he joined in the struggle for just treatment. Because of him Indians were better off than blacks under apartheid.
Q. How do you feel about South Africa today? Do you think the country is moving forward?
A. I feel a tremendous sense of pride when I go to South Africa these days. Even though there are still a lot of problems to sort out, it’s great to see that every human being is expected to be treated with respect. It’s wonderful to walk into public libraries and parks and see a mix of races. It’s great to go to whichever beach you like, or to walk into any restaurant and know that you are welcome.
The country is definitely moving forward. In the past, most black kids dropped out of school before their teens. Today, most kids go all the way to high school. In the past, most of the universities had predominantly white students. Today, the great majority of students are black. That in itself is a reflection of the country moving forward. In a few years these students will join the workforce, increasing the number of university educated black adults in society. Isn’t that an obvious indicator of the country moving forward? I can name other examples too, such as the vast improvement in infrastructure in the poorest areas, etc. But I’ll leave it at that.
Q. Though my mother is American, I am originally from Cote d’Ivoire, so on several levels I really understand Thandi. I am constantly telling people that Africa is not a country, but a continent. How can we as Africans in America, help to change the image of Africa from being only a bleak place?
A. That’s a tough one. I wish I had a simple answer. I guess my approach has been:
1.) Just correcting people whenever the topic comes up
2.) through my books
Q. Are you a teacher? If you are, how does being a teacher help you as a writer?
A. Yes, I’m an elementary school teacher and this year I have third grade. Teaching gives me a lot of insight into what kids know and what their interests are. Seeing and interacting with my audience everyday helps me connect with them more easily in my writing.
Q. Is this your first book? How are you enjoying being a writer? When did you start writing?
A. Path to My African Eyes is my first book with Just Us Books. I’ve also written a middle grade book called Under the African Sun, which is set in South Africa, and was published in 2003.
I love writing because it provides me with a creative outlet. I started writing about ten years ago.
Q.. How do people feel about your book in the United States and South Africa?
A. There has been a lot of excitement about my book in the US. Kids at my school come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed reading it. I was pleased with the reviews it got in Booklist and School Library Journal. It isn’t available in South Africa yet, unfortunately.
Q. What projects are you working on?
A. I am working on a book set in the early 1960’s in South Africa. It tells the story of the political awakening of a young teenager. The Rivonia Trial, which is the trial that resulted in Nelson Mandela’s life sentence, is the backdrop to the story.
Q. What advice can you give me and my readers who are interested in becoming a writer like you?
A. Well, I think you are already on the road to success. My advice is, exercise that writing brain everyday. Keeping a blog is one great way to do this. I also suggest you keep a notebook with you at all times. Whenever you observe something that gets your attention, or when ideas come into your mind, you should write it down. I can’t tell you how precious your impressions as a teenager are. When you are older you won’t remember the exact emotions and thoughts you have now. Try your best to record these.
Another piece of advice: Read lots of good books. Read with a writer’s eye. Take note of how good writers communicate ideas and information.
Other than that, just enjoy the process.
Good luck to you!
And thanks for your wonderful review on your blog-Sojo’s Trumpet