‘Home is where the memory persists most’ Introducing Zainabu Jallo’s We Take Care of Our Own
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 November 2020
The opening setting: a Viking-themed birthday party at a plush retirement home somewhere at the convergence of central, eastern and western Europe. The characters: three men from various diasporas with distinguished careers. Nonagenarian birthday boy Bajran from south-east Europe (‘The Balkans’, WTC) is a former chemist with a prominent Swiss pharmaceutical company; octogenarian Moon-So is a South Korean filmmaker obsessed with his unfinished documentary on dragonflies and, at 87, is the youngest of the group; and Dr Youssouf Sadio, aged 89, is a renowned Senegalese astrophysicist who awaits approval of the naming of a star he discovered before his retirement. These three men are thrown together by fate (and sufficient financial means) in a nursing facility that does not feel like ‘home’ but rather like a golden cage, expressed in the overall sentiment: ‘“How the hell did we end up here?”’ (WTC). These men present the audience with interesting paradoxes. They are both wise and infantile at the same time; as representatives of a highly accomplished group of transnational experts they look back on professional privilege and success while suffering from existential anxieties in their twilight hours. While they bicker and reluctantly bond, they gradually begin to share memories of former selves and imaginaries of their homelands. Each has a skeleton in his closet, and all suffer from private angst. Youssouf believes that he is observed in a panopticon; Moon-So is haunted by voices; and Bajran wants to be cleansed by a second, fully immersive baptism. This ceremony – into which Bajran bullies the others for reasons of solidarity rather than religious conversion – sets off a series of events which brings them closer to dealing with their deepest regrets and fears, including their fear of dying.
Few plays and performances put the (very) elderly and their concerns centre-stage, even if Miriam Bernard and Lucy Munro argue that, ‘older people feature strongly in the theatrical cultures in many countries and eras, both as performers and characters’ (2015: 61).
- African Theatre 19Opera & Music Theatre, pp. 194 - 202Publisher: Boydell & BrewerPrint publication year: 2020