Short story #5: Ships in High Transit (Banyavanga Wainaina)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the five of diamonds.

Story:  Ships in High Transit, by Banyavanga Wainaina (from The Granta Book of the African Short Story)

Comments: To understand better where Wainaina is coming from in this story, it may help to read first his article in the Winter 2005 issue of Granta, “How to Write about Africa” (available here).  This is a funny/sarcastic look at the stereotyping of and generalizing about “Africa” that occurs in contemporary writing.  Okay.  I’m Irish, I get the resentment at stereotyping.

Ships in High Transit is about reality and image; the image of “Africa” that the Kenyans in the story are deliberately concocting for European and American tourists, the image of themselves that they portray to each other, the image that they have of the tourists… Where is reality?  What is true, and what is crap?   A good discussion of the story can be found here (a blog post from 2006).   See also the discussion about “the Real Africa” and Wainaina here, including the comments.  I note that not everyone is impressed by his living in the USA and buying into the system there – a little like what the Irish would call “taking the King’s shilling”.

Personally, I think if any group of countries today suffers from being radically and wrongfully stereotyped, it’s “Eastern Europe”.

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5 thoughts on “Short story #5: Ships in High Transit (Banyavanga Wainaina)

  1. Pingback: Deal Me In 2014: Week 5 Wrap-Up | Bibliophilopolis

    • Hi, Jay,
      One of the characters in the story says that “in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, before commercial fertilizer was invented, manure was transported by ship, dry bundles of manure. Once at sea, it started to get heavy, started to ferment, and methane would build up below deck. Any spark could blow up a ship – many ships were lost that way. Eventually people began stamping the bundles ‘Ships in High Transit’ so the sailors would know to treat the cargo with respect. This is where the term ‘shit’ comes from: Ships in High Transit. Many of those around these days…”
      And of course this is a metaphor for some of what’s going on in the story.

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