Reading An Ex-mas Feast: to blaze, provoke and render the world
Eneng Elis Aisah
“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.”
If there is an effective media to educate human of how to live, then literature is most likely one of alternatives to be appraised. Most people boldly cry when the character of the stories they read, watch or listen died sadness or unspoken love between the characters occurred. Patriotism of Indonesian young man was burned when Rendra read Sajak Sebatang Lisong in 1977 which leaded to Maladi event. The story of the first Korean Queen Soen Deok ruled 632-647 in Peninsula Kingdom which gives the unforgettable experiences of maintaining her identity as a queen and as a woman in patriarchy culture got 42 % of Korean viewers in its fourth day broadcasting in television.
Both poem and stories create and gives powerful influence to the culture and nation. They are not only as the identity of national culture but also as the indicator of the decline or the incline of a nation (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749–1832). As both explore the value and meaning of human experiences by imaginative recreation in language (Hills, 2006) and the people which ceases to produce literature ceases to move in thought and sensibility (Elliot, 1986), then introducing, insinuating and teaching them to students are necessary and most likely precious for Indonesian future.
Narrative as one genre taught in our curriculum, is defined the sequence of stories of people /characters in time and places (Knapp & Watkins, 2005). It is central genre in all culture in almost every imaginable situation and life (Christie, 2005; Martin & Rose, 2008; Christie & Derewianka, 2008). It also structures and shapes one’s world, Hardy (1968, cited in Spilka 1977, cited in Hills 2006: 94) had concluded “we dream in narrative, daydream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, desire, believe, doubt, plan, revise, critics, construct, gossip, learn, hate, love by narrative” (p.31). Therefore teaching literature to students in EFL classroom is as ingratiating student selves’ life and even other’s. These activities are involved through and with language in the form of text as source of language and in the form discourse in classroom context as medium of literature discussion community.
An Ex-Mas Feast of Uwem Akpan
In September 2009, Oprah Winfrey announced Uwem Akpam ‘short story as her 63rd book club selection. Say You are One of Them is debut collection mark the first time Winfrey has ever chosen. This short story has many achievements. In 2007, it was one of five short stories by African writers chosen as finalists for the Caine Prize for African writing, won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best Book (African Region) 2009, PEN/beyond Margins Award 2009 and finalist for the Lost Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award fort first fiction.
The first title of this short story’s collection is An Ex-mas Feast. It is about how street boy and girls struggling for poverty of their family life in Naerobi. This story narrated clearly how Maisha, the biggest daughter, is being a “Malaya”, a whore for money paid for school fee’s of her only brother. They thoroughly realized that education is the solution for their better future. However, it is absolutely luxurious. It is only aligned with two issues; for man and for rich people. In Ex- mas Feast, hating for being a poor person and a girl, Maisha was decided to leave the family and live with a white man in Honolulu, Hawaii to earn money for Jigana’s school tuition. It was the last and awe Ex-Mas feat they celebrated together although with the most luxurious food they have ever dreamt. Deep sorrow of being leaving with one of their beloved member of family, blaming each other is the only way to express it. Feeling guilty, Jigana decided to abandon everything he had; the family and the only his most wanted dream. And finally became someone that he hated most.
Reasons of choices
Issuing poverty, gender inequality and prostitution, and struggling of young people for getting education are most likely appropriate stories to be responded by and discussed with adolescence by means of some value reasons:
Firstly, it copes with development needs of young adults. In that age, young adults need to be recognized as beings in growth in searching of self and identity. This short story perfectly describes the developmental of being a girl to being a woman. The words representing the beauty, woman and identity mostly appear in each page, for instance high heel, doll of face, funny – funny designer clothes, lingering perfume, etc. Those words characterize the need of a young girl to be existed in the women words as culture accepted it.
Secondly, Ex-Mast Feast provokes the reflective capacity of the reader. Naerobi has quite similar in the economic condition with most of Indonesian suburbs. Being a poor means struggling and suffering although it does not mean to give up to the condition and stop dreaming. Young person is the future of the family and the nation. Reflecting education is necessary condition for better future is valuable values that young adults will get through the story.
Thirdly, as The Entertainment Weekly writes “One of the years’ most exhilarating reads…Awe is the only appropriate response to Uwem Akpan’s stunning debut”, this story subconsciously makes tears falling, rips the hearth and raises empathy. It is hardly to image set in those conditions. As young and pretty girl, Marsiha only has two options to be chosen, being a street girl and raped or becoming a prostitute and meeting with rich man to lean the life. Both are dreadful option and pity life.
Fourthly, although this story discusses the reasons of Masha being a prostitute providing with logical arguments, it is most likely deceitful to conclude that Masha’s decision is right and true. There are many solutions available to be found in the discussion between readers in classroom. Cultural, religious and ethic values of students will determine the evidence of judging the truthiness of the story in their world.
Moreover, comparing with language and culture benefits of teaching literature in classroom as listed by Parkinson and Thomas (2000), An Ex-mast Feat provides cultural enrichment. As culture is the aspect of social concerned with the meanings which come about in and through social relation among people, classes, institution, structures and things like literature (Thwaites, Davis & Mules, 1994), then in reading An Ex-mast Feast, students learn to interpret character action’s and cultural setting of Naerobi within large frameworks of words or activity systems constituted by cultural or ideological forces (Engestrom, 1987 cited in Galda & Beach, 2001). It is easily to find the cultural value of Naerobi in the text. The terms used such as Ex-mas Feast, kabire, baba and mama adds cultural experiences of the reader.
Moreover, the cultural enrichment of this short story provided offers rhetoric. The writer brilliantly changes the use of local English in dialogue to formal English in narrative sequenced. “Me am not going to school” (page 14) is the commonest expression uttered by character. However, the story is vividly narrated the setting of story through vocabularies. Collie and Slater said that reading is substantial and contextualized body of text, reader may gain familiarity with many features of the written language which broaden and enrich their own writing skill (1987 cited in Parkinson and Thomas, 2004; 9). Susan Straight, Washington Post editors comments it “is not merely the subject that makes Akpan’s writing so astonishing, translucent, and horrifying at all at once; it is his talent with metaphor and imaginary, his immersion into character and places”.
The preeminent part of this story is training of the mental of the reader. Mental training is one of the benefits of teaching literature. Leavis (1943) discussed literature trains, in a way not other discipline can, intelligence and sensibility together cultivating sensitiveness and precision of response and a delicate integrity of intelligence (cited in Parkinson and Thomas, 2004: 9). Taking the setting in war-torn countries and the gritty lives of African children, this story blazes humanity, persists horror and relentless without moral queasiness of voyeurism. Chris Abani, author of GraceLand and The Virgin of Flames said “Uwem Akpan write with a political fierceness and humanity so full of compassion it might just change the world”. Of course, this story confidently will revolutionize the paradigm of Indonesian students in viewing their and other world.
Provoking affective, interpretive and Critical capacity
As means of encouraging students’ response with affective, interpretive and critical capacity, the way of assessing literature engages crucial factors in teaching literature. Parkinson and Thomas (2004) listed some potentially assessable outcomes of teaching literature:
Affective relates to emotional expression associated with ideas, thing or action. It most likely deals with feeling, attitude, or value. In teaching literature, affective outcome may go beyond to an education of the sensibilities, an enhanced awareness and understanding of characters and their own emotional life (Parkinson and Thomas, 2004). It is most likely important than facilitating students with cognitive outcomes. The affective may focus on the arising of students’ self confidence and self-image within and through the characters of the story. Broadly, it may precede to a desire for further success and to positive attitudes to school and society in general (Thomas and Perkinson, 2004:143).
In developing affective sense of students in reading An Ex-mas Feast, the questions of the assessment may appear in the form of open-ended questions as follow:
- After reading the text, observe the attitudes of each character!
- In first paragraph, the writer narrated that Maisha had been behaving like a cat that was going feral (line 3). Determine the reason of using cat as metaphor of Maisha’s behavior at home!
- To raise the family, Mama often asked their children to be a beggar in the street, what do you think it is supposed to be? Is Baba working? Give your response!
- Certainly within the text, you will find many cultural values in which different from your own culture. Crystallize their cultural values differs with yours!
- Albeit many diverse values, you may find some universal values which appear in the text. Do you think what the universal values of the text insisted by the writer? Elaborate!
Learning how to learn
There is an interesting proverb from Confucian to bear in mind “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; if you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime”. Giving a man fish is not helping him to face a complicated life. Instead it is teaching him how to be a beggar for the rest of his life. In the learning context, just transferring knowledge to students in the class is like giving a fish for them. They need to know how to learn by their selves for their life.
Learning to learn is from the assumption that education is what remains when one has forgotten all one ever learned (Parkinson and Thomas, 2004). Students will capture knowledge that they need and fit with their social context. According to Fink (2003) learning to learn involves aspects of both the cognitive and affective domains. Significant learning to learn is characterized by “some kind of lasting change that is important in terms of the learner’s life” (Fink 2003).
Relating to An Ex-mas Feast, the questions may appear to assess this outcomes are:
- Based on your intention, how does the family value education! And how about yours, How you value education? What will you do to cope with your dream?
- Learn how Jigana finally decide not to continue his study!
- Supposed you are in the same boat with Misha, What will you do to help your brother to educate him self! Relate your opinion with your believe and cultural values!
Literature-related knowledge and skills
As mention above, literature gives not only moral values but also good model of language, and language it self. In describing this outcome, Parkinson and Thomas (2004) underline three subheadings:
- a. Factual Knowledge
It includes knowledge and understanding of basic facts, ideas, and perspectives. It also includes understanding the conceptual structure of a subject:
The questions to develop this knowledge are:
- What is Ex-mas Feast?
- What is Kabire?
- How many characters are in the story?
- What is the profession of Jigana’s father?
- b. Delicate Sensibility
As discussed above, mental training is one of the benefits of teaching literature. Leavis (1943) discussed literature trains, in a way not other discipline can, intelligence and sensibility together cultivating sensitiveness and precision of response and a delicate integrity of intelligence (cited in Parkinson and Thomas, 2004: 9).
Therefore to cope with this outcome, the assessments are as follow:
- Can you feel and describe Jigana’s feeling in the story?
- Do you think Mama and Baba love Misha? Elaborate!
- c. Skills of Literary Criticism
Critical literacy is the concept that the social, political, cultural, and linguistic background of both the author and the reader must be considered and acknowledged (Comber & Simpson, 2001; Cope & Kalantzis, 1999 cited in Hertzbeg at www.readingonline.com ). This concept has influenced pedagogical approaches taken in reading education in recent years. Developing students’ critical thinking is central to helping them achieve critical literacy.
To provide literary criticism, leading questions or format of Socratic questions can be used by teachers to encourage learners in criticizing the story:
- Why did Misha go to Honolulu?
- Why did that ex-mas become the worst time for Machokos family?
- Do you think what the strengths and the weakness of the story?
- What is the writer’s intention of telling this story?
- d. Language competencies
As authentic resources of English language, this story provides rich language competences. In this story, writer provides rich contextual vocabularies, coherence and cohesion structure.
a) General and miscellaneous
To assess this outcome, the questions are:
- Pay attention to the dialogue, List some formal and informal English in the dialogue!
- This is narrated vividly with using of many adverbial; write some adverbs that describe the awe situation!
b) Skills of reading
- What is the main idea of 4th paragraph?
- What does the underline word refer to?
A clap of thunder woke Mama. She got up sluggishly, pulling her hands away from Maisha’s trunk, which she had held on to while she slept. It was navy blue, with brass linings and rollers, and it took up a good part of our living space
c) Increasing functional range
Read part of the story below. Decide what the functions of underlined expressions are!
I quickly covered the trunk with rags and reached into my pocket,
tightening my grip around the rusty penknife I carried about.
Mama and I stood by the door. Bwana Wako wore his trousers
belted across his forehead; the legs, fl ailing behind him, were tied in
knots and stuffed with ugali fl our, which he must have gotten from
a street party. Cecilia wore only her jacket and her rain boots.
“Ah, Mama Jigana-ni Ex- mas!” the husband said. “Forget the
money. Happee Ex- mas!”
“We hear Jigana is going to school,” the wife said.
“Who told you?” Mama said warily. “Me, I don’t like rumors.”
They turned to me. “Happee to resume school, boy?”
“Me am not going to school,” I lied, to spare my tuition money.
“Kai, like mama like son!” the wife said. “You must to know
you are the hope of your family.”
“Mama Jigana, listen,” the man said. “Maisha came to us last
week. Good, responsible gal. She begged us to let bygone be
bygone so Jigana can go to school. We say forget the money — our
Ex- mas gift to your family.”
“You must to go far with education, Jigana,” the wife said,
handing me a new pen and pencil. “Mpaka university!”
Mama laughed, jumping into the flooded alley. She hugged
Rendering the world
Above assessment, generally is intended to render the world increasing sensitivity through and within language. This section discusses the interpretation of the assessment with elaborating the intended skill or value to cope with broader outcomes.
To be able to change the students’ paradigm of looking world phenomenon and having self-reflective through literature, the students, firstly, may have sufficient language competence. The abilities to recognize the formal and informal expression, meaning of words, lexical cohesion and coherence, and the function of the expression in the text are important to gain factual knowledge and able to response literary critically.
Having the ability to respond literary critically facilitates to develop learner to learn how to learn. Learning to learn is able students with self-reflective. Students may familiarize with the way of they learn and other’s. In further, students know their own, cultural, national and world values.
After knowing them selves, students are intended to be sensitive with other. Understanding other country values, knowing the way of other facing their life, solving problems and coping with the dream they have provided in the affective outcome assessment help students to shift paradigm of their selves and finally have the intention to live in a better world. Therefore, Literature is beyond, beyond of language, culture and religion. It is an echo of the life.
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(2009, September). Retrieved March 13, 2010, from http://www.oprah.com/oprahbooksclub/author-Uwem-Akpans-Biografy
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