The Caine Prize for African Writing is back and, as we did last year, we’ll be joining Aaron Bady’s community to discuss what makes the five finalists tick. This year, however, I’ll be taking a close look at each story’s prehistory, from its influences to its allusions. This week’s entry comes from Sierra Leone: Pede Hollist’s “Foreign Aid.”

 

"/> The Caine Prize’s Prehistories: Pede Hollist’s “Foreign Aid” — The Airship
By Misha Grunbaum
Image credit: Flickr user stringer_bel. Used with a Creative Commons license

Image credit: Flickr user stringer_bel. Used with a Creative Commons license

The Caine Prize for African Writing is back and, as we did last year, we’ll be joining Aaron Bady’s community to discuss what makes the five finalists tick. This year, however, I’ll be taking a close look at each story’s prehistory, from its influences to its allusions. This week’s entry comes from Sierra Leone: Pede Hollist’s “Foreign Aid.”

Like last week’s story, Pede Hollist’s story scrutinizes the culture of Africans transplanted in America. This one opens in inner-city Baltimore with echoes of HBO’s The Wire: “Bro, I graduated from ICU, Inner-City University. Ain’t nothing I can’t handle.” In the first few pages, we watch as Balogun’s name changes to Logan, he goes through wives and child-support payments, and his burger-flipping job is finally exchanged for a lucrative one in construction. His life is the American Dream writ small.

And so, to prove his success and apologize to the people he left behind, Logan returns to Sierra Leone. What can he bring back? Oversized Samsonite suitcases jam-packed with Dollar-Store and generic brand items,” perhaps—suitcases which are eventually lost (or stolen)—and money, lots of it. Logan arrives as an ambassador from the United States, and the country to which he returns is simplified for him: dozens of visitors arrive at his parents’ house, “all [of whom] were introduced or introduced themselves as relatives.” To take care of this “family,” Logan spends money extravagantly, recklessly, without attention to his gifts’ use.

“Foreign Aid” is the title of this story, and it is oddly fascinating to watch how Logan slowly realizes his failure to actually aid his fellow Sierra Leoneans. “In three days he had spent more than half the money he had budgeted for ten,” we read, and not long after, we learn how even his own family members will nearly bankrupt him. Foreign aid has, in fact, been a significant contributor to Sierra Leone’s economy, but it’s hard not to wonder how this kind of aid—whether from other governments, or from investors, or individuals like Logan—hurts as much as it helps.

 The rift between Logan's adopted American culture and that of his homeland is comical at moments—his incessant exhortations that "I'll pay for it" bring him to ruin, after all—but undergirding this story is the larger problem of what expatriates owe to their origins. If the Minister he goes to see feels little obligation to compensate him appropriately, then does Logan have any obligation of his own? Or has Logan's generosity been wholly self-aggrandizing?

 

For other perspectives on "Foreign Aid," follow these links to posts by the other Caine Prize bloggers: