A 1999 novela by Haggag Oddoul about Nubia, My Uncle Is on Labor, has just been translated into English, according to a review published in Bloomberg.com last Thursday. Oddoul’s Nights of Musk, translated into English in 2005, has become a well-known literary testament to the spirit of Old Nubia, and this newly translated work, like the 2005 book, parodies the upset lives and decaying culture of the Nubian people.
The story of My Uncle Is on Labor (the incorrect preposition is used by a child in the work) is about a village man who discovers he is pregnant—or he thinks he is. His wife, friends, local officials, even children agree that he is expecting, and taunt him about it. Concern spreads about who the father might be, and how the situation will affect the reputation of the community. Meetings are held. Curiosity seekers flood into the man’s hut to see the spectacle. Perhaps the guy is just fat, or perhaps everyone should just smoke some pot and get on with life.
The fantastic plot is a deliberate parody of the Nubian situation, where everything was turned upside down by the flooding of their homeland. Nubians who were driven away from their homes along the Nile by the closing of the Aswan Dam in 1964 make as much sense as a pregnant man, to Oddoul. The village mayor comments, “we are people whose land is drowned, and hope drowned with it.”
The reviewer for Bloomberg.com, Daniel Williams, describes his interview with Oddoul at the Alexandria, Egypt, railroad station while many Nubian people living in that city were preparing to leave by train to visit their lost homeland. An ardent proponent of the idea that the Egyptian government should provide land for the Nubians in Southern Egypt near Lake Nasser, Oddoul despairs about his people.
“We were once kings, and now we are clowns,” he tells the journalist. But with Nubians crowding around the train that is about to depart, he says, “this is a day we are really happy.”
He summarizes his despair about the decline of the Nubian culture. “Our arts, our dance, our values are disappearing,” he tells the writer. “To restore our character, we need a presence in our place and that place is Nubia.”