African American Woman

By Lydia Scheuermann Hodak

Translated By Nina Kay Antoljak

The following short story is an excerpt from the author's book A Woman Wearing a Silk Blouse.



Someone soon happens along and wants to talk with Berit. She excuses herself, smooths out her flimsy dress of smoke-grey voile, and leaves.


I am enjoying the day and taking in the hubbub of voices on the terrace. A group of women are sitting at the neighboring table. One of them is an African American Woman, an Afro-American, a university professor from a rich American city. She is tall and slender, has the graceful ease of a young gazelle, a short boyish hairdo, and is dressed in a designer outfit. She sits in a garden chair, not leaning back into it but moving the upper part of her body as if dancing, and she speaks in refined American English.


“We African Women, we are fine no matter where we live, we are fine because we can always dance, we can simply dance our cares away.”


Nehad Selaiha, the woman sitting next to her, frowns and asks in the markedly rough voice of an ocean-going seafarer:


“What? What did you say?”


Now the African American Woman gets to her feet and starts to move, rather to float around her own axis, self-satisfied, well-groomed, she laughs and repeats once again what she had said.


In a rough and resolute voice, Nehad Selaiha comments:


“Bullshit! Utter bullshit!”


Nehad Selaiha is from Cairo. A theatrologist. Her theme had been Creativity and Female Images in the Arab World. She is a likeable, open-minded woman, sturdily built, who–not merely in the figurative sense–has both feet planted firmly on the ground. In her presentation, she drew images of another world for us, a world we hardly knew; in any case, it was not the world that was customarily presented to us in a stereotypical manner. She delivered her report in just the way she was herself: she did not lament the situation; she spoke with fervor, aware of the truth, ready for the struggle and armed with much optimism. She spread her arms, moved, and spoke in the simple way of a village woman carrying a bundle of washing on her head as she made her way through the path hewed through the loess towards the River Nile, squinting up at the sky for some sign of rain. Her face radiated with that dark, gilded glow of the African Sun, and now this woman, who was otherwise pleasant, good-natured, approachable and talkative, is frowning and speaking to the African American in short, explosive sentences:


“Bullshit! What you are saying is mindless drivel. Just bullshit! How can you say something like that? How can you expose dance to such ridicule? While hundreds of thousands of little girls are being circumcised in Africa every year, you speak of dance! While millions of mutilated African women vegetate! Do you know how many little girls die from the after effects of circumcision because it is carried out with rusty can tops or pieces of broken glass? Only to be sutured with dirty locust tree thorns, so that they can be opened as needed? Haven’t you read anything about that? Heard anything? How can you speak such rubbish? Have you seen how many African Women walk with such small steps? Have you seen that? They can’t even walk, let alone dance!”


The African American Woman, who comes from the rich America where she earns her fat fee at only one university, looks at Nehad as if she cannot understand a single word, shrugs her shoulders, and walks towards the steps leading to the restaurant, bearing off her short hairdo with light dance steps.


Nehad Selaiha hastily wipes the table with her bare arm, drinks her coffee and then strikes the table with her palm:


“Ha! They dance!”