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ART CHECK

Cancer pandemic in the age of Covid-19

It remains the second deadliest human disease on the planet

In Summary

• One woman's fight shows that the ailment of one human is that of mankind

Book cover
Book cover
Image: COURTESY

Neema Komba, Mektildis Kapinga: A Silent Hero. Dar es Salaam: Mektildis Kapinga Hope Foundation, 2019. 68 pp. ISBN 978-9976-59-581-9

In Tanzania today, a new generation of writers is emerging that prefers English as the language of literature, and Neema Komba is steadily emerging as one of its eloquent voices.

She won the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature for her flash fiction, ‘Setting Babu on Fire’. She is rising fast as a poet but dwells more on creative non-fiction prose. This literary form has been made popular in Kenya by the late Binyavanga Wainaina and other Kwani? writers, such as Billy Kahora.

Komba’s new 68-pages brilliant book, Mektildis Kapinga: A Silent Victory (2019) tells the impressive story of a Tanzanian woman and her brave battle with cancer. Even as the world focusses on Covid-19, cancer remains the second deadliest human disease on the planet, according to World Health Organisation. The upsurge of this scourge was captured dramatically last year when it claimed the life of Bob Collymore, the head of East African telecommunications giant Safaricom.

This new book was commissioned by the family of the protagonist under the Mektildis Kapinga Hope Foundation. Sales of the copies are driven by a desire to support efforts against cancer in Tanzania today. Komba was approached by Mektildis in 2015 to write a biography of her battle with the scourge. The latter had heard about the literary rise of the former after her 2014 win, although their families enjoy a long friendship.

This emotive social proximity posed critical tests for her first attempt at a book-length creative non-fiction. There are questions she remained with unasked as she interviewed her subject or accompanied her to clinic in the months leading to her demise in 2015. These instances highlight the challenges writers of biographies and memoirs face in telling tales of inspirational lives in our midst.

Neema Komba
Neema Komba
Image: COURTESY

Against this oddity, the biographer ended up piecing together the 12-year cancer battle of her subject in a very riveting manner. Captured in five episodes, this story follows Mektildis’ struggle as a woman, a mother, a teacher, a cancer warrior and the community that travelled her torture with her.

She sets her episodes in breath-taking backgrounds like oceanic Dar es Salaam and the mountainous Maji Maji lands of southern Tanzania. This juxtaposition of the ugly nature of cancer and the beauty of nature is magnetic to a reader.

We are told in imagery and vivid description of Mektildis’ academic rise from a rural girl-child to a science teacher. Cancer diagnosis did not wither her hopes in life and she even pursued successfully a Bachelor of Education degree in Chemistry and Biology through the Open University of Tanzania.

Her childhood dream was to do medicine but wisely, she informs us that her career as a science teacher was not in vain. Through it, she sowed medical seeds for future Tanzanian doctors. Their career roots were in her classroom lessons, which she taught bravely until the fifth cancer bout immobilised her. 

 

Motherhood snippets and marriage memories offer a colourful folklore of wit with which Komba foregrounds the dark battle with cancer. All along, we follow the author and her subject as readers in their reflections on religion and medicine as twin pathways to determination in the lives of those assailed by life-threatening maladies. Neither is superior or a replacement of the other.

It is this humanisation of the subject that appeals to a reader. You are emotionally stirred to empathy as you accompany this tiny, ordinary woman in her epic journeys against an older, global pandemic. Komba has penned a book that eulogises the patient but simultaneously affords us a reality check. Cancer is here still and as deadly as Covid-19.

Your ailment is mine and vice versa, she shows. The ailment of one human is that of mankind – a searing message reflected globally by the collective manner in which the world has confronted the new  coronavirus.

Mektildis Kapinga's parting shot was that her life-fight be shared with the world as a book. This way, her acts of bravery stare death in the face even as her body wasted and died and was buried. She stands as a statue against cancer and other pandemics eating away at our lives today but never ever our faith or hope.

Copies of this book of faith can be ordered from www.amazon.com or from the author at: [email protected]  or www.neemakomba.com