Mission to Kala

Mission to Kala

Who: Medza

Where: Southern Cameroon

What: Visiting with his cousins at a nearby town, negotiating the differences between village life and the privileges his educated status grants him.

Should I read it: On a rainy night, alcohol recommended.

In Mission to Kala Medza, a college boy, returns to his village in the Southern Cameroons after failing his exams. Expecting to be in trouble (or disgrace), he is surprised when he is lauded as a scholar and granted more prestige than he deserves. Medza is then entrusted with the delicate mission of ‘retrieving’ a man’s wife who has run away to Kala, a neighboring village.

Intriguing about this book is its tone, Medza’s narrative sounds as though it’s being told to university chums over drinks at the country club: carefree and friendly yet peppered with hints of arrogance that, like a hipster’s irony, effectively mask any serious exploration of Medza and the other characters. (It’s important to note that this is a translation from the French Mission Terminée [1957]).

Though he is tasked with negotiating the tensions between traditional values and modernity. His status as an educated person in colonial Cameroon where education is a mystery to many and the educated are viewed as priviledged citizens in their white-ruled country, Medza refuses to tackle this tension. And it is his refusal that makes this book so absurd and intriguing. Medza criticizes a chief for marrying a young girl, yet engages in sexual relations with the same chief’s 15-year-old daughter. He resolutely informs the villagers that his education hasn’t made him special, and that his European classmates are no different from their African counterparts, yet subtly mocks his cousin and friends for their traditional mannerisms.

Perhaps the way he describes his girlfriend-cum-wife-cum-human-tabular-rasa is the most effective way to describe Medza himself,

There was nothing real or concrete about her: her whole person evoked a dream of the ideal, the intangible, the unattainable.

Medza’s stay in Kala is neither success nor failure, his return to his home and eventual abandonment of his responsibilities to his family, does little to elicit empathy from the reader.

Mission to Kala is an ultimately curious book. An exploration of education, the quirks of a Cameroonian village, and the tensions of modernity and tradition lurk deep beneath the surface of Medza’s disengaged narrative, and the reader may find himself/ herself waiting for Medza to regain focus and make his story worth reading.

Mission to Kala by Mongo Beti

African Writers Series |1964 | ISBN: 0435900137