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"My mother says that there are things in life that she can't forgive . . ."

At age 16, Dipita's mother, Mbila, arrived in Switzerland from Cameroon. Trafficked into Europe, she supported herself and her son as a prostitute in Geneva. Dipita, now a young, black, gay man serving a five-year sentence in a Swiss prison, shares their story and his own search for purpose. He intertwines their stories with the life of Uncle Démoney, a former civil servant in Cameroon, who staked everything on sending his sister to Switzerland.

39 Berne Street explores the complex themes of prostitution, immigration, and homosexuality through a fluid and expressive prose that makes it ring true. Originally published in French, it won the Prix du Roman des Romands in 2014.

Max Lobe's 39 Berne Street vividly describes the unforgivable actions visited by family members upon family members in desperate bids for survival and contentment in the midst of Dipita's struggle toward forgiveness and acceptance.


Chewing determinedly on his ndongo ndongo, Uncle Démoney contemplated the sunrise.

It was more than a routine for him. It was an essential daily ritual. A religion.

His ndongo ndongo, a thirty-centimeter rattan stem as thick as a cigar, served as a toothbrush. My uncle simply had no desire to buy himself a regular one. That's what we use over here, he said, a well-dried-out ndongo ndongo.

I don't know why Uncle Démoney spent so much time on oral hygiene. As a child, I used to think it was some sort of ablution he performed before communing with his sun god during his morning prayers. I was even convinced that God never answered prayers from foul-smelling mouths.

Sun god hadn't risen yet, but Uncle Démoney was already emerging from his hut, lumbering like an old elephant. He didn't really look like a big old elephant with dangerous tusks though, he was pretty skinny to be honest.

That morning, outside his dilapidated little house, Démoney yawned and raised his hands. He had tied a long, colorful, washed-out loincloth tight round his waist. He rubbed his sunken eyes with his dry hands. The fine lines on his face stood out even though he was still young, barely fifty years old. With one hand, he shaded his wrinkly eyes as he looked up at the sky in search of his sun god who was yet to appear. He smiled.

Still chewing hard on his ndongo ndongo, Démoney began to clean his teeth. He loved to say it was the only thing left for him to do in a country where people listed unemployment as a skill. In Ngodi-Akwa, my uncle had been one of the lucky few to have ever had a job. Now, he was like everyone else, a jobless hustler.

Any time we spent our holidays in Cameroon, my mother Mbila refused point blank to sleep in the Ngodi-Akwa marshland where her brother lived, a brother she also respectfully called Papa. She always stayed in a hotel with several stars in downtown Douala. But I always really wanted to see my uncle, so she'd leave me with him and come back for me a few days later. That's how I ended up talking to her about what he did when he woke up.


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Date de parution

07 mars 2023

Nombre de lectures

0

EAN13

9780253064943

Langue

Français

39 BERNE STREET
GLOBAL AFRICAN VOICES
Dominic Thomas, editor
39
BERNE STREET

MAX LOBE
Translated by Johanna McCalmont
INDIANA UNIVERSITY PRESS
This book is a publication of
Indiana University Press
Office of Scholarly Publishing
Herman B Wells Library 350
1320 East 10th Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47405 USA
iupress.org
2023 by Indiana University Press
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1992.
Originally published as 39 rue de Berne by Max Lobe Editions Zoe, 2013.
Published by arrangement with Agence lltteraire Astier-Pacher.
Manufactured in the United States of America
First printing 2023
Cataloging information is available from the Library of Congress.
ISBN 978-0-253-06492-9 (paperback)
ISBN 978-0-253-06493-6 (ebook)
To my mother, Chand ze.
CONTENTS
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Acknowledgments
39 BERNE STREET
I

CHEWING DETERMINEDLY on his ndongo ndongo, Uncle D money contemplated the sunrise.
It was more than a routine for him. It was an essential daily ritual. A religion.
His ndongo ndongo, a thirty-centimeter rattan stem as thick as a cigar, served as a toothbrush. My uncle simply had no desire to buy himself a regular one. That s what we use over here, he would say, a well-dried-out ndongo ndongo.
I don t know why Uncle D money spent so much time on oral hygiene. As a child, I used to think it was some sort of ablution he performed before communing with his sun god during his morning prayers. I was even convinced that God never answered prayers from foul-smelling mouths.
The sun god hadn t risen yet, but Uncle D money was already emerging from his hut, lumbering like an old elephant. He didn t really look like a big old elephant with dangerous tusks, though; he was pretty skinny.
That morning, outside his dilapidated little house, D money yawned and raised his hands. He had tied a long, faded, multicolored loincloth tight around his waist. He rubbed his sunken eyes with his dry hands. The fine lines on his face stood out, even though he was still young, barely fifty years old. With one hand, he shaded his eyes and looked up at the sky in search of his sun god who was yet to appear. He smiled.
Still chewing hard on his ndongo ndongo, D money began to clean his teeth. He loved to say it was the only thing left for him to do in a country where people listed unemployment as a skill. In Ngodi-Akwa, my uncle had been one of the lucky few to have ever had a job. Now he was like everyone else, a jobless hustler.
Any time we spent our holidays in Cameroon, my mother, Mbila, refused point-blank to sleep in the Ngodi-Akwa marshland where her brother lived, a brother she respectfully called Papa. She always stayed in a hotel with several stars in downtown Douala. But I always really wanted to see my uncle, so she d leave me with him and come back for me a few days later. That s how I ended up talking to her about what he did when he woke up.
Mama, there s something I want to ask you, I said. Why does Uncle D money always get up early-early in the morning, when everyone else in the neighborhood is still sleeping?
Because other people don t have anything to do. They don t have any work.
But Uncle D money doesn t have any work either.
Yes, that s right. But your uncle has stuck to his old routine. He still acts like he has a job. So, you see, that s why he gets up early-early every morning.
I realized that when Uncle got up early now, instead of putting on the black trousers Auntie Bilolo had pressed with the charcoal iron and going to work, he settled for his old multicolored loincloth and watching the sunrise. Anyway, don t they say the early bird catches the worm?
There had been a time when Uncle D money was a tax inspector. And believe you me, that was no mean feat! To become a tax inspector, you had to be appointed directly by the political authorities: assistant divisional officers, divisional officers, mayors, governors, and even the president of the republic himself.
So it was the assistant divisional officers, divisional officers, mayors, governors, and even the president of the republic who had elevated Uncle D money by appointing him tax inspector.
But as my uncle said, It s the ones who raise you up who eventually bring you back down, right down, in fact. Which was exactly what happened to him. Now Uncle D money was just a fallen, withered old man.
At my uncle s house, people always talked about the political and administrative authorities, and above all the president of the republic, with a kind of fear that made me wonder. They were extremely suspicious and didn t say just any old thing about the president, oh no! It felt like Biya was everywhere. If he wasn t on the national TV station (which was new back then), his face showed up on every roadside. His image fought for space alongside all kinds of billboards. There were posters where President Biya always appeared young and smiling, posters declaring Paul Biya, the man for the job ; Paul Biya, the incarnation of austerity ; Paul Biya, the people s call ; Paul Biya, for Greater Ambitions for Cameroon ; and even Paul Biya, the people s choice . Any time anyone mentioned him, I thought he was nearby, watching us, listening to us even, and that he d appear if we said anything bad about him. That s why I always spoke highly of His Excellency the president of the republic. But since I didn t actually have anything to say about him, I just kept quiet.
Despite his general wariness, Uncle D money acted tough and played the rebel. He was very angry with the president and what he called the regime. He d say, The regime is corrupt as shit. And he d say it loud and clear to anyone who would listen.
That morning, my uncle carefully inspected the small drainage ditch below the veranda. He had dug it out and cemented it with his own hands, and it was now almost full to the brim with mud. He had quickly made the drain to divert the turbid flow of water from the heavy July rains that streamed down into his marshland from the higher ground in the neighborhood. It was the only thing he could do to protect his hut.
Uncle had built his shack quick-quick. Auntie Bilolo, his wife, often reminded him that the building did not comply with local planning regulations. She said that might have been one reason why the political and administrative authorities who had elevated him had eventually brought him back down. Auntie Bilolo even went as far as predicting that they would be moved out by a bulldozer one day. Thankfully, that hadn t happened yet. But how much longer did they have?
Each time his wife uttered such threats, my uncle would send her back to her pots. Since when do women know anything about local planning regulations? Planning regulations, political authorities, planning regulations, these authorities, those authorities-what do you know about all that? You can t even read your own name! Just go away and worry about what you ve got cooking in your pots and pans!
The moment arrived-the sun finally rose. A precious moment not to be missed. The first rays from Uncle s sun god lit up his aging face. He watched carefully, attentively, as the first light appeared in the clear sky. He seemed totally enraptured by this magic that no longer delighted anyone else. Not even the birds cared. He stopped rubbing his teeth and gums with the long ndongo ndongo, which he also used to whip his son, Pitou, who could be extremely stubborn.
Uncle D money was savoring this exquisite joy when all of a sudden, a rooster ruined the magic. The puny little creature wandered over, strutting his stuff like a nanga boko, like a drunken gigolo. He lazily fluttered this way and that before attempting to perch on the barbed wire protecting my uncle s hut.
To be honest, I d always wondered what that fence was for-there was nothing to steal in D money s house. The parlor was a kind of ghost room with a small table, old-old from when Uncle had been someone. The faux-leather armchair and two wooden benches eaten away by humidity looked lost in the otherwise empty space.
Unlike my uncle, the sassy rooster was late. He took the liberty of sleeping in, even though it was his job to wake everyone early-early with a loud cock-a-doodle-doo. Uncle shooed him away with the back of his hand. It really wasn t the right time to disturb my uncle. The rooster ignored the threat. His flapping wings seemed to say to Uncle D money, Yeah, I know I m late; so what? Better late than never, so just let me get on with it and leave me in peace. Without further ado, the creature pulled itself up and began its chorus. My uncle was so angry he took a stone from under the muddy veranda and threw it right into the insolent bird s mouth. Clear off! Dirty thing! he cried. The rooster fled, fearing for its life.
Staring at the sun, Uncle began to mutter, but I couldn t hear a thing because I was so far away. I was hiding behind Auntie Bilolo s outdoor kitchen. That s where he banished her whenever she said anything he thought was stupid, especially if it involved bulldozers.
I took refuge back there. I knew that even if Uncle looked around outside his hut, he d never deign to give this corner a crumb of his attention-it was women s business.
I wouldn t have understood what he was telling the sun anyway because he was speaking Bassa. Uncle D money talked to it like a s

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