White Sand

Source: Nancee Oku Bright, ‘White Sand’ in in Ian Breakwell and Paul Hammond (eds.), Seeing in the Dark: A Compendium of Cinemagoing (London: Serpent’s Tail, 1990), pp. 109-110

Text: Two months after the cinema came to our little village in the foothills of the Nimba mountains on the outskirts of Sanniquelle children still continued to hound me. Although the questions did not come as hard and fast as they once did, like shotgun pellets on a hunt, the questions still did come.

‘So then, is it true that ice can fall from the skies? Can you eat it? Is it hard? Or is it like rain? Why do these people walk on it, surely it must hurt. Tell us again, will you please tell us the story of ice from the skies!’

The films that had kept us excited for weeks in advance were a twenty minute short on yodeling in the Swiss Alps, and a half hour documentary about the Austrian people engaged in one of their favourite pastimes, skiing. It was almost as thrilling as the day we rioted over the high price of water and broke the settlement manager’s windows. Men, women and children were sitting huddled together, watching the strange antics of the whites as they walked on snow, somersaulted through the air, almost always landing on their skis. At every jump on the slopes a uniformly sharp intake of breath was heard from the crowd.

Sometimes when the move appeared to be particularly daring we, the women, clapped heartily whilst the men slapped each other on the back with unbridled gusto as though the skier’s accomplishment was their own personal victory. When, now and again, the skiers tumbled down, legs splayed, staring red-faced into the eye of the camera and into our faces, we burst out laughing at these Europeans frolicking in the snow, while we sat in the heat of our night.

No one quite knew what to make of yodeling. Neither song nor ululation it was nonetheless hilarious, guaranteed to make us double over clutching our breasts and bellies. Later the children began to call every white they saw ‘hee-hoooo’ as in ‘Yodeleyheehooo’.

When I went to their homes to drink black tea and gossip the women would ask, ‘Well girl. This place where it is so cold. England. What is it like? There are buildings, we have seen in films and on picture postcards, which rise so high their tips disappear into the clouds. Is this so?’

‘So high that when you reach the top you can see the face of God.’

And they would laugh, shocked that my tongue could wrap itself around such weighty words. May God forgive you, girl.

But why do these whites behave so like children in their country and here they cannot shape their faces into a smile?

‘It is the heat that prevents hem,’ I would say.

‘Ay girl, you can lie so. Where did you learn such a skill?’

‘In the land of the whites.’

‘This we can believe. Yes. In the land of the cinema is where you learned to lie for surely ice does not fall from the skies and that is white sand and no one, not even your whites, will see the face of God until they die.’

Comments: Nancee Oku Bright is a documentary filmmaker, writer and Principal Officer at the United Nations. She was born in Liberia, and this recollection of a visit to her homeland appears to refer to the 1980s. Seeing in the Dark is a collection of commissioned reminiscences of cinemagoing.