Abdourahman Waberi Why Do You Dance When You Walk? Podcast


Why Do You Dance When You Walk? is the most autobiographical work to date by Abdourahman Waberi. Poet, novelist and essayist, his earlier stories and novels bring to life the story of his homeland, the former French colony of Djibouti. This tiny country of the Horn of Africa is roughly the same size as South West England, but its strategic position near the Red Sea and the world’s busiest shipping routes offers it a major strategic significance disproportionate to its smallness. A polyglot nation, its cultures and traditions are rooted in cosmopolitanism.

Interviewed for the BookBlast® Podcast, Abdourahman Waberi describes how walking with his little daughter to school one day through the 10th arrondissement in Paris, when she blurts out, “Papa, why do you dance when you walk?” he realizes it is time to tell her about his experiences growing up in a shantytown in Djibouti’s Quartier 6.

Waberi’s mother tongue is Somali, but he writes in French, having attended primary and secondary school where instruction was carried out in French, “We were little Frenchmen who had never seen France.” Michael Dash’s translation of Abdourahman Waberi’s story published in XCiTes, called The Gallery of the Insane from the collection The Land Without Shadows, was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in African Fiction in 2000. 

I’m going to tell you about the land of my childhood. And you’ll get all the stories that marked my childhood years. I will tell you about my old parents. I will tell you about my past and I will answer your question. I’ll tell you about the shifting desert around Djibouti, my native city. I’ll tell you about the Red Sea. I’ll tell you about my neighbourhood and its little houses with corrugated aluminium roofs. You may find it poor and dirty and maybe you won’t dare admit it to me. The last time I went there, it really was very dirty. There weren’t as many of those damned pieces of plastic littering the alleys of my youth.”

I read this autobiographical novel with immense pleasure and curiosity. Written with detailed realism and storytelling flair, it is vivid and concise. Waberi skillfully blends tragedy and dark humour as he describes the key events and characters marking his formative years, in a striking episodic way. And he puts Djibouti on the literary map.

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About Georgia de Chamberet 379 Articles
Bilingual editor, rewriter, anthologist, French-to-English translator. Has written for 3am magazine, words without borders, The Independent, The Lady, Banipal, Prospect Magazine, Times Literary Supplement. Currently writes for The BookBlast Diary. Founder (1997) of London-based writing agency BookBlast.