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E.C. Osondu honored for story about 2 boys hoping to be adopted by rich Americans.
OXFORD, England — A story that queries the antics surrounding celebrity adoptions of vulnerable African children won the continent's top literary award for a struggling Nigerian academic living in the U.S.
E.C. Osondu, 42, was selected from four other finalists to win the £10,000 ($16,000) Caine Prize for African Writing with his short story, “Waiting”, about two boys in a refugee camp.
“A tour de force describing, from a child’s point of view, the dislocating experience of being a displaced person,” said head judge Nana Yaa Mensah. “It is powerfully written with not an ounce of fat on it — and deeply moving.”
Orlando and Acapulco, named after the slogans on T-shirts given to them by the Red Cross in their camp, spend their days endlessly hoping to be adopted.
“Here in the camp, we wait and wait and then wait some more. It is the only thing we do,” runs one passage. “We wait for the food trucks to come and then we form a straight line and then we wait a few minutes for the line to scatter, then we wait for the fight to begin, and then we fight and struggle and bite and kick and curse and tear and grab and run.”
The story was first published on Guernicamag.com. Cultural references in the story range from “Waiting for Godot” and “Oliver Twist” to a clutch of African phrases and war chants.
Amid tales of fighting over food, pus oozing from a bad ear and memories of war, the story also includes tree-shaded discussions by the boys of how all houses in America have swimming pools. They weigh up their chances of being adopted and discuss how to attract a new family by posing in their photograph.
The boys’ story is one of bittersweet hope, which chimes deeply with Osondu’s own experiences and the research he conducted with refugees from Sudan and Somalia living in America.
“There are still hundreds of thousands of refugees, in Kenya, Sudan, Congo — it’s an everyday reality, said Osondu. “The West is seen as some kind of sugar candy mountain but it’s very, very different.”
Osondu told GlobalPost that he once was so hard up that his U.S. students held a “keg party” to help him pay the rent to tide him over the unpaid summer months.