“In conclusion, and after careful but obvious observation, you should know that tennis is the only sport in which, above all else, you have to be kind and respectful towards everyone“. Haji Mohamed Dawjee, columnist and writer gives this advice in her latest book, Here’s The Thing. This in a way encapsulates the entire book: funny, realistic, sad, at times quirky but always thought-provoking.
The Daily Vox team chatted with Dawjee about her second book and how it all came together.
This book follows her 2018 release, Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a Brown Woman in White South Africa. Both books are a collection of deeply personal essays yet there are some notable differences. Dawjee said writing and writing styles are like life so there is a want for change. Therefore, the essays in both books are different because they reflect different times of her life. For Dawjee, Sorry, Not Sorry is an affirmation. While Here’s The Thing is “more of a shift that is a human being moving forward… but also a lost-and–found bin of what it means to be human”.
The book is quite personal while maintaining Dawjee’s political stances. It moves from the experience of being a brown writer to the effects of long COVID on her writing. There is also the must read chapter of “Life Skills for semi-functional adults”. Throughout it all, it is clear to the reader that Dawjee has achieved her goal of telling nuanced stories. Not everyone will agree with her views and her reflections. Dawjee said she doesn’t care if people love or hate the book. She just hopes that people engage with and have conversations about it. That is probably the point. No person thinks exactly the same as the other. Yet everyone can find points of commonalities despite our differences. While closely connected to Dawjee’s experiences, there is a bound to be something that anyone will find relatable.
“It’s about having gracious conversations about very difficult and complicated things…”
The first essay in the book is a tribute to Dawjee’s father who passed on just three weeks before she and her wife, Rebecca Davis adopted their son. This is significant because Dawjee writes that her father wanted to meet his grandson and he wanted her to finish the book. Unfortunately, he wasn’t present for both of the milestones but his love for her is what pulled her through to meet both of those milestones.
One of the themes of continuity in her writing is that Dawjee takes inspiration from Steve Biko and is determined to “write what she likes”. During the interview, she mentions that she never takes it for granted if she is able to do that. “It is cathartic and liberating at the same time,” Dawjee said. Why it is so important for Dawjee to “write what she likes” is because she wants people to say that “we are not just soap boxes for entire communities”. Part of the reason for sharing her experiences is to show that black and brown women don’t just have to speak on racism or diversity. Those are important issues.
However, Dawjee is attempting to show there is more to brown and black women than their oppression and struggles. Just as white people are allowed nuance and to tell all and any of their stories, Dawjee wants the same for brown and black women.
“We’ve watched white people tell stories for ages. We still watch it happen. We watch white people run newsrooms that regardless of how diverse they want to be – won’t run stories on Palestine. But they control the narrative and tell stories of Europe or Ukraine,” Dawjee said.
“The experiences might be specific to the writer but the stories aren’t. They are relatable across genres, cultures and races – as long as they are not white. They involve so many different things about our world that you (white people) can step into and learn about,” Dawjee said. “Come watch our season of the show for a little bit. That’s what I hope the book inspires.”
During the closing moments of the interview, Dawjee brought it back to the quote that’s at the beginning of this piece. She said if there’s advice she would want to impart, it would all be contained in the chapter “Traversing the Trivialities of Life Through Tennis”.
“We are all playing a game and the only thing we can do is perfect our first shot and get the right equipment and know how to use it. So my advice is to go read that chapter!” Dawjee said.
The book is published by Pan Macmillan and is available online and all good bookstores.