For her poem, “My Heart is a Battlefield,” Ivanova Nono Fotso of Cameroon has been selected as the grand-prize winner in MAI’s recent series of five monthly writing contests.
“My Heart is a Battlefield” is the author’s prayerful reflection to overcome tribal prejudices and divisions in her native Cameroon, country of 25 million with more than 280 tribes and 250 native languages.
The poem had won our September writing contest, which had as the prompt: “Write a psalm or poem that expresses to God your pain over injustice, racism, violence, poverty or some other challenge in your country and your cry for His intervention.”
Judges evaluated the winning submissions from the five contests to determine the one they considered the best overall–whether in terms of its uniqueness, creativity, impact, reader takeaway value or some other defining quality.
With decades of professional editorial and publishing experience between them, judges Andy Rogers, Judith Markham and Beng Jones (all also MAI Board members) unanimously selected Ivanova’s poem as the grand-prize winner.
“This timely and relevant poem by Ivanova Nono Fotso serves as a powerful reminder of what needs to happen for us to see change in the world,” Beng Jones said. “It is both personal and universal. What a heart-stirring piece, a clear winner!”
Informed of the award and modest cash prize, Ivanova said. “I’m so honored and grateful! Praise God for this blessing He’s giving me.”
Ivanova is a children’s author and scriptwriter. Her work has been published by PJA – Publications pour la Jeunesse Africaine, in the form of comics and illustrated books. She has led workshops on scriptwriting at conferences including MAI-Africa’s LittAfrica 2019 conference in Ghana. She lives in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
“We want to thank everyone who participated in the five writing contests,” MAI President John Maust said. “Through the contests we met gifted and aspiring writers from many countries with whom we will stay in touch. We look forward to holding more writing contests in the future.”
My Heart Is a Battlefield
By Ivanova Nono Fotso
Cameroon: 25 million inhabitants, 280 tribes, over 250 native languages.
What you hear is the power of numbers
And the musicality of our languages.
What is muted are the taunts at dialects,
Like mine that sounds funny.
My accent and surname are Shibboleths
That can deprive me of my rights.
What you see is the uniformity of one race
Right from the cradle where they are all so cute.
What is hidden from your eyes are the shades of black,
Which the ears of newborns already betray,
And that measure our beauty,
From the ugliest to the fairest.
What you cheer is the diversity of our national team
And the freedom of speech of our political parties.
What is at stake behind the scenes
Is my safety in the neighborhood,
When the flat-footed player is my namesake
And the failed candidate, my fellow tribesman.
No, my country is not at war;
The real battle is fought in my heart:
Love against hatred, love against fear.
Fear blows: “Flee away! This place is not safe.”
Hatred strikes: “Hate them back! Stab them with your words. “
O Lord! Come and help me!
I don’t want to hate my brother,
I don’t want to fear my neighbor,
I don’t want to despise myself,
But I no longer have the strength to love.
I come to learn from you.
I want to reflect your love.
You knew the feelings expressed, and the resentments hidden.
You saw the times when hate won, and actions taken.
Yet you loved us with a love that led you to the cross.
Love is not blind;
It sees offenses, and offers forgiveness.
Love is not weak;
It swims against the tide of impulsive reactions,
To bring healing to the broken heart.
If I can help my neighbor,
Without asking which tribe he is from;
If I can rejoice and mourn with my compatriot,
Not dwelling on the harm we have done to ourselves,
If I can lift up for my fellow men a sincere prayer of blessing
And not that of retribution,
Then good will have overcome evil.
Love will have won the battle.
At least in my heart.
Ivanova Nono Fotso is a children’s author and scriptwriter. Her work has been published by PJA – Publications pour la Jeunesse Africaine, in the form of comics and illustrated books. She has led workshops on scriptwriting at conferences including MAI-Africa’s LittAfrica 2019 conference in Ghana. She lives in Yaoundé, Cameroon.