Jennifer Cook
...author

Why I Write...

Update: Ottawa, November 16, 2016

"Wonderful news - La Bibliotheque Communale Jennifer Baniczky Cook in Donghol Touma, Guinea Conakry, West Africa, was officially inaugurated with great fanfare on Saturday, October 22, 2016. Much to my surprise and honour, it is named after me! This was the realization of Thierno Maadjou Bah's long time dream to build a library in the community of his birth for the people, especially the young boys and girls to give them added access to education. There are primary schools in all the villages of the district and the high school is in Donghol Touma, so they now all have access to the library and the computers. It has taken Thierno many years with the help of many people: the local people; Dr. Ibrahima Bah, the architect; Souleymane Bah, the builder; Mamadou Dian Diallo, the Sous-Prefect of Donghol Touma, and many others who helped financially, collected books and much more. Congratulations to Thierno Maadjou Bah and his family who made this historical moment a reality after much hard work and planning.

The village is situated in the Fouta Djallon mountains at 998m. elevation in the administrative district of Pita. The roads are unbelievable. It took us 13 hours to drive to the village at 5 kms. an hour from Conakry, the capital! There is no other way for transport in the country, so huge trucks, cars, motorbikes, cattle, goats and people all crawl and bump along together. But once in the village, it is a green tropical delight amongst huge fruit trees. They grow bananas, mangoes, oranges, bananas, rice, and vegetables - completely self-sufficient and eat amazing French baguettes. However, there is no running water or electricity in the houses. There are wells where the children fetch water every day. There are many modern houses although the older people prefer to remain in their traditional round, thatched homes.

It seemed that everyone, including many official leaders, from the whole district came to the opening of the library. The Prefect arrived from the town of Pita with a motorcycle escort, horns blaring and lights flashing. Tables and chairs were set up in a shaded, grassy area just outside the library walls for the many, many speeches, including mine. They were all so very kind and welcoming to me and showered me with gifts of thanks, including land to build a house for my family and citizenship of the village! There was traditional music and dancing and after the ribbon cutting there was a feast for everyone - a cow had been slaughtered especially for the occasion.

It is a beautiful building which includes the library, a meeting room, a computer room (with solar panels on the roof for power), another room which will be a museum, washrooms and a bedroom for visitors. One of the highlights of my very brief visit was, as dusk fell, the women came to thank me. It was very moving as they sang for a couple of hours. I had nothing to give them except to share a box of Maple syrup fudge - 10 pieces - which I had bought at Montreal airport as an extra gift. We managed to divide these ten into 60 tiny pieces so everyone had a sweet taste of Canada!

In Conakry, the capital, I was taken to the University Gamal Abdel Nasser to meet the Rector, Dr. Doussou Lancine Traore, and the Director of the University Library - Canada was involved with this library at some point. We all agreed to cooperate with the library in Donghol Touma. I also briefly met the poet/geologist, Nene Moussa Camara, whom I had first met when my husband was working in Guinea in 1989 and I went for a month's holiday. He has now written two more books and continues to work at the Ministry of Mines and Geology. It was good to see him again.

The photos below will give an idea of the library and my wonderful visit: (1) the front of the building with the builder, Thierno Maadjou Bah and the school teacher; (2) the computer room and (3) the library; (4) After the ribbon-cutting - the Prefect of Pita in uniform; a US Peace Corps teacher, some of the Bah family and myself. (5) the meeting room, (6) some of the women who gathered and sang to me in the evening, (7*) the solar panels on the roof and (8*) cutting the ribbon.

 
 

* Photos taken by Abdoul Rahmane Bah


Update: Ottawa, October 11, 2016

After too many years to count I've been working with my good friends, Thierno Bah and family, to establish a library in Donghol Touma, Guinea Conakry, West Africa. There have been many delays over the years but finally the opening is going to happen. I head out to Guinea in a couple of weeks via Paris to Conakry. Then it will be a five to seven hours journey by road, depending on the state of the road. The official opening is slated for Saturday, October 22. I am attaching one photo of the Library Entrance before completion now and will send new photos and a description of everything I see there in the library - the first in the area - on my return.


Update: Ottawa, November 2015

I'm now back from Uganda and would be happy to come to speak to any group, however large or small, about this gathering and show a power point presentation of photos. This is part of our undertaking with the Stephen Lewis Foundation to give talks for twelve months to spread the word about the grandmothers and our work in raising funds. I can be contacted at: jcookbaniczky@sympatico.ca.

This is an article I wrote on my return for the Manor Park Chronicle, which will give you an idea of the Gathering in Entebbe. Also, if you click on the link below, you will be able to hear Stephen Lewis's speech to the grandmothers. Well worth listening to! It's inspiring.

Here is the video of Stephen’s full speech from the gathering :) Many of you even make an appearance! VIDEO


Update: Ottawa, September 2015

My latest news is a trip to Entebbe, Uganda, with twenty-two other Canadian grandmothers and the Stephen Lewis Foundation to participate in and observe a Convening of 1000 Ugandan grandmothers at the beginning of October. This will be very exciting and really interesting to hear of their progress and their plans for the future of their grandchildren and their country. The voices of the African grandmothers have become stronger over the years as they have found their rhythm and become more determined.

Much to our alarm and disappoint, my visit to Guinea Conakry for the opening of the library had to be postponed because of the Ebola Fever epidemic, but I'm hoping this will happen in 2016. There appears to have been some improvement, although I understand it lingers in several places.

However, I was delighted to receive an email this month from a Guinean poet I met out there in 1988, so will no doubt see him again at the grand opening.

My Amazon storybook is still in the research stages and my brilliant ideas are piling up, although I will need to find an artist to realise them!

Much more news to come on my return from Uganda. I will again go out to give talks with a power point overview of photos of the Convening, so anyone interested in hearing more about a group talk, please get in touch - jcookbaniczky@sympatico.ca.


Update: Ottawa, August 2014

I began writing books for my children because there were very few young adult books when they were growing up. However, they were adults before the first book was published.

I wrote Flight across the Mekong because so little is known about the war in Laos, which as a neighbour of Vietnam, was very involved in the "Vietnam War." This story is based on our family's experiences in Laos in 1975 at the time of the communist takeover.

When we lived in Tehran, Iran, we were befriended by a Báha'i family and so years later I wrote An Iranian Mosaic based on this friendship.

I started doing research for Canada with Governor General Lisgar - 1868 many years ago because my great grandfather came to Ottawa with the Governor General in 1868 and then my family and I came a hundred years later. At first, I had intended to write a biography of the Governor General but it evolved into an historical novel about the Governor General and my family in Canada during the period of 1868-72.

Windsong on the Silver River takes place in the Ottawa Valley and downtown Ottawa. Windsong is based on a farm where we really wanted to live so we could have lots of horses but we stayed in Ottawa with just one dog and two cats. The cats are in this story. My partner, Bill, was Saulteaux from a First Nations community in Saskatchewan and he was a wonderful oral storyteller. Bill died while I was writing this story, but he left me the wonderful gift of many First Nations grandchildren and great grandchildren. This is why I felt completely comfortable writing about Raven and the Two Moons Rez, however, this story is one hundred percent fiction as is the Two Moons Rez.

I know downtown Ottawa very well as I have been a volunteer at the soup kitchen for over 30 years. Blue, the dog in the story, is what we in England call a "lurcher" - I suppose a country-wise dog of mixed parentage. I am still not sure whether the wolves in the story are spirits or real animals - perhaps they are both.

In March 2006 I realized my wish to return to some of the places where we had lived in Africa to feel the rythm of Africa again, to smell and see the grasslands, the wild life and to note the many changes. I returned to Upington in the Northern Cape after thirty years absence and to Lusaka, Zambia after forty. Of course, they had both grown considerably, but I found the houses that had been our homes and I felt at ease - I was in familiar places and the people were welcoming.

Although the first part of Molly's Story: Aftermath of War and Love is set in the United Kingdom, the action moves out to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). This was the country we knew when my husband and I arrived in Lusaka a couple of weeks after independence in 1964. My husband was doing exploration work way out in the bush. I would often accompany him and his team to live under canvas far away from the city. I loved this sort of life. I have tried to give a picture of the countryside, the animals and the people as it was then in Molly's Story.

Daughters, Mothers and Grandmothers tells the story of two teenage school friends and what happens to a family when the mother is dying of AIDS. The idea for this story evolved when I returned to visit Zambia and South Africa in 2006. But after participating in a Gathering of Grandmothers from Sub-Saharan Africa in Swaziland in 2010 and listening to the African grandmothers stories, my story underwent a rewrite.

Forty-two Canadian grandmothers went to this Gathering under the auspices of the Stephen Lewis Foundation for which we raise funds to help with projects to assist the grandmothers and their orphaned grandchildren. On arrival in Africa, we spent some time in Johannesburg to meet and get to know each other as we came from all over Canada and to attend briefings about the Gathering. We also visited projects around Johannesburg. The preface of the book is based on a visit to a clinic where I spent the day with a group of grandmothers. The day finished with a visit to two of their homes in a township.

In Swaziland we had plenty of time to get to know the African grandmothers during meals at the lodge, workshops and two elegant dinners which were attended by the Queen Mother, Ministers, other members of the Royal Family and members of the community. The grandmothers came from various countries, two from each project with an English-speaking interpreter as they spoke many languages. However, we were all comfortable with each other after a very short time so language was not a barrier. The Gathering concluded with a march through the streets of Manzini - about two thousand strong - and an assembly where the Canadian grandmothers promised to stand in solidarity with our African sisters until the pandemic is beaten.

The African grandmothers are so strong and determined to see their grandchildren grow up disease-free and with an education so they can make something of themselves and their countries. The same dreams that we have for our grandchildren.

I continue to be very involved with the Capital Grannies as we work to raise funds for the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign and, in September 2014, I attended an African Grandmothers Tribunal at the Chan Centre, University of British Columbia in Vancouver. It was organized by the Stephen Lewis Foundation and its goal was to rekindle awareness in Canada that it is time for change and to reaffirm to the African grandmothers that the Foundation and the Canadian grandmothers stand solidly with them as we promised in Manzini, Swaziland in 2010.

The tribunal began with 150 Canadian grandmothers from across Canada marching into the packed auditorium holding up signs of solidarity and singing "we shall overcome.....we'll walk hand in hand" to greet the African grandmothers from Kenya, Uganda, Swaziland and South Africa, who were representing all African grandmothers. After David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis gave powerful messages, these courageous grandmothers told their stories - the loss of their children from AIDS and the struggle to bring up their orphaned grandchildren. But they also spoke of the positive developments they are making as they care for the sick, run soup kitchens for orphans and teach others how to grow food.

The four judges, Theo Sowa, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Joy Phumaphi and Gloria Steinem concluded that the grandmothers should receive sufficient pensions, especially those who spend so much time and energy assisting those in need, and at a lower age than 65. To secure their grandchildren's future, all education should be free without the added expense of uniforms, especially for AIDS orphans. Also, better health care and HIV-AIDS testing within their communities to avoid travel expenses. Increased income for proper nutrition. laws upholding the right to work even if HIV-Positive and protection for older persons.

It was an exhausting experience to listen to the testaments from so many strong women. I'm sure it galvanized us all to pass on their messages to those back home and work harder.

My visits to Guinea Conakry for the opening of the library in Donghol Touma and drumming in Ghana have been postponed but should take place in January and July 2015, which will be both exciting and inspirational.

In the meantime I'm at the very earliest stages of a book about the Amazon for the very young.