The title of Naomi Beukes-Meyers┬┤ debut novel ┬┤The Fire in Me┬┤ has two meanings. Firstly, it┬┤s how the Namibian characters describe their illness: AIDS. Secondly, the thought-provoking title describes the passion and determination that people need to stop their families from dying out.
┬┤The Fire in Me┬┤ is a hard-to-put-down thriller about how two old friends vow to stop a dangerous purity ritual in the Namibian desert. The fast-paced story sweeps us along in a race against time while the protagonist Beth Marshal is also forced to face the painful truth about her past. Although the book is certainly a compelling read, background information about the ritual itself, and atmospheric descriptions of Namibia - a country where it never rains, where water used by the villages comes from the fog - are curiously lacking. But perhaps that simply doesn┬┤t matter. AVIVA asked Naomi Beukes-Meyer, born in Rehoboth, Namibia, to tell us more ... .
AVIVA-Berlin: Could you tell us something about Rehoboth in Namibia - the place where you were born? What was it like growing up there as a girl?
Naomi Beukes-Meyer: Rehoboth is a small town 80km. south of Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. Everybody knew everyone. I have a lot of fond memories as a girl growing up there. Maybe it┬┤s because everybody accepted that girls are suppose to help at home. Everyone did it. I never felt that girls had a different status than boys. It was only when I went to University, that I started to notice it.
AVIVA-Berlin: ┬┤The Fire in Me┬┤ has many threads running through it, but one of them is how two women are trying to save a 14 year-old girl from a purity ritual. The ritual is based on a superstition that if a man infected with AIDS has sex with a virgin who has just reached puberty, he will be cured. You don┬┤t give any background information about the ritual in your book. Why not?
Naomi Beukes-Meyer: I must say, and, now I┬┤m not sure how to put this. My book is pure fiction. The ritual is pure fiction. I think this is the reason why I┬┤m not giving some background information on the ritual. I wanted to tell a story about how desperate people can become to save families from dying out.
AVIVA-Berlin: This is your first book. What were the events that led you to write it?
Naomi Beukes-Meyer: Although I live in Germany, I still have a lot of friends in Namibia. One of them who worked closely with me at the theatre died of AIDS, plus her little baby. Because of my work, not having enough money, I couldn┬┤t attend any memorial service and I felt really helpless. When I heard that another couple I knew closely, also died of AIDS, I had to find a way to deal with this. I started to write ┬┤The Fire in Me┬┤ and the more I think about it, my coming up with a purity ritual is my way of expressing my anger against the system that makes it difficult for everyone to find out the truth about AIDS.
AVIVA-Berlin: When, where and how did you first become aware of AIDS?
Naomi Beukes-Meyer: I heard about AIDS while working as a Stage Manager at the National Theatre of Namibia. The employees of the Theatre use to share a house
because of the crazy hours we worked. One of the girls living with me had a friend who got AIDS and it scared me at first.
AVIVA-Berlin: You took part in a campaign against AIDS. What exactly was your role. And could you tell us a bit more about the campaign?
Naomi Beukes-Meyer: I joined the AIDS campaign, as a stage manager, filling in for the actors if something happened, giving out condoms after the shows. We workshopped a play for the rural areas in Namibia, as a theatre, travelled to a lot of small towns and villages. It was an adventure. Sometimes our bus broke down in the middle of nowhere, sometimes we had to sleep in schools and had to get up early before the children came. We performed in churches, under trees, everywhere where we could get the community together. As one of the 4 women in the team, I can say that we had difficulty telling the men in the community that using a condom won┬┤t change the status of their manhood. It was also difficult to approach the men, because they just ignored us and listen to the actors in the group. In spite of everything, I┬┤m glad I did it and I learned a lot about the sickness.
AVIVA-Berlin: The money raised has been donated to a children┬┤s home for kids who not only have AIDS but who have lost their parents due to AIDS. This is a very good cause of course, but is there is special reason why you particularly chose it?
Naomi Beukes-Meyer: I┬┤ve chosen to donate money to a children┬┤s home for children who have lost their parents due to AIDS, not because I want to be a saint or
something, but because I know some AIDS orphans.
AVIVA-Berlin: You currently live in Berlin. How did you end up living here?
Naomi Beukes-Meyer: After meeting my husband at the theatre in Namibia, I moved to Germany in 1995. I lived in Gie├čen, Freiburg and now Berlin. I got a job as a teacher in Charlottenburg after it took me a few years to persuade bureaucracy that my teacher┬┤s diploma is real and not something I bought on the black market.
AVIVA-Berlin: Is there another book in the pipeline? If so, could you give us a hint what it will be about?
Naomi Beukes-Meyer: Because I am working full-time, I do not have a lot of time for writing. I am working on a screenplay though. All I like to say at this moment is that it is about foreigners living in Berlin and how they cope with it. I┬┤m hoping that my writing won┬┤t just stay a hobby and that one day, I might be able to devote all my time to it.
AVIVA-Berlin: Thank you. We wish you every success with ┬┤The Fire in Me┬┤.
The Fire in Me
Written by Naomi Beurkes-Meyer ┬ę2005
Published through Lulu.com in English
Printed version $10.00
Can also be downloaded as a PDF (328 kb) for $3.15
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