Finding Colombia seeks to satiate an innate desire in young readers for a world where their agemates self-actualise themselves. You see, the beauty of stories for young people is that it is peppered by adventure, conquests, a general search for answers on why things are the way they are etc. Hence, the word “finding” in the title heralds a journey of discovery and invites/conscripts the young reader into a conspiratorial quest for Colombia. It is a trip that most young persons would definitely excurse.
This is the story of Lex, the main character, a young man who is addicted to a drug nicknamed Jet Lee. Jet Lee is inhaled and its fumes are believed to knock one out in seconds hence its fame with many a young people. It is one among many other drugs that the youth in the text are cast as struggling with. Indeed, much of what they gather in form of alms is wasted on the same. The beauty with the plotting of this story is that it is fast paced from the beginning to the end. Lex experiences the ricocheting of a bullet against the wall as it buzzes past his ear missing him by a whisker. This initial encounter with law enforcers, Lex’s attempt to escape, his eventual capture and admission into a rehabilitation centre to help with investigations to nab a notorious drug lord provides the backdrop for an exciting read.
Lex’s story resonates with the reader. It is about a young man who loses his breadwinner – mother – and he has to fend for himself in the streets. Life in the streets is unforgiving and Lex soon becomes hooked to drugs in an attempt to quell the hunger pains and in most cases unforgiving weather patterns. Lex’s suffering draws the sympathy of the reader as we come to terms with his deteriorating values. Unlike some common adventure stories I grew up with, like Nancy Drew Series or Hardy Boys Series, where the heroes or heroines are either from middle class or are well off, Lex is just a street kid. The odds appear to be against him and this unlikely hero becomes the more appealing to the reader.
In his characteristic nature, Kombani deliberately avoids dwelling on the message. In African communities we are often than not socialised into telling moralistic stories hell-bend to bestow particular morals. Ironically, Kombani’s effort to entertain the reader unwittingly also conveys themes thereby underlying in the story. For instance, Lex’s life portrays the dangers of dalliance with drugs and warns youth against quick fix solutions to life’s problems. The reader also deduces that human beings can easily be beguiled by cons in our midst like Angela does to Lex. Angela has been the most supportive person in the rehabilitation centre but inadvertently Lex discovers that she is the Colombia he has been seeking all the time.
Finding Colombia is not just a journey of self-discovery for Lex, it is the story of youth of today and their woes. As the characters in the story keep repeating, “one day at a time” is the mantra by which we should all live. At a time that young people are wont to seek for shortcuts to make it in life, Finding Colombia warns us that all that glitters is not, after all, gold. We have to, each, deal with our personal problems before we can set out to fix the world or society at large.
In this story, the youth will discover varied characters who represent different facets of who they are. They will cherish the adrenaline of Lex’s run for his life, but they will also have to reckon with the hardship/suffering of recovery from drug addiction and the long journey to re-establish societal connections in an unforgiving society. This is best epitomised by Brian alias Moses who chews on grass imagining it is khat. However, this is a story of promise and unmeasurable possibilities since an unlikely young person literally rises from the ashes like the phoenix.
Kombani won the 2018 Burt award for African Literature for Finding Colombia and rightfully so. Lex’s attempt to resolve the puzzle of the drug dealer who has eluded detectives for long is recipe for a good reader since the odds are against him. First, he is not educated and secondly, he is just a street urchin clueless of the happenings around him. The ability to weave a plot around Lex and granting him a foil in Angela, the unlikely villain of the story, creates sufficient suspense to assuage the reader’s appetite through the twists and turns of Lex’s involvement with detectives, up to the climax and denouement of the story. Please determine to finding time oops Colombia to read and enjoy in the process.