La Vonda R. Staples: A tribute by Professor Toyin Falola

by Ikhide R. Ikheloa

Professor Toyin Falola is the Frances Higginbotham Nalle Centennial Professor in History at the University of Texas at Austin. Falola is also the founder and moderator of the list-serve USA Africa Dialogue, an academic watering hole for scholars and professionals interested in issues pertaining to Africa.

Falola has written a profound and moving tribute to La Vonda R. Staples, writer and scholar,  a robust presence on Twitter and Facebook, who was a beloved member of the USA Africa Dialogue forum, having gained stature, admiration and respect for her no-nonsense but warm and incisive views on pretty much everything that had to do with this life. On January 24, 2014, La Vonda  succumbed to the ravages of cancer, but in her inimitable style, she sent out on her Facebook page, a farewell note:

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Dear Family & Friends,

If you are reading this, I have successfully made my transition to be with my Heavenly Father. I have Lived, Laughed, and Loved. I have shared most of my life experiences & lessons with everyone I know with the intention to help those without a voice. I am overjoyed that I was able to touch as many lives as I have.Believe me when I tell you that I suffer no more, and I am in a much better place. My ancestors and I have a LOT of catching up to do…

Always remember, life is what you make it. Make it your best…you only live once.

I love you all forever,

La Vonda R. Staples

The forum was expecting the end. La Vonda had tried painstakingly to prepare members for the end; she would send regular updates on her condition and she had everything planned, down to the details of her funeral. Yet, when the end came, no one was prepared for the searing, cold, heat of the stab wounds. The village square of mostly scholars used to the vicissitudes of life was desolate, filled only with despair at the loss of a friend gone too soon.

Many will remember La Vonda’s fiery and robust presence on social media, especially on Facebook, but few know of her scholarly side (read her brainy riff on the origins of Rap music here). She was relentlessly inquisitive and generous in sharing her views and feelings to all of  those privileged to be in her company. Falola’s tribute speaks for all grieving on USA-Africa Dialogue,  that playground of gentle but fiery eggheads, .

Here is Professor Falola’s tribute. There is nothing to add, says the sage, nothing:

La Vonda R. Staples: A tribute

“As if we hadn’t completed an embrace,

that is how we are left. 

As if with a pregnant silence…

do you hear it?”

The mid-afternoon was dark, with an unusual snow and cold tormenting the semi-desert land of heat.  The afternoon was faking a departure, for the night was still far away. The news, through warm words communicated by Ikhide’s coldness, became the broken branch in the still night of the Nigerian April.  Ikhide is a master of interference, yesterday and today, and he brewed yet another interference, the hot coffee that burnt our tongues.

The words silenced us for a moment. A moment was dead. At that very moment, the dead moment, a pregnancy was terminated: La Vonda is gone. But the voice told us that La Vonda lives. The miscarriage was fake?Or is this not how they told us, the joy of living and the melancholia of unliving? That is how they told you and I that Sister La Vonda is gone, with an incantation on the endurance of memory. So she is still with us?  It might be so, as the dead assures the living. The dead can speak?

Many never met her. They knew her by words, encouraging, discouraging, elevating, sweet, hurtful, sincere, “hit and run”. We first knew her, and then later we met her. Her words are melted into a big mirror, now hanging on a wall as a text written on an Islamic tablet, fading but legible, script of time, only decodable with patience.  We must unmask, we must reveal ourselves for that wall wants to show itself, with the text before us touching our hearts.

La Vonda’s words turned into images, visible symbols, sometimes still, looking at us, gazing, shaking her head as in the always moving neck of Bolaji Aluko that comes with each declaration, minor and major. The images acquire multiple eyes, fixed. We stand still, unable to move forward, and our bodies become the lodging rooms of pain and agony. Our hearts bleed. La Vonda then begins to laugh at us, mockingly. Why?

Her history remains. You and I have a problem: we do not know where we are headed. La Vonda has a home, we have hearts. In that home lies joy and happiness, and in your hearts lodge pain. La Vonda’s home tells stories, about you and I. We are welcome to listen, in our rainbow coalition.

But the roof of her home has collapsed. Or may be not, but this is what my heart reveals to me. If so, we can no longer go through the door, front or back. There are no longer chairs in the room and the table, too, is gone. Death has killed the moonlight stories and the talebearer. Or may be the roof can be restored, so that La Vonda lives. And then there is a corner which she occupies, sympathizing with our own sorrows and tumult that we add up and subtract from, to make up life.

“The simple truth is that I do not know whether or not she died, but I do know that her history, her time, is here, with us, with those of us who enter her home because she opened the door to us, and she did it because yes, because she wanted to.  Because there are hearts that are so large they only beat when they are with others.”

 La Vonda, Rest in Perfect Peace. Disguise and enter the womb of a pregnant woman, so that in nine month’s time, we have an Iyabo.

O dabo na.        By for now

O di arin na ko      We may meet by accident on the road side

O do ju ala         We may meet in dreams.

 

 

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